I first encountered the Xanth series years ago with Dragon on a Pedastal, which I read out loud to my wife. We both liked it, which encouraged us late...moreI first encountered the Xanth series years ago with Dragon on a Pedastal, which I read out loud to my wife. We both liked it, which encouraged us later to read more of the series (so, as the number of Xanth titles in my "Read" shelf indicates, there are apt to eventually be quite a few Xanth book reviews on this page!).
Anthony is a profoundly morally-grounded writer; his main characters are all fundamentally decent persons who want to do the right thing, and his plots tend to feature various large and small ethical choices and dilemmas that explore what the right thing is, and why. He also has a basically optimistic outlook; his characters typically face an array of challenges and problems that require logic and ingenuity to surmount, and they invariably rise to the occasion. His humor, in this series, often takes the form of exuberant and extended puns. (It can also include mild sexual innuendo; in this book, for instance, he introduces the Adult Conspiracy, the closely-guarded secret of stork-summoning for the purpose of bringing babies, which excites 9-year old Dolph's curiosity. But as this example suggests, his view of sex grounds it firmly in a context of family and moral responsibility, and his main characters all avoid loose sex as a matter of principle.) All of these characteristics of the series are well-evident in this installment.
Without giving away the ending, it will suffice to say that the conclusion here leaves unfinished business and unresolved loose ends, which are addressed in Book 13, Isle of View --which you'll certainly want to read as well!(less)
While the stereotypical image of the warrior in our culture tends to be male, warrior women were not unknown in the world of antiquity; they left thei...moreWhile the stereotypical image of the warrior in our culture tends to be male, warrior women were not unknown in the world of antiquity; they left their mark on classical, Celtic, and Norse-Teutonic legend, and found a literary prototype in the "lady knight" Britomartis, who rides through the pages of Sir Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen. The creators of the sword-and-sorcery fantasy tradition in the early pulps drew on this background to create a few sword-swinging heroines such as C. L. Moore's Jirel of Joiry and Conan's comrade-in-arms Valeria in Robert E. Howard's "Red Nails." With the rise of women's liberation, their ranks have been considerably swelled in contemporary fantasy, and two anthology series of original short stories have appeared to showcase them: the Sword and Sorceress collections begun by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and the Chicks in Chainmail series begun with this volume. Having read the first volumes of both, I'd say they're both quality work; to the extent that they have a difference, it would be that the tone of the stories in this collection tends to be more on the light-hearted and humorous side than that of the stories in the Bradley collection --though there are exceptions in both groups. (It should be noted that the term "chicks" in the title here isn't used in any disrespectful sense, any more than "gal" is in the parlance of an older generation.)
Twenty authors are represented with stories in this volume, some of them well-known in speculative fiction circles, such as Roger Zelazny, Harry Turtledove, Josepha Sherman, George Alec Effinger (who contributes a story featuring his series heroine, Muffy Birnbaum, "barbarian swordsperson") and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. The great majority of the stories are quite entertaining, and they not infrequently have good messages (like much of the fiction in this genre, they tend to extol heroic qualities of character). My personal favorite is "The New Britomart" by Eluki Bes Shahar (her real name --she also writes as Rosemary Edghill), set in England in 1819, where a country baronet, inspired by Ivanhoe, decides to stage a medieval-style tournament. (Toss in a powerful closeted sorceress with no scruples, a couple of visitors from Faerie, an Ivanhoe character brought to life by magic, a genuine dragon, a girl who wants to compete as a knight and a guy who wants to be a librarian, and anything may happen. ;-) ). Other especially good selections are Sherman's "Teacher's Pet," Elizabeth Waters' "Blood Calls to Blood" (I'd welcome seeing her heroine as a series character!), and David Vierling's spoof of old-time pulp fantasies, "Armor/Amore." Margaret Ball's "Career Day," despite its invidious portrayal of its only Christian character (who's a stereotype lifted from Hate Literature 101), manages to be a strong story about personal growth, where the heroine learns some worthwhile lessons. But almost all of the stories are well worth reading, not just these.
