Williams - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

Caliban's Hour
Tad Williams
HarperCollins
Fiction, Fantasy
**

DESCRIPTION: In this retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, a broken and bitter Caliban makes his way to the mainland for revenge. In one dark hour, he tells his tale, from his birth to a witch mother through his enslavement by the wizard Prospero, and the beating that left him near death.

REVIEW: I strongly suspect that this was one of Williams' earlier works; only the fact that he'd established himself as a best-selling author explains how this ever got published. Given, I'm not familiar with The Tempest save through cultural osmosis, but I expect even Shakespeare fanatics would be bored to tears by this long, long tale of Caliban's whining and moaning. I suppose the ending represents some manner of redemption, but by then I was simply relieved that I was almost to the back cover. It would've been better at half the length... or twice the plot. But, then, I don't consider chapter after chapter of "woe-is-me" whining to be a plot.

You might also enjoy:
Casting Shadows (J. Kelley Anderson, Fiction - An angry young man turns to magic for vengeance, only to find himself defending the people he wanted to destroy)
Peter and the Starcatchers (Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, YA Fiction - A prequel to J. M. Barrie's classic Peter Pan)
The Sisters Grimm series (Michael Buckley, YA Fiction - Two girls discover a town of Everafters, the immortal and all-too-real inspirations for fairy tales)
Firebird (Mercedes Lackey, Fiction - A retelling of the Russian story of the Firebird)
The Fire Rose (Mercedes Lackey, Fiction - A retelling of Beauty and the Beast in 19th-century California)
The Serpent's Shadow (Mercedes Lackey, Fiction - A retelling of Snow White in 19th-century England)
Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine, YA Fiction - A retelling of Cinderella, where "Ella" suffers from a fairy's botched gift of obedience)
Fairest (Gail Carson Levine, YA Fiction - A retelling of Snow White)
Song for the Basilisk (Patricia McKillip, Fiction - The sole survivor of a noble house seeks bitter vengeance)
Spindle's End (Robin McKinley, YA Fiction - A retelling of Snow White)
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Fiction - A man who thought to play God is tormented by his own abominable creation)
Forbidden Planet (Two-Disc Special Edition) (1956 movie DVD, a sci-fi retelling of The Tempest)

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The Dragonbone Chair
(The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, Book 1)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
*****

DESCRIPTION: The first book of the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy tells of the land of Osten Ard, where mortal kingdoms rise and fall on the bones of ancient secrets and the ruins of the near-immortal Sithi, former masters of this magical place. With the death of old King John comes great change, and the start of great troubles. All of this seems beyond the young scullion-boy Simon, a daydreamer who seems destined for an insignificant life, whose only ray of hope is his apprenticeship to the kindly old alchemist Doctor Morgenes. In events that seem beyond his ability to understand, Simon finds himself thrown from his castle home into the middle of a struggle between mortal and immortal, living and Undead, light and dark, in a sweeping tale that spans centuries of pain and planning by the Sithi prince Ineluki, known now as the Storm King. The new king, Elias, strikes a deal with the undead Ineluki, forcing his bookish younger brother, Prince Josua, to take a stand and resist an evil unlike any seen before. If Ineluki is to be defeated, an ancient riddle left by a mad priest, concerning three great swords of power, must be solved. Somehow, Simon is caught up in the quest to locate the swords and secure them for Josua.

REVIEW: This is a very impressive story, with clearly defined cultures and characters that draw you in and won't let you go. It's a little bit slow to start, but soon picks up, and from then on has a fairly steady stream of action balanced nicely by international intrigue. Williams' tendency to give everyone and their brother a role in the narrative only adds depth to the story. Many unique cultures come to life in these pages. This was a bestseller, with good reason. A must-read for any fantasy fan!

You might also enjoy:
The Book of Three (Lloyd Alexander, YA Fiction - A rustic boy, caretaker to an oracular pig, becomes part of a dangerous adventure)
The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks, Fiction - A young country man from a backwater town may be the only one able to stop a great evil)
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, Fiction - Young Pip aims to rise above his common birth and win the hand of an aloof young lady)
Scriber (Ben S. Dobson, Fiction - A disgraced scholar and a shunned warrior woman race to save the Kingsland from malevolent forces)
Pawn of Prophecy (David Eddings, Fiction - A farm boy with an odd birthmark must find his noble destiny before an evil god destroys the world)
King's Dragon (Kate Elliot, Fiction - Political unrest and inhuman raiders presage a greater evil)
Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind, Fiction - A cranky wizard, a woodland guide, and a mysterious woman face terrible dark forces)
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme (Elizabeth Haydon, YA Fiction - A young Nain boy itches for adventures, and finds more than he bargained for)
The Rhapsody trilogy (Elizabeth Haydon, Fiction - A gifted woman, a disfigured assassin, and a brutish soldier may be all that stands between their world and ultimate destruction)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
The Farseer Saga (Robin Hobb, Fiction - The bastard son of a king, born with rare gifts, is apprenticed to the royal assassin)
The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Robin Hobb, Fiction - High fantasy in a world of living ships and dragons)
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A humorous tour guide to epic fantasy worlds)
The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan, Fiction - Evil awakes and threatens a peaceful realm, in the first of the popular Wheel of Time series)
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin, Fiction - World-spanning epic tale of wars and kings, good and evil, and a few dragons for good measure)
The Tortall quartets (Tamora Pierce, YA Fiction - Tales of adventure in a magical world)
The Sword Dancer Saga(Jennifer Roberson, Fiction - A desert swordfighter meets a northern warrior woman and her living blade)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, Fiction - A living legend, now hiding behind a pseudonym as a quiet innkeeper, relates the story of a young life gone wrong)
The Waking Fire (Anthony Ryan, Fiction - A corporate-run world where dragonblood grants power faces war)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J. R. R. Tolkien, Fiction - The classic epic tale of Hobbits, Elves, Men, wizards, and Middle-Earth)
The Death Gate Cycle (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - An epic fantasy spanning seven worlds)
The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - A fantasy world teeters on the brink of destruction when a war goddess returns)
The Once and Future King (T. H. White, YA? Fiction - The story of King Arthur, from childhood under Merlyn's tutelage to Camelot's rise and fall)
The Heart of What Was Lost (Tad Williams, Fiction - After the final battle with the Storm King, mortals pursue the faerie Norn survivors across Osten Ard to their last stronghold)
The Shadowmarch series (Tad Williams, Fiction - The Eddon twins, Prince Barrick and Princess Briony, stand between the threat of faerie Qar to the north and the brutal god-king Autarch to the south)

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Stone of Farewell
(The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, Book 2)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
*****

DESCRIPTION: Simon, his troll-friend Binabik, and others face numerous obstacles as they try to return to Josua with the fruits of their journeys in the northern mountains. As they fight their way south through storms and giants and other dangers, the remnants of Prince Josua's forces struggle just to survive, while King Elias and the Storm King's allies continue to bleed the life from Osten Ard.

REVIEW: What can I say? Another great story, suffering only from an abrupt ending (probably the fault of the editors, not the author.) Williams continues to weave a marvelous tale in a rich world. If my description and review seem sparse, it's because I don't want to risk printing Spoilers.

You might also enjoy:
The Book of Three (Lloyd Alexander, YA Fiction - A rustic boy, caretaker to an oracular pig, becomes part of a dangerous adventure)
The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks, Fiction - A young country man from a backwater town may be the only one able to stop a great evil)
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, Fiction - Young Pip aims to rise above his common birth and win the hand of an aloof young lady)
Scriber (Ben S. Dobson, Fiction - A disgraced scholar and a shunned warrior woman race to save the Kingsland from malevolent forces)
Pawn of Prophecy (David Eddings, Fiction - A farm boy with an odd birthmark must find his noble destiny before an evil god destroys the world)
King's Dragon (Kate Elliot, Fiction - Political unrest and inhuman raiders presage a greater evil)
Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind, Fiction - A cranky wizard, a woodland guide, and a mysterious woman face terrible dark forces)
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme (Elizabeth Haydon, YA Fiction - A young Nain boy itches for adventures, and finds more than he bargained for)
The Rhapsody trilogy (Elizabeth Haydon, Fiction - A gifted woman, a disfigured assassin, and a brutish soldier may be all that stands between their world and ultimate destruction)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
The Farseer Saga (Robin Hobb, Fiction - The bastard son of a king, born with rare gifts, is apprenticed to the royal assassin)
The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Robin Hobb, Fiction - High fantasy in a world of living ships and dragons)
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A humorous tour guide to epic fantasy worlds)
The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan, Fiction - Evil awakes and threatens a peaceful realm, in the first of the popular Wheel of Time series)
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin, Fiction - World-spanning epic tale of wars and kings, good and evil, and a few dragons for good measure)
The Tortall quartets (Tamora Pierce, YA Fiction - Tales of adventure in a magical world)
The Sword Dancer Saga(Jennifer Roberson, Fiction - A desert swordfighter meets a northern warrior woman and her living blade)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, Fiction - A living legend, now hiding behind a pseudonym as a quiet innkeeper, relates the story of a young life gone wrong)
The Waking Fire (Anthony Ryan, Fiction - A corporate-run world where dragonblood grants power faces war)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J. R. R. Tolkien, Fiction - The classic epic tale of Hobbits, Elves, Men, wizards, and Middle-Earth)
The Death Gate Cycle (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - An epic fantasy spanning seven worlds)
The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - A fantasy world teeters on the brink of destruction when a war goddess returns)
The Once and Future King (T. H. White, YA? Fiction - The story of King Arthur, from childhood under Merlyn's tutelage to Camelot's rise and fall)
The Heart of What Was Lost (Tad Williams, Fiction - After the final battle with the Storm King, mortals pursue the faerie Norn survivors across Osten Ard to their last stronghold)
The Shadowmarch series (Tad Williams, Fiction - The Eddon twins, Prince Barrick and Princess Briony, stand between the threat of faerie Qar to the north and the brutal god-king Autarch to the south)

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To Green Angel Tower
(The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, Book 3)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
*****

DESCRIPTION: The conclusion of the epic trilogy brings the entire struggle to a head. The Storm King's minions and the forces of Prince Josua finally meet in a battle that will determine the fate of all - mortal and immortal - who live in the land of Osten Ard, while Simon and his companions race to unravel the riddle of the three great swords that has taken them to the ends of the known world.

