Review: PRIEST by Matthew Colville

PRIEST is perhaps one of the more perplexing books I’ve read this year.

Let’s start with the good, as I am oft wont to do. Contained within the covers of PRIEST is a compelling central narrative, structured around a priest and former “campaigner” (which appears to be this world’s word for “adventurer”) named Heden. When we first meet Heden, he is acting somewhat the knight errant, helping a poor girl who’s been imprisoned for being possessed… But Heden knows that she’s merely ill, and comes to her aid.

Heden, from what we are told, seems to be suffering from something much akin to (if it is not) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is withdrawn and suffers from paralyzing flashbacks to his campaigner days. He is also a priest–thus the title–and once his character is established we get to the heart of the matter. The north is threatened by invaders, and those who might protect the helpless–the Knights of the Green, mysterious forest paladins that no one knows much about–have been reduced from nine members to eight. Permanently.

Our hero is tasked with discovering what happened to the Knights and absolving them, meting out justice so that their ranks might be restored and they can protect the people.

That’s just the beginning of the story, and it unfurls from there into quite the enthralling yarn. The world-building is an intriguing and original take on many common fantasy tropes, building upon the ideas that every fantasy reader knows to create something more. The core of the plot is mysterious and continually commands the reader’s interest.

But. There’s a but here, and I would be remiss if I did not point it out.

I read the Kindle edition, offered free on Amazon a few weeks ago when the author published the second installment. The Kindle edition’s formatting is… lacking, as you can see in the attached screenshot from my iPad’s Kindle app. No paragraph indents is the first offense, and it’s a glaring one. The same problem occurred in Kindle Cloud Reader, so I know it’s not just my device. Overall, the formatting feels amateur at best, and could use a significant rework.


My second issue is the use of language. It’s made clear that Heden has an informal speech style, but even so, using constructions like “ok” and “alright” grate on me as a reader, because they seem more like mistakes than characterization. There is also a significant scene later in the book where the word “reigns” is substituted for “reins” (the horsy kind) 5-10 times in rapid succession.

Ebooks these days are often seen as works-in-progress, which is fine, but I really feel like these are problems which should have been fixed long before the author published the second book.

The important takeaway here, however, is that none of these issues prevented me from reading (and enjoying) the book, all the way to the conclusion. In fact, I’d say it’s quite probable that I will pick up the second installment in the future, because I genuinely want to know what happens to Heden. Given that formatting issues and use of language will often cause me to drop a book before Chapter 2, the author must be commended very highly for creating a story that allowed me to see past these issues to the gem of a tale beneath.

PRIEST gets four stars from me. With polished language and a formatting fix, it would easily be four and a half, and possibly even a full five. This really is an enticing, riveting story, and if you can bring yourself to see past the rough spots, you won’t regret the time you spend reading it. Recommended.

Review: Magebane by Lee Arthur Chane

Magebane-Actual-Cover-smIn Magebane, the debut novel from Lee Arthur Chane, a tiny magical kingdom is locked off from the rest of the world by a centuries-old impenetrable wall of magic. The mages and their people believe everything outside the barrier is pure wilderness, and for those living outside it, magic has been reduced to myths and legend. As a young aeronaut flies over the barrier from the outside, and parties scheme to bring down the barrier from the inside, both ways of life cannot remain unchanged.

In a meeting of steampunk and magic, Magebane is more about the plots and machinations of the people involved than the whiz-bang-neato potential of the world elements. This is not a bad thing – the steampunk elements are basic, and while the basics of magic are cool, they’re not enough to carry the story. The characters, however, are.

The slowly-unfolding plot gradually reveals layers of intrigue, manipulation, and hidden agendas from the mage side of the world. Various parties are working to bring down the barrier – each for their own diverging purposes – and all are perfectly fine with a healthy dosing of murder, torture, and/or mass slaughter to get there.

In fact, for a story of violence and massive political upheaval, the pacing is almost leisurely. It didn’t drag, just took its time with descriptions and worldbuilding to make sure that each action was in complete, full context to bring the reader along with all possible implications.


So, what’s inside:

  • Schemes upon schemes tied up in other schemes, with very few people to be taken at face value

  • Complex evil characters who are absolutely convinced they’re doing the right thing and that this death/destruction/torture/etc will all be worth it for a higher cause.

  • Steampunk technology, and magic that at times acts suspiciously steampunk-like (swap a few cogs and coals for magic, and leave the rest intact). Both of them get lush descriptions and beautiful execution.

  • A complex social and political system, built on top of a complex magic system, all of which make perfect sense together. The worldbuilding is thorough and well done.


