Tag Archives: fantasy

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

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Grossman, Lev. The Magician King. William Heinemann, 2011. ISBN 978-0434020805 372 pp. $

This was as good as The Magicians, with just enough explanation to fill the gap, and the balance of Quentin’s continuing adventures with What Happened to Julia was deft. Really enjoyed all the allusions, and the satisfying conclusion.

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey

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Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey

Lackey, Mercedes. Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit. DAW, 2006. ISBN 978-0756405854 416 pp. $25.95

****

The story of how Guinevere is raised in a pagan house and delivered to a wise woman has a slow build, but is sure to appeal to fans of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Grossman, Lev. The Magicians. Viking, 2009. ISBN 978-0670020553 416 pp. $28

****

Harry Potter meets Chronicles of Narnia in this novel about a misfit boy obsessed with the Fillory fantasy series, who is the odd man out in a love triangle, but comes into his own after excelling in an entrance exam to Brakebills, a college for magicians. Quentin quickly discovers magic is more memorizing and practicing than aptitude and skill, and that sometimes, you have to be careful what you wish for.

This is an amazing fantasy for grownups. Quentin is not a likeable character or an empathetic one through most of the book, and the fellow students in his house are wonderfully flawed dynamic characters who stick together even after school. The writing is good, and dark, and deep, and not terribly difficult even as it wrestles with themes like the nature of love and friendship and the use (and misuse) of power. The fandom built up around Fillory is an unsubtle nod to the long tradition of fantasy for children, and at times the tone of The Magicians seems to imply that the Magicians is looking at itself and it’s place in the lineup, which is interesting. It did lag for me in the post college part, a little, but the finale was exciting and there were plenty of surprises.

The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff

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The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff

Huff, Tanya. The Enchantment Emporium. DAW, 2009. ISBN 978-0756405557 368 pp. $

***

The Gales are a powerful magical family, much like witches, who celebrate the pagan Shabbats. Women outnumber men four to one, and meddling post menopausal aunties play matchmatcher and help keep the family’s power in balance.

Allie, a newly unemployed Gale, inherits her grandmother’s curiosity shop, filled with magical treasures for the fey community. Unfortunately, the Gales seem to be on the outs with a mafia like clan of dragons, the this is the central conflict in this well-written urban fantasy.

The author’s choice to reveal the details of the Gale family by degrees requires careful reading. I easily dismissed the incestuous nature of the Gale family as ritual, but some readers may have a problem with it.

Mortal Coils by Eric S. Nylund

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Mortal Coils by Eric S. Nylund

Nylund, Eric S. Mortal Coils. Tor, 2008. ISBN 978-0765317971 609 pp. $

****

Twins Eliot & Fiona discover on their fifteenth birthday that they are the progeny of two warring factions of immortals, and are set upon a series of three quests that will determine which side of the family they take after and hence their future. This is a lot of excitement compared to their strict homeschooled life.

The narrative has the flavor of a thorough researcher writing the tale–the footnotes are intriguing, and allusions abound. I really enjoyed the premise, the descriptive writing, and the characters of Mortal Coils (I haven’t read Percy Jackson, which someone compared it to I think?). It was slow. I was traveling while reading this, and had to keep putting it down, but I couldn’t WAIT to get back to it; even though the pacing was slow, it was a riveting read.

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

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The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

Brett, Peter V. The Warded Man. Del Rey, 2009. ISBN 978-0345503800 432 pp. $

As dusk approaches, elemental demons, born of earth, air, water, wind and fire, rise from the earth’s core to terrorize humans. Only marks made by a trainer Warder can hold the corelings at bay. Families huddle together in their stone or wooden huts, shuddering as the demons beat against the wards and the magic flares up to protect them.

This first volume in a series follows the young lives of Leesha, a papermaker’s daughter with aspirations of becoming an herbalist has bigger dreams than marrying the son; Arlen, an idealistic young man who wants to be a Messenger, travelling daringly from village to village; and Rojer, a red headed orphan trained as an entertainer, called a Jongleur.

I found The Warded Man to be a fascinating premise (though, it reminded me at first of a bad M. Night Shyamalan film), but seriously marred by amateur writing and a plodding pace in between gory scenes. Sure, it contains high drama, romance, humor, sex, adventure, fighting, cunning and heroism, but it reminds me of the salad of lettuce, tomatoes, red grapes, oranges, and feta cheese that my mother made, on Father’s Day: the ingredients are all solid, but when you put them together, it doesn’t work.

Several plot points are highly unbelievable, but I think most of all, I had problems with characters. The value of motherhood in the society that Brett portrays is distasteful, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief had he been consistent. He was consistent in portraying women as good for one thing, and anything else good they did stemmed from the ability to procreate. This is a male writer that doesn’t get women, at all.

