Monthly Archives: July 2012

Review #56 The Heirs of Hammerfell by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Written in 1989, The Heirs of Hammerfell was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s return to Darkover’s Hundred Kingdom era when the Domains on the planet of the red sun lay splintered into many feudal kingdoms.

Bradley had a certain fascination for characters who exchanged lives, identities or were mistaken for others.  Many of her most beloved characters led dual lives, were mistaken for others, exchanged places with someone from another culture or felt torn between two worlds.  The Heirs of Hammerfell is no exception to this plot formula.   It chronicles the saga of two twins born to an aging lord in the midst of a violent feud between two northern kingdoms.  Only one can inherit the title of Lord of Hammerfell, but when a vicious attack destroys the keep, the twins are separated and each grows up presuming the other dead.  Alastair, the eldest son and true heir to Hammerfell grows up in Thendara with his mother in relative comfort while the younger twin, Conn, grows up in hiding with the trusted Hammerfell servant who saved him that fateful night.

As the rest of the novel unfolds, Bradley masterfully guides readers through amazing plot twists and differing points of view as each twin wrestles with the discovery that the other is alive.  Add in the complexity of a love triangle and star-crossed lovers for an adventure from start to finish.  The Heirs of Hammerfell certainly adds insight into a time period in the planet’s history long before rediscovery by the Terran Empire, but like most of Bradley’s Darkover tales, the story stands on its own as a wonderful read.

Paperback format, 557 pages, published in 2001 by DAW Books.

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Review #55 High Noon by Nora Roberts

Romance is the last thing that Police Lieutenant  and Hostage Negotiator Phoebe MacNamara has on her mind when she talks a man off a rooftop one Saint Patrick’s Day, but the man’s former boss, Duncan Swift soon holds a bigger place in her life than she is willing to admit.  Will he understand the unique demands of her career and complicated family life  or is she more haunted by the events of her own past that she is willing to admit?

Revealing anything more than a teaser about the complex plot of High Noon would deny another reader the fun summer escape this novel provided for me.  As usual, Roberts’ captivating characters are what make the book so enjoyable.  This story leaned slightly more towards the suspense and violence that she became so famous for as J.D.Robb, but it was a fun, quick read with a likable ending. This was not as memorable as some of her other books or series, but when I saw it on the shelf at the library, it quickly found its way into my summer reading pile.  It made a nice interruption to the seesaw of Dark-Hunter and Darkover novels.  One of the things that I enjoy most about my favourite authors is that they seldom fail to deliver the entertainment, diversion and enjoyment I am expecting. I’m not sure how I missed reading High Noon before now, but I am glad it was part of my Cannonball IV challenge!

Hardcover format, 467 pages, published in 2007 by DAW Books.

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Review #54 Night Play by Sherrilyn Kenyon

The sign of a good series or author is that they can totally distract you from the course you’d plotted out or the household chores you’d planned to do.  I’d been meaning to go back and forth between the Darkover novels and the Dark-Hunter series, but a trip to Chapters uncovered one of the earlier Kenyon novels I’d been hunting for, so of course it needed to be devoured immediately.

Night Play is a fun, if somewhat predictable romp in Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter world.  It falls a little closer to the formulaic twists of a standard romance novel except with paranormal characters.  What was intriguing was the fact that the heroine has dealt with the body image issues that our modern media seem to exacerbate and that the Were-Hunter wolf Vane loves her just the way she is.

This novel added more details to fit into the growing tapestry of the Dark-Hunter world and was a thoroughly enjoyable read.  For the first time, however, the story felt a bit “churned out” instead of lovingly crafted… especially coming right after reading a later novel so beautifully crafted.  Night Play doesn’t deal with any heavy issues and is a fun, erotic read.  If you like your romance novels spicy, edgy and unusual, then this is a perfect choice.

Paperback format, 362 pages, published in 2004 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #53 Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon

If Dance with the Devil was one of my favourite books by New York Times Best-selling author Sherrilyn Kenyon, Acheron was the hardest of her stories to read so far.  It wasn’t the length of the novel, but rather how deeply the main character suffered that caused me to take little breaks while reading this book.

Readers of the series know Acheron as the leader of the Dark-Hunters and the first one created as such by the Goddess Artemis.  This powerful novel, however, finally reveals the suffering, agony and humiliation that he endured as a human, before becoming the cornerstone character of her novels.

I’d known from reading her biography that Kenyon had endured some hard times in her life. Until I read the author’s note at the beginning of the book, I had no idea that she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse herself.

That someone could not only rise above such horror to triumph as she has but also then revisit some of the darkest moments in her memory, as she must have to write some of the scenes in this novel, is a true testament to her courage and talents as a writer.  I hope it was healing for her.  It was certainly empowering to see how this powerful character was able to triumph over their tragic situation and work towards healing.

Acheron is a brilliant novel but very descriptive and difficult to read in place.  It makes your heart ache before it can soar.  If you love this series, then it is a must read for all of the in-depth, key information… but it may move you to tears before you get to the funny parts and the sarcasm Kenyon is so famous for.

