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An Edwardian psychic detective chases Scooby Doo villains and the occasional Outer Monstrosity.


The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder

Wordsworth Editions, Ltd, 2006, 191 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg. (The Gutenberg edition is missing three stories — you can also find all of them here.)




Thomas Carnacki is a ghost finder, an Edwardian psychic detective, investigating a wide range of terrifying hauntings presented in the nine stories in this complete collection of his adventures. Encountering such spine-chilling phenomena as 'The Whistling Room', the life-threatening dangers of the phantom steed in 'The Horse of the Invisible' and the demons from the outside world in 'The Hog', Carnacki is constantly challenged by spiritual forces beyond our knowledge. To complicate matters, he encounters human skullduggery also. Armed with a camera, his Electric Pentacle and various ancient tomes on magic, Carnacki faces the various dangers his supernatural investigations present with great courage. These exciting and frightening stories have long been out of print. Now readers can thrill to them again in this new Wordsworth series.


Invisible horses, demonic pigs, stolen rare books, haunted ships, and good-old fashioned human skulduggery. )

Verdict: Florid Edwardian prose and formulaic stories that nonetheless show a raft of influences, and some really creepy creatures. Fans of Sherlock Holmes and/or Lovecraft, but especially fans of both, will probably enjoy them. 7/10.




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A fantasy Ocean's Eleven and Pirates of the Caribbean mash-up.


Red Seas Under Red Skies

Bantam Spectra, 2007, 558 pages




After a brutal battle with the underworld that nearly destroyed him, Locke Lamora and his trusted sidekick, Jean, fled the island city of their birth and landed on the exotic shores of Tal Verrar to nurse their wounds. But even at this westernmost edge of civilization, they can't rest for long---and they are soon back doing what they do best: stealing from the undeserving rich and pocketing the proceeds for themselves.

This time, however, they have targeted the grandest prize of all: the Sinspire, the most exclusive and heavily guarded gambling house in the world. Its nine floors attract the wealthiest clientele - and to rise to the top, one must impress with good credit, amusing behavior...and excruciatingly impeccable play. For there is one cardinal rule, enforced by Requin, the house's cold-blooded master: it is death to cheat at any game at the Sinspire. Brazenly undeterred, Locke and Jean have orchestrated an elaborate plan to lie, trick, and swindle their way up the nine floors...straight to Requin's teeming vault. Under the cloak of false identities, they meticulously make their climb - until they are closer to the spoils than ever.

But someone in Tal Verrar has uncovered the duo's secret. Someone from their past who has every intention of making the impudent criminals pay for their sins. Now it will take every ounce of cunning to save their mercenary souls. And even that may not be enough.


The Gentleman Bastards go a'piratin' in a crapsack fantasy world. )

Verdict: A page-turner that was, if anything, better than the first book (if a bit more meandering), Red Seas Under Red Skies elevated my desire to read the next book in the series, though I hope Lynch is going to eventually incorporate some larger meta-plot into the story, rather than just continuing to spin yarns about ever-greater heists. 9/10.

Also by Scott Lynch: My review of The Lies of Locke Lamora.




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The Minotaur works as a line cook in a North Carolina steakhouse.


The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

Picador, 2000, 313 pages




Five thousand years out of the Labyrinth, the Minotaur finds himself in the American South, living in a trailer park and working as a line cook at a steakhouse. No longer a devourer of human flesh, the Minotaur is a socially inept, lonely creature with very human needs. But over a two-week period, as his life dissolves into chaos, this broken and alienated immortal awakens to the possibility for happiness and to the capacity for love.


Southern litfic by way of Ovid. )

Verdict: Very literary, and not even as strange as it sounds, once you get past the premise. The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is well-written, with deeply human characters (even/especially the monster), but a rather plodding plot if you're hoping for more in the way of story. 8/10.





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An iron-thewed barbarian trucker and a half-naked half-elf navigate the Rules of a fantasy world.


The River of Dancing Gods

Del Rey Fantasy, 1984, 263 pages




Joe and Marge, minutes away from death, are rescued and brought from Earth to the magical world of Husaquahr by the wizard Throckmorton P. Ruddygore to battle the forces of Hell itself!


