Friday, September 30, 2011

The Gateway, Glen G. Thater

The Gateway by Glenn G. Thater

This was one of those weeks in which I only had time to read one book and what a book! Thater starts out running and the action doesn't stop.

In ‘The Gateway’, indie author Glenn G. Thater has created a mythology and a world that feels as real as that of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  It begins with a Foreword that uses the intriguing plot device of purporting to be the culmination of years of research into the existence and mythology of a ‘legendary’ figure, Lord Angle Theta.  That foreword hooked me immediately, history and mythology geek that I am.

At the outset, Brother Clarendon Eotrus attempts to discover what happened to his father, Lord Aradon, who has mysteriously vanished along with his rangers into a strange fog. They had gone to investigate in the daylight hours why horrible and mysterious noises emanate from the Vermion Forest at night, driving the residents mad. Those who live in Dor Eotrus must stop up their ears with wax in order to sleep. 

Joining Clarendon are Gabriel Garn, the wizard of Dor Eotrus and several other amazingly fleshed out characters; including a wonderfully cranky Gnome named Ob, who is one of my favorite characters in this tale.   Lord Angle Theta and his servant, Dolan Silk also join the quest. Theta is mysterious and enigmatic; appearing out of nowhere for the sole purpose of joining the quest, having been'led' there. It turns out that he is a reknowned knight and is old friends with Gabriel Garn. He is a man with arcane knowlege, who knows that the barriers are breaking down between the Worlds of Chaos and the human world of Midgaard.  He has come to stop it.

The plot moves along at a good pace, with the back-story presented in such a way that it does not interfere with the action; and there is a great deal of action.  The battles are bloody and messy; and one thing leads to another with vengeance. The quest to find the missing Lord of Dor becomes the desperate need to stem an otherworldly invasion which will plunge the world into darkness should evil prevail.

There are characters whose passing in battle made me shed a tear.  Thater had made them so real to me that I felt real sadness at their fate.

The line between good and evil is at times blurred, as motives among the questers are revealed.  It is a gritty and often violent tale, one that will not appeal to the squeamish.  The descriptions of both action and place are detailed and graphic, and if at times the dialog is somewhat confused as to whether it is old English or modern English, it is nonetheless a gripping tale.

This is a short tale by most standards, and speed-reader that I am, I read it in one evening. It will appeal to all of those who love adventure and mythology, especially Norse Mythology.  All in all I found this to be a good story, and well worth reading. I love a good epic quest tale and I loved ‘The Gateway’ by Glenn G. Thater. I will definitely be buying the next installment in the series.


Friday, September 16, 2011

David Eddings, The Belgariad; and Neil Hancock, The Circle of Light

Pawn of Prophecy – David Eddings – The Belgariad

The Belgariad is series of 5 books by the late David Eddings. This series of tales takes a kitchen boy, Garion, from the gawky age of 15 to manhood, and meeting his destiny in a prophesied battle with Torak, the demented God who had cracked the world.

The first book is called ‘Pawn of Prophecy’ and was first published in 1982.  I was hooked immediately. 

Pawn of Prophecy opens with a brief prologue which details the war of the gods.  It then jumps the kitchen of Faldor’s farm in the country of Sendaria, where Garion toils away in obscurity under the watchful and loving eye of his Aunt Pol.  A chance visit by an old story teller, Mr. Wolf changes everything, and Garion finds himself and his Aunt leaving the farm in search of something which has been stolen; traveling in the company of Durnik the Smith, and Mr. Wolf. 

As they travel, they meet up with Silk, a Drasnian spy, and Barak, Cherek Warrior.  Garion soon finds out that no one is what they seem to be.  Silk is actually Prince Kheldar of Drasnia; and Barak is actually the Earl of Trellheim of Cherek.  Only Durnik is who he always was; a good honest man of Sendaria, who just happens to be in love with Pol.

Not long after they leave Faldor’s farm they are arrested and brought to King Fulrach, who insists that Aunt Pol and Mr. Wolf go to a meeting of Monarchs in the northern country of Cherek. Once in Cherek Garion’s talent for trouble kicks in, and he finds himself involved in a series of dangerous adventures. 

Toward the end, of Pawn of Prophecy, Garion witnesses his Aunt Pol resolving a problem, and at that point he discovers that in reality his aunt is Polgara the Sorceress, who is 3000 years old; and Mr. Wolf is Belgarath the Sorcerer, Polgara’s Father who is 7000 years old.  He begins to doubt his actual relationship to Pol, and becomes angry that she had not been truthful with him and troubled because he now doubts everything he has been told. He worries that he is an unwanted burden to her.  He discovers that Belgarath is in reality his grandfather, just many generations removed; that he is the ultimate grandson of Belgarath’s other daughter who had been the first queen of Riva.  He then accepts Belgarath, calling him Grandfather. 