Any collection of 20 stories is likely to have one or two that not every reader cares for, and this one is no exception. Susan Schwartz' bizarre "Exchange Program," in which Hillary Clinton is killed in an Amtrak accident and winds up going to Valhalla (or a grotesque parody of Valhalla) falls flat, in my estimation. And Lawrence Watt- Evans' "The Guardswoman," whose heroine finally becomes "one of the boys" when she's able to join her male colleagues in traipsing to the local brothel for sex (she falls into an affair with the male bouncer) sends all the wrong messages about what sex, and camaraderie, is about. But in general, the other sword-wielding ladies in this book display commendably high morals --they respect themselves, and insist on being respected.(less)
Actually, I read this book for the first time sometime in the late 90s; but at that time, I hadn't read any of Robert E. Howard's original Conan mater...moreActually, I read this book for the first time sometime in the late 90s; but at that time, I hadn't read any of Robert E. Howard's original Conan material. So, I wanted to re-read it now with an eye to making a more conscious comparison. (Besides, I'd forgotten many details of the plot; and I think my appreciation of the story benefited from the perspective that the intervening years have brought.)
For those readers who don't reject pastiches on principle, I'd say this one rates very well for faithfulness to the spirit of the original. Green is quite faithful to Howard's vision in his representation of the character of Conan, and his depiction of the Hyborian world. Likewise, the fast-paced plot, the violent action (lots of people die --not always very cleanly), and the mix of natural and magical dangers is typical of the original Conan canon. (The plotting is more complex than the highly simplified description above suggests.) Howard has been faulted by some modern critics for racial insensitivity, but that charge would not be justified here; the black characters are depicted with the same range of faults and virtues as any other race and even the Picts aren't demonized. (As in some of Howard's own fiction, they come across as resembling American Indians of the 18th-century frontier: they're dark-skinned warriors of the western forest, who wear moccasins and feathers, paint themselves for war, and fight incursions of lighter-skinned intruders; their weapons are usually stone-headed, and they aren't necessarily averse to savagely torturing captives.) While Green doesn't try to imitate Howard's purple prose, his own vivid narrative style reads well and draws the reader along. Like Howard, he avoids bad language and explicit sex. Also, I'd give him high marks for an effective use of the frame technique. (less)
This is the first book of a trilogy; and like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books (which he originally didn't want to separate into three volumes --that...moreThis is the first book of a trilogy; and like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books (which he originally didn't want to separate into three volumes --that was the publisher's idea), the Song of Albion books basically form a unit that should be read and considered together. An evangelical, Lawhead displays the influence of C. S. Lewis in places in his writing; the Christian symbolism in the last volume, The Endless Knot, is particularly clear. But his fantasy vision is his own, heavily influenced as well by Celtic mythology (American born, he moved to England to have better facilities for studying Celtic history and culture), and his fantasy world is supposedly the Celtic Otherworld, with a recreated Bronze Age Celtic culture whose elements of primitive monotheism he stresses (more so than they were in actual pagan Celtic society). He makes very creative and original use of different features of Celtic lore, such as the Silver Hand (which provides the title of the second volume), the endless kettle, Beltane fires, etc.
Lawhead is a capable stylist, skilled at creating absorbing plots, characters, and atmosphere; he does that here, and (as expected from an evangelical writer) there are no problems of bad language or sexual content in the trilogy. It is, however, very violent (a trait more marked in the last two books), with a good deal of grisly killing, massacres, blinding and beheading, often with the innocent, and characters the reader likes and cares about, on the receiving end of it. This is a reflection of a clear-eyed awareness of the capacities and results of human evil, squarely faced; but it's definitely not for the squeamish.(less)
Usually, when I read books that are part of a series, I prefer to start at the beginning. However, my wife picked this second volume of the author's M...moreUsually, when I read books that are part of a series, I prefer to start at the beginning. However, my wife picked this second volume of the author's Myth series up at our local flea market, and suggested that we read it together, so I did. While it makes some reference to previous events, and many of the characters have prior history with each other, it can be enjoyed well enough as a stand-alone.
Set in another dimension where magic, or magik, as Asprin spells it here, (strictly of the incantational sort) operates, this is basically a lighthearted humorous fantasy romp, with no deep messages or symbolic themes. Our hero is Skeeve, a moderately able apprentice studying under Aahz, a demon (in Aspirin's fictional universe, as in Piers Anthony's Xanth, "demon" is simply a term for any member of various magical humanoid species, which aren't inherently evil and have no connection with Satan) who's a "magician," i.e., a sorcerer --but one who's lost his powers for the present. Early on, Skeeve manages to land a job as court magician in the kingdom of Possiltum --only to learn that he's expected to fend off an approaching invading army of invincible size. This, of course, lands the two in hot water (their usual situation, apparently :-)) of a potentially lethal sort; but given the humorous tone of the book, the reader doesn't have any doubt that they'll be able to pull through. The humor is wry and pseudo-cynical, a veneer over an essentially ethical and optimistic outlook; I don't recall laughing out loud, but I did enjoy the read. (For me, one of the more delightful parts was a visit to the "Yellow Crescent Inn" situated in an inter-dimensional bazaar frequented by inhabitants of various worlds, including ours. If you've ever thought the McDonald's chain --for which my wife happens to work :-)-- was getting to be really ubiquitous, you didn't know the half of it!)
