Category Archives: Fantasy

High Summons and Grimm Remains

I received a copy of these two eBooks courtesy of the author.

High Summons     Grim Remains

“High Summons” and “Grimm Remains” are the first two books in the “Warlock of Rochester” series by Eli Celata. Urban fantasy set in the author’s own university town, the series is about a young biracial man called Jon who can secretly wield magic. He moves to a new city called Rochester for university and finds himself under the unlikely tutelage of the mysterious and taciturn Jordan. Desperate to find out more about the father he never knew, Jon steps into the world of magic and discovers that it comes with a price.

A modern take on the classic angels and demons story, this book is a love letter to the author’s own stomping ground on the USA/Canadian border. Jon is an interesting character with straddles two worlds not only because of his race, but also because of his magical status. “High Summons” was a little slow to warm up, but “Grimm Remains” was a quicker read with more diverse characters and more revealed about Jon’s family.

A fun interpretation of Constantine/biblical demon mythology best suited to those who love fantasy in modern settings.

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Through the Arch

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. I’m always eager to try out new takes on the fantasy genre, and I was looking forward to seeing what this was about.

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“Through the Arch” by Devri Walls is the first book in the “Venators” series. Rune Jenkins is a sporty young woman in her first year at university (college) with her twin brother Ryker. She studies hard and looks after her brother when he drinks too much, and tries to ignore the strange reaction she has whenever she sees anything supernatural. However, when she reaches out about her experiences to an old classmate, a reclusive young man named Grey, she finds herself pulled into a completely different world. Full of untold dangers and treachery, Rune and Grey must put everything they thought they knew about themselves and their lives aside if they want to survive.

This is a quintessential example of the young adult/fantasy genre. Walls weaves in classic elements of supernatural storytelling in with modern issues to create a compelling story. Dealing with questions of identity, confidence, child abuse and alcohol abuse, there is enough substance in this story to keep the reader hooked in both the human world and the world of magic. This is an extremely fast-paced story and Walls is an inventive writer who balances breakneck speed against striking imagery. Grey in particular is an appealing character who undergoes quite a lot of development throughout the book.

I think the only thing about this book that was a bit disappointing was the lack of diversity among the characters. Skin colour was mentioned a couple of times, but only regarding the rainbow skin tones of the magical beings. One man who was initially thought to have black skin in fact had blue skin, and another minor elf character with black skin was clearly not black black. I think after recently reading books like “The Fifth Season” and “The Rest of Us Just Live Here“, my baseline threshold for novel and diverse main characters has increased significantly.

Nevertheless, Wall has set the scene for a tense and complex fantasy series. There is enough new and enough familiar in this book to be appealing to any fan of young adult fiction, and I think it is definitely shaping up to be an epic trilogy.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Uncategorized, Young Adult

The House of the Spirits

This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for a long, long time. It’s been recommended to me by many people and when a book comes with that many recommendations, you can usually bet that it will be good. Sometimes I can be a bit perverse with book recommendations, however. I remember when a primary school friend first recommended that I check out a book called “Harry Potter” I was skeptical. I think I worry that the book has been built up too much and I’ll be disappointed. Anyway, I finally picked up a copy of this book from the Lifeline Bookfair and it sat on my shelf, patiently waiting its turn until I could give it the full attention it deserved.

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“The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende is a novel that almost defies definition. If you were to describe it as magic realism, a family saga or historical fiction about a revolution, you wouldn’t be wrong. Although the name of the country the novel is set in is never explicitly mentioned, the story takes place in Chile and was originally published in Spanish. “The House of the Spirits”follows the life of Clara, a dreamy clairvoyant, and her unusual, contradictory family and descendants. Clara’s fate becomes intertwined with that of her beautiful green-haired sister Rosa’s fiancé Estaban Trueba. Trueba’s choices in seeking wealth and power have devastating consequences on his family and, ultimately, his country. In his misdirected quest for happiness, only his granddaughter Alba can temper his rage and bring out the little remaining good in his ever-shrinking soul.

