Victorian Robin Hood: A Review of Spellbreaker, by Charlie N. Holmberg

Western fiction, English and American, possess an endless fascination with the Victorian era of England’s recent history.  With a reign lasting from 1837 to 1901, Queen Victoria was the longest reigning English monarch until the current Queen Elizabeth II.  During that time, the British Empire rose to what could be considered its height, with the East India Company conquering India and the empire subjugating people around the globe.  Yet, this was also a transformative time for England and much of the world.  Electrical power began to be harnessed, with lightbulbs becoming widespread by the end of the century.  It was the beginning of modern medicine, when the United States finally threw of the evil shackles of slavery, and more.  More than any other time period in England’s past, authors have enjoyed setting tales of science-fiction and fantasy in the Victorian era.  Maybe it has something to do with the advent of such stories during this time, or it could just be fun to juxtapose the uptight era with the absurdity of magic.  Whatever the case may be, Charlie N. Holmberg’s excellent Spellbreaker is the newest in Victorian fantasy.

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Holy Wars: A Review of The Tower of Fools, by Andrzej Sapkowski

Historical fiction can be defined as any work of fiction that takes place in the past, anywhere from the distant to the recent.  One of the most common forms of fiction in the history of storytelling, historical fiction often goes through great pains to portray the attitudes, manners, and popular beliefs of the people set in the chosen time period.  This can result in a more grounded or realistic work of fiction that many pure fantasy novels, making historical fiction both easier and more difficult to write.  Unlike a fantasy novel where much is left up to the writer’s imagination, historical fiction offers many more resources to build the setting, although the sheer amount of research required to portray the chosen time period accurately can appear daunting.  While some authors may choose to take liberties with the time period in order to write the story they wish to write, Andrzej Sapkowski, author of the world-famous Witcher series, wholeheartedly submerged himself in the fifteenth century for The Tower of Fools.

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Apex Predator: A Review of Devolution – A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, by Max Brooks

The line between fiction and non-fiction is usually a obvious one in literature.  Unless the non-fiction in question is written as a literary story, the difference lies in the presentation and advertisement of the work.  Non-fiction can be presented as a memoir, journal, essay, selection of interviews, or more.  The books usually have very long, very descriptive titles.  Fiction, on the other hand, is something you immediately know when you see it.  At least it is now.  Once upon a time, the lines were much more blurred.  Books like Gulliver’s Travels or Utopia were believed to be true by some when they were published.  Nowadays, it can be popular to present fiction as non-fiction, as seen in the mockumentary style of film.  It is about presenting the material as realistically and believably as possible, no matter how absurd the material may be.

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Dangerous School Days: A Review of A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik

There are few staples in fantasy fiction more widespread than magic school.  From ancient folklore to modern day novels, the idea of school where people can go to learn magic possesses a timeless appeal.  A place of the absolute highest learning, magic schools were once thought to be places where only the most wizened of philosophers could learn.  Modern fiction, however, draws more from boarding and high school culture.  It is a way to immediately connect a story to a younger audience which is likely currently in school, or recently graduated.  The magic school has become an incredibly mainstream and widespread concept as well, appearing in all Dungeons and Dragons settings, as well as featuring in novel series such as The Kingkiller Chronicles.  But the settings appeal extends beyond Western fiction, with many anime and manga, such as Negima! and Little Witch Academia, taking place in magic schools as well.  However, few schools of the arcane arts are more legendary than the Scholomance.

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Collateral Damage: A Review of Battle Ground, by Jim Butcher

Battle Ground is the seventeenth novel in Jim Butcher’s long running series, The Dresden Files.  The previous novel, Peace Talks, only came out this past July, leaving only a two-month gap between novels.  Before that, book number 15, Skin Game, was released in May of 2014.  As one might imagine, it can prove difficult to keep an ongoing series like this interesting and fresh, especially when each novel is exclusively told in the first-person point-of-view of the main character, Harry Dresden.  At a certain point, the likelihood of burnout increases, until the author can find a way to reinvent the franchise and allow it to change.  What is interesting about The Dresden Files is that Battle Ground is actually the second such reinvention, an inevitably for something so massive.  And, depending on how far Butcher is willing to go, this may not even be the last time he makes some changes to the formula.

