The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

September 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm (Adventure, Fantasy, Horror, Short stories) (, , , )

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard

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
457 pages
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 »

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The Valley of Horses

August 20, 2010 at 2:53 pm (Adventure, Romance, Trashy novel) (, , , )

The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel

The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel
Bantam, 17th printing, 1985
544 pages
Genre: Alternate history, pre-historical fiction, fantasy

Jacket copy: HERE IS AN UNFORGETTABLE ODYSSEY INTO A WORLD OF AWESOME MYSTERIES, into a distant past made vividly real, a novel that carries us back to the exotic, primeval world we experienced in The Clan of the Cave Bear–and to the beautiful Ayla, the bold woman who captivates us with her fierce courage and questing heart. Cruelly cast out by the ancient Clan that adopted her as a child, Ayla now travels alone in a land og=f glacial cold and terrifying beasts. She is searching for the Others, a race as tall, blond, and blue-eyed as she. But Ayla finds only a hidden valley, where a herd of hardy steppe horses roams. Here, she is granted a unique kinship with animals enabling her to learn the secrets of fire and raw survival–but still, her need for human companionship and love remain unfulfilled. Then fate brings her a stranger, handsome Jondalar, and Ayla is torn between fear and hope–and carried to an awakening of desire that would shape the future of mankind.

Book report: Are you fucking serious? No, for reals, as not good as this book is, that jacket copy is absolutely terrible. Someone ought to be ashamed of themselves. I mean, Ayla wasn’t cruelly cast out by the Clan, it was Broud. They had no choice in the matter. And, well, nevermind. The whole thing is just silly. The important thing here is that Jean Auel goes off the proverbial deep end in the book, which is unfortunate, because it’s only the second (and weakest) of the series.

Don’t get me wrong, I was all about the Earth’s Children series in seventh and eighth grade. One of my friends, either Tina or Kym, was way into it, too, and we would make snide jokes about Jondalar’s prowess. That was right when The Plains of Passage came out, and more than any of the others, that book is all about fucking. Excuse me, I mean Pleasures. Yeah, that’s right, that’s what Auel calls sexing, Pleasures with a capital pee. If that doesn’t drive you batty, though, the novel itself will.

It begins well enough, with Ayla heading for the mainland beyond the Clan’s peninsula, and for the Others who might be there. Unable to find anyone, she settles in a valley for the winter, figuring to stay alive until the next year, when she can try seeking out her own kind again. As Ayla settles in to her new abode and goes into full survival mode, across a continent two young men leave their home to go on a pre-historic Grand Tour. Jondalar (OMG, he’s got violet eyes, blonde hair, and is like catnip to women–and did I mention his massive tool? because Jean M. will until you want to barf). Jondalar and Thonolan (love these names) encounter new cultures of people not all that much unlike themselves, and along the way, Jondalar not only Pleasures hordes of women, but also is exposed to flatheads, aka Neanderthals, or Clan. This is significant because later he will meet up with Ayal, and will need to learn a Very Important Lesson about humanity. Read the rest of this entry »

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An Echo in the Bone

June 7, 2010 at 11:29 pm (Adventure, Fantasy, Historical fiction, Romance) (, )

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
Delacorte Press, 4th printing, 2009
820 pages
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 »

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The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

March 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm (Adventure, Alternate History, Children's lit, Historical fiction, Juvanalia) (, , , , )

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
originally published 1962
Delacourte, 1st edition, 2000
181 pages
Genre: Children’s classic, historical fiction, COVENS

Book Report: Wicked wolves and a grim governess threaten Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia when Bonnie’s parents leave for a sea voyage. Left in the care of the cruel Miss Slighcarp, the girls can hardly believe what is happening to their lovely, once happy home. The servants are dismissed, the furniture is sold, and, dressed in rags, Bonnie and Sylvia are sent to a prison-like school for orphans. It seems as if the endless hours of drudgery will never cease.

With the help of Simon the gooseboy and his flock, they escape. But where will they go? And how will they ever get Willoughby Chase free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp?

