Tag Archives: Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Book Review: Year of the Unicorn by Andre Norton

Image result for year of the unicorn andre norton

Welcome back to the Witch World, readers! This book – Year of the Unicorn – takes place in the Dales of High Hallack, the western continent of the Witch World. We are in uncharted, amazing territory here. Let’s dive in!

The long war between the Dalesmen and the Hounds of Alizon is finally over. The uniting of the Dale Lords, coupled with the loss of their support from the alien Kolder, weakened the Hounds’ ability to fight the Dalesmen, to be sure. But even this was not enough to secure the victory of High Hallack over the invaders. No, only one thing tipped the balance in their favor toward the end of the war. That was the appearance of the Were Riders on the side of the Dalesmen.

You are probably wondering who or what the Were Riders are, aren’t you? Bespelled by an Adept in the hidden realm of Arvon, which is sealed off from the rest of High Hallack, the Were Riders are men who can turn into animals. They have other magic as well, of course, but the Dalesmen know them best for their ability to assume the forms of beasts and birds.

Image result for year of the unicorn andre norton

There are roughly thirty members of the Were Rider “Pack,” as they call themselves. And they agreed to enter the war on the side of the Dalesmen on one condition: after the war was over, the Dale Lords would provide the Riders with thirteen maids of marriageable age. They were to be comely and without illness or some other blemish, and they were to become the brides of thirteen of the Riders. The Pack was exiled from hidden Arvon to the rest of High Hallack; they did not come here willingly, they were banished.

But their time of exile is nearly ended. Once it is done they will either be allowed to reenter Arvon – or they will be stuck in High Hallack for the rest of their lives. If that last occurs, they do not want their people, such as they are (all the Riders are male), to disappear. The only way to preserve themselves as a race is to marry.

At the Abbey of the Flame in Norsdale, Gillan helps the Dames at their daily tasks. Taken by the Hounds from a land across the sea, she remembers nothing of her real home or people. Gillan only remembers scraps of the sea voyage and being rescued by Dalesmen raiding her captors’ ship when it arrived in port.

The Lord Furlo led the raid which rescued Gillan and so his wife, Lady Freeza, kept her as a fosterling. They retreated to the Abbey when he was killed and their Dale taken by the enemy. The strain of both losses, however, was too much for Lady Freeza and she died, leaving Gillan in the care of the Dames.

While grateful for the Dames’ protection over the years, Gillan has begun to feel trapped in the Abbey. Her chance to escape comes when the selected brides for the Were Riders stop by to take advantage of the Dames’ hospitality – and to pick up a couple of brides to fill the quota along the way.

Image result for year of the unicorn andre norton

One of these prospective maids, a girl named Marimme, goes off into hysterics when she learns what her guardian has in mind for her. Seizing her chance both to help the poor creature and to escape the Abbey, Gillan knocks the girl out and takes her place, joining the other twelve brides on their journey to meet the Were Riders. By the time her deception is discovered it is too late to send her back, and so Gillan goes with the other young women to meet her future husband.

The Rider she chooses is Herrel. Herrel is not a full Were Rider; he is not as powerful as the rest of the Pack. And Gillan did not choose him because she was bedazzled by the marriage spell he and the other Riders used to call their new wives to them; somehow, she could see past the illusion. Nevertheless, she chose Herrel as her husband.

Herrel soon puts two and two together, realizing in the process that Gillan is not like the other girls or even of High Hallack. But because he is not as powerful as his fellow Riders, he cannot protect her from anything they try to do to her if they discover her power. So he asks Gillan to pretend the illusion the Pack keeps up for the benefit of the other brides is real, in order to protect them both from trouble.

If you think she says no, you would be wrong. If you think Herrel’s hope to keep Gillan’s ability secret gets exposed, you would be closer to the mark, readers. Year of the Unicorn is one of the best novels Miss Norton ever wrote; after the Falconers, I think I love the Were Riders best out of all her fictional races. They are just as cool and mysterious as the men of the Eyrie who, despite their practices, have always intrigued me.

In one of her essays, Miss Norton said that Year of the Unicorn is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I leave you, readers, to discover how they are alike. No more spoilers here; go out and get the book yourselves. You won’t regret it!

Image result for year of the unicorn andre norton

Advertisements

Book Review: The Good Guy by Dean Koontz

Related image

I have stated that I am not a fan of horror novels/films/fill-in-the-blank. That still stands. Do I believe in ghosts, monsters, demons, and evil? Oh, yes, I do. That is part of the reason why I do not like horror stories. Too many people think these things are not real, and therefore they take them lightly. But these things are all very real, so I do not have a blasé attitude when I consider them.

Evil is real, and Koontz makes sure to tell his readers this time and again throughout his novels. The Good Guy is no exception; it opens with Tim Carrier – a bachelor, mason, bricklayer, and former United States Marine – sitting down to have a beer.

Since his return to the states, Tim’s kept himself off the radar. He is a self-employed mason in California who shows up, does his job well, and says very little about himself. He likes to end his days with a drink or two at his friend’s bar, the Lamplighter Tavern.

On this particular night, though, he does not go unnoticed. A nervous, twitchy little man enters the establishment after Tim has exchanged the usual pleasantries with his friend. For the first few minutes, he thinks the newcomer’s just jumpy, so he tries to strike up an interesting conversation with the guy.

