Friday, December 30, 2011
This year, in July I began my quest to try to read and discuss one really good fantasy read a week. At the time that I began this quest, I had no idea just how difficult and time consuming a task that would become! I quickly discovered that for every one book that I loved, I had to read four or five that I quite frankly didn't love. Many books that have received high critical praise didn't ring my chimes at all.
For this post, I had to decide which book-cover was my favorite book cover, and that was incredibly difficult! The art and graphics on most of these books is so great that I would be proud to have it on my walls. Still, Stephen King's incredible cover for 'The Dark Tower' looms as the best cover that I have seen this year. The joke there is that I never reviewed that book, although my friend Jesse Schlecter reviewed the series as a guest post! Still, I am using it as the cover of choice for this post. A very close runner-up for cover of the year is Valerie Douglas' 'Servant Of The Gods', which was my final review of the year.
Since my reason for writing the Best in Fantasy was to discuss the books that I loved, you have never heard of the ones that I like moderately, or even not at all, and you will never hear about them unless we are chatting in person! I don't have the deeply rooted belief that I am the final word on whether a book is bad or great that a true critic needs to have. You have come to realize, I am sure, that I have a rather quirky sense of what I consider to be a great read. My choices of books tend to be quite divergent and often obscure. Reading pleasure is so subjective and individual, that I simply try to promote what I personally consider to be little gems.
Several little gems really stood out in my mind this year, and they may or may not surprise you. The first book that leaps to my mind when I think of the book that I enjoyed the most this year is L. T. Suzuki's 'Imago - A Warrior's Tale'. I was blown away by that first book in the series. I dropped everything and immediately began reading everything in the whole series. The more I read, the more I was addicted!
Another little gem that rocked the Casbah for me was 'Black Numbers' by Dean Frank Lappi. That is the scariest, most compelling book I have read in a very long time. I am now waiting on pins and needles for the sequel!
I also dipped deep into the realm of Young Adult Fantasy, and along with J. K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' (which was my inaugural post) I read Alison DeLuca's 'Night Watchman Express', Rick Riordan's 'The Lost Hero' and Gary Hoover's 'Land of Nod - The Artifact'. Although all of these books are written from a teen's point of view (an age which I left behind along with the dinosaur), each and every one of them captured my attention and drew me completely into their world.
I also review many books by authors who have passed on, but whose works live on and still pull the reader in, even after all the years since their passing. Fritz Lieber's classic ' 'Swords and Deviltry', Robert Jordan's 'New Spring', and Marion Zimmer Bradley's 'Mists of Avalon' were just a few of the classics that I re-read this year for this blog. I was so happy to re-read their work, and discovered many things in them that I hadn't noticed the first time around.
We also lost several great writers this year. The prolific, amazing Anne McCaffrey passed on in November, and Diana Wynne Jones in March.
Despite the losses, and despite the amazing number of books that I have had to read just to find one gem a week, this has been a truly great adventure. Each and every book that I have reviewed in this forum is a book that I absolutely loved reading, and I would gladly read again. Thank you all for being a part of my first year at this! I hope to be able share many more little beauties with you in the years to come!
Thursday, December 22, 2011
I am looking forward to reading more works by Valerie Douglas in the future.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
This week I finally read Diana Wynne Jones' classic tale, Howl's Moving Castle. I have long been a fan of the classic animè movie by Hayao Miyazaki that is loosely based on the tale, but I must say that the movie does not tell the tale at all the way that Diana Wynne Jones wrote it. In her book, there are no enemy aircraft bombing anyone. Rather, the tension is between Howl, his personal failings and the Witch of the Waste.
The book begins with a young woman named Sophie Hatter. She is the eldest of three daughters living in the town of Market Chipping in the magical kingdom of Ingary, where magic and witchcraft are accepted ways of life. She is very talented with the needle and makes the most beautiful hats and dresses, unknowingly talking life into the hats she creates and other objects.
As the eldest of three girls, she believes that she will have no chance of finding her fortune, accepting that she will have a dull life running the family hat shop. That is, she accepts it until she is turned into an old crone by the Witch of the Waste, a powerful witch who is not at all pleased with one of Sophie's hats. Mortified, Sophie leaves the shop and installs herself as a cleaning lady for the notorious Wizard Howl, by simply moving in and taking over. He is infamous in her town for eating the hearts of beautiful young women. Sophie hopes to make a bargain with him to have her spell removed so that she will be young again.
