This is the first book in the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, a “portal fantasy” about five Toronto University students taken to a magical fantasy realm. There they are sweet up in a war of dark and light, cavort with gods and goddesses, and plumb both the depths and heights of life and loss.
Guy Gavriel Kay established his name as a fantasy author with this series, and it possesses all the Hallmark if great Kay fantasy. It plumbs real world history and mythology to root the vivid word he builds in it, this time the Celtic myths of Wales, and revels in the artistry of language and creation that have rise to those ancient stories.
We also see the deep humanity that always information his writing,v as characters are moved more by admiration, joy, and empathy than the usual fantasy motivators of fate, rage, or vengeance. Thought there is some of that, too.
Perhaps the only misstep for me is the rather clumsy “portal” element. This book never really shows why Loren needed to take five people from Earth back to Fionavar, and I’m honestly kind of bemused at how smoothly and quickly the Canadian kids side into their roles in this utterly alien world.
But Kay’s writing is as masterful add it is today, and the world as enthralling as any in fantasy, so I’ll forgive that minor stumbling block.
Shadow Magic is about as traditional a fantasy as you can get. Dark beings, thought vanquished long ago, reawaken and the kingdoms of men, Shee (ahem…), Wyrds, and more must find ancient artifacts and the chosen one to wield them before all is lost.
It’s not all that original but there is something comforting in that. The characters are clearly drawn and pleasant, and the writing is smooth as glass. There is not a lot of surprise here, but quite a lot of warmth and fun.
I liked it. It isn’t going to change the world, but it doesn’t need to.
In this fantasy, a vaguely East Asian-based society is rules by people who can use a natural force called “madra” to fight, create, and manipulate the works arrive them. Everyone is tested for their affinity to one of the various paths of usage and are assigned a future: except the Unsouled, who show no affinity and this are only objects of shame and pity.
Wei Shin Lindo is one such, but he honers to break out of this rigid system and show that he is every bit as capable as his peers.
What occurs carries Lindo far beyond anything he found have imagined, with the fate of worlds moving around him.
This is a great, fun adventure reminiscent of Avatar, the Last Airbender. The practice is great, the characters fun and the working is interesting without being overwhelming in detail.
It’s definitely a pleasure to see Lindo use his wits to overcome his weaknesses, although I can see a definite Dragon Ball Z possibility of endless power creep if the writer isn’t careful.
But I hated to put the story down and I looked pretty much every choice made. What a fun read!
For merchant banker Sailor Kelstern, money is everything. He’s a walking embodiment of the Month Python Money Song. He has had a minor business setback with a very powerful Lord, which means his reputation is down but not out, but business goes on. And then a new client appears, asking him to manage the accounts of a very, very wealthy patron in the transition from hard currency to fiat based economy. The client, as you might have guessed from the title, really REALLY likes gold, and is not at all happy about this new paper money.
This book was a hoot. Seriously, it was so much fun. It was refreshing to see a decent protagonist who didn’t use a bit of force, just cleverness and skill, to get through truly difficult situations.
The main character was built perfectly. His motivations, actions, and values all clicked just right to create someone unique, but relatable at the same time. The pacing of the story never lets up (it might actually have been better sometimes if it did) and the plentiful turns paid off well.
The writing was fluid and clever without falling into the trap of “witty banter,” and the editing was very solid. This book showed a lot of care and thought, and I really appreciate the author sending me a review copy.
There aren’t many economic heroes out there (Discworld’s Moist von Lipwig and Cithrin from the Dagger and Coin books are all that spring to mind) but I’m of the growing opinion that we could use a lot more!
The Vagrant is a silent man, a wanderer with a magic sword, a baby, and a goat. This is the story of his journey through a post-Demonic apocalypse world and the family he starts to build in it.
I loved this book, in a way that kind of astounds me. I bought it on the recommendation of its similarities to Dark Souls, and that recommendation was spot on. The core idea, the feeling of a world and powerful entities within it caught in decay and decline, is evoked perfectly here, and at the same time the glimpse into how people adapt to, and sometimes even embrace, corruption feels so unspeakably real. At the same time, the bleak world is studded with both hope and humor, for a perfect balance of darkness and light. And more than anything, the Vagrant is a good man, a decent man, and it shows in his every action and reaction.
