Archive for the ‘fantasy’ Category

He’s Hawk. She’s Fisher. They’re cops, patrolling the mean streets of the ancient city misnamed Haven, a sinister place where demons, thieves, sorcerers, and murderers own the night and anything can be bought-except justice.

Guards of Haven

(omnibus edition; contains Wolf in the Fold, Guard Against Dishonour, and The Bones of Haven)

Simon R. Green

Roc

Purchased from Auckland City Libraries Withdrawn

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

During Covid-19 lockdown, some light entertainment was very much in order, and this fitted the bill perfectly. Maybe it’s because he’s just a year or two older than me, and from Bradford-on-Avon, a short distance from my home village in England, but I do find Simon Green’s prose to be eminently readable and his stories to be a whole lot of fun. He writes across the genre, from space opera to low and urban fantasy. I’m calling the Haven stories low fantasy because they’re gritty and grounded, in spite of a fair amount of quite high magic. Hawk and Fisher are captains in the guard of the city of Haven. They’re essentially cops, and their stories are the fantasy novel equivalent of the buddy-cop show. Only they’re married – which does break the trope that the male and female leads should be in a constant state of romantic tension.

This omnibus collects the fourth to sixth novels in the series, each being largely a standalone story. Of the three, the third is probably the most memorable, with a seriously knock-out climax. But all three are good reads, and highly entertaining stories. They’re never going to win any awards, but they will do what good fantasy does best, take the reader away from mundane reality – albeit to a world with its own problems. And if that’s what you need, enjoy. No spoilers.

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is almost ten years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust #2

Philip Pullman

David Fickling Books and Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Pantalaimon witnesses a murder. The father of one of Lyra’s fellow students is going bankrupt due to a lack of quality rose oil. A web of intrigue connects these two seemingly random events with a shadowy religious order. And thus, begins The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume of Pullman’s The Book of Dust series. I want to say trilogy, but authors are tricky beasts.

The events of La Belle Sauvage are about 20 years in the past. But Oakley Street is still present, keeping a watchful eye on Lyra. So too is Malcolm Polstead, now a lecturer at Oxford, though at a different college to the one Lyra attends. Lyra and Pantalaimon have a difficult relationship, in part due to her forced abandonment of him in a previous adventure and also due to her reaction to a couple of books popular for their philosophy. So Pantalaimon sets off to find Lyra’s imagination. This event, early in the story, sets Lyra on a course both dangerous and lifesaving. The web of intrigue is closing around her. In her quest to find Pantalaimon she heads for the Blue Hotel, a legendary building said to be home to separated daemons. Where the plot takes an even bigger twist.

Pullman tells a deft tale. The Secret Commonwealth is at times a whodunnit, a spy-fi, a thriller and a bit of a travelogue through his alternate world. And at almost 700 pages there is plenty of plot and character development. Villains display elaborate backstories that make their motivations and actions sensible. I liked that Pullman retained his heroes from the previous volume and trilogy, as well as his gentle nod to events that happened in reality.

This is a great read, not only for the young adult market it supposedly is aimed at. Any fan of modern fantasy should have Pullman and this series on their shelves. I thank Penguin Random House for the review copy. Nice one.

The Amulet of Samarkand

When the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus is summoned by Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice, he expects to have to do nothing more taxing than a little levitation or a few simple illusions. But Nathaniel is a precocious talent and has something rather more dangerous in mind: revenge. Against his will, Bartimaeus is packed off to steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition. Before long, both djinni and apprentice are caught up in a terrifying flood of magical intrigue, murder and rebellion.

Set in a modern-day London controlled by magicians, this hilarious, electrifying thriller will enthral readers of all ages.

The Golem’s Eye

Two years have passed since the events of The Amulet of Samarkand and the young magician Nathaniel is rising fast through the government ranks. But his career is suddenly threatened by a series of terrifying crises. A dangerous golem makes random attacks on London and other raids, even more threatening, are perpetrated by the Resistance. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus travel to Prague, enemy city of ancient magic, but while they are there uproar breaks out at home and Nathaniel returns to find his reputation in tatters. Can he rescue it from his Machiavellian adversaries in the government bent on his destruction?

Ptolemy’s Gate
A thrilling sequel in which the relationship between the young magician and the djinni remains as teasing and complex as ever.