As I said before, this is book one in a series of five amazing books, covering Garion’s journey into adulthood and taking him to the meeting for which he was born.  They are none of them long by today’s standards; and they comprise a wonderful, absorbing series that is great epic fantasy at its best.   I highly recommend this series of books to anyone who loves great adventure, mystery, epic battles and of course, sorcery.

Neil Hancock – the Circle of Light – Greyfax Grimwald

This week I was saddened to hear that one of my all time favorite authors, Neil Hancock had passed away in May of this year.  I read his epic fantasy series, the Circle of Light beginning in 1977 when he first published ‘Greyfax Grimwald’. 

Hancock’s books are written out of chronological order; with the first series of four books being actually the end of the story. They deal with karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.  There is a strong spiritual overtone to his books.  The characters are talking animals, elves, dwarves, men and wizards; and there is a wide river that runs though all the realms: Calix Stay.  Once swept into it, characters find themselves on the next step in their journey to enlightenment. 

The technology of Hancock’s books is interestingly mixed – at some points it is a mix of swords and magic and the technology and horror of World War I. There are terrifying beasts, and there is true evil that must be dealt with.  The plot twists are surprising.  Politics, religion, sorcery and their place in the cycle of death and rebirth are the core of the series.  Jealousy, love, greed, hate and forgiveness also figure prominently in setting the backdrop of the action.

One issue that some have had with this series of books is that the plot is hard to follow at times if one is unfamiliar with the basic tenets of Buddhism; but despite that issue, the characters and the vividly drawn worlds they inhabit compel you stay with it.

These thirteen books have been out of print since 2004, and are now set to be reprinted in three groups of four by Tor within the next few months.  I will be getting my Kindle download, you can be sure of that!

Friday, September 9, 2011

'First Chosen', M. Todd Gallowglas; and 'Whatever Became of the The Squishies' by Claire Chilton

First Chosen by M. Todd Gallowglas

An indie author, M. Todd Gallowglas has written a compelling tale in ‘'First Chosen (Tears of Rage)’.  The world in which he sets the tale is a vivid, complex world; one in which theology and politics are so intertwined that it is hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. The intense theology insures that there is an element of horror in this very dark tale.

Unbeknownst to the main protagonist, Julianna, she has been chosen from birth to free Grandfather Shadow.  He is one of the Eldar Gods who were on the losing side in war of the Gods and are reputed to be the Gods of Evil. The God known as All-Father Sun is now the supreme power in the pantheon, with all of his challengers long-ago imprisoned and unable to interact with the world directly.  The All-Father’s adherent’s are in political power, thus those who follow the old gods must do so in secret.  From the outset, Gallowglas makes it clear that nothing is that black and white.  Both sides in this war of the Gods commit atrocities in the name of their faith. Both sides have strong, compelling characters and each side is comprised of fervent believers who will do anything to advance their cause.

Julianna’s willful desire to celebrate her 21st birthday her own way has serious and unintended consequences.  The party becomes the scene of a violent battle, and she is kidnapped along with her friends.  Many terrible things occur during the ensuing battles, and at the end of it, Julianna frees the God, and by his hand she is made his High Priest, the Lord Morigahn.  This ordeal is only the beginning of her epic struggle.  By becoming the high priest of Grandfather Shadow, she has been given knowledge and abilities to help her win the war on his behalf.  She is also given a guard, Faelin who is the direct manifestation of the God, but knows it not. Faelin must both guard and instruct her in her tasks as the divine representative of Grandfather Shadow.

Gallowglas' characters are fully drawn and fleshed out; even to the minor characters. I found myself feeling shock and disbelief when several minor characters are killed early on.  The battles are believable, and the consequences of each decision made by all the protagonists are well plotted.  The reader becomes swept up in the emotions of each moment.  There are numerous characters, and while it is sometimes difficult to keep them straight, all the characters are fully drawn; even to the minor characters.  Readers who stick with it will be rewarded.

This is definitely an adult tale, for readers who enjoy a dark complex tale with a good back-story. 

‘Whatever Became of the Squishies’ By Claire Chilton

UK indie author Claire Chilton has a hilarious take on racism and high school in her book, ‘Whatever Became of the Squishies’.  Carla Mainston is the only purple girl in the colony of Derobmi, where the main skin color is lime-green everything is sparkling clean.

Originally the world of Dumfolab was settled by a mysterious, mythical people whom the modern cultures refer to as ‘The Squishies’.  These soft-skinned people had lived in a world that was an environmental disaster and had worn special protective suits, each one colored to indicate their main area of work.  As time went on their soft, pliable (and most likely squishy) bodies had changed, and the hard, colored suits had become an integral part of them.  Now the denizens of Dumfolab are born  with hard skin which is the color of their ancestors’ suits.

