Tag Archives: epic fantasy

Book Review: The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

11 Aug

The second volume in Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty series just had its paperback release, so this felt like a good moment to review this sequel to 2015’s The Grace of Kings. If you aren’t familiar with that start to the series, you can find my review of it here, and I would not recommend starting with the sequel or reading further in this review. The plot of The Wall of Storms actually does stand rather well on its own. However, the framework of Liu’s Chinese-history inspired archipelago kingdom/culture is built in the first book and could be harder to appreciate or grasp without starting there. Continue reading

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Book Review: The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier

23 Mar

A Princess seeking to escape the circumscribed nature of her life and the path set out for her. A Prince who strives to protect his land against an invasion and threat his small country has no capacity to stop. A tyrannical King whose plots and plans overwhelm them all. And a mysterious mountain of knowledge and power that is the key to all of them. It sounds on the face to be a standard fantasy setup with characters out of stock central fantasy casting that could be listed in Diana Wynne Jones’ THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND.

You can probably even predict how this sort of set up will go, on the old straight track. Prince saves the day, Princess is plucky, Father dies heroically and repents and recants on his deathbed, paving way for Prince to be the better successor. Simple and straightforward character beats and maybe if one is lucky, some character growth for Prince and Princess too. However, The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier avoids those well trod paths that might go with that sort of fantasy setup, and has a focus, tone and through line that is rather different and rather special. Continue reading

Book Review: Starborn by Lucy Hounsom

19 Jan

 

Kyndra is a seemingly ordinary young woman in a nondescript village in the mountains. Her mother runs an inn, and is a sometimes hard woman, even on the day of Kyndra’s Ceremony. This village does have something unusual in it — an ancient artifact, which, when invoked, will tell you your true name and your future. For decades, as children of the town have come of age, the artifact has guided them to their life and future.  When Kyndra is presented to the artifact in her Ceremony, however, the artifact unexpectedly breaks, setting in motion events that will send Kyndra across the continent, and to her true destiny. An initially traditional seeming epic fantasy protagonist and world evolve into a much more nuanced and complex tale in Lucy Hounsom’s debut epic fantasy novel, Starborn.

starborn-smallYears ago, epic fantasy novels such as Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World began with a pastoral opening reminiscent of Tolkien’s The Shire. The opening of Starborn, and the revelation of secret, unknown power on the part of the protagonist, Kyndra, is reminiscent of classic epic fantasy in the mold of Robert Jordan. As in The Eye of the World, Kyndra is soon swept away from her little village by strangers, who take her into the wider world, to find her destiny and her arcane heritage.  Kyndra is to be brought to Naris, a citadel where her powers, powers that have been mostly out of sight of the world for an entire era, will be tested, measured and taught.

If the novel followed along these lines without variation, Starborn would be a relatively timeworn book in that tradition, well written but not really distinctive.  Shopworn tropes and ideas, any reader who has read a decent helping of Epic Fantasy has seen them before, in authors ranging from Terry Brooks to David Eddings to Sara Douglass to Robert Jordan to Margaret Weis. You, reader, probably have read many such novels, and know their shape well.  The author, however, has ideas far beyond simple emulation of 1980s and ’90s epic fantasy. Kyndra is a young and callow protagonist growing into her power, true. But she is conflicted about herself and her power, often self-centered, complicated in her emotions and feelings, and in general far removed from the generic blank template farm boy that you might expect in a fantasy such as this.

The journey across the landscape is another trope in epic fantasy that the author employs, and then subverts. Rather than simply a hitting-the-sights-across-the-landscape sort of progress long criticized by Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Kyndra’s  journey to Naris is not an easy one, exposing tensions, rifts, and intrigue within and without the denizens of the Citadel. And once Kyndra is there, the very dark underbelly of the citadel, its creators, and the secret of its origins and future, and Kyndra’s part in it, very much break the mold of that traditional epic fantasy. The deeper one gets into the novel, the more the subversion and upending of that surface resemblance to the bog-standard epic fantasy of yore gets upended.

Speaking about Kyndra’s story and the revelations of what is going on the world is difficult to do without being too spoilery, and really, the veils being pulled back on what is going on, and what the author has constructed, is, for me, truly one of the pleasures of the book. Suffice it to say that the world as Hounsom initially depicts, from that little village, is definitely not the entire story of what the world is, and what is happening. Kyndra’s journey in revealing what is going on goes hand in hand with the reader learning at the same time. It braids together wonderfully well, and both leaves the story at a solid ending point and provides a wide opening for the sequel.

Starborn is an interesting, intriguing epic fantasy debut that slowly and inexorably pulls the rug out from the reader’s expectations of a traditional narrative and in so doing creates a memorable protagonist, and story.

Book Review: Red Tide, by Marc. J Turner

29 Dec

 

Epic Fantasy sometimes takes just a dive into the deep waters to swim around to find oneself. Especially in a summary of a book’s plot.  To wit: The Rubyholt Isles, to the south of the realms of the Sabian League and to the east of the burgeoning empire of Erin Elal, is a pirate-dominated tangle of dangerous seas and hard men and women. It’s also in the right position that any force from outside wishing to attach the Storm Isles of the Sabian League or land on the continent in the territory of Erin Elal must come to terms with the Isles, first. The pirates are too dangerous a potential adversary, and too valuable a resource, not to.  And so when the head of an expeditionary force from the distant Augerans shows up in the Rubyholt Capital, the Storm Isles and the Empire alike take notice, and are forced to take action, before it is too late.

Red Tide is the third volume in Marc Turner’s The Chronicles of the Exile, following When the Heavens Fall and Dragon Hunters. Continue reading

Book Review: Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

4 Aug

 

A band of heroes, a priestess determined to defeat the evil that threatens the land, and a prophecy that is the necessary fulfillment of conditions to defeat the Dark Lord all sounds like your bog-standard epic fantasy. The typical sort of epic fantasy that has been around since the 1980s and probably written  in three or more volumes. Perhaps even one of those interminable series that just keeps going on and on. Almost certainly there would be your typical map, maybe a glossary, or a dramatis personae. In the hands of Adrian Tchaikovsky, however, Spiderlight is a lean short novel. It takes the epic fantasy formula template and in the midst of executing that formula, ruthlessly and entertainingly interrogates and examines it. Continue reading

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