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The Magicians

The Magiciansthemagicians

by: Lev Grossman

Plume (Penguin Group) New York, NY  2009

ISBN 978-0-670-02055-3

The Magicians is currently playing on cable television.  I binge watched the first season on the recommendation of several friends.  I enjoyed it enough that I thought I should probably read the book.  This is the first in the series, of books.  The first book pretty much is the first season of the TV series, and even leaks a little into the second season.

It is rare that a visual media is successful at capturing the nature of a book.  Even when both are excellent work within their genre, there are compromises that must be made.  I was incredibly impressed with the choices the series producers made as they brought this book to the small screen.

One of the first things that often goes by the wayside is the physical description of the characters.  You have to go with the actors you can get.  In this case the casting was very close to perfect and all of the actors have gone above and beyond to incorporate the specific character quirks into their characterizations.  Q. is mopey, Elliot is trying too hard but very successful at it, Alice is too smart, too good, and too shy.

One of the differences that really works is the shift in setting.  In the book much or even most of the action takes place after Brakebills.  In the series the action is centered around Brakebills.  This works both because of the Harry Potter context most viewers are bringing to the table, but also because it facilitates the exposition of the magical system.  It’s easy in writing to take the time to explain how and why things work.  We’re not going to sit in for an entire episode that constitutes a class on basic magic.  We get to watch the relationships being built so that we will accept that these “college chums” will band together.

The difficulty of moving the story to Brakebills is that some of the action must truly take place in New York City.  This is where the series has expanded the scope and involvement of the Julia character.  The girl who was Q’s friend growing up, who “should have been accepted” at Brakebills, and wasn’t, is the catalyst for the “real world” impact of the threat to Magic.  I honestly found myself missing Julia as I read the book.  She wasn’t necessary, but I really liked that character.

I’ve been told she does have more to play as the story goes on, and I suspect that’s also why the series producers made the decision to bring her in at the start.  I may continue reading in the series (it’s easier than trying to keep up with a season on TV) but I suspect I will find myself binge watching again as the television seasons make their way to Netflix.

The story is simple.  The fantasy world that Q was enamored of as a child is a real place in the multiverse.  Magic exists, and people who are smart enough are tested, welcomed, and trained at magical colleges throughout the world.  Then they are set free to make whatever “grown-up” lives they choose.  Q finds Fillory, the world of his childhood fantasy, is the source of all magic in the multiverse.  That magic is threatened and it is Q and his peers that must become the rulers of Fillory and conquer the foe before magic is gone for good.

The way the story plays out, however, is not simple.  There is a lot of exploration of sexual abuse (in various forms) and the impact that can have.  There is the theme of “what if everything is too easy?”, do we every grow up if we are never challenged.  What ways must we be challenged in order to reach our true potential?  There is Elliot’s storyline about growing up gay, or bi, in a small conservative town.  There are real consequences to taking on the crowns of Fillory.  There is some debate about what is a God and what constrains them.  Big themes in a small story.

I found both the television series and the novel thought provoking, well told, and genuinely entertaining.

 

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The Warded Man

The Warded ManUnknown

by: Peter V. Brett

Ballantine Books New York, NY  2009

ISBN: 978-0-345-50380-0

It seems I’ve gotten myself sucked into yet another series.  Luckily for me this book is not only the first in the series, it also stands on its own.  The sense I had at the end of the book was much like it is at the end of any book.  We know the world and the characters go on even when the tale is complete.  If we really like what we’ve read we sometimes wish for more story, or another book about what our favorite characters do next.  But it’s like having a great meal at a restaurant.  We’re satisfied, but would like to come back.

There are so few series these days that don’t end on a cliff-hanger.  I am so grateful to have found an author who respects his work well enough to give me a complete novel, even as part of a series.  It’s worth exploring the next books for that reason alone.

However, there are plenty of other reasons to appreciate this writing as well.  This is a story in that blending of science fiction and fantasy.  The world here is older than it seems.  Mythology has replaced science, but there are hints of a time where great science was prevalent, or perhaps it was great magic.  The warders use symbols, like runes or Chinese characters, to build nets of magic to keep out the demons that rise from the core each night.

During the time of technology the demons had been defeated and there were hundreds of years of peace and prosperity.  When the demons returned, civilization collapsed into a semi-feudal structure.  The farmers in the small towns on the edges have maintained wards that the city people have lost, and visa versa.  In the city only warders know the symbols, In the country everyone knows them but clearly there are those with a stronger aptitude for constructing them.  In the city placement of the wards is a science of geometry, trigonometry and physics.  In the country you eyeball them in, or maybe use a straight stick to get the lines matched up.