REVIEW: This is the first time I have ever seen a third book in a trilogy that was bigger than the first. It had to be split in two for the paperback version! A spectacular conclusion to a spectacular story, with a climax that kept me on the edge of my proverbial seat right to the end. As for the actual ending, Williams certainly takes things down to the wire! There were hints thrown in that there may be a sequel (a prophecy said over newborn twins, the introduction of numerous younger characters, etc.) which I would love to read... provided he could keep up the quality established here. I was saddened when I turned the last page, realizing that I wouldn't be "visiting" the characters or Osten Ard again except in re-reading the trilogy. As of now, I've reread the whole thing four or five times, and the books are holding up marvelously... except my original paperback copy of The Dragonbone Chair, which I had to replace. The story remains indestructible.

You might also enjoy:
The Book of Three (Lloyd Alexander, YA Fiction - A rustic boy, caretaker to an oracular pig, becomes part of a dangerous adventure)
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, Fiction - Young Pip aims to rise above his common birth and win the hand of an aloof young lady)
The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks, Fiction - A young country man from a backwater town may be the only one able to stop a great evil)
Scriber (Ben S. Dobson, Fiction - A disgraced scholar and a shunned warrior woman race to save the Kingsland from malevolent forces)
Pawn of Prophecy (David Eddings, Fiction - A farm boy with an odd birthmark must find his noble destiny before an evil god destroys the world)
King's Dragon (Kate Elliot, Fiction - Political unrest and inhuman raiders presage a greater evil)
Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind, Fiction - A cranky wizard, a woodland guide, and a mysterious woman face terrible dark forces)
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme (Elizabeth Haydon, YA Fiction - A young Nain boy itches for adventures, and finds more than he bargained for)
The Rhapsody trilogy (Elizabeth Haydon, Fiction - A gifted woman, a disfigured assassin, and a brutish soldier may be all that stands between their world and ultimate destruction)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
The Farseer Saga (Robin Hobb, Fiction - The bastard son of a king, born with rare gifts, is apprenticed to the royal assassin)
The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Robin Hobb, Fiction - High fantasy in a world of living ships and dragons)
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A humorous tour guide to epic fantasy worlds)
The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan, Fiction - Evil awakes and threatens a peaceful realm, in the first of the popular Wheel of Time series)
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin, Fiction - World-spanning epic tale of wars and kings, good and evil, and a few dragons for good measure)
The Tortall quartets (Tamora Pierce, YA Fiction - Tales of adventure in a magical world)
The Sword Dancer Saga(Jennifer Roberson, Fiction - A desert swordfighter meets a northern warrior woman and her living blade)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, Fiction - A living legend, now hiding behind a pseudonym as a quiet innkeeper, relates the story of a young life gone wrong)
The Waking Fire (Anthony Ryan, Fiction - A corporate-run world where dragonblood grants power faces war)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J. R. R. Tolkien, Fiction - The classic epic tale of Hobbits, Elves, Men, wizards, and Middle-Earth)
The Death Gate Cycle (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - An epic fantasy spanning seven worlds)
The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - A fantasy world teeters on the brink of destruction when a war goddess returns)
The Once and Future King (T. H. White, YA? Fiction - The story of King Arthur, from childhood under Merlyn's tutelage to Camelot's rise and fall)
The Heart of What Was Lost (Tad Williams, Fiction - After the final battle with the Storm King, mortals pursue the faerie Norn survivors across Osten Ard to their last stronghold)
The Shadowmarch series (Tad Williams, Fiction - The Eddon twins, Prince Barrick and Princess Briony, stand between the threat of faerie Qar to the north and the brutal god-king Autarch to the south)

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The Heart of What Was Lost
(A novel of Osten Ard)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
***

DESCRIPTION: With the fall of the undead Storm King in a cataclysmic battle, the power of the Norns was shattered - but even short-lived mortal men know better than to leave a deadly foe alive at their backs. As the survivors of the faerie Norn forces straggle back north to their ancestral stronghold in the mountain known as Stormspike, Duke Isgrimmnur leads a force of battle-hardened Rimmersmen, joined by soldiers from across Osten Ard, in pursuit. Thus begins a legendary siege, one that will set the stage for the future of the land, and the races of men and faerie alike.

REVIEW: Whn I heard Tad Williams was returning to Osten Ard for a new trilogy, I - along with countless fans of epic fantasy - rejoiced. His Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy is a genre benchmark, famously serving as partial inspiration for George R. R. Martin's sprawling A Song of Ice and Fire saga. Until the first novel of the new trilogy drops in June 2017, Williams offers a taste of things to come with The Heart of What Was Lost, a linking novel. At only 200 pages, it itself is not an epic, nor is it quite a standalone... and there, I believe, lies the crux of my own dissatisfaction. A few characters from the original trilogy return here, but they feel like pale shadows of the rich characters I remember, just as the world seems flatter and less immersive than the Osten Ard I knew. The new characters, particularly on the human side, felt more like plot devices than rounded people, whose presence was meant to drive home themes and emphasize the surreal atrocities of the war against the Norns. Speaking of the Norns, Williams makes what I consider a tactical mistake: he gives the Norns half the narrative. I can understand why he did it from a storytelling perspective, showing that the "enemy" isn't a monolithic bogeyman but full of its own motivations, rivalries, and contradictions, but part of the reason his faerie races worked so well in the original trilogy was their alien mindset. Their lives are inconceivably long, their culture riddled with odd customs and taboos and cultural touchstones, their powers beyond mortal ken, their thought processes inherently inscrutable even among the "good" race, the Sithi. They could be interacted with, but never fully understood. By turning over so much of the story to them, the Norns become too human, even as the story becomes burdened by alien names and terms (not to mention far too many apostrophes.) The overall story isn't terrible, but it feels weak, with some great moments separated by long slogs. The whole novel reads like filler material or background information, events Williams wrote for himself, for continuity reasons, but which the reading public didn't need to know about before embarking on the next Osten Ard adventure... save for the money, of course. I can't say I begrudge Williams (or his publisher) cashing in and building hype, but I must say I'm distinctly less enthused about the forthcoming Last King of Osten Ard books than I was before I read this. Maybe Williams has changed. Maybe I've changed. Or maybe that enthusiasm is the true heart of what was lost, here.

You might also enjoy:
The Book of Three (Lloyd Alexander, YA Fiction - A rustic boy, caretaker to an oracular pig, becomes part of a dangerous adventure)
The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks, Fiction - A young country man from a backwater town may be the only one able to stop a great evil)
Scriber (Ben S. Dobson, Fiction - A disgraced scholar and a shunned warrior woman race to save the Kingsland from malevolent forces)
Pawn of Prophecy (David Eddings, Fiction - A farm boy with an odd birthmark must find his noble destiny before an evil god destroys the world)
King's Dragon (Kate Elliot, Fiction - Political unrest and inhuman raiders presage a greater evil)
Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind, Fiction - A cranky wizard, a woodland guide, and a mysterious woman face terrible dark forces)
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme (Elizabeth Haydon, YA Fiction - A young Nain boy itches for adventures, and finds more than he bargained for)
The Rhapsody trilogy (Elizabeth Haydon, Fiction - A gifted woman, a disfigured assassin, and a brutish soldier may be all that stands between their world and ultimate destruction)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
The Farseer Saga (Robin Hobb, Fiction - The bastard son of a king, born with rare gifts, is apprenticed to the royal assassin)
The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Robin Hobb, Fiction - High fantasy in a world of living ships and dragons)
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A humorous tour guide to epic fantasy worlds)
The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan, Fiction - Evil awakes and threatens a peaceful realm, in the first of the popular Wheel of Time series)
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin, Fiction - World-spanning epic tale of wars and kings, good and evil, and a few dragons for good measure)
The Tortall quartets (Tamora Pierce, YA Fiction - Tales of adventure in a magical world)
The Sword Dancer Saga(Jennifer Roberson, Fiction - A desert swordfighter meets a northern warrior woman and her living blade)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, Fiction - A living legend, now hiding behind a pseudonym as a quiet innkeeper, relates the story of a young life gone wrong)
The Waking Fire (Anthony Ryan, Fiction - A corporate-run world where dragonblood grants power faces war)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J. R. R. Tolkien, Fiction - The classic epic tale of Hobbits, Elves, Men, wizards, and Middle-Earth)
The Death Gate Cycle (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - An epic fantasy spanning seven worlds)
The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - A fantasy world teeters on the brink of destruction when a war goddess returns)
The Once and Future King (T. H. White, YA? Fiction - The story of King Arthur, from childhood under Merlyn's tutelage to Camelot's rise and fall)
The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (Tad Williams, Fiction - A daydreaming scullion boy finds himself swept up in a quest to save Osten Ard from an undead enemy)
The Shadowmarch series (Tad Williams, Fiction - The Eddon twins, Prince Barrick and Princess Briony, stand between the threat of faerie Qar to the north and the brutal god-king Autarch to the south)

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Mirror World
Tad Williams
HarperPrism
Fiction, YA? Sci-Fi
**

DESCRIPTION:In the future, a number of large mirrors appeared inexplicably all over the world. One could walk through them into another world - aptly called Mirrorworld - though all inorganic substances were destroyed in the crossing. For a time, people could go to Mirrorworld and back to Earth as one might travel to any distant land. Suddenly, the mirrors became one-way, and those humans in the mysterious new frontier were stranded. Shortly thereafter, Earth was invaded by insectile aliens traveling through the mirrors. In an attempt to combat these bizarre invaders, the United Nations began creating biotroopers, genetically altered and enhanced humans who would travel through the mirrors and fight the bugs at their source - in Mirrorworld or beyond, if need be. The technology that produces the biotroopers isn't perfect; it produces insanity at least as often as it produces superhumans. Meanwhile, the stranded humans in Mirrorworld have begun rebuilding their lives, unwilling and unprepared colonists on unexplored alien soil.
This is an adaptation of an illustrated novel series by the acclaimed author Tad Williams.

