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 lateI 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!...more
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 theiWhile 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....more
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 --thatThis 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....more
Note, Feb. 26, 2015: While skimming over the stories again, as part of adapting and expanding this review for another site, and with the benefit of aNote, Feb. 26, 2015: While skimming over the stories again, as part of adapting and expanding this review for another site, and with the benefit of a number of years of further reflection, I decided that this collection fully merits an additional star, raising it to five!
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 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....more
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, andAll 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! :-) ...more
Lisle is a writer I'd never read before; but, intrigued by the theme of a mother putting her life on the line to rescue her kidnapped kids, I bought tLisle is a writer I'd never read before; but, intrigued by the theme of a mother putting her life on the line to rescue her kidnapped kids, I bought this book at a flea market as a Mother's Day gift for my wife. When the type proved too small for her to read comfortably, I agreed to read it aloud to her. That proved to be fortunate; by common consent, I normally edit out the cussing in books I read out loud. Since this book is significantly flawed by bad language, including a number of uses of the f-word (most of this occurs in the two main character's unspoken reflections; they don't use it as much verbally unless they're stressed --though Lisle's plot is plenty stressful-- and not at all in front of their kids), my editing contributed greatly to her considerable enjoyment of the book. But since this review is of the written text, not the unauthorized "audio version" :-), the question is, does it have any merits that recommend it enough to compensate for the language problem?
IMO, it did; in fact, I would have given it four stars but for the language. True, Lisle's invented fantasy cosmology leaves plenty to be desired. In her literary vision, a multiverse of universes is threatened by the Unweaver, a malevolent personification of galactic entropy who aims to bring about the ultimate death of the cosmos, an event as inevitable as Ragnarok was thought to be in Viking myth (though, in this case, the mythology the author is working with is that of modern pseudo-scientific materialism). He is opposed by Weavers, a pair of artistic individuals who keep him at bay by their creativity, supernaturally enhanced by magic rings that give them nearly God-like powers. Minerva and Darryl, unknown to themselves, are the current Weavers, having picked up their rings of office years before at a Renaissance Fair as wedding rings --but the rings were meant for another couple. Not deeming them up to the job, a bevy of sorcerers from another dimension wants them dead so they can be replaced, and the Unweaver wants them dead, period.
Obviously, the fact that Lisle has no trouble envisioning a personal transcendent power of cosmic evil, but can't picture a personal transcendent power of cosmic good, speaks volumes about the limitations of her vision; recognizably, this is a cosmology for materialists who aren't happy with the limits of materialism, but feel stuck with them anyway. As ultimate values, human self-sufficiency and whistle-in-the-dark optimism is about the best the author can offer. But it may be more constructive here to view the glass as half-full, rather than carp that it's half empty. In the face of a bleak cosmology, Lisle's message is life-affirming and moral; and it does express a very real yearning for cosmic beauty and meaning (reminding this reader of Paul's address to the Athenians --"What you worship without knowing, we proclaim to you...."). She affirms that love, loyalty and courage do matter, and do make a difference; Minerva and Darryl here are part of a long tradition in literature of unlikely heroes who find resources in themselves that they didn't know they had. They also learn lessons; because while this novel will take them to another world, it is anything but "escapist" in its facing of the typical problems of typical real-world couples. They've forsaken their dreams in exchange for material things that don't satisfy; and they've both allowed their closeness and love for each other to erode, and drifted apart to the point that Darryl, at the beginning of the book, is on the cusp of infidelity. And to her credit, Lisle doesn't excuse or glamorize the infidelity; she portrays it as every bit as self-hurtful, shabby and emotionally damaging as it really is. Her message certainly does espouse "family values."
