Ilona Andrews, Magic Shifts (2015)

magic-shiftsSo how about a lighter, or shadier, type of fantasy than the big books I have talked about lately? 🙂 I will come back to Robin Hobb, I promise, just not today. Let’s jump to urban fantasy genre for a moment.

Magic Shifts is an eight installment in Kate Daniels’ world. Seven previous ones formed a complete story arc and I wrote about them here. I imagine that this new book was a difficult one for the authors: they had to start again, almost from scratch, with an old material, and after seven books it’s really hard to squeeze it even for a few drops of something unique. It must have been very demanding, especially taking under consideration their huge fan base, and I’m afraid they ultimately didn’t succeed. All the right elements are there – Ilona Andrews still knows how to write, how to build a story, how to create powerful, gripping scenes. Magic Shifts is even more picturesque than the previous books and would be a great film material – but the magic has really shifted. And, sadly, it’s almost entirely gone.

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Michael J. Martinez, The Daedalus Incident (2013)

It seems that, for the time being, Ola takes on the big books and authors, and my role is to explore… not the bottom of the barrel, certainly, but less distinguished parts of the genre literature. Cool ideas of less known authors, guilty pleasures for specific audiences, things like that 😉

So… lets continue with Royal Navy in space, this time – with Michael J. Martinez, and his “The Deadalus Incident”, volume one of the “Daedalus” series. And this time its not “Nelson” in space, like was in case with the Honor Harrington. It’s Horatio Nelson himself, and his friends, in space. Thanks to the power of alchemy, pseudo science of our world’s past that works in this alternative universe.

An alchemist on board allows a classic man-o-war not only to sail through the space, but to do so without its crew dropping dead. Science of this… there are explanations that satisfy XVIII-century protagonists, for modern readers – it’s cool enough no to discourage from reading the book 😉

So we have a man-o-war, called… you guessed it, “HMS Daedalus”, sailing the Solar System under Cpt. William Marrow, among his crew – our main protagonist, Lt. Thomas Weatherby. When HMS Daedalus takes aboard Ms Baker, a servant of deceased giant of English alchemy, Dr. McDonnell, they become part of an adventure that involves international intrigue, piracy, aliens and great evil that threatens entire humanity. And characters like Benjamin Franklin, Count de St. Germain and Cagliostro (in this universe – famous alchemists).

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Robin Hobb, Tawny Man Trilogy (2001–2003)

Tawny_Man_TrilogyThe Tawny Man Trilogy is the second trilogy set in the realm of Six Duches. It starts 15 years after the events depicted in the Farseer Trilogy and approximately at the same time as the Liveship Traders Trilogy. Here we finally meet Fitz the narrator of the first three books – the man who in the course of events described in the Farseer Trilogy has not only matured, but has become tired of life and deeply disillusioned. Almost broken, more than once, Fitz has gotten old beyond his years, and now lives in equal measures of constant pain and promise of bliss, both caused by his addiction to Skill.

A rosy beginning, is it not? Living incognito in a small village, as far from court politics as possible, Fitz pretends to be someone else than a royal bastard turned assassin turned mage. He assumes the name of Tom Badgerlock, he even adopts an orphaned boy named Hap, and he tries his best in farmland and parenting. Needless to say that in both he fails rather miserably, to the reader’s constant glee. The only thing he excels at is writing his story, as we know from previous books – but even this is not what he exactly wanted to do, as he planned to write a history of Six Duches instead of describing his personal endeavors. But the old wounds won’t heal, old memories won’t let him rest, and thanks to them instead of the boring, dry chronicles we have been given the emotionally wringing, touching and unforgettable Farseer Trilogy.

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A Few Examples of Time Travel Stories Featuring Advanced Militaries Pounding Less Developed Adversaries

Time travel as a genre fiction concept is not new. There is “The Time Machine” by Wells, like the rest of his books, a venerable classics almost unreadable for modern audience (at least that’s my firm opinion, and I’ve read a few). Dr Who, a great tv series – with dozens of tie-in books – is based around time travel, and a new season is starting. And not long ago a short gem of a book was reviewed here. But I’m not going to write a history of a subgenre. My limited goal is to talk about a few specific examples of easy reads featuring time travel. As it will soon become clear – not pillars of the subgenre, but something from the guilty pleasure section of my library. Shelf with guns and simplistic political ideas, not the one to the rigth, with early Laurell K. Hamilton novels 😉

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Robin Hobb, Farseer Trilogy (1995–1997)

Farseer-TrilogyI remember seeing these books for the first time – way back in 90’s. The covers were in typical American style, informative but rather ugly (which is why they are not shown here at all 😉 – check this entry if you want a taste). What drew my attention to them was the name – Robin smacked of Sherwood and outlaws and all things Medieval. Yay! 😉 But those were the times when I still chose books based on their cover, so the Farseer Trilogy had to wait for its turn to be read for another decade.

When I’ve finally started reading Assassin’s Apprentice I couldn’t stop. I devoured the next two books and went looking for more. Fitz and Fool quickly found their place among my favorite characters. And they’re still there.

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Dissecting Worlds Podcast & Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide To Fantasy Land (1996)

Well, this time I’m the one on vacation, mostly hitch-hiking, but also reading. And listening to audiobooks & podcasts, because in the forest it’s risky to walk while holding a book 😉

But I’ve already admitted that I don’t have specific “summer reads”… so, just two recommendations, Dissecting Worlds Podcast & The Tough Guide To Fantasy Land:

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Roger Zelazny, Roadmarks (1979)

roadmarksRoadmarks’ original title was “The Last Exit to Babylon”, but the publisher declined it, so it became a part of the cover illustration instead. One of the best-known novels by Zelazny, Roadmarks is a rather short and seemingly unprepossessing, ending in less than 200 pages. As do most of Zelazny’s books, one might add ;). Roger Zelazny, as befits a poet, was a great believer in succinctness. Forget 700-pages bricks in hardcover, suitable mostly for beating somebody to death with them. If you want to read his works you will need to be content with stories tightly bound in a very limited amount of choice words.

The structure of this book is somewhat baffling at first – it starts with chapter “Two”, followed by “One” and then by another “Two”, and so on, right to the end. The names of the chapters have nothing to do with chronological order, they are just two perspectives on the events happening in this book: “One” follows the fate of the main protagonist, Red Dorakeen, while “Two” shows us jumbled in time vignettes of other Roadmarks characters: from Randy, Red’s son, through a bunch of all-time assassins, to a left-over alien killing machine currently engaged in the art of pottery, and finally to dragons. Apparently Zelazny wrote all “Twos” and then shuffled them and inserted each between the chronologically structured “Ones” in this new, chaotic way. It was supposed to serve as a physical reminder that on the Road there’s no such thing as timeline – whether successful or not, that is the reader’s decision.

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