Category Archives: Fantasy

How to stop time

How to stop time: a novel by Matt Haig (Viking, 2017)

This is one of those non-traditional style science fiction books where everything is normal and Earth-based except for one major alternative-world premise. In this case, the premise is that a few lucky people age 10 times more slowly than normal, so they live for 800-1,000 years. The main character is a man who appears to be in his forties but is actually over four hundred years old. Of course this kind of thing has a few problems, like outliving your spouse and scaring medieval witch hunters by your eternal youth. It’s not a time travel novel per se, but has some of the same elements. This is a good story based on a unique plot device.


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The Rules of Magic

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (Simon and Schuster, 2017)

Although Hoffman has apparently written many Young Adult (teen) novels, which I have not read, this one is for adults. I am not sure how I feel about it. It did have quite a large amount of tragedy, mainly untimely deaths. You might even say that was the theme. The plot concept is clever – how the descendants of witches killed in the Salem witch trials fare in a 20th century world that is not quite as hostile to witches, but doesn’t exactly accept them either. This book takes place in the 1960s, mainly in Manhattan and Boston but also in Paris and San Francisco (I suppose because there is plenty of historical information available on those places in the 1960s). The concept of witches not being able to swim underwater without immediately floating up is not only portrayed as scientific fact, but is a major plot point (because it keeps them from saving others from drowning). So, interesting book, a little weird, lots of death – the main characters spend most of the book trying to avoid the curse that anyone they love gets killed. It doesn’t go that well for them.

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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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