Friday, December 26, 2014

Jack of Shadows, Roger Zelazney

Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazney was a watershed book for me as a reader. In what can only be described as a genius move, Zelazney introduces the concept of the Trickster as the hero-antihero. Originally conceived as a serial for F&SF in 1971, it was published in book form that same year by Walker and Company.

But First, THE BLURB:

Shadowjack walks in silence and in shadows to seek vengeance upon his enemies. Who are his foes? All who would despise him or love the Lord of Bats: Smage of the Jackass Ears, the Colonel Who Never Died, the Borshin, and Quazer, winner of the Hellgames and abductor of the voluptuous Evene. One by one, Shadowjack would seek them out and have his revenge, building his power as he goes. And once his vengeance is obtained, he would come to terms with all others who are against him, he would unite the World of High Dudgeon, destroy the Land of Filth, and bring peace to the Shadowguard. But to accomplish all, Jack of Shadows must find Kolwynia, the Key That Was Lost..


Lester del Rey was unimpressed with this tale, but I read this book to shreds. What I loved about this book was the typical Zelazney mystique--many questions abound regarding Shadowjack, and answers come at slow pace, just information enough to keep you interested, and be warned: not all your questions will be answered. Even the ending is a question!

Jack is an awesome character. He is good and he is bad. He has deep compassion and can be moved to do great deed that benefit all of humanity at the cost of his own life, but he will be the smallest, meanest man over a tiny little slight to his ego. He abuses his powers, and also uses them for good.

In this book, Zelazney fully realized the concept of 'shadow.' It is neither light nor dark, and it is not here or there. It all of those and none of them. Thus the unanswered questions. What Zelazney did in this less well-known of his books is create a story in which the reader decides what is true.

If you can find a copy of this book, pick it up. It is a quintessential Zelazney fantasy, combining testosterone, science, and high drama with magic and mystery. The characters are great, the world he sets them is is fantastic, and the story itself is intriguing.

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.