Then the man slides a thick manila envelope over to him with the words, “Half of it’s there. Ten thousand. The rest when she’s gone.”

At first, Tim is too surprised to explain that there has been a mistake. Before he can get his mouth to start working, though, the little man has bolted out the door. Looking at the manila envelope for a while, Tim then opens it and checks out the contents.

Inside are ten thousand dollars in cash and a photo of a pretty woman about Tim’s own age. Printed on the photo is the woman’s name – Linda Paquette – along with her address.

He puts the photo and the money back in the envelope before sliding it as far from him as he can. No sooner has Tim put this slimy offering away, however, than a man – who could be his dopplegänger – enters the bar. He takes the uneasy man’s seat, orders a beer, and picks up the envelope.

What would you do here, readers? Call the cops? Try to tell the man the job’s off? Tim tries the second course, but it does not work. As for the first, Tim considers it until he sees the killer put a police light on the top of his car. This hired murderer might be disguising himself as a cop, but having seen his eyes, heard him talk, our Good Guy doubts that very much. Going to the police will therefore get Linda – and very probably Tim – murdered a whole lot faster.

Now, readers, in this situation, what would you do? Help Linda, or walk away and forget the entire scene had ever occurred?

Dean Koontz lets Mr. Carrier make the choice. And Tim chooses to go help Linda.

Image result for the good guy by dean koontz

The Good Guy is a great read. It will scare the pants off of you, and it will break your heart. It will crack the veneer of normalcy the academics and journalists have laid over our world to show you the writhing, seething things that hide in the darkness so prevalent in the world where we live. If you pay attention, you will learn many things about evil, faith, hope, love, and courage while reading this book.

Koontz has often referenced Flannery O’Connor, one of his favorite authors, in his novels. Flannery O’Connor once said that her aim in the stories she wrote was to “shout loud enough for the atheists” to hear the truth she had to tell them.

Mr. Koontz is aiming in the same general direction, but it is not just the atheists and unbelievers he wants to awaken. It is the rest of us who go about the world with our hands over our ears, eyes, and mouth in the hopes of avoiding the face of evil. Evil is real. It is very, very real, and the only thing that allows it to win is if good men and women – good guys and girls – let it.

That is Mr. Koontz’s message in all his fiction, something new readers of his works ought to be aware of. The Good Guy is one of the stories where he shouts the loudest.

Discover The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz, at your earliest opportunity, readers. It is worth your time and money.

Image result for the good guy by dean koontz

Book Review: The Witch World Trilogy by Andre Norton

About a year ago, maybe two, I covered Andre Norton’s famous first Witch World novels: Witch World and Web of the Witch World. As you may remember, those books detailed the arrival of Simon Tregarth to the Witch World from Earth. After several adventures in this new world, Simon married the Witch Jaelithe who, though she was cast out of the Witches’ Council, retained her Power after marrying him.

These next three tales, which are crucial to understanding the timeline and references in all future Witch World novels, continue their tale in a new form…

Three Against the Witch World

Image result for Three Against the Witch World by Andre Norton

Three Against the Witch World is set after the Kolder War, at the very end of the year. Told from the point of view of Kyllan Tregarth, he describes how his mother, Jaelithe, gave birth to triplets. This was astounding because no one in the Witch World had ever had more than two children at once. Not in recorded memory, at least; if it ever happened before, it is lost in the Witch World’s ancient history.

But the birth was difficult, leaving Jaelithe lethargic and nearly catatonic for an entire year. This nearly drove Simon mad, and his work on Estcarp’s border with Karsten came dangerously close to killing for killing’s sake. Only when Jaelithe recovered did he calm down.

And the children? There were three: Warrior, Sage, and Witch. Kyllan is the warrior. He reached for a sword hilt when he could only crawl. The first born, Kyllan is not prone to asking questions or thinking on ancient mysteries. He is a man made to face the present moment, the desperate hour of battle.

Kemoc, the second of the triplets, is the Sage, the one with all the questions. He pries into records, old knowledge, and wants to learn anything and everything. Kaththea, the third triplet, was born almost immediately after him, and so the two have always been closer to each other than to Kyllan. Though not displayed in her early life, Kaththea has the same gifts as her mother; she is the Witch.

With Karsten maintaining its aggressive stance toward Estcarp, Simon and Jaelithe have to spend almost all their time on the border. Thus they rarely interact with their own children, whom they leave in the keep of their old friend, Loyse of Verlaine, the wife of Koris of Gorm.

The children’s only real mother is Anghart, a Falconer woman who left her village after her own deformed son was killed. The Falconers cannot tolerate weakness of any kind in their ranks because of their harsh lifestyle as mercenaries. And so, like the Spartans of old, they traditionally dispense with any child that is crippled or somehow blemished – even by, say, a large red birthmark splattered across their face. So Anghart is cold and distant to all in the keep. Only the Tregarth triplets, whom she cares for as her own, know her true warmth and nature.

Anghart may be the only one, aside from Jaelithe, who perceives the special tie among the triplets: though three distinct people with their own strengths and weaknesses, the Tregarth heirs have a mental link that lets them meld into a cohesive whole. On instinct, they do not display this ability openly or use it often. It is private, for them alone…

But when Kaththea accidentally intercepts a message sent by a Witch to the Council, asking for aid, their bond activates in response to the urgency of the summons. Captured by Karsten raiders, the Witch called her Sisters for help, and Kaththea was in the line of communication. She and her brothers immediately used their special connection to find the Witch and then help the Borderers save her.

