Gene Wolfe, Shadow & Claw (2021, originally published 1980/1981)

Author: Gene Wolfe

Title: Shadow & Claw (Omnibus edition containing The Shadow of the Torturer & The Claw of the Conciliator)

Format: E-book

Pages: 528

Series: The Book of the New Sun #1 – #2

I don’t think I’ll be offering any new insight in this review – Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun has already been analyzed to death since its original publication date. Hailed as a masterpiece and having won numerous awards, The Book of the New Sun remains one of the key SF works over 40 years after its conception. I’m very content that I had finally gotten the chance to acquaint myself with this series. Both The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator are indeed worth reading, and I hope to get my hands on the rest of the series sooner than later. Was it however such profoundly intellectually challenging experience I dared to hope? Alas, not entirely. And the responsibility for this turn of events lies as much in me as in the books themselves.

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Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball (1985 – 1989)

Confession time: as a kid, I was never into manga. Sure, I watched an the odd anime episode, from Tōshō Daimos to Captain Tsubasa (though the last was hard to endure, watching that football roll through the whole episode was sleep-inducing and I don’t think I ever watched a whole episode, really ;)), but I hadn’t taken to it at all. If all you had to judge Japanese art was Sailor Moon, well – I’m pretty sure you can understand my total lack of interest back then.

But fast forward to 2021, and voila! In April and May have devoured all 42 volumes of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z and was so happy with it that now I’m looking for a nice edition to buy myself a treat 😀 And because I reviewed all the DB volumes on GR, I decided to take inspiration from Lashaan and post them here on the blog as well. What’s so cool about DB, I hear you ask? Well, a whole lot of stuff, really: the whimsy, the humour, the fantastical imagination of the author, the absolute mastery of simplicity in art (which, man, I have read some other mangas since DB, and none of them come close to Toriyama’s art), and, of course, the main protagonist Goku. While the whole idea for DB and its little hero is rooted in the Chinese legends of Monkey King (and you can check out my review of Liu’s take on this mischievous trickster here), Toriyama took it in such fantastic, unexpected directions, deftly mixing Western and Eastern popculture with mythology and martial arts ethos. And that last element was what surprised me the most, I must say: Toriyama’s depiction of martial arts, and martial artists’ ethos, is amazingly deep, even if delivered in an offhand, funny way. I actually think it’s the best that I had read. Hats off!

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Get to Know the Fantasy Reader Tag

It’s been some time since we did a TAG! And there is one that caught our attention earlier this month, when it appeared on Bookforager. Get to know the Fantasy Reader – sounds like a great post to finish the Wyrd & Wonder month with. So, here it is!

What is the first fantasy novel you read?

Ola: The Lord of the Rings. I was seven when I read the whole trilogy – it was a copy borrowed from my older brother’s friend. Right after I finished it I went to the bookstore and with my saved pocket money bought my own copy, which then I instantly proceeded to reread. And here we are! 😀

That’s how my first copy looked 🙂

Piotrek: I want to say Hobbit, and it’s likely the truth. My first & favourite short story collection is Joan Aiken’s Room Full of Leaves and Other Stories, but Hobbit is the novel I received as a gift from a cousin some time early during my primary school years and it was my gateway into fantasy. What can I say? This is a wonderful book, accessible to the youngest readers, sucking them into the wonderful world of wyrd & wonder! It enchanted me and I never looked back 🙂

If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Piotrek: It’s not an easy question. Some of my favourite authors write stories where horrible, horrible things happen to the protagonists. Maybe Guy Gavriel Kay? He creates wonderful worlds and usually delivers a happy ending without too many casualties…

Ola: Hmmm. Pratchett, I think. Discworld is a fabulous place, and I’m sure I’d fit right in ;). As much as I love dark stories, I would not want to become a part of them, be it a hero or an onlooker or the hapless victim of friendly fire ;). Happily ever after trope is the one I insist on when my personal life is at stake 😀

Discworld as imagined by Paul Kidby

What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that turned into a huge revelation?

Ola: Revelations, huh? I’d say I’m too old to get revelations from fantasy books 😉 but it wouldn’t be entirely true. My revelation, and one that will last much longer than just this year, is the discovery of Dragon Ball manga (I know, I’m stretching the definition a bit, but that’s my answer :P). Seriously, I never expected to love it at all, let alone as much as I do. Some of original DB volumes are among the best books I’ve read this year, and the whole series (well, maybe except the Cell arc) is an instant pick-me-up for me! 😀

Piotrek: I haven’t read that much fantasy this year, yet. But Gardens of the Moon, finally fully read, turned out to be better than I remembered from my first failed attempts. I’m a bit late to this party, but yay to Malazan Book of the Fallen!

What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?

Piotrek: Favourite? That must be either High Fantasy, or Military Fantasy, judging by what occupies all my all time favourite lists. If I had to choose one, it would be high fantasy, the source of it all.

But what subgenre is the most neglected by me as a reader? Romantic Fantasy, most likely…

Ola: Genres and subgenres… Not a fan :P. If I had to choose, I’d opt for military fantasy (Cook, Tchaikovsky) or science fantasy a la Zelazny, with lots of mythology thrown in the mix. Romance in any form gets an instant NO from me, so if there’s something like Paranormal Romance/Romance Fantasy that would be the ultimate no-read subgenre for me. Also, YA. Please, no YA, fantasy or other…

WWII with magic and insects… What’s not to love? 😀

Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

Ola: I don’t have any auto-buy authors. I rarely buy books at all – only those I really really love and I’m certain I’m going to reread one day. I don’t think I have complete works of any one author, to be honest. I prefer to borrow books – then, if the book is less than stellar, I don’t have a problem of it taking shelf space. And if it’s good enough for me to want to have it – well, welcome aboard, there’s still space on the shelves! 😀 Besides, everyone writes a weaker book from time to time, even the best of the authors, and I wouldn’t want to own these anyway. But I do buy whole series that I love (especially when I know they’re finished) – Discworld, Shadows of the Apt, Black Company, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Fitz and Fool… 😀

Ahh those pretty covers! 😀

Piotrek: Not really, no. Used to be Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he writes new stuff faster than I’m able to read it. He’s still one of my favourite contemporary writers though!

How do you typically find fantasy recommendations?

Piotrek: In my seventh year of blogging it really is mostly fellow bloggers, definitely. Thank you, guys!!

Ola: I second Piotrek’s answer! Thanks, all!!!

What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

Ola: Well, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Abercrombie’s The Wisdom of Crowds (out in September) and Barker’s The Bone Ship’s Wake (September, too) – both the final installments in what’s shaping up to be very good trilogies. The review for Abercrombie’s The Trouble with Peace is here, and the reviews for the Barker’s earlier books are here, if you’re interested: The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships.

Piotrek: Hard to say. With my TBR as long as it is, I mostly read series already finished, and books published years ago. I don’t want to insert a GRRM joke here, as these stopped being funny years ago 😉

What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

Piotrek: The one that fantasy is somehow not proper literature, that including fantastical elements somehow makes it less serious. This silly superstition still lingers among some close minded people, and I would like to see it vanished forever 🙂 There was a short post about it early in blog’s history…

Ola: Again, I second that. How come Shakespeare can be rightly considered a titan of world literature, but modern authors implementing the same fantastical elements can only be “fantasy authors”?

H.C. Selous’s illustration to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

Piotrek: I’d ask some questions first. My answer would depend on person’s age, interests, favourite non-fantasy books… it might be Hobbit, Harry Potter or one of the Discworld books, or something dark and bloody, like the Black Company series.

Ola: Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for all! Well, mostly maybe for mythology/anthropology lovers ;). Tolkien’s Hobbit for those adventurous at heart. And for those young and delighting in creepy, maybe Meggitt-Phillips’s The Beast and the Bethany would be a good place to start, or Roald Dahl’s books, even before Harry Potter.

The version illustrated by Charles Vess is on my wish list! 😀

What’s the site that you like to visit for reviews, author interviews and all things fantasy?

Piotrek: Apart from blogs? Tor is the last one I regularly visit…

Ola: Blogs, and sometimes Tor. I do visit magazines websites, but I mostly read SF short stories, rarely fantasy.

Well, this was fun! We’re not tagging anyone but if you’d like to give it a go, be our guest! 😉

P. Djèlí Clark, A Master of Djinn (2021)

Author: P. Djèlí Clark

Title: A Master of Djinn

Format: E-book

Pages: 396

Series: Dead Djinn Universe #1

Let me start this review by saying I that enjoyed Clark’s short stories set in the Dead Djinn Universe quite a lot; A Dead Djinn in Cairo was snappy and entertaining, offering a refreshing mix of ideas, and The Angel of Khan el-Khalili is a solid psychological story rooted in real events, showcasing Clark’s strengths in the short form. A Master of Djinn, on the other hand…

Yup, there’s no way around it: if not for NG I would have DNF’ed this book without a second’s hesitation. It was jumbled, incoherent, predictable, and boring. There are many reasons why I judge this book so harshly. First is probably the case of expectations versus reality: I really liked the short stories set in this universe and expected the novel to be more of the same, or even better. It was not to be.

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F. Brett Cox, Roger Zelazny (2021)

Author: F. Brett Cox

Title: Roger Zelazny

Format: e-book

Pages: 224

Series: Modern Masters of Science Fiction (University of Illinois Press)

A brand-new critical monograph on one of my favourite SFF authors – how could I resist? 😉 It also came out in an opportune time, when I was quite unhappy with the flat fun of A Master of Djinn after the highs of The Lords of the North, and needed something different to cleanse my palate.

Cox’s monograph delivered on both accounts; his writing is simple and informative, and very approachable considering the inherently academic character of his book. There’s obviously a long, quite exhaustive bibliography and a satisfactory amount of footnotes, but the language throughout is intentionally focused on communication instead of erudite fencing with other specialists on Zelazny’s work – maybe because, as  Cox indicates, there are no other Zelazny pros and very little academic output concerning his work. It may be, as Cox suggests, that the necessary condition of passage of time has not been yet fulfilled – Zelazny’s untimely death in 1995 might seem like aeons past, but it really wasn’t that long ago 😉. And while the genre itself has undergone several changes since then, it is still difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff and conclude, with a degree of certainty, what can be considered a modern classic and what was just a work accident.

And indeed, Zelazny’s works are so varied in terms of style and themes and worldbuilding that it’s not a surprise some of his books are better than others – and with the author of Lord of Light, the good books are among the best of what SFF has to offer, and even the weaker offer a dazzling profusion of amazing ideas and impeccable, evocative language. It seems, however, that in the US-UK SFF circles there is even a longstanding consensus of considering Zelazny an unfulfilled promise who after a strong start became a commercial writer with no ambition. Frankly, remaining far removed from this little world of authors and critics I was surprised to learn about this piece of “conventional wisdom” – to me, some of Zelazny’s latest works are among his very best. And that’s basically what Cox is trying to prove in his monography: going chronologically through Zelazny’s work, the author of the monograph attempts to refute this stereotype and show that Zelazny conducted ambitious literary experiments in his writing to the very end, delivering varied books, but not generally worse than at the beginning – but as to whether Cox’s arguments are successful, you probably should ask someone else, since I never doubted this assertion😉.

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