However, she soon learns that Howl is a rather self-absorbed, dishonest and cavalier but ultimately good-natured person and an extraordinarily talented wizard. She discovers that he spreads many malicious rumours about himself to ensure his privacy and smears his own reputation to avoid work and responsibility. As she gets to know him better, she frequently refers to him as a 'Slither-er Outer' because he always manages to slither out of things that are disagreeable or involve real work.
The door to his castle is actually a portal that opens onto four different places: the moving castle Sophie first encounters in the hills above Market Chipping, the seaside city of Porthaven, the royal capital of Kingsbury and Howl's boyhood home in Wales, where he was named Howell Jenkins.
Sophie immediately makes a bargain with Howl's resident fire demon, Calcifer: if Sophie can break the contract Howl and Calcifer have signed, then Calcifer will return Sophie to her original form. Part of the contract, however, stipulates that neither Howl nor Calcifer can disclose the terms of the contract to any third party. Sophie tries to guess the specifics of the contract, while Calcifer supplies frequent hints which Sophie usually doesn't pick up on.
Howl himself realizes that Sophie is under a spell and secretly attempts to remove the curse, but when he is unable to remove it, he comes to the conclusion that, for some reason, Sophie wants to remain an old woman. Since she apparently wishes to be an old lady, he plays along with it, not letting on to her that he is aware that she is under a spell.
Howl's apprentice, Michael Fisher, does all the work of running of Howl's business, while Howl himself is out chasing his long string of paramours. The minute a girl gives in to him, Howl falls out of love with her. Soon it emerges that Howl and Michael are courting Sophie's two younger sisters Lettie and Martha. Michael is sincere, and truly loves Martha (who is going by the name of Lettie due to the girls switching places in their jobs). Sophie is worried about the real Lettie, whom Howl is obsessed with, knowing that the minute Lettie admits her love to him he will drop her like a hot rock and she doesn't want her sister to be hurt by him.
Prince Justin, the King's younger brother, goes missing while searching for Wizard Suliman, who is actually Benjamin Sullivan, also from Wales. The King orders Howl to find Suliman and Justin and kill the Witch of the Waste for him, as she is responsible for their disappearances. Howl, however, has his own reasons to avoid seeking a confrontation with the Witch of the Waste. The Witch, a jilted former lover, has laid a curse on him.
Howl attempts to weasel out of this exalted royal appointment by having Sophie pretend to be his mother and petition the King against the appointment. Her attempt to convince the King that Howl is a self-absorbed, dishonest and cavalier 'Slither-er Outer' is unsuccessful. Howl becomes the official Royal Wizard despite his wishes to the contrary.
I must say that I really enjoyed this book. It was first published in 1986, and how it was that I never read it before this, I don't know. I am now going to read more of Diana Wynne Jones' work, as this is also the first book of hers that I have read. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who has seen the movie, because, as so often happens, the movie is a completely different tale altogether.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Thursday, December 1, 2011
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens is one of the first modern paranormal fantasies. First published by Chapman & Hall on December 17, 1847, this tale has remained as one of the great classics and has never been out of print.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
‘Restoree’ was a tale that was incredibly romantic and was my go-to romance novel for years.
Her collaborations with Elizabeth Scarborough for the 'Powers That Be' (PeTayBe)series were great escapes when I was bored or avoiding cleaning my house.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
The adventure from start to finish had a bit of everything, and I am pleased to admit I found myself on more than one occasion worrying about what was to come for the characters. Stephen King managed to weave together an easily believable scifi fantasy fiction which included elements from other popular works of fiction such as the Fantastic Four and the Wizard of Oz. Not quite copying them but bringing them into his work as surreal places, and offering moments for the characters to not quite trust their surroundings.