The characters seemed to be all good or all bad, with little complexity or growth, and I felt we kept getting reminded of their pasts, or their traits, overly much, and flat out told things a better writer would have let the reader infer. Too much focus on other secondary characters, like Arrick, didn’t add to the characterizations of Rojer, Arlen or Leesha, and in fact created gaps in the lives of the three heroes. There was too long a gap in the becoming of The Warded Man, for example.

Even the NAMES bothered me. Long unpronounceable names are the bane of my fantasy reading, but some of the ones in this book were almost at the other end of the spectrum–short, but I had to THINK about how to pronounce them, and then I thought, ugh, he just spelled it differently, how lameā€¦ a small point, but it definitely detracted from my enjoyment.

The age of the characters through most of the book has a lot of pull; they are wrestling with their futures, encompassing spouses, livelihoods and identities. The premise itself is interesting, and I can see fans of Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue or The Giver getting into this, but the writing pulls this fantasy down to 3 stars, at best.

Peter and Max by Bill Willingham

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Peter and Max by Bill Willingham

Willingham, Bill. Peter and Max. Vertigo, 2009. ISBN 978-1401215736 400 pp. $22.99

***

Ordinarily, I love fractured fairy tales, and this inventive retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin set in an established fairy tale world on the edge of our own is intriguing in concept but fell flat in execution for me. The tale provides the backstory of the Piper family, juxtaposed with a modern day sibling rivalry.

First, a disclaimer: I haven’t read Fables, so my first impression was, what a silly, obvious name. It didn’t feel terribly inventive (Cinderella owns a shoe shop? really?). I DID like the clever allusions to other folk tales. Chapter epithets like in which Peter puts his wife “in a pumpkin” tickled my fancy. The writing was nothing notable and I disliked the art work, although the cover was engaging. Why wasn’t this simply a graphic novel?

Enna Burning (The Books of Bayern #2) by Shannon Hale

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Enna Burning (The Books of Bayern #2) by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. Enna Burning (The Books of Bayern #2). Bloomsbury, 2006. ISBN 978-1582349060 368 pp. $

***

Shannon Hale’s companion to The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, is, in my opinion, not as satisfying a read as the first book. Its sluggish start really got to me. The only thing that really kept me going was that I had to read it for work because we may change it from a J to a YA. Thank goodness that the story picks up in the last 117 pages. I was about ready to throw the book across the room and maybe set it on fire (I was a bit influenced by Enna and her talent with fire). There were themes and heavy-handed metaphors throughout the story about desire and sex and drugs and lust that were interesting, but overbearing within the story. The author could have lightened up a bit on these and still gotten her messages across to the reader. I guess you would have to read it to see what I mean, but I don’t highly recommend it.

Here’s a little summary: Enna discovers that she can create fire and decides to use this skill in the war that her kingdom is fighting against a neighboring kingdom. She keeps her skill a secret from her closest friend, the Queen, and for a time, from her closest male friends. As if the burden of her secret isn’t overwhelming enough, she is captured by the enemy and almost manipulated into teaching her evil captor how to tame the fire. Luckily, she is rescued in the nick of time. Enna is scarred though and close to death when her friends succeed in rescuing her. They travel to a far away land to help her overcome her fireborn illness. Within the story she faces the death of her brother, lusty feelings for her captor, true love for her friend Finn, fear that she has ruined her friendship with the Queen, and the highs and lows of addiction–addiction to fire.

The Beejum Book by Alice O. Howell

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The Beejum Book by Alice O. Howell

Howell, Alice O. The Beejum Book. Bell Pond Books, 2002. ISBN 978-0880105057 309 pp. $

***

Heavy-handed messages aside, The Beejum Book by Alice O. Howell is an adventurous read. The chapters alternate between Teak’s life as she travels around Europe with her parents and her nightly journeys in the mysterious world of Beejumstan. The lessons that Teak learns (this is where the heavy-handed messages come in) are interesting and important, about becoming an individual, staying true to oneself, and being brave, just to name a few.

I think that an author with a little more experience could have integrated these things into the story a little more smoothly. This is a book that I will recommend to fantasy readers, especially those who read above grade level and need something that is challenging but still content appropriate.

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

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Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Wrede, Patricia C. Dealing With Dragons. Sandpiper, 2002. ISBN 978-0152045661 240 pp. $

****

I just finished Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. I’m so happy to say that I have a new fantasy book that I can recommend to the little people. I mean young patrons at the library, not actual little people. Anyway, Cimorene is a young princess who is not satisfied with her life at the palace. She is tired of classes in manners and embroidery and the refined things a princess needs to know. She would rather learn cooking and fencing and magic and economics. Running away and becoming the princess of a very powerful dragon, Kazul, suits her just fine. If only all those darn princes would quit trying to rescue her…