Friday, December 19, 2014

Hunted Heart, Alison DeLuca

I enjoy all things literary, and this gender-bent riff on the Snow-White tale is both literary and full of the fantastic. It is told in a style that harkens back to days gone by, to a time when prose was crafted for beauty as well as for the action it portrayed.

But First--THE BLURB:
When Tali is hired to cut out the heart of Prince Kas, the huntress can’t refuse. Tali realizes there is no escape from the dark magic of the queen’s mirror, even though her own feelings for the prince are far too complex to understand.

As they try to run from their shared destiny, Tali and Kas have to rely on their wits and each other as hunter becomes prey and hearts are won and lost.

A genderbent Snow White for adults (18+ only.) All royalties go to

*Warning: Chapter 21 contains details about an attempted sexual assault. Also, several chapters detail an assault in the main character's background. Although there are no explicit details, readers sensitive to being triggered by references to sexual assault should exercise caution.

Tali is an awesome character, strong and loyal, despite the terrible things that happened in her childhood. She is complex, and driven by her loyalty to her guardian. Prince Kas is no two-dimensional Disney prince either--he is multilayered and quite driven by human emotions. The setting and culture DeLuca places them in is baroque and mysterious. Their story is both harsh and intriguing, and is not sugar-coated in anyway.

The style of writing in this tale is a bit more descriptive and ornate than I usually gravitate to, but I was intrigued by Tali and her situation enough that I soon got into the tale--she is forced down a path she doesn't want to take, and manipulated by one of the best portrayed evil protagonists I have read in a long time. Queen Leila is more nasty, more selfish, and more hateful than Voldemort in a dress.

I highly recommend Hunted Heart to those who love romance and new takes of traditional tales. Alison DeLuca is a masterful storyteller.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Elantris, Brandon Sanderson

I had a hard time getting into this book, but once I did--wow! Elantris by Brandon Sanderson is a deep commentary on fear, lust for power, and humanity.

But first, The BLURB:

Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

Arelon's new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping -- based on their correspondence -- to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.

But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.

The setting of this book is the ruined city that once was the shining example of all things wonderful in the world, and which is now a tomb for the living dead. There are three main characters, which was a little offsetting at first, but as I got into the tale, I saw the reason for it, and the story couldn't be told any other way.

Prince Raoden wakes up to find himself afflicted with the curse of 'the shaod,' the physical manifestation of the once beautiful, but now terrible, change. Despite being heir to the throne, he is declared dead and secretly thrust into the city with little food. He finds many reasons to fight against his lot, and struggles to raise the inhabitants of Elantris from the anarchy they have fallen into in their hunger and despair. Raoden is driven to find an answer, to discover the answer to why the Aons no longer work, and to restore their power, thereby returning Elantiris to health.

Sarene is a princess who is married by proxy to the now officially dead Prince Raoden.  She arrives in Arelon, a widow before she has even met her husband, and, despite some roadblocks, immediately takes charge, as she is the only one really suited for the task. She sees the reality that the Arelon nobility ignores, and begins her efforts to both improve the lives of her new people, and head off the impending doom represented by a foreign religion that is poised to take over Arelon. When she realizes what Elantris conceals, and that her husband is there, she takes decisive action, sending food and other encouragement.

Hrathon is the high priest in charge of converting Arelon to his religion and placing a puppet on the throne. His own sense of honor and nobility get in the way of his duty, which sets things up for a spectacular finish. He is complicated, both likable and unlikable.

This is a complicated read, but well worth the effort. The characters are deeply compelling, and Sanderson draws you into his world of magic and logic with precision and a flair for intense drama. I highly recommend Elantris as a one-of-a-kind fantasy set in a distinct and unique world.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey

This book, The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey, was a real departure for me. I've never really jumped on the Zombie bandwagon but this book is not as much about the undead as it is about man's inhumanity and what it really means to be alive

But First, THE BLURB:

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her "our little genius."

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.


The character of Melanie is an amazing, complex little girl. She is innocent and honest, and that never changes no matter what happens. She has one bright center to her universe, and that is her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, the only person who has ever treated her with a shred of decency. 