The characterization in The Vagrant is outstanding. I can only assume that Peter Newman is a truly gifted observer of the world, because the way that every character in the books feels true to the core could only come from heart-deep understanding. Even the goat, THE GOAT, is a fully fleshed character while still remaining truly and utterly goatlike. It’s amazing. And Vesper, the baby! She’s perfect. She’s a baby, and a person, and full of character it’s almost painful.
It’s almost shocking, really, how human this book is considering how inhuman the world it depicts is. The people and land are growing ever more tainted by the Demonic invasion, and even the “pure” humanity in the north is wrapped in eerie light of entities that are anything but human. Yet between these two poles, people get on with their lives as they have ever done, and it’s beautiful in a way. There is badness there, of course, but there is also the Vagrant and his simple decency, wrapped up in the power of a sentient, unstoppable sword.
It’s a heady mixture, and one I can recommend wholeheartedly to fans of adventure, action, and human drama alike.
Quill by A. C. Cobble I was given a review copy by the author.
Quill is a story set in a different universe’s version of the British Empire, one that seems very familiar, but is wholly different. It happens in a world with magic, and spirits, and also airships and trains. There are guns and bombs, and sorcerers and druids, too.
It is the story of nobleman adventurer Oliver Wellesley, the Cartographer of the series title, who is very far down in the line of royal succession so he is merely rich and aimless, and also apparently a sex-magnet. He is finagled into investigating a murder which smacks of the ancient, forbidden art of sorcery, and is partnered with beautiful, sex-hungry (this comes up a lot) sorcerer-killer priestess, Sam No-last-name.
They jaunt all over this not-at-all British Empire (which pays little heed to the true costs of empire and colonialism) and meet sorcerers and hedge witches and lustful heiresses and, generally, spill a whole lot of blood.
It’s an adventure. It’s a romp. It’s two-fisted, leather-pantsed, drunken alley fighting fun.
There’s a lot to recommend this book. It’s got originality, it’s got some very nice structural planning (the alternating viewpoints work very well, and the character tics turn out to be actually quite meaningful), and the dialog isn’t weighed down by hyper-witty banter. People who like airships and hard-punching women will dig the story.
The pacing was nice, and never felt draggy either.
The writing is solid, if a bit too in love with certain turns of phrase (the euphemism “sanguine fluid” for blood appeared a few times, and bothers me still), and generally well-edited. There are more typos than you might find in a pro publication, but far less than in most self-pubs, so it’s on the good side. I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the prose, honestly. It’s better than, say, Sanderson in many respects.
There are a few plot tunnels but they’re really not that important overall. It’s the kind of book that you should go into for a fun read, rather than looking for a deep reflection on human nature or what have you.
I liked it. I’d like to read the sequel, honestly, since the end kind of went for a semi-cliffhanger and I like these characters.
Thank you, A. C. Cobble, for the copy, and the fun read!
The follow up to The Witchwood Crown, which itself was the followup to the incredible Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy of 30 or so years ago, had enormous shoes to fill. The original series was a landmark in fantasy, and when Tad Williams opened the door to Osten Ard once more in 2017, expectations were understandably high.
The Witchwood Crown met those expectations and more, bringing readers a glimpse at that familiar realm after decades away. Characters we know and love return, while some are lost forever, and new faces were introduced: Prince Morgan, grandson of King Simon and King Miriamelle, his troll friend Sennec, the half-blood Norn Nerez, and many more. The Witchwood Crown placed our characters in deep peril, with a gut-punch of an ending, and with the Empire of Grass we finally get to take up the cause again after an agonizing wait.
But oh, it was worth the wait. This book is a middle book – it has very little closure and lots of progression. There is more movement and plot flow than in the first book, since the stage is all set, but even so this is not what I’d called a fast book. It is smooth and steady, but not racing.
That being said, the last 200 pages or so are breathtaking. So much happens, and of such import, that it is once again going to be a very hard wait for the next book, The Pilot’s Children.
I will also say, with the current state of the plot, it would not surprise me in the least of the final book ended up being split in two. There just seems like so much that still needs to happen before anything is resolved… But I suppose we shall see.
Anyway, if you have read Witchwood Crown, you should certainly read this book. If you haven’t read TWC, then by no means start with this one: go back to the beginning!