Unfortunately, the main source of employment and, indeed all occupations in the colony of Derobmi are centered around Cleaning.  Cleaning, soap products, the making of and the using of said products, all of Derobmi society revolves around these things. Every aspect of cleaning is taken seriously, and careers are made or broken by the perceived cleanliness of the average Derobmi home.  Carla is a rebellious girl, and is suffering from the double curse of being both a teenager and a purple teenager at that!  She has been labeled a trouble maker all her life, and is living up to the label in spades.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, Carla would have no luck at all. If any simple endeavor can go badly and get her in trouble, it definitely will. Carla has even been to reform school, which was where she managed to bring the school to its knees.  He mother loves her, but harbors a secret which will soon come out, and Carla will become the focus of a power struggle between warring colonies.  She is suspected of having super-abilities because of her heritage, and the wonderfully evil Lord Foamy wants them.  Unfortunately the only talent she has for sure is that of chaos, and she has an abundance of that.

Chilton manages to take racism and teenage-angst and lay it out with all its unfairness and ugliness and create a story that keeps you laughing.  The villains are evil, the good guys are not so completely good that they aren’t fun, and the plot moves along quite quickly.  There many unexpected plot twists in this tale.

All in all, I found this to be a well plotted, humorous young adult novel, suitable for any reader.

Friday, September 2, 2011

'Swords and Deviltry', Fritz Lieber

‘Swords and Deviltry’ by Fritz Lieber

Swords and Deviltry was first published in 1970, by Ace books.  One of the true pioneers of the genre of epic fantasy, Fritz Lieber originally wrote the three main tales that comprise this book as short-stories for several now defunct Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines, with ‘Induction’, appearing in the 1957 collection ‘Two Sought Adventure’ which was later expanded without ‘Induction’ as ‘Swords Against Death’.

‘Swords and Deviltry’ is the first book in the ‘Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser’ series of tales which Fritz Lieber wrote over the span of fifty years.  The book follows the early days of two adventurers who are larcenous, but likable rogues who live in the fantastic world of Nehwon.  The four tales in Swords and Deviltry introduce the duo and their relationship.

‘Induction’ is a short prologue which details the actual moment when Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser first laid eyes on each other, and establishes the backdrop of the world of Nehwon.

In ‘The Snow Women’, Fafhrd is introduced as a young barbarian of eighteen years who is still living in his mother’s tent. More than anything he wishes to see the world, and longs to hear any news of ‘civilization’, and especially the fabled city of Lankhmar. Fearing the dark magic of his mother and obsessed with the need to see the world, a series of events leads Fafhrd to abandon his wife, whom he marries as a last defiant gesture simply because she is carrying his child.  The curses of his Mother and his spurned wife follow him.

Gray Mouser, in ‘The Unholy Grail’ is introduced as a young apprentice magician named Mouse, and the story follows his fearful and gruesome quest to avenge his master’s murder. The dark and emotional quality of this tale is compelling, and it is hard to look away from it, although it is horrifying in places.

‘Ill Met in Lankhmar’ details how the two met and allied themselves with each other, and subsequently lost their loves through dark magic and treachery. Lankhmar is a city that is dank, dirty and full of danger.

Even Lieber’s most avid fans will admit that this book is not an easy book to get into.  Much of his dialogue consists of words that will have you running for the dictionary, and he is very fond of long prose. If you can stick with it, you will find yourself unable to put the book down. Lieber transports you to a world that is exotic, violent and terrifying.  That is part of the enchantment – the feeling that you have entered a truly foreign world where just when it begins to feel familiar, nothing is as you might expect it to be.

People have criticized Lieber’s work for the fact that Nehwon is a world where the women are portrayed as being either evil or weak.  They feel that he despised women, and criticize him for his lack of strong female characters.  I think that if you look at his work in the eyes of 1950’s America, and compare it to all the other popular fantasy and sci-fi of the time you will find that he was really voicing a cultural bias, and it was one that has since been shattered.  Despite that bias, I love Lieber’s work, because it is the gold-standard by which sword and sorcery tales were once measured by, and is the fertile garden in which such modern mega-classics such as the Dungeons and Dragons phenomenon and the Dragonlance empire both have their roots.

Even though this is one of my all time favorites,  I would recommend ‘Swords and Deviltry’ purely for its educational value within the genre of epic fantasy.  I say this despite the fact that in my senior year of high-school I was chastised by my literature teacher and given detention for bringing this ‘lurid’ book to class!  I was then, and still am unrepentant!