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February 11, 2020

Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf is one of the most challenging books I’ve read in a long time. It’s also one of the most fascinating.
 

Let’s start with the structure. The story is mostly told in first-person by Tracker, a bounty hunter who has “a nose” (the ability to track by scent), “an eye” (a wolf eye in place of one of his human eyes), and “a mouth” (a habit of saying caustic things). But Tracker isn’t relating his tales directly to the reader. He’s being interrogated by an...

December 13, 2019

World Without End is a worthy follow-up to Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett’s epic tale of medieval cathedral building.
 

World Without End isn’t strictly a sequel, though; the novel still takes place in Kingsbridge, a fictional English city, but the story begins in 1327, 150 years after Pillars of the Earth leaves off. The main characters from the first book—particularly Jack Jackson, Lady Aliena, and Prior Philip—are remembered, and a few of the new characters are even descended from...

November 11, 2019

Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld is essentially a Blues Brothers version of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). It’s pretty awesome.
 

The story is set in a fantasy world teeming with a monster manual’s worth of beasties. Mercenary adventurers chase glory by hunting these creatures, and the most-famous group of exterminators was Saga—“was” being the operative word. Two decades after going their separates ways, the groups’ members are old, fat, drunk, married, etc. But when the former leader’s...

October 26, 2019

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files are some of the fastest-paced books I’ve read. Set in modern-day Chicago, the intensity of these fantasy-noir novels ramps up almost immediately and barely leaves you time to catch your breath as the story hurtles forward. Sometimes they’re a little too fast; I often feel a bit exhausted after finishing one. So when I picked up The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first book in his new Cinder Spires series, I wondered if that frenetic speed would carry over.
 

It...

October 8, 2019

Would I have liked Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass as a child? Probably. I certainly did as an adult.
 

This young-adult, modern fantasy—the first in Pullman’s His Dark Materials series—stars a scrappy girl named Lyra who grew up as an orphan looked after by the staff of a fictional college in Oxford, England. But when her friend Roger is kidnapped by a mysterious group known as the Gobblers, she sets out to save him, a journey that takes her to the Arctic and beyond.
 

It’s a fun ta...

September 14, 2019

I liked Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay’s take on 8th Century China, but it might be the first historical fantasy I’ve read that felt too realistic.
 

The magic in Under Heaven (shamans, ghosts, etc.) only exists on the margins, yet that isn’t what threw me off. And I respect how much research Kay clearly did on the Tang Dynasty, even though he occasionally delivers his version of the details as bald info-dumps. Mostly, I just wish the protagonist’s decisions and actions mattered more.
 

I...

July 13, 2019

Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem is the type of epic science-fiction novel that’s carried more by its science than its fiction. I don’t mean that uncharitably. The fiction in The Three-Body Problem is interesting—I just found it hard to get into.
 

The story starts during the mass madness of China’s Cultural Revolution. We see one faction of Red Guards using the young soldier of another faction for target practice, and a professor being sentenced to die because he taught “reactionary”...

May 9, 2019

Fool’s Fate, the final book in Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man Trilogy, ends by being kinder to its protagonist than I expected.
 

The preceding Farseer Trilogy battered Fitz in body and spirit, scarring him with everything from a grievous arrow wound to losing his first love. Fool’s Errand, the first book in the Tawny Man Trilogy, wasn’t much easier on him when it deprived him of a beloved companion. And The Golden Fool saw him take another nearly fatal injury.
 

But in the same book, fellow mag...

April 3, 2019

After finishing Robin Hobb’s Golden Fool, my general reaction was that, in the best way possible, I’d been here before.
 

The second book in Hobb’s Tawny Man trilogy bears more than a passing resemblance to Royal Assassin, the second book in her Farseer trilogy. In each, Fitz juggles multiple responsibilities while trying to face down a variety of potential threats. (In Golden Fool, the threats take the form of Piebald radicals from the previous book, Outislanders who preyed upon the Si...

March 15, 2019

Reading some authors (Jim Butcher, for example) is like downing a shot: the experience is fast and fiery, with no time to catch your breath before you’re done. Reading other authors is like sipping something mellower and savoring the flavor. Robin Hobb is my favorite vintage for this.
 

I loved her Farseer Trilogy, but I’d been delaying starting her next one because I knew how fully it would suck me in. Waiting didn’t lessen its hold: I read most of Fool’s Errand, the 670-page opening t...

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I write mostly speculative fiction. Usually fantasy, with historical elements mixed in. Sometimes there's a bit of mystery too, or (shhh!) even a little romance.

 

But it's weird—it's always weird. Consider yourself warned.

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