The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
Signet, 10th printing, 1988
Genre: Dark fantasy
Once upon a time–there was terror. And dragons and princes … evil wizards and dark dungeons … an enchanted castle and a terrible secret. With this enthralling masterpiece of magical evil and daring adventure, Stephen King takes you in his icy grip and leads you into the most shivery and irresistible kingdom of wickedness … THE EYES OF THE DRAGON.
Book Report: When I was in fourth grade and bored because everyone in my class was reading Island of the Blue Dolphins (god, how last year!) and nothing is duller than following along as people very slowly read something you’ve already read and enjoyed on your own, my mother handed me a copy of Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, thus beginning a lifelong relationship. Now, many people who aren’t familiar with this particular novel might think it a bit much to hand a Stephen King novel off to a nine-year old (especially one who suffered from an intense fear of the dark and of closets), but TEotD is more a bedtime story than an experiment in terror like most of King’s other works. And it’s the one I most recommend to people who aren’t horror readers, but who do enjoy fantasy. Like I said, it’s more a bedtime story, albeit one of dark fantasy, a real fairy tale, more akin to The Princess Bride than to The Shining. Read the rest of this entry »
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian: The Original Adventures of the Greatest Sword-and-Sorcery Hero of All Time! by Robert E. Howard
illustrated by Mark Schultz
materials originally published 1932-1976
DelRey, 1st edition, 2005
Genre: Fantasy, sword & sandals, short stories, adventure!
Jacket copy: “Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities . . . there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . . . Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand . . . to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.”
Conan is one of the greatest fictional heroes ever created–a swordsman who cuts a swath across the lands of the Hyborian Age, facing powerful sorcerers, deadly creatures, and ruthless armies of thieves and reavers.
In a meteoric career that spanned a mere twelve years before his tragic suicide, Robert E. Howard single-handedly invented the genre that came to be called sword and sorcery. Collected in this volume, profusely illustrated by artist Mark Schultz, are Howard’s first thirteen Conan stories, appearing in their original versions–in some cases for the first time in more than seventy years–and in the order Howard wrote them. Along with classics of dark fantasy like “The Tower of the Elephant” and swashbuckling adventure like “Queen of the Black Coast,” The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian contains a wealth of material never before published in the United States, including the first submitted draft of Conan’s debut, “Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard’s synopses for “The Scarlet Citadel” and “Black Colossus,” and a map of Conan’s world drawn by the author himself.
Here are timeless tales featuring Conan the raw and dangerous youth, Conan the daring thief, Conan the swashbuckling pirate, and Conan the commander of armies. Here, too, is an unparalleled glimpse into the mind of a genius whose bold storytelling style has been imitated by many, yet equaled by none.
Book report: So, I dig Conan. I totally dig Conan, from the stories to the movies. (Basil Poledouris’ score for Conan the Barbarian is one of the greatest film scores of ALL TIME. I listen to it constantly. We played the “Anvil of Crom” at our wedding, in fact. That is how much I love Conan. And how much of a huge dork I am.) I love the idea of Conan, and that exotic, crazy world in which he lives. It’s totally awesome, and I want to go there–but just for a visit. Now, I’ve discussed Conan before, and the treatment REH’s creation suffered at the hands of MONSTERS in the decades following his death, so I probably don’t need to go into that again. Read the rest of this entry »
The Green Flash, and Other Tales of Horror, Suspense, and Fantasy by Joan Aiken
Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1971
Genre: Suspense, horror, fantasy, children’s lit, short stories
Jacket copy: A small self-contained child who dreams reality; the ghost of a love-struck bicycle-riding night watchman; a canary who bears an acute resemblance to the younger sister of Charles II; an old lady, hard of hearing, almost blind, but with a murderous sense of smell–these are just a few of the characters you’ll encounter in this spine-tingling, mind-boggling collection by Joan Aiken.
The impact of the tales is varied and ranges all the way from grisly horror through old-fashioned mystery to comic fantasy. It’s a book to curl up with and enjoy on a dark, rainy night, a book which continues to astound from the first page to the very last.
Book report: So, though it’s been a couple of years since I found out that Joan Aiken had written a whole mess of books in concordance with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (the Wolves Chronicles, they’re sometimes known as)–a shocking discovery for someone who’d read and re-read TWoWC like it was her job–I hadn’t read anything else by her til last winter’s Shivers for Christmas, which included a really excellent little story, “The Ferry.” I not sure why, but I don’t read short stories all that often, though I like them a great deal (especially TALES OF TERROR), but the title of The Green Flash was well-nigh irresistible. I mean, how evocative is that?
It is such an odd little collection of stories, ranging from the, well, grisly to the subtly disquieting, and from pathos to humor. And for the most part, they’re very, very good. I don’t think I disliked any of the stories, but I couldn’t say that I liked them all. Not because they were bad or uninteresting, but because of that lingering sense of disquiet (“Summer by the Sea” has taken me three readings to come to terms with, and it still makes me uncomfortable) they invoke. But that’s a good thing; I’d much rather puzzle over a story and how it made me feel than simply forget it. Read the rest of this entry »
The Briar King: The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, Book 1 by Grey Keyes
Del Rey, 4th printing, 2004
Genre: Epic fantasy
Jacket Copy: Two thousand years ago, the Born Queen defeated the Skasloi lords, freeing humans from the bitter yoke of slavery. But now monstrous creatures roam the land—and destinies become inextricably entangled in a drama of power and seduction. The king’s woodsman, a rebellious girl, a young priest, a roguish adventurer, and a young man made suddenly into a knight—all face malevolent forces that shake the foundations of the kingdom, even as the Briar King, legendary harbinger of death, awakens from his slumber. At the heart of this many-layered tale is Anne Dare, youngest daughter of the royal family . . . upon whom the fate of her world may depend.
Now, I have something to say, so PAY ATTENTION. If you are a spoiler fanatic, note that the jacket copy on each volume gets progressively more explicit when explaining the story in the volume(s) preceding (though for the most part, it’s vague enough that I wouldn’t be bothered, but then, I love spoilers). This is common sense. Consider yourself warned. Read the rest of this entry »
An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
Delacorte Press, 4th printing, 2009
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Jacket copy: Diana Gabaldon’s brilliant storytelling has captivated millions of readers in her bestselling and award-winning Outlander saga. Now, in An Echo in the Bone, the enormously anticipated seventh volume, Gabaldon continues the extraordinary story of the eighteenth-century Scotsman Jamie Fraser and his twentieth-century time-traveling wife, Claire Randall.
Jamie Fraser, former Jacobite and reluctant rebel, is already certain of three things about the American rebellion: The Americans will win, fighting on the side of victory is no guarantee of survival, and he’d rather die than have to face his illegitimate son–a young lieutenant in the British army–across the barrel of a gun.
Claire Randall knows that the Americans will win, too, but not what the ultimate price may be. That price won’t include Jamie’s life or his happiness, though–not if she has anything to say about it.
Meanwhile, in the relative safety of the twentieth century, Jamie and Claire’s daughter, Brianna, and her husband, Roger MacKenzie, have resettled in a historic Scottish home where, across a chasm of two centuries, the unfolding drama of Brianna’s parents’ story comes to life through Claire’s letters. The fragile pages reveal Claire’s love for battle-scarred Jamie Fraser and their flight from North Carolina to the high seas, where they encounter privateers and ocean battles–as Brianna and Roger search for clues not only to Claire’s fate but to their own. Because the future of the MacKenzie family in the Highlands is mysteriously, irrevocably, and intimately entwined with life and death in war-torn colonial America.
With stunning cameos of historical characters from Benedict Arnold to Benjamin Franklin, An Echo in the Bone is a soaring masterpiece of imagination, insight, character, and adventure–a novel that echoes in the mind long after the last page is turned.
Book Report: Upon reading the last page of this latest installment in the Outlander series, the adventures of a WWII nurse in the eighteenth century, my first response was “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!” For whatever reason–I have no idea why–I was convinced that this would be the seventh and FINAL installment.–and it isn’t. Bugger that for a lark. Read the rest of this entry »
A Ring of Endless Light
originally published 1980
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 16th printing, 1980
Genre: Young adult, Bildungsroman, fantasy
Synopsis & Review: Almost sixteen, Vicky Austin’s summer begins with her first funeral. Family friend Commander Rodney is dead of a heart attack that occurred after he saved a wealthy young man who had sailed out into a squall. On top of Commander Rodney’s death, the Austins are on Seven Bay Island to spend the summer with Grandfather, who is dying of cancer. While Vicky tries to reconcile herself to the mortality all around her, Commander Rodney’s son Leo turns to Vicky for love and support, and she also meets Adam, a young man working with her brother John at the marine biology station. Like the proverbial bad penny, Zachary Gray, the young man with a heart condition and deathwish arrives on Seven Bay Island, and it was of course he who sailed into the storm that killed Commander Rodney. All three young men try to claim Vicky’s notice, Leo and Zachary out of friendship and desire, and Adam for his own purposes. He senses an openness in Vicky, something he can use for his private marine biology project, an attempt to communicate with dolphins. As much as he’d like to believe she’s just John’s kid sister, Adam becomes more aware of Vicky as a bright, loving young woman. And when the catastrophe comes, it is that lovingkindness in Vicky, her friends, and her family that will carry her through.
I’m pretty bummed that this is the last of the Austin Chronicles. (I skipped The Young Unicorns for now, because it didn’t hold my interest sufficiently before someone else in Multnomah County wanted to read it, the jerk. Some day.) At least I still have the rest of the Kairos books to look forward to (there’s a helpful chart/family tree in the beginning of this copy). Read the rest of this entry »