Book Review: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Here Be Dragons (Welsh Prince’s #1) by Sharon Kay Penman

(Five Stars)

“Poor Wales, so far from Heaven, so close to England.”

Excellent historical fiction. A critical time of Welsh and English history brought to life through Llewelyn ab Iorwerth and Joanna, daughter of John Plantagenet. Inaccuracies and anachronisms are few.

“If sunlight were not silent, she thought, it would sound much like Llewelyn’s laughter.”

Gives even minor characters enough depth. In the inevitable tension between accuracy and a good story, Penman usually goes with the story. And what a story it is.

“The true significance of this charter is that it changes privileges to rights.” “A pity it will be as short-lived Continue reading

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Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Three Stars)

“There are few things in this world that can simultaneously delight and dismay in the same manner as a formal dinner party.”

Disappointing. I like Jane Austen; I like structured magic; I like historical fiction; I like the writing of Mary Robinette Kowal. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit. Kowal follows too closely in the footsteps of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, even to the characters and plot. What Austen lacked in horizon she made up in clarity of describing the world of rural Regency daughters. This book rings false because it is too self-conscious. (Subsequent Glamourist Histories, more properly historical fantasy, are richer and more enjoyable.)

“Jane plucked the fold [of glamour] from the shelf and held it out to Miss Dunkirk, the light dripping in strands of gold that would have made Rumpelstiltskin proud.”

If Jane is so plain, who are Continue reading

Book Review: Madness in Solidar by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Madness in Solidar (Imager Portfolio #9) by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

(Three Stars)

“No matter what he did to try to improve matters, no one was happy. In fact, most of those involved just got angry and angrier.”

This new set of tales splits the time difference between the two previous series of imager stories. The new protagonist is indistinguishable in voice and actions than Rhenntyl and Quaetyl, which will be fine with most readers. The factions are pretty much the same, with everyone blind to everyone else’s needs and willing to believe and do the most outrageous things for their side.

“The problem with great power, the Maitre said, is that, to be believed, it must be exercised. If it is not exercised, people forget its greatness, but when it is exercised, they complain that Continue reading

Book Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“Yes, I wanted to change the public perception about women and our ability to be astronauts, but I had not wanted to be a pinup girl for spaceflight.”

Excellent alternate history about a large meteor strike on the United States in 1952. Recasts the space race as one of survival, not politics. Plenty of techno-babble for the hard SF fan, but focuses on people as they clearly might have been. Some may quibble with the environmental timeline, but Kowal presents supporting arguments.

“I can tell these are your friends, because they’re excited about taking tests.”

Excellent, relevant cultural cues, from the names of politicians and celebrities to products and pop culture–like “Watch Mister Wizard.” A nod towards Hidden Figures.

“That’s what politics is. Stories.” “And the story that they want to tell doesn’t include black people?”

Addressed America as it was in the 1950s: not the fairy tale of WASP suburbia. Kowal’s characters are Jewish, black, Chinese, and of course women. Intimate scenes between protagonist and her husband border on soft porn–aren’t, but your mileage may vary.

“Why are people stupid?” “Hormones. And if men are going to be led by them I’m happy to do my part.”

Stetson Parker starts as a weakly-written, two-dimensional antagonist, but grows in depth and believability as the story develops.

“That’s what we did. We survived. And we remembered.”

Book Review: Imager: Imager Portfolio #1, by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Imager: Imager Portfolio #1, by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

(Three Stars)

“Hope is always an expectation beyond anticipated reality.”

A steampunk Harry Potter for young adult readers. Excellent world building, despite the lazy two-moons trope. Time, money, foods, and geography map steam-age world–a welcome change from the routine medieval realm.

“So you’re saying. Master, that if I want to be impartial, I should not be a protraiturist, but an imager?”

In the obvious comparison with J. K. Rowling’s wizard, Modesitt has better world building, more believable magic and a more human protagonist. He slows his story with Continue reading

Book Review: Ocean Mother, Daughter Sea by Diana Marcellus (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Ocean Mother, Daughter Sea (The Witch of the Two Suns, Book #1) by Diana Marcellus

(Four Stars)

“Everything that is worth having has its price.”

