Emerald Sea

Author: John Ringo
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Tom Feller

11110401I think that we would all consider paradise a world in which there is no war, work is optional, a worldwide computer system manages energy consumption and the weather, people teleport around the globe just for fun, and the average life expectancy is approaching 500 years in good health. Even the human form is optional. This sequel to There will be Dragons features characters that have had themselves changed into mermen, mermaids, orcas, and dolphins. Most of the nearly one billion human beings living on Earth around 4,000 AD feel they had a great life, except for a small minority who feel humanity has become decadent. They start a civil war and bring an end to that paradise. This book takes place about two years after the Fall with the world divided into two armed camps. One group, the Freedom Coalition, dominates North America while the other, New Destiny, controls Europe and Asia.

Edmund Talbot is one of the leaders of the Freedom Coalition, aka United Free States. In his previous life, he had been one of the world’s leading medieval re-enactors and was an expert swordsman. In this book, he undertakes a diplomatic mission to the Caribbean to persuade the mer-people to join the Freedom Coalition. The mer- people have so far maintained a strict neutrality, but New Destiny is preparing an invasion fleet to cross the Atlantic to North America. Talbot is accompanied by his wife Daneh, daughter Rachel, and aide Herzer Herrick. Herrick is a lieutenant in the Blood Lords, a combination of the Roman legionnaire and U.S. Marine. They travel via a dragon carrier, a clipper ship modified to carry dragons that fly off of and land on the deck. (Steamships are out of the question as no one has found any coal or oil, let alone built an engine.) Likewise, the dragons, a life form originally created by the Disney people and normally having the intelligence of a horse, are flown by people who did this for fun before the war. There is one exception, however. Joanna is an intelligent, articulate dragon created centuries before during a period known as the AI wars. She also has an attitude and does not suffer fools lightly.

Before the war, the mer-people had been engaged in the restoration of the coral reefs. After the war, getting enough to eat was their biggest challenge. To maintain their body temperatures, they require a high protein diet and a layer of fat. They also find having children outside a medical facility was their next biggest challenge. New Destiny also sends a diplomatic mission comprised of Orcas to persuade the mer-people to join their side.

Ringo also introduces a new character named Joel Travante, who had been one of the world’s few policemen before the Fall. However, Ringo really doesn’t do a whole lot with him. His presence does introduce us to his daughter Megan who is the main character of “In a Time of Darkness”, a novella that is included in this volume. She has the misfortune to be captured and thrown into the harem of one of the leaders of New Destiny.

This sequel is unusual in that it is better written than the original. There are no boring talking head passages, and the characters don’t have time to stand around and pontificate. I do recommend reading them in order, however, if only to get a glimpse of life before the fall. The bottom line is that I do recommend them, because of the fascinating premise and Ringo’s excellent execution.

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November 28, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Within the Shadow of Stone

Author: Sheri L. McGathy
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Kim Richards

10080406This is a charming fantasy tale where the magic of two time periods come together to save the world. A young girl, Bree, becomes the only priestess of an abandoned religion. She and her grandfather seek to restore the religion, their clans, and the well being of their beloved ancestral lands.

Aided by countless fairies, nymphs, and Bree's goddess, Hertha, she travels with the band of Reformers hot on her heels. These enforcers of religious intolerance are led by a boy of her clan who still loves her, in a possessive way. He serves a resurrected commander who, in turn, serves Hertha's rival, a deity named Blight.

The best part of this story is that Bree has her own personal spirit warrior. Though we are led to believe Bree is the key to this world's salvation, the spirit warrior--Nathan--plays just as crucial role in bringing all the necessary components into play. He faces an enemy from his past. Through all this, he earns his corporeal life back along with Bree's love.

There's lots of magic, sword fights and interesting bits of humanity throughout this tale. It might be too light for some people but I enjoyed it immensely.

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October 28, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Settling Accounts: Return Engagement

Author: Harry Turtledove
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Tom Feller

10290401I should know better than to get hooked on an unending fantasy series. I have studiously avoided Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, for instance. My only excuse is that when I picked up the first book in paperback, How Few Remain (1997), it was not packaged as a series. Now I eagerly await each installment, purchase the hardcover version as soon as it is available, and read it as soon as possible. The premise of the series is that Lee defeated McClellan at the Battle of Antietam, and, consequently, the South won the American Civil War. Turtledove is now up to the eighth book and the year is 1941. The Confederate States of America (CSA) and the United States of America (USA) are at war for the fourth time in less than 100 years. The CSA is allied with Japan, Great Britain, and France while the USA has aligned with Germany.