What’s not inside:

  • A fast-paced page turner. This book takes its time, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But if you want a political thriller, this isn’t the speedy read you’re looking for.

  • An unexpected ending. But the path to get to the expected ending is a fun enough read that it doesn’t really matter.

  • A kick-in-the-pants beginning. Chane does a lot of worldbuilding up front, which is a bit slow in the beginning of the book. Some of it, in my opinion, could have waited until a bit later.


TL/DR: A pretty book with that takes its time as evil characters unfold their plans and subterfuge, less about the meeting of steampunk and magic and more about what nasty people with power are scheming to do about it.

488 pages

#FlashFictionFriday – Two Pickpockets by M. Todd Gallowglas

What do you want this time?  Didn’t I tell you not to bother me again tonight?  I’ve tucked you in, kissed you, and even brought you a glass of juice.  What else could there be?  You want a story?  Why do you think I should tell you a story?  Well, your mother isn’t here, and she and I do things differently.  Now to bed with you.

A what?  Under where?  How did you get an idea like that?  Your mother told you. I should have known!  Look, boy, there are no goblins, pooka, or boggarts under your bed.  Now that we’ve settled that argument, you can go to sleep.  They wouldn’t be under your bed because it’s too small for them.  Besides, why would they bother with a skinny little boy like you?

Very well, if I tell you a story, will you promise to go to sleep?  Promise me. That’s very good.  Now promise again, and let me see your fingers.  Good, now if you go back on your word I’ll never believe you after.

Many years ago…

What do you mean I’m not doing it right?  I told you:  I do things differently than your mother.  Fine!  I’ll do it the right way.

Once upon a time… Is that better?  Good…  there was a young man who made his profession as a pickpocket.  Yes, right here in Dublin.  Yes, he knew what would happen if they caught him.  I’m getting to that.

He was so great a pickpocket, he’d never been caught in all his days.  The skill with which he worked his hands was so grand, that when he walked down the street money seemed to leap out of people’s pockets and into his.  He was so rich, he did not live on the street or in a shack like most thieves.  No, he lived in a great manor house, and never wanted for anything.

If you keep interrupting me, I’m going to stop telling this story and leave.  Yes, I know the goblins are still under there.  Yes, I know exactly what they’ll do to you.  No, your mother won’t miss you.  I’ll get a street urchin and dress him just like you. She’ll never know the difference.  Yes, I’m serious.  Now quiet, or I won’t finish.

One day the pickpocket, never you mind what his name was, was walking down the street when he noticed his belt felt a bit lighter than it had a moment before.  He looked down, and to his amazement, his purse was gone.  Yes, gone. Just like that!

He looked around and saw a gypsy girl counting the coins out of a purse that looked very much like his own.  That’s because it was his purse.  You’re a bright boy.  You don’t need me to explain everything to you.

Well, the pickpocket circled around and got in front of this gypsy girl and stopped her.  No, I don’t know what her name was either.  Why do you think I know these people?  It’s only a story, which I won’t finish if you keep pestering me with silly questions.

The pickpocket said to the gypsy, “That’s my purse you hold.”  When she tried to run, he stopped her and continued.  “I don’t want to take you to the constable or throw you in the stocks.  I can see that you’re at least as good a pick pocket as I.”  At that he held up his purse, which he had taken from her, unaware.  “I propose that we form a partnership between us, sweep through this city, and pick it clean.”

Being a gypsy, she saw the chance for wealth.  And, as well we know, gypsies are known for their love of any task that earns easy coin.  Her deep brown eyes sparkled with greedy delight and she accepted.  No.  Your mother’s eyes are green.  More like your grandmother’s.

Over the next few years they swept through Dublin.  Not a single man nor woman escaped the two thieves on their quest.  Soon they no longer lived in his manor house, but in a grand palace that was the envy of many kings and queens.  I believe that it still stands to this day.  No we can’t go see it tomorrow, maybe some day when you’re older.  I don’t know when that will be.  Now let me finish.

One night as they feasted on a great supper, the Gypsy girl looked up.  “We should marry,” she said to the pickpocket.  “If you and I were to wed, we might sire a whole race of pickpockets.  Our children will sweep through all lands, and know the riches of the world.”

Since the pickpocket was a stout young man, and she was a pretty young lady, he agreed.  Soon after, they were married.  About a year later she gave birth to a handsome baby boy.

What?  Where do babies come from?  Boy, that is another story for another day.  A day when you are much older.  I’ll tell you that the next time you mother goes to visit her sister, which won’t be for a very long time if I have any say in the matter.  Are you going to let me finish?  Good!

