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Tag Archive: fantasy novels


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a fantasy novella that reads like a classic Louis L’Amour Western, full of legend and lore, a book for readers that enjoy every word by an author who really knows how to pen sweeping, artful prose.  And don’t let the fact that it comes at the end of a series stop you from giving it a try.  It’s Peter V. Brett’s Barren, part of his Demon Cycle series, just released by Harper Voyager.  It’s a rather epic story of the past catching up to the present for Selia, a woman warrior in her late sixties.  She’s the leader of a community with its own religion and a dialect that could double for the speech of colonists from the Firefly ‘verse.  It’s also a community that has a variety of demon attacks it must fend off each nightfall.  And while this warrior wrestles with managing the village problems and her own personal relationships, the attacks are only getting worse.

Brett, known for writing his first fantasy novel on his telephone during commutes on the subway, writes his world of the village of Tibbet’s Brook quite eloquently.  Unlike most fiction these days, every sentence is not simply about rushing the reader to the gotcha at story’s end.  Brett fully immerses the reader in this unfamiliar place, with struggles that parallel those of our own world in any decade.  At times Barren feels as classic and on-point as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, with a bit of the unexpected a la Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.  The fear in the story isn’t some uncertain future or neighboring army, but both themes are part of the story–the fear comes from the trust and prejudices of those that surround Selia.  The Western feel comes from the relationships of Brett’s characters with an interconnected past, a close-knit group of recently united but competitive chieftains akin to the culture in the World of Warcraft realm.  In this regard you could drop the fantastical elements and swap spears for rifles and these characters, and this story would hold up as a L’Amour novel (Selia is a grown-up Echo Sackett from Ride the River).

Told from two stages of Selia’s life, we meet the young woman learning from her mother and father, the tribal leader, and then as the older woman who has taken on her father’s role.   She gains and loses her most significant personal relationships along the way with only the support of those who are closest to her.  She’s an inspiring, strong heroine lead, respected by many in Tibbet’s Brook, the kind of leader who is first into the battle–she gets some nicely choregraphed action scenes to prove her physical prowess.  For the short page count there are a surprising number of good supporting characters.  If Brett’s other stories include such fascinating female leads, then this would be a series for fans of the fantasy genre to reach out for.

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Warcraft clip

Review by C.J. Bunce

If your only exposure to Orcs is in the J.R.R. Tolkien Middle-earth stories, be prepared for a different look at this fantasy species in Christie Golden’s new novel Warcraft: Durotan, prequel to the upcoming Legendary Pictures Warcraft movie.  We’ve reviewed many franchise tie-in novels over the years here at borg.com and plenty of prequels.  Warcraft: Durotan is a surprisingly original novel, giving us a unique, sympathetic look at what you may otherwise only know as brainless, barbarian fantasy monsters.

Warcraft is of course the film adaptation of the megahit series of videogames.  It opened this weekend internationally to some early box office success.  Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), director of the film and son of the late David Bowie, star of Labyrinth and fan of fantasy films, has said he previewed the film for his father, who was excited about the movie.  We previewed the movie trailer earlier here at borg.com.  It stars Vikings lead actor Travis Fimmel, along with Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper, and Ben Foster.

Warcraft Durotan novel

You don’t need to have any background with the video games to enjoy the prequel novel.  It will be familiar to fans of the games, but deviates from the video game story.  Some fans of the games will like it, some won’t.  Durotan is the son of a chieftain of a clan of Orcs.  When Durotan steps into the leadership role of his clan he must learn to balance the traditions of the past with the very survival of his clan.  Warcraft: Durotan is a solid fantasy story, but it could easily be the story of an actual Native American tribe, a Viking or Highland clan, an Aztec tribe, ancient Spartans, a band of Mongols, or even a family in a Louis L’Amour Old West novel.  Durotan’s trials are the trials of any leader whose people are plagued with crisis after crisis.  Loyalty, bravery, sacrifice, tradition, mythology, and folklore all come into play.

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Jeweled Fire Shinn

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

As one of our annual New Year’s traditions, last week CJ and I had Chinese food for dinner.  It’s mostly an excuse to take a break from holiday cooking, but it’s also fun to see what our meal predicts for the coming year (about six pounds it will take until March to work off…).  Pictured below are the fates bestowed upon us for 2016.  You’re probably gearing up for the new year, too, maybe hoping a little clarity, prosperity, or luck will come your way (or omnipotent determination?).  For everyone who enjoys the touch of good fortune from a random blessing, we have the books for you.

FORTUNE COOKIES

Last month Sharon Shinn released a third volume in her Elemental Blessings series. Jeweled Fire joins 2011’s Troubled Waters and 2013’s Royal Airs about the nation of Welce, where every citizen feels a kinship to one of the five elements, thanks in part to random blessings drawn by strangers at their birth.  The sweela are drawn to the element of fire, and Jeweled Fire follows the (mostly mis)adventures of wayward Welchin princess Corene, who has run off to foreign parts in search of… well, she’s not sure what, exactly, except that it has to be better than life at home, where she’s surrounded by scheming nobles and political machinations and constant power play.

…And finds herself in another royal court, full of scheming nobles, political machinations, and constant power play.  And, in fine Shinn tradition, a little romance.

Shinn writes the kinds of series I like best.  From her acclaimed Samaria novels (Archangel, etc.), to her Twelve Houses high fantasies (Mystic and Rider, etc.), to the recent urban fantasy Shifting Circle novels (The Turning Season, etc.), Shinn’s series consist of separate standalone stories linked by characters and worldbuilding—not one-long-novel-in-five-parts, although there may be an overarching series plot, as well.  But it’s her worldbuilding that makes Shinn such a standout fantasy series writer.  The worlds are rich, deep, unique, and immediately accessible.  Shinn has said that Elemental Blessings was originally planned as a single book, but it was so obviously destined from its conception to be a classic Shinn five-volume series (we hope and assume!).  Like many of Shinn’s worlds, Welce has a special sort of magic tied to the land within its borders.  Not only do Welchins identify with the elements (the elay relate to air; the coru to water; the hunti to wood; and the torz to earth), but some possess an even stronger connection, sensing and even manipulating the elements around (and sometimes even within) them.

ELEMENTAL BLESSINGS

Corene, endowed with the blessings of courage, intelligence, and imagination, identifies with sweela, or fire—she’s passionate and impulsive, but also compassionate and clever, a combustible combination that frequently lands her in trouble, sometimes just to be noticed.  But when she hops a ship carrying the newly-discovered prince of Malinqua back to his native land (and you’ll have to read Royal Airs to learn how that happened) she’ll need all her blessings and more to navigate the ever more dangerous political waters.  Empress Filomara has not yet named an heir to Malinqua’s throne, and the scrabble for favor is worse than anything Corene knew back in Welce (and that’s saying something!).  Filomara has collected a number of foreign princesses as potential brides for her nephews and grandsons, but she may have ulterior motives here, as well.  And someone is systematically—and violently—eliminating all his or her fellow rivals for the throne.  There are too many suspects, and too many potential victims.  It will take all Corene’s resources to sort out the truth in time to save herself and her new friends.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Once upon a time and long before Charles Perrault wrote down his version of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty in the 17th century someone else created and shared through the oral tradition the fairy tales we know today.   Before Jack and the Beanstalk and Snow White were collected as stories and written down and shared by familiar names like Grimm someone first thought of and created these elemental and immortal characters.  But we will never know the names or these writers, shake their hands, ask them questions and know much about them at all.  Creators of more modern classic tales are long gone as well, like Tolkien, Carroll, White and Lewis, and luckily a lot has been shared about them and their works.  We know these creators of immortal works–stories that stick in your memory.  But is The Hobbit and Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as elemental to our storytelling tradition as Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty?  Maybe.  If they don’t quite fit in that category they are certainly on the next shelf over.

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Everyone here at borg.com is pretty excited this week to hear that Elizabeth C. Bunce (who reviewed The Closer, Major Crimes, and Grimm here this week) is featured on Oprah Winfrey’s 2012 Kids Reading List for her second novel, StarCrossed, a high fantasy adventure about a thief on the run who stumbles into a Renaissance era revolution.  Oprah.com revealed its newest annual list this month, and StarCrossed is one of 25 books recommended for teen readers.  Other selections include The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, 2009 Newbery winner The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and 2012 Eisner winner Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.  Elizabeth is one of only a handful of writers to have two books on Oprah’s Kids Reading List.  Her first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, the national award-winning retelling of Rumplestiltskin set in a haunted woollen mill, was included on the first such list in 2009.

StarCrossed is the first installment in Elizabeth’s Thief Errant series.  Her 2011 release Liar’s Moon is the fantasy noir sequel to StarCrossed, featuring the continuing adventures of intrepid thief Digger as she returns to her home city at the brink of war.  Good news abounds, as Elizabeth also learned this week that Liar’s Moon will receive the Kansas Notable Book medal from the State of Kansas later this year.  This is Elizabeth’s third book to receive this recognition.  Her books have been recognized by the American Library Association, the Smithsonian Institution, the Chicago Public Library, Cybils, all major book review publications, and several other states.  Elizabeth is currently working on her fourth novel.

If you haven’t seen Elizabeth’s books yet, here are book trailers for her first three novels:

A Curse Dark as Gold

StarCrossed

Liar’s Moon

So if you like to read fantasy, don’t take our word for it, check out the thousands of online reviews for her books, such as those found at book review websites like goodreads.com, where you’ll find 7,500 ratings by readers of Elizabeth’s novels.  A Curse Dark as Gold, StarCrossed, and Liar’s Moon are available at a library near you, and discounted hardcover, paperback, eBook, and even an audiobook version (for A Curse Dark as Gold) of her books are available at Barnes & Noble, Powell’s City of Books, Amazon.com, neighborhood bookstores, and other online retailers.

C.J. Bunce*
Editor
borg.com

*proud DH