Year: 2005

His Majesty’s Dragon – Temeraire – by Naomi Novik | Book Review

If you have become as jaded as I have become regarding fantastic fiction, even certain title choices causes you to avoid or at the very least postpone when you get to a novel, a blasé conditioning one goes through after one has been reading fantasy for an extended period of time, it is both an admittedly unfortunate and short-sighted habit, however has the strange quality of also being an effective way to avoid slush. One of these words is ‘Dragon’, which to my estimation hasn’t been a part of a novel worth reading’s title since Michael Swanwick’s Iron Dragon’s Daughter and prior to that John M. Ford’s excellent The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History.


The Rose in Twelve Petals and Other Stories by Theodora Goss | Book Review

theodora gossTheodora Goss only began publishing her short fiction and poetry in 2002 but already her work has appeared in some of the genre’s most respected publications (including “Realms of Fantasy”, “Strange Horizons”, “Polyphony” and “Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet”). No less than 6 of her published stories, out of only 11 to date, have appeared in “best of” collections (along with a good deal of her poetry) and in 2004 Small Beer Press collected four of these, together with some unpublished material, into a perfectly formed collection – “The Rose in Twelve Petals and Other Stories” – as part of their occasional chapbook series. Those in the know have confidently proclaimed her One-To-Watch and linked her name with that of rising star Kelly Link (who, as you all well know, co-founded Small Beer). Such high praise warrants investigation, and thus…


A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin | Book Review

In the five years since the third volume in his Song of Ice and Fire saga, George R. R. Martin has become the most popular and the most respected author in epic fantasy. As a thirty-five year veteran writer with a bevy of Hugo and Nebula awards, he deserves every bit of it. But the fanfare and expectations have attracted stringent scrutiny to the fourth volume in the series, A Feast for Crows. This novel does continue the saga in Martin’s uniquely brilliant style, but it suffers from an expanded scope and a truncated cast of characters.


Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin | Book Review

Winter's Tale by Mark HelprinMark Helprin wrote Winter’s Tale in the years before I was born and it entered the world in 1983, as did I. But whereas I’ve had to wait 22 years for my moment in the spotlight (and, let me tell you, being a FantasyBookSpot Associate Reviewer is a glamorous business *wink*), Winter’s Tale has hogged the critical airwaves (and the bestseller lists) since the beginning. Such was its effect that the New York Time’s book reviewer, beyond ecstatic, declared: “I find myself nervous, to a degree I don’t recall in my past as a reviewer, about failing the work, inadequately displaying its brilliance.” Having turned the final page myself I recognise this as an understandable mixture of praise and awe: “Winter’s Tale” is, undeniably, a tour de force of fantastical creation, a “classic” of the genre (as SFSite puts it). And Helprin is an erudite and gifted author, a lucid conjuror, a supreme lyricist with a daunting word-hoard at his disposal. It is very easy to feel daunted. But still, this most lauded novel is not above criticism, even mine, and indeed, it is deeply flawed even unto its own brilliance.


The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova | Book Review

historianThe Historian mixes scholarship, travel, history, and legend in a dense arcane thriller. Unfortunately, the repetitive parallel narrative sacrifices characterization and pacing for tangential detail.

Kostova’s tale bounces between three parallel plotlines that each occur twenty years apart: Rossi’s investigation in the 1930s, Paul and Helen’s hunt for Rossi in the 1950s, and Paul’s daughter Eva’s journey through France in the 1970s. Eva, the main narrator, recounts her experiences in a consistent format throughout the book. Paul and Rossi, however, present their encounters through a combination of oral stories and letters, the letters so implausibly detailed that they’re merely oral stories in italicized font. In addition to these three primary narratives, many peripheral characters tell their stories in the same narrative structures, including Helen’s mother’s first-person reminiscence and Helen’s postcards to her daughter. This repetitive format, applied inconsistently to two of the main plotlines, leaves the narrative unnecessarily convoluted.


