Tag Archives: Fantasy

Review #92 The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey

When I found this book on sale at a local bookstore, I grabbed it to add to this challenges reading pile, especially as a contrast to the Godmother books written by Elizabeth Scarborough.  Both women have found unique ways of dealing with traditional fairy tale themes in a humourous and most UNtraditional way.  Unlike the last review, this novel actually IS a Harlequin novel since the company owns the Luna Books Division that publishes these fantasy novels… but they are a far cry for the standard format that fills so many bookstore and library shelves.

The Sleeping Beauty falls into the series known as  “A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms” which began with the The Fairy Godmother in 2004. The theory behind the series is an interesting one.  There are 500 kingdoms where Tradition has become a mindless and powerful force that seeks to push characters into the legendary fairy tale roles.  The only defense against utter and total chaos are the Godmothers.  Women who know how to coax the Tradition into certain outcomes through magic, wit or sheer dumb luck.

The Sleeping Beauty deals with a wonderfully funny mix of all the sleeping maiden legends from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to the more obscure Valkyrie Fire Maiden stories.   Rosamund is a princess whose life has fallen apart at 16 thanks to the Tradition killing off her mother.  After a Huntsman chases Rosa into the woods and tries to kill her, The Fairy Godmother of her Kingdom, who has long befriended the family, tries to bend Tradition to her will by disguising herself as someone else and assuming the role of the Evil Stepmother.  After taking the princess into her confidence and revealing the ruse, they decide that the best solution might be to stage a “Sleeping Beauty” event .  The only problem is that TWO handsome men show up in the clearing at the same time.  With the sudden death of the King on the borders, invasion or conquer seems imminent.  How can a young woman and a desperate Fairy Godmother keep their enemies at bay and still satisfy the Tradition’s longing to create a very Happy or Unhappy ending?

Mercedes Lackey knows how to create great characters and this was one of her funniest adventures yet.  Though the subtle and not so subtle humour may not come as naturally to her as writers like Tanya Huff, she does a wonderful and entertaining job of constantly turning the Fairy Tales we all know and love upside down, sideways and inside out.  I found myself laughing out loud so many times during this story that I may have to go back and reread some of the earlier books in the series.  Since each one stands alone, I can just pick and choose which Fairy Tale I’d like to see her mangle… and I can’t wait to hunt down the newest one in this series Beauty and the Werewolf!

The Sleeping Beauty, paperback format, 408 pages, published in 2010  by  Harlequin’s  Luna Books division

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Review #89 Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon

When you really love an author’s work, you sometimes cannot wait to read the rest of a story.  Kings of the North came out less than a year after Oath of Fealty and I simply could not wait for the paperback version to match the copy of Oath of Fealty that graced my bookshelves.  I knew that the entertainment such a wonderful author could provide would be well worth the cost… and I just happened to have a gift card burning a hole in my pocket.

Kings of the North rejoins the characters from Oath of Fealty and continues their adventures.  Kieri Phelan is learning to govern his kingdom wisely, but there is still pressure for him to marry and produce an heir.  Duke Dorrin Verrakaien has proved her loyalty to the Tsaian ruler even though she brought him a magical crown and other regalia for safe keeping that wants her to claim it.  Captain Arcolin has earned the right to look after Kieri’s former company and territory, complete with a title all his own.  Yet evil is moving on all sides of both kingdoms and the perils mount as mysteries deepen and new plot twists are revealed.

Elizabeth Moon knows how to tell a great story.  Her rich gift for writing tangible fantasy is pure joy to read.  The characters sweep you along on their different adventures as if you were right there with them.  Magic is believable, adventure abounds, the path to true love is  fraught with challenges and dragons can be found where you least expect them.