REVIEW: In the preface, it is said that the stories in this book are only a portion of the whole Mirror World story. I can't help thinking that Williams chose the wrong tales to reprint. The concept of Mirrorworld was interesting, but two of the three stories included threw out major story arcs that were never resolved, and the first one reads something like a drug trip. The third story (Childhood's End), which has less to do with the major arcs, was most successful at drawing me into the lives of its characters. On the whole, I was left feeling unsatisfied, wanting more of Mirrorworld and a few of the characters but especially some form of conclusion. I wonder if the graphic novels ever tied things up, or if Williams is planning to write up that conclusion at a later date. As it was, it was like reading stray chapters cut from a much larger work, chapters that did little more than frustrate and confuse anyone who was unfamiliar with the original story.

You might also enjoy:
The Remnants series (K. A. Applegate, YA Fiction - After the Earth is destroyed, a handful of survivors on a space shuttle wake in a bizarre world)
The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury, Fiction - Collected tales and vignettes relate humanity's exploration of Mars, and the fall of two civilizations)
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fiction - A Civil War veteran finds himself transported to the dying, hostile planet Mars)
Saber Tooth (Loy Cadle, Fiction - A group of modern teens and adults are pulled into the ancient past, to the days of the saber toothed hunters)
Dragon Companion (Don Callander, Fiction - A lawyer on a subway finds himself inexplicably pulled into a medieval world of elves and dragons)
The Wiz Biz books (Rich Cook, Fiction - A Silicon Valley programmer finds himself plucked from his office and dropped in a magical world)
The Object Serial (Winston Emerson, Fiction - A mysterious alien sphere appears over downtown Louisville, causing chaos)
After London or, Wild England (Richard Jeffries, Fiction - After civilization collapses, humanity reverts to brutal feudalism)
The Water Mirror (Kai Meyer, YA Fiction - An orphan girl in an alternate-reality Venice works for a magical mirror maker)
Ringworld (Larry Niven, Fiction - Two humans and two aliens explore a habitable ring encircling a distant star)
The Brian Robeson series (Gary Paulsen, YA Fiction - A city boy lost in the Canadian wilderness must learn survival skills from scratch)
The Transall Saga (Gary Paulsen, YA Fiction - A modern boy is transported to a hostile alien world)
Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson, Fiction - The epic tale of the colonization of Mars)
Letters of a Woman Homesteader (Elinore Pruitt Stewart, Nonfiction - A woman and her daughter establish a frontier homestead in 1909 Wyoming)
Island in the Sea of Time (S. M. Stirling, Fiction - A strange phenomenon sends 1998 Nantucket Island and a Coast Guard vessel back to the Bronze Age)
The Martian (Andy Weir, Fiction - Left behind after a botched mission, an astronaut must survive on Mars until help can reach him)
Testament of the Dragon (Margaret Weis, YA? Fiction - An illustrated novel about a man who makes a pact with the last Western dragon)

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Otherland: City of Golden Shadow
(The Otherland quartet, Book 1)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Sci-Fi
****

DESCRIPTION: In the near future, the internet has evolved into the Net, a world just as real as - or even more real than - reality to many people, especially kids. Riding beyond the cutting edge of technology is the massive Otherland project, a secret network set up by the most influential people on Earth, also known as the Grail Brotherhood. They aim to achieve immortality and a sort of godhood over a virtual universe, which depends on contact with a dark virtual entity known as the Other. The secret of Otherland is guarded with lethal force, even when children start falling comatose online after apparent contact with the Other.
Irene Sulaweyo is a professor in South Africa whose little brother Stephen is one of those kids. With her bright student, the bushman !Xabbu, she begins to investigate - a route that pits her against some of the most powerful people alive, with but a few unlikely allies.
Fourteen-year-old Orlando Gardiner uses virtual gaming to escape the hellish world of terminal disease that he must live in, with his best online friend Sam Fredricks. A vision of of a strange place interrupts their gaming, and Orlando becomes obsessed with finding the source.
Paul Jonas is living a surreal nightmare, unknowingly trapped in a virtual-reality prison for so long that he barely remembers his own name. After a vision of an angel-woman appears to him, he escapes one prison, only to find himself wandering through bizarre worlds with no memories except the knowledge that he is being hunted by his former guards.
Little Christabel lives on a military base. Most of her time is spent playing with her toys or her Storybook Sunglasses, but sometimes she wanders off to visit her strange friend Mister Sellars, a wheelchair-bound, partially-burned recluse essentially under house arrest. Lately, Sellars has been asking for her help, help that may mean life or death for people she never knew and may never know.
All are drawn in by visions that intrude on their Net-surfing, a golden city in one of Otherland's virtual realms. From that virtual city begins a quest across the simulated worlds of Otherland to find the secret of the "lost" children, and the truth behind the Grail Brotherhood.

REVIEW: It seems that VR is just a technological excuse to be able to enter what are essentially fantasy worlds, but I still think this is a great story; I've always preferred science fantasy to hard-core science fiction, anyways. It drug a tad (no pun intended) in parts, and Williams has a noted tendency to give every character and their brother a paragraph or two in the narrative, but it shows great promise. I docked it a rating-level because it bogs down more than once, and at the end I wasn't totally sure I'd read 770 pages of story. That doesn't mean I didn't like it, I just happen to think it could've been better with tighter editing. One touch I really thought was fun was the little snippets at the start of each chapter, with excerpts from newscasts, ads, net-shows, games, and such. They added to the feeling of a complete world, where humans are still humans despite greater technology. They also give clues as to how the world in general seems to be getting antsy, as though Something Big were coming... (One of my favorite snippets concerns a famous psychic who quits her job and heads for a private compound because she foresees the end of the world. When asked why, since she has made the same prediction many times before, she replies, "Because this time it's actually going to happen.")

You might also enjoy:
Demons Don't Dream (Piers Anthony, Fiction - A computer game connects to the magical land of Xanth)
Killobyte (Piers Anthony, Fiction - A hacker traps two players in a virtual-reality game)
Eve & Adam (Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant, YA Fiction - A teen girl discovers dark secrets at her mother's medical research lab)
Kiln People (David Brin, Fiction - In the future, people create clay duplicates to do their work... and commit their crimes)
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fiction - A Civil War veteran finds himself transported to the dying, hostile planet Mars)
Storybound (Marissa Burt, YA Fiction - A girl falls into the world of Story)
God Game (Andrew M. Greeley, Fiction - A man plays a computer game that seems bound to an alternate reality)
Caverns of Socrates (Dennis L. McKiernan, Fiction - The AI in charge of a revolutionary virtual-reality role playing game develops an unstable mind of its own)
A Newbies Guide to Nook HD and HD+ (Minute Help Guides, Nonfiction - A quick-start guide for using the Nook HD tablet)
Dream Park (Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Fiction - A massive 3D holographic game room in a futuristic theme park may hide a killer)
The 2099 series (John Peel, YA Fiction - In a computer-dominated future, a dark group sets in motion plans that may lead to a collapse of civilization)
Only You Can Save Mankind (Terry Pratchett, YA Fiction - The aliens in a popular computer game surrender to a young player, demanding safe passage "home")
The Takers (R. W. Ridley, YA Fiction - 13-year-old Oz Griffin wakes from a fever to find that invisible monsters, escaped from a dead boy's comic book, have devastated the world)
The Forever Contract (Avery Sawyer, YA Fiction - In a drought-devastated future, permanent virtual reality offers escape, but at a steep cost)
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Fiction - A man who thought to play God is tormented by his own abominable creation)
The Dragon Box (Katie W. Stewart, YA Fiction - A game pulls a boy into an imperiled magical land)
Siege Therapy (Steve Thorn, Fiction - Virtual reality helps a boy confront a horrific trauma)
Game Over - Extended Edition (Todd Thorne, YA? Fiction - Trapped between his divorced parents, a boy turns to VR terror simulations for escape)
Behind the Canvas (Alexander Vance, YA Fiction - A girl discovers a magical world composed of oil paintings)

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Otherland: River of Blue Fire
(The Otherland quartet, Book 2)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Sci-Fi
****

DESCRIPTION: Book Two in the Otherland quartet continues the journey of Irene, !Xabbu, Orlando and Sam, among others, as they travel through the many worlds of the massive virtual conglomeration constructed by the Grail Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Paul Jonas, his memory partially restored through the intervention of a mysterious stranger, continues his own Otherland wanderings to complete the puzzle of why the Grail Brotherhood so fears him that they trapped him in VR. Offline, new characters are introduced, who begin to put the pieces of the mystery together in their own parts of the world, a mystery that seems linked to many cults that are predicting an imminent Doomsday.