Three years on from the events in The Golem’s Eye, the magicians’ rule in London is teetering on a knife-edge, with strikes, riots and general unrest. The Prime Minister is largely controlled by two advisers, one of whom is 17-year-old Nathaniel. Meanwhile, living under a false identity, Kitty has been researching djinn; she has come to believe that the only way to destroy the magicians is with an alliance between djinn and ordinary people.

Kitty seeks out Bartimaeus and embarks on a terrifying journey into the djinn’s chaotic domain – the Other Place – which no human being has ever survived. But even as she does so, Makepeace engineers a dramatic coup d’etat.

The outcome is a shattering of the magicians’ control and all magical laws are turned upside down. Can Bartimaeus, Nathaniel and Kitty settle old scores to prevent the earth’s destruction?

The Bartimaeus Trilogy:

  1. The Amulet of Samarkand
  2. The Golem’s Eye
  3. Ptolemy’s Gate

Jonathan Stroud

Doubleday

Purchased at a second-hand book fair

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

If you’ve wondered why the wizards in Harry Potter aren’t ruling the world…. Well, in the Bartimaeus trilogy, they are. Magic is the province of an elite who command the powers of djinni and other spirits from the “Other Place” and they rule with a staff of iron. Literally, to some extent, since one of the major artefacts in the stories is the Staff of Gladstone.

Witness the epic battle of the cyclops!

Visit the endangered dragon preserve! Please, no slaying.

Solve the mystery of The Mystery Cottage, if you dare!

Buy some knick knacks from The Fates! They might come in handy later.

On a road trip across an enchanted America, Helen and Troy will discover all this and more. If the curse placed upon them by an ancient god doesn’t kill them or the pack of reluctant orc assassins don’t catch up to them, Helen and Troy might reach the end their journey in one piece, where they might just end up destroying the world. Or at least a state or two.

A minotaur girl, an all-American boy, a three-legged dog, and a classic car are on the road to adventure, where every exit leads to adventure. Whether they like it or not.

Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest

A Lee Martinez

Orbit

Purchased from Auckland City Libraries Withdrawn

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

If Odysseus had had an electric-blue Ford Chimera, and a minotaur for a girl-friend, this might have been his odyssey. Well, not exactly. But it is a quest, there are gods, witches, a cyclops, and orcs involved… in an alternate America where dragons are at once an endangered species and “an ecological disaster just waiting to happen.” Oh, and the orcs ride motorcycles.
This is both the funniest and the most fun book I’ve read in a while. High literature it isn’t, and if there is a message it’s a simple one about perseverance and self-acceptance. But light entertainment it certainly is, and if that’s what you need, then I can certainly recommend this book.

If this were the ancient Egypt of our time line, the year that this story begins would be around 1365 BCE.

It isn’t.

If this were the ancient Egypt of our time line it would be only a nation.

It’s an Empire.

If this were the ancient Egypt of our time line it would be known by that name.

It’s Napata.

And if this were the ancient Egypt of our time line then the Gods wouldn’t be real. It isn’t and—

They are!

Bastet’s Daughters

Lyn McConchie

Wildside Press

Gift from the author

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

I have to say I was seriously impressed by the amount of research Lyn put into this novel set in an alternate ancient Egypt. Unlike some other authors’ attempts to write in ancient societies this story manages to feel at least somewhat authentic, avoiding the fatal error of imposing modern mores on an earlier time, while making it quite clear that this is not exactly our world. The time period is around 1350 BC, Akhenaton is Pharaoh, but in this world the gods of what we call ancient Egypt are real, and so is magic. And so are cats.

Akhenaton and his priests are the villains in this tale, attempting to impose the worship of Ra alone everywhere, including in Hanish where Bastet is preeminent. Fortunately, the people of Hanish have knowledge of a possible way out, and the story is all about how they make it work, and how they make their escape. It’s a little predictable, but a good story nevertheless. And there are cats.

A SHIVERING OF WORLDS

Deep in the chalk, something is stirring. Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots – an old enemy is gathering strength.

This is a time of endings and beginnings, a blurring of edges.

Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land, her land.

There will be a reckoning . . .

The Shepherd’s Crown

Terry Pratchett

Doubleday

Purchased from Auckland City Libraries Withdrawn

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

I found this too on the withdrawn shelf, much to my surprise. Shepherd’s Crown is, of course, the last book of the Discworld, completed just before Terry was to meet Death himself. Death does play a part in this book, both on a literal and philosophical level. It is the fifth book about Tiffany Aching, and a book in which Death comes – as he must to us all – and yet life goes on.

