Archive for the ‘fantasy’ Category

An all-new collection of short stories from the world of Magnus Chase!

How well do you know the nine Norse realms? Do you get all those heims mixed up?

Well, this collection of rollicking short stories – each set in a different world and told by a different character from the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series – will help straighten you out.

And even if it doesn’t, you’ll enjoy reading about how Alex saves Amir’s pants, Samirah plucks a giant’s harp, Mallory teaches a dragon how to throw down insults, and much more.

Just watch out for Thor, who is running through the whole thing and raising quite a stink . . .

Magnus Chase: 9 From the Nine Worlds

Rick Riordan

Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

I get the feeling that Rick Riordan had these spare chapters that didn’t make the cut….But they are entertaining and have plenty of trademark snark.

Niflheim, Muspelheim, Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, Helheim. Are you ready for mad shopping skillz, dragon insulting and seven other adventures from our favourite characters from the Magnus Chase series? Be nice to think that Hearthstone, Blitzen, Samirah, Alex, Jack, T.J., Mallory and Halfborn could stave off Ragnarok until Magnus gets back from holiday but maybe not…

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When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone . . .

Inspired by the original Hogwart’s textbook by Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original screenplay marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. A feat of imagination and featuring a cast of remarkable characters and magical creatures, this is epic adventure-packed storytelling at its very best. Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition for any film lover or reader’s bookshelf.

Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

J. K. Rowling

Little & Brown

Supplied by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

This is not a novelisation of the movie, nor does it bear much relation to Rowling’s earlier work by that name (which was an in-universe work; essentially a bestiary for the wizarding world). No, it is what it says on the cover, the screenplay for the movie. Which made the eternal question of whether to read the book or view the movie first even more difficult. So, I came up with the bright idea of waiting for the DVD and them attempting to read the screenplay and watch the movie simultaneously. And no, that just does not work. But I did discover one thing – this screenplay really is the movie, line for line, direction by direction. It’s all here, except the special effects, and those really must be left to the imagination. Or memory, because I really would recommend watching the movie first in this case.

I found the book to be an interesting supplement to the movie. It added to it in unexpected ways – giving names to many characters that I missed in passing, and adding lots of small details. There is a helpful glossary of film terms at the back and I suspect that, given how rarely the screenplay of a popular movie is published in book form, film and media studies teachers will find the book quite useful. It’s quite a short read, and I have to admit that it did will take a while to get used to the format. It’s certainly a physically attractive book, with a nice 1920’s style about it, including clever drawings that hide creatures in scrollwork.  It’s not a novel… but if you enjoyed the movie, I think you will probably appreciate the screenplay, but if you didn’t like it, then this is not the book for you.

A wanderer and a cursed child.
Spells and magic.
And dragons, of course.
Welcome back to the world of Alagaësia.
It’s been a year since Eragon departed Alagaësia in search of the perfect home to train a new generation of Dragon Riders. Now he is struggling with an endless sea of tasks: constructing a vast dragonhold, wrangling with suppliers, guarding dragon eggs and dealing with belligerent Urgals and haughty elves. Then a vision from the Eldunarí, unexpected visitors and an exciting Urgal legend offer a much-needed distraction and a new perspective.
This volume features three original stories set in Alagaësia, interspersed with scenes from Eragon’s own unfolding adventure. Included is an excerpt from the memoir of the unforgettable witch and fortune-teller Angela the herbalist, penned by Angela Paolini, the inspiration for the character, herself!
Relish the incomparable imagination of Christopher Paolini in this thrilling new collection of stories based in the world of the Inheritance Cycle.

The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alegaësia

Christopher Paolini

Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Christopher Paolini broke onto the literary scene a few years ago with his debut novel Eragon. Which soon expanded to a trilogy. Of four books (don’t ask). His latest offering continues, in an oblique manner, the story of Eragon and the dragon Saphira. The book comprises three sections: The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm, each a separate tale not directly connected to Eragon, but linked by a theme given in the introduction to the section. While Christopher’s name adorns the cover, the second tale is penned by his sister Angela.

The premise of the book is that Eragon is facing a variety of challenges, mostly managerial, establishing his new dragon rider academy. The first story is a distraction from the mundanity of administration courtesy of the collective minds of the dragons past and future. The title of the vignette comes from the weapon wielded by a mysterious stranger befriended by a young girl. It was an okay read but seemed a little formulaic.