REVIEW: Again, I definitely felt that I'd read something less than 634 pages at the end. Looking back on the experience, I realize that not too much happened. One thing I usually like about Williams' style is his ability to flesh out the tale with "scenery," where not much is happening in the plot, but places, personalities, and world/ personal histories are elaborated upon. Usually, he sneaks it in so skillfully that you don't realize that the story hasn't advanced until much later. This time, the "scenery" was fairly distinct... or maybe the plot just didn't hold up quite as well under the added weight. It seemed there were times when Williams was just showing off by creating strange, new worlds in the Otherland VR simulations, then having characters wander around aimlessly to revel in their weirdness and depth until I, the reader, got just a little sick of it. His giant insect (or rather miniature human) world was cool, and the canyon/flying realm was neat, but the Martian-blasted London and old-style cartoon worlds got old fast. I still give it the same marks as the previous book, though, and I liked most of it. I do question the author's ability to drag this thing out for two more books, as promised at the very beginning of both this and the previous installment. One more, maybe, but two? Two? I have my doubts, but I'll probably still be in line to pick up Book Three when it comes out; I'd hate to think I abandoned the characters in their current situation.

You might also enjoy:
Demons Don't Dream (Piers Anthony, Fiction - A computer game connects to the magical land of Xanth)
Killobyte (Piers Anthony, Fiction - A hacker traps two players in a virtual-reality game)
Eve & Adam (Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant, YA Fiction - A teen girl discovers dark secrets at her mother's medical research lab)
Kiln People (David Brin, Fiction - In the future, people create clay duplicates to do their work... and commit their crimes)
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fiction - A Civil War veteran finds himself transported to the dying, hostile planet Mars)
Storybound (Marissa Burt, YA Fiction - A girl falls into the world of Story)
God Game (Andrew M. Greeley, Fiction - A man plays a computer game that seems bound to an alternate reality)
Caverns of Socrates (Dennis L. McKiernan, Fiction - The AI in charge of a revolutionary virtual-reality role playing game develops an unstable mind of its own)
A Newbies Guide to Nook HD and HD+ (Minute Help Guides, Nonfiction - A quick-start guide for using the Nook HD tablet)
Dream Park (Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Fiction - A massive 3D holographic game room in a futuristic theme park may hide a killer)
The 2099 series (John Peel, YA Fiction - In a computer-dominated future, a dark group sets in motion plans that may lead to a collapse of civilization)
Only You Can Save Mankind (Terry Pratchett, YA Fiction - The aliens in a popular computer game surrender to a young player, demanding safe passage "home")
The Takers (R. W. Ridley, YA Fiction - 13-year-old Oz Griffin wakes from a fever to find that invisible monsters, escaped from a dead boy's comic book, have devastated the world)
The Forever Contract (Avery Sawyer, YA Fiction - In a drought-devastated future, permanent virtual reality offers escape, but at a steep cost)
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Fiction - A man who thought to play God is tormented by his own abominable creation)
The Dragon Box (Katie W. Stewart, YA Fiction - A game pulls a boy into an imperiled magical land)
Siege Therapy (Steve Thorn, Fiction - Virtual reality helps a boy confront a horrific trauma)
Game Over - Extended Edition (Todd Thorne, YA? Fiction - Trapped between his divorced parents, a boy turns to VR terror simulations for escape)
Behind the Canvas (Alexander Vance, YA Fiction - A girl discovers a magical world composed of oil paintings)

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Otherland: Mountain of Black Glass
(The Otherland quartet, Book 3)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Sci-Fi
*****

DESCRIPTION: Irene Sulaweyo, !Xabbu, the blind Martine Desroubins and other companions continue their travels through the Otherland network. Clues and visions are leading them to a reunion with the teens Orlando Gardiner and Sam Fredricks, who were separated early on in their wanderings, and Paul Jonas, who is still puzzling over gaps in his returning memory and the recurring vision of the angel-woman who seems so familiar to him. Not only must they find each other, but they must discover the secret behind the Other who runs the system, and why it seems to need the minds of children to operate. Meanwhile, the Grail Brotherhood is preparing for the final phase of the Otherland project, a project that will give the wealthy members the powers of gods.
In reality, the lawyer for Sam's parents, Decatur Ramsey, continues to pursue leads about what happened to trap the teen online, finding himself led deeper and deeper into the mystery. The mysterious Mister Sellars finds his own plans to oppose the Otherland project falling into disarray as disruptions in VR and reality continue to plague the world, and this time even the little girl Christabel - his one real-world ally and friend - may be unable to help. Dread, the pet killer of the Grail Brotherhood's ancient leader, is still working on his own plans for the Otherland network, and may be a bigger threat than anyone realizes.

REVIEW: Now the story's really picking up the pace. All the set-up and "scenery" in the first two books is starting to pay off in a good way. When I finished this book, I was quite satisfied that I had, indeed, gotten somewhere. My earlier doubts about his ability to carry the plot through two books were thankfully dismissed in this volume. Now, all I have to do is wait about a year for the conclusion to the Otherland story. Dang it.

You might also enjoy:
Demons Don't Dream (Piers Anthony, Fiction - A computer game connects to the magical land of Xanth)
Killobyte (Piers Anthony, Fiction - A hacker traps two players in a virtual-reality game)
Eve & Adam (Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant, YA Fiction - A teen girl discovers dark secrets at her mother's medical research lab)
Kiln People (David Brin, Fiction - In the future, people create clay duplicates to do their work... and commit their crimes)
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fiction - A Civil War veteran finds himself transported to the dying, hostile planet Mars)
Storybound (Marissa Burt, YA Fiction - A girl falls into the world of Story)
God Game (Andrew M. Greeley, Fiction - A man plays a computer game that seems bound to an alternate reality)
Caverns of Socrates (Dennis L. McKiernan, Fiction - The AI in charge of a revolutionary virtual-reality role playing game develops an unstable mind of its own)
A Newbies Guide to Nook HD and HD+ (Minute Help Guides, Nonfiction - A quick-start guide for using the Nook HD tablet)
Dream Park (Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Fiction - A massive 3D holographic game room in a futuristic theme park may hide a killer)
The 2099 series (John Peel, YA Fiction - In a computer-dominated future, a dark group sets in motion plans that may lead to a collapse of civilization)
Only You Can Save Mankind (Terry Pratchett, YA Fiction - The aliens in a popular computer game surrender to a young player, demanding safe passage "home")
The Takers (R. W. Ridley, YA Fiction - 13-year-old Oz Griffin wakes from a fever to find that invisible monsters, escaped from a dead boy's comic book, have devastated the world)
The Forever Contract (Avery Sawyer, YA Fiction - In a drought-devastated future, permanent virtual reality offers escape, but at a steep cost)
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Fiction - A man who thought to play God is tormented by his own abominable creation)
The Dragon Box (Katie W. Stewart, YA Fiction - A game pulls a boy into an imperiled magical land)
Siege Therapy (Steve Thorn, Fiction - Virtual reality helps a boy confront a horrific trauma)
Game Over - Extended Edition (Todd Thorne, YA? Fiction - Trapped between his divorced parents, a boy turns to VR terror simulations for escape)
Behind the Canvas (Alexander Vance, YA Fiction - A girl discovers a magical world composed of oil paintings)

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Otherland: Sea of Silver Light
(The Otherland quartet, Book 4)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Sci-Fi
****

DESCRIPTION: The Otherland network is in chaos after the events of Book 3. Not only are Renie, !Xabbu, Paul and their companions trapped in the computer simulations, the former gods of the virtual worlds are stuck online, helpless, with them - those that are still alive, at least. Worse, the murderer Dread has gained control and is forcing his sadistic brand of fun on the world's most complex online universes. The Other itself is dying at the hands of its cruel new master, and even the adventurers' best efforts may come as too little, too late to save the system - not to mention the children trapped in its virtual networks.
Offline, things are no better. Little Christabel's family is on the run, with Ramsey, Mister Sellars, and a homeless foundling as their peculiar companions. A former employee of Felix Jongleur, head of the J Corporation and the Grail Brotherhood, is herself on a quest for personal peace with the voices of the lost children that fill her head, facing the black monolith where the enemy himself lives. And, deep in the South African mountains, holed up in an abandoned military bunker, Renie's father and two companions are all that stand between her and !Xabbu's physical bodies and a team of unknown yet highly persistent infiltrators.

REVIEW: I had to debate my rating on this one for a good, long while, but ultimately had to trim it the extra point that it should have deserved. Just one too many Sudden Revelations and changes of course in mid-story, I suppose... or maybe I thought it got just a little too complicated for its own good. Williams seemed to hold information back that could've been introduced (or at least hinted at) in earlier books simply to wham readers between the eyes with it at the end. The lack of info worked against him, as, by the time he revealed them, the revelations seemed too convoluted and out-of-nowhere to swallow. But, ultimately, it was a (mostly) satisfying and action-packed conclusion to a very good tale.