Apart from the bad language, there are a number of stylistic pluses here. Lisle's characterizations are original and sharp; Minerva in particular is genuinely likable. I read much of this book in the car on an over 200-mile-each-way trip to visit family; normally I have to fight sleep a lot of the time as I try to read in that setting. That I didn't even once on that trip says something about Lisle's prowess as a story-teller; her plot is absorbing and suspenseful, and leavened with humor that's often laugh-aloud funny --though I wouldn't characterize this as "humorous fantasy" (and still less with one critic's adjective, "breezy"); the emotional and physical trauma and fear the characters, especially the kidnapped kids, have to go through is too real, and too vividly-drawn, for that. This author deserves to be better known in the field of contemporary fantasy than she is!...more
This rating applies to the trilogy overall, though my review below concentrates mostly on the last two books. I reviewed the first novel, Sheepfarmer'This rating applies to the trilogy overall, though my review below concentrates mostly on the last two books. I reviewed the first novel, Sheepfarmer's Daughter, separately; my review is here: www.goodreads.com/review/show/625260624 . (That review is worth reading for insight into the development of the trilogy as a whole.) But while that novel can sort of stand as a unit on its own (though closely related to the other two), the second one, Divided Allegiance, ends with Paks in a terrible and apparently hopeless situation. If we take that as the completion of a story arc, the book would get terrible ratings and worse reviews (my wife, to whom I read the omnibus volume aloud, suggested wringing Elizabeth Moon's neck :-) ); and that would be completely unjustified, because that's NOT the completion of a storyline --the last two books have to read essentially as a unit! Hence my decision to rate and review the omnibus volume as such. (The first novel by itself earned a four-star rating.)
Some of the characteristics of the first book carry over into the next two: the detailed world building, the strong characterizations, the slow narrative pace (though that's not as noticeable here, possibly because by now we're used to it). In other ways, there are differences. Paks' growth as a character here is very marked, and that's one of the reasons for the five stars; she really comes into her own here, psychologically, morally and spiritually, but this comes about as believable personal development of who she essentially is, not as an artificial change tacked on by the author. This is one of the great strengths of the trilogy. Most fantasy fans will appreciate the fact that magic, and magical creatures and races, come into play in the storyline from early in the second book, and play a much more important role in the rest of the trilogy than before. For fans who don't like the military-centric style of fantasy, Paks is taken out of the mercenary company context fairly soon in the second book. Here, she's not in situations that call attention to her unusual disinterest in sex, and that aspect of her character fits into her role as a paladin (see the Goodreads description); "paladins" aren't allowed to marry.
In reviewing the first book, I noted that it seemed to hint that the cult of St. Gird would figure more prominently in the succeeding books. That guess was dead on. While the first novel introduces us to the seemingly polytheistic religions and cults of Moon's fantasy world, the later volumes take us behind the scenes to see more of a unifying pattern in apparent diversity. The human cultures of Pak's world recognize a righteous Creator, the High Lord; and it's explicitly suggested that the elven and dwarfen concepts of the Creator are the same God, just with a different name and different stressed aspects. Other, lesser "gods" are spiritual entities that either serve the Creator, or in the case of the evil ones (and some are radically evil) oppose him, much like Satan opposes God; while human saints like Gird and Falk are separately venerated by distinct groups of followers, but each are recognized as servants of the common High Lord. In other words, religion in that world is much more monotheistic in essence than it initially appears; and it's a strongly moral monotheism. (And as in our world, believers have to struggle with challenges to faith and problems of theodicy.) I know nothing about Moon's religious beliefs, if any. But I'd say that while she's created a world in which believers have a different "salvation history" than they do in ours, it's one in which Christian readers can view them as believers in the same Creator. That's an important realization, because religious themes play a key part in the last two novels --and I'd say they're themes/messages that are entirely compatible with Christianity.
There's plenty of sword-fighting and other action here, quests and intrigue, magical perils, hidden identity, and a plot that's suspenseful right up almost to the last page. But it's also a work of rare psychological and spiritual depth, with the kind of serious dimension that marks it as truly great fiction, fiction of lasting literary significance, not just entertainment value. It's also fiction that will break your heart in places, because there are points where Paks practically goes through hell --and some scenes here are not for the squeamish. But light is only recognizable against darkness; and out of great darkness here comes great light. One of the most powerful scenes in English-language literature that I've ever read in a lifetime of reading occurs here (you'll know it when you read it). It's a real shame that this trilogy isn't more widely known by fantasy fans; but more than that, it's a shame that it's not recognized as one of the crown jewels of the American literary canon from the late 20th century. I'd like to hope that someday it will be!...more