The story manages to have a good variety in the cast of characters while keeping it believable. There was only one time when I didn’t get what was going on, but I digress. The story focuses around Roland, Eddie Dean, Jake Chambers and Susannah. Also their animal friend Oy, who you will have to learn about for yourself. I’ll have you know the saddest parts of the story revolve around that damn billy bumbler. But again, I digress. They meet pretty interesting people, like the mysterious man in black, as well as Blaine the Mono.
I read the first two books in the series during a pleasant period of unemployment. By the time I got to the third one, I was working at a local golf course, from the early morning, to the early afternoon. A lot of what I did involved riding machinery, so I was able to listen to these books while outside and in the sunshine. After five books these characters were close to me. Their adventures were what I looked forward to all summer. They went through destroyed metropolitan cities and on super-sonic kamikaze train rides. And I believed every minute of it.
By the time the end-game came around, I was as ready as they all were to make it to the Dark Tower. It, from the start, was known to be the end of the line. The final period on the final page. So much tension preceded it. After a last confrontation, Roland makes it to the final door, and calls out the name of all those who helped him along on his quest to the dark tower. Then he enters. I won’t tell you what happens after that.
I will tell you though, that I re-listened to the ending over and over. You’ll have to tell me what you think of it. They’ve recently announced that The Dark Tower is going to be an HBO series. Be sure to read the book before the show comes out. You’ll be able to appreciate it more. If you like a great story, it is right up your alley. You’ll get to know some fascinating things about the King’s world.
Post written by Jesse Lee Schleich. He can frequently be found blogging on birdwatching at http://gohawkyourself.blogspot.com/?mid=5310209
Thursday, November 10, 2011
The land of Miscia is nearing the end of its long golden age, and is poised on the edge of violent change. As the story progresses, each of the brothers becomes more clearly defined, as do their hopes and ambitions. They love their father the king, and they love their land of Miscia. Each brother makes decisions that affect the land for good or for ill based on that love. Oman tends toward paranoia and fear; Fasime is caught in the middle, and the youngest, weakest brother, Syah, is the voice of reason.
Friday, November 4, 2011
November is National Novel Writing Month, where millions of authors attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I did it last year, and I am attempting to do it again this year. I have dropped everything to do this, and am up to 14000 words as of this morning. This week I will be revisiting my first ever post on this page, which was written in celebration of the new website for all things Harry Potter, 'Pottermore which is still in the Beta Testing stage'.
I loved this book as much as I loved all the ones that have gone before, and also enjoyed the movie, despite the differences in the basic stories.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling is the final book in the series, and is the book where we meet the adult that the boy Harry Potter has become. He is still a very young adult, but he is making adult choices and trying desperately to protect the people he loves. I loved the book and immediately read it twice! Now I am re-reading it again and it is just as exciting to me as it was the first time I ever read it. Rowling's characters are masterfully drawn. They feel like real people and the reader cares about them like they are real people. That feeling of attachment carries through all the books in the series and the final book in the series is no exception. For those people who have never read the books and have only seen the movies I will only say that you have missed so much of the story!
I like the way that Rowling portrays Ron, Hermione and Harry as young adults facing this terrible situation. They are forced to grow up too fast, but they rise to the occasion. They each have strengths and weaknesses that make the story engrossing. At this point in the tale Harry is a bit of an ass. Hermione is desperately trying to hold everyone together. Ron's slow crumbling under the weight of the horcrux is absolutely one of the better parts of the tale, and the way that Rowling deals with his insane jealousy is very realistic. Hermione's complete mystification is so natural, as is Harry's hurt and anger at what he perceives as Ron's unwarranted attitude. There is a part of them that knows that the deterioration of their friendship has arisen because of the piece of Voldemorte's soul that is held within the horcrux and that it is the horcrux that is causing Ron's depression and anger, but still they are not able to deal with their own emotions. I was totally hooked at that point when I first read it, and it is still one of the better sections from my point of view.