Jack Chalker is like a slightly less adolescent Piers Anthony. )

Verdict: This book is a product of and a commentary on its time, the 80s boom in extruded epic fantasy product. Jack Chalker is always an entertaining author — he's written two of my favorite SF series: Well World and the Quintara Marathon. But this series was not his best work. The River of Dancing Gods is a fun, light read that takes a self-aware poke at its genre, but much of it felt like Chalker was just kind of filling space by telling us what happened between the scenes he really wanted to write. 6/10.




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Harry Dresden vs. a taxonomy of werewolves.


Fool Moon

Roc, 2000, 401 pages




Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is Chicago's only openly practicing wizard. He is also dead broke. His vast knowledge and magical skills are unfortunately matched by his talent for making powerful enemies and alienating friends. With little more than his integrity left, he accepts an offer of work from Lt. Karin Murphy of Chicago's Special Investigations Unit. He wants to redeem himself in Murphy's eyes and make enough money to quiet his rumbling stomach.

Soon he finds himself pinned between trigger-happy FBI agents, shape-shifiting motorcycle gang members, a threatened mobster boss, and an heir to an ancient curse along with his primal fiance. Throw in environmental activists and a pair of young werewolves in love and you have something of Fool Moon.


The second book is neither better than nor worse than the first. )

Verdict: The Harry Dresden series is basically paranormal romance for guys. Fool Moon, the second book in the series, adds only a little bit to Dresden's world, and rehashes a lot of the plot devices and characterization from the first book. It's entertaining but nothing special; I have yet to understand why this series is so massively popular. 6/10.

Also by Jim Butcher: My review of Storm Front.




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A low magic, epic fantasy, political potboiler - Game of Thrones without the gore and rape and incest.


The Dragon's Path

Orbit, 2011, 555 pages




All paths lead to war...

Marcus' hero days are behind him. He knows too well that even the smallest war still means somebody's death. When his men are impressed into a doomed army, staying out of a battle he wants no part of requires some unorthodox steps.

Cithrin is an orphan, ward of a banking house. Her job is to smuggle a nation's wealth across a war zone, hiding the gold from both sides. She knows the secret life of commerce like a second language, but the strategies of trade will not defend her from swords.

Geder, sole scion of a noble house, has more interest in philosophy than in swordplay. A poor excuse for a soldier, he is a pawn in these games. No one can predict what he will become.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. A spat between the Free Cities and the Severed Throne is spiraling out of control. A new player rises from the depths of history, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon's Path-the path to war.


A banking whiz kid, a tragically brooding soldier, and a nerdy nobleman who is really, really going to make you regret giving him a wedgie. )

Verdict: Good, solid writing, engaging characters (some more than others, but every multiple-POV novel will produce some characters who are more interesting than others), and a plot that takes a while to build up, but when it does, takes off with a bang. The Dragon's Path is a slowly developing epic in which the author seems to be taking his time laying the groundwork, but if a relatively slow-paced 550-page first volume can make me want to read book two, it's doing something right. The only reason I'm not giving it a highly recommended tag is that it is clearly a derivative genre work that doesn't really do anything different per se — it's just really good at being what it is. 9/10.

Also by Daniel Abraham (writing as James S.A. Corey): My review of Leviathan Wakes.




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Anita the Teenage British Witch: Georgy Girl meets Granny Weatherwax.


Anita

Ace Books, 1970, 221 pages




Meet Anita Thompson: she's young, she's lovely, she's clever ... and she's a witch. A real one.

Anita lives in two worlds: the modern world of supermarkets and sports cars, radio and rock & roll, where she is a thoroughly modern girl with a thoroughly modern interest in boys and fast living and her own independence. But the ancient and rustic world of traditions, cauldrons, and familiars , where she and her Granny (a witch of the Old School, broom and all) invoke elemental spirits in the service of Him Wot's Down Under. She has senses no ordinary mortal can imagine (at least nine); with them, she can hear the voices of every creature of the night. She can changer her shape, call a drowned corpse from a lake, reverse the flow of time, and ride the Sea Serpent (there's only the one, you know; always has been -- always will be) deep into the ocean in the company of a mermaid, even though the modern world is trying to crowd aside -- and even change -- that world of witchcraft and magic. Yet, complicated as a young witch's life may become, Anita never loses her sense of fun, or her essential innocence.


