Monday, June 18, 2018

The Wizard's Tale (Kurt Busiek)

The Wizard's Tale
Kurt Busiek, illustrations by David T. Wenzel
Image Comics
Fiction, CH Fantasy/Graphic Novel
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: For eons, the Rumplewhiskers have been among the greatest of Lune's evil wizards, each generation more devious than the last... until Bafflerog. Somehow, his magical alchemite helpers emerge as cute critters instead of demonic manifestations, and his frightful storms turn into gentle showers - sometimes with rainbows! He even befriended the Rumplewhiskers' old enemy and prisoner, Grumpwort, a former light wizard turned into a toad by his great-grandfather. To uphold his family name (and avoid the deadly wrath of Lord Grimthorne and the council of evil wizards), he is charged with recovering the lost Book of Worse, a spellbook containing every evil incantation of ancient times - with which the council will finally extinguish the last rays of hope and joy in Lune. But Bafflerog has second thoughts as he and Grumpwort set out on their quest...

REVIEW: The Wizard's Tale is a simple, whimsical story of good and evil, starring a lovably bumbling failure of a dark wizard. The plot arc is fairly obvious, especially for older readers, but the illustrations are full of fun little details, and it has a certain charm. If you don't expect profound things, it's a nice, fast-reading fairy tale.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Monster on the Hill (Rob Harrell) - My Review
Which Witch? (Eva Ibbotson) - My Review
My Sparkling Misfortune (Laura Lond and Alla Alekseyeva) - My Review

(On an unrelated note: After a year, I am nearly ready for the long-overdue update of my main Brightdreamer Books review archive site. Links may temporarily go wonky when I throw the proverbial switch, possibly this weekend. Just so you know...)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

All These Worlds (Dennis E. Taylor)

All These Worlds
The Bobiverse series, Book 3
Dennis E. Taylor
Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Bob has come a long way from his old life in the twenty-first century... in most every way imaginable. As the AI of a self-replicating space probe, he and his "descendants" have lived their wildest science fiction nerd dreams of exploring new worlds across the stars - and experienced the nightmares of planetary apocalypse and the seemingly-unstoppable alien threat of the locustlike Others. The Bobs have successfully spread human colonies to several habitable worlds, but new troubles - from native life forms developing a taste for human blood to the ever-present danger of people being people in the worst ways possible - keep them busy... and more than a little exhausted. It doesn't help that the passing years remind them more and more of their immortality, as friends age and die. Meanwhile, the Others' threat to reach Sol and wipe out Earth has not been forgotten, and now they've seen firsthand what the aliens can do, having witnessed their merciless stripping of the Pavs' homeworld. Bob was never a military man, with no taste for war, but he'll have to learn fast if if the human species is to survive - not to mention the self-replicating Bob species, whoever or whatever it has become.

REVIEW: Like the previous installment of this probable trilogy (I've learned never to say never when talking about these things), All These Worlds starts fast, as if there had been no gap between the books at all. Given the proliferation of Bobs, it took a little while to regain my footing, but soon enough I was reoriented and enjoying the ride. The old-school sense of wonder about science, the cosmos, and the potential of alien worlds continues unabated, remaining a welcome break in a genre that sometimes gets a little too broody and gritty these days. That's not to say there's no darkness here, of course. The Others remain a threat, building to a grand confrontation that decides the fate of Sol, humanity, and possibly the entire galaxy. At least as interesting is the continued evolution of Bob and his clones (and his clones-of-clones). While the original Bob "goes native" on Eden among the Deltans, others are forced to confront the fact that they are no longer human beings, that they are something new, something other... something, perhaps, that could or should have greater goals than serving the "ephemerals" who built them for the rest of their existence. Still, the Bobs retain their inherent sense of self and humor, with plenty of nuggets for sci-fi fans and general science geeks to enjoy. It all wraps up in a grand finale that came close to earning it another half-star. A few flaws here and there (such as a tendency for women characters to be a little stereotypical around the edges) only barely held it back. Overall, though, I still highly recommend this trilogy(?) to anyone who enjoys hard, science-based space tales and who misses the days when the genre was about exploring new worlds and wonders, and not just brooding over dystopias or beating up a bigger, badder bad guy each time out.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Leviathan Wakes (James S. A. Corey) - My Review
The Ship Who Sang (Anne McCaffrey) - My Review
A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge) - My Review

Monday, June 4, 2018

William and the Lost Spirit (Gwen De Bonneval)

William and the Lost Spirit
Gwen De Bonneval, illustrations by Matthieu Bonhomme
Graphic Universe
Fiction, MG? Fantasy/Graphic Novel
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: When William's father died, his mother sought a better future for her children than widowhood, accepting the hand of a seneschal of dubious character. While William grieves, his sister Heliene insists she has spoken to their dad's spirit and can still be rescued from the far-off lands where he wanders. Such talk flies in the face of their pious mother's faith, but when Heliene disappears, William alone knows where she went and what she means to do - which means following in the footsteps of his heretic father, exploring powers he scarcely understands on a quest that takes him beyond the known world and to the very brink of death.