This book is destined to become a timeless classic. It has everything: history, politics, magic, romance, women’s rights, social upheaval, culture, nuance – everything. It is simply a marvel at how much humanity Allende was able to cram into this novel and how she is able to maintain the reader’s attention throughout. Allende’s writing appeals to the inner child with tantalising pieces of magic and it appeals to the darkness of adults with social and political drama.

I’m not sure what else there is to say about a five star book, except that if you’re looking for an excellent addition to your to-read list, look no further.

 

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, General Fiction, Historical Fiction

Dream Waters

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author. I haven’t read much modern fantasy, and when the book arrived, I was very excited to check it out.

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“Dream Waters” by Erin A. Jensen is the first book in a modern fantasy trilogy. Set in current times in a psychiatric ward somewhere in the USA, the story is about a young man called Charlie who can do something nobody else can. Charlie has something called Dream Sight: he can see people’s Dream forms – the forms people take when they enter the Dream World – and he can remember what happens when he’s transported to the Dream World every night. His reactions to his visions have ensured that he’s spent most of his adult life in psychiatric care, however when a beautiful new patient Emma arrives, Charlie begins to find out more about himself, his abilities and even some of the other patients. Most of all, however, he begins to learn about the darkness that threatens them all.

This book is quite the page turner. Jensen has a real knack for creating tension in her story, and I found myself racing through this book to see what happens next. One of the really arresting things about this book is Jensen’s ability to handle morally ambiguous situations. Reserving judgment as an author, she lets her characters nut out tricky issues between them (to avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail). Jensen is a very expressive and visceral writer and tense interpersonal connections are balanced out by some very engaging mild erotica.

I think one of the things that I would have to have seen more of was discussion of mental health issues. I thought that Jensen had a lot more capacity to explore existing issues in the mental health system and the diversity of reasons people find themselves in psychiatric units. She touched on things like group therapy, the impact of trauma and the imbalance of power between doctors and patients and did that very well. However, I think, particularly given the use of the Dream World as a tool for examining mental health from a different perspective, there’s room to go even deeper in following books. I would especially like to see more on the operation of psychiatric wards and the interplay between staff and patients. I am also really hoping to find out more about Emma in following books. At the moment most of the female characters are wilting flowers to be tended to by men, and it would be really great to see Emma grow into her own and regain some power and independence.

This is a unique book with a very interesting premise that turned out to be a quick and thrilling read. I think this would make a great summer book for someone looking for a new spin on the fantasy genre. Book 2 in the series, “Dream World” has just been released.

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Australi

I’ve been anticipating this graphic novel for a long time. Like most Kickstarters, it’s always a bit of a gamble when it comes to whether the project will get funded, when it will get delivered and what the final product will be like. I backed the project in September 2015, and I only just got my reward this week and I couldn’t wait to crack it open.

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“Australi” is a graphic novel written by Timothy Wood and illustrated by Pius Bak. An alternative history with a good dash of fantasy, this story is set in an Australia colonised by three empires: the British, the Far East Serpentes Federation and the Red Jade Dynasty. These three empires are carving the land up for its precious gemstones but as a result of their greed, the beautiful country they have occupied has started to die. Australi’s fate is in  the hands of Maloo: a young orphan Aboriginal boy. In possession of a stolen gem and on the run from camel folk, Maloo finds himself on a serious detour after falling into a dark cave.

Probably the first thing you’ll notice about this graphic novel is the artwork, it is undoubtedly gorgeous. The story is short and gripping, and I was surprised that the first volume ended so soon. The dialogue and text is pretty sparse, but there’s a real sense of the beginning of an epic story. The character design is pretty cool and I particularly like the guardians, the giant animals and Imogen (though I’m looking forward to seeing some more female characters in later volumes).

As excited as I was to receive this graphic novel, I was also a bit apprehensive. I thoroughly support more representation of Aboriginal characters in media, and have been really excited about things like acclaimed TV series Cleverman and reading stories by authors like Anita Heiss, but I fretted about how this would go. Neither the author nor the illustrator are Aboriginal. However, when I first opened the book, right at the beginning there was a statement at the front that says:

“Australi was created to celebrate the heritage of Australia and the First Nations’ Peoples. This story is not their story, but an attempt to capture its spirit. The team consulted throughout with Indigenous artists, community figures and cultural centres and firmly believe what has been hidden, now needs to be seen. To know, to celebrate and to honour”.

