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Yearly Archives: 2011

Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan

Led by prophecy, the directions of the witches that dwell beyond the Troll Wall, viking King Authun raids a monastery not for riches but for a boy child, a child stolen from the gods. Instead Authun find twins. He takes both, leaving one with the witches, taking the other to claim as his heir.

Vali is fostered away from Anthun, promised to wed another Viking King’s daughter, but has eyes only for a farmers’s daughter named Adisla. Feileg is raised in the wilds, more wolf than man, a far cry from his brother’s royal upbringing, and is shown a rare bit of sympathy and affection by Adisla when he is captured. Adisla is the thread that ties them together and drives them towards their fate. For they are pawns in the scheming of the gods, and the gods fight for keeps.

Wolfangel is thick with old world magic- shamans and witches, runes and drums and terrifying ritual. It’s fantasy elements seem perfectly rooted into the historical and are more mythological than fantastical. It keeps the book believable. Even as gods and witches are fighting it out in the background, the main story is one of love as both brothers work to save Adisla. It is a love story set against the backdrop of an ancient Norse society- harsh, often beautiful, and utterly enthralling in its ferocity. Eerie and atmospheric, albeit violent, it is not a book for the faint of heart. It takes the Norse warrior spirit into account and may characters are sent to feast in Valhalla.

Somewhere Beneath Those Waves by Sarah Monette

“On the landing, the roses of the Queen of Elfland, as clamorous as trumpets, continued to shout their glory to the uncomprehending house.” (‘Sarah Monette, Somewhere Beneath Those Waves, pg 185)

Like the Queen of Elfland’s roses, the stories contained in ‘Somewhere Beneath Those Waves’ will sing out their glory long after the reader had turned the final page. Contained within are captive figureheads and selkies, dragons and dreams and all the hopes and nightmares caught in between. The stories whisper of love and terror, and kept me up late into the night with a driving need to keep reading. The stories are all so very different, but are told in such a starkly elegant voice a reader cannot help but be compelled to pay attention.

For me, the stories that stood out most were ‘Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland’- a haunting story about love and lust and reasons humans are not meant to love faeries, ‘Katabasis: Seraphic Trains’- an atmospheric and elegant piece about inspiration and the darker corners of human motivation, ‘Amante Doree’- an almost historical piece with spies and issues of gender and acceptance, ‘Under the Beansidhe’s Pillow’- a short, gorgeous piece about the bits of culture and its spirits that immigrated to America, and both ‘A Night in Electric Squidland’ and ‘Imposters’- two stunning bits of urban fantasy with truly likable characters.

This collection should be on everyone’s shelf. It has a story for everyone, from fairy tale to horror and back again, each story unique and yet somehow still pulling the collection together as a whole.

The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty

It was an accident, Sacha revealing the magic behind a seemingly innocent bit of Jewish food in a time and place where homegrown magic is frowned upon if not illegal. Sacha, who seemingly has no magical talent of his own can see witches. Thus starts his apprenticeship to Maximillian Wolf and his entanglement with historical greats like Thomas Edison, Harry Houdini, and Teddy Roosevelt as a deadly sort of magic unfurls around him. Sacha and fellow apprentice Lily will follow Wolf through a New York City that is wavering between magic and machine, trying to stay ahead of the shadow dogging him.

I fear this book may have been written for me. I have a dreadful soft spot for well done alternate histories, and The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is a perfect blend of early immigrant New York City and all of the mythologies and cultures that migrated in with Her people. The city is perfectly entangled, each street has its own personality, each block feels like city in itself. And the characters Moriarty has peopled her book with…They are all so wonderfully, hilariously human. It makes the book a pleasure to read.

I have a soft spot for YA fantasy novels- there is something straightforward about them. The well done ones know what they have to say and go straight-about saying it. It is up to the reader to fumble their way to a meaning. It will appeal to any age- there is something for everyone to absorb and enjoy.

From Jewish demons to Wall Street devils, The Inquisitor’s Apprentice has enough to draw any reader in, and will keep them turning pages.

Pilgrim of the Sky by Natania Barron

Maddie’s boyfriend Alvin has vanished, an assumed suicide, and she has finally gotten herself together enough to start moving on. She agrees to take Alvin’s troubled brother Randy with her on one last trip to drop off some of Alvin’s books to an old colleague.

And that is where she is pulled through an antique and into the body of Matilda, an opium addicted seamstress who is married to Randall, who looks frighteningly similar to Randy.  Randall who tells her Alvin is alive, and professes to know how to find him.

Thus starts Maddie’s terrifying and beautiful experience in a strange new world where Mary is the deity on high and America has a queen, one of eight worlds all existing in harmony with each other, hosting a series of reflected individuals with supernatural abilities known as twains. Matilda is Maddie’s twain, as Randall is to Randy. She will search for Alvin and try to make sense with his disappearance and learn more of his motives than anyone had expected. In all of the personal politics of the very powerful and very long lived Maddie has to find her place and help keep the balance between the worlds intact.