But in doing so they revealed Kaththea’s talent. The Witches do not care for men, and because Jaelithe had left the Council, they did not test her daughter to see if she had the Power. With this rescue of the Witch, however, Kaththea’s Power has been revealed to them. The Council demands the right to test her and, if she proves to have the Power, to take her as a novice who will someday become a full-fledged Witch.

Although they almost never spend much time with their children, the Tregarths are no less protective of their offspring than any other parents. They flatly tell the Council that Kaththea is off-limits and will not be tested. But the Council is patient, and when Simon goes missing two years later, Jaelithe chases after him once she has found his location with the help of their children’s Power.

Years later, despite their parents’ best attempts to guard them, while Kyllan and Kemoc are with the border guards, the Council strikes. Sensing Kaththea’s cry for help, her brothers take off immediately to protect her. It takes the two of them a couple of days to get to the keep, where they find Anghart, barely alive. She stood by her foster daughter to the last, throwing herself between Kaththea and the Witches. When she would not be persuaded to move, they tore her will to live from her with their Power. Though she has the will to live long enough to tell Kyllan and Kemoc what happened and to advise them on how to rescue their sister, she dies two days later.

And so the Tregarth brothers remain Borderers, protecting Estcarp from attacks committed against their nation by Karsten, biding their time until they can find a way to save their sister. In one of these skirmishes Kemoc’s sword hand is injured and he has to be sent to Lormt to recover. When he comes back, he tells Kyllan he has learned where their sister is and where the triplets may hide from the vengeance of the Witches: in the East.

Why is this so special? For all those in Estcarp save Simon and his three children, there is no East on the map. There is not even a recognition of the word in the minds of those Kemoc has asked about the East. It is as if something blocks them from traveling or even thinking in that geographical direction.

So the brothers rescue their sister from the Witches’ training grounds and take her East – where they upset many balances, meet new allies, and find bitter, monstrous foes…

Warlock of the Witch World

Image result for Warlock of the Witch World by Andre Norton

The sequel to Three Against the Witch World, this novel is from Kemoc’s perspective. Living in the Valley of Green Silences with its people, his brother, and his sister, Kemoc leads raids against the evils that prowl the Eastern land known as Escore. Kyllan has married a high lady among the People of Green Silences – Dahaun – but Kemoc and Kaththea as yet have no such heart-ties.

Until a man named Dinzil arrives with his people to join in the Valley’s defense. Kaththea and he get along right from the get-go, and he is well known by reputation among the People of the Valley, not to mention well-liked for his charm.

The only one who cannot stand him is Kemoc. It is not that his sister, with whom he has always been close, is showing favor to the man. That bothers him, but not in the way you might think. The reason that it bothers him is that he instinctively dislikes Dinzil. He cannot find a reason for his aversion; he only knows that every time he gets close to the guy, he has to restrain the urge to grab for his sword. The fact that Kaththea and Kyllan do not have this problem, and that Kaththea is dazzled by Dinzil, only makes matters worse for the Sage.

Dahaun figures this much out through observation and asks Kemoc what his problem is. Kemoc admits that he does not want to speak ill of an ally, nor does he want to accuse a man without proof. He only knows that something about Dinzil feels wrong. He cannot say it any other way.

Unlike his siblings, Dahaun accepts Kemoc’s instinctive assessment of the man. She knows Dinzil’s reputation, knows that he has been vouched for by others as a servant of the Light. But she is not willing to dismiss the second Tregarth youth’s concerns out of hand. Instincts can be as good as knowledge or reason; sometimes, they can be even better than those. In this case, she thinks he may be right and promises to keep as close an eye on Dinzil as she can.

Later, Kemoc and one of the men in the Valley go to visit the Krogan, humans mutated centuries ago by Adepts in magic so that they can live in water, not to mention weave spells using it. The catch is that the Krogan cannot survive long out of water. If they travel too far away from any source of water, salt or fresh, they will die. Don’t bring ‘em to the desert. 😉

At the lake the Krogan call home, Kemoc meets Orsya, one of the Krogan women. Later on, the Krogan emissary states that his people wish to remain neutral. Though of the Light and not allied with Darkness, they are tired of war and just want to be left alone.

Kemoc and his guide/commander leave the lake peacefully. But on the return journey, Kemoc is separated from his friend by a flood. It is not a natural flood, either; Kemoc feels as though this flood was conjured up by something or someone of the Dark. He gets back to the Valley eventually – only to learn that Kaththea, distraught at his disappearance and her inability to find him by mind touch, has gone with Dinzil to use that man’s “means” to locate him.

Though no one else is worried, Kemoc sets out almost at once to find her.   His every instinct is screaming that this was a trap set for his sister, and he has to find her before she is killed. Or worse….

Sorceress of the Witch World

Image result for Sorceress of the Witch World by Andre Norton

The final book in this trilogy of Witch World novels is from Kaththea’s point of view. After the events of Warlock of the Witch World, Kaththea was left in a childish, not-quite amnesiac state of mind. She has had to relearn everything, and her memory has come back slowly. Soon, though, the only things she does not truly remember are what she did while she was with Dinzil.

Nevertheless, her dabbling and subsequent mind wipe have left her open to the wills of the Dark things that roam Escore. Finally, she can stand the nightmares no longer. She decides to go back to Estcarp to find a surviving Witch to retrain her in the use of her Power.

The plan goes awry, though, when an avalanche separates her from her brothers in the mountain pass that leads back to Estcarp. Alone and unable to contact her brothers due to her weakened mind bond with them, she can only hope that they are still alive and that she will be able to return to them and the Valley.

That idea seems destined to die when a primitive man finds her and takes her back to his tribe – which turns out to have an old, old, old Witch guiding it around Escore’s myriad dangers.

Although she does not like being in this tribe or her separation from her brothers, Kaththea instantly recognizes that this Witch can help her regain control of her Power. This arrangement works well enough – until the old woman appoints Kaththea her replacement in the tribe’s society, seconds before she topples over dead!

Trapped with a tribe she does not want to lead, Kaththea slowly breaks free of the spell holding her to these people. When her attempt to safely guide the tribe ends in a massacre, Kaththea escapes, with only her most bitter enemy for company as she searches for a way back to the Valley.

The search is hampered not simply by those who are hunting the two women, but also by the magnetic pull of magic coming from an abandoned Adept’s castle. Unable to resist the pull, Kaththea and the other woman enter the castle and pass through a gate into another world –

It is through these events that Kaththea becomes the Sorceress of the Witch World.

Wow, that was a longer post than I had intended to write. Whew, I did not realize how much I would have to say to whet your appetites, readers! I think I will sign off now and let you look up these books yourselves. ‘Till next time!

Book Review – The Time Traders: Firehand by Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin

Image result for The Time Traders: Firehand by Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin

If the names Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin look good together, then that is because these authors collaborated several times on novels set in Andre Norton’s universes. From the Witch World to the Time Traders, P. M. Griffin co-wrote a number of stories with Miss Norton. To the best of my knowledge, the only books she has written on her own are her Star Commandos series. I have not been able to read any of those yet, but hopefully I will get that chance in the future.

Firehand is a novel set in Miss Norton’s Time Traders series. Now, I have not read the series all the way through. Heck, I have not even read the first book in the series! Firehand was my introduction to it.

From what I can gather, the Time Traders are units of time-traveling Terran agents who work to ensure that history either remains the same or yields better results than it did previously. But they are not doing this for economic gain. That is, at best, a side benefit. No, the Time Traders’ main mission is to protect the Terran timeline and the histories of its allies/potential allies from the interference of strange aliens called Baldies.

Baldies get their Terran nickname from their bald heads. None of these aliens have tried to be friendly or to make first contact with the Terrans. Mostly, they have either tried to eradicate them or to control them.

Ross Murdock, the young time agent, encountered these aliens in Earth’s Bronze Age on his first time-trading mission. The Baldies, powerful telepaths, at one point were working hard to take control of his mind and bend him to their will. Running for his life, Murdock could not afford to sleep. Sleep would mean his conscious mind was relaxed, which would mean he could not maintain control of himself. So the Baldies could have him sleepwalk all the way back to their camp or into a river where he would drown, and he would be none the wiser until it was too late.

So Murdock kept moving, becoming more and more exhausted as he fled the aliens. Exhaustion, of course, is a threat as well; the more he tired, the more likely he would fall unconscious or collapse into sleep. This would leave him vulnerable to the Baldies’ telepathy as well.

Ross is not a man who submits to domination willingly. In order to stave off sleep and keep the Baldies out of his mind when he rested, he set a fire. Then he put a brand in the fire, took it out, and burned his own hand with it.

That was at the start of his career as a Time Agent. By the time of Firehand, he has been on at least a couple of other missions, gaining more experience and getting tougher by the day.

This latest assignment to the planet Hawaika, though, looks to be his last. With fellow agents Doctor Gordon Ashe and Karara Trehern, Ross had to destroy the time gate to save Hawaika’s future. Now, they are all trapped in Hawaika’s past.

Not that Karara is too unhappy about that. Melding with ancient Hawaikan magic before the final battle, Karara has become something other than human. To leave Hawaika now would be a death sentence for her. But to stay would be equally bad for Gordon and Ross.

Thankfully, the Time Traders have no intention of leaving their highly trained, very expensive agents stuck in the past. Karara they have to leave behind in time for the new history to remain the same; but Ross and Gordon are coming home…

….To face yet another historical crisis. This time, the world they have to save is the Dominion of the Sun-Star Virgin. When they saved Hawaika, something went wrong in the Dominion’s past. Now that world is reduced to a glowing cinder.

So Ross, Gordon, and former Time Trader weapons instructor Eveleen Riordan are going back to Dominion’s past to fix this mess.

And that’s all I am writing, fellas. If you want to know the rest, hunt up the Time Traders series or skip straight to Firehand. As I have said elsewhere, Miss Griffin is a superb writer. Her work on Firehand is not necessarily of the same caliber as her work on Seakeep and Falcon’s Hope from Storms of Victory and Flight of Vengeance, respectively. In fact, if you are paying attention you will see some similarities between those stories and Firehand.

However, the similarities do not cause too much of a problem for me. If anything, they just show the writer’s preferences. Every writer has some favorite plots, names, animals, character types, or worlds, etc. Who am I to jump all over P. M. Griffin for being normal?

In a while, Crocodile!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Tales of the Witch World by Andre Norton

Here is that next Andre Norton book I promised to review some time ago.  This book is not entirely Miss Norton’s creation. It is an anthology book, which contains several short stories set in Miss Norton’s Witch World universe.

Miss Norton only wrote one story in the whole volume. The others were written by her protégés, authors she helped to get noticed and published by the companies who published her work. It is a long list of authors she helped to get started, readers.

If you are not familiar with the Witch World, you can check out a couple of my other posts about that universe here on the blog. But the Witch World is wide and varied, and those last two posts are just glimpses of a bigger world. Some of these stories will not make much sense if you have only read Witch World and Web of the Witch World.

So this is why I am going to list which stories in Tales of the Witch World are good, and which you may want to avoid. To start with the negatives first, it would be best to avoid Heir Apparent, Cat and the Other, To Rebuild the Eyrie, Milk from a Maiden’s Breast, and Green in High Hallack. None of these stories are particularly well written, in my opinion, and some of them do not fit properly with the rules Miss Norton’s established for her world.

Heir Apparent is told from the villain’s perspective, and so I found it very annoying. Cat and the Other played fast and loose with the rules of Estcarpian society, the niceties, as it were. The honorifics were sloppy and insincere sounding. This makes it grate on my nerves, and so I do not recommend it at all. To Rebuild the Eyrie, which focuses on a young Falconer trying to reestablish his people’s base in the twisted southern mountains, was so poorly written that I did not even finish reading it.

Milk from a Maiden’s Breast I managed to stagger through, though again, I found the author had almost ignored the rules of the Witch World. Green in High Hallack was almost unbearable for me to read for the same reasons. It was also poorly written, which increased my aggravation with both story and author. *Deep sigh.*

These are the stories in the book that I avoid and therefore do not recommend be read. What you wish to read or not read, however, is for you to decide. The only reason I have gone to the trouble of listing the stories which drive me crazy is because I cannot, in good conscience, recommend stories I hate. If you like them, that is your prerogative. My imperative is simply to be as honest as possible when I give my opinions.

On the positive side, I enjoyed most of the other stories. A few of these came dangerously close to breaking Miss Norton’s format, but they were well written and therefore managed to avoid irritating me too much.

The first story in the book is by Andre Norton herself. This one is called Of the Shaping of Ulm’s Heir, and it is an introduction to the story of Kerovan, a character who lives in High Hallack, the western continent of the Witch World. Kerovan’s stories usually involve gryphons; one of the books that feature him and his wife is called Gryphon’s Eyrie. I have only read that one story which was based on him and his wife, and so I do not know much about him. Of the Shaping of Ulm’s Heir fills in some of the blanks for me, but I have much more to find out about him yet.

Then we have Fenneca and Bloodspell. Both these stories also take place in High Hallack, I think. Fenneca may actually take place in Estcarp; the location is never exactly stated. Fenneca breaks a few rules, but it is written well. I am therefore willing to forgive Wilanne Schneider Belden and to recommend that Fenneca be read.

Bloodspell was written by A. C. Crispin. Crispin co-wrote several novels with Miss Norton, and then went on to write a few Star Wars novels. Bloodspell takes place in Arvon, a state in High Hallack which is beyond the Dales. In Year of the Unicorn, it was implied that no one in High Hallack could enter Arvon except through luck or the gates which connect the Witch World to Earth. Bloodspell does not break this rule, but another story later on in the book does.

Crispin’s short story focuses on the Were-riders. Men who were bespelled by an Adept so that they can shape shift into animals, the Were-riders call themselves a Pack. We learn about them first in Miss Norton’s Year of the Unicorn, a very good book I will someday review here. For now, it is enough to say that Crispin wondered why the Were-riders were kicked out of Arvon into the Dales of High Hallack. Miss Norton said she did not know why, and this allowed Crispin to give us the reason in Bloodspell.

Next is The White Road, by Charles de Lint. This story is set in High Hallack immediately after that country has been freed from the Hounds of Alizon. It is fairly well written and takes little liberty with the established rules of Miss Norton’s Witch World. I would give it four out of five stars, if pressed to rate it.

Then there is Oath-Bound, by Pauline Griffin. After Miss Norton, Miss Griffin is the one writer I would trust to successfully tell a story about a Falconer. This story seems to have preceded Seakeep and its sequel; Miss Griffin’s writing here is good, but by her later stories in Storms of Victory and Flight of Vengeance her writing had greatly improved. I rate Oath-Bound as a somewhat lesser story for this reason, and no other.

Of Ancient Swords and Evil Mist and Nine Words in Winter follow. These stories skate close to breaking Miss Norton’s established laws in the Witch World, as well as the history she had formed around the countries where they take place. However, their writers knew their craft, and so the stories do not truly grate on this reader’s nerves.

Were-Hunter, by Mercedes Lackey, is a very good story. Truth be told, I cannot stand Miss Lackey’s novels (she co-wrote novels with Miss Norton). The woman puts a great deal of detail in her novels – too much detail. She has to explain the whole universe, all the scenes, characters, customs, and clothing in great specificity. This means her novels suffer from a burden of too much description and not enough story. What is more, the resolutions of her novel conflicts are often anti-climatic and unfulfilling. As a novelist, she drives me crazy.

But as a short story writer, she is not so very bad. Were-Hunter is a good example of this. The story is set in Arvon, as a sequel to Year of the Unicorn. Miss Lackey’s handicaps are assets here, and Were-Hunter is one of the stories in Tales of the Witch World that I like best. I do not understand how I can enjoy her short stories and hate her novels, but I do.

Then we have Neither Rest Nor Refuge. This story is set in Karsten at the time when the Old Race was thrice horned, or outlawed, and killed by Duke Yvian in Witch World. It is written well enough that it garners my appreciation for that reason. It also introduces a male character native to Estcarp who can wield the Power. The ending is a cliffhanger, so do not expect too much from it. Still, it is a passable story.

Next are Night Hound’s Moon and Isle of Illusion. Night Hound’s Moon is set in the Dales of High Hallack. It takes place either some time after the end of the war with Alizon, or during a lull in the conflict. Other than that, it is an entertaining story. Isle of Illusion does not adhere very well to Miss Norton’s rules for magic, in my opinion, but it is otherwise well-crafted and the writer knows her business. I do not know just where in the Witch World that Isle of Illusion is set. Seemingly, it is off the coast of High Hallack, but I cannot say for sure.

And last we have The Road of Dreams and Death. Robert E. Vardeman writes well, but I think he should have read a few more of Miss Norton’s Witch World novels before diving into this tale. In The Road of Dreams and Death, the barrier between Arvon and the rest of High Hallack is non-existent, when by rights it should still be there. This is the one thing about the story I do not understand and which rankles when I read it. Otherwise, it is an acceptable yarn.

These are the stories you will find if you pick up Tales of the Witch World, readers. You may like the stories I hate and hate the stories I like. Or you may dislike the whole thing. That is your choice. The stories I have described in some detail are the ones I enjoyed the best and wanted to share with you. If any of you wish to drop me a line disagreeing or discussing the above book, I would certainly enjoy hearing from you! For now…

See ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Beast Master by Andre Norton

ANDRE NORTON ORG: Coverart Gallery!

The last book of Miss Norton’s reviewed here was Star Guard. Though I have plans to soon revisit the Witch World universe she created, we are not going there just yet. Our next stop, however, is almost as colorful. Allow me to introduce you, readers, to the world of Beast Master.

No, I am not talking about the TV show of the same name. While I enjoyed that series, I cannot help but wonder how it ended up sharing the same or a similar name with the book. There are no likenesses between the two stories.

At the beginning of Miss Norton’s novel, we learn that Earth – Terra – has been turned into a radioactive blue ball by an invading species called the Xiks. The Xiks are not human, though they are relatively humanoid. The first Beast Master novel does not go into great detail about what the Xiks look like.

Everyone on Terra is dead. Everything on Terra is dead. And at the Separation Center of the Confederacy, human colonists from other worlds have to deal with veterans of a world that is just plain gone. Many of the Terran veterans of the Xik war have lost their minds to grief because of the destruction of their world. These veterans either attack those who are trying to help them or they turn their weapons on themselves. Not a pretty picture, to be sure.

A Commander at the center is dealing with one such veteran’s case right now. Hosteen Storm, a Galactic Commando, is asking to leave the Center for the colony world of Arzor. He is a calm, cool, Amerindian man. Unlike many of the people at the Center, the psych-medics have been unable to find any sign of mental instability in him.

Maybe this is because he is one of the few Beast Masters. Beast Masters, once used to survey new planets for possible colonization, were reconverted into commandos for the war. Their bonds with teams of animals meant they could scout out danger faster than unaided humans in the Survey Department. During the war, their animals helped them track down enemy bases, sabotage enemy equipment and camps, and the Xiks were never able to face down the animals very well in personal combat.

To all appearances, Hosteen Storm seems completely healthy. Remarkable for a Terran veteran, true, but otherwise he seems to be nothing special.

Yet the Commander at the Center is reluctant to let the Beast Master go. Something about the young man is off. Oh, he answered the psychologists properly, and he has helped them handle the other, more unstable veterans who are mourning Terra’s destruction. But there remains something about him – a danger the Commander cannot put his finger on and which he cannot name. He only knows that he would rather not let the Commando leave the base.

However, he also has no precedent or excuse to keep him at the Center. Reluctantly, he gives Storm his papers. The Terran veteran accepts them, then leaves to pack his things and pick up his team.

Storm’s fascinating team consists of Baku, the female African Black Eagle; Ho and Hing, a mated pair of meerkats, and Surra. Surra’s ancestors were the small, fox-faced and eared dune cats. But they were bred successively with bigger and bigger cats over the years. So now, though Surra retains the distinctive fox-face and ears, along with the desert treading paws, she is the size of a cougar. Of the four animals on the team, she is the unquestioned empress.

 

ANDRE NORTON ORG: Coverart Gallery!

Storm, one of the Dineh, the Navajo, has a reason for picking Arzor as his next stop. Not only is the planet the most like his native Southwest U.S.A., it is the home of an old enemy. The Commander’s instincts are right. Storm is not yet done riding the war trail. He has a score to settle on Arzor, though he has never met the man he wants to kill.

Once on Arzor, a planet which is pretty nearly the equivalent of the Southwest in terms of culture and land (though the sky has a mauve tint), Storm hooks up with a man named Put Larkin. Larkin is hiring riders for a drive to his range. He has a herd of horses he has to get home quickly. Storm’s Terran heritage causes a pause, but when the young Beast Master spectacularly tames an untrained horse, Larkin happily hires him on the spot.

On the trail, Storm makes an enemy of a fellow driver named Coll Bister. Bister gives the impression of a bigoted, swaggering, boastful man. But later events cast doubt on this idea. He is too cautious, and his hatred of Storm too deep. A blustering fool might take a dislike to a newcomer, but only upon having his fanny handed to him in a fight will he hate a man. Bister, however, hates Storm even before the other knocks him to the ground.

To add to this, Storm keeps hearing about some sort of trouble between the human settlers and the natives. Terrans and humans from other worlds usually avoid settling on planets with native populations. But the first settlers on Arzor came when space travel was still touch-and-go. They landed and found that – whoops – there was already a sentient species on Arzor.

These aliens – called Norbies – are roughly seven feet tall with white horns on their heads. Green skinned and very slender, the Norbies’ vocal chords are constructed in a way that prevents them from speaking human languages. In a twist of fate, no human can speak their whistling, chattering tongue either. Instead, they communicate with humans through a form of sign language, called “finger talk” in the novel.

To avoid the friction American settlers and Indians in the West encountered, the human settlers made strictly enforced pacts of friendship with most of the Norbie tribes. They may pass through Norbie territory while driving their herds, and the Norbies are happy to trade with them for horses, meat, or other things. Ranchers will hire Norbies as workers on their ranges, and the Norbies are good at tracking lost animals. Otherwise, though, a human cannot enter or hunt Norbie land without the Norbies’ direct say-so. There are outlaws who use the territory, certainly, but both the settlers and the Norbies dislike them.

The system between the two species does not please everyone on both sides, but by and large it seems most settlers and Norbies appreciate and like each other. This makes the determined, bigoted hatred of Bister and some other settlers out of character. These guys believe that recent losses in frawn and horse herds can be blamed on the Norbies. Most other ranchers do not buy this story, but that does not mean these hot-blooded men may not go off and do something stupid. If the balance between the Norbies and human settlers is upset, it will mean all out war. And primitive people do not do well when they war with more advanced peoples.

Storm, determined to pay his debt, does not want to get involved in this brewing fight. His mission is made even more complicated when he encounters his quarry during a night in town. Storm was expecting a man he could hate. Instead, he has found a man he can respect and could even like, if his blood-debt were not in the way.

Over the course of the book, however, both Storm and his quarry are drawn into the conflict between the Norbies and Settlers. Storm runs into successively greater and deadlier surprises along the way. Just because Terra is a blue ball of radioactivity does not mean the Xiks are willing to leave humanity alone. Their hatred runs too deep, though no human has any idea why the Xiks hate them. Attempts at reconciliation between the two species always ended badly for the humans involved.

Does Storm do what he came to Arzor to accomplish, you ask? You will have to read the book to learn that, readers! I have spoiled a large part of the story as things stand now. If I say any more, you will not need to read the book. And I want you to at least try it. Hopefully, you will enjoy it. And if it makes you a fan of Andre Norton’s writings, then so much the better!

See you around!

The Mithril Guardian

Andre Norton with her World Fantasy Award
Andre Norton

Book Review – The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Whew! What a read!!!

The subject of today’s post is an unusual book written by a well-known author. It is a new book and a fabulous read – I literally had to force it out of my hands! But, before going on about this novel, readers, I would like to say a few things about the author.

Jim Butcher is an writer whose books have landed on the New York Times bestseller list several times. A fantasy/sci-fi writer, Mr. Butcher’s most famous series is probably his Harry Dresden novels. Harry Dresden is a wizard/detective based in Chicago. He deals with werewolves, vampires, ghosts, faeries (small and big), as well as other wizards.   He has even met and talked to angels – good and bad!

I have read a couple of Harry Dresden novels and discovered a few things about Jim Butcher in the process. One, he is a huge fan of Star Wars. This is evidenced not only by his own admission at the back of some of his books, but by Harry Dresden’s constant quoting or referring to the original Star Wars trilogy. (I wonder what he thinks of The Force Awakens?)

Two, Mr. Butcher also knows about and enjoys other genres/series, which he also references in his novels. Harry Dresden mentions Marvel characters, the Looney Tunes, The Princess Bride, and even Disney movies throughout his adventures. Harry is by far the wittiest character I have yet seen Jim Butcher write. Though I do not necessarily like everything in the Harry Dresden stories, Harry himself is definitely one of my favorite characters. I am always rooting for him to win.

Another book series by Jim Butcher which I have (sort of) read is the Codex Alera series. Okay, technically, I only read the one book. But that was an excellent story, too! Mr. Butcher is said to have received the idea for the Codex Alera series from a fan or casual reader of his work. This man bet the author could not make a series out of two bad story ideas. So Mr. Butcher challenged him to name two bad story ideas, and he would try to make a good story out of them. The fan came back with The Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon.

Mr. Butcher succeeded admirably in combining the two, I think. And having never seen Pokémon (except in television advertisements and toys), that connection was not immediately obvious to this reader. The Roman connection, however, was extremely hard to miss!

Now, Mr. Butcher has done it again. His newest book, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, came out not too long ago. It is the first book in his new series, The Cinder Spires. Visiting the library sometime back, I saw the book on a shelf of newly acquired novels and literally snatched it up. No way was I going to let this story pass me by! Grabbing a chair, I started reading….and reading…and reading!

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is set in the far future of Earth. Apparently, by this point Earth has been transformed into an alien jungle. Thick mists separate the land from the sky, and while light still gets through, it does not do so in the way in which we are accustomed. And in this future, normal creatures have either vanished entirely or morphed into monsters that prey on humans. As a result, humanity survives in tall, manmade skyscrapers called Spires.

The Spire at the heart of this story is Spire Albion. Several characters in the novel end up working together later on, forming the core group whose exploits will doubtless be the center of this new series. My favorite character in The Aeronaut’s Windlass, however, is Captain Francis Madison “Mad” Grimm, of the Albion privateer ship Predator.

Okay, now I have to back up a bit. Obviously, since humans live in the Spires, there are no seas for them to sail. Instead, the humans in The Cinder Spires sail through the air or, when need be, through the thick mists that shroud the Earth. The ships have a combination of steam powered and crystal powered engines. It is for this reason, seemingly, that Mr. Butcher and others call the Cinder Spires series a “steampunk” saga.

Almost everything in the Spires is run by steam engines, apparently. These engines, aboard airships, receive their power from crystals specially grown in the houses of the Spire’s nobility. Oh, and nothing in the Spires is made of exposed steel or iron. Once that metal is open to the elements, it rusts and falls apart within days. Everything is made of copper, brass, or some other metal. Anything that is made of steel or iron is covered by either of these metals so that it will not corrode.

The airships’ engines, run by the crystals I mentioned before, keep the vessels aloft by riding on the etheric currents that flow through the atmosphere. These currents flow around everyone – even in the Spires! There are, though, some people who have etheric currents flowing right through them. These people are wizards known as etherealists (all of whom are nuts as a result of constantly having etheric currents flowing through them; as usual, some of these wizards are good crazy, and others are bad crazy). You can tell Butcher is a thorough-going Star Wars fan. Etherealists use etheric currents like the Jedi or the Sith use the Force! Both the currents and the Force flow around and through people all the time, after all!

Captain Grimm is a great character. Cashiered from Spire Albion’s defense fleet for cowardice, Grimm is no coward. But the latest prize he tries to snare in his privateering business is only bait for a trap to catch him and Predator. Narrowly escaping that disaster, Grimm loses several men in the skirmish. But the worst damage is to Predator’s core crystal. It has cracked, beyond repair. Core crystals for ships are so expensive they are practically priceless. The only ships that can afford them are Fleet ships. So the chances of Grimm gaining such a crystal are…. nil, nada, and zip.

But Grimm is determined not to give up his ship. Ever since he got out into the open air, he has loved nothing else. The idea of living a Spire-bound life horrifies him, and by this point, it would probably qualify as a death sentence. He will not give up his ship. Somehow, some way, he has to get her skyworthy again.

The opportunity to get Predator in the air again presents itself when Grimm accepts a dangerous commission from the (figurehead) ruler of Spire Albion himself, Spirearch Addison Albion. Unfortunately, I have to leave the description right there readers. I have given quite a few spoilers already. If you do pick up this book, it would be good if you found a few surprises! 😉

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is an exciting adventure – a real page turner! Butcher draws his characters and the world they live in with a precise pen, wasting no words and scattering humor throughout the novel. As always, he keeps some details about this new world to himself. His readers fall in love with the characters and most of their world, while he leaves just enough unexplained, so that we readers have to say, “When is the next book released?! We want more!

Grimm is my favorite character in the whole book, as I said. Mr. Butcher described the novel as a combination of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen “meets Sherlock Homes meets Horatio Hornblower,” prior to the novel’s release. I think this is one of the reasons Captain Grimm appealed to me so much. I was introduced to Hornblower through Masterpiece Theater as a child, and I have had a special love for Mr. Hornblower, the sea, and wooden sailing ships ever since.

Grimm’s skills as a captain are spectacular. If I do not miss my guess, Spire Albion is based on 19th century England, and Grimm has at least some resemblance to her most famous privateer, Francis Drake. He also has a dash of Captain James T. Kirk in him. Star Wars fan that he is, Mr. Butcher doubtless realized (as others have), that Star Trek was more accurate in terms of how it presented space travel as the future form of seafaring. Captain Kirk was drawn accordingly, and so is Captain Grimm, whose ship also plies the skies – though not the galaxy!

Most of Grimm’s character, however, is his own. Despite his resemblance to other heroes, fictional and historical, he is a great protagonist for this new series. As a friend of mine said, “He is smart in how he handles his ship, and wise in how he handles his people.” Grimm reads and takes the measure of his enemies with the care of a scientist, never ceasing to think or wasting his assets if he can help it. He deeply cares about his crew, and remains concerned for the welfare of the young guards whom the Spirearch charges him to support and protect in the novel.

This is a truly tremendous, fascinating book, readers. And the series that follows it can only get better from here! So grab a copy of The Aeronaut’s Windlass and settle down with it as quickly as you can, if I may be so bold! It is well worth reading!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian