Fantasy Novels - Various Authors

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Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon

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Rhapsody is a young, very talented Singer. In her world, music contains much magic that can wield power over plants, animals and humans. She is trying to live her life peacefully and make a living as a Singer, but she finds herself fleeing an old suitor who is very persistent. While trying to escape his henchmen, she is rescued by two half-breed assassins. However, the rescue soon begins to look like it might be an abduction since she is forced to continue traveling with them after the rescue has been successful. After an arduous journey, taking them halfway across their world and centuries into their future, the three travelers begin to encounter mysteries that they must unravel to protect their own lives.

This is Haydon’s first novel. The novel has a lively start and the ending is fairly brisk too. However, the novel assumes a glacial pace in the middle. She doles out facts sparingly, letting the elements of the plot develop very slowly. At the end of the book (this book is to be part of a trilogy), there are still many mysteries to be solved. It was surprising to me that at the end of a 500-page book, I still knew very little about two of the major characters. However, the plot is very inventive and that helped me push through the slower parts of the book.

Other authors such as Robert Jordan have exercised this style of revealing information bit by bit very effectively. While reading Rhapsody, I often got the impression I was reading a Jordan novel. However, while Jordan clearly is trying to make a career out of his Wheel of Time series, I believe Haydon will finish this series in three books.

If you like to be kept in the dark and learn information slowly and if you like Robert Jordan’s work, you will enjoy this novel. However, if you are more inclined towards a brisker pace with lots of background information revealed up-front (as done by Terry Brooks and Stephen R. Donaldson), you probably won’t find Rhapsody to be a very satisfying melody.

Reviewed by: Alan

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The Gnomewrench in the Dwarfworks by Nick O’Donohoe  

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Often you run across books in which the description on the book jacket or the illustration on the cover are so compelling that you just have to buy it. I read a review of Gnomewrench and the premise of the book intrigued me enough to say, "I must read it!" Unfortunately, the book fails to live up to its potential.

Grady Cavanaugh is a 4F-draft reject who works as a salesman for an industrial furnace manufacturer in New England. Despite World War II raging on, his job at the factory is dull. Then Grady receives an order for a custom furnace that appears to be designed for an operator who is only three feet high. Upon investigating the buyer, Antony Van Der Woeden, Grady discovers a secret underground industrial complex staffed by Dwarves. Inherently distrustful of humans, the Dwarves have not taken advantage of modern technology and run their factory using centuries old methods. Worse yet, they owe a debt to a group of evil Gnomes who rule the Dwarfworks with an iron fist (claw?). Can Antony and Grady propel the Dwarfworks into the future despite the meddling of the Gnomes?

The premise of the book is fresh and novel and holds great potential for developing story lines. Unfortunately, O’Donohoe seems uncertain as to which plot lines to pursue. The result is a plodding, lifeless story that creeps along like a snail. Character development is adequate for Grady but woefully lacking for the Dwarves and the other supporting characters. The hold that the Gnomes have over the Dwarves is never fully explained. In fact, there is little discussion of the Gnomes at all! Therefore, when the Gnomes do appear in the narrative, they fail to elicit any fear or excitement in the reader, despite being cast as the "villains" of the novel.

O’Donohoe attempts to salvage the story by putting in a battle between the Dwarves and the Gnomes in the last 50 pages of the book. Unfortunately, since the author fails to make the reader care about the characters, the battle elicits more yawns than excitement. The battle seems forced and unnatural and fails to redeem the dreary 300 pages that precede it.

The one bright spot is that the book accurately portrays what life was like in the early 1940’s in the United States during World War II. The author obviously lived through this period or studied it very thoroughly. Unfortunately, the positive features of the book are overshadowed by its shortcomings. My advice is to bypass this book and move on to greener pastures.

Reviewed by: Alan

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Behind the Throne by Martin J. Dougherty

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Alvin Riall, the Duke of Derlle, had sworn to defend Yantr, the king of Valdir, at all costs. Despite this loyalty, Yantr suspected Riall of dallying with his wife. This mistrust was fueled by the bodyguard of the queen… an evil, conniving man named Terrik. Recognizing that Riall was a popular leader who could be a rival for the throne, which he coveted, Terrik fed Yantr’s mistrust and had Riall assigned to hazardous assignments in far-flung military campaigns.

Sent on a hopeless military mission, Riall disobeys the king’s orders and surrenders a hopeless situation instead of committing his troops to certain death. This earns him banishment from Valdir, which seemingly clears the way for Terrik’s plans to seize the throne. Can Riall rise from the ashes of his disgrace and prevent the kingdom he loves from falling into the hands of the evil usurper Terrik?

This novel is a pure sword fantasy, set in mythical, medieval-like kingdoms. There are plenty of battle scenes that are fairly well described. The hero, Riall, is a likable enough fellow, except for his tendency to blindly follow oaths he has taken even when common sense would dictate disobeying them. The character development of the villains fell a bit flat and I was not convinced that they were ever very menacing. The plot was fairly predictable, but still generated an adequate amount of interest to keep the reader engaged. However, the transitions between time frames (usually handled with the start of a new chapter) were often not smooth and gave the story a somewhat jumpy feeling.

Still, if you like a rousing story of knights battling for their kingdoms and their honor without anyone using any magic, you will probably find Behind the Throne to be entertaining. "To your horses men… and charge!"

Reviewed by Alan

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The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip

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McKillip has crafted a riddle inside a riddle inside yet another riddle. The Tower at Stony Wood has all the elements of a traditional fairy tale; a princess imprisoned in a tower, a knight seeking to rescue her, enchanted creatures, dragons and witches. Cyan Dag is a poor but loyal knight to the King of Gloinmere. On the eve of the King’s wedding he is approached by a mysterious bard, who warns him that all is not as it seems. The King is in danger of marrying an imposter and the real bride is confined in a tower, in need of rescue. After a frightening confrontation with the false bride, Cyan Dag is convinced that he must find the imprisoned princess and save his King.

During his journey, the knight meets a variety of unusual folk and finds that there is more than one tower along his path. McKillip’s towers are confusing and strange and her tale often takes some twists and turns that can be difficult to understand. There is a recurring theme of embroidery throughout the story. The imprisoned princess embroiders lush tapestries, as do several other characters. Those characters who don’t embroider seem to be influenced by the handiwork of those that do. The reader is also influenced, because McKillips’s writing is another form of embroidery. She chooses her words and ideas as carefully as the precious silk threads used by the princess. This novel is as richly detailed and descriptive as the tapestries created by her characters.

This is not one of those stories that is readily predictable. I never really felt as if I knew the characters in this story and it made it difficult to predict what they might do. McKillip’s writing style may be hauntingly beautiful, but it is also thought provoking and mysterious. Some of the passages were difficult to comprehend and it sometimes seemed as if McKillip was straying far from her original course, but eventually she ties together all the loose threads and the reader will see how even the smallest detail can affect the overall design of the work. Although I enjoyed this story, it took some patience to read through to the end. The Tower at Stony Wood isn’t a fast-paced, action thriller; rather it is more like a quiet flower unfolding, revealing more and more of its beauty as it grows.

Reviewed by Diane

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