Fantasy/SF Book Reviews
Drowning World: A Novel of the Commonwealth by Alan Dean FosterDel Ray, February, 2003
Hardcover, 272 pages
Drip, drip, drip: the constant rain is enough to drive humans crazy on the perennially wet Commonwealth world of Fluva. Constant rain has produced a jungle planet full of dangerous predators and incredible botanicals, which are a pharmaceutical treasure trove. When the obnoxious but talented human botanicals prospector Shadrach Hasselemoga crash lands in a remote area of the planet, Commonwealth administrator Lauren Matthias sends representatives of the planet's two quarrelling species to rescue him: warrior Jemunu-jah, one of the native Sakuntala, and the immigrant Deyzara trader, Masurathoo. But the rescuers crash land, as well, leaving the three species to combine forces to walk out of the incredibly dangerous jungle of Viisiiviisii - something that no one has done to date. Meanwhile, Lauren has her hands full as violence breaks out between the Sakuntala and the Deyzara (egged on by the villainous reptilian AAn) which threatens to destroy the world's social structure.
Alan Dean Foster has created a world that is so real you can almost hear the drip of the constant rain, feel the humidity and worry about the predators that inhabit the rain forests of Fluva. The three species who must cooperate to make it out of the jungle alive find each other's appearance totally repugnant, which makes for a compelling story. Lauren Matthias is an interesting character who has to fight a hostile environment (to humans, anyway), warring species and a recalcitrant adolescent daughter. Foster keeps the action moving, and his characters are vivid and most entertaining. This excellent entry set in the Commonwealth universe is more evidence that the bestselling Foster will never run out of great ideas.
Hades' Daughter by Sara DouglassTor, January, 2003
Hardcover, 592 pages
In ancient Greece, Theseus slew the Minotaur Asterion with the help of Ariadne, daughter of the King of Crete and Mistress of the Labyrinth. Unknown to most people, the elaborate magical labyrinths (which are spread throughout the ancient world) protect the land from ill fortune. Ariadne and Theseus leave Crete, with Ariadne thinking they will live happily ever after. But Theseus deserts the pregnant Ariadne for Ariadne's sister. Furious, Ariadne makes a terrible compact with the dead Asterion, curses Theseus and destroys all but one of the world's labyrinths, thus leading to the destruction of the ancient world, including Troy and Atlantis. Ariadne's descendants, all female, also vow to continue the revenge. Many years pass. Now Brutus, the former king of the now-destroyed Troy (he murdered his father to get the throne) is determined to regain the glory of Troy. Aided by the magical Genvissa (one of Ariadne's descendants), Brutus agrees to do Genvissa's bidding in exchange for her helping him create a new empire in Genvissa's land, Llangarlia (now England). With Genvissa's help, Brutus destroys the city of Mesopotama and takes the king's daughter, princess Cornelia, as his wife. Cornelia's fate is now entwined with that of Brutus and Genvissa, as Genvissa attempts to create a new labyrinth and use its power for her own ends. But Genvissa seems to have forgotten Asterion, who has his own plans for the game of the labyrinth, plans which will mean the end of humanity.
Hades Daughter is the first book in a new series entitled The Troy Game from internationally bestselling author Sara Douglass (The Wayfarer Redemption, Enchanter Starman). Epic in scope, this is material that simply could not be tackled with any success by a lesser author. A professor of medieval history by training, Douglass skillfully weaves fact with fiction to create a story that is breathtaking in scope: filled with magic, passion, love, betrayal, ambition and revenge. Her characters are complex people, who behave both honorably and despicably. Douglass' powerful and evocative prose, coupled with a rich historical background and a provocative storyline make for fascinating reading. Highly recommended.
--Claire E. White
Sisters of the Raven by Barbara HamblyWarner Aspect, 2002
Hardcover, 465 pages
In a world that is reminiscent of ancient feudal Japan, the magic is dying. For as long as anyone can remember, only men possess the gift of magic and enjoy the social stature that comes with being a mage. Lately, the men seem unable to perform any magic, from the simplest ward to keep mice away from the grain, to the most desperately needed spells to bring the rains to the parched desert city. But now women are showing the gift of magic, which infuriates the men. Set against this background is the compelling story of several of the women of the city, especially the young mage student, Raeshaldis, the only female student in the college of mages and Summer Concubine, consort to the kingdom's dandified ruler. Someone with powerful magic is kidnapping and killing any women who have the gift of magic. Summer Concubine, Raeshaldis and Pomegranite Woman must unite their powers to stop the killer and save the Yellow City from certain disaster.
Barbara Hambly has created a captivating fantasy world, which combines elements of feudal Japan, such as the geishas (Pearl Women), the costumes of the women and the social structure of the Imperial Tokugawa court. Yet she also weaves elements of Native American myth and touches of the middle Eastern culture to create a unique society that is, at once, familiar and exotic. Sisters of the Raven is both a murder mystery and an exciting fantasy story with action, magic and intrigue in abundance. Although the initial storyline wraps up nicely by the book's end, there are many more questions to be answered, paving the way for a very welcome sequel.
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