Turtledove’s technique is to utilize multiple points of view with characters from vastly different walks of life. In this one, I counted nineteen such characters: nine Americans, eight Confederates, one Canadian, and one Mexican. Their paths rarely cross, and most are white males. For the USA, they range from an infantry private to a general. For the CSA, they include the commander of a concentration camp, the head of its spy service, and Jake Featherston its President. There are three women, one of whom is Jewish, and two blacks, who have the misfortune to live in the Confederacy. These women include a U.S. congresswoman and a Canadian woman living under U.S. occupation. Turtledove usually kills off one point of view character in each book and replaces them with a relative. Since it occurred in the first chapter, I’m not giving anything away by reporting that Anne Colleton dies in a bombing raid. She was a strong Southern woman in the tradition of Scarlett O’Hara, and Turtledove replaces her with her younger brother Tom, an officer in the Confederate army.

As the series has progressed, there have been fewer and fewer historical characters. This makes sense, because with the change in history, fewer and fewer of them would have been born or for some reason they did not achieve the prominence they did in our time line. In this installment, George Patton is the South’s leading general, Al Smith is President of the United States, Winston Churchill is the prime minister of Great Britain, and Franklin Roosevelt is the Assistant Secretary of War for the U.S. Louis Armstrong also makes a brief appearance when he leads his band across the front lines to refuge in the North.

Having lost two wars, the Republicans are a minority party in the U.S. Instead, the Socialist party provides the main opposition to the Democrats. Although Washington, D.C. is the official capital, it is too close to the border with the CSA to be safe, so the U.S. government actually resides in Philadelphia. In an obvious parallel with Nazi Germany, the CSA has developed into a dictatorship based on racism. Germany itself is still ruled by a Kaiser in this timeline. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s death in the previous book is one of the events that trigger a new World War.

I’m an enthusiastic fan of this series, so obviously I recommend it. My only reservation is that you must read the books in the proper order. Except for How Few Remain, they do not stand by themselves.

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October 28, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reach of the Claw

Author: Lawrence Crossett
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Kevin Tipple


10290402It begins in the County Galway, Ireland, in 1755.

"Aye, he could smell Luchorpan. It was a fetid stench, and one that wouldn't die."(Page 7)

For Cullen Connor, the battle is almost lost before it begins. The Luchorpan, a creature whose claws bring infection and which feeds off of humans and anything else it can get, has attacked his nephew. Even now, the child is undergoing the hideous transformation from human to something else. Cullen's only hope is to go out and hunt down the Luchorphan that infected his nephew. Once dead, the nephew, according to legend, will recover. If he can't kill the Luchorpan, he will have to make sure his nephew dies so that another Luchorpan with its 100-year hibernation cycle is not loosed upon the countryside.

In Luther, Illinois, it is spring 2004 and a distant Connor family relative is on another hunt for the hideous creature. Ken Connor, a detective on leave from the NYPD is in the area searching for it. Like his distant relative, Ken can smell the Luchorpan and he knows it is somewhere in the area of the small community of Luther, Illinois. And thanks to some sort of mental link that he has with it from time to time, he knows the evil has set his sights on Brent Mathers, a ten-year-old boy. As strange things begin to happen and the Luchorpan does its thing, Ken must battle to save his own sanity, to be believed in an area where the townsfolk think he is nuts, and save one boy's life.

The twin storylines make up this enjoyable and often intense novel from Lawrence Crossett. While marketed as horror, after reading this book, I would disagree. It compares favorably to John Connolly's "Bad Men" in that the evil takes physical form. In both cases, the basic personality of a person is exploited by outside forces to do what those same forces desire. In both cases, the transformations of humans, along with the actual physical presence of the creature, exist and can be battled by using normal everyday weapons. Therefore, as this reader sees it, the "thriller" designation would be more appropriate.

Regardless of classification, this is an enjoyable and often intense novel. The author weaves the twin storylines and occasional new information seamlessly while developing the characters. The pacing works well as the focus shifts between the various characters in the twin storylines. At the same time, the work moves steadily forward and reader interest is held. The result is an intense, enjoyable read and one not easily forgotten.

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October 28, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

For the Rank of Master

Author: Hollie Snider
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Reviewed by Jozette Aaron

584Kyritia is a domain where elves, dwarves, and humans co-exist. When their peaceful way of life is threatened by the evil wizard Elidor, Arden, their Grandmaster sends his last living son, Tehan in search of this evil to destroy it before their world is plunged into eternal darkness.

