Patricia A. McKillip, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974)

Author: Patricia A. McKillip

Title: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Format: paperback

Pages: 200

Series:

Patricia A. McKillip won the first World Fantasy Award for this novel, third she had ever written. And let’s be frank: her writing skill by that time was already masterful. The prose of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld echoes the mythopoeic style of A Wizard of Earthsea, and McKillip’s novel seems to have been inspired by Le Guin’s masterpiece in more ways than one.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld tell the story of Sybel, the heir to the wizarding family tradition of acquiring power over sentient creatures through the subtle yet ruthless art of name-calling. Sybel doesn’t conjure fireballs or ice towers, and yet is extremely powerful: gaining knowledge gives her total control over others who, bereft of free will, become her slaves. Oh, she’s a benevolent master, but a slave master all the same. She controls fantastical beasts from myth and legend, and while they retain their individuality, they are tightly leashed indeed. Only when she herself becomes an object of such magic does she begin to realize how harmful that control can be. And then she just flips out and embroils several kindoms in an all-out war in her quest for revenge. Hell hath no fury like a woman disrespected and abused.

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau (2022)

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

Format: e-book

Pages: 306

Series: –

I’ll be brief, and frank. Yes, ouch.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is not a long book, and yet reading through it felt like eternity. I have been reading the first half of the book for over a week; every time I picked it up I felt that I was forcing myself to do it. Nothing was happening, and the reveals were totally unsurprising for a book that is to a large extent a retelling of The Island of Doctor Moreau. The second half picked up the pace, and offered some entertainment, but never on par with my previous encounters with Moreno-Garcia’s books. In short, this is not a bad book, and yet it’s far from good, too. It’s mediocre, and I’m actually sad to say it, because all Moreno-Garcia’s novels that I have read before were pretty enjoyable – and quite remarkable, too. I had so much fun with the fungal creepiness of Mexican Gothic, and with the darker realistic vibes of Velvet Was the Night, and even the early fantastic unevenness of Certain Dark Things was entertaining. 

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Marlon James, Moon Witch, Spider King (2022)

Author: Marlon James

Title: Moon Witch, Spider King

Format: e-book

Pages: 626

Series: The Dark Star Trilogy #2

First things first – I’M BAACK! 😉 My vacation in Poland proved to be more adventurous than expected, what with flights cancelled barely days before departure and getting covid right after we finally arrived in Poland after 72 hours of travel… But that might be a topic for a separate post, because today I’m going to write about James’s long-awaited sequel to Black Leopard, Red Wolf.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf was a singular book: dark with horrifying, intimate violence, propulsively emotional, full of fantastical monsters (some of which were still wearing human skin), crass and whimsically poetic, and, ultimately, abrasively addictive. The protagonist, Tracker, was bare against the world: his emotions were naked, extreme, and absolutely understandable for everyone who ever met a boy on a cusp of manhood.

But why do I write about the prequel in the review of the second installment? Well, because Moon Witch, Spider King is not similar to Black Leopard, Red Wolf in any recognizable manner – and yet it serves as a satisfactory juxtaposition of perspective to the first book. Moon Witch… tells the tale of Sogolon, the old witch we already know from Tracker’s tale, the witch we all rather despise even though we know of Tracker’s misogyny and his total lack of empathy to anyone so vastly different from him.

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R.J. Barker, The Bone Ship’s Wake (2021)

Author: R.J. Barker

Title: The Bone Ship’s Wake

Format: paperback

Pages: 493

Series: The Tide Child #3

First things first: I actually managed to finish a trilogy by R.J. Barker, so I feel very self-congratulatory. Yay me! Secondly, though, I only managed to finish it because, unlike The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, this one was interesting enough for me to follow it to the end ;). Although I might have made a strategic error in waiting with the review, as my initial enthusiasm waned somewhat. Still, it’s a pretty decent book, almost right to the end.

The two earlier installments, The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships, were very enjoyable seafaring yarn: tall ships, pirates, remote islands, sea dragons, storms and adventure, and a dream of Libertalia thrown in the mix. The motif of changing the unfair status quo, of fighting for social justice for the outcasts and the unfit, of challenging the rule of the dominant caste – all this for me formed the backbone of the previous two books. While The Bone Ships focused mostly on character development, the broader intrigue and worldbuilding became more apparent in the Call of the Bone Ships. I expected The Bone Ship’s Wake to offer some resolution to the above quandary, to show us how the idealistic dream can be realized, at least in part, in the very strict, increasingly beleaguered societies of constant scarcity. Woe is me. I guess I expected too much.

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Barry Hughart, Bridge of Birds (1985)

Author: Barry Hughart

Title: Bridge of Birds

Format: paperback

Pages: 278

Series: The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox #1

This story is advertised as “a novel of an Ancient China That Never Was.” It’s a very subtle claim, one that gives an insight into what type of novel Hughart wrote: wistful, whimsical, full of wonder, benevolently sarcastic, witty and self-aware, and most importantly, incredibly optimistic. I really didn’t know how much I needed such a book – until I read it.

“RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

IT IS THE PLAGUE OF

THE TEN THOUSAND

PESTILENTIAL PUTRESCENCES!”

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