You might also enjoy:
Demons Don't Dream (Piers Anthony, Fiction - A computer game connects to the magical land of Xanth)
Killobyte (Piers Anthony, Fiction - A hacker traps two players in a virtual-reality game)
Eve & Adam (Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant, YA Fiction - A teen girl discovers dark secrets at her mother's medical research lab)
Kiln People (David Brin, Fiction - In the future, people create clay duplicates to do their work... and commit their crimes)
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fiction - A Civil War veteran finds himself transported to the dying, hostile planet Mars)
Storybound (Marissa Burt, YA Fiction - A girl falls into the world of Story)
God Game (Andrew M. Greeley, Fiction - A man plays a computer game that seems bound to an alternate reality)
Caverns of Socrates (Dennis L. McKiernan, Fiction - The AI in charge of a revolutionary virtual-reality role playing game develops an unstable mind of its own)
A Newbies Guide to Nook HD and HD+ (Minute Help Guides, Nonfiction - A quick-start guide for using the Nook HD tablet)
Dream Park (Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Fiction - A massive 3D holographic game room in a futuristic theme park may hide a killer)
The 2099 series (John Peel, YA Fiction - In a computer-dominated future, a dark group sets in motion plans that may lead to a collapse of civilization)
Only You Can Save Mankind (Terry Pratchett, YA Fiction - The aliens in a popular computer game surrender to a young player, demanding safe passage "home")
The Takers (R. W. Ridley, YA Fiction - 13-year-old Oz Griffin wakes from a fever to find that invisible monsters, escaped from a dead boy's comic book, have devastated the world)
The Forever Contract (Avery Sawyer, YA Fiction - In a drought-devastated future, permanent virtual reality offers escape, but at a steep cost)
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Fiction - A man who thought to play God is tormented by his own abominable creation)
The Dragon Box (Katie W. Stewart, YA Fiction - A game pulls a boy into an imperiled magical land)
Siege Therapy (Steve Thorn, Fiction - Virtual reality helps a boy confront a horrific trauma)
Game Over - Extended Edition (Todd Thorne, YA? Fiction - Trapped between his divorced parents, a boy turns to VR terror simulations for escape)
Behind the Canvas (Alexander Vance, YA Fiction - A girl discovers a magical world composed of oil paintings)

Return to Top of Page - Return to Book Review List


Shadowmarch
(The Shadowmarch series, Book 1)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
****

DESCRIPTION: Long eons ago, the Qar - mysterious races of shadow and mist and elder magicks - ruled the lands, until mortal men drove them to the distant north, beyond the Shadowline that now marks the edge of their domain. The ancient castle of Southmarch stands nearest this line, the seat of the Eddon family and the most powerful of northern kingdoms. Over the centuries, tales of the Qar faded to legend, especially in the realms further south, who cannot feel the northern darkness breathing over their shoulders. With their brief lives and short sight, men forget the old days and the ancient hatred between mortal and immortal, human and faerie... but the Qar remember, and even today their undying anger burns hot and bright as ever. Soon, they shall stir from their northern fastnesses, carrying that flame to burn all that lies before them.
Prince-Regent Kendrick and his younger siblings, the twins Briony and Barrick, sit upon an increasingly unstable throne in Southmarch Castle. Their father, King Olin, was kidnapped by the bandit-king of the southern city of Heirosol; his ransom demands have put even more stress upon a political situation ripe for disaster, with northern nobles already vying for the crown if the young regent should make a single misstep. Rumors tell of the spreading grasp of the Autarch, the cruel god-king of the ancient city of Xis, reaching ever closer to Southmarch. Princess Briony can only watch with despair as Kendrick attempts to shoulder their father's reputation and responsibilities, while her twin brother Barrick slides deeper into his dark moods and darker dreams. When Kendrick is murdered in his own bedchamber during a visit from one of Heirosol's envoys, it first seems a simple political assassination, meant to cleave the already fractured Eddon family, but soon it proves much more than that. The Shadowline begins to move. Qar walk openly on mortal lands. And ancient forces, long forgotten by mortals, begin to stir, forces that could destroy not only Southmarch but the fragile world of all mortal men.

REVIEW: I first encountered Tad Williams through Tailchaser's Song (reviewed below), and his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (reviewed above) has long been my favorite high fantasy trilogy. But, as some of his more recent works have left me cold, I was reluctant to pick up Shadowmarch until I found it deeply discounted. Some of the old Williams magic returns, as he weaves a tale in a fascinatingly layered and magical world, with distinctive characters telling their own bits of the greater story. It starts out slowly, and even when things pick up there are several meandering stretches as Williams indulges in "sight-seeing" side-trips around the edges of the plot, but I've come to expect that from high fantasy. One of the more annoying point-of-view characters nearly cost it a half point, as did one of the more out-of-the-blue revelations. For the most part, though, it held my interest, and even if this new world didn't "click" for me like Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn's Osten Ard, I've missed having a nice, thick fantasy series to lose myself in. I'll have to track down the second book.

You might also enjoy:
Range of Ghosts (Elizabeth Bear, Fiction - A steppe-born heir to the contested throne of the Khan and a wizard woman face a sorcerous threat to their world)
The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks, Fiction - A young country man from a backwater town may be the only one able to stop a great evil)
Pawn of Prophecy (David Eddings, Fiction - A farm boy with an odd birthmark must find his noble destiny before an evil god destroys the world)
King's Dragon (Kate Elliot, Fiction - Political unrest and inhuman raiders presage a greater evil)
Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind, Fiction - A cranky wizard, a woodland guide, and a mysterious woman face terrible dark forces)
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme (Elizabeth Haydon, YA Fiction - A young Nain boy itches for adventures, and finds more than he bargained for)
The Rhapsody trilogy (Elizabeth Haydon, Fiction - A gifted woman, a disfigured assassin, and a brutish soldier may be all that stands between their world and ultimate destruction)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
The Farseer Saga (Robin Hobb, Fiction - The bastard son of a king, born with rare gifts, is apprenticed to the royal assassin)
The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Robin Hobb, Fiction - High fantasy in a world of living ships and dragons)
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A humorous tour guide to epic fantasy worlds)
The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan, Fiction - Evil awakes and threatens a peaceful realm, in the first of the popular Wheel of Time series)
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin, Fiction - World-spanning epic tale of wars and kings, good and evil, and a few dragons for good measure)
The Tortall quartets (Tamora Pierce, YA Fiction - Tales of adventure in a magical world)
The Sword Dancer Saga (Jennifer Roberson, Fiction - A desert swordfighter meets a northern warrior woman and her living blade)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, Fiction - A living legend, now hiding behind a pseudonym as a quiet innkeeper, relates the story of a young life gone wrong)
The Waking Fire (Anthony Ryan, Fiction - A corporate-run world where dragonblood grants power faces war)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J. R. R. Tolkien, Fiction - The classic epic tale of Hobbits, Elves, Men, wizards, and Middle-Earth)
The Death Gate Cycle (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - An epic fantasy spanning seven worlds)
The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - A fantasy world teeters on the brink of destruction when a war goddess returns)
The Once and Future King (T. H. White, YA? Fiction - The story of King Arthur, from childhood under Merlyn's tutelage to Camelot's rise and fall)
The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (Tad Williams, Fiction - A daydreaming scullion boy finds himself swept up in a quest to save Osten Ard from an undead enemy)

Return to Top of Page - Return to Book Review List


Shadowplay
(The Shadowmarch series, Book 2)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
****+

DESCRIPTION: Dark forces work to reshape the world of the Living. Outside the northern castle of Southmarch, the army of the faerie Qar camps amid the deserted city, their seige halted under an ancient truce... for now. Within the castle walls, the reign of the Eddons is over in all but name; though a baby heir to the kidnapped King Olin lives, the castle is under the harsh stewardship of the ambitious Tolly clan, who already maneuver to make their occupation of the northern throne more permanent. But without an Eddon as king, Southmarch and its people - the humans, the burrowing Funderlings, the seagoing Skimmers, even the secretive Rooftoppers - may be in greater danger than any could possibly imagine... dangers the short-sighted, infighting Tollys cannot possibly foresee, let alone counter.
Olin's elder children, the twins Briony and Barrick, have been torn away from Southmarch by the currents sweeping across the land, thought by many to be dead. Brooding Barrick, plagued by dreams of flame and shadow, travels north beyond the Shadowline into the eternal twilight of the Qar realms, on a mission he himself hardly understands. Briony, meanwhile, having narrowly escaped assassination, travels with the Eddon's former armsmaster Shaso far to the south. She hopes to rally support for her family among the other human kingdoms, perhaps even with the bandit-king of Heirosol (abductor of Olin), but just staying alive beyond the rarified world of castle nobility takes far more effort than she could have anticipated.
As the northlands fall into discord and ruin, the fanatical forces of the god-king Sulepis begin to stir on the southern continent of Xand, ever eager to expand their empire. The divided land lies ripe for invasion... but even the Qar armies and the autarch's invasion fleets may only be a part of a much greater threat to the world, a threat that has the gods themselves stirring in their ancient slumber.

REVIEW: The first volume, Shadowmarch (reviewed above), while enjoyable, read like many epic fantasies. A troubled royal family, power plays among the nobility, inhuman enemies, ancient buried secrets... A nicely described world and interesting characters, but still nothing truly distinctive. Shadowplay steps beyond the average fantasy, taking its world in some interesting new directions. As before, Williams tells the tale through numerous narrators, each with a unique voice, place, and perspective on the greater tale. Also as before, a couple of the narrators irritated me more than the others, but even those who seemed superfluous in the first volume find themselves involved in far more than they bargained for in this book. The world itself grows sharper and more fully realized, most especially the interwoven myths and theologies of the various cultures. Williams indulges in more "sightseeing" in this book, one of his trademarks, but enough was happening overall that I didn't mind. I noticed several minor yet annoying editing errors, which came close to costing it a half-star, but by the end I was enjoying the tale too much. Hopefully, I can track down Book 3 soon... though it'll still be a wait before Book 4 is available in paperback.
Dang it...

You might also enjoy:
Range of Ghosts (Elizabeth Bear, Fiction - A steppe-born heir to the contested throne of the Khan and a wizard woman face a sorcerous threat to their world)
The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks, Fiction - A young country man from a backwater town may be the only one able to stop a great evil)
Pawn of Prophecy (David Eddings, Fiction - A farm boy with an odd birthmark must find his noble destiny before an evil god destroys the world)
King's Dragon (Kate Elliot, Fiction - Political unrest and inhuman raiders presage a greater evil)
Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind, Fiction - A cranky wizard, a woodland guide, and a mysterious woman face terrible dark forces)
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme (Elizabeth Haydon, YA Fiction - A young Nain boy itches for adventures, and finds more than he bargained for)
The Rhapsody trilogy (Elizabeth Haydon, Fiction - A gifted woman, a disfigured assassin, and a brutish soldier may be all that stands between their world and ultimate destruction)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
The Farseer Saga (Robin Hobb, Fiction - The bastard son of a king, born with rare gifts, is apprenticed to the royal assassin)
The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Robin Hobb, Fiction - High fantasy in a world of living ships and dragons)
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A humorous tour guide to epic fantasy worlds)
The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan, Fiction - Evil awakes and threatens a peaceful realm, in the first of the popular Wheel of Time series)
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin, Fiction - World-spanning epic tale of wars and kings, good and evil, and a few dragons for good measure)
The Tortall quartets (Tamora Pierce, YA Fiction - Tales of adventure in a magical world)
The Sword Dancer Saga (Jennifer Roberson, Fiction - A desert swordfighter meets a northern warrior woman and her living blade)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, Fiction - A living legend, now hiding behind a pseudonym as a quiet innkeeper, relates the story of a young life gone wrong)
The Waking Fire (Anthony Ryan, Fiction - A corporate-run world where dragonblood grants power faces war)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J. R. R. Tolkien, Fiction - The classic epic tale of Hobbits, Elves, Men, wizards, and Middle-Earth)
The Death Gate Cycle (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - An epic fantasy spanning seven worlds)
The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - A fantasy world teeters on the brink of destruction when a war goddess returns)
The Once and Future King (T. H. White, YA? Fiction - The story of King Arthur, from childhood under Merlyn's tutelage to Camelot's rise and fall)
The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (Tad Williams, Fiction - A daydreaming scullion boy finds himself swept up in a quest to save Osten Ard from an undead enemy)

Return to Top of Page - Return to Book Review List


Shadowrise
(The Shadowmarch series, Book 3)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
*****

DESCRIPTION: Between the warships of the mad god-king Sulepis of Xis to the south and the wrath of the ancient faerie Qar to the north, the mortal land of Eion suffers greatly... but worse may be coming.
In the north, deep in the perpetual twilight beyond the Shadowline, the lost Prince Barrick struggles to reach the faerie king in Qul-na-Qar - the only hope of sparing Barrick's former home, the castle Southmarch, from the faerie armies encamped on its doorstep. His faerie guide lost and his mortal companion long gone, he stumbles from one disaster to the next, narrowly avoiding a hundred deaths, under the unreliable guidance of the raven Skurn. Even as Barrick struggles to make sense of this mad world in which he's trapped, he fears he may already be too late.
Barrick's twin sister, Princess Briony, is once more adorned in the robes and honors of her station in the Syannese court of Tessis... but is more in danger than ever she was fleeing Southmarch in a peasant boy's guise. The king is a fool, his mistress a viper, and the royal court itself an ever-shifting maze of allies and traitors, always with too few of the former and too many of the latter. Briony quickly realizes she's out of her depth, a rustic and suspiciously ungirlish oddity whose name has already been tainted by agents of Southmarch's usurpers, the Tollys. Her hopes of securing assistance to reclaim her throne dashed, all she can hope for now is to escape with her life.
Meanwhile, the autarch Sulepis continues to rain terror on Eion, following his own mad and inscrutible plans as he reaches for a prize none of his ancestors, omnipotent as they were, dared achieve: true immortality itself. Such a lofty goal cannot happen without sacrifices, naturally, but what mere unwashed mortal wouldn't happily lay down their life for the pleasure of the Chosen One?
All eyes, all armies, all hopes and fears seem to fall upon Southmarch, where a long-forgotten force lies waiting to be awakened... or utterly destroyed.

REVIEW: Williams crafts an excellent, gripping continuation of the Shadowmarch series, which eclipses even his excellent Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy in sheer scope and sense of wonder. He begins, as he did in Shadowplay (Book 2), with a brief synopsis of the series thus far - a welcome refresher to remind old readers where things stand and help bring newcomers up to speed. (Many authors seem to forget that reader memories can fade between published installments.) From there, he picks up right where he left off. Ancient tales and religious tracts that were once mere background color become integral keys to the plot, as the wars of the long-absent gods stand poised to replay themselves upon the earth. The cast of characters is large, but never too large to keep track of, each one adding a unique and necessary thread to the overall tapestry. By the end, much has changed, and the stakes are higher than ever. I can hardly wait to get my hands on Book 4!

You might also enjoy:
Range of Ghosts (Elizabeth Bear, Fiction - A steppe-born heir to the contested throne of the Khan and a wizard woman face a sorcerous threat to their world)
The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks, Fiction - A young country man from a backwater town may be the only one able to stop a great evil)
Pawn of Prophecy (David Eddings, Fiction - A farm boy with an odd birthmark must find his noble destiny before an evil god destroys the world)
King's Dragon (Kate Elliot, Fiction - Political unrest and inhuman raiders presage a greater evil)
Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind, Fiction - A cranky wizard, a woodland guide, and a mysterious woman face terrible dark forces)
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme (Elizabeth Haydon, YA Fiction - A young Nain boy itches for adventures, and finds more than he bargained for)
The Rhapsody trilogy (Elizabeth Haydon, Fiction - A gifted woman, a disfigured assassin, and a brutish soldier may be all that stands between their world and ultimate destruction)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
The Farseer Saga (Robin Hobb, Fiction - The bastard son of a king, born with rare gifts, is apprenticed to the royal assassin)
The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Robin Hobb, Fiction - High fantasy in a world of living ships and dragons)
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A humorous tour guide to epic fantasy worlds)
The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan, Fiction - Evil awakes and threatens a peaceful realm, in the first of the popular Wheel of Time series)
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin, Fiction - World-spanning epic tale of wars and kings, good and evil, and a few dragons for good measure)
The Tortall quartets (Tamora Pierce, YA Fiction - Tales of adventure in a magical world)
The Sword Dancer Saga (Jennifer Roberson, Fiction - A desert swordfighter meets a northern warrior woman and her living blade)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, Fiction - A living legend, now hiding behind a pseudonym as a quiet innkeeper, relates the story of a young life gone wrong)
The Waking Fire (Anthony Ryan, Fiction - A corporate-run world where dragonblood grants power faces war)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J. R. R. Tolkien, Fiction - The classic epic tale of Hobbits, Elves, Men, wizards, and Middle-Earth)
The Death Gate Cycle (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - An epic fantasy spanning seven worlds)
The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - A fantasy world teeters on the brink of destruction when a war goddess returns)
The Once and Future King (T. H. White, YA? Fiction - The story of King Arthur, from childhood under Merlyn's tutelage to Camelot's rise and fall)
The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (Tad Williams, Fiction - A daydreaming scullion boy finds himself swept up in a quest to save Osten Ard from an undead enemy)

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Shadowheart
(The Shadowmarch series, Book 4)
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
****+

DESCRIPTION: Midsummer approaches, a night of great celebration and dark portents... a night which draws many eyes and armies to the ancient castle of Southmarch. In the long-ago times, the land beneath the castle saw the last great battle of the gods, when the maimed Crooked imprisoned his fellow dieties in perpetual sleep beyond the boundaries of this reality, then sealed the rift with his own dying essence. But Crooked has finally died, succumbing after millenia to his final wounds, leaving the rift vulnerable to those who would seek to exploit its power. But only a madman would ever think they could harness the strength of the sleeping gods, gods whose lone exile has driven them more than half mad...
Briony Eddon, with the help of the Syannese Prince Eneas, races to Southmarch, intent on reclaiming her family's throne and paying back the usurper Hendon Tolly for his betrayal. The odds of even reaching the beseiged castle are nigh impossible, but she hasn't lived through the Hell of the past year simply to give up. Too many good lives have been lost, and she has many a blood debt to carve out of Tolly's flesh.
Beyond the Shadowline, in the timeless keep of Qul-na-Qar, Briony's twin brother Barrick can no longer be properly called a mortal. Burdened with the Fireflower, the strange and ancient memories and magicks of the faerie kings, he can scarcely recall his old life, his old family... yet he and the faerie queen Saqri feel the call of Crooked's rift. Unlike mortal men, the Qar have not forgotten the terrors of the days of the gods, terrors that may reclaim the world and all who still live upon it - but they are a faded, dying people, divided against themselves over long-harbored grievances.
The southern autarch Sulepis, god-king in name, beseiges Southmarch with his nigh-inexhaustible forces, determined to become a god in truth. As his cannons shatter the towers of the castle, his forces delve into the Funderling tunnels beneath, seeking the deep and sacred cavern where Crooked's rift - long worshipped by the diminutive Funderlings - awaits him.
Meanwhile, the usurper Hendon Tolly scarcely bothers defending his own people against the Xixian forces encamped on the keep's doorstep. He, too, knows something of the secrets that lie beneath Southmarch... and if the heathen southern madman thinks to become a god on Midsummer night, why can't a determined northern nobleman do the same?
Between them all, forces unseen since the last days of the gods Themselves stand ready to be unleashed... and whatever survives the coming cataclysm can never be the same.

REVIEW: The finale to the epic Shadowmarch series, this should've earned a solid Great rating. The tension constantly ratchets upward as new layers, new complications, and new stakes come to light. Fights both on and off the battlefield come together in a suitably epic climax, tying together most of the threads William wove throughout the four volumes. Characters have grown, and many fall, even as others are left to rebuild what lives they may after the great, final battle. Unfortunately, the final stages feel a little drawn out, with some conclusions feeling less earned than contrived. The final purpose - or lack thereof - of a few characters (one in particular) came close to dropping it the rest of the way to a flat Good rating. On the whole, though, I enjoyed the quartet and the world it wove in my mind. I just think the whole thing might've been stronger had it been trimmed by a few chapters.

