Category Archives: Fantasy

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin, illustrations by Gary Gianni (Bantam Books,  2015)

The author of the well-known fantasy series A Games of Thrones has launched a new series with this book, which takes place 100 years prior to A Game of Thrones. An interesting new feature of this book, compared to the previous series, is the large number of black and white illustrations interspersed throughout the text. I also liked the fact that there was one main character (with his sidekick) throughout the story, unlike the vast confusing cast of characters each Game of Thrones book had. While the medieval world of Westeros is still extremely violent, at least the hero of this book is a good guy who survives to the end of the book. This is an improvement over the last few GOT books, where Martin killed off all the characters who had any redeeming virtues. If you’re are a fan of A Game of Thrones, you will enjoy this new series.

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The Last Adventure of Constance Verity

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez (Saga Press, 2016)

This light-hearted sci-fi novel concerns a young woman who had a spell placed on her at birth that resulted in her constantly having to use her superpowers to save the Earth and sometimes other galaxies. After a couple of decades she declares herself tired of the workload and ready to settle down and live like a normal person. So she tries to find the fairy godmother who gave her the spell, and get it removed (much like Ella in the children’s book/movie Ella Enchanted). It doesn’t go quite the way she expected. But the book is very funny and Constance does end up with some normalcy in the end.

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Some good historical fantasy for young adults

My daughter said I was welcome to read her books while she is away at college, and even pointed out some good ones. Here are reviews of a couple of her YA books that I particularly enjoyed.

Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors (2008)

This is a very clever historical fantasy about a 17 year-old actress who (in an attempt to escape from the pressures of generations of family acting talent) magically finds herself in the Italy of Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, and has an opportunity to save Juliet and change the ending. The story comes complete with a Justin Beiber type teen male heart-throb who gets what’s coming to him but doesn’t turn out to be so bad in the end. I loved how the main character just introduced herself as “Mimi of Manhattan,” a distant cousin of the Capulets, and everyone accepted it.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (2013)

I believe this novel is part of the genre known as “steampunk” – science fiction set in an alternate 19th century world. In this alternative Victorian era werewolves and vampires are real. The main character, a 14 year-old girl who is a little too free spirited for the 19th century, is sent to a boarding school/finishing school that vaguely resembles Hogwarts (Harry’s Potter’s school). It is entirely housed in a huge air balloon that floats randomly across the moor. They don’t teach magic though – just spying, espionage, and assassination. It’s very funny, especially the way the author interprets finishing school skills like curtsies, fashionable dress, fans, handkerchiefs and so on, in light of their usefulness in intelligence work.

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The Onion Girl

The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint (Tom Doherty Associates, 2001).

More of this fantasy novel took place in the real world than the fantasy one. Real life issues of poverty, child abuse, and recovery from a serious car accident dominated the book. The protagonist and her friends could escape to the dreamlands for short periods, but her real life antagonist found them there. Even worse, she became a bloodthirsty wolf in the dreamlands. In some ways the story was more about evil, forgiveness, and redemption, and less about the fantasy creatures. The Onion Girl is similar in flavor to Mercedes Lackey’s series “Bedlam Bard”, with people frequently passing back and forth between real and fairy worlds, and having to address relationship issues in both places.

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The King’s Deryni

The King’s Deryni by Katherine Kurtz (Berkeley Publishing Group, 2014)

Although this fantasy novel is clearly part of a world with multiple previous books, it is well enough explained to stand alone. The bigger problem is the premise: an “idealization” (as it says on the cover) of Europe in the 12th century, but in a world where people have powerful magic. It makes an awkward combination. The requisite map of the “eleven kingdoms” has an uncanny resemblance to western Europe, but without the English Channel. Though the names of the kingdoms are obviously made up, they have cultures (and character names) that are based on places like Scotland, France, and Germany. Throughout the book there are many references to real medieval Christian practice (Latin prayers, archbishops) interspersed with “Deryni” magical training. The story and characters are interesting, although everyone seems absurdly young. I would have more respect for a fantasy novel based on a world less obviously borrowed from our own.

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The Long Mars

The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (HarperCollins, 2014)

I just realized that I did it again – I read a book that is not the first in the series. This appears to actually be the third book, after The Long Earth and The Long War. This one stands alone a lot more easily than many science fiction books do, though. I am familiar with Terry Pratchett’s books about the Disc World but haven’t encountered Stephen Baxter yet. He does have quite a few books to his credit, so I don’t know if this is a typical “hooking up with an established author to sell books” scheme or not. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s a great way to introduce new authors. Anyway, this is a sci-fi book with a fascinating premise. In about 2015, someone invented a way to instantly transport to the other versions of our world that are created at each decision point in time. This came in handy when Yellowstone exploded in 2045 and most of the United States needed a place to evacuate to. The Long Earth presumably tells the story of the original Step Day which preceded the explosion that led to the discovery of the Long Mars (in which some of the versions of Mars are more habitable than ours). There are some additional fascinating concepts which I will leave you to discover when you read this book. In any case, it’s well done and hard to put down, but not as nonsensical and hilarious as you might expect from Terry Pratchett – the influence of Stephen Baxter makes it slightly more serious.

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December grab bag

NW by Zadie Smith (Penguin Group, 2012)

This new novel has been heavily promoted in the literary press, and I have no idea why. It’s terrible. A bunch of incoherent London ghetto dialogue does not make a novel.  If the author is not willing to make the effort to write complete sentences, I’m not willing to make the effort to finish the book.

Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon (Random House, 2007)

This is a collection of 3 novellas about Lord John Grey, one of the characters in the Outlander series. It has a more supernatural bent than her books, making it sort of a Halloween special.

Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era by Adam Laats (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

This academic book provides a very thorough background on fundamentalism and its relationship with public education in the 1920s. It makes the interesting point that prior to the 1920s, the content of public K-12 education and even public higher education (particularly teacher training) was controlled by Protestant fundamentalists. I had no idea that public schools throughout the South required daily Bible reading (and often prayer) during this period. After the Scopes trial, however, fundamentalist Christianity got a bad name, and American public schools became secular.

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