Excellent medieval fantasy. Good world and character building. Good interplay between various points of view of the witch issue. Marcellus feeds in the essential backstory at the essential time. Adequate closure with obvious ties to the continued story.

Quibbles: A trim man can’t squeeze through a sixteen inch opening? Many typographical errors which seem the product of faulty Optical Character Scanning, converting an image type to digital. Needs a good proofreading.

“For a man determined on the clear light of reason, the touch of the old tales did not please.”

Book Review: A Soldier’s Duty by Jean Johnson (Three Stars)

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Book Review: A Soldier’s Duty (Theirs is Not to Reason Why #1) by Jean Johnson

(Three Stars)

“… is to place his or her skills, weapons, body and life between all that can harm and all that could be harmed.”

A space opera centered on a superhuman heavy-world half-breed of a super race. Think: all the Avengers in one body, and she’s a Jedi who sees the future. And most of the book she’s still a teen. Good fun, if you ignore the blood and guts, but too easy.

“You are a pawn, little half-child. You are a Game piece we have set in motion.” “Sometimes the pieces direct where the players must play.”

Her prescience is acknowledged to be fuzzy many times, yet she manipulates the actions of others as if she has precise knowledge of Continue reading

Book Review: Sword of the Storm by David Gemmell. (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Sword of the Storm (The Rigante #1) by David Gemmell.

(Four Stars)

“We are born alone, and we die alone. In between we may be touched by love, but we are still alone.”

A rousing opening to a historical epic fantasy series based on the northern European clash of expanding Rome with the resident Celtic and Germanic populations. Good characterization and storytelling. Deep point of view of main characters shows all to be flawed, driven and occasionally very wrong. Just like us.

“I’m not saying not to fight. I am saying do not hate. It is not war that leads to murderous excuses but hate.”

Celtic and Roman analogs hew close to the history, except Continue reading

Book Review: Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Daughter of the Empire (The Empire Trilogy #1) by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts

(Four Stars)

“Every sunlit façade cast a dark shadow and in those shadows the enemy plotted.”

More like three stars, but extra credit for the rousing climax. Competent, if derivative epic fantasy set in an east Asia-analog medieval kingdom. Obvious Game of Thrones rip off. The term “the Game of the Council” appears in every chapter. Finally, toward the end, the authors admit that even the cast would not be using that stilted phrase, but simply “the game” without the capitalization.

“What do you think the game is, if not to remain while you dispose of your enemies?”

Slow start. Episodic. Most crisis are dealt with in turn with the over-arching plot dormant for most of the story. Mara meets and conquers each challenge–and challenger–in turn. Nice climax.

“Fear the man who doesn’t desire a woman, for he will see you only as a tool or a foe.”

Lots of short cuts and predictable plotting. Large, six-legged mammals signal lazy fantasy writers. (Like multiple moons in the same orbit in science fiction.) The cho-ja (who have an excuse for six limbs) could have saved the story, but were introduced then reduced to two-dimensional puppets.

“Who is to be more feared, one who acts from ambition or one who acts for the needs of survival?”

Book Review: The Black Company by Glen Cook (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Black Company (The Chronicles of the Black Company #1) by Glen Cook

(Three Stars)

“There are no self-proclaimed villains, only regiments of self-proclaimed saints.”

Popcorn for the mind. As the opening round of a fantasy series, it reads like a collection of short stories. There’s a vector, but each chapter reads like a standalone.

“Any man who barely maintains an armistice with himself has no business poking around in an alien soul.”

Good storytelling, from the point of view of a caring, if morally-challenged medic of a mercenary regiment. Less violent than Joe Abercrombie, less humor then Michael J. Sullivan.

“I reached the gates unable to whip a grandmother. Lucky for me, the grandmas were goofing off.”

Digestible narrative gaps. Doesn’t weary or insult the reader with endless narrative. Only one big battle scene–near the end, and it’s way too long.

“I am haunted by the clear knowledge that … , in the end, evil always triumphs.”