Pilgrim of the Sky is a trip through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole for a new audience of readers. It is a ethereal mirage of splintered gods, improbable magic, and the threads of humanity that weave us all together. Above all it is a story about love, in each of its aspects and all of its possibilities.

Pilgrim of the Sky will be released by Candlemark & Gleam. There is also a Kickstarter for the book running for the next few days!

Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye by J. Damask

“I wanted my land back. It was deep in my blood. It sang in my bones. It demanded action.” -J. Damask, Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye, pg 100

A black drake coils through Jan Xu’s days and dreams, threatening her family, her pack, her land. It is a difficult choice, whether or not to involve her people in a blood feud from her Gang of Four days. But as blood is shed and even the Ancestral Forest is violated, Jan Xu will bring the ferocity of the Lang into play.

There is an ethereal elegance to Damask’s writing that makes me forget I am reading urban fantasy. There is the fuzzy captivation of a dream just before waking, fairy tales and mythology more than the more familiar tropes, and reading her work always awakens in me an interest in everything that has ever hovered in the twilight. Her Lang are wolves, not the werewolves genre fans are more familiar with, with a beautiful, feral culture all of their own. In ‘Obsidian Moon Obsidian Eye’ we get more of that culture, as Jan Xu is now the Alpha of her pack, and the reader tastes the ritual and responsibility that goes with the title.

What I adore more and more about the books is the careful balance Jan Xu has to maintain between her vigilante days and her position as wife, mother, and Alpha. There is so much more accountability than a reader of the genre is usually treated to, and it adds something rich to both the characters and the story. There is an increased sense of tension, of threat, as Jan Xu tries to attend to all of her responsibilities.

Again, Damask’s word brings us more than the usual fey. There is a culture and a history that makes the world of the Lang sing to the reader, a blend of native spirits and animal people that is a pleasure to read, and to get lost in.

The Folded World by Catherynne Valente

“We are all just humans, and most of us fools, and all of us longing for more than we have, to know more than we know- and yet even that is not enough, for if we knew everything we would only be disappointed that there was not one more secret to uncover.” -Catherynne Valente, The Folded World, pg 170

Prester John and Hagia have a daughter, with a sweet mouth on her right hand while a bitter sits on her left, two opposing personalities in one body pulling all the world in one direction. Prester John has another daughter, a crane’s wing where her second arm should be, the result of a fierce and half-forgotten coupling early in his sojourn.

Prester John has an answer to his letter, a plea from Jerusalem for the great king to come to the aid of Christendom with his armies of mythical creatures and magics.

So Prester John takes his wife and fierce crane-winged daughter with him to war, leaving his gentle two-mouthed daughter with a lion who teaches love. While across the diamond wall another human stumbles into lands far stranger than his wildest imaginings and in the dark of the forest a unicorn is lured to the slaughter.

The Folded World retains the mesmerizing air of Habitation of the Blessed, weaving layers of narrative voices that pull together in a rich, decadent tapestry of human emotion and tragedy. Every character is working to sort out their place in a world that is so much larger than any of them had imagined, with pleasures and perils aplenty. It is a book that will reach out to anyone who has ever wondered where they fit in, how to make themselves fit in. From priests to princesses, it is a book about acceptance, on every imaginable level. Valente’s prose is, again, an absolute pleasure to read- rich with sounds and shapes that paint a fascinatingly unique picture sure to leave you daydreaming.

The Shattered Vine by Laura Anne Gilman

Rarely does a series end leaving me so completely content.

My fascination with the Vineart War (Flesh and Fire, Weight of Stone, The Shattered Vine) is with watching its characters grow. The grand quest of a fantasy novel carries the story onward, but it is the strength of the characters fumbling their way through what the world is throwing at them that makes the Vineart War so compelling. That strong characterization really shines in The Shattered Vine. Jerzy has been wavering on the line between slave and Vineart throughout the entire series, but it is in Shattered Vine that he really comes into his own. But its not only the main character that evolves throughout- his companions do a fair share of growing themselves, and together it is a pleasure to read.

The politics and mysticism of the world that Gilman has built remains strong to the end, providing a fascinating framework on which the events of the Vineart War build to and equally strong crisis point. What really makes the conclusion of the series stand apart is its ability to end. There is no drawn out aftermath necessary to pull the reader through loose ends being tied together. It may come off as abrupt- I was initially astounded at the lack of wrap up- but as I sat digesting the events of the series, I found my lips curling into a rather content smile. By the end of Shattered Vine I knew the characters well enough that I was able to sit back and appreciate the ending and everything it implied.

I would not have wanted it to end any other way.