The next details a visit and the diary of Angela, a witch with an interesting ward, Elva the girl Eragon improperly blessed back in one of the previous volumes. Certainly there is a different voice here though it is similar to Christopher’s. This one works well even if the sub-chapters are a bit short.

The last section, Worm, is a great story, but Christopher needs to read more heroic epics, like Beowolf, or Gilgamesh, as his voice here was totally wrong. There was none of the pulsating passion, or oratorical balance epics have. I felt I was reading the Reader’s Digest Version. Too much tell, not enough show, and because the voice was wrong this was the weakest story in the book.

The book closes with an excerpt from Eragon, perhaps prompting a re-read of the series to fill in the mental blanks time has left.

I’d recommend this volume for the fans of Paolini’s work. But discriminating fans of heroic fantasy will be disappointed. Let’s just hope he has a follow up in the pipeline. I thank Penguin for supplying the review copy.s

STRANGE THE DREAMER is the story of: – the aftermath of a war between gods and men – a mysterious city stripped of its name – a mythic hero with blood on his hands – a young librarian with a singular dream – a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled – alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Strange the Dreamer

Laini Taylor

Hodder & Stoughton

Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

Oh, but this was a strange book indeed, on so many levels. You think you’re reading fantasy, but not quite. There’s an explosionist among the characters; and a distinct psience fiction feel to the magic.  Central to the story are star-crossed lovers. But it carried me away on the wings of dream, so I shall call it a lyric fantasy…

We begin with Lazlo, called “Strange” because he is an orphan of unknown heritage. Brought to a monastery as a nameless baby, he was not expected to survive, but he lives and becomes a scribe and then a librarian, obsessed with the lost city with the stolen name, known only as Weep. Then, in part two, we meet the handful of blue-skinned godschildren surviving in the citadel above Weep, among them Sarai, whose power is to enter dreams. And things get stranger, but that way lie too many spoilers.

I did enjoy this story. It was refreshingly original, and very well written, its prose almost poetic, and quite elegant, the words chosen so very carefully. I doubt that it’s for everybody; some readers will hate it. Especially if they have a problem with moths.

(Oh, and one small peculiarity – the review copy I was sent, the Australasian edition, appears to be the US edition with US spelling and leading, but with the more attractive UK cover. Odd.)

Empress of the Fall – Book One of The Sunsurge Quartet, the sequel series to The Moontide Quartet, which concluded in 2015.

The Emperor is dead – long live the Empress! Emperor Constant is dead and his rivals are scrabbling for power – but any misstep could plunge the land, already devastated by the shocking outcome of the Third Crusade, into a calamitous civil war. The Imperial throne is not the only one in jeopardy. Two brothers, imprisoned veterans of the Crusades, finally return home to find their father’s kingdom being plundered – but the price of regaining their birthright will have far-reaching implications for the entire empire. In the East, Sultan Salim, peacemaker and visionary ruler, faces his greatest challenge as his people demand an invasion of the West in retribution for the Rondian Crusades And lurking in the darkness, orchestrating both the power struggles and the inevitable conflicts, is a shadowy group threatening to destroy civilisation itself. Once more, Urte stands on the brink of cataclysm.

Empress of the Fall (Sunsurge Quartet Book One)

David Hair

Jo Fletcher Books

Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

Part of the blurb for this novel tells the world that it’s “perfect to fill the gap before the next Game of Thrones”. I’m going to go a step further and suggest that you toss “A Song of Ice and Fire” into a suitable receptacle, and read this instead, because it’s altogether better both as a novel, and as a work of fantasy.

It’s better as a novel because the prose is very readable; it flows nicely, and vividly evokes the world of Urte. Because the characters are believable; those who turn to evil do so for credible reasons; the principle antagonist is very old, very powerful and quite mad. And because the book is very well-structured. It follows four groups of characters (if you include the masked servants of evil). There is Lyra, the titular “Empress of the Fall” who comes to the throne in autumn, after the Emperor and his entourage are killed in an attempt to destroy the Leviathan Bridge; there is Waqar and the magic-users of Kesh; and there is Kyric, a former slave who wants his kingdom back.  Remarkably, for the first novel in a quartet, it all comes to a grand climax, yet with a clever lead into the next part of the story.