Reunited, the three resume their search, and continually encounter a strange symbol, that an eccentric wizard named Xenophilius Lovegood (Luna’s father) tells them is the symbol of the mythical Deathly Hallows. The Hallows are three sacred objects: the Resurrection Stone, with the power to summon the dead to the living world; the Elder Wand, an unbeatable wand; and an infallible Invisibility Cloak (hmmm…ring any bells?). Harry discovers that Voldemort is desperately seeking the Elder Wand. He realizes that the evil wizard is unaware of the other Hallows and their significance and is completely ignoring them. Against his friends' better judgement, Harry decides that finding and destroying Voldemort's horcruxes is more important than procuring the Hallows because the destruction of each horcrux weakens him. In a mad adventure, they break into a Death Eater's personal vault at the Wizarding Bank, Gringotts, to recover another horcrux, Helga Hufflepuff's cup. Harry learns that another horcrux is hidden in Hogwarts. The three find a way to enter the school and a fierce battle ensues, the climax of which finds Harry saving Draco’s life; an act which makes all the difference in the end.
Harry then fully understands what he must do, and he willingly makes that choice.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - The Story of Snape
Friday, October 28, 2011
Friday, October 21, 2011
Just like every other obsessed, fanatic reader of High Fantasy, I am always on the lookout for that one special book that presages the advent of a new classic series in the genre. In my opinion, L. T. Suzuki has written that book in Imago Chronicles Book One: A Warrior's Tale.
Over the last few months since I began blogging on what I consider to be the best fantasy reads that come across my Kindle, I have read, on average, 4 fairly good books for every one really good book that made the blog; but 'fairly good' is not good enough for me to call a book 'Best In Fantasy'. Hence, my frequent excursions back to my library of classics. In order for a book to be featured here, I have to LOVE it! In 'A Warrior's Tale', Suzuki has written a book that stands beside the works of my beloved heroes of modern fantasy Jean Aul, Mercedes Lackey, and David Eddings. Imago now ranks as one of my all-time favorite epic fantasy series. And now, joy of all joys! Books 1,2 and 3 have been optioned for a major motion picture trilogy!
And now the story:
In an intriguing twist, A Warrior's Tale begins with the end. Taking shelter from a freak blizzard, Nayla Treeborn, half elf, half human and not fully either, huddles next to the corpse of a dead soldier; using his body and the now un-needed cloaks of other dead soldiers to shelter her from the killing weather. As she shelters there, she finds herself thinking about her life to that point; going back to a day when she had been a child the mental and physical equivalent of a mortal 12 year old, but was in reality 37 years of age.
Nayla's father, a high Elf and the Steward of Nagana, Dahlon Treeborn, despises her for reasons which are not made clear in this book. He has punished her for publicly disagreeing with him; nearly beating her to death. Joval Stonecroft discovers her, dreadfully mutilated and bloody and is horrified. Healing her as well as he can, he spirits her out of the elven city of Nagana to the human city of Anshen, home of the legendary Kagai Warriors. Taking the name of Takaro, the young girl embarks upon a lifetime of training, eventually becoming the only female Kagai Warrior ever accepted into the brotherhood. When at long last she reaches womanhood, not only is Takaro fully trained in the manly arts of the warrior, but she is also a woman fully trained in the womanly arts as a spy, a courtesan and an assassin.
In book 1 of the series the main antagonist is Eldred Firestaff, a sorcerer who combines the nicer qualities of Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter) with the personal charm of Ctuchik (The Belgariad), and who is an immortal tool of evil, resurfacing every generation or so. Each time he comes back, he uses the armies of the weak Emperor of East Orien as his power-base in his eternal quest to conquer the world of Imago. However, in this first book of the series, although the battles with this slippery and long-lived villain are colorful and intense, they are almost secondary to Nayla's personal battle for acceptance and with her own inner demons. This book is concerned with fleshing out Nayla and really whets your appetite for the rest of the tale!
As a half-caste, Takaro/Nayla ages much more slowly than humans, and much more quickly than elves. During the course of the story she outlives three of her Kagai Masters, all of whom live to be very old men. She also outlives their grandsons and their grandson's grandchildren, yet at the end of the book she appears to be a woman of about twenty-five years of age. Her wisdom and abilities are that of a warrior at the prime of life, and she becomes the most respected of the fierce Kagai Warriors. When her father is maneuvered into asking for the finest Kagai Warrior to train his own warriors, Nayla finds herself back in Nagana, and her father is forced to suffer her presence there; a situation that is bad at best.