REVIEW: The premise had potential, and the artwork is bright and often imaginative, but the characters and plot just don't stand up. People sort out pretty obviously based on first impressions, and William's one of those obtuse heroes who has to be led to most everything (even conveniently forgetting prior warnings.) Some elements feel a little confusing, almost like parts of the story had been trimmed, though there were some nice ideas; William visits a version of the fabled Prester John's kingdom, which is not the paradise that traveler's tales make out, and his encounters recall traditional stories of exotic lands and monsters. The ending, though, is what really sank it in my opinion, a flat non-event that invalidates most of the siblings' journeys and brings no real justice.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Bradamant's Quest (Ruth Berman) - My Review
Merlin's Mistake (Robert Newman) - My Review
No Such Thing as Dragons (Philip Reeve) - My Review

Friday, June 1, 2018

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Seanan McGuire)

Beneath the Sugar Sky
The Wayward Children series, Book 3
Seanan McGuire
Fiction, YA? Fantasy
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school for kids and teens who had been to magical worlds and returned to Earth, is rarely a dull place - how could it be, with students who had once saved fairy kingdoms or swum with mermaids or conversed with skeletons? Even by their standards, though, Rini's splashdown in the turtle pond counts as strange. Far stranger is that Rini claims to be the teenaged daughter of Sumi, a girl who had been to the Nonsense realm of Confection and murdered before she could find her way back to marry and conceive Rini to begin with. With Sumi's untimely death, time in Confection is unraveling, and the wicked Queen of Cakes - vanquished by Sumi - has risen again. Even as Rini insists on finding her mother, she begins to disappear, a finger at a time. Thus begins a quest across various worlds, a race against time... but, even in the impossible realms beyond the invisible doors, is it possible to ever cheat Death?

REVIEW: Unlike the previous book in the series (the prequel Down Among the Sticks and Bones), this tale returns the action to Eleanor West's school and the displaced teens living there. Returning characters join with new cast members in a worlds-spanning journey that tests them all in various ways, perhaps none more than newcomer Cora. Once a heroine in a mermaid realm, she's been struggling to fit in on dry land again, where her weight has always defined her; her struggles with herself grow all the more desperate when they wind up in Confection, a realm made of candy and just the kind of place cruel peers would've thought she'd been most at home. Again, what could've been a shallow and simple story becomes much, much more in the hands of McGuire, with great characters and memorable turns of phrase and beautiful candy for the mind's eye (literally, in the case of Confection's vistas.) Oh, to make words dance like that upon a page... I am loving this series, and eagerly await the next installment.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Everworld: Search for Senna (K. A. Applegate) - My Review
Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire) - My Review
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente) - My Review

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Warrior Within (Angus McIntyre)

The Warrior Within
Angus McIntyre
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Though Karsman is nominally the mayor of his small town on the Road, the great planet-encircling ring dotted with relics of the long-forgotten Builders, he prefers not getting entangled in troubles. He doesn't even wield much actual authority; the Muljaddy in the Temple is the true power, and nobody has any reason to question them. But when three offworlder soldiers come, they bring trouble with them. Karsman finds himself and the artificially-implanted personas in his head tested to the limits as he struggles to find out what they want, and why... and if he can discover answers before they kill anyone he cares about, such as himself.

REVIEW: This novella establishes some interesting ideas via a reasonably well-paced tale and decent characters. Though set in a galaxy rife with post-human and artificial Powers akin to gods, much of the action stays at the human level, keeping the high concepts relatable for much of the story's length. Karsman makes for a good protagonist, a man long ago infused with specialized personas such as the mechanically adept Artificer, the pragmatic Strategist, and the difficult-to-restrain Warrior, all of which help (and occasionally hinder) his task. Peripheral characters are a trifle thin, but this is a novella, and ultimately more about the concepts than most of the people involved. Things move fairly well, with some nice images and ideas playing out in unexpected ways. Enjoyable.

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Kiln People (David Brin) - My Review
The Lives of Tao (Wesley Chu) - My Review