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Removing the Mask: A Review of Chaos Reigning, by Jessie Mihalik

There are times when you pick up a book expecting to be surprised.  You look forward to twists and turns to keep you on your toes.  Insurmountable odds that the main characters must struggle to overcome, coupled with prose posing philosophical debates about the characters actions.  These are books that are meant to bring you out of your comfort zone.  However, especially in this day and age, we could use a bit of comfort.  Jessie Mihalik’s Consortium Rebellion trilogy, culminating in Chaos Reigning, is the comfort food of science-fiction.  You go into the third novel knowing what you want and what you expect from this series.  A cool heroine who learns to embrace her abilities and find her confidence, a steamy romance with a considerate and strong man, and a healthy dose of sci-fi adventure.

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One Flesh, One End: A Review of Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

There are no other books quite like Harrow the Ninth.  The second novel in Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb trilogy following Gideon the Ninth, Harrow the Ninth seemingly follows the conventions of a sequel while consistently turning things on their heads at every opportunity.  As the second story in a trilogy, audiences come in with a certain expectation.  Where the first book is meant to set up the characters and the overarching plot, it still ends in an apparent victory.  The second book need to expand the world, introduce new mysteries, and provide a lead-up to the third and final chapter.  Harrow the Ninth does do this, but not in any expected way.  Instead, it creates a mood piece focusing intimately on our main heroine as she navigates a wholly unfamiliar world out to destroy her at every turn.  Many questions are asked, some are answered, but Muir never loses sight of the story she wants to tell.

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Calm Before the Storm: A Review of Peace Talks, by Jim Butcher

            No discussion of urban fantasy is complete without The Dresden Files, the long-running series by Jim Butcher following the wizard Harry Dresden in modern-day Chicago.  In many ways a counterpoint to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, in more than just he titular character’s name, The Dresden Files made a name for itself in the early 2000’s as mixing noir and fantasy to create relatively realistic mysteries, working inside a set of magical rules Butcher created and stuck to.  Harry Dresden operated as a professional wizard and private investigator in a modern-day Chicago that does not believe in magic.  While may other authors wrote urban fantasy and fantasy detective fiction prior to Butcher, he popularized the mix and brought it the mainstream.

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Legacy: A Review of Forged in Fire and Stars, by Andrea Robertson

We have all read the story before.  A group of people join together from various walks of life and backgrounds to journey on a quest.  They may have to traverse dangerous terrain, fight off bandits, or avoid pursuit by the forces of evil.  The setting itself does not matter, only that this band of adventures embarks on a journey seeking something.  But a quest does not just have to a physical matter.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a quest as an act or instance of seeking.  It does not state that a quest is just about the travel or that what they seek is a physical object.  Oftentimes, the point of the quest is not only to accomplish a mission, but to grow as well.  While a character remains in one place, they are static.  It is only through embarking on or joining the quest that they can change.

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I ♥ NYC: A Review of The City We Became, by N. K. Jemisin

While this blog has been, and always will be, a great proponent of fantasy, most of the fantasy novels I have reviewed skew towards variations of high fantasy.  Almost all take place in an alternate world; that is, not Earth in the present day or accurate history.  For many authors, creating an entirely new world can actually be much easier than trying to base your fantasy in the real world.  By creating your own world, you set the rules.  Magic works, or does not work, as you see fit.  However, even in these fantastical lands, authors are still able to talk about modern issues, usually through coded language and stand-ins.  For example, the Na’vi in the film Avatar are used as a stand-in for the many indigenous tribes of North America around the time of European colonization.  However, urban fantasy is a different beast altogether.  By using the real, modern-day world, such subjects can be tackled head-on, without euphemism or substitution.

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