There are three characters whose stories are told.  Arlen, who is a master warder in a small town that would never recognize that.  He is young, and brash, and talented and wants to learn about the times when men would fight the demons.  He feels betrayed by the father he used to admire and runs away, eventually to the city.  He wants to become a Messenger and travel the spaces between the towns looking for hints of the past.

Leesha’s family is at best verbally abusive.  She’s a very bright girl with a strong ethic.  Humiliated by her mother and the man her mother expects her to marry, she runs to the old herbalist for refuge.  The old woman takes her as an apprentice and reveals records and secrets that the wise women have kept since before the demons returned.

Rojer is an orphan survivor of a demon attack.  His father was the inn-keeper who let the wards around the inn deteriorate.  At the time of the attack the inn was housing a Jongleur, a traveling player often found in the company of Messengers.  In spite of himself, the Jongleur takes on the responsibility of the small boy and raises him in the trade.  Rojer was crippled in the attack, losing a few fingers off of one hand to a demon bite.  He doesn’t make a very good juggler, but he has a surprising skill with the violin.

I realized I was looking at a series when I was past the middle of the novel and the three had yet to meet up.  When they finally do it is the demands that each of them makes upon the others, as well as the need each of them has for the others that allows them all to recognize what they have become in the course of the story.

This is the coming of age piece for all three of these characters.  At the end of the novel the demons still rise and the world hasn’t changed.  But the three characters have.  We’re not sure where they are going next, but we know that there will be work for all of them.  They have each come into their own and they live in “interesting times”.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen Fiction

 

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Fated

Fated (An Alex Verus Novel)11737387

Benedict Jacka

Ace Books New York, NY  2012

ISBN:978-1-937007-29-4

This book is a promising start to the Alex Verus series.  Alex is a mage whose particular talent is ‘diviner’, or more accurately a probability mage.  He can see the potential timelines into the future and so make choices to increase the probability of particularly beneficial timeline.  He can see disaster coming, if he’s looking, and avoid it.

This series is set in what could be the London of Harry Dresden’s Chicago.  I have been a fan of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden for years and Fated is very much in the same vein.  The characters share a common history of escaping the clutches of a Dark Mage and walking in that grey area always striving for the light.  Both characters are looked down upon by the council of wizards.  Both characters have friends in odd and unexpected places.  Both characters have ‘mundane’ jobs.

Harry Dresden gets a nod from Alex when he says “I’ve even heard of one guy in Chicago who advertises in the phone book under “Wizard”.”  Alex himself runs a magic shop, the New Age/Wiccan variety rather than the David Blaine or David Copperfield type.  He has a sometimes assistant who finds actual magical items for him.  She suffers under a family curse that affects ‘luck’.  The people she gets close to tend to die from horrible accidents.

Diviners are a rare breed among mages.  Because they have little combat abilities of their own they tend to be looked down upon as ‘lessor’ by most other mages.  However Alex seems to have honed his abilities in unusual and rather useful ways, as well as studying more mundane forms of self defense.  When someone in the magical world needs a diviner, and the job is too dangerous or politically messy for anyone more reputable to get involved, there is always Alex.

Like the early Dresden novels, this book stands alone.  I appreciate that in a series.  I hate waiting for the next installment on a cliffhanger.  I want my stories to either end or to sit with the entire series at one go.  I’m looking forward to more about Alex but I’m not under a compulsion to get to it right away before I lose the story flow.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Fantasy

 

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The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

The Cats of Tanglewood ForestUnknown

by Charles DeLint

Illustrated by Charles Vess

Little, Brown and Company New York, NY    2013

ISBN:978-0-316-05357-0

This is a delightful tale that promises to be a new classic.  It is as likable as The Wind in the Willows or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and would appeal to the same age group.  Charles Vess’s watercolor illustrations have a dreamy quality reminiscent of the Beatrix Potter illustrations.

The setting deep in the hill country could be any remote country but my mind-set it in the Smokey Mountains. The animal population is rather varied including a black panther, a fox, a possum, bears and of course the wild cats.  The young heroine meets the animals in the forest who talk and have rich lives in what seems to be an entirely different reality than that of the “grown-ups.”

Our young heroine, Lillian, is a wild child and a dreamer.  She is an orphan being raised by her Aunt on hard work and old stories.  Lillian wanders freely in the woods once her chores and her home schooling work is finished for the day.  She keeps hoping to spy a fairy, but she can never seem to find one.  She’s warned, “When it comes to spirits, it’s best not to draw their attention.  Elsewise you never know what you might be calling down on yourself.”  But Lillian just want to say hello.

The dilemma of the story comes early as Lillian falls asleep under a tree and gets bit by a poisonous snake.  This happens to be the tree where all the forest cats congregate.  Lillian is friendly to everyone.  She leaves milk out for the wild cats, shares the chicken feed with the wild birds and always leaves a biscuit under the oldest apple tree for the Apple Tree Man.  The cats know she will die if they don’t do something so they work a large magic, and turn Lillian into a kitten.