There are a variety of secondary characters here, ranging from Skeeve's lovable pet dragon, Gleep, to Possiltum's military commander, the appropriately named General Badaxe. One of the more interesting is a green-haired beauty named Tanda, who's taking time off from her jobs to help Skeeve and Aahz in their jeopardy. The author implies that one of her jobs, at times, is prostitution; but she doesn't behave lewdly here, and though Aspirin's humor can include some mild sexual innuendo, there's no sex (or bad language, either), in the book. Her principal occupation, though, is contract killing --which would make it a real challenge to make her even remotely likable! Surprisingly, Aspirin pulls that off (helped greatly by the fact, of course, that he doesn't depict her at work); she comes across as a loyal friend, and a person with integrity, a sense of responsibility, and a basically kind heart. How she balances those qualities with the demands of her line of work would make an interesting character study, which Asprin doesn't really attempt (as noted above, this isn't a deep work). But he does hint at it when Tanda refuses Skeeve's suggestion that she kill the officers of the invading army; assassins, she says, only take on contracts in personal feuds, never as a part of a war. In her world, the Assassins Guild is a recognized (and, apparently, perfectly legal) professional body with a code of ethics that she takes seriously; she seems to see herself essentially as an honorable, rule-bound professional --a stance that doesn't evoke approval, but can evoke respect.
I've never run across any other volumes of the Myth series in any of the venues where I usually purchase books. But if I did find one, I'd snap it up! If you enjoy humorous fantasy, this book would probably be right up your alley.(less)
Originally published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in the late 1930s, Moore's five stories ("Black God's Kiss," "Black God's Shadow," "Jirel Meets...moreOriginally published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in the late 1930s, Moore's five stories ("Black God's Kiss," "Black God's Shadow," "Jirel Meets Magic," "The Dark Land," and "Hellsgarde") featuring beautiful swordswoman Jirel, lady ruler of a feudal fiefdom in Dark Ages France, were as germinal in the development of sword-and-sorcery fantasy as the work of her contemporary, Robert E. Howard. Jirel is a strong and complex character, the first in prose fantasy's long and honorable list of butt-kicking heroines (Marion Zimmer Bradley dedicated her first Sword and Sorceress anthology to "every girl who grew up wanting to be Jirel)," tough but not brutal, proud and hot-tempered, but possessing a gentle side, too. The above description calls her "a good Catholic girl," and it's true that, like most people in her time, she's a loyal daughter of the Church --but she's not especially religious and wouldn't make any claims to sainthood! (And I wouldn't characterize her as even "a little stupid," either.) Though she's a veteran fighter of conventional battles, these stories involve her mostly in adventures of another sort, confrontations with dark sorcery, usually in otherworldly, extra-dimensional realms.
Moore's prose style here was influenced by Poe and Lovecraft (and she's fully their equal); her plotting and her creation of vivid fantasy worlds, all significantly different from the others, are highly original, and she excels at evoking a mood of strangeness and menace --Jirel's approach to Hellsgarde castle is a masterpiece of this sort. Some critics have found fault with Jirel's having romantic feelings toward her enemy in the first story, Guillaume, considering this a betrayal of feminist orthodoxy; but I think her complex feelings are quite plausible psychologically, and lend the story a depth and tension that it wouldn't have otherwise.(less)
All but one of the 19 stories in this collection take place in de Lint's favorite setting, his imaginary city of Newford, Canada and its environs, and...moreAll but one of the 19 stories in this collection take place in de Lint's favorite setting, his imaginary city of Newford, Canada and its environs, and they furnish a great introduction to his characteristic urban fantasy. (Strictly speaking, two of the stories here don't actually have a supernatural element; but they fit right in with the rest.) Newford is home to such creatures as mermaids and fairies, skookins and Bigfoot (along with some more sinister entities), as well as to a gallery of likeable, mostly young characters who are often involved in creative arts --music, painting or writing-- and who may interact in more than one story. (Free-spirited artist Jilly Coppercorn is the most-often recurring character, but there are several others.)