The next book in the series, Echoes of Betrayal, has just come out in hardcover, but the $31.00 price for the Hardcover format made me cringe last weekend at the bookstore.  Instead, I have begun dropping serious hints to my family that this might be the perfect item to pick up for an avid reader as a Christmas present.  I am hoping that subtle works…

Hardcover format, 478 pages, published in 2011 by  Ballantine Books/ Del Ray

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Review #88 Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon

One of the best things about having favourite authors is that a new story from them can be like the greatest dessert… except without all the calories!  When Oath of Fealty came out in 2010 to continue some of the story lines from The Deed of Paksenarrion, I am sure that I was not the only fantasy reader to let out a WHOOP of joy in the middle of a crowded bookstore!

While over a decade had passed, reading the pages then and sliding back into the story was like a reunion with really great friends… you feel as if no time at all has gone by.  Once I reread The Deed of Paksenarrion for this challenge, I had to read the newer two novels, especially since I have been dropping hints of how much I would like the latest release, in hardcover format, as a Christmas present!

Oath of Fealty continues the adventures of Kieri Phelan, former mercenary duke of Tsaia, whom Paksenarrion helped restore to the throne of Lyonya as the long-vanished heir as one of her paladin quests. While he is adapting to the differences of co-ruling a kingdom with his Elven grandmother, instead of a mercenary company, evil is on the move again within his own kingdom and the one he left behind. Prince Mikeli faces a coup of the most sinister nature.  It appears that a powerful family, the Verrakaien, have been hiding a dark secret which will force the prince to turn to the only member of that family he can trust- Kieri’s former Captain Dorrin.  She has long been exiled as an outcast from her tainted bloodline and may hold the key to the problem… along with powers that were long thought to have been wiped out.

Unlike The Deed of Paksenarrion, where a single character’s experience and adventure were the main focus, Oath of Fealty does a masterful job of telling separate stories within the same novel which intertwine, intermingle and ultimately form a beautiful work of art.  Moon’s storytelling ability has grown over the years, honed by her work on other series.  The details, slowly revealed, about much beloved but minor characters from the other trilogy, allow you to appreciate the richness of each of their lives instead of just marveling at the adventures of one.  Instead of feeling jumpy, like the narratives in The Rise of Nine, Oath of Fealty switches smoothly from one aspect of the story to the next.  It leaves you feeling as if you are watching one episode after another of your favourite shows instead of sitting next to a compulsive channel changer.

Paperback format, 463 pages, published in 2010 by  Ballantine Books/ Del Ray

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Review #86 Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

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I knew that I was going to like Ballad.  I hoped I was going to like Ballad.  I was worried about being disappointed by Ballad because it was the second book in a series by Maggie Stiefvater.  Linger, her second book after the brilliant Shiver, left such deep scars of disappointment that it took a book like Insurgent to make me trust that second books could be wonderful.

The first few chapters felt jumpy and a bit disjointed, especially when a third narrative was woven into the story.  I almost put the book away on the bookcase, but then I remembered that I’d felt the same way about Lament at the beginning and I kept reading.

I am so glad that I did!

Ballad is the story of James, the dependable friend and sidekick of Lament’s heroine who stands by her side and helps out, loving her completely even when she falls in love with the Faerie who has been sent to kill her.  By the end of Lament, James comes to understand that Dee will never feel the same way about him that he does about her.

Ballad opens with a strange, unsent text message  as Dee’s narrative, then jumps into the story from James’ point of view.  He is studying at the Thornking-Ash School of Music on a special scholarship, but soon discovers that he is surrounded by more faeries than ever before, especially one who seems almost human.  Will he lose his heart… or lose his life?

Once you get past the slow pace of the first few chapters, the story develops into something so captivating and satisfying that you are loathe to put the book down for mundane things such as eating and sleeping.  The book and its amazing characters race towards one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve enjoyed in a book in recent memory.

KUDOS to author Maggie Stiefvater for this brilliant and enjoyable tale.  I adored how this second book made the series stronger instead of weaker.  The ending was unexpected, touching and terrific!