Anita was a teenager when Samantha was a housewife. )

Verdict: These stories are a trip, a dated trip back to 60s Britain. Anita is a precursor to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, Buffy, and the entire contemporary urban fantasy genre. I would love to see someone write Harry Potter fan fiction with Anita appearing at Hogwarts. 7/10.




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A foul-mouthed fucking road tramp with a fucking psychic gift tries to fucking cheat fate fuckity fuck.


Blackbirds

Angry Robot, 2012, 384 pages




Miriam Black knows when you will die.
Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days he will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.

Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. No matter what she does, she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.


Yeah, she kind of does talk like that. )

Verdict: Strong voice, clever writing, if relying a bit too much on violence and profanity . The characters are vivid and the dialog is snappy, but also leaning heavily on the ability to disturb the reader. The plot moves along, and gets to an end that isn't too much of a cheat. 7/10.




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Contains (a partial list): 1930s noir superheroes, samurai battle armor, magical ninjas, Lovecraftian monsters, and zeppelin pirates


Warbound

Baen, 2013, 448 pages




Only a handful of people in the world know that mankind's magic comes from a living creature, and it is a refugee from another universe. The Power showed up here in the 1850s because it was running from something. Now it is 1933, and the Power's hiding place has been discovered by a killer. It is a predator that eats magic and leaves destroyed worlds in its wake. Earth is next.

Former private eye Jake Sullivan knows the score. The problem is, hardly anyone believes him. The world's most capable Active, Faye Vierra, could back him up, but she is hiding from forces that think she is too dangerous to live. So Jake has put together a ragtag crew of airship pirates and Grimnoir knights - and set out on a suicide mission to stop the predator before it is too late.


It is what it is, and it's kind of awesome. )

Verdict: This book is cheesy big guns blazing noir superhero action, and I loved it. The author is doing nothing more and nothing less than entertaining his audience. Is it deep? Is it literary? Is it a classic of the genre? No. But would I read another Grimnoir series? Absolutely.

Also by Larry Correia: My reviews of Hard Magic and Spellbound.




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A tabletop wargaming tie-in novel that somehow made it onto the Hugo list.


The Butcher of Khardov

Privateer Press, 2013, 80 pages




His blind fury is infamous, his strength without rival, but the legend of the man known as the Butcher of Khardov was forged in a crucible of pain...

The legacy of the massacre near Boarsgate at the hand of the warcaster Orsus Zoktavir has followed him his whole life—but it is another memory that fuels both his rage and his will to live. Before he was one of Khador’s most potent weapons he was simply a young man striving to make a life for himself, and for his beloved, free of the violence that came so easily to him. Her gentle presence helps him quell his simmering temper, but fate changes everything, sweeping him up in events that would lead to grief and madness.

Learn the tragic history of Orsus Zoktavir and plumb the depths of his rage in The Butcher of Khardov.


Fridged family and 'crucibles of pain' notwithstanding, this grimdark anti-hero is almost not cardboard. )

Verdict: Dan Wells has written more original stuff than this, so why a novella set in a tabletop wargaming universe was nominated for a Hugo mystifies me. The Butcher of Khardov is not bad — it's enjoyable enough if you're in the mood for macho bloodbaths and a bit of pathos. But it's not special enough for a Hugo.


Also by Dan Wells: My review of I Am Not A Serial Killer.




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A multi-generational, literary tale of Hollywood monsters and Jim Crow.


Wakulla Springs

Tor, 2013, 99 pages. Available online at tor.com.




Wakulla Springs. A strange and unknown world, this secret treasure lies hidden in the jungle of northern Florida. In its unfathomable depths, a variety of curious creatures have left a record of their coming, of their struggle to survive, and of their eventual end. Twenty-five thousand years after they disappeared from the face of the Earth, the bones of prehistoric mastodons, giant armadillos, and other primeval monsters have been found beneath the seemingly placid surface of the lagoon. The visitor to this magical place enters a timeless world of mystery.