The book is complete, though not perhaps as finished as Terry would have liked. His writing technique, of writing scenes, joining them up and then re-writing and re-writing, has given us a complete work, but not as fully polished as it might have been. According to Neil Gaiman, one important scene in particular involving Granny, You the cat, and Death remained unfinished and was therefore omitted. But it is what it is, a deeper and more serious book than most of Terry’s work, a book about hope and new beginnings. And, yes, it is both funny and sad….

Mia Corvere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Destined to destroy empires, the child raised in shadows made a promise on the day she lost everything: to avenge herself on those that shattered her world.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, and Mia must become a weapon without equal. Before she seeks vengeance, she must seek training among the infamous assassins of the Red Church of Itreya.

Inside the Church’s halls, Mia must prove herself against the deadliest of opponents and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Church is no ordinary school. But Mia is no ordinary student.

The Red Church is no ordinary school, but Mia is no ordinary student.
The shadows love her.
And they drink her fear.

Nevernight

Jay Kristoff

HarperVoyager

Supplied by HarperCollins New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve Litten

Mia Corvere, daughter of a patrician in the city of Godsgrave, has her privileged life and family ripped from her when her father is executed for treason. She escapes her own death to be raised by a man connected to the Red Church, a school for assassins. Mia learns and is finally apprenticed to the Red Church, though surviving the journey to its gates was more of a challenge than she expected. All the while, Mia seeks revenge on the triumvirate responsible for her situation.

Thus unfolds an interesting and well told story, which owes more than a little to Baroque Italian city-state politics. Godsgrave has the feeling of Venice, with a bit of Florentine infighting thrown in. The world beyond Godsgrave, apart from the Red Church School, is almost entirely sketched. But this isn’t a problem as almost all the action takes place in three locations. The characters are generally believable, but most are a little two dimensional.

This is a complex story that either needed more than 400 pages to tell, or less padding of the main plot. Part of the problem is that there are about three separate plots going on, Mia’s revenge, a love story, graduation from the Red Church and a betrayal. Unfortunately, none was told well, though each was told adequately.

The setting was good, and the minimal magic enhanced the story. As did the politics of Godsgrave. I also enjoyed Kristoff’s footnotes, whereby he explains a story point a la Pratchett. A nice touch and often humorous. Nevernight is a good read but not a great read, though I do recommend it for those who like fantasy without demi-humans or much magic.

#15 in the multiple best-selling Ring of Fire Series.

It’s springtime in the Eternal City, 1635. But it’s no Roman holiday for uptimer Frank Stone and his pregnant downtime wife, Giovanna. They’re in the clutches of would be Pope Cardinal Borgia, with the real Pope—Urban VIII—on the run with the renegade embassy of uptime Ambassador Sharon Nichols and her swashbuckling downtime husband, Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz. Up to their necks in papal assassins, power politics, murder, and mayhem, the uptimers and their spouses need help and they need it quickly.

Special rescue teams—including Harry Lefferts and his infamous Wrecking Crew—converge on Rome to extract Frank and Gia. And an uptime airplane is on its way to spirit the Pope to safety before Borgia’s assassins can find him. It seems that everything is going to work out just fine in sunny Italy.

Until, that is, everything goes wrong. Now, whether they are prisoners in Rome or renegades protecting a pope on the run, it’s up to the rough and ready can do attitude of Grantville natives to once again escape the clutches of aristocratic skullduggery and ring in freedom for a war torn land.

1635: The Papal Stakes

Eric Flint and Charles E. Gannon

Baen

Purchased from Auckland City Libraries Withdrawn

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

It’s always a nice feeling when you find something you really want to read on the library withdrawn shelf, and most anything published by Baen – certainly any of the 1632 series – comes into that category for me. 1635: The Papal Stakes is the third in the “Rome” or “Southern European” thread, following 1634: The Galileo Affair and 1635: The Cannon Law.

Those were complicated times without the introduction of a townful of modern Americans into the middle of what is now Germany. Some of those complications are far from obvious, like what should the Catholic Pope in 1635 do about decisions that the Catholic Church made much further up-time? Such as Vatican II? As a result, quite a few pages of this book are given over to theological debate… in between serious amounts of action involving protecting the Pope, hot-air balloons, and getting imprisoned persons out of the clutches of Cardinal Borgia…

It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but this is a fine instalment in an alternate history series that I’m enjoying immensely.

