fantasy


The first book in a comedy cozy mystery fantasy series Unhuman.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours 28 minutes
Narrator: Tim Campbell

Andy Caplet is a reporter who’s only done stories about the minor stuff, like dog shows and whist drives. Then he gets assigned to follow around Inspector Hobbs, the oddest cop in Cotswold. Hobbs is very large, strong, hairy man who drives inordinately fast for a small town. Hobbs also solves crimes more than anyone else. Andy is horrified at first but has no choice but to do as he’s told. Hobbs is trying to solve the death of Mr. Roman, but it has been ruled a suicide. Soon enough the duo is in the middle of a grave robberies, break-ins, and murders. When Andy is fired from his work, he has no other place to stay than with Hobbs.

This is a fun, fast-paced comedic mystery. Andy doesn’t know that supernatural creatures, such as ghouls and dwarf are real. When Hobbs casually mentions them and meets with them, Andy has a hard time believing what he sees. Andy himself has a tendency to evoke hilarious disaster whereever he goes, either through clumsiness, jumping to wrong conclusions, not understanding the situation, or sheer ill luck. He’s allergic to danger and runs away from it (like any sensible person). On the other hand, his incompetence and selfishness can grate on the reader since he’s the first person narrator. Also, he resents another reporter who is making moves on his dream girl Ingrid.

Hobbs is pretty much the opposite of Andy, very competent, observant, and good at his job. I also really enjoyed his live-in housekeeper and friend, Mrs. Goodfellow. She’s the only significant female character in the book. She’s a divine cook, has no teeth, has an obsession with other people’s teeth, and the tendency to lock up men in the cellar. She has secrets of her own.

I mostly enjoyed this although Andy got sometimes on my nerves, especially with his attitude towards Ingrid. But most of the time, I had too much fun with the puns and humor. However, I don’t think I want a second helping of Andy, no matter how much I enjoyed Hobbs and Mrs. Goodfellow.

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The first book in a cozy mystery fantasy series, the Casino Witch Mysteries.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 166

Some time back I wanted to read fantasy books which are cozy mysteries. Turns out that these actually exist!

Ella Ramono is an accountant. When her father died, she inherited his building in Rambler, Nevada and moveed there. However, on her first day at a new job as an accountant to a casino, a big black cat bites her. The bite awakens her magical talents but Ella doesn’t know anything about magic or mages so she has a lot to learn. Just like her father, she has a talent for reading people’s emotions but the magic also burns a lot of calories. She also now has the cat, Patagonia, as a familiar. And her new co-worker Vin is handsome but also rude, stubborn, and pushy.

Olivia, who owns the casino, agrees to tell her what’s going on but not until Ella finds out who murdered people in the casino. Five people have died in the casino in previous weeks but all, except the newest one, have been ruled as suicides, until now. One of the victims is Olivia’s own father who owned the casino. Also, Ella’s dad has left her a mysterious note about people she doesn’t know. Her dad was also a mage but didn’t tell her anything. Ella agrees: she doesn’t really have a choice. Olivia, her aunt Ann, and cousins Vanessa and Vin will do what they can to help Ella.

This was mostly a fun and quick read, however both Ella and Olivia have recently lost their dads, so Ella does miss him quite a lot. She knows literally nothing about what’s happening to her and the people around who do know are very tight-lipped, sometimes frustratingly so. Ella does manage to pry out some info out of them about magic during the investigation. Of course, hilarity ensues when Ella doesn’t know things that the other mages take for granted. Also, apparently most mages are trained when they’re teenagers so Ella is old to start her training. Another source of humor is Patagonia and her continued habit of twining herself around Ella’s legs so that she falls.

I instantly disliked Vin and I’m hoping that he’s there just as someone to spar with Ella rather than an actual romantic interest. However, I enjoyed most of the other cast: Auntie Ann and Olivia are more pragmatic than Vin and Patagonia is quirky but fun.

A stand-alone fantasy book.

Publication year: 1988
Format: print
Publisher: Baen
Page count: 345

This is apparently Kate Elliott’s first book.

Sanjay Mukerji and Chryse Lissagaray are newly wed. They’re surprised to find a beautiful deck of tarot cards as one of their wedding gifts. They’re even more surprised when the cards transport them to a fantasy land.

Anglia is troubled. The ruler is Regent, Princess Blessa, the aunt to the 15-year old Heir, Princess Georgianna. Also, many of the rich exploit the poor people ruthlessly and many of the poor people are rising up for their rights, because they’re too desperate to do anything else. They also loath the Regent and many assume that she’s going to do anything she can to stay in power. And they’re right: the Regent is a gifted mage and she uses her own deck of tarot cards, her connections, and her ability to manipulate people to get rid of the Heir in a way that she can’t be implicated.