De Lint's protagonists tend to be secular in their attitudes, and a few stories seem to explain the magical elements in terms of the idea that believing something can make it so. Instances of unmarried sex occur in four of the stories (though they're neither explicit nor gratuitous), and there's some bad language, including a few uses of the f- word, mostly by villains or by street kids whose speech patterns aren't shaped by the best of influences. But de Lint's messages here are essentially about the importance of human community and relationships, of kindness and caring and responsibility, of openness to finding "the world a far more strange and wondrous place than its mundaneness allowed it could be." (Some of the stories clearly discourage loose and exploitive sex.) So its "moral tendency," if you will, is a wholesome one, and its vision winsome --given half a chance, I'd gladly move to Newford, and count it a privilege to be friends with Jilly and her buddies!
Probably my favorite story in this collection is "Ghosts of Wind and Shadow;" but "The Stone Drum," "That Explains Poland," and "Romano Drom" are standouts, too. But read it for yourself --you'll pick your own favorites! :-) (less)
Charles de Lint is a favorite author of mine, so when I read a review of this book, the first of a two-volume set of his early work (written, in this...moreCharles de Lint is a favorite author of mine, so when I read a review of this book, the first of a two-volume set of his early work (written, in this case, from 1979-1986), and supplemented by a few stories newly written for this collection, I was immediately intrigued. As my rating indicates, I wasn't disappointed! Though he was later to make his name primarily in the area of urban fantasy, these 15 stories all fall into the realm of what he calls "heroic fantasy" --basically the "sword-and- sorcery" sub-genre. Of the 11 stories here that actually do date from the early 80s and before, most originally appeared in small-circulation magazines and attracted little critical notice, and the author's introduction is self-deprecating as to their quality. His concern on this score, though, is too modest; I found all of these tales to be just as well-written as his later works, and honestly couldn't tell, without a look at the copyright notices page, which were newly written. (Of course, de Lint did do a stylistic editing of the older works, to remove "a few of the many adverbs and exclamation marks...[and:] some of the clumsy dialogue attributions;" that probably helped considerably to remove any original journeyman awkwardness. :-))
The stories fall into four sections, grouped by their main character. Six feature lady bounty hunter Aynber, sometimes nicknamed the Huntress, and her sidekick, wizard Thorn Hawkwood (the two are business partners, but not romantically involved). I'd already read one of these stories, "The Valley of the Troll," in the first Sword and Sorceress collection edited by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, so was already acquainted with Aynber (and with her lethal abilities with elven-made lessen-yaln, razor-sharp throwing disks, which in her hands can be quite deadly). Four linked stories follow Colum mac Donal, a brave young warrior (contemporary with King Arthur) in Ireland --or perhaps an alternate Ireland, since some of his people have settled in America. (Though there was a tradition in our world that Holy Brendan, on one of his westward voyages, reached America.) The darkest of de Lint's protagonists here, Damon, is the subject of three stories --actually two, with a prologue that tells of his origins: born of the rape of an elf maiden by a demon, he bound himself to serve the dark gods of his world in return for superhuman strength to avenge the slaughter of his mother's people. His vengeance completed, he tried to renege on the deal, so was stripped of his conscious memory and held prisoner for 200 years inside a standing stone. Finally, the last two stories are grouped in a section called "Liavek," but the protagonist is actually female minstrel Saffer, one of the more honorable (and more clever and gutsy) inhabitants of the Rat's Alley district in the city of Liavek. Residents of Terry Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork would likely feel pretty much at home in Liavek; it was actually a setting created by Will Shetterly and Emma Bull, but shared by a number of writers who contributed to two Liavek anthologies. (One of these stories was co- written with de Lint's friend, Lee Barwood.)
Where religion operates at all in these stories, it's of a pagan, and often dark, variety. As is characteristic of the sub-genre, the plots tend to be violent in places, a fact that somewhat embarrassed the now older de Lint. But there's relatively little bad language, and no explicit sex. (The only implication of casual sex at all is at the very beginning of the first story, "The Fair, the Foul, and the Foolish," when Hawkwood rousts Aynber out of a bed where she's asleep with an unnamed young man, but the positioning of that incident creates the impression that she's more promiscuous than she actually proves to be; her usual behavior elsewhere is to rebuff improper advances.) All of the stories are exciting and genuinely fun to read; the protagonists are likable (or at least engage your sympathy); the settings are developed enough to seem real, though there's not a lot of detailed world building; the plotting and writing is often emotionally compelling; and most importantly, de Lint writes from a moral grounding that often calls on his characters to make good ethical choices. All in all, I'd highly recommend this book to fans of this sort of fantasy.(less)