You might also enjoy:
Range of Ghosts (Elizabeth Bear, Fiction - A steppe-born heir to the contested throne of the Khan and a wizard woman face a sorcerous threat to their world)
The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks, Fiction - A young country man from a backwater town may be the only one able to stop a great evil)
Pawn of Prophecy (David Eddings, Fiction - A farm boy with an odd birthmark must find his noble destiny before an evil god destroys the world)
King's Dragon (Kate Elliot, Fiction - Political unrest and inhuman raiders presage a greater evil)
Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind, Fiction - A cranky wizard, a woodland guide, and a mysterious woman face terrible dark forces)
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme (Elizabeth Haydon, YA Fiction - A young Nain boy itches for adventures, and finds more than he bargained for)
The Rhapsody trilogy (Elizabeth Haydon, Fiction - A gifted woman, a disfigured assassin, and a brutish soldier may be all that stands between their world and ultimate destruction)
Dune (Frank Herbert, Fiction - The interstellar human civilization relies on life-extending spice from desert Arrakis)
The Farseer Saga (Robin Hobb, Fiction - The bastard son of a king, born with rare gifts, is apprenticed to the royal assassin)
The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Robin Hobb, Fiction - High fantasy in a world of living ships and dragons)
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A humorous tour guide to epic fantasy worlds)
The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan, Fiction - Evil awakes and threatens a peaceful realm, in the first of the popular Wheel of Time series)
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin, Fiction - World-spanning epic tale of wars and kings, good and evil, and a few dragons for good measure)
The Tortall quartets (Tamora Pierce, YA Fiction - Tales of adventure in a magical world)
The Sword Dancer Saga (Jennifer Roberson, Fiction - A desert swordfighter meets a northern warrior woman and her living blade)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, Fiction - A living legend, now hiding behind a pseudonym as a quiet innkeeper, relates the story of a young life gone wrong)
The Waking Fire (Anthony Ryan, Fiction - A corporate-run world where dragonblood grants power faces war)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J. R. R. Tolkien, Fiction - The classic epic tale of Hobbits, Elves, Men, wizards, and Middle-Earth)
The Death Gate Cycle (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - An epic fantasy spanning seven worlds)
The Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Fiction - A fantasy world teeters on the brink of destruction when a war goddess returns)
The Once and Future King (T. H. White, YA? Fiction - The story of King Arthur, from childhood under Merlyn's tutelage to Camelot's rise and fall)
The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (Tad Williams, Fiction - A daydreaming scullion boy finds himself swept up in a quest to save Osten Ard from an undead enemy)

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Tailchaser's Song
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
*****

DESCRIPTION: In a world of feline mythos and mystery, the young cat Fritti Tailchaser sets out on a quest to find his lost friend Hushpad. Accompanied by his persistent kitten friend Pouncequick, who insists on tagging along despite the dangers, Tailchaser's path takes him far from home, into dangers that have lurked since the days of the Firstborn, and pits him against enemies that are Evil incarnate.

REVIEW: This novel was apparently Williams's first, and it went on the Best-Seller List... the lucky son of a tomcat! Truly, it deserved the honor. Fritti's world is big and magical, even if little actual magic occurs until toward the end. It lost a little of its luster after the twentieth re-reading, but I still give it top marks. Fantasy lovers who also love cats simply have to have a copy of Tailchaser's Song in their library.
(One minor nitpick springs to mind - tortie and calico cats are almost invariably female, and males are often sterile, yet for some reason Williams has tortie toms all over the place. I liked the book enough to forgive it that fault, though.)

You might also enjoy:
Watership Down (Richard Adams, Fiction - English rabbits struggle to establish and protect a new warren)
Eyewitness Handbooks: Cats (David Alderton, Fiction - A guide to cats of the world)
Keeper of Cats (Elizabeth H. Boyer, Fiction - In a fantasy world, a teen girl discovers something very unusual about her grandmothers' cats)
Lionboy (Zizou Corder, YA Fiction - A boy who can speak Cat sets out to find his abducted parents)
Dragoncharm (Graham Edwards, Fiction - Before the rise of Man, two dragons begin a quest to save their kind)
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (T. S. Eliot, Poetry - The poems that inspired the musical Cats)
Cats in Space (Brian Fawcett, editor, Fiction - Sci-fi stories about cats)
The World is Your Litter Box: Deluxe Edition (Steve Fisher, Fiction - Siamese mix Quasi offers advice to other cats)
Claws (Mike and Rachel Grinti, YA Fiction - When her sister disappears, a girl accepts a talking tomcat's offer of help, not realizing the price)
Warriors: Into the Wild (Erin Hunter, YA Fiction - A housecat leaves his safe human home to live with the local ferals)
Redwall (Brian Jacques, YA? Fiction - The animals of Redwall Abbey face an army of evil rats)
The Wild Road (Gabriel King, Fiction - A housecat is called to protect the King and Queen of Cats from an ancient enemy)
Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria (Rahma Krambo, YA Fiction - A housecat must help defend a powerful book from evil forces)
The Call of the Wild and White Fang (Jack London, Fiction - In two stories, a dog abducted to the Alaskan Gold Rush learns the savage ways of the wolf, and a wolf with a half-Husky mother learns the civilized ways of Man)
Catfantastic I - IV (Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg, editors, Fiction - Sci-fi and fantasy tales of cats)
Song of the Summer King (Jess E. Owen, YA Fiction - A gryphon comes of age and discovers a lost heritage as last of a conquered pride)
felidae (Akif Pirinçci, Fiction - A tom discovers a murdered cat in the yard of his new home)
A Catland Companion (John Silvester & Anne Mobbs, Art - A look at "Catland," the turn-of-the-century world of anthropomorphic cats popularized by Louis Wain)
The King of Cats and Other Feline Fairy Tales (John Richard Stephens, Nonfiction - A collection of feline fairy tales)
Three Bags Full (Leonie Swann, Fiction - A flock of Irish sheep investigate the suspicious death of their shepherd)
The Hunt for Elsewhere (Beatrice Vine, YA? Fiction - The fox Saxton, influenced by an old crow, sets out on a journey of discovery)

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The War of the Flowers
Tad Williams
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
***

DESCRIPTION: Theo Vilmos is what some may call a loser. Thirty years old, he has never held a serious job, singing in various bands without ever truly realizing his musical potential, more or less skating through life on his charm and good looks alone. All that changes when he loses his unborn child, his girlfriend and his mother in rapid succession. Plunged into depression and a forced life crisis, Theo withdraws from society and the few friends he has. While going through his mother's papers, he discovers an interesting legacy from a great-uncle he never knew about: a hand-written journal, which Great-Uncle Eammon claims is fictional, about a journey into the land of Faerie. Something about the way he describes the place, the detail and depth, makes Theo wonder if Eammon somehow actually traveled to another world. Theo is about to find out, as creatures from Faerie start coming to his own world to hunt him down.
Since the loss of the king and queen in the Second Gigantine War, Faerie has changed drastically. The Parliament of Blooms, ruled by six particularly powerful Flower houses, built a massive City in peculiar mimicry of human development, seeking to adapt to humanity's obscure yet growing drain on the powers of the fair folk. Lord Hellebore and his sometimes ally, the Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles, is not content to share power with his fellows... nor are many faeries content to let humanity's loss of belief in the fantastic continue to drain them of power. A war is brewing, and somehow Theo Vilmos is at the center of it all.

REVIEW: It's sad when a fantasy book has to advertise on the cover that it's a complete story in one volume. One begins to suspect that multi-book stories are becoming a bit too prevalent... but I digress. I didn't hate this book. I just thought it wandered a bit too much. Granted, Williams does a good job describing the strangeness of Faerie and the City, and I enjoyed it on that level, but not too much actually happens until toward the end. Theo isn't a particularly bright bulb as he stumbles through the magical world, and while some initial missteps are to be expected, I thought his perpetual ignorance grew tiresome. He also uses a trick I'm finding increasingly annoying. When a character is telling a story to another character, one does not need to include all the little details that one would normally include in the regular narrative. For instance, if we're following Mary's quest for her lost family, and sidekick Bob stops to tell Mary about his traumatic past and how it ties in to Mary's search, I, as a reader, really don't care about the cars Bob saw across the street while walking to the store on an unremarkable Friday afternoon when he was a boy. I especially don't care about such details if Bob and Mary are in a situation where they don't exactly have all day to sit around yakking because the bad guys are going to show up any minute to interrupt Bob's story and leave Mary without answers. One would think Bob would be more interested in cutting to the chase than relating unimportant details, too, but apparently not if Bob was written by Tad Williams. That feeling of frustration and foot-dragging ultimately sank what should have been an interesting, unique take on the realm of Faerie.
(It's because of this book that I took so long to attempt latest series, Shadowmarch; much as I loved Tailchaser's Song and the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, I didn't know if I could take three or more books' worth of this kind of meandinering.)

