Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind.

NY: DAW, 2007.

I’ve been hearing good things about this author’s first fantasy novel, the first third of a trilogy, but I was delaying until the whole thing had been published so I wouldn’t have to wait between volumes to see what happens next. But the third volume has been very slow to appear, so I finally gave up and jumped in, and I’m glad I did. It’s an amazing book for any author, but even more so for a first book.

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Baker, Mishell. Borderline.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

I’ve been a heavy reader of all sorts of science fiction all my life but I’m much pickier about fantasy. Tolkien, for instance, doesn’t do a thing for me. I do like a lot of “urban fantasy” though, and Baker, whose first novel this is, is a welcome new addition to that sub-genre. Here she tells the story of Millicent Roper, who is barely getting along a year after a badly failed attempt at suicide when she was a film student at UCLA. Millie went off a seven-story building and survived (unintentionally) by crashing through a tree, but the fall cost her all of one leg and half the other one, and now she has to deal with prosthetics and a cane and a wheelchair. On top of the that, she has Borderline Personality Disorder, and some days she can barely hang on. And she’s in a private therapeutic facility but the money’s running out.

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Addison, Katherine. The Goblin Emperor.

NY: Tor, 2014.

I’ve been an avid fan of all sorts of science fiction all my life but I’ve always been much pickier about fantasy. There’s a tendency to posit non-human semi-supernatural races of beings for their own sake, and to just wave a wand and say “Magic!” as a cop-out when you don’t want to have to explain something that would be counter to natural law. Tolkien has a lot to answer for in my book. I am a fan, though, of authors like Joe Abercrombie, whose fantasy worlds are more “real.” Addison (who is really Sarah Monette, and has published a number of horror and weird fantasy novels under that name) is closer to that style, and this politics-heavy yarn has a lot to recommend it.

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Pratchett, Terry. Johnny and the Dead.

NY: Doubleday, 1993.

This is the second in the “Johnny Maxwell” trilogy of young adult novels, and it’s even better than the first one. Johnny is twelve and living in the Midlands, just trying to slog though adolescence. In the first book, he discovered that computer games can involve the Real World and that aliens are people, too. This time, it is revealed that the deceased aren’t really that different from the living, if you’re one of the few who can see and communicate with them — which Johnny is, which he discovers when he takes a shortcut through the local cemetery just before Halloween.

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Gaiman, Neil & Charles Vess. Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie.

NY: DC Comics, 1997.

Neil is the modern master of the fairy tale, and he writes all kinds, from comic to wistful to thoroughly noir. This one is of the traditional variety, though often with tongue firmly in cheek. Gaiman won a number of awards for this one, and deserved them. Vess won another bunch of awards for the art which greatly enhances nearly every page. He reminds me a little of Arthur Rackham and a lot of Alicia Austin, and that’s praise.

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Pratchett, Terry. The Shepherd’s Crown.

NY: HarperCollins, 2015.

This is the fifth and last book about young Tiffany Aching, Witch of the Chalk and Wee Hag of the Nac Mac Feagles. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a year, waiting for me to read it, because it’s also the last book by Sir Terry that I will ever be able to read for the very first time. And that’s a hard thing to do. Since it also begins with the death of Esme Weatherwax, the most powerful and by far the most influential witch on Discworld, it’s also about death and about replacing the irreplaceable: The last lesson Terry wanted to teach us.

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Windling Terri. Bordertown: A Chronicle of the Borderlands.

NY: Armadillo Press. 1986.

In the mid-’80s, “urban fantasy” was just beginning to be a thing. Instead of Tolkien’s white-haired wizards and ethereal elves, we had punks with silver hair and pointy ears wearing red leather and torn jeans and riding spell-powered motorcycles. Windling and a couple of her friends set up the background for what became an amazing and very influential series of fantasy short stories and a few novels,

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Bunch, Chris. The Last Battle.

London: Orbit, 2004.

This concluding volume of the “Dragonmaster” trilogy is rather different from the first two, and I don’t think it’s quite as successful. The great war between the nation of Deraine and its junior ally, Sagene, on one side and the loathsome enemy of Roche on the other, a widespread and exhausting conflict that filled the previous two books, is over now, and Hal Kailas, the Dragonmaster of Deraine, is at loose ends.

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Bunch, Chris. Knighthood of the Dragon.

London: Orbit Books, 2003

This is the middle volume of the “Dragonmaster” trilogy and the pace of the action, which opens only a few weeks after the climax of the first volume, never lets up for a minute. Hal Kailas, now Lord Kailas of Kalabas, Hero of Deraine, Defender of the Throne, is in charge of what constitutes Deraine’s air force in its long war with neighboring Roche.

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Bunch, Chris. Storm of Wings.

London: Orbit Books, 2002.

There was a time when “fantasy” almost automatically meant wizards in white robes, slender elves, and fearsome dragons. These days, you have a choice. Young Hal Kailas and his world have much more in common with Joe Abercrombie than with Tolkien — although the dragons are still an important part of the story.

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