When the mid wife handed the child over, the happy couple looked at their new son.  Upon first glance, they saw the grandest child ever born in Ireland.  Then they saw a problem with the boy.  His right arm was paralyzed up against his chest.  They didn’t know why, and neither did the midwife.  All they knew was, his right hand was balled into a fist, and his arm could not be pried from his body.

What do you think they did about it?  They were rich.  What do most rich people do when they get injured or sick?  That’s right.  They seek out a healer, and that’s what the pickpocket and the gypsy did.  The two of them gathered their massive fortune and traveled all throughout the lands seeking a healer or surgeon to aid their child.  Yes, they loved him so much they were willing to pay a thousand surgeon’s prices.

I do love you that much.  Unfortunately, we haven’t got that much money.  Quiet now, or I’ll spend some money to find a healer to cure you of your voice.

For a year they traveled, but to no avail.  Not one of these men of medicine could tell them of a way to aid their son.  Finally, with little hope they returned to Dublin.  There was only one man they had not seen: Magnus Maxwell, Surgeon and healer unparalleled.  Yes, the same Magnus Maxwell that comes for supper every so often.

After many tests Magnus, like all the others, could not tell what ailed the boy.  He did, however; notice that the child watched his every move with keen eyes.  Magnus then brought forth his gold pocket-watch, and waved it before the child’s eyes.  Yes, like the watch I have.

As the watch waved, a bit of sunlight caught it, and the boy smiled a great, beaming smile as only an innocent babe can.

Then a miracle happened.  The boy’s arm started to reach toward the pocket watch.  His arm moved slowly, ever so slowly.  Because he’d never used the arm before, the muscles strained.  A moment later, the child could almost just barely touch the watch.  As the boy opened his fingers to take it, the midwife’s gold ring fell from his grasp.

Where did the ring come from?  You’re a bright boy.  I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself.  No I won’t just tell you.  Now, you’ve been tucked in, kissed good night, had your juice, and heard a story.  I don’t want to hear any more about the goblins or boggarts.  Good night to you, boy.

Good night.

A Book Born of Dreams

The Genre Underground chose Dreamwielder by Garrett Calcaterra as our Book of the Week for November 4, 2013. To gain a better understanding for our readers, we asked the author about his inspirations and his influences.


GCalcaterra_headshot2Dreamwielder, my epic fantasy novel from Diversion Books, was literally born from a dream. My mother mentioned to me during a visit that she’d dreamt about a magical girl and she thought it would make a good story. As an author I get this all the time—people suggesting ideas for me to write, and trust me it’s not coming up with ideas that are the hard part, so I always politely decline—but since this was coming from the woman who had birthed and raised me, I figured I at least had to humor her. It turned out the dream she’d had was utterly fantastic.

In the dream, a young woman is sleeping in a castle and her parents are frantically beating at her chamber door, trying to wake her. When her eyes finally flutter open, the castle disappears to be replaced by a one-room hovel. That was it, all she’d dreamed, but it tapped into some sort of primal archetype that resonated with me, and that was the beginning of Dreamwielder.

It’s only fitting seeing as how it was my mother who first introduced me to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and as I got older to Anne McCaffrey and David Eddings and dozens of other fantasy authors I gobbled up. It was my mother who modeled for what a strong woman should be (and me being a male, how I should treat and respect women). So, while the story and characters stemmed from my own imagination, my mother was as much an influence on the story as all those fantasy authors I read growing up.

So, when diving into Dreamwielder, don’t be surprised to find that so many of the characters are strong females who challenge generic fantasy tropes, and that the subjugation of powerful women is a dominant theme in the book. Now don’t get me wrong! I’m not claiming to have turned the genre on its head—there’s plenty of classic fantasy action, and an epic final showdown between good and evil “that rockets to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion in the grand tradition” as the very gracious Misty Massey endorsed it on the book jacket. I’m simply paying my gratitude to those who influenced the writing of the book: Tolkien for his rich world, C.S. Lewis for his omniscient voice, McCaffrey for her strong female characters, Ursula Le Guin for her magic rooted in natural order, Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock for their industrial-steampunk backdrop, and last, but not least, my mother.

Thanks all! I hope readers find in Dreamwielder even a small fraction of the enjoyment I’ve been on the receiving end of.


Thank you, Garrett. Readers, be sure to check out our Dreamwielder page for more information.