From this point on in the story Lillian’s adventures take her into the world she always wished she could see.  She also learns that magic has consequences, and usually you don’t like them.  The story is about how hard she works to make everything in her world right again, even if it means she might end up a dead snake-bit girl.

This would be a great read aloud chapter book for young school age children.  It would be a charming tale for a young girl, especially a forest child and a dreamer.  Even as an adult I was delighted to be swept back into my own childhood dreams.

Charles DeLint is a master of modern fantasy and ‘real world’ magic.  Much of his material is geared to an older audience, and some of it can be very dark.  This is a simple tale told with great depth and mastery.  I highly recommend it.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Children, Fantasy

 

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Heartwishes

HeartwishesUnknown

Jude Deveraux

Pocket Books  NY, NY  2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0800-0

I like to read romance novels when I travel.  They don’t usually require a lot of attention.  They tend to be a quick read.  When I’m done I can leave the paperback behind and be sure someone will find some use for it.  Even so I tend to be picky about my romance novelists.  I like writers who are more interested in characters than in sex scenes.  I like writers who fill in the details around the story.

This story is set in a small town outside of Richmond Virginia.  There are 7 founding families and one of them is looking for a student to move in and write a family history.  The matriarch, Mrs. Frazier, has purchased a huge number of papers from the old family home in England which was being sold.  Although we are presented with the idea she’s researching to support her claim to a title (the ancestor was an Earl) she has an ulterior motive.  She’s looking for a wife for her oldest son because all her peers have grandchildren.

Gemma, our heroine, is intimidated by Mrs. Frazier and out of her class.  But she also is in love with history and this would be her dream job.  While her fellow students and competition woo Mrs. Frazier, Gemma finds herself wrapped up in a stack of old letters.   Of course she lands the job and is intrigued by the family mythology of a heartstone.  This stone, said to be given to the Frazier by a witch in thanks for using his strength to rescue some villagers, is supposed to grant a heart’s wish to any Frazier.

As the coincidences of wishes coming true increases, so does Gemma’s understanding that writing her dissertation about the heartstone will wreak havoc on the town and the family she’s come to love.  There are all the elements of a classic romance novel, gossip, jealousy, intrigue and hot sex.  The story, although fantastical, remains in the realm of possible.  There is always a “logical” reason for the wishes to have come true.

What drew me the most to this novel was the fact that Gemma, to help support herself in school, was the tutor for the football team.  She came to understand that brains and brawn are not exclusive.  When meeting the Frazier boys she recognized them as very much akin to her students.  She also, because she was training with the athletes, is quite able to hold her own with the physical challenges in the book.  The secondary characters, particularly the younger brother who is an artist, were also intriguing.  I’m actually hoping Jude Deveraux will write a series with a story for each of the 5 boys.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Jude Deveraux.  I think I’ll add her to my list of readable romance.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Romance

 

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The House on Durrow Street

The House on Durrow Streethouse-on-durrow-street

Galen Beckett

Ballatine Books, NY,NY  2010

ISBN:978-0-345-52271-9

I must confess that the reason I picked up this sequel to The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is that I wanted a book I would be able to put down.  I was pleased to find that the second book is better written than the first.

Mr. Garrit finds a friend among the Siltheri, the illusionists.  The love scene between him and Dercy is quite tender and sweet.  Mrs. Quent finds a journal of her fathers and bittersweet we find that he made the same errors in judgment that Mrs. Quent has made.  As she becomes Lady Quent and is swept up by high society we are swept up along with her.

It is Rafferdy the magician who holds the story together through the two books.  He is caught up between his habit of being useless and entertaining and finding himself in positions of authority.  He must learn the truth of the adage that he who does nothing does the most harm.  Thankfully his curiosity feeds our own as he explores the occult, the hidden truths, of this world.

As we learn a bit about the history of this world through Mrs. Quent’s father’s journal and from Mr. Rafferdy’s father we better understand some of the odd social stylings.  From the illusionists and from the still frustrating astronomical references we get hints about the threat that is truly the center of the story.  This also helps in appreciating the magical system.  We also get to explore the magical house as it is renovated for the family to move back in.

The secondary characters are still rather two dimensional.  It’s very difficult to care about the coming out party of Mrs. Quent’s sisters although this sets the scene for a great deal of important action.  I continue to be intrigued by the wildwood and Mrs. Quent’s relationship to the trees.  This is much more pronounced in this book.