If you are looking for a wonderfully unique fantasy with engaging characters and a deeply interesting world pick up the Vineart War books.

(re)Visions Alice

I am a fan of covers when it comes to music. I enjoy mash ups- one artist being inspired by another, taking bits and pieces here to tell another story, to expand upon the original idea. It allows everything involved to grow and become so much more. I have similar tastes when it comes to writing. I love shared worlds as well as retellings. And I really, really, enjoy re-imaginings of Alice in Wonderland. This makes me both the target audience for (re)Visions Alice, as well as one of its more difficult customers.

The collection starts with a visit by Lewis Carroll himself, setting the mood, reminding us all of that first time we ran across a White Rabbit, a Queen of Hearts, and a horrifyingly beautiful world of talking animals and relentless riddles. From there, it is like picking up pieces of a puzzle and trying to decipher the hidden bit of Wonderland that lingers and languishes throughout each of the contained stories.

They are not all obvious- (re)Visions is refreshingly devoid of bland recitations of a familiar plot. We have a runaway who finds out he is more than he ever imagined and is fumbling his way through a city caught in the terrifying grip of Jack the Ripper. We have a shadow of Wonderland that is cast in film noir. The Queen of Hearts is given a history and a fearsome opponent. We have a mouse that would rather be a man. Through it all there are glimpses of the Wonderland we all remember, and that recognition brings to the reader a sort of fascination that keeps them reading, looking for more of the pieces they can remember being played.

It is a wonderful collection- each story sings out strongly and stands well on its own. They are all memorable and mesmerizing. As I finished the final page, I found myself grasping for more- not of any of the stories I had read as they all stood their ground quite well- but I wanted the collection itself to continue. It will appeal to avid fans of Wonderland, as well as those who merely remember it fondly from childhood stories or movies.

(re)Visions Alice will be available in October 2011 from Candlemark & Gleam. Keep your eyes on this one- you will not want to miss it!

Maledicte by Lane Robins

Miranda, a girl child of the goddess-devastated Relicts, is destined to be a whore, but she has the companionship of her street crew to fill her days. Until her beloved Janus, who has the misfortune of being the bastard son of a nobleman short on heirs, is torn from her.

Miranda leaves her mother, determined to find Janus, to kill Lord Last and reclaim her companion. She takes shelter beneath the altar of Black-winged Ani, the goddess of vengeance responsible for the devastation around her, and emerges as Maledicte, goddess-ridden avatar of vengeance, and is determined to successfully pass as a male. In this new guise, Maledicte is taken in by a deviant count and taught the ways of twisting men and women to do his will, while doing that of the count. All the while just waiting for the opportunity to strike, for Black-winged Ani is not a patient deity, and vengeance must be served.

Maledicte is decadent and beautiful- language and languorously dangerous characters distract readers from the violence hovering just beneath the surface so that even as the crisis point of the book is reached, the reader is no more used to the bloodshed than when the book started. It is far too easy to write a book in which a reader becomes jaded to the violence and deviance contained within. Maledicte deftly avoids that trap, and pulls every necessary wince and gasp out of the reader as a result.

It is a book about love, and most of all about trust. It is about the ways people change over time, and the desperate way in which we cling to the shades of the people they used to be. Robin’s does some wonderful things with language, skillfully writing a book that contains beautiful prose that does not distract the reader.

If you are looking for a different, dark sort of fantasy, give Maledicte a read. It is stunning.

Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede

Eff is a Thirteenth Child, and while she has more or less overcome the assumption she is an avatar of misfortune as a result, she is still working at smoothing out her magical talents. As she finishes up her schooling as a child her brother Lan, a fortuitous seventh son of a seventh son, urges her to consider higher schooling in the east. But Eff’s attention turns ever westward, to the wild lands beyond the barrier. She takes on a position as assistant to the menagerie attached to the school she just graduated from, and from there, is brought along on a survey expedition through the lands unprotected by the barrier. As the survey stumbles upon magical animals in places they should not be as well as a puzzling collection of what look to be petrified animals, Lan’s schooling comes to a stop in a horrifying tragedy.

Across the Great Barrier is the second book in the Frontier Magic series, and is a fascinating mix of Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter. I am particularly fond of magic being used for mundane things, so the way Wrede has written magic being utilized by folks trying to make their way on the frontier pulled in my attention, and the edge of danger that life style and the world Wrede has built with its steam dragons, mirror bugs, and Columbian Sphinxes kept me frantically turning pages long past when I should have been sleeping. Beyond that, everything I can ever remember enjoying about being a child is represented, in some way, in these books. The little experiences and triumphs, even the flat failures and disappointments- things I can, as an adult look back at with a crooked grin. These are books shelved in the children’s section, but are by no means books just for kids.

Enjoyable, fun, highly recommended.