In many ways, the characters of Sergeant Eddie Parks and Private Gallagher are over the top, but that doesn't matter. The core of this tale revolves around the evil perpetuated by Dr. Caldwell and her obsession, the very real and reasonable fear the teachers and jailers have of Melanie and the other children in the facility, and the inescapable realization some wars can't be won.

The way Carey concludes this tale is, when you think about it, the only way it could have ended. 

If I have any complaints at all, it is that the Kindle version is quite expensive, $9.99 and so for readers who are on a budget, this book may be off the menu until it comes out at the second-hand bookstore.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Castle of Otranto, Northanger Abbey, and The Mysteries of Udolpho

It's the end of November, and this seems like the perfect time to go back to the roots of fantasy, to the books that inspired the early twentieth century masters of paranormal fantasy and horror. Authors from Edgar Allen Poe, to H.P. Lovecraft, to Victoria Holt were influenced and inspired by these root classics.

The late nineteenth century was a great era in which the seeds of the genre of fantasy were planted, a time when books chronicling magic, mayhem, and dark mysteries found fertile soil in the imaginations of thousands of educated, book-hungry middle-class men and women. This was the emergence of the Gothic Novel.

Gothic novels have common themes consisting of incidents of physical and psychological terror, remote, crumbling castles, seemingly supernatural events, a brooding, scheming villain, and (most importantly) a persecuted heroine.

The Castle of Otranto is a novel written in 1764 by Horace Walpole. Many consider it to be the first gothic novel, the beginnings of the literary genre that would spawn the likes of Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Daphne du Maurier. Walpole chronicles the story of Manfred, lord of the castle, and his family. The book begins on the wedding-day of his sickly son Conrad and princess Isabella. Just before the wedding, however, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet (!) that falls on him from above. This strange, unexplained event is particularly ominous in light of an ancient prophecy “that the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.” This sets into motion terrible events.

It also suggests that decking your halls with heavy armor may not be a good idea, for all you medieval Martha Stewart(s) out there.

So anyway–Manfred decides the only way for him to avoid destruction is to marry Isabella himself, but first he must divorce his current wife. Isabella runs away, aided by a peasant named Theodore. ” It’s all very melodramatic and exciting, with Isabella hiding in caves, and the fortuitous appearance of mysterious knights, and dark curses. Theodore is revealed to be the true prince of Otranto and Manfred’s daughter, Matilda, dies, leaving Manfred to repent. Theodore becomes king and eventually marries Isabella “because she is the only one who can understand his true sorrow.”

Even Jane Austen loved Gothic novels.

Northanger Abbey was the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be completed for publication, written circa 1798–99. It was originally written as a send-up of the gothic novel, the Mysteries of Udolpho. She died in 1817 and her book was posthumously published.

The book details the adventures of seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland. She is one of ten children of a country clergyman. Although a tomboy in her childhood, by the age of 17 she has read so many Gothic novels that she considers herself to be in training to be a heroine. Catherine reads voraciously, and Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho is a favorite.

She meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney and after a bit of drama, is invited to visit at his family’s home. Catherine, because of her love affair with Gothic novels, expects the abbey to be exotic and frightening. Sadly, it turns out that Northanger Abbey is a pleasant home and decidedly not Gothic. However, (cue the dramatic music) the house includes a mysterious suite of rooms that no one ever enters. Catherine learns that they were Mrs Tilney’s, who died nine years earlier. Catherine decides that, since General Tilney does not now seem to be affected by the loss of his wife, he may have murdered her or even imprisoned her in her chamber.

I LOVED this novel when I read it while in college in Bellingham, Washington in the 1970s. I wore out three hard-bound copies of it!

So what inspired Jane Austen to write a Gothic novel? It was her own love of a work written an Englishwoman who, in turn, was inspired by the Gothic work of Horace Walpole. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, was published in four volumes on May 8, 1794. Walpole began the genre, but Radcliffe made it popular.