20 Obscure SF/F/H Books Recommended By The Pros

Understanding why some SF/F/H novels become massively popular while others languish in obscurity is an exercise in futility. For whatever reason, some books simply never get the right combo of marketing support, reader buzz, and magical-mass-market-mojo to become popular. Other books have moments of critical and popular success only to fade into obscurity over time. It’s no surprise then that there are dozens—if not hundreds or thousands—of SF/F/H gems that are largely unheard of and unread by modern readers. In an effort to unearth some of these gems I invited fourteen authors to recommend their favorite obscure spec-fic novels. Along with my own recommendation, we’ve dug up over twenty novels for readers to go out and discover. Enjoy!

-G. Calcaterra

“The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster
-Recommended by Garrett Calcaterra, author of Dreamwielder


Brave New World, Ninteen Eighty-Four, and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We always get credit for being the grand-daddies of dystopian fiction, but E.M. Forster’s novelette “The Machine Stops” predates all of them. First published in 1909, it is a stark warning tale of what could happen when humans become too reliant on technology. It seems more prescient than ever in today’s era of dependency on smart phones, GPS navigation, and auto-correct. “The Machine Stops” is not entirely obscure, having been included in Volume 2B of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology (1973), but few people know about it today. Dig up the Hall of Fame anthology, the Penguin collection of Forster’s Selected Stories, or find the story free online, thanks to it being in the public domain.


Earth Giant (1961) by Edison Marshall
-Recommended by Howard Andrew Jones, author of the Arabian historical fantasies The Desert of Souls and The Bones of the Old Ones

EarthGiantNot only have I never met anyone who’s read this, I’ve never met anyone who’s even heard of the novel. Labeling Earth Giant fantasy is a little bit of a stretch, for there are only two minor magical moments in the entire book. But then it’s not exactly a straight historical novel, either, as only mythical figures appear within its pages. Instead, it’s the best depiction I’ve ever read of one of mankind’s most famous heroes, Herakles. The stirring exploits depicted within this novel might very well have been those that gave birth to the legends that have come down to us. Sure, the cover of Earth Giant makes it look like one of those 50s/60s historical potboilers where much is promised but very little really happens, but Marshall delivers. Not only are there great story arcs and surprises, but Herakles himself is an incredibly likeable character, far different from his more common brash or even arrogant depictions. Any heroic fantasy lovers really owe it to themselves to track it down.


She and Eric Brighteyes by H. Rider Haggard
-Recommended by CJ Cherryh, Hugo and Locus Award winning author


She is associated with the Allan Quatermain stories: “She Who Must Be Obeyed” is an eternal queen. I was also enchanted with the valiant Umslopogaas, the Zulu warrior… Eric Brighteyes is a Viking romance. I loved the images.






A Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan
-Recommended by Tim Powers, World Fantasy Award winning author

Portrait2It’s about a Depression-era painter who meets a little girl in a park—she’s all by herself, and dressed in last-century clothes, and speaks very intelligently; he goes home and does a portrait of her from memory, and he meets her again, several times, over the years, but she is each time older than the intervening time could explain, and she talks about old events as if they’re current. It’s all very melancholy, really, but a very haunting book. I see Tachyon Publications has brought it back into print, but I bet nobody’s heard of it anyway.



The Art of Arrow Cutting by Stephen Dedman
-Recommended by Misty Massey, author of the fantasy novel Mad Kestrel

artofarrowMichelangelo `Mage’ Magistrale meets a beautiful woman in need of bus fare. In exchange for the money, she gives him a key on a fob made of hair. Mage thinks he’s seen the last of her, but suddenly he’s dealing with crime bosses, deadly ninjas, bakemono and forgetful gods who all seem dangerously interested in the key in his pocket. Dedman’s novel blends Japanese mythology and contemporary fantasy with the wonderfully dark images of classic noir fiction in a nonstop chase through an LA you never imagined. The book is out of print these days, but you can find copies on Amazon or through used book stores.  It’s worth the effort.



Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip
-Recommended by Mary C. Moore, managing editor at Reputation Books and author of the science fiction novel, Angelus 

od_magicFantasy writers often lose something when they become linked to a publishing house. They begin to churn out pale versions of their original works for the sake of more sales, whether it be under pressure of their publishers/agents or for their own gain. It is, unfortunately, not a surprise to a fan/reader when they pick up a newer book by their favorite fantasy author and find they are somewhat disappointed. Sure they get a satisfactory read, but there is something missing, that lovely warm feeling that had filled them when they read that author’s first book. Mercedes Lackey, Anne Rice, even the great Anne McCaffrey or Andre Norton are all culpable of this. Now before you rage, “how dare you!” at me, know that I love each and every one of those authors. They broke down barriers for women genre writers everywhere. They are the grand dames of fantasy and science fiction. They are great writers. But you have to admit, their writing has not, (or did not) evolve/mature very much over their long illustrious careers.