Akmenos only ever wanted to bake a perfect soufflé, but the murder of an elvish prince at his banquet table sweeps him into a spiral of intrigue, deception and betrayal which is bigger than even his biggest casserole dish.

Caught in a desperate struggle between warring nations and shadowy organisations, Akmenos must stay one step ahead of the sinister figures intent on hunting him down ‒ his own brothers among them ‒ while he tries to clear his name, unmask the true killer, and find a decent cup of tea.

Stumbling from one misadventure to another across continents and planes as the world and his family crumble around him, Akmenos will need to be stronger than he ever thought he could be ‒ stronger even than the blue cheese down the bottom of the larder that should’ve been thrown out months ago.

Brothers of The Knife

Dan Rabarts

Omnium Gatherum Media

Supplied by author

Purchase here

Reviewed by Eileen Mueller

What could a mere cook, the youngest in a family of powerful warlocks, expect when the hornung emperor invites an elvish prince to dinner?

Not to be framed for the prince’s murder! But that’s exactly what happens to Akmenos, who was in the kitchen, minding his own business, preparing delectable dishes for the emperor’s exalted party, when the murderer struck.

Now, Akmenos must flee from enemies far more powerful than he ever imagined. Luckily, he’s armed with salt and pepper grinders, and handy kitchen utensils, stowed in his apron pockets. After all, you never know when you’ll need a good dinner on the run. It’s a shame Akmenos barely has a chance to rustle up a decent meal on his dangerous, but slapstick, journey.

Brothers of the Knife is a whirlwind romp through a dark fantastical landscape, with airships, magic plinths and portals that deliver Akmenos to unknown territories and bizarre dimensions. Pursued by heinous enemies in the guise of friends and befriended by unlikely allies, Akmenos (and the reader) must always be on the lookout for trouble—oh, and dwarves, witches, minotaur, hyena-people, robots, elves and murderous high-caste hornung warlocks!

Yes, there are plenty of surprises, laughs and adventures in book one of what promises to be a very entertaining series. And the genre? A mash-up of fantasy, steampunk, grim dark, humour, sword and sorcery—you name it, this book has it, so I guess it’s in a unique genre of its own.

Eileen Mueller is a multi-award-winning author of heart-pounding fantasy novels that will keep you turning the page. Dive into her worlds, full of magic, love, adventure and dragons! Eileen lives in New Zealand, in a cave, with four dragonets and a shape shifter, writing for young adults, children and everyone who loves adventure.
Visit her website for Eileen’s FREE books, new releases or to become a Rider of Fire.

When the human creatures appeared, they ravaged the forests and hunted many birds to extinction. The flightless Striggs had only one option:

They went down, down under the ground . . . And it’s there, as you may have heard it whispered, that they still remain. Far below, in a place of stone and darkness . . .

Over thousands of years, they colonised a labyrinth of tunnels and caves, but even underground the Striggs are not safe: chemicals now pollute their water and a deadly sickness threatens the flock.

Even worse: an inquisitive young Strigg called Ellee Meddo discovers a human boy, trapped deep in a well. Humans are to be feared and saving him could mean travelling to the surface, a place of untold peril. What will Ellee decide to do?

A Place of Stone and Darkness

Chris Mousdale

Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Piper Mejia

It is argued that there are only 7 story archetypes: Rags to Riches, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, Rebirth, The Quest and Overcoming the Monster, so it is difficult to imagine there are an infinite number of ways to tell the same story. It is true. Some stories are too familiar, pale imitations to ones we have already read. Then there are stories that we think we know, and yet we do not.

A Place of Stone and Darkness follows the unexpected meeting of a young Strigg called Ellee Meddo and a Toppa called Blue. Deep below the earth’s surface they must overcome everything they have been taught about Monsters in order to save each other and everything they hold dear.

Mousdale’s first foray into Young Adult Literature could be read as a list of humanity’s crimes against nature, where our arrogance as taken us to the brink of extinction. It could also be read as the conflict within each one of us to honour our community without losing our own identity. But perhaps the best way to read it is that everything can change in a heartbeat if you are brave and kind, and even when you are afraid you do not give up hope. Mousdale’s original imagining of creatures below the earth, in a time we hope never happens, is embellished with his whimsical vocabulary and engaging imagery. A great read for those who like their adventure to quicken their pulse with each turned page.