You might also enjoy:
Dream a Little Dream (Piers Anthony and Julie Brady, Fiction - The world created by human dreams is in trouble)
The Everworld series (K. A. Applegate, YA Fiction - Four Chicago teens are pulled into a world where magic and elder gods rule)
Aftershock (S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart, Fiction - After the fall of the underground faerie world, a lone survivor attempts to rebuild the Sidhe court)
The Peculiar (Stefan Bachmann, YA Fiction - A half-faerie changeling boy becomes entangled in a plot that might tear his clockwork world apart)
Abarat (Clive Barker, YA Fiction - A Minnesotan girl travels to the bizarre archipelago of the Abarat)
Peter Pan (James M. Barrie, YA Fiction - The boy who refuses to grow up leads three English children to the magical island of Neverland)
The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum, YA Fiction - Dorothy of Kansas rides a tornado into the world of Oz)
The Darkest Part of the Forest (Holly Black, YA Fiction - A long-sleeping faerie prince wakens, bringing danger to a modern town and to teens Hazel and Ben)
I Was a Teenage Fairy (Francesca Lia Block, YA Fiction - A girl's tiny fairy friend helps her endure an abusive childhood in the model industry)
Faerie Wars (Herbie Brennan, YA Fiction - A boy finds a faerie prince in the garden, and becomes involved in a brewing transdimensional war)
The Practice Effect (David Brin, Fiction - A 21st-century physicist finds himself stranded in a strange, violent world with peculiar physical laws)
Magic Kingdom For Sale - Sold! (Terry Brooks, Fiction - A lawyer buys a fixer-upper fairy tale kingdom through a catalog)
Fairy Metal Thunder (JL Bryan, YA Fiction - A modern teen musician steals magical instruments from Fairyland, leading his garage band to great success... and trouble)
Finder (Emma Bull, YA Fiction - In Bordertown, on the line between magic and mundane worlds, a gifted teen tracks down a killer)
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fiction - A Civil War veteran finds himself transported to the dying, hostile planet Mars)
The Shadow of Black Wings (James Calbraith, Fiction - After a disaster, the son of a naval captain and his dragon find themselves in the forbidden island nation of Yamato)
Dragon Companion (Don Callander, Fiction - A librarian on a subway train is inexplicably pulled into a medieval world of elves and dragons)
Ruby Blue (Julie Cassar, YA Fiction - A teen girl in modern Michigan can see fairies)
The Wiz Biz books (Rich Cook, Fiction - A wizard pulls an ace Silicon Valley programmer into his magical world, but dies before he explains why)
Clockwork Kingdom (Leah R. Cutter, YA Fiction - Modern twins are lured into the schemes of a dangerous fairy queen)
The Very Best of Charles de Lint (Charles de Lint, Fiction - Collected stories of magic old and new by the noted fantasy author)
The Dragon and the George (George Dickson, Fiction - Seeking his lost wife, a man finds himself transported to a medieval world... and stuck in a dragon's body)
Daughter of Mythos (Melissa Drake, YA Fiction - A foster teen learns she is from a parallel, magical world)
Magician: Apprentice (Raymond E. Feist, Fiction - An orphan boy in a frontier castle faces otherworldly armies)
Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman, Fiction - Helping a homeless girl plunges a London man into a dark and magical underworld)
Stardust (Neil Gaiman, Fiction - A young man crosses the border into the world of Faerie to retrieve a fallen star)
The Divide (Elizabeth Kay, YA Fiction - A sickly boy accidentally falls into a world where magic is real and humans are myths)
The Dark World (Henry Kuttner, Fiction - A World War II vet finds himself in a parallel world of magic, fighting memories of an alternate, evil self)
Doon (Laurie Langdon and Carey Corp, YA Fiction - Two American teen girls find their way to the mystical Scottish kingdom of Doon)
The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis, YA Fiction - Children from our world cross into the magical land of Narnia, ruled by the Lion Aslan)
The Falconer (Elizabeth May, YA? Ficiton - In steampunk Edinburgh, a society girl trains to assassinate invisible faeries after one murdered her mother)
Un Lun Dun (China Miéville, YA Fiction - Two girls find themselves in the "abcity" mirror of everyday London, where a dark threat awaits them);
The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica (James A. Owen, YA Fiction - Three soon-to-be-famous authors find their way to the Archipelago of Dreams, the inspiration of story and myth since prehistory)
Arcana Universalis (Chris J. Randolph, Fiction - A starfaring, magic-based empire stands on the brink of catastrophic collapse)
A Pocket Full of Spells (Ash Stirling, Fiction - A cynical soldier of fortune survives on the mean streets of the City, where cybertech, monsters, and magic collide)
The High House (James Stoddard, Fiction - A massive house encompasses whole worlds and touches on more)
The Rhyme of the Willow series (Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan, YA Fiction - Following a vivid dream, twins find themselves pulled into a dark world where plants run amok)
The Iron Dragon's Daughter (Michael Swanwick, Fiction - Abducted into the fairy world as a child, a human girl plots escape with a massive iron war dragon)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente, YA Fiction - An Omaha girl travels to Fairyland for an Adventure, and finds herself fighting an evil Marquess)
The Birthright series (Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, YA Graphic Novel - A young boy disappears, only to return a year later having grown up in a fantasy world, corrupted by the forces he was supposed to destroy)
The 100 Cupboards trilogy (N. D. Wilson, YA Fiction - A boy finds magical cupboard doorways into other worlds)

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The Dragons of Ordinary Farm
Tad Williams and Deborah Beale
Harper
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**

DESCRIPTION: Lucinda and Tyler Jenkins just know they're in for a bad summer when their mother announces she's going on a singles cruise and sending them to stay with relatives. When a strange invitation arrives from Great-Uncle Gideon, a man they never knew existed, to visit his farm in California's Standard Valley, they know it's going to be even worse. Lucinda is used to things being bad and turning worse, ever since their parents divorced. Tyler just wants to hide behind his GameBoss blasting monsters so he doesn't have to deal with his life or his family. Unfortunately, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere isn't likely to have indoor plumbing, let alone cable TV or internet access. Two months feeding chickens and taking hayrides? Talk about bo-ring.
As soon as they arrive at Uncle Gideon's place, things start going weird. They quickly discover that Ordinary Farm doesn't raise cows or chickens or horses: it raises more exotic creatures, like unicorns, griffins, and dragons. Even the farmhands and kitchen girls have very unusual origins to go with their peculiar accents. The more the kids poke around, the more dangers they discover. The secret behind the wonders of Ordinary Farm is one that Uncle Gideon will die to defend... and which some people may be willing to kill for.

REVIEW: So, two modern kids from a broken home visit an obscure relative and discover magical wonders and powerful enemies. I knew this wasn't a particularly original story when I bought it, but I had reasonably high hopes. After all, Tad Williams wrote one of my favorite fantasy epics (the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy), and even when he misses he usually has a few nice ideas rolling around somewhere. What, then, went wrong here? Where to begin...
Even the most overdone, trite storyline can be made good (or at least tolerable) with a likable character to follow around. Try as I might - and I did indeed try - I couldn't find a single one here. Lucinda and Tyler are not only self-centered and annoying but remarkably dense, and remain so even as clue after clue drops onto their heads like the leavings of a flying monkey. Children this stupid should not be allowed to have magical adventures. If these two short-sighted, undereducated twits are what the American public school system is churning out these days, then this country is in even bigger trouble than Ordinary Farm is. They talk and think with forced slang and pop culture references that feel more like a grown-up trying to talk "cool" than something a real modern kid would come up with. The other characters feel like stereotyped cardboard cutouts, whose secrets were pretty easy to guess from early on (for the reader, if not our dimwitted starring duo.) The farm girls all hide in the kitchen while the men do all the real work... and, yes, last I checked, this is the 21st century; even if their origins explain some of the sexism, it felt unduly irritating that the only remotely strong lady on Ordinary Farm was essentially a wicked witch. The farm proves a far less fascinating place to explore than other hidden wonderlands, and its "secret" - the only part of the entire book with any shred of interest or originality - is only glimpsed once or twice, and then through the exceedingly dim and clouded lenses of Tyler's and Lucinda's eyes. The rest of the story wanders beyond the point of tedium through the Jenkins kids' explorations of the farm, introductions with farmhands and animals, and other entirely pointless meanderings which only rarely advance the plot. Oh, and the titular dragons? They aren't in it nearly enough to justify being part of the title.
The ending really killed it. Major plot arcs are left up in the air because Williams and Beale intend to write a sequel, or more likely a series. Well, if they do - and, unless Williams' name alone is magic enough to make it happen, I have serious doubts about whether this turkey of a tale generated sufficient sales to justify sequels - they'll have one less reader to worry about. All I could think about, as I read this book, was how Brandon Mull's Fablehaven did the same thing, only better... and how I really should've spent my money on the second Fablehaven book instead of this one. Dang it...

You might also enjoy:
Old MacDonald Had a Dragon (Ken Baker, YA Picture Book - A farmer's newest addition creates trouble in the barnyard)
Breaking Deluce (Chad Campbell, YA Fiction - A teen girl finds herself hunted for powers she doesn't know she possesses)
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Bruce Coville, YA Fiction - A boy buys a dragon egg in a mysterious magic shop)
The Spiderwick Chronicles (Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, YA Fiction - Three siblings discover a field guide to an invisible, magical world around them)
Hatching Magic (Ann Downer, YA Fiction - A medieval wizard's tame wyvern heads through a magic bolthole to modern Boston to lay her egg)
Dragonsdale (Salamanda Drake, YA Fiction - At a riding academy for dragons, the stablemaster's daughter is forbidden to fly)
Dragon Rider (Cornelia Funke, YA Fiction - A dragon searches for a lost sanctuary with a brownie and an orphaned human boy)
George Grove and the Dragon (LJ Lawry, YA Ficton - Three South London boys find a dragon's egg)
The Fablehaven series (Brandon Mull, YA Fiction - A brother and sister discover a magical sanctuary on a relative's estate)
Eragon (Christopher Paolini, Fiction - A farmer boy finds a dragon's egg)
The Keeper and the Rune Stone (Paige W. Pendleton, YA Fiction - Four children become "awakened" to the presence of magical beings)
Rampant (Diana Peterfreund, YA Fiction - A teen girl discovers that unicorns are real, and they aren't nearly as nice as the storybooks say)
The Dragons Are Singing Tonight (Jack Prelutsky, YA Poetry - Dragon poems that sing)
Guardians Inc.: The Cypher (Julian Rosado-Machain, YA Fiction - Able to understand any written language, a boy is recruited by a secret organization to help save the world)
The Imaginality of Somewhere (Someone, YA Fiction - Twins discover a portal to a magical world)
The Dragonology books (Dugald A. Steer, editor, YA Fiction - Notes on dragon species from around the world)
How to Raise and Keep a Dragon (John Topsell, Joseph Nigg "editor", YA Fiction - The art and science of dragon ownership)
The Pit Dragon Chronicles (Jane Yolen, YA Fiction - A slave boy on Austar IV, young Jakkin steals an egg from his master to raise his own fighting dragon for the betting pits)

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