But Chryse and Sanjay have more immediate problems because they’re trying to find a way back to home. However, while fleeing rioters, they stumble upon Julian and his dear old friend Kate. Both are drunk but agree to help the couple. At the Vole house, Chryse and Sanjay meet Lady Trent who takes an interest in them. Lady Trent is Julian’s grandaunt and she knows many people. She advises the couple to seek an appointment with a famous seer. When they finally meet with the seer, she gives them a task: to find her the treasure from the mythical Labyrinth.

But others are also after the treasure. The Regent is one them and another is the infamous Earl of Elen. He’s arrogant, cold, and has a terrible reputation for abusing everyone he can. Another is Professor Farr. He’s an elderly archaeology professor obsessed with the Labyrinth and it’s history.

This is a mystery fantasy and I quite enjoyed it. It’s not a thriller. It does have a lot of characters. Chryse is the main POV character but there a lot of others, such as the Regent and Maretha who is the only daughter of Professor Farr. Earl of Elen demands that Maretha marries him and she has no choice.

This book has a lot of things I really liked. Of course, Chryse and Sanjay are already an established couple and lovely together. Archaeology is another: most of the book is an excavation trip to the ancient city where the Labyrinth is supposed to be. Tarot cards used as magic is a third.

Also, the book has a wonderful wealth of interesting and different women characters. Kate is a tomboy who dresses in men’s clothing and isn’t afraid to say what she means. She’s an aristocrat but has been disinherited by her parents. Lady Trent is in her eighties and has seen a lot of life. Chryse is a musician and a composer. Maretha is devoted to her father. She’s a very capable archaeologist in her own right but is in her father’s shadow. Maretha’s orphan cousin Charity is living with the Farrs. She’s demure but also vain about her looks and we find quite interesting things about her at the end. And of course the Regent who manipulates everyone around her. Basically, where a more common fantasy book would have male characters, we get woman. Which was great.

On the other hand, the world-building was more common. The world has other creatures than humans, such as ogres and fairies, but we saw them only briefly. Mostly, we got street urchins who don’t look like humans. While most of the magic is done through the cards, there are other magical forces in the world, too. The Earl uses them quite casually. In place of great men, we again got women. For example, Shakespeare and Mozart where both women in this world and so were most of the rulers of Anglia. Also, I couldn’t puzzle the religion together: people talked of the Bible but seemed to revere Queen of Heaven who has both a Son and a Daughter. The Daughter is the Queen of the Underworld who is also called the Sinner. Fascinating but not enough details.

The third book in the Pellucidar (science) fantasy series.

Publication year: 1929
Format: print
Publisher: Tandem
Page count: 219

I read the first two Pellucidar books decades ago and clearly they’ve (also) left an impression because I remembered surprising much about them.

Burroughs himself and a young man Jason Gridley, who is wealthy and a radio enthusiast, receives a strange radio signal. It turns out to come from the underground world of Pellucidar and from Perry, one of the two first Western man to find Pellucidar. He sends them the strange tale of Tanar.

Tanar is the young son of a chief who is allied with David Innes who has declared himself the emperor of Pellucidar. However, Tanar was caught when the cruel Korsars raided David’s lands and when the Korsars sailed away, they took Tanar with them.

The Korsar chief The Cid spares Tanars’ life because he believes that Tanar can show the Korsars how to make the more effective weapons that David’s men use. Tanar doesn’t know how to make them but plays along, hoping for a chance to escape from the ship. He meets The Cid’s lovely daughter Stellara who is destined to be the mate of The Cid’s second-in-command, an ugly but very strong man. She loathes him.

However, a terrible storm drives all of the Korsars from the ship, leaving Tanar and Stellara behind. Stellara tells him that her mother was a captive from another island and that she’s really not The Cid’s daughter but that her mother’s original mate is her father. The ship drifts to an island which turns out to be Stellara’s mother’s home. However, the people there don’t believe Stellara and the two are again captured. By chance they are able to flee and Tanar tried to find a way home through dangerous country with hostile people.

The book is mostly action/adventure although it does have Burroughs-style romance. That means jealousy, misunderstandings, and rivals. No less that three women declare their love for Tanar and Stellara, too, has four other suitors in addition to Tanar (most of them brutish louts). Almost the moment Tanar realizes that he loves Stellara, she’s kidnapped.