Paperback format, 800 pages, published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #52 Dance with the Devil by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Back I swing from Darkover novels to Dark-Hunter tales.  I am feeling a bit obsessive right now as the pendulum swings back and forth madly, but it is actually very easy to keep both series straight in my head as I plow my way through them.  For me, this is the true joy of being a natural speed reader. If only I could write my reviews as fast!

Dance with the Devil deals with a surly, unsavory, almost dislikable character from the previous novel named Zarek.  Kenyon was able to plant just enough tiny glimpses of personality under all the gruffness and rudeness that I found myself wondering how on earth anyone could fall in love with this character she’d created.

Always trust a brilliant author.

This paranormal romance starts out in a manner you’d hardly expect.  Astrid is an immortal who has been sent down to judge Zarek in order to decide if he should be executed or not.  Her sight has been taken away so that she is not influenced by the outer appearance of the apparently uncontrollable Dark-Hunter Zarek that she’s been sent to judge. This is a good thing because none of Kenyon’s characters are ever ugly!

Dance with the Devil has ended up being one of my favourite Kenyon romance novels thus far.  The sarcasm was at its most honed, the adventure was thrilling, the characters had other sides to them that made it a fascinating read and the redemption aspect was uplifting in a world where the headlines so often carry only the darkest of headlines.

Dance with the Devil is well worthy of being on anyone’s summer reading list!

Paperback format, 343 pages, published in 2003 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #51 Two to Conquer by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The next novel in my Darkover reading frenzy brought me to the classic Two to Conquer.  Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote most of her Darkover novels as stories unto themselves, even when they contained familiar characters, families or themes from other novels.  Since they weren’t written in the chronological order of the planet’s history, there are occasionally some charming discrepancies or irregularities, but it never takes away from the brilliant storytelling and vivid characters. That is probably why I have returned to her stories over and over again in my lifetime. Bradley tells a great story.

Two to Conquer is set near the end of the Ages of Chaos when Darkover is still very much a feudal planet full of plots and power struggles between the major families.  In a unique twist on the Prince and Pauper theme, Bradley writes about Bard di Asturian, outlaw and warrior with a huge chip on his shoulder, and the Terran Paul Harrell who just happens to be his exact genetic duplicate.  When Paul is wrenched through time and space to a planet he’s never heard of and a seemingly backward culture, how will he adjust?  Will this adventure ultimately reveal what makes them unique individuals instead of genetic copies of each other? Can two identical men overflowing with ambition and aggression work together to conquer a world or will they turn on each other?

It is well worth reading this science-fiction classic to discover how Bradley answers those questions as her brilliant story unfolds.  I love how Two to Conquer takes a blunt look at some difficult issues and yet resolves them with such hope and compassion.  No wonder this book has had a special place on my bookshelves for over 30 years!

Paperback format, 335 pages, published in 1980 by DAW Books.

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Review #50 Night Embrace by Sherrilyn Kenyon

From Darkover back to Dark-Hunter novels again.  Night Embrace is the 3rd book in Kenyon’s vast Dark-Hunter series that I discovered after reading her YA series the Chronicles of Nick.  These paranormal romances certainly broke the mold when they first came out at the beginning of this century (that sounds so cool to say!) and Night Embrace is no exception.  Like the first two novels, this pits a paranormally endowed character with a mere mortal so that adventure, mayhem, magic and most of all passion can ensue.  What makes Kenyon’s books so enjoyable is that the characters are ones that the readers come to care deeply about as all their flaws and strengths are revealed.

Talon is a Celtic warrior who has been protecting humanity from things that go bump in the night for centuries, but when a God-driven runaway Mardi Gras float runs him over, the human woman he was trying to save brings him home to nurse him back to health.  Sunshine Runningwolf is unaware of what she’s let into her house and her life.  Her artsy, carefree way of life and open heart seems to offer Talon the perfect one-night stand opportunity as he heals… but will a single taste of her leave him wanting more than he’d bargained for?

The celtic theme woven through this tale made it interesting and engaging without feeling like I was being thumped over the head with historic details that got in the way of the story.  As an author, illustrator and creative soul myself, I could totally relate to the things that kept distracting Sunshine or the clutter that crept in.  All in all, Night Embrace was a wonderful read and it was fun to learn the unfolding details of the Dark-Hunter world that relate back to the Chronicles of Nick.  What a complex world of characters Sherrilyn Kenyon has created!

Paperback format, 408 pages, published in 2003 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #49 The Fall of Neskaya by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross

The Fall of Neskaya is Book One of the Clingfire Trilogy that Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote with the help of Deborah J. Ross before her death in 1999.  It is set during an era of conflict and strife when the world of Darkover has been fractured into the Hundred Kingdoms. Many of them are struggling to hold their own against warring neighbours.  Amid this backdrop of pain and conflict, Bradley and Ross weave the tale of two star-crossed lovers who must endure incredible trials and tribulations on their own before they can be together.  It also explores the incredible power and destructive potential of Clingfire and other Laran manufactured weapons, the horrors of which eventually lead to the formation of the famous Darkover Compact… where all battles must be solved one sword to another at close range.