This is not the case of Patricia McKillip. Although McKillip is perhaps best known for her Riddle Master series or The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, both of which were published in the seventies, her later work is where she really starts to shine. Her prose has a lyrical quality to it that is hard to match, and her stories are both wonderfully spiritual and utterly magical. Od Magic, published in 2005—nearly 20 years after her first—is a true testament to an author who has matured in time. You would be hard pressed to find another fantasy novel that captures such earthly beauty and emotion wrapped up in floating specks of magical dust.


Illumination by Terry McGarry
-Recommended by D.B. Jackson/David B. Coe, author of the historical urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry

illuminationAbout a dozen years ago, big fat fantasies (BFFs) were all the rage. Big names and small (including me, writing as David B. Coe) were putting out epic fantasies, set in imagined worlds, arranged in multi-volume story-arcs. Many of them were good. A few were outstanding. And, unfortunately, some of the very best fell through the cracks of the commercial market. In 2001, Terry McGarry, who is a friend (not to mention an outstanding copyeditor) came out with Illumination, the first book in a trilogy that also included The Binder’s Road and Triad. The Illumination trilogy, as it came to be known, remains one of the finest fantasies I’ve ever read.  Terry’s prose is gorgeous; her characters are unusual, fascinating, drawn with subtlety and exquisite detail; her setting is real and gritty and expertly imagined; her storylines are like barbed hooks—once they’ve got hold of you, they don’t let go. These books deserved far more attention and marketplace success than they received. They should be on the shelves of any serious fan of fantasy.


The Reckoning by Ruby Jean Jensen
-Recommended by Brian Barnett, author of the middle-grade chapter book, Graveyard Scavenger Hunt

reckoningWhenever the opportunity arises for readers to list their favorite horror authors, lists are often short, yet relatively diverse, with a core rotation of names you’ve almost certainly heard of. I’d almost guarantee one name you’ll never find on those lists is Ruby Jean Jensen. It’s a shame, really. She was a talented author who usually relied on ghostly children as the catalysts of terror. The Reckoning was one of many novels in her long career, but it was the first of hers I read and will likely remain my favorite. During the peak her career, she was overshadowed by the likes of rock-star bestsellers Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon and Ramsey Campbell. Though she never got the recognition of those masters, she knew how to bring the horror just the same. One can occasionally find a Jensen novel in used bookstores or online.


The Last City by Nina D’Aleo
Recommended by Ahimsa Kerp, co-author of the mosaic novel, The Roads to Baldairn Motte

lastcityIt’s billed as Bladerunner meets Perdido Street Station, but it’s far closer to Miéville than Dick. The ridiculous levels of creativity are the most noticeable strengths, but there are a great many things gone right. The prose is excellent. The intriguing plot is convincing without ever seeming contrived. But like Mieville (and unlike Dick) this is a book of fascinating characters. Moral, immoral, and amoral alike mix in the mean streets, and while I don’t usually have favorite POV, Eli the imp-breed is sheer genius. He stands out as a great character as much as Tyrion Lannister did in the late 90’s.


Superfolks by Robert Mayer
-Recommended by James Aquilone, writer and editor

SuperfolksWhile Alan Moore gets most of the credit when it comes to creating the modern, deconstructed superhero, it really began with a novel called Superfolks. Published in 1977, Robert Mayer’s first book satirizes and updates such superheroes as Superman and Captain Marvel. This is how the publisher describes the story: “David Brinkley used to be a hero, the greatest the world had ever seen—until he retired, got married, moved to the suburbs, and packed on a few extra pounds. Now all the heroes are dead or missing, and his beloved New York is on the edge of chaos. It’s up to Brinkley to come to the rescue, but he’s in the midst of a serious mid-life crisis—his superpowers are failing him.” Sound familiar? That’s because Superfolks inspired such comic books and movies as Watchmen, Miracleman, and The Incredibles. Still, few people outside comic book geekdom have even heard of Superfolks. Perhaps that’s because of its many corny, dated jokes. (David Brinkley, really?) Besides Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Kurt Busiek, and Grant Morrison having drawn inspiration from the novel, it’s a must-read for the true superhero aficionado.


Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake
-Recommended by Luna Lindsey, author of the urban fantasy novel, Emerald City Dreamer

titusgroanThe Gormenghast trilogy received varying levels of attention over the decades, but it is now nearly forgotten among fantasy lovers. First published in 1946, Titus Groan straddles the edge between fantasy and gothic literature, weaving a thin thread of story through a parade of darkly quirky characters in precarious situations amid gorgeous and mysterious architecture described with the kind of playful wordcraft impossible to find anywhere today. I found myself underlining passages which I sometimes go back to reread. Unlike modern fiction, there is no main point of view character, and not even a protagonist, per se. Instead you are offered a cast of deeply flawed caricatures, some you like more (or hate less) than others. Indeed, the central character is the castle, Gormenghast itself, ever looming, almost unaware of the bizarre deplorable events playing out in its hallways. This series manages to be simultaneously clever, funny, and grim, and it deserves your attention. All three titles are still in print, available in a single volume.


The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling
-Recommended by Craig Comer, co-author of The Roads to Baldairn Motte

bonedollParents can be hard on their children. For Tobin this means being transformed into a boy and sheltered in a remote castle haunted by the ghost of her slain twin brother—a brother murdered by their parents at birth. To say she got a rough deal is an understatement, even without the wizards and warlords trying to hunt her down. Published in 2001, this coming-of-age tale is the first in a trilogy that questions identity, sacrifice, and the terrible things done in the name of Good. Flewelling is better known for her Nightrunner books, but the Tamir Triad is a tightly written series full of twists on classic fantasy troupes. It is both familiar and unique, a combination that hooks you in and keeps you guessing the whole way through.


Lord Darcy, the 2002 omnibus edition, by Randall Garrett (edited by Eric Flint)
-Recommended by Wendy Wagner, author of Skinwalkers

Lord_Darcy_1983_editionLord Darcy is a detective living in an alternate history that diverged from ours in that King John never took the throne, and the Angevin Empire covers most of Europe and North America. There is magic, but the emphasis of all the Darcy stories, which are collected in this edition along with the only Randall Garrett Lord Darcy novel, Too Many Magicians, is on solving mysteries. I adore mysteries of all kinds, and the setting is a gem. These stories were originally published in the 60s and 70s, but they still feel fresh and fun.



Another Day, Another Dungeon by Greg Costikyan and The Hero Always Wins by Robert Eaton
-Recommended by M Todd Gallowglas, author of Judge of Dooms

Fantasy is my biggest love in reading. I’ve been reading fantasy for the better part of four decades, and that’s a lot of books. I first fell in love with Tolkien and Lewis, then moved on to Brooks and Eddings. I’ve read widely across the genre, soaking up the good, the bad, and the weird. One of the things I love most is when a book really surprises me by twisting some expectation of something considered a trope of the fantasy genre. To that, I have two suggestions for books that I had a lot of fun reading.

dungeonThe first is Another Day, Another Dungeon by Greg Costikyan. So often in various publishing market’s submission guidelines, I’ve seen something like, “Don’t give us your D&D adventures.” Few people have the talent to handle a dungeon crawl and make it entertaining. ADAD takes the tropes of early dungeon crawling and ratchets them up to a level of satire that is epic beyond epic. Thieves, barbarian, a cleric to the god of beer, fire mages who can’t seem to understand that other people aren’t immune to fire, and an eleven foot pole (because there are things you wouldn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole). This book is pure, silly fun in a story well told of delving into the dungeon, grabbing the treasure, and then trying to keep the treasure. If you’ve ever played an old-fashioned dungeon crawl, find this book, read it, snicker, giggle, and relive the memories of your misspent gaming youth.

Front Cover 225 300The next book is The Hero Always Wins, by Robert Eaton. Don’t let the title fool you. This book is anything but cliche. It’s rare that a book has me blinking at the pages, or at my Kindle, thinking, “What the hell just happened there?” Especially after a certain wedding in a certain George RR Martin book. Robert Eaton plays on our expectations of fantasy tropes we’ve come to rely on, sticks those in our guts, and twists them like a freezing cold knife. The best part, he sets it up carefully, so that in hindsight, everything fits nicely together. Every twist and turn is foreshadowed with a subtle grace that many writers across all genres take years and dozens books to master. The Hero Always Wins is fun, shocking, and nothing short of awesome. The careful reader might be able to pick out the first big plot twist, but I’d put money they wouldn’t be able to figure out the second, third, or fourth.