OH SHIT YEAH. I used to have a copy of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and I read it ALL THE TIME. (What the hell happened to that book?) I set so many stories in Aiken’s world, and even had a long-running series of dreams in which I was in a summer camp overrun by giant wolves a la TWoWC (there were tunnels from cabin to cabin, and sometimes we traveled by rooftop). I still want to doze off in a cart full of geese and play with a giant stuffed pony with crystal eyes. Who wouldn’t? So it’s obvious that I was delighted to read Laura Lippman’s treatment of TWoWC in Shelf Discovery and find that I was not alone in my love for spunky orphans. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Terror

September 22, 2009 at 7:45 pm (Adventure, Historical fiction, Horror) (, , , , )

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Terror by Dan Simmons
Little, Brown & Co, 1st edition, 2007
769 pages
Genre: horror, historical fiction, adventure

Synopsis & Review: From Columbus on, explorers searched North America for a route to the Orient, and as it became clear that the continent stretched for thousands of miles, they refocused their efforts on the North and the possibility of a Northwest Passage. In 1845 the Franklin Expedition set forth with two steam-powered ships–the first to explore the Arctic–Erebus and Terror, under the command of Sir John Franklin and Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier respectively. Both men had been on previous expeditions into the Arctic and even Antarctic. They were provided with 126 men and state of the art preparations. And after whalers sited them as they steamed westward out of Baffin Bay in July of 1845, they were never seen again.

By October 1847, both ships are trapped in the pack ice off of King William Land. After wintering at Beechey island the first year, the immense amount of ice to the northwest belied the Open Polar Sea theory and sent the expedition southward, toward the Adelaide Peninsula in search of the Northwest Passage. But the ice grew ever thicker and winter came early, marooning Erebus and Terror. And in 1847, summer never came. As winter redoubles its efforts, the men of the expedition hunker down in the cold and the dark. Though originally supplied for three years, they are running out of coal, and many of their food stores have gone putrid. The ice is crushing the ships, slowly grinding them to pieces. Worst of all, something in the dark and ice is stalking them, killing the men one, two, or even several at a time.

The key to their salvation may be in Lady Silence, a mute Esquimeaux girl who could lead them to food or rescue. Or who might be a part of the predations upon the men. Captain Francis Crozier will do all he can to keep his men alive, even abandon his ship, but it may not be enough.

Men who read a lot have a more sensitive disposition, added Fowler. And if the poor bloke hadn’t read that stupid story by that American, he wouldn’t have suggested the different-colored compartments for the Carnivale–an idea we all thought was Wonderful at the time–and none of this would have happened.
I did not know what to say to this.
Maybe reading is a sort of curse is all I mean,
concluded Fowler. Maybe it’s better for a man to stay inside his own mind.
Amen, I felt like saying, though I do not know why.

rip4banner200Though I was eager to read The Terror for RIP IV, having happened across a mention of it somewhere (I need to keep track of these things) last week, looked it up on Amazon, and requested it from the library all in the space of an hour, I was also a little apprehensive. I was a bit worried about the size of it; I read massive books fairly often, but I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, and trying to read a massive book in which you’re not interested is extremely painful. So I picked it up one night before bed and read the first eighty-five pages. The next night, I found that I’d read two hundred and fifty-seven pages, when I’d only meant to read a chapter. And I could hardly bear to put it down to sleep. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Historian

September 17, 2009 at 1:31 am (Adventure, Gothic, Historical fiction, Horror, Suspense) (, )

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Little Brown & Co, 5th printing, 2005
642 pages
Genre: horror, suspense, Gothic, historical fiction

Synopsis & Review: Rooting among her father’s bookshelves, a sixteen-year-old girl stumbles upon a packet of letters and a book—and a historical mystery her family has been pursuing since long before her birth. While traveling Europe, he begins telling her the story of the packet and how he came to be involved in the mystery, one that seeks to unravel the truth about Dracula. When he is away on trips, the girl begins pursuing her own studies, reading the letters and researching Vlad Tepes and Transylvania, despite the danger he warns her of.

The story splits into three lines: that of the narrator in 1972, that of her father and mother in the Fifties as they search for Professor Rossi, and that of Professor Rossi as he began his researches in the Thirties. In the two earlier storylines, the story is told through letters and other documents.

When her father unexpectedly leaves a conference to go abroad once more, the narrator finds more letters, these from her father regarding his hunt for her long-lost mother. Desperate to find her beloved father—and possibly the mother she has never known—the narrator sets off across France in pursuit of them both and their shared past.

rip4banner200I avoided The Historian when it came out, because that’s just how I roll, but it was always there on the fringes of my consciousness, much as Dracula tickles the edges of his pursuers’ minds, even years after they’ve given up the chase. Though he seldom appears in the novel, Kostova makes her Dracula a terrible and menacing figure with historical fact and her deft hand with atmosphere and scholarly intrigue. The Historian just oozes atmosphere, from the beautiful and inspiring descriptions of cities and monuments all over Europe and Near Asia, to the hush of libraries and archives, and even occasional eerie dread. So I thought of RIP IV, girded my loins, wished for autumnal weather, and ordered it from the library. Read the rest of this entry »

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