A fantasy book centering on horses. It was part of the Weird Western Storybundle I bought in 2016.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 160
Publisher: Book View Cafe

Claire Bernardi calls herself a “failed academic”; she has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies but hasn’t gotten an academic job nor been able to write anything for a while. Instead, she lives on her friend Dorrie’s half-abandoned horse farm in Arizona with two horses, a mule, and cats. She uses her psychic ability to communicate with animals to get a small amount of money. However, even that is dwindling because the owners’ of the animals aren’t happy when she honestly tells them what their animals feel. Claire can also sense all sorts of spirits and can’t live long-term in a town.

But everything changes when Dorrie sends two clients to the ranch. They want Claire to look after their herd of six mares and a stallion. Claire is suspicious because they offer her more money for a month than she should get in a year. But she agrees. Of course, things aren’t as they seem.

This is a lovely story about horses and nature spirits with some mythology thrown in. Claire can sense spirits in the earth, water, and air, all around her. She’s a middle-aged woman which was great. She considers herself a loner but she gets along well with her best friend Dorrie (who is a TV-series writer/creator) and Emma who helps her around the ranch. Claire doesn’t have much confidence in herself or her abilities.

The horses are the stars of the book. Claire has an ancient mare Aziza and a spirited gelding Ricky but the new horses steal the show. Tarr has horses and understands them very well, which shows in the writing. Also, the gorgeous Arizonan desert is very much part of the book.

This isn’t an adventure book. The plot doesn’t really kick in until near the end.

A six issue limited series.

Publication year: 1985
Publisher: Epic Comics, reprinted as a collection by Dark Horse

This is a very interesting mix of English myths, fairy tales, and history.

King Henry II has died recently. His country is divided and his heir Richard the Lionheart is away at war. James Dunreith, Duke of Ca’rynth, has been in exile for 25 years but because of Henry’s death, he thinks it’s safe to return. He’s wrong. He has barely stepped to England’s shore when knights capture him and bring him to a monastery as a prisoner. There, he’s tortured because the Church thinks that he’s a heretic and a sorcerer. However, a group of mysterious knights rescue him, but none too gently.

It turns out, that Queen Eleanor knows that James is back and needs his services. James’ childhood friend, a powerful Earl, is suspected not just of treason but of black magic. Eleanor sends James to find out what’s going on. James is reluctant but feels duty-bound to obey. On the way, James is reunited with his old friend Brian Griffin and they rescue a young lady from outlaws.

James has traveled a lot, all the way to Cathay. He’s a man of reason and doesn’t even believe in magic, even though the Church claims he uses it. However, he’s not aged while away from England and right in the first issue, he sees a dream (or is it a dream) of a huge black dragon who heals James’ tortured body. So, it’s clear that something supernatural is going on.

The story uses a lot of English myths. Robin Hood is a major secondary character, which was a pleasant surprise to me. Various fairies also appear.

Bolton’s art fits the story well. The English countryside looks gorgeous. The art reminds me of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant.

However, this is a very dark tale, full of betrayal, blood, and dark magic. It’s very different in tone from his X-Men work.

The first book in the fantasy series Long Price Quartet.

Publication year: 2006
Format: Print
Page count: 331
Publisher: TOR

This is book is centered on political scheming. It doesn’t have adventure or fight scenes. Instead, it focuses on characters.

The story starts with a prologue which is set in a cold and cruel school for young boys. It’s also very necessary in order to understand some of the characters and the magic system.

Amat Kyaan is the senior overseer, an accountant of sorts, for one of the large trading houses in the city of Saraykeht. She’s an elderly woman who has dedicated her whole life to her career. When she realizes that her employer is going behind her back with one deal, she makes sure she knows what’s going on. That turns her life upside down.

Liat is Amat’s young apprentice. She’s just seventeen but has ambitions of rising to Amat’s position. Her lover Itani is a common laborer and Liat is worried that his low station will reflect poorly on her. So, when Amat gives Itani a chance to do a small favor for her (and Liat’s) employer, Liat makes sure Itani takes it.

Itani is, indeed, a laborer. He has also a secret and isn’t interested in rising to higher position in life, but wants to please Liat whom he loves.

Maati is a young man who has just come to the city. He’s the apprentice of the poet (the equivalent of magician in this world) and he has spent most of his life in a male-only school learning as much as he can. The court and the politics are all new to him.