Set in the year 1584 in southern France and northern Italy, the novel details the plight of Emily St. Aubert, a young French woman. Her mother is dead, and while journeying with her father, she meets Valancourt, a handsome man who also feels an almost mystical kinship with the natural world. Emily and Valancourt quickly fall in love. After the death of her father she is sent to live with her aunt, Madame Cheron. Emily suffers imprisonment in the castle Udolpho at the hands of Signor Montoni, an Italian brigand who has married her aunt. Emily’s romance with the dashing Valancourt is frustrated by Montoni and others. Emily also investigates the mysterious relationship between her father and the Marchioness de Villeroi, and its connection to the castle at Udolpho.

Radcliffe’s fiction is characterized by apparently supernatural events that are then provided with rational explanations. She was a forward-thinking woman, as was Jane Austen, in that in all Radcliffe’s works traditional moral values are reinforced, the rights of women are strongly advocated, and reason always prevails. Sir Walter Scott was quoted as saying, in regard to Ann Radcliffe’s work, “Her prose was poetry and her poetry was prose. She was, indeed, a prose poet, in both the best and the worst senses of the phrase. The romantic landscape, the background, is the best thing in all her books; the characters are two-dimensional, the plots far-fetched and improbable, with elaboration of means and futility of result.”

The roots of our modern fascination with all things dark and mysterious goes back to the first stories told by our tribal ancestors, under the stars around campfires. Every tribe (and in later millennia, every family) had a storyteller who wove tales of darkness, of good triumphing over evil, of sin and redemption. When written languages were invented, the upper classes in early societies had literature written for them by the likes of Homer and Li Fang .

In western societies, the renaissance began the great lust for books. With the advent of the printing press and the emergence of an affluent, educated middle-class, reading novels became a popular way to while away one’s well-earned leisure hours in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon. This habit survived, despite frequent, intense puritanical censure of such frivolity.

It is because of those nineteenth century pioneers of early popular literature that we modern readers have such a wide variety of work to entertain us. Kindles and other ebook-readers show up among the patrons of every coffee shop and in every airport-lounge and every doctor’s waiting room.

Much may have changed how we take delivery of that content–few books arrive at my house with thick paper and leather bindings nowadays, but nothing has changed in the desire to just quietly enjoy a good story when one has a little downtime.

(Re-blogged from Life in the Realm of Fantasy, Connie J. Jasperson, author)

Friday, November 21, 2014

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlepig: A Bobby Dollar Novella (The Bobby Dollar Books Book 4) by Tad Williams

I love it when a mainstream author goes rogue and goes indie, even if it's for just a few minutes. Tad Williams has done just that with his new e-book, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlepig: A Bobby Dollar Novella (The Bobby Dollar Books Book 4). YAY! My boy Bobby is home for Christmas even if it is only for 49 pages!

But first, THE BLURB:
"Oh, ho, ho!" the demon Chickenleg said, sounding like your drunk uncle trying to get you to laugh at a dirty joke. "Oh, ho! You'll love this one, Dollar!"

Bobby Dollar, Advocate Angel and perpetual thorn in the side of Heaven, is about to save the holidays for a very special someone. Or somewolf. Or maybe even some pig… Bobby is summoned on Christmas Eve to do his part in the heavenly judgement of a man who is not prepared to go lightly. You see, the family of the gentleman in question are victims of Nazi war crimes, and the crimes are still occurring — in fact, the worst is yet to come. With special dispensation from an Angelic Judge named Ambriel, Bobby Dollar has until Christmas Morning to right some serious wrongs and bring some justice (and a little seasonal cheer) into a rotten world…

I must say--Williams never ceases to entertain me with his descriptions of his characters, both major and minor. His demons are creepy and his angels are not much better. Bobby himself is sort of a rundown, hard-boiled detective type, with unsavory habits, but he has good intentions. (Key word: intentions.) 

My favorite line in this little tale is Bobby opening his defense of his recently deceased client by telling the heavenly judge, "Everyone makes mistakes, and some of us accidentally eat a few people." The hilarity just keeps going from there. Bobby gets the trial continued for an extra day so he can do a bit more investigating, and goes up against a Nazi war-criminal. The bad guys are bad and the snarky one-liners are awesome.

Aw heck. Just read the book. It's $2.99 for the Kindle download and it's only a novella. It's a great little indulgence for one evening of intense, Christmas fun.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Harbinger (The Greatest Sin Book 2), Lee French and Erik Kort

Harbinger is the second book in The Greatest Sin series--and it is  written in such a way that even f I hadn't read the first book, The Fallen, I'd be sucked in. Indie authors Lee French and Erik Kort have written a seamless classic in this series.

