Tags: fantasy

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My Goodreads review: Camelot 3000

Camelot 3000Camelot 3000 by Mike W. Barr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I first read this 12-issue series back in college, when a friend loaned me the actual separate issues. I was impressed by it then, & I'm still impressed today by its audacity of imagination. I'm not a regular reader of graphic novels, but anything that combines the prophesied return of Arthur with far-future alien invasion will get (& probably hold) my attention pretty quickly.

I took a while getting through this one, because I was savoring the artwork along with the sheer weirdness of the narrative. There is also much truly Arthurian flavor to this, with detailed references to some of the more obscure stories.

New readers should know that this series is somewhat dated. It came out in the mid-1980s, & imposes the flavor of that time onto the year 3000. The president of the US is a Reaganesque gunslinger, the Soviet Union is still very much alive, & nothing much has changed with either Communist China or Africa. Certain plot twists (no spoilers!) which were pretty radical at the time now seem quite tame, and the overall treatment of the female characters leaves a good bit to be desired by current standards.

That said, I'd still recommend this series to lovers of the Arthurian legend, & particularly to those who are also SF fans.







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My Goodreads review: Shadows Linger

Shadows Linger (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #2)Shadows Linger by Glen Cook

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Didn't enjoy this one quite as much as I did the first in this series, though I can't put my finger on why. I will note that Croaker -- the Black Company's chronicler & chief physician -- is not the only narrator this time. There are sections of third-person narration concerning another pivotal character, which might have been necessary for the plotline but which deprived me of the voice I'd enjoyed so much in the first book. Also, I suspect this novel suffers from being the middle of a three-novel arc. The ending, though sufficient, is not particularly strong --and there are a couple of loose ends which might have been resolved and weren't.

The story itself is slightly confusing for at least the first half of the novel, since (as noted) there is more than one main character & the viewpoint shifts. This does make a certain amount of sense for the storyline, but took a bit of getting used to. Along the way, however, there are some solid horrors (body-snatching is bad, snatching bodies that aren't quite dead yet is way worse, & the buyers don't bear close examination), & plenty of fantasy military action.

All in all, I'm not sorry I spent more time with the Black Company. I continue to be impressed with the level of character development in these action-oriented & somewhat grimdark adventures, and I will definitely be continuing on with the next in this series, The White Rose.





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My Goodreads review: A Spectral Hue

A Spectral HueA Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


What's it like to have a muse? What's it like to be one, & how does one wind up becoming one? Is muse-driven creativity a blessing, a curse, or both? These are a few of the many related questions that are worked out -- but never quite answered -- in Gidney's beautifully strange, dark novel of artistic obsession.

On the surface, the plot is simple enough: an African-American grad student becomes fascinated by the Shimmer Artists, a loosely-defined group of "Outsider Artists" working in varied media, all inspired by the Shimmer Marsh in Maryland & the nearly indescribable color of a flower that grows there. Said student goes to the town of Shimmer, investigates the mystery of these artists, & eventually discovers way more than he expected to. There are possibly ghosts involved. There is possibly possession, or something akin to it.

The plot, however, is only a small part of this novel. Although it's nearly impossible to describe without committing spoiler, A Spectral Hue is a poetic examination of intertwined lives & creative drives stronger even than slavery. It is character-focused, though deeply supernatural. It is one of the odder & lovelier things I've read this year, though I did dock one star for my sheer confusion. Readers more tolerant of ambiguity & loose ends will likely find this a five-star experience. Recommended for fans of dark poetic writing, cultural exploration, & subtle chills.



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My Goodreads review: The Physicians of Vilnoc

The Physicians of Vilnoc (Penric and Desdemona, #8)The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Any new Pen & Des novella is a must-read for me, though I hesitated upon learning that it did feature a plague. I shouldn't have worried. This is another solid entry in Bujold's spinoff from her Five Gods world, though it definitely should not be a starting point for new readers. More than usual for this series, this one requires full background knowledge of the characters (though the author does include several helpful bits of recap along the way).

Aside from the medical plotline -- happy ending, no spoiler for anyone who reads Bujold regularly -- the main focus of this adventure seems to be the nitty-gritty of Pen's relationship with his highly talented demon, Desdemona. When Pen & Des encounter a new temple sorcerer & his very young demon, all four entities must manage their differences to save an army camp full of patients & ultimately discover the source of the disease.

Readers who crave nonstop action may not find this to be their favorite in the series. Those who enjoy seeing a magic system worked out with both logic & humor, however, will settle right in for another welcome visit.



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My Goodreads review: Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1)Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Is this a Native American take on urban (OK, rez) fantasy? Post-apocalypse climate change SF with a side order of monsters & a kick-A female hunter? A slightly YA-flavored adventure with mainly Navajo protagonists & a deep dive into tribal mythology?

Yes.

I've been meaning to listen to this one for some time (it came highly recommended by at least one reviewer I trust on such topics), & I'm glad I didn't put it off any longer. Despite the apocalyptic setting, which may not be what some readers are looking for right now, this is a remarkable SF/F novel of its type.

Maggie Hoskie, the monster hunter, is orders of magnitude more complex than a traditional "slayer." Sure, she's got mysterious fighting skills (clan powers) & an arsenal of her own (including shotgun shells loaded with obsidian & corn pollen, wow), but she also has some all-too -believable personal demons. Rather than being a loner, she is a full part of her community, responsible to it & protective of it -- even when not everyone in that community loves her back.

