There are no other books quite like Harrow the Ninth. The second novel in Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb trilogy following Gideon the Ninth, Harrow the Ninth seemingly follows the conventions of a sequel while consistently turning things on their heads at every opportunity. As the second story in a trilogy, audiences come in with a certain expectation. Where the first book is meant to set up the characters and the overarching plot, it still ends in an apparent victory. The second book need to expand the world, introduce new mysteries, and provide a lead-up to the third and final chapter. Harrow the Ninth does do this, but not in any expected way. Instead, it creates a mood piece focusing intimately on our main heroine as she navigates a wholly unfamiliar world out to destroy her at every turn. Many questions are asked, some are answered, but Muir never loses sight of the story she wants to tell.Continue reading “One Flesh, One End: A Review of Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir”
No discussion of urban fantasy is complete without The Dresden Files, the long-running series by Jim Butcher following the wizard Harry Dresden in modern-day Chicago. In many ways a counterpoint to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, in more than just he titular character’s name, The Dresden Files made a name for itself in the early 2000’s as mixing noir and fantasy to create relatively realistic mysteries, working inside a set of magical rules Butcher created and stuck to. Harry Dresden operated as a professional wizard and private investigator in a modern-day Chicago that does not believe in magic. While may other authors wrote urban fantasy and fantasy detective fiction prior to Butcher, he popularized the mix and brought it the mainstream.Continue reading “Calm Before the Storm: A Review of Peace Talks, by Jim Butcher”
We have all read the story before. A group of people join together from various walks of life and backgrounds to journey on a quest. They may have to traverse dangerous terrain, fight off bandits, or avoid pursuit by the forces of evil. The setting itself does not matter, only that this band of adventures embarks on a journey seeking something. But a quest does not just have to a physical matter. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a quest as an act or instance of seeking. It does not state that a quest is just about the travel or that what they seek is a physical object. Oftentimes, the point of the quest is not only to accomplish a mission, but to grow as well. While a character remains in one place, they are static. It is only through embarking on or joining the quest that they can change.
While this blog has been, and always will be, a great proponent of fantasy, most of the fantasy novels I have reviewed skew towards variations of high fantasy. Almost all take place in an alternate world; that is, not Earth in the present day or accurate history. For many authors, creating an entirely new world can actually be much easier than trying to base your fantasy in the real world. By creating your own world, you set the rules. Magic works, or does not work, as you see fit. However, even in these fantastical lands, authors are still able to talk about modern issues, usually through coded language and stand-ins. For example, the Na’vi in the film Avatar are used as a stand-in for the many indigenous tribes of North America around the time of European colonization. However, urban fantasy is a different beast altogether. By using the real, modern-day world, such subjects can be tackled head-on, without euphemism or substitution.
Fantasy is one of those genres of fiction that can be set in any world you can imagine. Authors can take as much, or as little, inspiration, from the real world as they like. The only boundary to the world in the book is the writer’s imagination. The setting and world can be as realistic as possible, adhering to real-world physics and the like. Or, an author can go completely wild and show us something with no resemblance to our world. So, why is it that so much fantasy just looks like medieval Europe with the addition of magic or strange creatures? Many, many books are written by cisgender, heterosexual, white men and feature cisgender, heterosexual, white protagonists. There are so many other voices out there, authors of diverse ethnicities, sexualities, and an entire spectrum of genders. Their books deserve to be read too.
When once there was a single genre of fantasy, now there are many. Fantasy used to mean dragons, orcs, epic adventures, battle between good and evil, among other such literary tropes. But you can only tell the same story so many times, in the same setting, before it begins to get stale. Luckily, fantasy has proven itself to be a versatile genre, in that it is not a single genre anymore. Rather, it facilitates the mixing of multiple genres to create something new. Now, traditional fantasy can be more commonly known as high fantasy. It’s counterpart, though not its opposite, is low fantasy. The transplanting of traditional fantasy elements, such as dragons, into an otherwise mundane setting, such as rural Louisiana. Highfire is one of the latest in a heritage of low fantasy.
Artificial intelligence has become one of the most common staples in science-fiction, the embodiment of human concerns with being replaced. Our collective worry about creating machines smarter and stronger than us crystallized into its own genre. Artificial intelligence, or A.I., is all over fiction, yet very difficult to get just right. For every successful A.I. story, there are piles of unsuccessful ones. Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, and Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell all come to mind as stories about A.I. done right. Unfortunately, The God Game by Danny Tobey never quite reaches the heights its predecessors achieved.
It is difficult to finish a series, regardless of genre. There is great pressure on creators to create the perfect finale, wrap up every storyline, and provide every character with a satisfying conclusion. Sometimes the fans are satisfied, other times they are far from it. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an emotional and filling conclusion to one of the most popular book franchises to exist, while Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker is altogether disappointing, undoing so much of what made its predecessors great. With The Lady of the Lake, the fifth and final novel in the Witcher series, Andrzej Sapkowski had to provide a conclusion to a series spanning two collections of short stories and five novels. A series following several main characters, a multitude of side characters, and major political upheaval. In The Lady of the Lake, however, something does not just end, something begins.
I have talked endlessly about the power of fantasy novels on this blog, and will continue to do so as long as this genre maintains its unique power. Fantasy is about all about creation and imagination, allowing readers to inhabit worlds wholly unlike our own. It is a measure of escapism that other literary genres can only dream of. Free from the pretentiousness of literary fiction, and liberated from the need for explanation in science-fiction, fantasy authors set their own rules in each new story. Crush the King is the third and latest novel in Jennifer Estep’s wonderful Crown of Shards series, preceded by Kill the Queen and Protect the Prince. Few would call this story literary fiction, but few series are more fun to read that the adventures of Everleigh “Evie” Saffira Winter Blair.
Memoir; from the French mémoire. A memory. Unlike a biography, which tends to be a relatively straightforward look at a person’s life, a memoir consists of their collected memories. It may be presented in chronological order, order of most importance, or how each memory leads into the next. As long as people have been committing words to writing, they have written memoirs. From the ancient world, to the modern, memoirs have only grown in popularity as a way to pass down one’s own legacy. Not all of us are destined to become legendary poets and writers, many people are forgotten as time passes. But a memoir can be an extension of a life. The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures is what is known as a graphic memoir containing both her words and her artwork in a masterful combination.