Tehan, doing a series of tests to attain his ranking, believes this to be just another part of the test, the final part. Arden knows there is something important that Tehan must be told before beginning this journey but his memory has been wiped clean by sorcery, rendering him unable to give his son the life-saving information he needs to ensure his victory.

For the Rank of Master is the story of Tehan’s journey into darkness, accompanied by a band of warriors, each with their own secrets. Deceit and betrayal follow this group on their quest making them at once enemies and friends...all with one common goal.

Hollie Snider has written a very dark fantasy. There is enough gore and blood letting to satisfy the appetite of those devotees of the genre. It's a challenging read, recommended mostly to those who are truly fans of this type of dark fantasy.

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August 11, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Attack of the Queen

Author: Honor Cummings
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Jozette Aaron

585Sexy blue men with wings called Vlaads, men who are half man and half serpent, tree women, and a Queen who eats her lovers make up the characters in this fantasy about love and faith conquering all.

Adazzra, a healer living in Three Branches, which is in the land of Arwhyrrl and her sworn sister Moonrazer of the Sarl combine their strength and magic to protect other tree women and their villages from harm.

When Arwhyrrl is threatened by an attack from the Queen, Adazzra and her sister are summoned by Adazzra’s tree to return home.  On their way, they stumble across Feodor, an injured Vlaad.  Moonrazer’s warrior instincts kick in and she is all for running him through with her sword but as a healer, Adazzra pleads for his life.  They continue on their way, taking Feodor with them.

When they reach Three Branches, Adazzra is informed that she and her life partner are destined to defeat the Queen where all others have failed, and return Arwhyll and other kingdoms to peace. When she finds out that she is to be life bound to a Vlaad, a blue creature with wings, well...how would you react?

This is a story of the preparation for one final battle.  You will turn page after page as you become absorbed in this fantasy.  You will feel the love grow between Adazzra and Feodor.  You will fear the Queen and believe that she is indestructible and you will add you prayers to those being said for the young heroine and hero as they fight the battle of their lives.

Attack of the Queen is a well written fantasy.  It is a believable romance set in a distant land in another time and a very enjoyable read!

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August 10, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (1)

I, SpiritKin

Author: Frances Evlin
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Alan M. Brooker

557When Cage, son of Allet, was expelled from his home village of Hafton in the country of Nighland following the murder of his parents, the future appeared clouded by danger and uncertainty. He was only young and had few resources to help him prepare for a life on his own.

Cage knew he was SpiritKin and that he had certain powers, but would they be an asset at a time when the country was being ravaged by marauding bands of Militants hell-bent on driving the SpiritKin into the isolation of the Boar’s Head region and the Royalists into oblivion.

Cage knew his only hope of survival was to reach the safe SpiritKin area around Truthrun, his mother’s home region, but it was a long journey for a lone boy, made even more dangerous when he was intercepted by Earl Merrestone, a suspected Royalists, and asked to take the Earl’s two foster sons with him into the security of the Community.

Reluctantly Cage agrees to take the two young boys with him and the three youths start on the perilous journey pursued by Militants and distrusted by many of the villagers they meet along the way when they recognise Cage as a SpiritKin, a target of the Nighland ruler Welzin.

The journey develops into a test of Cage’s inner strength and doesn’t stop when they reach the Boar’s Head and are accepted into the SpiritKin Community.

Cage and his two young friends become involved in a Royalist plan to reinstall the Monarchy to Nighland, a plan that also means turning the peaceful SpiritKin into a fighting force and the surprise element in the Royalist attack.

Cage learns to control his SpiritKin magic abilities and becomes an integral part of the plan.

We follow the battles that lead to the King’s triumphant return to the capital and the battle that follows when Cage discovers a plot to attack the country from the south in an overpowering seaborn assault. However as Cage has grown and matured he has learned to control his magic skills to a very high level and he is able to use these to ensure the monarchy survives.

This is a fascinating tale of courage, heroism and loyalty as the Royalists win and the King returns to his rightful place. There is action aplenty to hold your interest as the plot rapidly moves towards its conclusion.

But it is more than just an action adventure.

Woven through the story is a very strong love story as the young Gage reaches maturity, is tricked into a Royal wedding and faces serious doubts about his commitment to his new wife.

There is resentment, distrust and almost a low level of hatred for the wife who tricked him into abandoning his first love at the Community. Cage is not the first mortal to be tricked into marriage, and he will not be the last, but his is an interesting scenario because of the implications on Nighland of any matrimonial breakdown.