Eventually, we also get the POV of Amat’s employer, Marchat Wilsin. Marchat isn’t a native of Saraykeht but a barbarian from the North. His superiors are forcing him to a scheme that makes him loose sleep at night.

All the characters are very deep and I found them interesting, especially Amat because there aren’t many older women in fantasy books and even fewer as POV characters. The culture where the story is set has been inspired by Asian cultures rather than the usual Western Middle-Ages. It’s also a culture based on indentured servitude and downright slavery.

The magic system is unique and can’t really be summed up quickly. Briefly, a poet (the magician) forces an artistic idea to a human form. Then the poet controls the resulting creature and does magic through it. This isn’t easy and many prospective poets fail (and die). The creature, called an andat, develops human feelings and thoughts.

The writing is beautiful, full of great images. It also explores ideas. However, the pacing is pretty slow at times.

The world-building was very interesting and I didn’t mind the slow plot too badly. But I really didn’t care for the love triangle or some of the other stuff that happened later. I guess it’s just too depressing to read right now.

Abraham is half of the writing team of James S. A. Corey who write the Expanse SF series. However, that style is a very different from this book.

The first book in a YA fantasy trilogy, Abhorsen.

Publication year: 1995
Finnish publication year: 2004
Format: Print
Translator: Kaisa Kattelus
Page count: 389
Finnish publisher: WSOY

Sabriel is the only child of Abhorsen, the necromancer whose mission is to put the dead to rest. Because in the Old Kingdom, the dead can’t rest unless someone performs the necessary rites for them. Otherwise, they threaten the living.

But Sabriel has grown up on Anceltierre, on the other side of the Wall. Magic starts to fade the further away you go from the Wall and most people don’t who don’t live near the Wall don’t even believe in magic. Instead, they have technology which in turn doesn’t work in the Old Kingdom. Sabriel has grown in a boarding school. Her father comes to see her a couple of times a year in person; also during full moons he can send his spirit self (dunno what that was in English).

Sabriel is now eighteen and thinking of going to university. She has powers that allows her to sense the dead and see dead spirits. She can also cross over to Death and return. She thinks that going further away from the Wall would make her powers disappear. She’s the only one in her school who has such powers, so she thinks it would be a good thing. The boarding school does teach a little bit of magic, though, but not necromancy.

But then her father sends a dead spirit to her as a messenger. It brings Sabriel a sword and the nine bells which are her father’s tools. She knows that he’s in terrible trouble, maybe even dead. She packs what she can and heads to the Old Kingdom where the dead roam. However, a terrible enemy stalks her.

This was surprisingly intense and fun read. Sabriel is a smart and determined main character. She quickly realizes that there are a lot of things she doesn’t know and she does her best to learn. She’s also compassionate and does her best to help people. We explore the Old Kingdom along with her. There wasn’t much character developed, though.

The magic in this world is pretty complex. There’s Charter magic which is “good” or at least something that respectable people use and then there’s wild magic which includes necromancy. Only Abhorsen and Sabriel use both.

However, I didn’t care for the romance which seems obligatory, at best, and I also don’t care for plots where the people close to the MC simply don’t tell her stuff. Abhorsen wasn’t just careless, he was stupid to keep his daughter in the dark. The POV jumps were distracting, at times. Sabriel was the main POV character but sometimes we got small passages from other characters’ POV.

Overall, I liked this and will get the next one when the libraries open.

A Buffy the Vampire Slayer book set late in the third season.

Publication year: 1999
Format: Print
Page count: 289
Publisher: Pocket Books

Buffy’s world is falling apart. Her mother Joyce has met a very nice man and is dating him.

Also, Giles seems more absentminded than before. He promised to look after Oz’s wolf form but delegated it to Angel instead. When Buffy storms off to his apartment, she finds out that he’s with a new, beautiful teacher.

At the same time, Buffy’s old friend Pike from Hemery High (from the movie) comes to Sunnydale. He’s evasive at first but confesses that a stone demon is hunting him. The demon can change any living flesh to stone. While Pike knows about vampires and demons, he fights them only when hasn’t got another choice. He’s asking Buffy for help.

Buffy’s friends try to convince her that her mom dating is completely normal, at least when the man in question seems to be completely normal. Still, it’s hard for Buffy. Of course, Buffy has her own love life to worry about when Pike comes to make trouble for her and Angel.