I hesitated between 4 & 5 stars due to more romance than I'd signed on for, but had to go with 5 for the sheer freshness of the Navajo mythology, & because I am fascinated by all things Southwest. And I'll definitely be reading/listening to Storm of Locusts, the next in this Sixth World series.





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My Goodreads Review: The Last Wish

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5)The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I read this following my viewing of the whole Netflix series (Season 1) -- before that, I'd been completely unaware of The Witcher or Sapkowski. All in all, it delivered a bit more than I expected. This is good solid Weird Tales --style fantasy, with a slight Robert E. Howard flavor (at least to me).

Those who watched the series will recognize most of the plots of these stories, which are linked by a rather vague framing narrative. The mythology involved is distinctly Slavic. Even my Kindle's Wikipedia click-through couldn't help me with some of the critters the Witcher encounters, but I enjoyed the immersive experience.

Geralt himself is a bit more humorous, or at least perceptive, than most sword & sorcery heroes -- and less sexist than some. Although the portrayal of women in these stories still suffers from the usual fantasy-medieval viewpoint, there is also a recognition that abuse has consequences, and that powerful women will not forget what they endured on their way to power.

Recommended for sword & sorcery fantasy enthusiasts looking to broaden their horizons, or anyone who enjoyed the series.





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My Goodreads review: Ninth House

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I really wish half stars were allowed for Goodreads reviews, because (for me) this one was a five-star read with a less than five-star ending. Can't explain why without committing spoiler, but suffice it to say that failed to fulfill reader expectations. And in the very last chapter, too.

The story itself is a great mix of occult murder mystery & urban fantasy worldbuilding, with a bit of a literary edge. Alex (Galaxy) Stern is a tough, streetwise (& street-damaged) California feminist heroine who finds herself way out of her element when she's recruited for an "enforcement" secret society at Yale. This "ninth house" is meant to keep the other eight secret societies in line -- no easy task, since each is working a different form of ritual magic for the material benefit of alumni & other patrons. And some of them want Alex (who can see ghosts, & would rather not) out of the way.

This whole concept makes way more sense than it ought to, & involves academic nastiness like "funding years," tenure, & town vs. gown conflict. Bardugo did a wonderful job of making me care about Alex, believe in the ritual magic, & keep clicking Kindle pages way past my bedtime. I just wish I'd known when I started that she'd be leaving loose ends. I'll definitely be reading the sequel (I'm assuming there is one), but a tighter conclusion would have been welcome.











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My Goodreads review: The Orphans of Raspay

The Orphans of Raspay (Penric and Desdemona, #7)The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Bujold's latest in her Penric / Desdemona series is a nice chewy 128 (virtual) pages, which makes for a solid novella & gives the author time to work out some of the theological details of her world. And fascinating details they are, too.

This time around, it's a Penric (& Des) -- only adventure, with wife & brother-in-law far away for most of the tale. When Learned Penric of the Bastard's Order gets himself captured by pirates, he & his resident demon must rescue not only themselves, but also a pair of god-touched children from a future of slavery. By the end, of course, the pirates -- & their entire island base -- will have themselves a major religious experience. The action in this one takes a while to show up, but is deeply satisfying when it does.

Like all previous Penric/ Desdemona novellas, this one is best read in its proper order. If you're new to the series, starting with Penric's Demon & following on from there will avoid much confusion.










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My Goodreads review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Gods of Jade and ShadowGods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A female-forward fantasy rooted in Mayan mythology? Set in Jazz Age Mexico? With a well-constructed glossary of even more fascinating information?

Yes, please!

I'm not sure whether to describe this as a beautifully told Mesoamerican fairy tale, or a Joseph Campbell-style Hero's Journey with a young woman as the hero. It works just as well either way. When "poor relation" Casiopea Tun accidentally frees an imprisoned Mayan death god from her tyrannical grandfather's keeping, she finds herself on a quest very little in her circumscribed life has prepared her for. (Not that there really is any way to prepare for a trip to Xibalba, come to think of it . . . )

How she and the death god Hun-Kamé cope with their increasingly complicated relationship is a story in itself, intensely romantic but never over the top. Casiopea is not a modern kick-A fantasy heroine, but a believable member of her society discovering that society's limits just won't work for her any longer.

Recommended for world mythology enthusiasts, fantasy readers looking to expand their horizons, or anyone in search of a late-summer read they'll still be thinking about come fall.

[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free NetGalley copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.]




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My Goodreads review: Day Shift

Day Shift (Midnight, Texas, #2)Day Shift by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Not sure whether this should be a full 4 stars or 3.5, but I enjoyed the second Midnight, Texas novel a bit more than I did the first. I suspect part of my appreciation might be due to my disillusionment with the TV series, which I doggedly watched all of but was relieved to see gone.

Day Shift is a strange but pretty effective combination of urban fantasy (well, very small-town fantasy) & cozy mystery. The actual mystery (no spoilers) is familiar enough, involving inheritance & murder. The fun comes in watching Midnight's mostly supernatural residents trying to help out one of their own, solving the case in the process.

It's more obvious in this novel than in the first that Midnight is in the same "universe" as Bon Temps, LA (Sookie fans rejoice), though I'm not sure I caught all the references. At some points, I felt as though character background was becoming more important than the case, but was willing to forgive. The writing seemed wittier than in the first novel, too.

Recommended for urban fantasy fans who prefer more focus on mystery, though I'd advise starting with Midnight Crossing. This is definitely a series, with references to the first book in this one.









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