Paperback format, 388 pages, Copyright 2009, Scholastic Canada Edition (2012)

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Review #83 – #85 The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

There are stories so epic that they change you after the reading of their tales. As a child who grew up with tales of Middle Earth and Narnia, who rolled dice for the first games of Dungeons & Dragons ever released and dreamt of Boldly going when no one had gone before… I have high standards and award 5 stars stingily.  This is one of my 5 star favourites.

The Deed of Paksenarrion is a large “mass market edition” of Elizabeth Moon’s brilliant first fantasy trilogy that gathers up all six hundred thousand words of her original novels in a single volume.  My copy is well loved and growing tattered with each visit, but it remains a truly amazing and original world in which to lose yourself. It reads like the best D&D adventure ever played as it chronicles the adventures of Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter, a tall young girl who runs away from an arranged marriage to a pig farmer in order to learn all she can about becoming a warrior.

Anyone who has ever Larped, RPG’d, rolled dice or dressed up as a character, will find themselves wishing they could be part of this amazing tale, despite the trials and tribulations as the main character and those around her are swept from one adventure to another.  The thrilling saga weaves itself to an astounding and satisfying conclusion with plenty of weaving paths along the way.  You can almost sense Paksenarrion “leveling up” as she gains experience as a mercenary fighter and is eventually claimed by a higher calling.  Elizabeth Moon creates a lush world of kingdoms in peril, mysterious elves, evil plots and tangled loyalties that is both believable and engrossing.  Once you get caught up in the first chapter, you find yourself struggling to put the book down for such mundane things as eating or sleeping.  A few of the stains on my copy are proof that I got so engrossed in this story that the spoon or fork got distracted on its journey to my mouth!

The Deed of Paksenarrion does not shy away from the ugly side of war, the perils of the command chain or the fears that face the helpless.  It does not glorify battle the way some video games seem to either.  Instead, Elizabeth Moon creates a truly outstanding story where battles are marvelous echoes for all of the struggles we humans face in our lives.  The courage and determination, the tenacity and conviction with which some of these vivid characters face their destinies reminds us that humans are capable of great things.  We have only to try instead of running away or taking an easier, darker path.

If you have never read The Deed of Paksenarrion, hunt it down. It MUST be on your book “bucket list”.  I wish I could share your excitement as you read it for the first time.  If you have already discovered how truly unique and amazing this book is, chime in and share what you loved best about it as a comment.

I was thrilled when Moon returned to this timeline in 2010 and created a different set of slightly overlapping adventures that take place after the events in The Deed of Paksenarrion.  It gives me more things to read and review before the end of the year and this challenge!

The Deed of Paksenarrion Paperback format, 1024 pages, published in 1992 by BAEN Fantasy

Originally published as Sheepfarmer’s Daughter ©1988, Divided Allegiance ©1988 and Oath of Gold ©1989

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Review #80 The Alton Gift by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross

While Traitor’s Sun could have wrapped up the Darkover saga after Marion’s health began to decline, it is obvious from the ideas and partial tales that she left behind, her mind was still weaving plot twists and challenges for her favourite characters.  Luckily, her talented friend and protégée, Deborah J. Ross was able to gather the pieces that Bradley had left unfinished and deftly weave them together into the fabulous adventure found in these pages.

The Alton Gift is perhaps one of the most introspective of all the Darkover novels.  While Marion never shied away from difficult topics or taboos, The Alton Gift takes a long hard look at the ethics necessary to deal with the power of “forced telepathic contact” that lies behind the Alton family talent.

Marion Zimmer Bradley long admitted that the character of Lew Alton was her favourite and this novel finally allows the beloved character to lay many of his demons to rest in the twilight of his life.  Deborah J. Ross was no doubt working with Bradley fairly closely until her death in September of 1999 and was intimately aware of how she felt at the end of her life, yet that sense of closure is easily felt by any reader picking up The Alton Gift.  There is a sense of acceptance of self and accounting for one’s actions that makes this novel the most poignant of all the Darkover novels.  While the torch has been successfully passed to the capable hands and heart of Deborah J. Ross, with possible stories about the Modern Darkover still forthcoming, this book remains the final Darkover novel in my mind.  Marguerida and Mikhail’s son, Domenic grows into his own manhood throughout the challenges and twists of this tale as Lew Alton’s life settles finally into one of peace.  There remains bits and pieces of the story for readers to imagine, but the saga itself is drawn to a poignant and satisfying close.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Ross to bring this story to a close and prepare it for publication without her beloved friend and mentor, but I commend her for providing readers with this wonderful gift almost a decade after Bradley’s death.  Many of us had wished for one more visit to this wonderful world.  Rereading all of the books this summer reminded me of what classics they truly are.

