Flights of Fantasy

Monday, December 20, 2004

Bitten – Kelley Armstrong

Bitten - Kelley ArmstrongCategory: Horror

This is categorized as Horror because that is the section of Waterstones in which I found it. Personally I wouldn't have put it there, I've read more horrific fantasy novels. I think it's because it's about werewolves. Werewolves = Horror, right?

Well not in this instance no. Granted there are some pretty gory moments, but a few gory passages does not a horror novel make.

I enjoyed this book. It's about a young woman who is the only female werewolf in the world. The premise is that the werewolf gene is only passed down the male line so the only way to get a female werewolf is for one to be bitten, and the chances of surviving being bitten are extremely slim. She is trying to live a normal life, with a boyfriend (who is unaware of her abilities) and a job. However she gets a phone call from the werewolf pack leader, calling her back to their territory to assist in dealing with a threat to the pack. In responding she finds herself drawn back into the pack world, her old life and old relationships both wanted and unwanted.

It's a good story about accepting yourself for what you are, learning to live with that and understanding the types of relationships you have with other people and why you have them.

There are other books in this series and I will be picking them up in the future.

Rating: 6/10

The series:
Dime Store Magic
Industrial Magic
Haunted (due out May 2005)

Stolen - Kelley ArmstrongDime Store Magic - Kelley ArmstrongIndustrial Magic - Kelley ArmstrongHaunted - Kelley Armstrong

Friday, December 17, 2004

Magician’s Guild – Trudi Canavan

Magicians' Guild - Trudi CanavanCategory: Fantasy

Wow. I finished this in a day and she’s a new author so it’s not as if I was predisposed to like her work. I really found it hard to put this one down. I was still sat on the tram, on the way home, for two minutes before I realised we’d reached the terminal. I was that engrossed.

It’s not a new story, very little fantasy is. However she tells it very well. I found myself drawn into the world very quickly. She paints a very good picture in a very concise way. No Tokienesque scenic ramblings for this author, a few well-chosen phrases and you’re there with the characters.

This is a world in which class is everything. Magicians are a class apart, but only children from the wealthy are tested for the potential to become a magician. Every year a purge takes place, when all the ‘undesirables’ are swept from the city. This task is undertaken by some of the magicians. They erect a magical barrier to protect themselves and then use it to simply push everyone along, and out of the city.

This time something totally unexpected happens, one of the many missiles being hurled at the barrier breaks through and strikes down of the magicians, another of them catches sight of a young girl who looks amazed by what has just happened. The hunt is on.

This book follows the fate of that girl as she is hunted by the magician’s guild, as she slowly comes to realise what she is, what she is capable and what that means for her future and for those around her.

I would definitely recommend this book and will certainly be reading the rest of the trilogy just as soon as I can get my mitts on them

Rating: 8/10

The Black Magician Trilogy:
Magician’s Guild
The Novice
The High Lord

The Novice - Trudi CanavanThe High Lord - Trudi Canavan

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Dragon’s Kin - Anne and Todd McCaffrey

Dragon's Kin - Anne and Todd McCaffreyCategory: Fantasy.

Since Anne McCaffrey is one of my favourite authors (if pushed I may even list her in my top three) I fully expected to enjoy this book, and I did. I have to say I couldn’t detect any other influence in this book. If Todd’s involvement was supposed to be invisible then it was a success.

However I have to say (much as I hate to) that although I enjoyed reading it, and romped my way through it in a day, there was nothing spectacular about it. That’s not to say it’s not a good story. It is. But there was nothing that made me ooh, or ahh, or get really impatient and want to turn the page before I’d finished reading the current one.

The story is set on Pern, her world of dragons and dragonriders and thread. If you haven’t read any of her books before then start with Dragonflight. This book is set hundreds of years before Dragonflight at a time when the miners on Pern have pretty much exhausted their resources available from open-cast mining and have had to rediscover the art of shaft mining. This is not a story about the Dragonriders of Pern but about the 'common' people.

The story follows the fate of Kindan, a youth living with his family in a new mining camp trying to prove itself worthy of becoming a full mine. Kindan’s father is the handler of the mines’ watch-wher who assists in the mine as a form of early warning system for pockets of gas and in rescuing miners caught in cave-ins.

Kindan begins to train as a harper, but after a terrible disaster in the mine he is chosen to raise and train the camps’ new watch-wher. With the assistance of the camps’ harper, his friends and a mysterious girl called Nuella, he undertakes this task. Along the way he makes some interesting discoveries about the nature of the watch-whers, the value of friendships and that strength, determination and allies can be found in many places.

Alongside the basic story there are lessons for the reader in looking for the hidden depths in people. That judgements made about a person based solely on you own interactions with that person can be very narrow-minded, it pays to observe how a person interacts with others as well.

Anne McCaffrey is a great writer; this is a good book, just not one of her best.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, December 13, 2004

River of Blue Fire (Otherland II) – Tad Williams

River of Blue Fire - Tad WilliamsCategory: Fantasy

Let me start by saying that if you read the first book in this series and found it so confusing you decided not to read any more, then you should get this, the second book. Start out by reading the ‘story so far’ section. Even if you have just read the first book and followed it I’d still suggest reading the synopsis. I found one or two little things in it that I’d missed when reading the first book.

Oh and if you haven’t read the first book yet and you think you might like to, stop reading this and go here for a review of that one.

This book takes up where the first one left off, but since you already know the characters and the situation, it’s a lot easier to follow. The format is the same, switching to another group every couple of chapters to follow their part of the story.

Renie and !Xabbu are trapped in Otherland with the group they met towards the end of the last book. Paul Jonas is also still trapped in another part of Otherland, being pursued by the enemy. Early on you learn that one of the group with Renie is no longer who he or she seems to be but you have to wait until the end of the book to find out who it is.

This book takes more time to explore the concept of Otherland and why it has been created. The characters slowly come to a realisation of what it’s creators ultimately hope to achieve from their creation. There is more exploration of the creator’s interpersonal problems and of the relationships developing within the group trapped in Otherland. There is also more of the difference between Renie’s very technological city-dweller view versus !Xabbu’s spiritual bushman outlook.

The individual lands within Otherland are well described and if you’re an avid reader you will recognise some of the worlds described (if you haven’t already). I like this aspect of the book, I get a feeling of being comfortable in this new world because there’s something familiar about it. A bit like going the house of someone new for the first time and finding an old pair of your slippers there waiting for you.

I enjoyed this book more than the first one, it made me glad that I persevered, I hope you enjoy it too.

Rating: 6/10

The Otherland Series:
1. City of Golden Shadow
2. River of Blue Fire
3. Mountain of Black Glass
4. Sea of Silver Light
City of Golden Shadow - Tad WilliamsMountain of Black Glass - Tad WilliamsSea of Silver Light - Tad Williams

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Reliquary Ring ~ Cherith Baldry

The Reliquary Ring - Cherith BaldryCategory: Fantasy

Cherith Baldry is not an author whose work I have read before, but I shall be looking out for more of her books. As an added bonus she’s British and it’s always nice to find homegrown talent on the shelves.

This is classed as a fantasy novel and I can’t help wondering how many people are put off reading something that they would actually enjoy because of this. This book is not what I would call High Fantasy. It’s not like reading a fairy tale in novel form. There are no fantastic beings. It simply presents a tale set in a city that is not real, or based in reality.

The book is the story of the lives of four genics living in a society that considers them to be less than human. Genics are created humans, grown in tanks and genetically manipulated to maximise a particular trait, e.g. beauty or musical talent. They are called abomination by the church, used as slaves and servants and treated as property.

The setting is a city reminiscent of Italy at the time of the Medici's. On the surface a beautiful and wonderful place to live, underneath a squalid place teeming with deceit, injustice and hatred. As the story unfolds, more and more of the seedy underbelly of the city is revealed to the reader and to the characters.

The Reliquary Ring of the title is a ring, discovered early in the story, containing relic of the Christos (the novel’s equivalent of Christ) which comes into the possession of the bad guy in the story. He then uses this relic to manipulate his way to power using some extremely twisted schemes. This is where I feel the author excelled. She manages to make you believe, time after time, that his schemes have been foiled. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't, but he still finds, very believable ways, to twist things still further and benefit regardless.

Although the struggle for control of the ring is the primary plot of this novel, the plight of the genics is a very strong subplot that weaves through the book. By the end I found myself caring as much about justice for them as justice for the baddie.

I found the subject of the treatment of, and attitudes towards genics particularly thought provoking. Genetic manipulation is something we are capable of today. Granted not to the levels described in this story, however it is not that much of a stretch to imagine that we could be capable of this in the near future and there is already strong feeling both for and against this science. The subject of the treatment of beings created in this way is covered in detail and is something we may all find ourselves having to consider, possibly sooner than we think.

I strongly suspect that I will be picking this one up again in the future.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

City of Golden Shadow (Otherland Vol I) - Tad Williams

coverCategory: Fantasy

This is the first book in a series from an author who's work I have enjoyed before. However it came as quite a surprise when I started reading to discover that, unlike his other books that I have read, this one is science fiction set in a theoretical future. That's what I get for only reading the minimalist teaser on the back of the book and not reading the review snippets underneath. The teaser gives away nothing of the sci-fi nature of the book. This revelation did not disappoint me it simply meant that I spent the first few pages of the book making a mental adjustment from what I had expected, to what I had got.

So, to the story, and a very convoluted and confusing tale it is. It is set in a future in which access to the net is via direct interface, some more sophisticated than others. The poorest users still have to use terminals akin to current computers whereas greater means allows the use of equipment similar to VR headsets or suits; there is also mention of direct neural interfacing via implanted ‘sockets’. The story follows the experiences of several, seemingly unconnected, people, but the main character of the book is an African woman called Renie who’s younger brother falls into a coma one day with no apparent medical cause. After becoming frustrated with the hospital for not getting anywhere, she decides to investigate herself. With the help of some friends she finds a connection with the net and finds herself getting into dangerous waters. It’s a difficult story to explain without giving too much away, and I really hate reviews that do that!

I found the story quite hard to follow initially, it’s very detailed and the technological aspect can be tricky to grasp. I found myself re-reading some passages to be sure I had an understanding of what was going on. This initial care paid off later on in the book when I was able to let the story flow more. The characters themselves are well described and through the story you come to know them quite well.

As well as the main plot there is a subtext about the destruction of ‘minority’ cultures in the future. In this case a people based on the Australian Aborigine. This is quite deliberate and the author explains it in the foreword. It certainly made me think about what is sacrificed in the name of progress, and it comes across well without being too strong and overpowering the main storyline of the book.

If you have read other books by this author and have enjoyed them then I see no reason why you should not enjoy this too.

Rating: 5/10

The Otherland Series:
1. City of Golden Shadow
2. River of Blue Fire
3. Mountain of Black Glass
4. Sea of Silver Light
River of Blue Fire - Tad WilliamsMountin of Black Glass - Tad WilliamsSea of Silver Light - Tad Williams