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Traditional Fantasy

Reviews of books traditionally from the Fantasy genre, not Romance, and some science fiction.

Nice fairytale

Daughter of the Forest - Juliet Marillier

This story has a fairy tale tone, sort of like The Mists of Avalon or Snow White. In some ways it's very magical and has the feel of being set in a mock-Ireland that is at war with the English.

 

The main character is the seventh child of a seventh son and has healing abilities that are used to help a young English man who has been tortured by soldiers, but helped by her Druid brother and hidden in a cave. Of course complications arise so that she cannot care for him any longer.

The story depicts a battle of different types of spirits, one the benevolent spirit of the forest that guides and the other that appears in human form to disrupt the closeness of the family who practice a form of Pagan magic.

 

It got a little slow in the middle, but overall a good story.

A surpisingly warm Christmas story

A Christmas With The Dodger - Charlton Daines

Imagine being part of the family of The Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist when he grows up and what Christmas might be like with an expert thief as the head of the family.

 

Actually, Jack has gone straight to please his honest wife. Well, mostly anyway. Reg, his adopted nephew, comes from the streets like Jack and together they can't always manage to be squeaky clean.

 

The story is mostly about Reg and his struggle to choose whether to please his adopted mother, Lily, by being honest or to be tempted by his childhood among cut throats and thieves to commit at least small acts of pilfering.

 

The characters were nicely fleshed out and there was plenty of action and adventures. I'll definitely have to read the author's other book!

Lightbringer series

The Black Prism - Brent Weeks

This is a well written Fantasy story. By the end of the first chapter I had got to know the main character and the world we were in and it had thoroughly grabbed my attention. It has a fairly complicated magic system having to do with colored light, so that aspect takes a while to absorb (or did for me), but once it becomes generally familiar, the title makes complete sense.

 

Like most first books in a Fantasy series, this one builds the world and the magic system is revealed in stages, as is the usual mock-medieval world it happens in. It was a good read though and I'll probably continue the series in time.

This has to be the best dragon book since Pern.

His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik

I've heard this series if really good. I'm about halfway through this first book and I can believe it.

DNF 38%

The Last Knight - Nicola S. Dorrington

This was a little more YA than is my usual taste, yet it drew me in. A girl in high school meets a cute boy and despite seeing herself as ordinary in comparison to some of the pretty popular girls, his attention is on her. Events transpire and a thinly veiled Arthurian theme comes in with some friends of his with evocative names protecting her from an unknown threat.

 

It's the unknown factor that loses believability. Not the supernatural goings on themselves, but the idea that any halfway intelligent girl would put total faith in a group of boys she's just met when all she gets out of them is "Something's going on but we can't tell you because you couldn't handle it." It just doesn't wash.

 

Eventually this just got boring and I had to give up. A shame because it had potential, but it was drawn out far too arduously.

I made a list! Heartfelt Christmas stories

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings - Charles Dickens, Michael Slater The Christmas Day Kitten - James Herriot, Ruth Brown The Christmas Angel Project - Melody Carlson A Christmas With The Dodger - Charlton Daines Letters from Father Christmas - J.R.R. Tolkien, Baillie Tolkien The Cat Who Came for Christmas - Cleveland Amory, Edith Allard An Irish Country Christmas - Patrick Taylor The Magical Christmas Horse - Wendell Minor, Mary Higgins Clark A Dog Named Christmas - Greg Kincaid A Redbird Christmas - Fannie Flagg

http://booklikes.com/apps/reading-lists/726/heartfelt-christmas-stories

 

As it's December, I thought a list of feel good Christmas books was due. Some of these I've read and enjoyed myself while others have been recommended to me by people I trust and I hope to read as many as possible before Christmas.

 

What they all have in common is leaving you with that warm feeling of the holidays.

I'm not dead!

I got distracted by R/L for a while then the site wouldn't let me upload reviews, so I haven't said anything for a while. I'm still here though. Still reading Fantasy books and some other stuff. Getting ready for Christmas reads, Yay!

Another re-read

Fevre Dream - George R.R. Martin

This is a book I read when I was young and had never heard of George R.R. Martin, long before Game of Thrones. The funny thing is that although I could remember really liking it, I couldn't actually remember much about it except that it was about vampires on a Mississippi steamboat.

 

So, a second reading was in order and I'm glad I did!

 

Martin can really do suspense. I wonder how many of his earlier books are treasures still waiting to be rediscovered? His characters flow with their own individuality and the plotting is well paced.