A dreamy, magical piece of historical fiction...but is it fantasy? )




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A Farmboy of Destiny hikes through Middle EarthFantasylandia


The Eye of the World

Tor, 1990, 670 pages




The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, and Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.


My, this Wheel does go on. )

Verdict: The Eye of the World is honored for its sentimental value and because of the massive investment Wheel of Time fans put into reading this huge series, not because this book is truly great. It isn't. It's not terrible. But Robert Jordan was not a great writer and there was barely anything original about this trite and overwritten epic fantasy quest. I don't mind having read it, but the thought of reading fourteen more fills me with existential horror. Enough.




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A collection of novellas and short stories set in Selenoth, the author's epic fantasy world.

The Wardog's Coin A Magic Broken The Last Witchking


In which the reviewer prepares to face orcs. )

Verdict: I've now read three ebooks by Vox Day so you don't have to. But seriously, they weren't bad, and they were better than I was expecting. Whether VD and his fans believe me or not, this review was an honest effort, in which I did my best to avoid letting my opinion of VD's persona affect my opinion of his writing. (If anything, I was probably more generous than I would otherwise have been.) So yes, I honestly liked them; Vox Day is a fine if not original storyteller. I'd enjoy reading him a lot more if he could improve his dialog and stop describing pallid and insipid suns. I am not prepared to dive into A Throne of Bones yet (see above, I can only handle so many epic fantasy horse-chokers of dubious quality at a time), but I probably will try out his SF novel, Quantum Mortis, and see if he does better in that genre, since I generally prefer SF to fantasy nowadays anyway.




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Snow White is the gunslinging half-breed daughter of a silver baron in Catherynne Valente's latest retold fairy tale.


Six-Gun Snow White

Subterranean, 2013, 168 pages




From New York Times bestselling author Catherynne M. Valente comes a brilliant reinvention of one the best known fairy tales of all time. In the novella Six-Gun Snow White, Valente transports the title's heroine to a masterfully evoked Old West where Coyote is just as likely to be found as the seven dwarves.

A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parentsóa Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother's death in childbirth, so begins a heroine's tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, readers will be enchanted by this story at once familiar and entirely new.


Note: This year, I am going to try to read and review as many of the Hugo Nominees as I can. I will tag them with 2014 Hugo Nominee.

Does the world need yet another version of Snow White? Does the world need more zombie apocalypses or space operas? (Dear Catherynne Valente: I would totally read a zombie apocalypse written by you.) )

Verdict: If you like fairy tale retellings (like Fables) or any of Catherynne Valente's other work, then you'll enjoy Six-Gun Snow White. I didn't love it quite the way I love Valente's Fairyland books, but as one of the nominees for Best Novella, it's a worthy contender.

Also by Catherynne Valente: My reviews of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, The Habitation of the Blessed, Silently and Very Fast, and Deathless.




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In the second book in the Grimnoir Chronicles, the U.S. government is the enemy and the author gets his digs in on FDR.


Spellbound

Baen, 2011, 448 pages




Dark fantasy goes hardboiled in Book II of the hard-hitting Grimnoir Chronicles by the New York Times best-selling creator of Monster Hunter International. The Grimnoir Society’s mission is to protect people with magic, and they’ve done so—successfully and in secret—since the mysterious arrival of the Power in the 1850s, but when a magical assassin makes an attempt on the life of President Franklin Roosevelt, the crime is pinned on the Grimnoir. The knights must become fugitives while they attempt to discover who framed them. Things go from bad to worse when Jake Sullivan, former P.I. and knight of the Grimnoir, receives a telephone call from a dead man—a man he helped kill. Turns out the Power jumped universes because it was fleeing from a predator that eats magic and leaves destroyed worlds in its wake. That predator has just landed on Earth.


Correia's allegories are none too subtle, nor is his writing, but this is still damn entertaining. )

Verdict: An entertaining action adventure with pulp sci-fi robots and evil super-powered samurai against hard-boiled American wizard-superheroes. This is not a deep series, but it's much more entertaining than all that alt-Victoriana steampunk crap.

Also by Larry Correia: My review of Hard Magic.




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Hard-boiled magical superheroes vs. the Japanese Imperium's war-dirigibles in an alternate 1933.