The ban on distance weapons that made Darkover novels so unique, especially in the later part of the planet’s chronology, becomes far easier to understand as the novel progresses. The deft touches of these two talented writers explore what happens when psionic produced “weapons of mass destruction” are used by a power-seeking tyrant and the forces that hope to oppose him.  With so much loss of life and land… can any side truly say that their actions were the more just?  After reading this first novel of the trilogy, it is easy to see why the Compact was established and the Darkover culture grew up to firmly believe that anyone seeking to kill another must risk an equal share in being hurt or killed themselves.

Perhaps it was watching the nightly news and scenes of the incredible destruction and deaths occurring in Syria, while the world seems to stand by and watch, that made reading this novel more powerful to me than I expected.  The characters are as rich and believable as one expects from Bradley, yet perhaps a bit softer in places as Ross helped her mentor bring these last few tales about her incredible world to life.  I discovered this paperback novel in the shed while cleaning a few years ago.  I must have picked it up to read and then lost it, so it went onto my bookcase and got buried behind the other Bs.  After reading Hastur Lord, the final novel that Ross created with Bradley that was recently released, I discovered this one placed in sequence with my other Darkover novels.  I tried to look for the other 2 in the trilogy at a bookstore in Fredericton this weekend, only to discover that the local Chapters store did not stock a SINGLE book by this prolific and enduring author!  Yikes!  I will check our local library and terrific used bookstore here in town before I get too much farther into the chronology of Darkover and forget key details.

Paperback format, 557 pages, published in 2001 by DAW Books.

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Review #48 Hawkmistress by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Hawkmistress was published a full decade after Darkover Landfall and returns readers to Bradley’s unique world during a time in its feudal past.  The population is well established and has spread around the habitable parts of the planet.  The early psychic powers experienced by the survivors stranded on Darkover have been bred and refined, through elaborate breeding programs, often with tragic results (StormQueen 1978).

Romilly MacAran, the daughter of a powerful feudal lord, has been blessed with a long pedigree and noble birthright.  She is the only child to inherit the MacAran Laran, the psychic gift of being able to bond with hawks and horses.  Sadly, this patriarchal society does not allow most women to inherit property or have much say in their destinies, especially not about who they can marry.  When Romilly’s father promises her hand in marriage to an older man who has already buried three wives and take away the hawk that she trained herself, she risks the disproval of society to escape, leaving everything she knows behind.  Disguised as a boy, she meets up with a band of outlaws loyal to the exiled king and joins their ranks as her adventure and destiny truly begin.

Set during the turbulent Age of Chaos and the evolution into Darkover’s Hundred Kingdoms, Hawkmistress is a classic that still stands the test of time thanks to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s incredibly engaging main character.  This young woman refuses to have others decide her life for her and sets out to find a place where she can not only belong but be treated as an equal.  The story explores, as many Darkover books do, the effects of gender stereotyping, prejudice and true independence.  It was empowering to read as a teenager and totally delightful to read again as part of my nostalgia foray into the works of a truly amazing Sci-Fi writer.

Paperback format, 336 pages, published in 1982 by DAW Books.

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Review #47 Darkover Landfall by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The beauty of being surrounded by lots of books, especially ones that you love, is that when a newer book in a series prompts you to go exploring, everything you need is right at hand.  While it was sad to read Hastur Lord, knowing that it had been Bradley’s last book, it was fun to have it remind me of stories and twists from her Darkover collection that I barely remembered.  When that happens, I tend to embark on massive rereading binges in between my other reading material.  Hastur Lord set off the avalanche that will no doubt weave through my summer and well beyond the Cannonball Read #4 challenge.

Darkover Landfall was not the first book about this legendary world that Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote, but it is the first one in the series if you read it chronologically to the planet.  My copy is an old and treasured part of my collection with its tiny 6 to 8 point type and densely packed pages.  We waste a lot of paper and bookshelf space nowadays as less words get printed in much larger type on the pages to make them look more impressive. No wonder book costs have jumped!

Darkover Landfall begins with the crash of a Terran vessel on an unknown planet after being thrown off course during a severe storm.  While the ship and its colonists were already on their way to settle another world, it was one that had already been carefully explored, terraformed and planned out by crew in anticipation of their arrival.  Stranded on a different, uncharted and unexplored world, the survivors cope with all of the wonders and dangers that this new world holds, not knowing that a complex and incredible civilization will spring from their small numbers to establish a foothold on this planet with a purple sky and red sun.

What a delight to reread this classic Science-Fiction tale.  I am missing StormQueen from my collection, having lent it out to someone who never returned my copy, so I will have to move on to Hawkmistress next…

Paperback format, 160 pages, published in 1972 by DAW Books.  (Cover price 95 cents)

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