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Yearly Archives: 2012
The Silvered by Tanya Huff
The Kingdom of Aydori is home to the Pack, a social structure of wolf shape shifters, and the Maqe Pack, their partners and members of their own magical hierarchy.
The Empire, guided by the scattered words of its soothsayers, makes Aydori its next target, specifically six pregnant mages that will either be the downfall or the saving of the Empire. The Emperor wants to control that power, and to do so, kidnaps the pregnant members of the Mage Pack. But there are only five.
The sixth mage is Mirian, a girl who considers herself to be of no magical distinction. Ignoring propriety and physical constraints, she sets off after the Mage Pack and their kidnappers, intent on setting them free.
The Silvered is riddled with spectacular world building. The culture Huff builds up around her shape shifters is utterly fascinating, and makes them breathe far beyond what the genre generally has to offer. Humor, horror, romance, magic, and violence- The Silvered has a little of something for everyone.
I am particularly fond of stand-alone novels in the middle of a genre that heavily favor series. The Silvered tells a complete story, start to finish. I would love to see more stories in the world Huff has created, but I am so very content with the story she wove this time around.
Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed
“Y’all ain’t got to believe me for it to be the truth” (‘Engraved on the Eye’, pg. 183).
But you will want to believe- in aloof bounty hunters who sing to stone and ribald ghul hunters who care far more than they let on.
From the city of Dhamsawaat Ahmed made familiar through ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’, to a meeting of super villains as viewed by a rather jaded member, ‘Engraved on the Eye’ is an absolutely enthralling collection of the familiar mixed with the exotic and the strange. Readers are introduced to a physician in exile asked to assist in a faith shattering case, a female Dervish who splits her lodge over a promise made to her mother- the fascinating, terrifying, and the beautiful all rolled into one.
If you are looking to dip your toes into Ahmed’s writing, definitely give this collection a try. They are short stories with meat- you will think and feel and you will not want to stop turning pages.
The Hound and the Falcon by Judith Tarr
Alfred is a monk of St. Ruan’s Abbey- devoted to his Brothers and his God, a scholar of rare talent, and very much more than a man. A foundling, he was taken in and raised by the Abbey as one of their own, and while his colleagues have grown to old men, he remains no more than a youth.
The quiet Abbey life that Alfred clings to is pulled away from him as he is sent out to the world, carrying a message of violence to the Richard Coeur de Leon. Once out of the Abbey’s comforting walls, Alfred cannot help but acknowledge something other than human blood runs through his veins. His eerie beauty and otherworldly skills catch the eye of the Hounds of God, who swear to purge him and all others like him from the Church, as well as the world itself.
From the temperate north to the sweltering heat of the Crusades, the Hound and the Falcon trilogy is a magnificent journey. There is a beauty, an acknowledgement of the sublime, that swells through every page. Pausing and closing the book was like coming up for air, almost disorienting, definitely displeasing as I wanted nothing more than to keep reading. Rarely have I been touched so by a book, but there is something bare, brutal and honest to Alfred and his search for identity and meaning that I could not help but be moved.
All else, all grand crusading and conflict aside, it reaches down to the root of identity and poses questions there that inflict an almost sympathetic bout of introspection upon the reader. And it is perfect.
Ms. Tarr has woven a depth of history and cultural detail in her books that make the world breathe. The characters and settings are whole, believable, and obviously lovingly researched.
Dominion by C.S. Friedman
I carried battered, loved copies of the Coldfire Trilogy with me through multiple moves and a seemingly endless progression of life changes. After a devastating flood they were some of the first books I worked to replace. The characters of the trilogy are like old friends- every now and then I get the urge to check in on them, revisit scenes and passages I particularly liked. Occasionally I take a weekend and reread the series, and every time I wish there was just a bit more for me to dig into. My love of the antihero started with Gerald Tarrant.
So it was with unabashed glee that I stumbled upon Dominion and tossed aside all that I had planned for the evening to read. I had not expected a new Tarrant story, had not known one was in the works, and as a result reading was one of the most wonderful evenings I have had in quite some time. For fans of the original trilogy, it takes place well before the trilogy proper, detailing when Tarrant first enters the Forest and how he makes it his own. It is dark and beautiful and frightening and perfect. Dominion is true to the trilogy I love, while adding more meat for me to chew on. It is a novella- so it is short, but makes every word count.
It is only a matter of time before I give in and give the trilogy another read.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Coldfire Trilogy, it is a horrifying and satisfying look at human emotion and ambition all tucked in a science fiction/fantasy setting that is unsettling and different than anything I have come across since. I highly recommend giving it a read.
The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle
There is no way to decline a direct assignment from the Throne, so when Mal is ordered to be the bodyguard of the Skrayling Ambassador, the chief representative of a New World race he detests, he will have to work to get his feelings under control and learn to defend what he would rather avoid.
As he spends more time in Skrayling company, and grows oddly fond of the small, gentle Ambassador, Mal will have to work to juggle his duty to the crown, to the Skrayling, and to his own blood- and those interests are not always aligned.
It is no secret that alternate histories are a weakness of mine, and Alchemist of Souls preyed upon that weakness with gleeful aplomb. From seedy neighborhoods and seedier dungeons, to the back-stages and politics of the theater and into the lair of Walshingham himself, Alchemist of Souls slips between fascinating with an era long past, and condemning it.
Mal is a hero despite himself, and will appeal to readers fond of that sort of reluctant crossing from duty to conviction. He is by far the most developed of the book’s characters, some of the others fall a bit flat- more ideas than three dimensional individuals- but it is not hard to lose oneself in the story and gloss over the writing’s rougher edges. It is an enjoyable story and I look forward to reading more from the author.
Casket of Souls by Lynn Flewelling
Alec and Seregil are back, and waist-deep in the intrigue that they seem so adept at untangling. But this will be no easy knot to work with. In the middle of the usual unrest caused by a war that keeps dragging on,the higher classes have become restless as well. Cabals scrabble through treason and treachery in support of their chosen royal’s claim to a throne that still has someone sitting in it. And Alec and Seregil find themselves scrambling to sort it all out before they become the victims of the next power play.
At the same time a mysterious plague works its way quietly through the city, leaving no symptoms but a sort of catatonia until it’s victims finally slip away.
Casket of Souls is an excellent addition to the series. It is a high stakes adventure- in the wake of plague and ambition no punches are pulled and lives are lost. Flewelling again demonstrates her adept hand at writing well formed intrigue with believable consequences. Alec and Seregil’s world is realistic and just as wonderful as it is treacherous. If you are new to the series, pick up the first book, Luck in the Shadows. If you like your fantasy thick with intrigue, your world build rich and populated by a vast array of cultures the Nightrunner books are not to be missed. Especially if you don’t mind a welcome bit of romance thrown in, to raise the stake of every risk being taken.
Spellcrossed by Barbara Ashford
In the time since Rowan said goodbye to her at the Crossroads Theater Maggie has had a fascinating time adjusting to the new Board of Directors and the view of the theater from Rowan’s shoes as she plans and runs the theater season. But Rowan is a hard act to follow, and between missing him and trying to be him, Maggie is tying her own life in knots.
When Rowan reappears late one night, a battered human he recovered from the Borderlands between the human and Faerie worlds in tow, Maggie’s world is again turned upside-down. And again it will take Faerie magic and human hearts and hands to put things back together.
I don’t usually listen to music while reading, but Ashford’s Spellcast and Spellcrossed have had me digging through old Cassettes and CDs, looking for the musicals I grew up listening to and performing in. Spellcrossed is again thick and vibrant with a love and knowledge of the theater. It is a magnificent stage on which to set a suburban fantasy- containing a magic that is unique and fascinating, and at the same time familiar enough to catch us tightly and hold us close.
It is a romance between a human and something Other, where the Otherness is not glossed over, adding extra interest and tension to the writing. It is a book that exults in human imperfections, the beautiful way they all manage to fit together into something magnificent.
This one hit hard and perfect. It is a book about bonds and family. I lost a sister less than a year ago, a sister who was draped in the merry trappings of the theater. Ashford’s skillful, heart-felt writing wrung smiles and tears from me in equal measure. It was my little bit of healing, courtesy of the Crossroads Theater. I invite you all to give Spellcrossed, and its predecessor Spellcast, a read and take away from it everything you can.
A Series of Ordinary Adventures by Stevie Carroll
They are the people you pass on the street, sit next to on the bus. They are the heroes of personal triumphs, victims of personal tragedy. This is a book of little things- small casts, snippets of lives- but the way Carroll writes them makes them so very grand. The fantastic is woven so adeptly into the mundane that you don’t even know it is there until you meet the Minotaur at the center of the Labyrinth, shatter a luck curse, hatch a fairy egg, or deal with the Devil at midnight.
It is that atmosphere that drew me in and kept me reading. Carroll’s deft hand at lending magical and frightening things a rather nonchalant air makes each story stand out from regular literary fantasy fare. Stories range from heart warming to horrifying, but whatever atmosphere Carroll is weaving, his adept web of words caught my attention and held me until the end.
There were a few stories that particularly got me as I was reading, either causing a rash of goose flesh to march up and down my arms or prompting me to seek out my cat for some impromptu (and probably unwelcome on the feline end of things) cuddling.
‘Breaking the Silence’ is about a close coterie of school boys who owe their successes in life to the bully they only half remember and an incident in a dusty attic of the school house. It is an absolutely, believably, horrifying piece. ‘The Woman Who Hatched A Fairy’s Egg’ may be my favorite in the collection. It is a story about self and belonging and confidence and love. And an egg found on the front step is the catalyst for it all. Simply a beautiful story. I am genuinely just very fond of ‘Mr. Singh Confronts the Minotaur’. It was well- written, fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Shady deals with the Devil are a staple of myth/folklore-based writing, and it was wonderful to see it represented in Carroll’s collection in ‘Seven For the Devil’. As usual, the deal does not go as planned for the mortals in the mix, and the protagonist scrambles to set things right. What set this story apart from others with the same theme is the protagonist- a genuinely likable person who makes human decisions- and the friend he continues to seek out, who happens to be a rocker-turned-preacher.
Grab a copy. Curl up somewhere comfortable. Enjoy your trip through familiar places turned strange in wonderful ways.
Candlemark & Gleam is running a Kickstarter for the collection. It is a wonderful way to get a copy and support both the publisher and the author.
Never Knew Another by J. M. McDermott
They slip in among the men and women of day to day life, the offspring of demons whose blood is acid and whose very presence can cause a person to sicken. Their deformities, reminders of their demonic heritage, can be hidden like the wings Jona’s mother cut from his back, or debilitating like the long forked tongue, black scales, and talons Rachel’s father left her.
To be a demon child is to be marked for death. So Jona works hard as a Kings Man, passing for mortal day by day. Rachel moves from city to city with her brother, dressed as a mystic, ready to flee in an instant.
Never did either of them know that there were others like them until they met each other.
Never Knew Another is an eerie, beautiful book. The lives of the demon children unfold with a rare delicacy and awareness of just how precarious life is for them. The main narrator is one of two Walkers- wolves that can take the shape of man and who are holy hunters of the demon children- as she moves through Jona’s memories in pursuit of another demon child. It is a point of view that is more alien than that of the demon children themselves, and I think it strengthens the overall pull of the story.
It is a book about fear and loneliness, and need for connection and community and the comfort of things that are familiar. It is eerie and wonderful and will linger with you long after you have turned the last page.
Vodnik by Bryce Moore
Ten years ago, something bad happened to Tomas in Slovakia. Something he doesn’t quite remember, but that left horrible burns on his body and prompted his parents to move the family to America. But a house fire leaves the family in a poor financial situation and they move back to Slovakia with Tomas, now 16, who sees things that could not, should not be. Tomas is a reclusive American boy, who wants nothing more than to watch his movies. He is not at all prepared for fire vilas, water demons, or the prejudice against his own Roma heritage.
But none of that is willing to leave him alone. Least of all Death herself who offers him a bargain he cannot help but take.
Vodnik is an excellent read for those who are looking for fantasy with a spark of something new. I had a lot of fun reading a mythology less common than the usual fantasy/urban fantasy fare, and that newness made up for the slight pacing and predictability issues that snuck in and out of the chapters. Tomas is a reluctant hero that many a young reader will be able to relate to- and he deals with some hard issues like racial prejudice and bullying that are important for folks to read and think about. It is a book about growing up, as many young adult books are, but it avoids being preachy and remains pleasant. It is a book about family and love and everything that draws one person to another.
If you are looking for an enjoyable read, give Vodnik a shot. You won’t look at a tea cup the same way again.