Paperback format, 528 pages, published in 2007 by DAW Books.

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Review #79 Traitor’s Sun by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Despite devouring the books themselves in less than 5 days, it has taken me ages to sit down and write the reviews to the last 2 Darkover novels due to some chaos in our family’s life.  During the past month, I may have struggled to write up my reviews, but I never stopped reading books for my challenge.  I think the reading kept me sane!

Traitor’s Sun picks up the story of Marguerida Alton and her husband, Mikhail some fifteen years after the adventures chronicled in  Exile’s Song.  Their life appears to be more settled now that they have children and a life as seconds-in-command to the aging Regis Hastur, but things in the Terran Federation are crumbling from within. Darkover may soon have to protect itself from desperate and ambitious Federation employees loyal to the powers off world rather than the planet they are stationed on.  When the legendary Regent, Regis, dies amid this chaos, it provides the perfect opportunity for some to ignore the rules that they have always followed.  Will Margeurida and Mikhail be able to save their planet with only their telepathic Laran powers?

These last Darkover novels remain some of the best examples of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s writing talents.  Traitor’s Sun not only showcases the fullness of her storytelling abilities, it allows the saga of a much beloved world finally come into its own.

Paperback format, 534 pages, published in 1998 by DAW Books.

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Review #78 The Shadow Matrix by Marion Zimmer Bradley

In Exile’s Song, Margaret Alton returned to the world of her birth, found the love of her life, discovered her hereditary psychic powers knows as laran, defeated a legendary Keeper  and brought  a strange Shadow Matrix back from her adventures in the overworld… permanently bonded into the flesh of her hand.

The Shadow Matrix continues the adventures of Lew Alton’s headstrong daughter and her efforts to find her place in Darkovan society.  Her Federation education and independence had already caused some conservative members of the Comyn council to regard her with distrust, but the fact that she and the Heir to Regis Hastur have fallen in love makes them a very powerful and politically dangerous combination to boot.  Margaret is sent off to learn how to control her powers and Mikhail Lanart-Hastur is sent to examine the unstable, unpredictable offspring of the traditional ruling family.  Both of them end up embroiled in an adventure that will not only change their lives, but potentially change the balance of Power on Darkover forever. Will this put Darkover on an even footing with the Terran Empire?  Will they ever be able to be together or will the other powerful families of Darkover keep them apart?

The Shadow Matrix was published a year after Exile’s Song  and a year before Traitor’s Sun.  I suspect that Bradley wrote these in sequence in the gap of time between Sharra’s Exile and Exile’s Song (along with her other novels and the huge amount of editing that she did for anthologies etc.) but that these books became a priority for her as her health began to decline.  There is a sense of determination in the books that seep through the main characters as they try to find the best destiny for their planet.  I almost wonder if Bradley stopped thinking of each story as an adventure on its own and began to plan out how she would lay out the next step in Darkover’s future for readers to enjoy.

Regardless of how or why these last novels about Darkover came about, they are perhaps the best examples of her maturity as a writer, her talent as a storyteller and her unique ability to weave in detail  and depth without weighing a book down.  I had forgotten just how wonderful these last great books were until I devoured them again in sequence, savouring over 2,000 pages in less than 5 days during a very hectic week.

Paperback format, 556 pages, published in 1997 by DAW Books.

