Theodora 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(along with a good deal of her poetry) and in 2004 Small Beer Press collected four of these, together with some unpublished material, into a perfectly formed collection – “The Rose in Twelve Petals and Other Stories” – as part of their occasional chapbook series.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…
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.
Mark 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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Royal Assassin, the second book of Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, picks up right where Assassin’s Apprentice ended. The noble bastard FitzChivalry Farseer, having foiled a plot against Prince Verity and his foreign bride Kettricken, returns to Buckkeep.
“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).
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.
The Skrayling Tree: The Albino in America is the second book in the recent Elric trilogy by Michael Moorcock and takes place some years after The Dreamthief’s Daughter.
In the short Prologue, Elric explains that this later trilogy does not fit cleanly into the timeline of the Elric Saga because (1) these new books involve dreams and (2) Elric has poor memory of his dreams. Thus, amnesia becomes an explanation for inconsistencies.
“The Revenge of the Rose,” a recent Elric novel by Michael Moorcock, is difficult to place within timeline of the original Elric series.
Taking a break from the peace of Tanelorn, Elric encounters the dragon Scarsnout, who returns him to Melniboné. As he expects, he finds the capital city in ruins. It is, however, not Imrryr but rather its predecessor, H’hui’shan, which stood upon the same site before the Melnibonéans made their pact with Chaos, destroyed H’hui’shan in civil war, and began the Bright Empire’s 10,000 year rule.
Innumerable commentators, critics, fans and, lately, even film-makers have suggested that Tolkien’s oeuvre was deeply affected by his experiences in the Great War (1914-18) and particularly at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 (when he served as a signals officer with the Lancashire Fusiliers). And now John Garth, a newspaper journalist and Tolkien fan determined to investigate the matter, has written a focused biographical studying of J.R.R’s wartime experiences. Drawing on Tolkien’s letters and papers, Garth has set about reconstructing his movements and the development of his writing during (and the years immediately before and after) the First World War. In doing so he also introduces the circle of close friends – the TCBS (or Tea Club and Barrovian Society), made up of Christopher Wiseman, G. B. Smith and Robert Gilson – with whom Tolkien shared many of his early writings and embryonic mythology. Indeed, the central narrative of the biography, and by far the most interesting aspect, is the interplay of this group (all friends since school), and the tragedies visited upon them by the war; it is, if you like, the tale of a strong and sincere “fellowship” broken by the horrors of circumstance.
Science fiction changed forever when the Viking probe landed on Mars in 1976 and sent back color pictures of the rugged, ochre-colored landscape. No longer could SF writers set their stories among the “canals” of Mars, or have colonists romping across the surface of the planet without spacesuits. Much previous SF had also contained elements of fantasy, including epic family sagas or unrealistically fantastic depictions of other planets. At the same time as the Viking landing, fantasy began to emerge as a separate genre, led by the best-selling sword and sorcery epics of Terry Brooks and Stephen R. Donaldson.
“The Fortress of the Pearl” supplements Michael Moorcock’s classic Elric Saga, which tells the tales of Elric of Melniboné. This volume takes place during the previously undescribed gap between “Elric of Melniboné” and “The Sailor on the Seas of Fate.”
Exercising questionable judgment, Elric has left his betrothed, Cymoril, and left the Ruby Throne of Melniboné in the ambitious hands of his cousin Yyrkoon while he explores the human lands of the Young Kingdoms and beyond. Elric wanders into the depths of the Sighing Desert searching for the fabled city Tanelorn, but instead finds the desert city Quarzhasaat – renown for its riches, self-absorption, haughtiness, and self-imposed ignorance of the outside world. In short, Quarzhasaat is much like Melniboné. Elric becomes embroiled in the convoluted, cruel, and self-important politics of Quarthassat, including a quest to obtain the legendary Pearl at the Heart of the World.
This is an unconventional little book of interest to Michael Moorcock fans. Despite its title, most of the stories in this collection are not about Elric; they’re about Sojan Shieldbearer, Moorcock’s first fantasy character from the 1950s. The book also includes two non-fiction essays regarding the creation of Elric and Jerry Cornelius, two of Moorcock’s most well-known characters, and concludes with a short sword & sorcery parody.
“The Confusion” constitutes Part II of Neal Stephenson’s gargantuan “Baroque Cycle”, an SF saga of “history, adventure, science, invention, sex, absurdity, piracy, madness, death and alchemy” set in a late, mildly alternate 17th century. And it is a BIG book in more ways than one. First: being composed of 816 pages of small print and weighing in at half a kilogram it might well, in the right hands, make a dangerous projectile. Second: its metaphysical content – the political and economic affairs of the known world c. 1689 – 1702 – would, no doubt, make an equally effective mental bludgeon. Finally: it is hugely and unabashedly ambitious (as might be obvious from the above-listed subject material). I’d even venture to pronounce it a combination of scholarship and storytelling almost without equal in the SF litero-sphere. Which is to say that it has all the same qualities as its predecessor, “Quicksilver”.