Lud in the Mist by Hope Mirlees
-Recommended by James P. Blaylock, World Fantasy Award winning author

ludTim Powers gave me a copy of Lud in the Mist back in the 1970s, assuring me that it was quite likely the best fantasy novel ever written. I think he’s correct. (Neil Gaiman has said something of the same thing recently, and so perhaps all of us are in agreement, and there’s no point in going on here. Even so…) Lud in the Mist was published in 1926, and then again as one of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in 1970, this time without permission of the author, who was assumed (conveniently) to have died, although she had not. Upon its original publication, Hope Mirlees was pronounced a genius, and, according to Virginia Woolf, “rather an exquisite apparition.” Mirlees inherited a fortune from her engine-building father and saw it as an opportunity never to have to write again. Too bad for us. She died in 1978, ostensibly never having learned that her novel had been republished. Lud in the Mist evokes Faery and Faeryland in all its dangerous attractions like no other novel, with the exception, perhaps, of MacDonald’s Phantastes.

(Blaylock’s recommendation was originally published here, along with 9 other obscure fantasy novels he recommends. Reprint of this rec done with his permission. –GC)

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(Originally posted at

Review: Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

republicofthievesFor the uninitiated: Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series is like a higher-stakes game of Ocean’s 11, but in a Venetian-style fantasy world. Like all good con stories, the reader is strung along, just trying to figure out how the thieves will manage their impossible plan. A nice bonus for the series is that it can lay claim to actually having all the wit and cleverness that Ocean’s 11 only thinks it has.

The Republic of Thieves is the long-awaited third installment of the escapades of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen: rogues, thieves, and clever wise-ass bastards. It picks up shortly after Red Seas Under Red Skies leaves off, though is enough of a self-encapsulated book that a new reader could pick it up cold and still have a rolicking good time.

So, what’s inside:

  • Twisted clever schemes upon schemes tied up in other schemes
  • Fantastic quotes like “[The never-fail universal apology is:] I was badly misinformed, I deeply regret the error, go fuck yourself with this bag of money.”
  • Biting satire on political systems and the theater, which in many ways are more like each other than not
  • A touchingly awkward and somewhat-broken romance
  • Spooky-weird mind-melding magi

What’s not inside:

  • A heist or con as clever as any of the multilayered ones in the first two books. That’s OK though, since for once the bigger emphasis was on the characters themselves, who actually spent time telling the truth. (To each other, not to their marks. We can’t have that.)
  • As satisfying an aha-moment as in the end of the first two books. But that’s also OK though, because Republic of Thieves opens more questions than it closes – ones that Lynch has been quietly seeding though the first two books.
  • A timeline for when book 4, The Thorn of Emberlain is coming, because even though I just spent a roughly ten-hour block reading this book, I want the next one already. (Sorry, picky reader gripe.)

************HERE THERE BE SPOILERS************

In The Republic of Thieves, we finally meet the mysterious Sabetha. And hot damn, was she a woman worth waiting for. Her relationship with Locke is explored in two layered stories: one of their past (from how they met, to the tormented beginnings of their relationship) and one of their present, where they are reunited as adversaries, pitted against each other in rigging an election. They play a game of wits as they try to out-maneuver each other, both for the election and to seize control of their relationship.

The two narratives of past and present intertwine beautifully. Lynch does a great job of showing the anguish and elation of confused teenage love, and then showing how so much of that mess remains in adults. In this, it feels like a much more emotionally-mature book than The Lies of Locke Lamora or Red Seas Under Red Skies. It’s a good thing too, because if it weren’t for these fantastic character explorations (the pair’s flirting/fighting makes for the best scenes in the book, and Sabetha nearly always plays Locke like a fiddle), it would be a let-down from the con side.

In the current storyline, the bondsmagi, Locke’s sworn enemies, are the only ones who can save him from his poisoning from book 2. They save his life in exchange for his services in rigging their local election. So here comes a slew of electioneering cons, but few of them are more serious or complex than ones we could easily see happening today. Create a mole in the other organization, or have one in yours? Seen it. Be so obnoxious while campaigning for the opposition that you annoy people into joining your side? Seen it. There’s a laundry list of straightforward mini-efforts like this, and one of Lynch’s strengths is writing the incredibly convoluted cons. There is one multi-step con that leads to the election outcome as a draw, which includes a clever money-laundering scheme. But it’s not nearly as complex as we know Lynch can write.

In the flashback storyline, the young Gentleman Bastards crew of thieves is sent to apprentice at a theater troupe. Here too, the cons are fairly simple, although that’s to be expected from young and inexperienced thieves. Straightforward “whoops we killed the evil nobleman and need to not get caught while putting on a play” schemes are comic, but are excusably so. And at the same time, we readers are treated to the entertaining equivalent of Shakespearean theater in Lynch’s world, so there’s plenty else going on.

But since the emphasis of the story is the exploration of Locke and Sabetha’s relationship, with the cons more as a backdrop (for all that they take up the bulk of the book), that is all fine. The Republic of Thieves shows us a more human side of Locke, behind the wise-ass bravado and pluck. As we get to know how truly and honestly he loves Sabetha, to the point where he makes himself more vulnerable to her than we’ve ever seen him before (and this includes him lying near death poisoned, or near death in a barrel of pee, or any number of other near-death experiences), it looks like the richer and more multifaceted character is being set up for something much much bigger in book 4. Whisperings about his ties to the magi in his distant and forgotten past, whether true or not, make this reader eager to get to the next book already.

************END OF SPOILERS************

TL/DR: Another awesome book from an awesome author. Fast paced and snarky, but tones down a bit of the heist cleverness from books 1 and 2 (though there’s still plenty of it) to make room for a more emotional and human story as Locke and Sabetha’s relationship is finally explored.

609 pages

~ Reviewed by Effie Seiberg

Review: In Siege of Daylight by Gregory S. Close

siegeofdaylight-smIn Siege of Daylight is the fantasy debut of author Gregory S. Close.

This book is the epic-est of epic fantasy. Full stop. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a door-stopper like this one, and even longer since I’ve enjoyed one half as much.

Some books work on the strength of their world-building. Others falter when it comes to the world, but pull you through on the strength of the characters alone. Others may have a stirring plot that carries from beginning to end, with a masterful weaving of threads throughout. I am glad to say that Greg Close succeeds on all three accounts, something much easier to say than to do. His characterization is strong, his world-building simply staggering, and the story itself is brilliant. Though at times, due to its immense length, I found myself wondering whether a certain point-of-view was entirely necessary, the end pulled them all together and left me with an understanding that yes, indeed, they are all necessary.

In the past few decades, many fantasy writers seem to be plying their trade with a certain sense of secret shame and/or irony. Perhaps the most famous work in fantasy right now is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (thanks in large part to its HBO adaptation), which is a thorough deconstruction of the fantasy tropes introduced by Tolkien and carried like buckets of water by the following generations, slowly slopping their meaning and wonder over the sides as they labor beneath the weight of the grandfather of fantasy.

Greg Close takes precisely the opposite tack. His story runs directly into the face of the fantasy tropes that we’ve been reading for years, and instead of shrinking from them, he embraces them without irony, incorporating them into his world. Instead of being shackled to the norms of fantasy, he bends them to his own purposes, allowing things to feel simultaneously familiar and new. This story contains many of the things we all expect to see in the most cliche fantasy: a young prince with a destiny, a star-struck backwoods boy, knights and kings, mysterious elves, dwarves beneath the mountains, and more–and yet there is enough new imagination here to make these creaking and aged tropes feel young again.

This is a lofty comparison indeed, but In Siege of Daylight works for many of the same reasons that Star Wars: A New Hope does. At their core they are both the Hero’s Journey, but they each contain enough real wonder, enough heart and strength in storytelling that, as a fantasy fan, it may feel like you’re reading about things that you know like the back of your hand for the very first time.

~Reviewed by Christopher Kellen   ChristopherKellen

Review: The Dragon Bone Flute by M. Todd Gallowglas

(Originally posted at on 2013-04-02)

Full Disclosure: M. Todd Gallowglas is a founding member of the Genre Underground, a friend and colleague. That hasn’t stopped me from reviewing his work before, and it won’t stop me now.

I’ve read several of Mr. Gallowglas’ works by this time, starting with his Tears of Rage sequence and moving on to his Halloween Jack stories and others. However, it wasn’t until I was recently reminded that he’s soon to be releasing a new entry following The Dragon Bone Flute that I remembered that I already had a copy, and it was in my Kindle Cloud Reader, waiting to be read.

As a genuine fan and regular reader of Mr. Gallowglas’ work, I know that he has a sense of humor (Halloween Jack) and a sense of drama (Tears of Rage) but until I picked up this novella (novelette?) I didn’t really quite have a grasp on his sense of wonder. This is a fairy tale with an edge, back like they used to have before Disney sanitized them and robbed them of their real impact. Elzibeth’s tale is short, poignant, and filled to brimming with emotion, music and a true sense of wonder.

Editorially speaking, I found the version of The Dragon Bone Flute that I read to be polished and free of errors. The writing was smooth and unblemished, drawing the reader into the story and not letting go until the conclusion.

I am very happy to give this book a full five stars, with no caveats or qualifications. The Dragon Bone Flute is a beautiful short tale of music, love, fantasy, loss and adventure that deserves a place at the top of any fantasy lover’s reading list.

Reviewed by Christopher Kellen  ChristopherKellen