Parker, K. J. Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City.

NY: Orbit, 2019.

Under his own name, British author Tom Holt writes some pretty good historical fiction, mostly set in the ancient world, as well as some rather mediocre attempts at humor with a fantasy theme. As “K. J. Parker,” though, he has produced some first-rate epic fantasy, all of it populated only by humans (no wizards, orcs, or dragons, and absolutely no magic or supernatural goings on) and most of it with a historical feel to it.



Grossman, Lev. The Magician’s Land.

NY: Viking, 2014.

This is the concluding volume of a very above-average — and very adult — fantasy trilogy about the other world of magic that coexists with our mundane Earth, and it’s a very satisfying read. Volume Two told the story of Quentin Coldwater post-Brakebills, and this one is about his less happy life post-Filory. Because he’s been exiled from the only place he ever really wanted to be, and the future is looking pretty grim.


Published in: on 2 August 2019 at 4:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Dickinson, Seth. The Monster Baru Cormorant.

NY: Tor, 2018.

When last we saw Baru Cormorant, native of a now-ruined island semi-paradise, and agent provocateur of the Imperial Republic of Falcrest, she had just betrayed the rebellion in the colonial province of Aurdwynn – a rebellion which she had fomented and then led. And she had arranged the destruction of the uprising’s aristocratic leaders, leaving a huge power vacuum, which Falcrest could now fill however it pleased.


Published in: on 22 July 2019 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Grossman, Lev. The Magician King.

NY: Viking, 2011.

It’s difficult to write a review of the second volume of a trilogy without spoiling it for those who haven’t begun the first volume yet. Let’s try this: At the end of volume one, Quentin Coldwater, recent graduate of Brakebills, had lost something precious and attempted to give up magic entirely as a result, but found that was impossible. Well, in this second episode, he gains the one thing he has wanted all his life: Entrance to Filory, the magical world. (And I mean that literally.)


Published in: on 15 July 2019 at 5:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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Zappia, Fancesca. Eliza and Her Monsters.

NY: HarpeCollins, 2017.

This is the author’s second YA novel and it’s every bit as good as her first one, Made You Up, though in a rather different way. High school senior Eliza Mirk works hard at being a wallflower, at receding into the background when she’s outside her own bedroom. The idea of being noticed, at school or anywhere else, beyond what she absolutely cannot avoid, terrifies her.


Kuang, R. F. The Poppy War.

NY: Harper, 2018.

I’ve read a number of really first-rate recently-published fantasy novels in the last couple of years — two-thirds of a trilogy by Patrick Rothfuss, two books by Naomi Novik, one by Seth Dickinson, and two whole trilogies by N. K. Jemisin. And now this carefully plotted and gorgeously written book joins that group. Rebecca Kuang is Chinese-American, with a specialty in the classical literature of her native land, and that basic fact informs the whole of the story.


Dickinson, Seth. The Traitor Baru Cormorant.

NY: Tor, 2015.

This marketing for this first-rate novel presented it as fantasy. The jacket illustration seems to suggest that, too, but there’s no magic or dragons or any of that, and it’s actually straightforward science fiction, apparently set on Earth in the far future. As a young girl, Baru seems to live in a very laid-back Polynesian sort of tropical island society. She has two fathers, both techie types, and her mother is a huntress. Her society has been struggling for generations to stay out of the imperialist clutches of the Imperial Republic (a/k/a “The Masquerade,” because of the facial coverings mandated for government officials) while still carrying on trade, but the agents of that widespread culture are taking over Baru’s people and world slowly but surely.


Miller, Madeline. Circe.

NY: Little, Brown, 2018.

I’m pretty demanding when it comes to historical fiction, and I read a lot of it, but I was pretty much blown away by Miller’s first novel, The Song of Achilles. And now she’s done it again. Both books are now in my “Top Ten Historicals” list. This one is somewhat different from the first book, too, in that the protagonist (and most of the other characters, for that matter) isn’t even mortal. She’s Circe (“Hawk”), daughter of Helios, the Titan sun god, and a nymph, and she doesn’t have much power compared to the arrogant Olympians, but she knows how to use what she’s got.


Novik, Naomi. His Majesty’s Dragon.

NY: Ballantine, 2006.

I’d been aware of this fantasy series set during the Napoleonic wars, but to be honest, I had sort of deliberately avoided it. I’m a lifelong fan of naval adventure stories set in that period, having discovered my father’s shelf of Hornblower novels at an early age. I’ve read very literally several hundred novels by several dozen authors about the Royal Navy at the turn of the 18th century, and I’m picky about authenticity of detail. But I recently read Uprooted, a standalone fantasy novel by the same author and greatly enjoyed it, so I decided I ought to give this earlier work a fair chance. And I have to say, it doesn’t disappoint.


Novik, Naomi. Uprooted.

NY: Del Rey, 2015.

I was aware that Novik had already done a lengthy adventure series involving dragons in the Napoleonic wars, but this standalone fantasy is the first thing I’ve read by her. And I confess I picked it up mostly because it won the Nebula, which is a strong recommendation, and because Ellen De Generes is producing a film adaptation. Turns out Novik is one hell of a writer.