Giles’ absentmindedness continues so much that Buffy and the others really start to worry about him. They keep a close eye on him and, indeed, something sinister is happening to him.

This was a pretty enjoyable book otherwise but I really didn’t care for the Pike/Buffy/Angel triangle. We know that Buffy can’t choose Pike because he’s not in the show, so it’s really pointless. The stone demon was a pretty average monster of the week. The Giles story line also had something I thought couldn’t be canon at all but it was resolved at the end.

The characters are well done, of course. Golden is usually one of the best Buffy writers.

The first book in a humorous fantasy the Clocktaur War duology.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 40 minutes
Narrators: Khristine Hvam

Slade is a forger who was caught. She’s been forced to lead a group of people to an enemy city, hoping to find a way to stop their magical and mechanical soldiers. Others have tried and disappeared. Slate has a little bit of magic, namely she can smell rosemary when meeting with someone significant. Her partner (and former lover) is Brenner, a brooding, snippy assassin who was also caught and is now part of this suicide mission. Her nose leads her to Sir Caliban, a former knight-champion of the Dreaming God, now a convicted murderer. Caliban used to kill demons until one possessed him and forced him to kill innocent people. Supposedly, the demon has been exorcised but death was too good for him. But Slade smells that he’s destined to help her in the mission and so he’s released.

However, they’re all get magical tattoos which will kill them if they stray from the mission. The group’s fourth person is Learned Edmund, 19-year old misogynistic scholar who wants to get some writings back and supposedly knows more about the mechanical soldiers.

It’s a comedy. Mostly. Told from the POVs of Slade and Caliban. The story is chock full of Dungeons&Dragons archetypes, stereotypes, and cliches, most of them turned either on their ear or slightly on their side. As an old gamer, I thoroughly enjoyed this. I’m the one who often plays paladins or bards (or an angel when playing In Nomine). Paladins can be fascinating characters. Caliban is one such, even though he’s a fallen paladin. Kingfisher also plays a little with our expectations: paladins aren’t chaste, in fact they’re often pursued by rich and beautiful women, so much so that Caliban doesn’t even notice Slade much at first. Oh and even though Caliban’s inner demon is dead, it left a part in and it gibbers to him. Sometimes he speaks in the demon tongue without noticing it. This seemed to have annoyed some reviewers. I liked it.

Slade isn’t really a combat person; she used to forge accounts. She’s bitter about the whole suicide mission thing, yet she obviously has hope that she, at least, will get out alive. She’s never even ridden a horse so the journey in horseback is a whole new experience for her.

Pretty much the only thing I didn’t care for was the romance aspect. Too predictable and obvious. No real reason to stretch it out. As a fan of kickass married couples (or trios or other committed relationships), I would have loved for them to get together at the start.

Also I didn’t like that Slade is the only woman. Because I’m so over the “only one woman in a group” and “only one woman in a group and more than one man in the group is after her”. Too bad they’re here.

The ending is very abrupt and leaves us in a cliffhanger.

A Buffy book set during early third season.

Publication year: 1999
Format: Print
Page count: 210
Publisher: Pocket Books

Willow is babysitting a toddler, when she starts hearing strange bumps from upstairs. She calls Oz and almost convinces herself that it’s nothing. Meanwhile, Buffy and Giles are hunting vampires. They’re also talking about the latest drama among the Slayerettes: Cordelia is organizing a big spring party in Weatherly park. It’s the same park which in danger of being mowed down and Willow is trying to stop that by organizing a demonstration. So, Cordelia and Willow are at odds with each other.

However, the bumps upstairs turn out to be real. When Willow gets there, to her horror the baby has turned to a monster with wings. The monster tells Willow that she must join the monster and save Weatherly park. Then it attacks. When Xander and Cordelia get there to save Willow, the monster is gone but so is the baby.

It turns out that other babies have disappeared, too, and it’s kept a secret. Even though people are warning Buffy and her friends to stay away, of course they investigate.

This is a quick and entertaining read set during the time when Cordelia dated Xander and Willow dated Oz. No mention of Faith or the Mayor, though. Buffy deals with a lot of vampires with Angel’s help. The fight scenes don’t really add anything to the plot but simulate some episodes rather well. That’s a bit of friction between Cordelia and the other characters, but not a lot and that’s fine with me.

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