It’s a little early to tell, but I think so far it seems like the author and illustrator have treated their story sensitively. We only meet Maloo and the Guardians in this first issue so I’m looking forward to seeing more characters. I think the only thing that was a bit confusing is that Maloo is an orphan who is isolated from his culture, yet he has a boomerang and is wearing body paint. I think this could have been a good opportunity to shed a bit of light on growing up disconnected from your culture, and I’d like to see this get either explained or fleshed out in later issues.

“Australi” looks like the beginnings of an original Australian fantasy adventure, and it’s great to see a bit more diversity in the leading character. It’s a cracking read and I’m really looking forward to future issues of what I hope is a great series.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Signed Books

The Fifth Season

This book was the Hugo Award winner for best science fiction/fantasy novel this year and was the set book in one of my book clubs. I’ve been trying to read more diversely this year and I have to say, I don’t think I have read any fantasy or science fiction by an African American writer before. This is hardly a surprise: N. K. Jemisin is the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for best novel.

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“The Fifth Season” by N. K. Jemisin is the first book in “The Broken Earth Trilogy”. Set in a land beset with tectonic activity, and ironically called the Stillness, the world is ending. For Essun, the unthinkable has happened: her idyllic family life is shattered and all she can think about now is revenge. For Damaya, her family have given her up to the Fulcrum for who she is: a rogga, an orogene. Someone who can calm the shaking Earth and who must be controlled. For Syenite, it might just be her fault the world ends – whether she wants it to or not.

The thing that stands out about this book is its sheer originality. I’ve read a lot of fantasy books and I have never read a fantasy book like this one. It’s dark, it’s gritty and it’s catastrophic. Boundaries are pushed in every direction. The “magic”, the power to manipulate stone and fault lines, is just so unique I was blown away. The culture of the comms is fascinating and the sheer diversity of the characters is incredible. It’s not really a surprise that this won the Hugo Award. I think there was only one thing that got under my skin about this book and that was that some of the imagery got a little repetitive. It’s a small thing that I’m willing to forgive though for this epic book.

If you’re bored out of your mind with elves and orcs, pick this book up and read it immediately. It’s a deep, evocative read that demands you take your time, and it will linger like aftershocks after you’ve finished it.

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Den Of Wolves

If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you’re probably well aware that I’m probably Juliet Marillier’s biggest fan. Her book “Den of Wolves”, the finale to the Blackthorn & Grim trilogy following “Dreamer’s Pool” and “Tower of Thorns”, was released only days ago so of course I had to get myself a copy – stat. Bumping all of the other books on my to-read list, I’ve spent the last couple of days positively glued to this book.

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“Den of Wolves” by Juliet Marillier continues the story of unlikely due healer Blackthorn and big man Grim who are slowly rebuilding their lives in a place called Winterfalls. Bound by the fey Lord Conmael to help all who ask for it and to stay within the bounds of Winterfalls for seven years, Blackthorn’s desire for vengeance against the brutal Mathuin of Laois have started to simmer down. However, when she meets a strange young girl is sent away from her home in nearby Wolf Glen to stay in Winterfalls, Grim is hired to help build a mysterious house by the girl’s father and tattooed soldiers arrive in Winterfalls on a secret mission, Blackthorn’s loyalties are put to the ultimate test.

A story rich in folklore and emotion, “Den of Wolves” is a strong ending to the Blackthorn & Grim series. Marillier dances through genres and this book is part historical fiction, part fantasy, part romance and all heart. It’s a story about redemption, trust and love and the importance of truth. Marillier is a brilliant storyteller, and while I think my favourite in this series was the second book “Tower of Thorns”, it is a nevertheless great finish to the stories of two wonderful characters. One of my favourite things about Mariller’s books are her characters and I adore her strong, brave women and her gentle, capable men.

If you haven’t read Juliet Marillier’s books yet, this series would be a great place to start.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction