Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman

What fantasy fan hasn’t read their favorite book or series and wished they could use magic or visit the world where it takes place? That’s just what happens to the main character in Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” ($16, Plume).

Quentin Coldwater is a bored overachiever in school, obsessed by a series of books by Christopher Plover about the magical land of Fillory, which bears a striking resemblance to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. Quentin is preparing to take an alumni interview for an Ivy League college, but when he arrives, he finds the man who was supposed to interview him has died. A paramedic on the scene gives him a strange envelope that she says she found in the deceased man’s possession. Inside is a notebook that claims to contain a new volume of the Fillory series and a note which flies away. As Quentin chases it through a city park, he ends up on the lawn of Brakebills, a college for magic.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: "The Night Strangers" by Chris Bohjalian

I’ve been on a quest for the last year or so for that spooky, creepy, disturbing horror novel that just doesn’t seem to be out there anymore. After finding Chris Bohjalian’s “The Night Strangers” ($25, Crown) on a few end-of-year best horror lists and seeing that my local library had an electronic copy, I decided I’d give it a shot.

Chip Linton is an airline pilot forced to try to land his plane on Lake Champlain, a la Sully Sullenburger (who is mentioned ad nauseum in the book), after a flock of geese strike his engines and take them out. He almost pulls it off, too, but the wake of a ferry turning to come back and help the plane throws things off balance, causing the plane to break apart and dooming 39 of the passengers on board.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: "I Shall Wear Midnight" by Terry Pratchett

It was with some sadness that I read the blurb on the back of Terry Pratchett’s “I Shall Wear Midnight” ($16.99, HarperCollins) announcing that this was to be the last tale of Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men. Though the Discworld series was aimed more at the teen audience, I found the books quite entertaining. At least Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle go out on a strong note, though.

As the story opens, Tiffany is still struggling to make her way as a young witch on the Chalk, a place where having a witch is a fairly new idea. She’s constantly working at her witch duties, which include tending to the sick, childbirth and just generally helping people who need help. Despite the fact that everything she does aids someone and the people there have known her since she was born, she’s noticing a growing anti-witch sentiment. The old storybook tales of witches stealing children and doing all sorts of other nasty things are starting to swirl around again.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: "The Lost Gate" by Orson Scott Card

Here’s one of those books that’s been in my to-read pile for far too long. So long, in fact, that the paperback version is already out.

Danny North is born into a family of magic-users living on a compound in Virginia in Orson Scott Card’s “The Lost Gate” ($7.99, Tor). These families, scattered across the world, once ruled the Earth as gods before they were cut off from their homeland and their source of power. Now, the magic is greatly diminished, only a shadow of what they used to wield, but the families guard it jealously.

Danny grows up believing himself to be the lowest of the low among his people – a drekka, one without magic. As a teenager, he can’t perform the simplest magical acts that young children are capable of, and though he is a quick-witted, fast learner with a gift for languages, he finds himself an outcast, just one whim of the elders away from finding himself in the family cemetery.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: "Low Town" by Daniel Polansky

It’s been a good couple of weeks for me and first novels. First, I enjoyed Mark Lawrence’s dark debut “Prince of Thorns,” so I decided to take a shot on another one and picked Daniel Polansky’s “Low Town” ($25.95, Doubleday) off the stack. It proved to be another good choice.

Low Town is a pretty ugly place. It’s a place where immigrants who struggle to gain acceptance, criminals and the lowest of the low in society collect. It’s a place filled with crime and drugs and pretty much devoid of hope. The Warden is a former soldier and ex-cop turned drug addict and dealer who now spends his days there, moving his product and trying to protect his turf, living in the inn that he co-owns with a close friend and military buddy.

When the first child goes missing, the Warden doesn’t want to get involved, but when he stumbles across her body in a back alley, he’s drawn into the investigation.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Review: "Prince of Thorns" by Mark Lawrence

At the age of nine, Prince Jorg of Ancrath watched, trapped in hook briars, as soldiers tore his mother and brother from their carriage and brutally murdered them. By the age of 13, Jorg is a hardened and heartless killer looking for a throne in “Prince of Thorns” ($25.95, Ace), the impressive debut novel from Mark Lawrence.

Jorg, found by his father’s men, is returned to the Tall Castle and nursed back to health, though he should have died from the infection of the hook briars. But the experience and the bargain his father cuts with the nobleman responsible for the murders leave him bitter and in search of vengeance. He flees the castle with a band of men freed from the dungeons, and four years later, finds himself the leader of a bloodthirsty group of bandits, stealing, killing and burning their way across the countryside as he follows his secret vow to be king by 15. When Jorg’s band once again comes near his father’s lands, he feels an irresistible pull home, but what’s waiting for him there is not exactly what he expects.