And now for Part 2 of the omnibus thumbnail reviews of recently-read sff.
The Temple and the Crown - Katherine Kurtz & Deborah Turner Harris
Kurtz and Harris write wonderful alternate history occult fantasies, drawing to some degree on Templar mythology with (in the Adept series) a large splash of Blavatsky et al. The is actually the second of two alternate history books they’ve written in which survivors of the discredited Templar Order place their abilities in battle, both mundane and arcane, at the service of Robert the Bruce in his struggle to free Scotland. I’ve not read the first book, but this one was lots of good fun, assuming you enjoy reading about Templar occultists fighting for the Scottish throne against the villainous Sassenach.
Swordspoint - Ellen Kushner
I am kicking myself for only now having read my first book by Ellen Kushner. Swordfights, politics, intrigues, long-lost heirs to ancient noble houses, and wonderfully gay heroes – good reading and wildly entertaining.
Crossroads - Mercedes Lackey
The Valdemar Companion
I have discussed my weakness for Mercedes Lackey’s books in other entries. Crossroads is another Valdemar anthology, and includes stories written by a number of authors including Judith Tarr, Tanya Huff and Lackey herself. Much fun. The Valdemar Companion is of course a reference work for those whose memories can’t keep track of all of the characters of all of the Velgarth stories, but it also has some fun articles and new material written by Lackey herself. Definitely for fen.
Sanctuary is the third book in Lackey’s new series about dragon-riding pseudo-Egyptians, and it continues the series well. The evil magicians are now in control of both Upper and Lower Egypt, er, the lands of Tia and Alta, and the remaining dragon riders, er, Jousters, of both countries are hiding out in the desert protected by Bedouins, er, whatever she’s calling them instead. We’re all set up for the fourth and final book of the series, in which young Kiron, the dragon-boy with a Great Destiny, leads his valiant army of free dragon-riders to the rescue and restores truth, justice and goodness to the Two Lands. And I’ll just lap it up once it’s out in paperback. ;-)
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L’Engle
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
I confess, I had never read Madeleine L’Engle’s oft-recommended Time quartet until this year. Now I’ve read the first three books and have been properly charmed by her writing, which, while somewhat quaint and perhaps just a shade too overtly religious at times (much like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, which one loves, if one does, perhaps as much because of as in spite of these things), are indeed delightful. I fully intend to read at least the rest of the Murray-O’Keefe (Kairos) books, which continue the adventures of the family from Wrinkle in Time and I may try the Austin (Chronos) books as well, although since they are generally described as being more realistic than the Kairos books, I may not enjoy them as much.
The Dragon Prince Trilogy - Melanie Rawn
The Star Scroll
I read Rawn’s two interlocking trilogies, The Dragon Prince and Dragon Star, when they were first written back in the late 80s and early 90s, so these two books go in the list of re-reads. I deeply enjoyed both trilogies, at least in part because of the complicated and interwoven political manoeuvrings of both secular and esoteric power bases. Like many others, I regret that real-life difficulties have so far prevented her from completing her Exiles trilogy, and continue to hope that someday The Captal’s Tower will appear. In the meantime, I can always re-read the Dragon trilogies again.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J K Rowling
Well, I’m ready for the final book now. I surely hope that Rowling has a finale that’s big enough and strong enough to carry the weight of all these years of building expectations. But whatever happens to Harry, Snape has to be one of the great literary love to hate, hate to love characters.
The Last Enchantment - Mary Stewart
The Wicked Day
More re-reads! I was going to wait until I had the full set in hand again, but there I was one afternoon, really craving some good old Arthurian historical fantasy, and there the two books were, and I said to myself, “I know what’s in The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, I can re-read them separately once I pick them up.” So I read what I had to hand, and it was indeed fun to relive some of the earlier books of the popular Arthurian lit explosion of the 20th century.
The King’s Peace - Jo Walton
This is the first volume of Walton’s alternate history based on the Arthurian legend, and it looks to be the beginning of a worthy addition to the genre. I am, of course, delighted with the fact that the tale is set in a world where there is a good deal of gender equity and that the POV character (who appears to be fulfilling the Lancelot/Bedwyr function, at least so far) is a woman. A good historical fantasy read in general, and a treat for fans of the Arthurian material.
Empire of Bones - Liz Williams
Another new author (to me, anyway) and another novel I enjoyed very much. An original take on the classic star-seeding idea, with a well-realised alien culture, a non-Anglo protagonist and earth-based setting, and (minor but enjoyable to me) an honest look at issues of teleporter technology. I also liked the fact that the story line dealt with issues of disability and medical care. Worth reading.
Consider Her Ways and Others - John Wyndham
Another of my classic re-reads. Some thought-provoking stories, including the dystopic title story. I’ve always had problems with “Consider her Ways,” and the years haven’t changed that. The analysis of the role of romantic love in the social control of women remains solid after all these years, but Wyndham’s insectoid vision of sexless worker drones and brainless mothers in an all-female future makes for a terrifying alternative. I don’t believe that Wyndham lacked the ability to imagine a third alternative, so I must assume that this is some kind of cautionary tale to feminists, to be careful not to (in a deliberately maternalist image) throw out the baby with the bathwater.