But First--the BLURB:
Adjusting to her new life as a soul-bound agent of the Fallen has Chavali pushing herself harder than ever before. Between learning to fight, dealing with idiots, and climbing stairs - lots of stairs - she has little time to waste on thoughts of the future. Or the past.

When another agent fails to report in, Chavali is sent on the mission to discover her fate. Ready or not, she saddles up for a new adventure with new dangers.

The search takes her to Ket, a coastal city slathered in mystery. There, she faces ghosts from her past and demons of her future as she seeks answers. All she seems to find are more questions.

Plague, murder, lies, espionage...this city harbors much more than meets the eye, and maybe too much to handle.

Once again, there are several times I would have liked to slap Chavali--but that's part of her charm. She is arrogant, self-centered, and completely uncaring of other people--until she is forced to see that they have feelings too. She stumbles through the afterlife like a bull in a china shop, but she somehow manages to pull it out of the fire.

Once again Chavali is teamed up with Colby and Portia, and a new character, Harris. As in the first book, the surrounding world is vivid and clear. Once character I am waiting to find out more about is Karias, Colby's horse-that-may-not-be-a-horse.

The characters are sharply drawn and their motives drive the plot. Pale, the villain, is a strong, crafty woman, and I really liked that. Robin, Pale's mentor, is still pulling the strings, but he comes into focus more in the tale, as do his plans. 

Harris, the new character, is an excellent foil for Chavali--and provides a little drama as far as Colby's continuing interest in her goes.

All in all, this book is a great way to while away the winter day. But be warned--once you get started reading it, it's hard to put down!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Today we are visiting the fantasy classic Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock. I am going to say at the outset that it took me ten years to really appreciate this book, but that is because I was unable to figure it out. Then I stopped trying to understand it, and began appreciating the utter beauty of Holdstock's work. This power of prose that Holdstock wields is the reason this book is considered to be a cornerstone of any library claiming to contain the truly great masterpieces of epic fantasy.

But First THE BLURB:

Myth and Terror in the Forest Deeps

The mystery of Ryhope Wood, Britain's last fragment of primeval forest, consumed George Huxley's entire long life. Now, after his death, his sons have taken up his work. But what they discover is numinous and perilous beyond all expectation.

For the Wood, larger inside than out, is a labyrinth full of myths come to life, "mythagos" that can change you forever. A labyrinth where love and beauty haunt your dreams. . .and may drive you insane.

There is a a lot of both history and pre-history in this tale. The tale begins just after the end of WWII. At the outset Stephen Huxley returns from military service, after recuperating from his war wounds, to see his elder brother Christian, who now lives alone in their childhood home, Oak Lodge, just on the edge of Ryhope Wood. Their father, George, has died recently. Christian is disturbed but intrigued by his encounters with one of the mythagos, while Stephen is confused and disbelieving when Christian explains the enigma of the wood. Both had seen mythagos as children, but their father explained them away as travelling Gypsies. Christian returns to the wood for longer and longer periods, eventually disappearing into the wood.Stephen reads about his father's and Edward Wynne-Jones's studies of the wood. Part of his research on the wood causes him to contact Wynne-Jones's daughter, Anne Hayden.

The book  defines a mythago as a "myth imago, the image of the idealized form of a myth creature". Mythagos are dangerously real, but if any of them stray too far from the wood they slowly deteriorate and die. Because they are formed from human myths, they vary in appearance and character depending on the human memories from which they formed. That concept was what I struggled with as a reader, but as I grew to understand it, I was amazed at the possibilities such a notion offered. 

Holdstock's prose is lush and beautiful--even when I didn't understand the concept of the meaning behind the Mythagos I loved the words on the page. And later, when I had begun to understand what had happened to Christian I developed an appreciation for the sheer creative genius of Robert Holdstock as an author and builder of worlds. In Mythago Wood, Holdstock gives us tough questions, deep moral dilemmas, and a seriously epic fantasy world that can never be matched or imitated.