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Review #77 Exile’s Song by Marion Zimmer Bradley

After the Sharra Rebellion cost him a hand and the trust of many of the ruling people of Darkover, Lew Alton left his home planet behind.  His return to Darkover, and the other events that take place in Sharra’s Exile, eventually lead Lew to being appointed to the Terran Imperial Senate as his planet’s representative, leaving Darkover behind yet again… this time with his wife Dio and the young daughter he’s only just begun to know.

Exile’s Song begins with Margaret Alton’s return to Darkover as an adult and an assistant to a renowned musicologist from the Federation University planet, sent to study local music.  Her red hair and fluency in the Darkover language make her an asset to her beloved professor, but also mark her as one of the Comyn, the Laran talented ruling families of Darkover that she knows nothing about.  After the sudden death of her mentor, Margaret Alton find herself embroiled in a web of intrigue and local politic, inheritance and latent psychic abilities that could not only change her entire future, it might also cost her her life!

Exile’s Song is a fascinating look at the culture of Darkover from someone belongs to the world but is able to see it from an outsider’s point of view.  As an independent, educated, intelligent female, Margaret Alton is dismayed and shocked by some of the aspects of this patriarchal society.  She has been left in the dark about much of her heritage, so an element of mystery/ discovery carries the story along as she tries to sort out the pieces of her destiny. While the “torn between two cultures” has always been a major theme in Bradley’s work and the Darkover novels especially, this book feels far more intimate and poignant than the usual 3rd person narrative.  Perhaps it is just the passion and detail with which Bradley returns to her favourite planet as she creates a new era , one for which she’d laid the groundwork over a decade before.

Exile’s Song was written a full 15 years after Sharra’s Exile and marks Bradley’s epic return to the beloved world that she created.  It sets in motion characters and events that will spread over several other books (one of which was finished posthumously by Deborah J. Ross) that form the closing chapters in the official Darkover timeline.  Like other famous and much loved sagas (Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune etc.) there will be fan fiction and perhaps even other stories yet to come.  But things change in a world once the creator of it passes on.  Exile’s Song has a wonderful ending that could allow it to stand on its own, but I am glad Marion continued with their adventures up until her death(and beyond).

Paperback format, 493 pages, published in 1996 by DAW Books.

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Review #76 Sharra’s Exile by Marion Zimmer Bradley

This was a summer for rediscovering and rereading the Darkover books in my collection.  Thanks to the Internet, I was able to read a great plot summary for The Heritage of Hastur, one of the novels still missing from my collection despite my best attempts to track down a used copy at a reasonable price.  I wanted to remind myself of the basic plot before I moved on to Sharra’s Exile.

Sharra’s Exile covers a pivotal time in the history of Darkover and the planet’s relationship with the Terran Empire.  The books seems to stand as a bridge between Bradley’s earlier Darkover novels, each written as shorter stories about a world that she loved, and the later, thicker novels that went into much more detail about the vast world and intricate society that she’d created. This novel begins the “modern” era of Darkover.  The planet is no longer the isolated, feudal world that grew from the descendants of a lost Terran Colony.  Sharra’s Exile is about a unique world trying to find a way to belong to something bigger than itself, without losing its own identity.  Various players on both sides of the issue plot for Power above all.  When a legendary force resurfaces from an ancient Matrix Weapon, will it be used against the Terrans to drive them out or will it shake apart the very world from which it was born?

Sharra’s Exile is a gripping multiple-narrative book that is handled exceptionally well.  I often find books that jump around to different character’s perspective confusing at best, but somehow Bradley’s deft touch lets the different narratives overlap at times and offer more than one point of view about certain key events.  This keeps the reader as more of a neutral observer with excellent box seats to an epic adventure rather than being caught up in only one person’s point of view… and it works exceedingly well with such a complex tale.

The additional details about Regis Hastur in the new Hastur Lord that I read earlier in the challenge, made reading this older novel far more rewarding this time.  I cannot wait to reread more about Regis Hastur, the Altons and how these strong-willed people grow to shape a planet’s destiny!

Paperback format, 365 pages, published in 1981 by DAW Books.

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