It’s encouraging to find the author improving her skill as she continues to write.  There is a third book and maybe I’ll get to it before the year is out.  It’s not a compelling tale but it’s a nice escape.  Some of that I’m sure is still the allusion to the English authors mentioned in my review of the first book in the series The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2013 in Fantasy

 

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Rhiannon’s Ride Series

The Tower of Ravenstowerofravens

Kate Forsyth

ROC  NY, NY  2005

I am notorious for refusing to start a series until all of the books are at least in print.  I hate waiting a year between “episodes”.  I want to immerse myself in the world and get through the whole story.  Although I may not read the books back to back, I will at least still remember the last one before I move on to the next.  Given how much I read in the course of the year I find it’s much more difficult if I have to wait for the next book.

This series was originally published in London, England.  It does have a very British sensibility about it.  The lands and the characters are reminiscent of Scotland and Wales and the lowlands of England in both their geographic descriptions and variations in dialect.

The fictional landscape is compelling.  The different kinds of peoples, both by geography and by race, are fascinating.  Much attention has been paid to the variations in culture and manners.  Although as is common in fiction and ARP gaming you find the nobility popping up in the most unexpected places.

The first book of the series is really a story of culture shock and acclimatization.  The main character, who eventually takes the name Rhiannon – after the myth which is very much the same story as told in the Mabinogion – is our fish out of water.  She is by birth a member of a most savage race in the far reaches of the country.  But as a half breed (explained very well and not uncommon among her people) she did not acquire the appropriate genetic traits to make her accepted by her tribe.  She knows that they will kill her if she does not grow her horns by her menses and so when it arrives she hides it and plots her escape.

The story of her acculturation is complicated not only by her wildness and the fearfulness of one raised in a brutal environment.  Part of her escape from the tribe involves her killing a man, who as it turns out is one of the Kings Own.  There is also witchcraft and fairy talents (and races), necromancy and kidnapping and of course first love.

The Shining City

Kate Forsythshiningcity

ROC NY, NY 2006

The second book is typical of the middle of a trilogy.  It takes place in the capitol of the kingdom where the man who was killed was in an elite squad close to the king or Riah himself.  Our heroine lies wasting in the prison tower while all the forces of evil are lined up against her and against the kingdom. There is a great deal of court intrigue and we get to meet some of the characters that were referred as important figures in the first book.

The interesting thing about this second book is that we’ve been lead to believe that the kingdom is well and justly ruled.  Instead we find a great deal of corruption still exists.  That the leaders and much of the populous hold grudges and racist attitudes based on the war 20 years ago when the king came into power.  There is the wedding scheduled between the children of two of the great powers to seal the pact of peace that was made at the end of the war.  This is threatened by jealousy as well as those old prejudices which come closer to the surface as the wedding date approaches.

The language conventions, which at this point in the series the reader has adjusted to, become stretched to annoying in this book.  We meet the Keybearer of the Coven, the head of the witches and the school for magic users.  In and of itself this is not an issue, but she has as a familiar an elf owl.  The commentary the owl makes, things like “You-hooh fool-hooh too-hooh” grated against my sensibilities like fingernails on a blackboard.  Luckily the owl does not have a large part in the story.

On the other side of language is Rhiannon’s continuing struggle to understand the idioms of the human (English) tongue.  Her friend and language teacher occasionally succumbs to humor in recognition of the ridiculous saying things like, “The courtiers ‘o the court will court ye in the courtyard most courteously.”  Rhiannon may find these examples of language “Stupid.” but I found them delightful.

By the end of the second book everything is in turmoil, and nothing is resolved.  We know who all the “bad guys” are even if the characters in the book are still confused by the intrigue.  Still, by the end there are hints of hope to take the reader into the third book.

The Heart of Starsheartofstars

Kate Forsyth

ROC NY, NY 2007

The final book of the series suffers a bit from multiple settings and ambiguous time.  It’s not always easy to tell what is happening with one group at the same time something else is happening with another group.  This leads to a certain frustration when the reader is waiting for the characters in one scene to catch up with the character events in the preceding scene.  It also occasionally frustrates the pacing of the tension as news of the events at other settings seems to arrive suddenly and arbitrarily.

The great thing about this book is the lack of Deus ex Machina.  All of the strange and wonderful solutions have been foreshadowed or demonstrated as abilities in the earlier books. Some of the plot twists are actually quite unexpected even if they do follow a logical progression.  The threads are wrapped up in the end but there is a definite feeling of a world moving forward and the characters still having growth and challenges ahead.

The world of this series is well thought out.  The magical systems make sense and are consistent, even when the characters aren’t quite sure how they managed to achieve what they do.  The characters, for the most part, are neither entirely bad nor entirely good which is refreshing.  As much as we revile the bad guys we understand and almost sympathize with their motivations.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2013 in Fantasy

 

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