The world of Imago is clearly drawn, and is every bit as compelling as that of Tolkien's Middle Earth. Here we have two distinct cultures living side-by-side in peace and harmony for generations; coming to each other's aid whenever the other is threatened. Loyalty, honor, hard-work, love and family are the central facets of the human society that Nayla/Takaro finds herself adopted into as an abused child, and these values are echoed in the society of the Elves. Within each society, the political and social divisions are clear and the differences between Elves and Men are well drawn and consistently portrayed throughout the drama that unfolds.
Suzuki is herself a master of the martial arts, being a practitioner and instructor of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu; a system that incorporates 6 traditional Samurai schools and 3 schools of Ninjutsu. As one who was once a mere grasshopper in the obscure art of Shou Shu, I fully appreciate the wisdom and experience that the master crafts into the fabric of this tale. Every element of this story evokes both the martial and the spiritual aspects of the culture of Imago; every element is vivid and believable to the reader.
With each book in this series, I am drawn deeper into this amazing and very real world of Imago. In book 2 of the series, Tales From the West we find out more about the real evil that threatens Imago, and discover who or what is behind the sorcerer Eldred Firestaff.
I know I am repeating myself, but Suzuki has created a masterpiece in this series. I have been compelled to read every single volume in the series (when I should have been researching other books for this blog). Work-ethic aside, the most recent installment in the series, 'Destiny's End' calls to me, and I must quit working now, and curl up on my sofa for a good long read.
Friday, October 14, 2011
The Son of Neptune – Rick Riordan
As many of you know, I love everything Percy Jackson, and last Sunday I was privileged to hear author Rick Riordan speak in Olympia Washington at an event promoting the local Timberland Library. He spoke in an outdoor plaza to a crowd of about a thousand avid fans. I was also quite inspired by his ability to motivate the young authors in the crowd. Unfortunately, I was not able to get my copy of ‘The Son of Neptune’ signed, as I didn’t know about the event in advance and didn’t realize that I would need a ticket, but I felt good about the whole event despite that disappointment. Riordan is an extremely funny man; personable and quite humble about his success.
The Son of Neptune opens with Percy Jackson picking up where he left off in ‘The Lost Hero’. In that book, Percy had disappeared, and the tale revolved more around Jason Grace. This tale starts with Percy suffering from Amnesia and being hunted by two gorgons who refuse to stay dead whenever he kills them. All he knows is that he is looking for some one named Annabeth. As he is running from the gorgons he rescues an old bag lady who turns out to be the Roman Goddess Juno. She gives him the choice of remaining where he is and being safe or going to the Roman camp for demi-gods where he must save the gods but could regain his memories. Percy being Percy, he opts for his memories.
The Roman camp is quite different from the Greek Camp Half-blood, and Percy doesn’t know why he feels like everything is all wrong. There are Lares (household gods) and the camp is divided into legions in the same way that the Roman Army was. The military culture of the Romans is alive and well in this camp.
Here is where we meet Hazel, a daughter of Pluto and a girl whose darkest secret is her talent of creating precious metals and jewels spring from the earth comes with a curse for those who find them. We also meet Frank Zhang, a son of Mars and a gifted archer. His golden arrows are very unique, and he too has a dark secret.
Mars sends them off on a quest to Alaska, to rescue Thanatos, guardian of the underworld. During the quest we learn that the ancient Goddess Gaea is plotting to destroy the Gods, and how the demi-gods like Percy are supposed to stop her.
First they travel up the coast, to Portland, Oregon looking for Phineas, and on to Seattle, Washington where they discover that Amazon.com is run by Kindle-reading Amazon Warriors!
Continuing with his third-person narrative as he did in The Lost Hero, Riordan switches perspective from Percy to Hazel and to Frank, giving a well rounded view of what is going on with each character. I felt completely involved with them and learned a lot about Roman Mythology that I had never known. I also discovered that my birthday (which I share with Mercedes Lackey) falls on the Feast of Fortuna, which begins at sundown on the 24th of June.
Riordan neatly answers some of the questions that were raised in the first book, and of course, raises more. I laughed out loud several times, and held my breath as the heroes made their way through the dangers set before them. I highly recommend this book to everyone who loves an epic adventure, epic mythology and likes their epics with a modern twist!