Steven Brust debuted his hard-boiled assassin Vlad Taltos in Jhereg in 1983. This self-standing novel started a series of short novels focusing on Vlad, which currently stands at nine books. Brust has also written several other trilogies set in the same fantasy world of Dragaera.
Jhereg opens with two scenes from Vlad’s childhood, then jumps to his adult occupation as an assassin. Brust immediately sets up the racial conflict in Dragaeran society by showing the constant scorn directed at Vlad, a human, from the dominant Dragaeran race, seven-foot tall humanoids who can live for a thousand years. The structure of Dragaeran society, organized into seventeen ethnic houses named after indigenous fantasy animals, is also detailed through Vlad’s involvement in a power struggle between two houses.
Since publishing her debut novel A Telling of Stars (2003) with Penguin, Canadian Caitlin Sweet has joined the burgeoning ranks of young, innovative fantasy genre writers. She has since released a prequel to A Telling – The Silences of Home (2005). Both novels have received high praise for their lyrical prose and emotional potency, and have been likened to the work of her Canadian counterpart, Guy Gavriel Kay.
My first review was of A Telling of the Stars and so it gives me great pleasure to welcome Caitlin here.
I can safely say that I’ve never met a Kelly Link story that I didn’t like, and, after re-reading her alchemical debut collection “Stranger Things Happen”, I’m just about ready to tell you why. First, a little recap…“Stranger Things…” burst onto the shorter fiction scene in 2001, published by Small Beer Press (who also put out my favourite ‘zine – “Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet” – and which Link co-founded). It was immediately seized upon by some big names, both in-genre and out of it. Andrew O’Hehir of The New York Times Book Review wrote that: “She embraces fantasy in its fullest sense and in doing so transcends all considerations of genre”, and Neil Gaiman called her “the best short story writer currently out there…” Ellen Datlow, John Clute and Sean Stewart all added their own respected voices in praise.
Let me begin candidly: “Lord of Emperors” only confirms the burgeoning suspicion I had at the end of “Sailing to Sarantium”. The “Sarantine Mosaic” is, for me, one of *the* superior works of prose, plot and imagination, not only in the fantasy genre, but in my reading experience in general. Highly subjective praise indeed you might object, but, from where I’m sitting, well deserved. As such I feel compelled to confess to the obvious: I’ve written a joyfully biased review (somewhat ironically given a recent discussion about a reviewer’s striving for objectivity over on the forums!). I *can* see things that might niggle a reader in “Lord of Emperors”, not least of which the tenor of the ending (many fans at the dedicated forums at www.brightweavings.com appear to have been disappointed by it). Kay’s style is often obtuse, his character’s motives obscured or difficult to evaluate… I even spotted what might be considered some loose ends in the plotting. One character in particular is left dangling, her potential apparently dissipating in the heat of that bittersweet ending. But what can I say? These difficulties, which always formed an essential part of Kay’s Mosaic for me, added rather than detracted from my reading experience. They heated and flavoured a heady mix of emotional currents and possibilities; characters’ open futures left a taste of the long-term, a necessary denial of complete closure. So bear these things in mind as you read on….
I have a set of bright memories associated with various of Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels: Sitting, aged 13, grief-stricken and sobbing in a cold bath having finished “The Darkest Road”, the final weft in his Fionavar Tapestry; drooping in my early morning lectures five years later having welcomed in the dawn with the last page of his “Lions of Al-Rassan”; throwing myself down into my pillows and grinning, grinning, grinning at the promise of a second book in the Sarantine Mosaic duology. This last is hardly tinted with the same nostalgia, what with it only happening yesterday evening but you take my meaning.
British novelist Paul Kearney mixes nautical adventure with epic war and religious politics in Hawkwood’s Voyage, the first book of his five-volume series The Monarchies of God. Kearney’s fantasy world is based on 15th century Europe and includes early muskets and cannons, monarchies clashing with a centralized church, and heathens invading from the east. He adds a few fantastical elements to his setting, including minor magic and a supernatural shapeshifting. Contrary to the title and the irrelevant prologue, the major conflict is not Hawkwood’s voyage but the invasion of the Merduks. This nation of dark-skinned horsemen, led by a Sultan and worshipping a god with a name that begins with an A, reads like a stereotypical portrait of Muslim infidels.