It’s better as fantasy because the author has designed the world of Urte with great care and attention to detail. The magic system is one of the most elegant I’ve seen in a long time, and the consequences of having high magic in a low-tech world are worked out to an extent I’ve rarely come across. It’s a pity that the publisher didn’t include the maps in the proof copy I was sent, because the map is a very important part of world-design, especially when it is as intricate as this. But I was able to find the map for the previous series on the internet, which helped.

It isn’t often that I find a fantasy brick as enjoyable as this one; it’s been quite a while in fact, and I think I can safely commend this series to lovers of the genre, as one that will satisfy and yet leave the reader ready for more.

Children are being hunted in the streets and their parents’ hearts frozen into glass.  Brannon and his team of “unusual crimes” investigators are still reeling from the aftermath of Risen in Kalanon, but now they must face a new monster on the loose.
Tensions between Kalanon and Nilar are on the rise once more as Ylani and the King clash.  Meanwhile, Taran’s past haunts him and the church may not be the sanctuary it once was.  Monsters come in many forms and Taran knows this better than most. Once you’ve been a Child of Starlight,can you ever truly be free?
Failing to solve this new string of murders could cost the missing children their lives, Kalanon its future, and one of their team his sanity
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Starlight’s Children: Agents of Kalanon Book 2

Darian Smith

Wooden Tiger

Purchased at Conclave 3

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

The fantasy mystery is a rare and difficult thing to write. The reader must quickly gain an understanding of the capabilities and limitations of magic and technology in the world the writer is taking them to, or else the mystery does not work as a mystery. Thus, if teleportation is possible, then locked rooms aren’t a challenge. This necessitates meticulous and detailed world-building, and I’m not entirely sure that has been achieved in this novel. There are no maps, and locations seems sprinkled about with little apparent regard to geography. But what really bugged me was the casual mention of an alchemist using a Bunsen burner… Does the author have any idea of the technology and infrastructure needed for Bunsen burners to work? He lost this reader right there.

That said, there is much to commend here. The book is well-enough written, and the plot (in both senses of the word) thickens enough to be interesting. Children are disappearing, their care-givers turning up dead in grisly fashion, their hearts turned “black and hard like glass”. Is this the work of the Frost Wolf, a monster thought to be mythical? And then there’s the King’s missing gold shipment. And a collection of disputed swords. It is all more-or-less connected of course, and the novel comes to an entertaining climax appropriate to both genres, the villains of the piece getting their just desserts. However, I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed. This was the book that won the SJV for best novel. But I think it could have been much improved with more work in the underpinnings.

The official playscript of the original West End production of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play received its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two (Special Rehearsal Edition): The Official Script Book of the Original West End Production

Jack Thorne and based on an original new story by Thorne, J. K. Rowling, and John Tiffany

Little & Brown

Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

First things first. It is indeed a brand-new Harry Potter story, but it is a play and not a novel. I hadn’t actually read a play for years, and I have to admit that I found the format a bit jarring at first. It also wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, although the underlying story is hers. These factors combine to make the resulting book much more tightly written than any of the later novels in the Harry Potter series, and in my opinion that’s an improvement. I’ve been saying for a while that the first Harry Potter books, written before J.K. got too big for her editor, were considerably better than the later ones.

The story is set primarily in the present day, with the central characters being Harry’s second son, Albus Potter; and Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius. The boys are talked into stealing a time-turner and returning into the past to prevent the death of Cedric Diggory in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Predictably, when meddling with time, it all goes horribly wrong. And it has to be fixed… with a clever little twist.

There are definitely shades of Back to the Future here, with perhaps a dose of Dr Who. It doesn’t add much that is new to the wizarding world, except for fleshing out the characters of some of the offspring of characters in the earlier novels. Scorpius Malfoy, in particular, turns out to be a strong character and a surprisingly likeable person.

If you don’t like time travel books, you won’t like this one, and I’d definitely not recommend it to someone who was not familiar with the other stories; especially Goblet of Fire. But if you are a Potter fan, you’ll certainly want to read it, and most probably you’ll enjoy it. I did, and I confess I’m curious about the play. It must be truly spectacular.