 

There are two main storylines in this which come together around halfway through the book. One is about a bloodmaster, a leader vampire, and the situation on his plantation where the slaves are noticing things to an extent that it's becoming dangerous. The other is about, well, someone who seems a little mysterious, odd and reclusive and the reader will immediately suspect of being a vampire, but it's a little more complicated than that. It gets fully explained in context of the story.

 

Naturally there has to be a clash between these two strong characters, and the real hero of the book, the steamboat captain, is right in the middle of it all. The story is multi-layered and full of surprises and as anyone who reads Martin will know, there is no guarantee of a happy ending. One of the great things about this author is that you never know quite what to expect.

 

The story holds attention all through and is hard to put down. I highly recommend it.

Catching up

The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes

Yes, the whole set. I missed these in childhood so thought I would do a catch up read.

 

The only real problem with these are they're written for children. I was very aware of this as I read. Not the most sophisticated writing in the world.

 

However, the stories have a special charm and they make for great movies. I would recommend these for small children, but they really are too much like children's book to be a great adult read.

A re-read

Elric of Melniboné - Michael Moorcock

This was a re-read because I hadn't read it in years. Classic sword and sorcery. Elric is one of the most depressing characters I've ever encountered in Fantasy, but he has a magic sword and a purpose in the grand scheme of things.

 

What's great about this book and the rest of the series is the writing and the world building. Moorcock shows Fantasy writers how it's done. This particular series in the broader Eternal Champion series has a tendency to leave me feeling melancholy, but it's still worth the read.

Collaboration that works!

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch - Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman

Terry Pratchett an Neil Gaiman collaborate on a Fantasy Comedy based on the apocalypse. What's not to love?

 

An angel and a demon vie to make contact with the antichrist who got switched with another child at the hospital and ended up with the wrong family. That gives you an idea of the level of screw-ups that can happen. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are joined by four bikers.

 

It's a comedic ride through the end of all things with good and evil playing reality like a game. Possibly the best of both authors went into this to make it a classic in Fantasy reading. It's one that I highly recommend.

Great Gaiman

Stardust - Neil Gaiman

I saw the movie before I read the book and that kind of spoiled it because a lot is different between them. I still enjoyed the book and consider it one of Gaiman's really good ones.

 

The premise is Tristan, a village boy, loves the stuck-up girl in town, but she only has eyes for a boy with her own surface values. She sets Tristan a task to get rid of him and it takes him to the forbidden place on the other side of the wall. Here there is magic, fairies, witches and a fallen star.

 

His quest takes him through adventures and touches on the secret of his mother, who he has never known.

 

In many ways it's a classic fairytale, but it covers some very original ground and is among the stories that I highly recommend.

Not enough detail

The Dragon Masters - Jack Vance

I read this because I kept hearing Vance was so good and I thought maybe I missed one of the great Fantasy writers of a bygone era.

 

However, when I began reading, I saw it as very much a thing of its time. It was very dialogue heavy to the exclusion of description. I often wasn't sure who was who as it all had to be worked out from the conversation. here was a big information dump at the beginning of chapter two, but by then I didn't care. The book read like many of the newer amateur self-published books written by white males. all about war, enslaving dragons for the purpose and juggling for leadership or conquering.

 

It did make me think, but more about the evolution of fiction writing over time. These Fantasy books from the 1950s-1960s are very different from say, literature from the Victorians. But something that was considered great back then wouldn't pass muster today. We've become more sophisticated and maybe even arrogant, expecting certain conventions from our writers.

 

The information dumps for example. It was common in the books of that era. Now somebody has taught us that it's wrong, so to get the kind of detailed world building that Traditional Fantasy fans love, writers have to write huge books to work details in that might have been more easily communicated with a couple of pages of info dumping.

 

Vance gets this right. The info dump wouldn't feel like an info dump if I hadn't been conditioned to recognize it as such. He actually didn't do enough of it. It would have been nice to have more background information to the story to keep every thing in context.

 

Anyway, I've satisfied my curiosity about this writer and will move on to newer writers, leaving this in the historical SFF category.

Not enough magic

— feeling confused
The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker

I heard so much about this book that I couldn't wait to read it. I was expecting a lot of magic and wonderful things, but it wasn't really what I expected. It was an okay story and an interesting concept, but the characters didn't really appeal to me enough to get wrapped up in the story.

 

The premise is a female gollum is left without a master and has to try to learn to survive in old New York, while keeping what she is secret. A separate thread runs about a djinn who is also hiding his supernatural nature from the humans of the city. Eventually, they inevitably meet.