Tanar’s people are cavemen but David has brought them better weapons. Still, Tanar mostly uses spears and bow and arrows. Many of the animals are prehistorical, such as saber-tooth tigers. In addition, we’re introduced to the Buried People, the terrible Coripies who live underground and have no eyes. They live very unhappy lives, filled with violence, just like another tribe of humans which Tanar meets. Yet, a woman are able to rise above her abusive culture and Tanara credits her blood for that; her mother was captured from another culture. Similarly, Tanar notes that Stellara doesn’t behave like the brutish Korsars because of her parents’ blood.

Tanar is a native Pellacidarian and knows how to live in that world, of course. He’s mostly driven by desire to survive and later to find Stellara. He’s not eager to help other people, except when it’s in his own best interests. In that way, he’s different from most of Burroughs’ heroes. Stellara is a typical Burroughs heroine: proud and stubborn. She isn’t afraid to tell her opinions but she’s also liable to jump to conclusions, when given half a chance. She’s more compassionate than the Korsars which attracts Tanar to her in the first place. Yet, she’s helpless to fight against any of her kidnappers.

Pretty standard Burroughs tale. It’s ends in a cliffhanger, but not for Tanar and Stellara. Poor David is left as a captive at the end of the book.

The first book in a fantasy series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor
Page count at GoodReads: 400

This world has four alternate realities and only very few people can travel between and even they need tokens, blood, and magic to do it. Kell is one of those few people. He’s an Antari, a member of a magical race, marked by one eye which is black. Only very few Antari are left. Kell was sort of adopted into the royal family; while king Maxim and queen Emira treat him well they don’t consider him quite family. But Rhys, the heir, does think Kell as his brother and vice versa. Because of his abilities, Kell is a messager for his king for the other two worlds.

Kell calls the worlds with different colors. He’s from Red London which has a lot of magic. The country is called Maresh Empire and it’s far larger than Great Britain. Indeed, people who don’t have magic are at distinct disadvantage. Black London is sealed off. It was corrupted by magic and the others don’t want anything to do with it or the people inside. White London is ruled by royal twins, Athos and Astrid Dane. In that world, magic is coveted and bound with tattoos, and those who have the most magic are rulers. So, the twins are the most powerful magicians and sadists. They use their powers to make others their soulless servants. The final world is Grey London where magic is weak and only a few people even know that it’s real. It’s the equivalent of our world and the country is called England and the sovereign is old George III.

It’s forbidden to bring anything from one world to another, with the exception of small tokens that the Antari need to travel between them. However, Kell loves thrills and so he’s agreed to smuggle small items for a few people. His brother Rhys warns him that if he’s caught, the king must punish him.

One day, a desperate woman in White London gives Kell a letter and a small token to take to Gray London. Before Kell can quite make up his mind, the woman is gone, leaving behind the items. Soon, Kell finds out that the token isn’t at all what he thought it would be: it’s a very powerful magical stone from Black London and a lot of people want it, too. Kell must try to survive long enough to take it back where it belongs.

Delilah Bard is an orphan and a thief. She dresses as a man so that she can move easier among the throngs of Grey London. However, when she returns to her base, her “landlord” tries to rape her. She kills him and is forced to return to Ballard, the only man who has been kind to her. She feels that she already owes him too much but has no choice. When she comes across Kell, she robs him and is disappointed to realize that she only got a rock. But Kell tracks her down and when Lila realizes that he’s really from another world, she almost forces him to take her with him, even though the danger is great.

Lila’s trying to save money so that she can escape somewhere better, but her pickings are so small that it’s not likely. Still, she craves for grand adventure and something better and more than being a petty thief. She’s clearly being wounded and she’s used to taking care of herself and not being able to trust anyone.

Kell also longs for thrills but is disgusted with himself that he wants it. He both loves the royal family and feels that he’s not really a part of it.

The only other known Antari is Holland. He serves the twin royals of White London. He’s cold and calculating and we find the reason for that, too.

The London in each world isn’t the same city. They have similarities, of course, but many things are different, especially the people and the “mood” of the city. The larger country is also different and so is the river through each London.

The book takes it’s time showing us the setting before the plot kicks in. While the worlds are complex, the plot isn’t, which is probably a good thing.

While this is the first book in a trilogy, it can be read as a stand-alone.

I really liked the setting and the different moods in the different worlds. The characters are fine. Lila and Kell are the main POV characters but there are lot more, most of them seen just once.

The first book in fantasy series the Dragon Seed.

Publication year: 2019
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 194

Benzel is a nine-year old boy who lives in the village of Heatherbloom with his family. When his pet rabbit runs away, Benzel chases it and then hears when the berserkers attacks the village. He hides, like his parents have taught him. His mother also told him that he should go to the neighboring village if something happens. Obediently, he walks to his aunt in the next village but the berserkers have destroyed it, too. The only one left alive is a toddler, a little girl, and together they travel to the next village where another aunt lives. There, they finally find sanctuary.

One berserker boy notices Benzel but leaves him alone because Benzel reminds the boy of his brother. Benzel doesn’t notice the boy or know that the boy saved his life.

12 years later Benzel and the girl, whom he named Snip, live with his uncle and aunt. However, Benzel wants revenge: he wants to kill all berserkers. When a wandering dragonslayer finds the body of a local merchant, Benzel takes his chance and goes with the dragonslayer to trade in the nearby port city in the hopes of finding information abut the berserkers. The only one who is able to tell him something is an alchemist. The alchemist summons… someone or something. And that presence makes an offer to Benzel. It will help Benzel murder all berserkers if Benzel will sacrifice his first-born child to it and return the worship of gods among the Northlanders. Young Benzel doesn’t want any children and so he agrees to the bargain. However, before he can go and search for the berserkers, he has other duties which will take some years.

In this culture dragons are considered animals but very dangerous. They’re big and their bite has poison which can’t be cured. That’s why dragonslayers patrol the villages and when one of them dies, another must be appointed and the training and selection takes time.

The berserkers are humans. They sail to villages killing everyone, raping the women and taking everything they can. However, they have become rarer in recent years.

The book also has a subplot set in another country which isn’t resolved here.

This is a story about life spent, or perhaps even wasted, on revenge. Benzel wants to kill every berserker alive but he can’t find them. Yet, his anger and hate doesn’t let him rest or give up on that goal. He abandons the sister he found and his other family for years to chase the berserkers. The story follows him from a child to middle-age but concentrates on a few specific events. In that way, the structure is a bit different than most fantasy books, which I found refreshing. However, sometimes we just hear about events that happened to him but don’t know the specifics. Also, revenge is a very common motive in heroic characters in fantasy but here the writer questions the validity of revenge which I also found very refreshing.

The first novella in the Bulletproof Witch series which is a Fantasy Western.

Publication year: 2019
Format: ebook
Publisher: Lily & Rose Publishing LLC
Page count: 124
Artist: Jin A. Lee

The novella has six black and white interior drawings which reflect the mood very well.

Temperance Whiteoak is the granddaughter of a famous pistol warlock James ”Brimstone” Whiteoak. However, after her family was killed, she doesn’t advertise her connections. She’s a bounty hunter, hunting daemons. Now, she’s on the trail of Belial, a powerful daemon. She wants both information from him and the bounty. But when she hunts him down, she must fight him and gets very little info for her trouble. When she brings the daemon (in a magical tube) to the closest town, her troubles only start: the sheriff doesn’t have enough money to pay her. However, a Federation marshal is just bringing in a prisoner and needs a partner to transport the prisoner to the nearest big city, a week away. Temperance doesn’t want to go there but she has not choice. However, the sheriff didn’t tell her about the real difficulties: the prisoner is a warlock and his gang of criminals will try to rescue him and that Temperance must follow the rules for Federation marshals, which means no killing.

Temperance has nothing but scorn for the marshals and their rules. Luckily, her telepathic horse Astor is there to help her, along with the hexbullets she inherited from her family. Temperance and Astor are trying to get revenge on the people, or daemons, who killed Temperance’s family and Astor isn’t happy about the dangerous detour.

She knows how to make hexbullets which, combined with the right word or words, produce different magic effects. However, they’re not cheap to make and take a lot of time, too. To her disgust, the marshal doesn’t know much about hexbullets or magic. Most people seem to use ordinary bullets. Also, while pistol warlocks are legal, other forms of magic seem to be illegal.

The story is set in a fantasy world of Korvana. There’s a reference that the local inhabitant are descended from island or another continent called Galinor. Still, at least some of the current people seem think of those who came recently from Galinor as foreigners. People know about daemons which seem to be able to take over a human body. The Church pays a bounty on them.

Temperance is a very determined young woman who has only recently turned 17. However, she’s quite mature for her age because she’s had to face danger since she was quite young. She’s also been alone for several years, except for Astor. She has secrets and so avoids people who want to question her.

This was a quick and fun read. I haven’t read many weird western books but I liked this one quite a lot. I’m going to read the next novella in the series.

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