Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: "The Tethered Mage" by Melissa Caruso

Melissa Caruso’s “The Tethered Mage” ($15.99, Orbit) presents us with an intriguing, if slightly flawed debut novel.

Amalia Cornaro, heir to one of the most powerful positions in Raverran government, would far rather read her books on magic and artifice than play politics. She often sneaks out of her mother’s palace dressed in plain clothes to go in search of rare books in seedy areas of the city. On one such adventure, a chance encounter gives her no choice, but to enter the political arena.

When Amalia sees a group of ruffians accosting a girl, she jumps to try to help. As it turns out, the girl needs no help, unleashing powerful magic, balefire, on her assailants. But she can’t control the magic, and it threatens to burn the city. A young lieutenant in the Falconers, a group that controls all magical individuals in Raverra, convinces Amalia, unaware of her identity, to slap a bracelet on the girl that will stop her magic. Thus, Amalia becomes the only noble Falconer. Her new Falcon, Zaira, proves to be willful, independent and uncooperative, but is also the most powerful weapon the Serene Empire has against the rebelling city of Ardence.

This newfound power thrusts Amalia into the politics she’s avoided. Somehow she must form a bond with Zaira to save her Falcon’s life and the lives of everyone in Ardence.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: "Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers" by Joe R. Lansdale

For some reason, total absurdity piques my interest almost every time, so I couldn’t resist Joe R. Lansdale’s “Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers” ($40, Subterranean Press). I was, of course, familiar with Lansdale’s other tale of monster hunter Elvis, “Bubba Ho-Tep,” from the movie starring Bruce Campbell. Even if I hadn’t been, though, there would have been no way I could pass up the title or description of this book.

“Bubba and the Cosmic Blood Suckers” is a prequel to “Bubba Ho-Tep,” with an aging early 1970s Elvis beginning to lament his choices to make cheesy films instead of focusing more on his music. Part of the reason for that choice, though, is his other occupation as a monster hunter for a secret government organization.

Elvis has been coerced into the role by Colonel Parker, his ruthless manager in more than one business for the purpose of this story. The Colonel holds Elvis’ mother’s soul in a gris-gris bag, keeping her from passing over to the other side and using her to blackmail The King into killing monsters.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Random Rants: Questing for the Dark Tower ... in a Lincoln

I tried writing movie reviews for a while, but gave it up because I’m not really a cinephile. Every now and then, though, I see something so good or so dreadful that I just have to comment.

If you’ve read anything about the adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower,” I’m guessing you don’t have to wonder long which category this falls in.

I used to dread movie versions of favorite books, but I have to admit that, in recent years, Hollywood has done a better job of it. Beginning, I think, with Peter Jackson’s adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” (we won’t talk about the hot mess that he turned “The Hobbit” into), movie and TV versions started to get more right and less wrong, at least on occasion. Most adaptations still won’t please hardcore book fans, but they’re better. So, I was actually looking forward to this, despite my misgivings.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: "Faithless" by Graham Austin-King

Normally I wait until finalists in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off have been announced before I start reading, but Graham Austin-King’s “Faithless” managed to catch my attention. I now have an early favorite.

Raised on a farm, Wynn finds himself sold into service to the church of the Forgefather after a drought ruins his family’s fortunes. But the church is a broken thing. Their god has abandoned them, and the last remaining remnants of the faith hide in their temple hoping for a miracle and his return.

Wynn soon learns that “service to the church” actually means backbreaking work in the mines of Aspiration, below the temple. It’s a grimy place, at least the part Wynn experiences, where workers often have to defend their finds from other crews and are expected to make their monthly tally or face the lash. Though the church tries to provide hope that the residents of Aspiration can rise to Novice and enter the temple, only a very lucky few actually pass the test, but Wynn may get that opportunity.

Kharios is one of those lucky few, but discovers that life in the temple, while better than in Aspiration, is certainly not much easier. He’s chosen by a surly but powerful priest named Ossan, who drives his novices hard and has a habit of bringing them to his bed. Kharios will have to make some unpleasant choices if he is to move up, but Ossan seems impossible to escape.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Review: "Red Sister" by Mark Lawrence

It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.

If you’ve heard anything about Mark Lawrence’s latest book, “Red Sister” ($27, Ace), you’ve probably seen that line. The reason that you’re seeing it so much, and that I’m repeating it here, is because it sets the tone for the book and tells you that you’re in for a very interesting ride.

After an incident in her home village, Nona Grey’s mother and neighbors give her to the child-taker, a man who collects children that may have special talents to sell them to the places that look for those abilities. She shows traces of Hunska heritage – one of the four great tribes of Abeth’s past – which makes her potentially valuable as a warrior and lands her at a training facility for gladiators. But after another incident, she finds herself in prison and scheduled to hang. At the last minute, the Abbess of the local convent intervenes, saving Nona at the cost of making an enemy of the powerful lord that sent her to the gallows.

Once at the Sweet Mercy convent, Nona shows exceptional speed and fighting skills and quickly begins her training to become a Red Sister, the warrior sect of the nuns. In order to become what she’s meant to be, though, she’ll have to fight off enemies both outside and within the walls of her new home.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Memory Lane: "Mort" by Terry Pratchett

I continue my travels back through the Discworld with a book that I still believe is one of Terry Pratchett’s funniest outings, “Mort” ($9.99, HarperCollins).

What happens when Death decides he needs a vacation? Well, he hires an apprentice, of course. Enter Mort, a farmer’s son who thinks way too much for life on the family farm, and his father is only too happy to send him on his way.

His apprenticeship starts rather mundanely in the monotone lands of Death. He meets his new master’s daughter, who seems none too happy to have him around, and his strange servant, Albert. He soon discovers that Death has plans for him.

Things begin to go very wrong, though, when Death turns the Duty over to Mort for a night, and the young man must take the life of Princess Keli of Sto Lat, destined to be killed by an assassin. Smitten with her, Mort changes her fate, causing a ripple in the fabric of reality on the Disc.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: "The Forgotten Beasts of Eld" by Patricia McKillip

Even after 30-plus years of reading fantasy, there are still a few icons in the genre that I have not read. One of those was Patricia McKillip. With her World Fantasy Award-winning novel “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld” ($9.99, Tachyon Publications) up for its first e-book release in the near future, I took the opportunity to fix that oversight.

The sorceress Sybel has lived an isolated life in the mountains of Eld, with only the group of legendary beasts that she’s called to her and a nearby medicine woman named Maelga as family. Then a visitor, Coren of Sirle, shows up at her gate with a child. He is believed to be the bastard son of the Queen Rianna, a child that started a war between King Drede of Eldwold and Coren’s kingdom of Sirle.

Sybel takes in the child Tamlorn, who is later discovered to be the rightful son of Drede, and sets off a chain of events that will change her life and the lives of everyone that she touches in a whirl of love, betrayal and vengeance.