 

This part of the story took too long in my opinion. It was like two separate stories running concurrently that has little to do with each other. Then when they did meet, the dynamics between them were interesting, but not interesting enough to salvage the story.

 

I'm glad I read it, but it's not something I would read again.

Review catch up

Just warning everybody that I'm about to post a load of reviews. I seem to have forgot about BL for a while and have a backlog.

 

Don't give up on me!

 

I read. I review. I talk about Fantasy books. I'm just not here all the time. But I always come back.

How Human Are Your Fantasy Characters?

— feeling confused

For quite a long time, I've been mulling over why Fantasy books are somehow different now than they were in say the 1960s. Since Twilight, vampires have moved from the Horror Genre into Paranormal Romance and these books are often found under Fantasy on Amazon, yet their target demographic is very different from that of older Fantasy.

 

Add to this the trend for fae, mer people and other fantasy creatures in a lot of YA and Romance books and the result is a certain level of genre confusion. Readers who love these newer books that take them into a romantic fantasy realm often don't like what they find in books by Tolkien, Moorcock or Zelazny, while readers of the older Fantasy genre dismiss these newer stories as young female Romance.

 

So, I've mulled this over for some time now. You can have a relationship between characters in the old Fantasy books, yet it doesn't read like a Romance book. You can have fairies, werewolves, vampires, and all sorts of supernatural creatures in a story and still it reads like a Romance. Where do you make the division?

 

Some authors have started differentiating by bringing in another new genre, Fantasy Romance or Romantic Fantasy. This is good, but with marketing advice telling them to put their books under as many categories as possible, the books still show up when a reader does a search for Fantasy. Some readers are even looking under Fantasy to find those books.

 

Some old style Fantasy writers are tagging their books with Traditional Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, etc. to try to indicate their type of Fantasy and that it isn't Romance. The trouble is, a lot of stories don't actually fit into any of those categories and used to be just categorized as general Fantasy, so we're back in the slush pile of books mixed together but two very different audiences searching for something they want to read.

 

I had an epiphany last night that I wanted to share. It doesn't solve the category problem, but it provides an insight into the difference that makes some books target a mostly female, romantically minded audience and others appeal to the Sword & Sorcery and other older style Fantasy readers.

 

Do the non-human characters have very human attributes? Alluring vampires, hunky werewolves, most modern stories about fae, share a level of humanity in the characters that makes them human enough to stimulate romantic fantasies. Most 'shifters' stories  are populated with characters that although they acknowledge a provocative, shadow animal nature, are inherently human in their thinking processes and emotional attachments.

 

Contrast this with similar creatures from stories in the other camp; Anne Rice's Lestat, who although he displays some human characteristics, has a vampire nature that deals with human interaction in shockingly callous ways; Traditional werewolf stories, where the savage nature of the wolf precludes any chance of romantic entanglements; a certain story about goblins that raised some controversy because the mating customs of the non-human species includes injecting a male with a paralysing venom before the female takes him sexually. To a human, this would be a consent issue (although the goblin in question is established as psychic and would have known if there was an objection), but compared to a black widow spider, the guy gets off easy. Watch chickens, dogs or cats mate and you don't see human considerations in their methods. To the female goblin, she is only doing what is considered normal and acceptable in her society.

 

This comes up in science fiction a lot, both books and movies, when aliens are involved. What is normal for humans or aliens is very different. Those books that are being classified as Science Fiction Romance require human characters to have human relationships. If an alien gets included in the story, it only works as a Romance if he has been humanized.

 

So the demarcation for the reader demographic really comes down to whether the reader is looking for a Romance or YA story that has some Fantasy elements to spice it up, or whether they want a Fantasy story that will take them to completely different worlds where creatures are not human and don't act like humans, but have their own customs and cultures that humans may not understand. This is sometimes the basis of stories, finding the conflict in these different ways of life.

 

I'm a Traditional Fantasy reader. I don't really like Romance and see the YA and Romance books in the Fantasy category and feel that they don't belong there, but under Romance. I love a good Fantasy with alternate worlds and creatures and they are still being written, but they have become harder to find in the Fantasy category among the Romance stories targeted at young women. This is an issue that isn't likely to go away soon, but is more likely to increase.

 

All I can say to the readers of this material is to enjoy reading what you like. We're all entitled to that. But when you come across a story with creatures who don't behave like humans or fit your romantic ideals, just remember that we were there first. The non-human creatures of traditional Fantasy stories are what once defined the genre. There is no other place for us to go.