Tag 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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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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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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The Lies of Locke Lamora

A lot of people have recommended this book to me. One of my beefs with the fantasy genre is a lack of originality. Anyone who has listened to me talk about fantasy has undoubtedly heard me complain about the tropes of orphan male character discovers powers/magic artifact, goes on journey, meets elves in the forest, meets dwarves in the mountain, battles orcs, saves the land. That old chestnut. Anyway, I’ve had a number of people recommend “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch as something different. Canty’s had a bunch of them in-store as new remainders, so I picked myself up a copy and gave it a whirl.

“The Lies of Locke Lamora” is different. Locke Lamora is one of the Gentleman Bastards; a small group of clever thieves in a city called Camorr who steal from the rich and give to…well…themselves. The slight, nondescript Locke is the brains of the band and master of disguise. His latest “Game” is a complicated affair involving intrigue and deception, and with his eyes focused on hoodwinking the wealthy Don Salvara, it’s not until too late that Locke notices the big power shift going on in the Camorr underground.

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Scott Lynch is a good writer. His dialogue is punchy, his world is believable and his characters are complex and interesting. The idea of a small, clever thief isn’t an entirely new one (see, e.g., Aladdin) but in this postmodern world it’s nice to read a book that isn’t about a boy who finds a mysterious stone that turns out to be *gasp* a dragon’s egg. I enjoyed this. I feel like “The Lies of Locke Lamora” is a good example of some of the excellent fantasy that’s been developing over the past couple of decades. I really enjoyed Lynch’s unbelievably creative insults and a few of them made me laugh aloud. The only thing I struggled with was that I found the pace a little frustrating. Lynch breaks up the story with a series of flashbacks outlining Locke’s youth, but at times they felt more like interruptions. Lynch is quite heavy-handed with the tension, and tantalises the reader with tidbits about Locke’s life which I assume get explained further in later books in the series.

“The Lies of Locke Lamora” is a fun, eloquent read and if you’re looking for some rolicking fantasy that isn’t childish in the slightest, then I think you’ll have a good time with this one.

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July 25, 2016 · 11:44 am

A Shadow in Summer

This book was a breath of fresh air. I borrowed it from my bestie and it was one of my many novels that I brought with me during my trip to Indonesia earlier this year.

“A Shadow in Summer” by Daniel Abraham is the first in a fantasy series called “The Long Price Quartet”. The series is set in a world where magic is personified in the form of humanoid spirits called Andats, and the only way to maintain control over them is for poet-sorcerers to invent new names to describe the kind of magic they represent.

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I won’t go into too much detail about the plot here because there are a number of perspective characters, a number of twists and there is a lot of rather complex political drama. Suffice to say, the plot is engaging enough and I love that there are a diverse array of characters including my favourite – an old woman who is cleverer by half than the rest of them.

I think the thing that makes this book is the world-building. The magical system is really unique and Abraham is incredibly creative when it comes to weaving in interesting cultures into his story. For example, in the main region where the book is set, people communicate not only in words but through complex poses designed to convey emotion and respect.

When it comes to fantasy, I love novelty and this novel has that in spades. An easy and enjoyable summer read and I’m planning on ordering the rest of the series soon.

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The Mechanical

This book first caught my eye in Dymocks with its almost garish red page edges and its rather steampunk front cover. “The Mechanical” by Ian Tregillis is part alternative history, part steampunk, and all action.

The premise of this book is that the Netherlands, through a mixture of sorcery and science, was able to create a race of mechanical people known pejoratively as “Clakkers”. Through their mechanical slaves, the Netherlands has become a world power. This fact is resented in particular by the French government which has in effect been exiled to Canada. However a spanner gets thrown into the proverbial works when Jax, himself a Clakker, agrees to do a favour for Catholic priest Visser and sets the gears of change in motion. Meanwhile, in Canada, clever spymaster Berenice is trying to unlock the secrets of the Clakkers and with them, the secrets of the Dutch empire.

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“The Mechanical” is a great read, there’s no doubt. The concept is original, the way history is woven with speculation is fantastic and the investigation into the concept of free will is brilliant. There is a lot going on in this book and it is quite fast paced (though there are some areas that drag a little).

However, there was one thing that I just couldn’t get past: the violence. It doesn’t seem like an accident that this book is blood-red with blood-red pages; it is extremely an extremely violent book. I think I was a little shocked because it is incredibly rare for the books I read to be so graphic in their depictions of fights, battles and war. In addition to that, some of the lengths that characters go to in order to explore the idea of free will are also quite disturbing. Even though I could recognise that this book was clever, I could not ignore how uncomfortable it made me feel at times.

If you’re looking for an original, steampunk, sci-fi/fantasy action novel: look no further, this is the one for you. However, if you’re a bit squeamish, maybe consider giving this one a miss.

 

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The Colour of Magic

One of the biggest and most publicised losses to literature in 2015 was the death of Terry Pratchett. To my great shame, when I heard the news, I had actually not read a single one of his books. I had heard of Discworld, of course, and had even watched some of the animated adaptations as a kid. I was familiar with the idea of a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants, themselves balanced on a galactic turtle. I even went along to a commemorative, Terry Pratchett-themed evening by Naked Girls Reading. However, I still had never managed to get around to reading any of his books myself. I finally took myself to a bookstore, and found that The Discworld series has been released in stunning hardcover editions with beautiful metallic detailing. I picked up a copy of “The Colour of Magic”, the first book in the Discworld series, and gave it a go.

“The Colour of Magic” is to fantasy as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is to science fiction. It is without a doubt a fantasy story, but it is at the same time a clever satire of the genre. The book follows Rincewind, a wizard who, had he been born on this world, would have probably been a high school physics teacher. However, on Discworld, Rincewind is a largely useless and skeptical wizard who seems to have a lot of luck (both good and bad). He somehow finds himself responsible for the naive and irrepressible tourist Twoflower, and the pair of them begin a long and convoluted journey throughout Discworld accruing (and narrowly escaping) a multitude of attempts on their lives.

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This book is funny. Throughout the novel, any fantasy buff can pick up on the numerous jabs at tropes and big names in the genre. Despite its several adaptations into animated series, this book is also surprisingly adult. When I say that this book is comparable to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, I’m not kidding. Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams both had a knack for writing the absurd and using it as a platform for spoof. I think perhaps if I had read Pratchett first, I would have thought he was incredible. However, because I had read Adams first, I think some of the novelty of this writing style was lost and I was maybe not as impressed with Pratchett as I could have been.

I’ve been told that “The Colour of Magic” is not the best book in the Discworld series, and I believe it. Pratchett is clearly a master of world-building, and a lot of this book is spent outlining the structure, culture, geography and climate of Discworld. However, I think the narrative suffers (understandably) a bit because of this and parts of the book read a little like a textbook. Nevertheless, this book is clearly a the first of what became a cult following, and the pockets of brilliance in “The Colour of Magic” are more than enough to finally get me onto the Pratchett train.

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