Peter Jackson’s King Kong | Review

king kong

If you’d just finished making the three biggest fantasy movies in the world ever, if you’d just shot to stardom as an epitome of epic cinema, if you’d got the studios banging on your door day and night… what would *you* do next? Something small? A comedy? Something arty? Or would you go with dinosaurs, bugs, bugs, and yet more giant bugs and a gorilla the size of a, well, a balrog? We all know what Peter Jackson did…and, may I say, he’s outdone himself yet once again. “King Kong” is possibly the biggest, fastest film I have ever seen, which seems a bit of misnomer given it’s a prodigious 3 hours 8 minutes long. But trust me, you won’t notice the time passing (and I’d even welcome an extended edition ala Lord of the Rings).


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe | Movie Review

There’s been a lot of talk about Walt Disney’s adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe”. Some people have bemoaned the ethics of “a polemic made flesh” on the screen, while others have started handing out tickets (to single mothers no less) confident that the gospel message is being well served. The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee recently argued “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion” (Dec. 5th 2005), while Rev. David Baker thinks that its message of self-sacrifice, love and forgiveness is far better than the ethos of self-gratification, hatred and blame endemic in our society, no matter what your religion. In fact, what doesn’t seem to have been much talked about is Andrew Adamson’s film itself. So, entering the cinema today I was determined *not* to judge the film by its moral/religious/ethical merits or otherwise.


The Silences of Home by Caitlin Sweet |Book Review

silence of home caitli nsweet

After my review of A Telling of Stars and my interview with Caitlin Sweet, I must admit that I was slightly apprehensive about reading, and then reviewing, her second novel The Silences of Home. What, I asked myself, would I do if I didn’t like it as much…what to say if I wasn’t sure about the very clear divergences between the first novel and the second. (I imagine these to be common concerns in the reviewing trade.) In retrospect, I needn’t have been troubled: The Silences of Home is a very different book to “Telling…” – it’s twice as long for a start – but proved to be as rich (if not richer), as compelling and as emotionally sound.


Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip | Book Review

Fantasy was a very different place in 1976. In the US the Tolkien craze was in full bloom, on the strength of the early 70s paperback edition of Lord of the Rings. Publishers were beginning to capitalize on the new fantasy genre by reprinting all the classic Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber they could get their hands on. But the wave of new American fantasy in the mold of Tolkien, including trilogies by Terry Brooks and Stephen R. Donaldson, was still a year away. The Riddle-Master of Hed, the opening volume of Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy, was published in this last year of calm before the deluge of Tolkien clones. McKillip had already won the first World Fantasy Award in 1975 for her earlier novel The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.


Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright |Book Review

Concluding my reading of John C. Wright’s latest offering, I was left with a realization that made in hindsight seemed rather unavoidable, and for those familiar with his prior work seemingly obvious, but admittedly not one that came to mind prior. Wright’s first offering to us came in 2001, The Golden Age, the initial book in a trilogy that bears the same name which was followed by The Phoenix Exultant, and brought to conclusion with The Golden Transcendence in 2003. A fantastic Space Opera that should and decorously is included in the number of recent efforts in the that particular sub-genre that both attempted and succeeded in revitalizing the notion and element of quality to a sub-genre that had recently become synonymous with popular and with few exceptions, rather awful franchise media-adaptations. Indeed, it is my thought Wright should be included with the likes of other esteemed authors like Charles Stross, Ken Macleod, Iain Banks, and Alastair Reynolds among others in this regard. Wright followed the trilogy up immediately with a duology collectively called ‘War of the Dreaming’, a Fantasy work that qualified Wright as a versatile author, as comfortable bending human myth as examining the future human equation. ‘The War of Dreaming’ sequence, The Last Guardian of Everness, and Mists of Everness although released after, conceptually predated ‘The Golden Age’ trilogy. Thus, along with confirming the aforementioned realization above — that Wright’s combination of quality and consistent releases make him one of the more noteworthy SF/F writers since 2000 — his latest Orphans of Chaos, provides readers with a first look into Wright’s creative progress; and if initial impressions can be taken as a sign meriting any veracity, it’s the most promising beginning to a Wright scribed project yet.


Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb | Book Review

Assassin’s Quest, the third book in Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, picks up right where Royal Assassin ended. The noble bastard FitzChivalry struggles to regain his humanity after living inside the mind of his wolf. As in the previous books, Hobb evocatively describes the intersection of the human and animal minds.

Once Fitz recovers, the story begins to ebb. He drives away all his closest mentors in a dark outburst that seems entirely real for his character. Then Assassin’s Quest deteriorates into three ponderous journeys, followed by a bloated endgame.


Book Review – The White Wolf’s Son

“The White Wolf’s Son: The Albino Underground” is the last of Michael Moorcock’s recent Elric trilogy.

Much of the novel is narrated by Oonagh von Bek, the 12 year-old granddaughter of Count Ulric von Bek (an incarnation of the Eternal Champion) and Oona (the daughter of Elric and Oone, the dreamthief from “The Fortress of the Pearl”). Oonagh quickly encounters an odd assortment of characters. First, she comes upon a pair of sinister men haunting her family’s property. Then, a strange band claiming to be friends of her grandparents suddenly appears. She quickly realizes that they (multiverse regulars Prince Lobkowitz, Chevalier St. Odhran, and Constable Oswald Bastable along with the mysterious albino Monsieur Zodiac) have come to protect her from the sinister pair (multiverse regulars Gaynor von Minct and Klosterheim, who continue their quest to find the Holy Grail and to become gods themselves).


Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb | Book Review

Robin Hobb burst onto the fantasy scene in 1995 with Assassin’s Apprentice, the opening volume of the Farseer Trilogy. These books sold so well that Hobb wrote two later trilogies set in the same world. Soon word leaked that “Robin Hobb” was actually long-time mid-list fantasy author Megan Lindholm. The success of the Farseer Trilogy transformed her career and brought many of the old Lindholm novels back into print. As the book that started that revitalization, Assassin’s Apprentice also helped lead the growing mid-90s trend of character-centered fantasy.

Hobb’s first-person narrative eloquently captures the emotional growth of the noble bastard FitzChivalry, as he comes of age among his royal kin. Fitz suffers through pain and alienation as he fights for respect after the death of his father. The flashback perspective of Fitz as an old man drips with somber nostalgia, producing a far more mature narrative voice than most coming-of-age fantasy. Hobb excels at delicate tactile details of things that Fitz experiences, especially his mental bond with animals. Yet the narrative unfortunately offers no correspondingly deep details of many plot-related points, such as how Fitz steals the letter left in Prince Regal’s chambers, or any of his assassin training.

The first three-quarters of the novel move slowly as the plot bounces Fitz through a string of mentors and trades, including Burrich, Chade, Lady Patience, and Galen. Each period of his training seems to ignore the previous one(s). These characters and others, such as Verity, Regal, and the Fool, veer wildly from background to major importance with no apparent reason in the plot.

Fitz’s rare forays out of Buckkeep involve only fleeting glimpses of external plot threads. He sees the remnants of the raid on Forge, but not the actual attack. The setting of the Six Duchies rarely feels more than an ordinary, quasi-medieval fantasy kingdom. The nobility’s convention of taking names that fit their character traits provides ridiculous epithets like “King Shrewd” and “Lady Patience.” The pseudo-historical passages opening each chapter feel like forced exposition from outside the point-of-view, rather than integrated historical accounts or the old Fitz’s nostalgia that Hobb seamlessly weaves into the narrative.

In contrast, the last quarter of the book speeds toward an abrupt climax of court intrigue, almost jarring in the shift of pace, plot focus, and style. The conclusion provides several surprises among the obvious twists, and most of the previously discarded characters retain importance as prominent or gratuitous participants. The city and culture of Fitz’s mountain hosts are far more vividly and uniquely described than anything in the Six Duchies, but the emotional focus of the first three-quarters of the book is largely abandoned. The intrigue concludes without resolving the main external plot of the entire book, the coastal raids, and the sudden ending leaves the novel feeling like a set-up for the next volume of the trilogy.

Assassin’s Apprentice slowly builds Fitz’s character through the poignant first-person narrative, but the ordinary plot and the uneven pacing dull the novel’s brilliance. Regardless, Hobb’s debut shows her character-centered focus, while maintaining enough traditional fantasy elements to ensure the book a wide readership. And given the tremendous odds against mid-list writers in the modern publishing business, that may be the book’s greatest achievement.