I followed the story with my interest equally spread between the action and the romance. At times I felt sorry for Cage, at times I felt even sorrier for Breen his wife but it was so important for the future of their country and their children that they reach a solution that would ensure the sacrifices made by the King’s supporters were not made in vain.

If you want to know if their marriage survived, or follow the action in greater detail, you will have to read the book.

I did, and I was most impressed. I would recommend it to people who enjoy a good action adventure and also to those who like to get frustrated at the manoeuvrings of star-crossed lovers.

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June 14, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Salt Sorcerer of Oz

Author: Eric Shanower
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Rachel Fischer Gladson

558Unknown to many young readers today, L. Frank Baum documented the further adventures of Dorothy Gale from Kansas in the land of Oz in a series of 14 books that were popular in their day. The demand for Oz stories was such that subsequent "Royal Historians", including Baum's successor Ruth Plumly Thompson, added some more volumes to that series. Although the mass popularity of Oz has waned since the 1950s, professional and amateur authors have continued publishing all sorts of poetry and prose based on these characters.

Eric Shanower is no stranger to the land of Oz. He has written and illustrated five graphic novels with original Oz stories, illustrated several full length Oz books, and contributed artwork, poetry and prose to International Wizard of Oz Club periodicals. His graphic renditions of the most beloved Oz personalities are similar to those of John R. Neil, who illustrated most of the Oz books.

The Salt Sorcerer of Oz contains six poems and six short stories all beautifully illustrated by Shanower. The poems are most reminiscent of Thompson's rhymes and rhythms. The short stories contain various well known Oz characters—Dorothy, Glinda, the Patchwork Girl, Kabumpo and the Frogman—and introduce a few of Shanower's own creation.

A magic magnet draws Kabumpo the Elegant Elephant into a quest to end a sulphur rain in "The Salt Sorcerer of Oz". "Dorothy and the Mushroom Queen" and "The Ballon-Girl of Oz" are the only stories which feature Dorothy Gale of Kansas. "The Further Adventures of the Frogman" explores the consequences of truthfulness, not only in words but in actions. "Gugu and the Kalidahs" is a tale about the wild animals of the forest in Oz. "The Silver Jug" tells the story of Glinda's curious and headstrong handmaiden Amanda as she deals with the consequences of uncorking magic. Her travels outside the Deadly Desert which borders the land of Oz are told in a manner reminiscent of Baum.

The illustrations alone make the book a definite must for the Oz enthusiast, but the stories show that Shanower is likely to be crowned as a Royal Historian for his authorship alone. Although Shanower injects some modern day political correctness into The Salt Sorcerer, he does so tongue-in-cheek. Baum might have done the same.

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June 14, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Shaking Hands With Lefkowitz

Author: Melvin Foster
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Ruth Mark

551This debut from Melvin Foster is part murder-mystery, part search for the meaning of life. It begins promisingly. In the first few pages we learn that the protagonist, Alan Borman/Boroshefsky (his Jewish name), has been shot dead, and Detective Lefkowitz is there to help Alan solve his own murder.

This first ‘twist’ – that the book’s main character is the one who has been murdered -- is enough to pique readers’ interest. A page- turner, this novel is mostly well-written with adequate dialogue. The characters are reasonably believable (I wasn’t convinced by Lefkowitz however…I was left wondering who he is/what he is). Alan himself doesn’t really know who Lefkowitz is, but says: “Detective or angel, Lefkowitz was the one true connection to my life.” (page 62). Unfortunately, we never do find out what this actually means.

Despite these uncertainties you still want to find out how Alan, a successful lawyer, managed to end up dead in a dodgy neighborhood. Was it a random killing or was he killed for a reason? Lefkowitz believes the latter and the only way Alan will solve his case is to re-live the sins he committed in life.

Whether Alan is in Heaven, Hell or Limbo isn’t clear, but he’s certainly in a strange place. A place where the walls change color according to his moods/thoughts, where time doesn’t appear to matter, and where cigars taste of whatever the smoker desires. Alan himself doesn’t have a human ‘skin’ and ‘subtle energy’ are the buzz words.

There are many references to Heaven: Alan meets his guardian angel (everyone apparently has one from birth), the Pearly Gates are mentioned, and there is even a Burning Bush room. The importance of each dead person’s ‘Ten Worst’ list is emphasized and brings the Ten Commandments to mind, while a computer system stores the good & black marks for and against everyone who has died. Alan can’t resist comparing his list with those of others.

Alan and Lefkowitz discuss the case in Interrogation Room 989G, a size-changing cubicle of a room situated in some kind of maze of corridors. Lefkowitz has a theory – in order to find out who killed him Alan must work through all the moments in his life when he ‘hardened his heart’. Anecdotes from Alan’s life, especially those from his childhood and where he grew up, follow in glorious (if repetitive) detail. We’re also introduced to another key character – Arlene Jaffe – the girl Alan spurned as a teenager. She appears to be (and is) key to solving the crime.

There are a few times when the chapters don’t have any kind of transition – we switch from Alan to Arlene and (after a few chapters) back again with little or no warning. It takes a while for the reader to get oriented. The Point of View also switches around while paradoxically the pace of the plot is a little slow after the first interest-grabbing chapters. There are also far too many chapters while the author only uses a handful of cliffhangers at the end of a few of them.

It is an interesting book with a surprising (and not entirely convincing) twist at the end. If I’m honest, I found the ending quite disappointing – I was left expecting more that wasn’t delivered. I was also left with a sense of déjà vu and wondering what the point of the book was. There is a lot of moralizing throughout, while the overwhelming message to think before we act or our behaviors will affect others (and sometimes in ways that we cannot predict) is admirable. That nothing is random or coincidental, that ultimately we will have to atone for our sins if we hope for any form of redemption is the Old Testament teaching of how people can obtain the key to Heaven. A message wrapped in fiction? A safe way to do it? Possibly…

Meanwhile the clichés (e.g. Alan was “dead as a doornail” page 63) and stereotypes abound (we’re left thinking masturbation is wrong for instance, see pages 74 & 75) and are at times very irritating. I also felt like screaming when the word ‘tears’ was used yet again (there’s a lot of crying in this book and eventually you become so immune to it you reach the point when you cease to care what happens).

In conclusion, this book will either make you think or leave you cold. It is, however, a page-turner and that in itself is admirable in a first work of fiction.

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May 19, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Prince of Gemen

Author: D.G. Novak
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Reviewed by: Kevin R. Tipple

533Years after the great population wars on the planet Daleer, what little hospitable land that is left is supporting the two groups known as Gemen and Arath. Mutual hatred, much of it based on false knowledge handed down over the generations, ensures that almost any meeting between the parties turns into bloodshed. As this romantic fantasy novel opens, Princess Arath, known as Calli, is being sent to Viceroy Roman and his family in preparation for a wedding. Calli is to be married to him should he find her acceptable and per her father, King Arath, he will find her acceptable and she better do nothing to cause any problems. She does not want to marry him and knows that her father will brook no interference by her or anyone under his control regarding this arranged political marriage.

What he can't control are the Shadrani, led by Prince Gemen, who hunt in the forests around Soris, the town of Calli and her family. Legend has it that according to the handmaiden Solte, "'They are not like any other! They cannot be killed. And they--they howl at the moon like crazed beasts!'" (Page 4) The handmaiden goes on to recount stories that are familiar – that the Shadrani drink the blood of their victims and have strange sexual practices.

Calli dismisses these stories and others as tales told to frighten young children into behaving. Before long, she acts like a child herself and decides it would be a good idea to change clothes with the handmaiden. Thanks to the requirement that females must be veiled at all times due to their second-class status, the royal guard with them is unaware that they have switched places. The guard is also completely unaware that the Shadrani are stalking the group and once attacked, are unable to rescue both women. Instead, they leave the Princess dressed in her handmaiden's clothes behind, secure in the knowledge as they flee with Solte that they have protected the one that matters. The abandoned Calli quickly becomes a prisoner of Prince Gemen and his troops.

As this novel moves forward, Calli moves from a position of a hated prisoner to a person of trust by some of the Shadrani, and then to the potential mother of the future King of the Shadrani. At the same time, as she works to conceal her noble birth to stay alive, she finds herself falling in love with the Prince. A man who has great personal motivation to kill her should he learn the truth.

This is a novel that relies heavily on erotic elements, often very graphic elements, to move the story forward. While there are other storylines involving deceit and treachery among the houses and sub-groups, eroticism is the primary element and theme. As such, some scenes are extremely graphic and could offend readers who might be expecting a more mainstream and less graphic fantasy romance.

While this was an interesting novel that kept the reader entertained and turning the pages, it is not a unique or exceptionally well written fantasy. Rather, much of the work reminds one of other fantasy novels and as such seems heavily clichéd. It reads as if the author is counting on the graphic nature of the work to make it stand out. If this is the first novel of a planned series as implied in the author's biography, it will be interesting to see if the author relies less on graphic eroticism and more on character development, storylines, and plotting in the future.

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May 12, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)