Hard Magic

Baen, 2011, 423 pages




Jake Sullivan is a licensed private eye with a seriously hardboiled attitude. He also possesses raw magical talent and the ability to make objects in his vicinity light as a feather or as heavy as depleted uranium, all with a magical thought. It's no wonder the G-men turn to Jake when they need someone to go after a suspected killer who has been knocking off banks in a magic-enhanced crime spree.

Problems arise when Jake discovers the bad girl behind the robberies is an old friend, and he happens to know her magic is just as powerful as his. And the Feds have plunged Jake into a secret battle between powerful cartels of magic-users - a cartel whose ruthless leaders have decided that Jake is far too dangerous to live.


Mislabeled! This ain't urban fantasy and it ain't steampunk, but it's hella fun. )

Verdict: Larry Correia is obviously a big dorky aficionado of guns, B-movies, superheroes, and "America fuck yeah!" politics. He's packed Hard Magic full of enough tropes to power an alternate Marvel Universe, and yes, I could tell he was thinking in movie frames when he wrote his action scenes. Don't be misled by the title or the cover: Hard Magic is more "pulp-era X-Men vs. a Japanese Magneto" than it is urban fantasy, noir, or steampunk. There's world-saving to be done, and this is the first start of a series I've read in a while that really makes me want to read the next book.




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Nazi supermen vs. British warlocks in a do-over to save the world.


Necessary Evil

Tor, 2013, 384 pages




May 12, 1940, Westminster, London, England: the early days of World War II.

Again.

Raybould Marsh, one of "our" Britain's best spies, has travelled to another Earth in a desperate attempt to save at least one timeline from the Cthulhu-like monsters who have been observing our species from space and have already destroyed Marsh's timeline. In order to accomplish this, he must remove all traces of the supermen that were created by the Nazi war machine and caused the specters from outer space to notice our planet in the first place.

His biggest challenge is the mad seer Greta, one of the most powerful of the Nazi creations, who has sent a version of herself to this timeline to thwart Marsh. Why would she stand in his way? Because she has seen that in all the timelines she dies and she is determined to stop that from happening, even if it means destroying most of humanity in the process. And Marsh is the only man who can stop her.

Necessary Evil is the stunning conclusion to Ian Tregillis' Milkweed series.


Let's do World War II again, because it was so much fun the first time! )

Verdict: Necessary Evil brings the Milkweed trilogy to a finale, so definitely do not read it out of order. The ending suffers only from a bit of deja vu thanks to the events of the first book being replayed and altered, but it's a satisfying conclusion to a great series.

Also by Ian Tregillis: My reviews of Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War.




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Dragonriderskin of Two MoonsThree Worlds.


The Cloud Roads

Night Shade Books, 2011, 278 pages




Moon has spent his life hiding what he is - a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself... someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community. What this stranger doesn't tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power... that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony's survival... and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell! Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save himself... and his newfound kin.


It took me a while to figure out why this book was annoying me so much. )

Verdict: The Cloud Roads was not bad; it has definite original elements and lots of action. But parts of it grated on me, and at a certain point I found myself skimming, which is a bad sign and makes me disinclined to read the rest of the series.




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The Hobbit

It's been a long time since I read the book, but I'm pretty sure half this shit was not in it.

I don't mind that it's not a wholly faithful adaptation, but when part one of a three-movie series is this boring, it does not bode well.

One of the things the heavy reliance on CGI did was highlight just how ridiculous some of the D&D tropes that evolved from Tolkien are. Like dwarves taking on trolls. I completely failed to believe a bunch of dwarves, however bad-ass they may be, beating monsters made out of pure muscle mass several times their size in close combat. Now granted, complaining about a lack of physics in fantasy RPGs is rather missing the point, but when you put it in a movie, it starkly illustrates how fantastical and ridiculous it is.

I don't care if they're all 12th-level fighters, one troll would stomp the lot of them into the ground.

I did like the part with Gollum.

Denny's is selling Desolation of Smaug: Hobbit breakfasts.

Denny's.

Gandalf help me, I think I preferred the 1977 Rankin-Bass version.

The Hobbit (1977)

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