Tag Archives: #SwordandSorcery

Dennard, Susan; Truthwitch (Witchlands I); London, Tor, 2016

Ultimately all stories (real-life or fiction) seem to be power. Mainly the power to control ones own and/or other people’s lives. Sometimes that includes war between nations on the pretext of one person. In the case of Truthwitch, that person is Safiya fon Hasstrel.

In the Witchlands series there are three kinds of people: witches, norms and the Cleaved. You have to read the story to find out who the Cleaved are. Witches have all kinds of strange powers. Thus far, I know about Truthwitches, Sightwitches, Threadwitches, Bloodwitches, Windwitches, Earthwitches and Waterwitches. The different categories cover every degree and permutation within their field. Threads are the ties that bind people together and to life. The category people seem to know least about is Truth.

Truthwitches have not existed for about 200 years. That is, until Safiya became one. In the past, people in power wanted a Truthwitch by their sides because Truthwitches knew if people were lying. It was sort of a love/hate thing. At least, that is as much as Safi knows about her powers. Safi really wants to hide her witchery from as many people as possible. But she sucks at being inconspicuous. Fortunately, she has Iseult to hold her back. Sadly, there is only so much Iseult can do no matter how level-headed or good at strategizing she is.

Iseult is a Threadwitch. The world is filled with threads that Threadwitches can see. Except for their own and other Threadwitches’ and those of Bloodwitches. These threads bind people together to varying degrees, but can also be bound into stones to help members of a thread-family find each other. Unlike most Threadwitches, Iseult cannot make threadstones nor is she able to control her feelings as much as a Threadwitch is supposed to. Keeping level-headed (stasis) is essential to the safety of those around them.

Both women are trained in martial arts and fighting with various weapons. Both started fighting by themselves, but soon became an unbreakable team and later Threadsisters. The two of them have trained together for years, and that is the only thing that saves them when they are unfortunate enough to encounter the Carawen monk Aeduan who has been trained to fight since childhood. To make things worse, he also happens to be a Bloodwitch, a type of witch thought to no longer exist. Bloodwitches can smell a person’s blood and the witchery within it. Like bloodhounds, Bloodwitches can follow that smell across continents. It is debatable whether anything can kill them. Safi and Iseult fear he has smelled their witchery and run, run, run. And they will need to run far as not only Aeduan, but also the guards, soldiers and Hell-Bards of Emperor Henrick end up being after them. And then, of course, come the Purists.

Purists are non-magical people who do not want others to have powers they do not have themselves. They are an odd and violent group. Real life history is full of what people like that are able to do in the name of “purity”.

Another important encounter for the two women is Prince Merik of Nubrevna. Merik happens to be a Windwitch. Windwitches control air currents. Merik has problems with his temper. Not setting air on the Guild leaders he is meant to make trade agreements with is nigh to impossible. To make matters worse, knows that most Guild leaders have no interest in a trade agreement with Nubrevna. In fact, the opposite is more likely. Nubrevna is full of magic but empty of most other things that keep people alive.

Truthwitch is the first story in what looks to be a 4-novel & 1-novella series. Number two, Windwitch, has already been published. According to Goodreads the next stories are titled Sightwitch (novella), Bloodwitch, and untitled.

The story is written in third person – my favorite POV. It has been well edited. Considering the people Dennard works with, anything else seems impossible. Its musicality drew me in.

Plotwise, Truthwitch has been told many times – both in fantasy and in real life. War, peace, growing up, freedom, starvation, death, love and hunting others are all topics we have heard before. As is magic. But the refreshing thing is our main pair, Safi and Iseult. They are both amazing and annoying at the same time. Humour abounds between them. Their support of each other, even when blame could be placed on the other person, is not often seen in teen fantasy.

I’m not sure any of the characters are particularly likeable from the onset. But they are fun all the way through. Even when I think they ought to be drowned. But then drowning does not always help get rid of them. What seems inevitable is that a pairing off of at least two of them will happen. It would be nice if it didn’t, or at least if it did not happen in the usual YA-fantasy manner = love-triangle.

Truthwitch is not the best story I have read, but it is one of the better ones. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Bulgarian: Сюзан Денърд; Веровещица; Translated by Александър Маринов; Егмонт, 2016 (Review)
  • German: Schwestern der Wahrheit; Translated by Vanessa Lamatsch; Penhaligon Verlag, 2016 (Review)
  • Polish: Prawdodziejka; Translated by Kołek Regina, Pawlak Maciej; SQN – Sine Qua Non, 2016 (Review Youtube)
  • Romanian: Vrăjitoarea adevărului; Translated by Andreea Florescu; Nemira, 2016 (Review)
  • Russian: Видящая истину; Translated by О. Грушевская; Издательство, АСТ, 2016 (Review)
  • Turkish: Doğruluk Cadısı; Translated by Murat Karlıdağ; Novella Dinamik, 2016 (Review)

Vaughn, Carrie: Steel (2011)

steel-by-carrie-vaughn
Steel is a historical fantasy about a girl who is thrown into the past and desperately wants to return to what she had not realized she had. It is an action-filled coming of age story set in beautiful Bahamas on the Diana, captained by Marjorie Cooper. It is a story about choices, and how those choices end up defining us. What Steel is NOT is a swashbuckling romance.

A large wave surged under them then, sending the boat rocking steeply. Jill, the world-class athlete who’d never yet lost her balance in a fencing bout, fell. Stumbling back, she hit the side of the boat and went over. Grabbing uselessly for the edge, she rolled into the ocean. ….

Waves pitched her, her sunglasses were torn away, the water was cold, shocking after the tropical air. She couldn’t catch her breath – swallowed water instead. Flailing, she searched for up, groped for the surface – couldn’t find it. Her lungs were tightening. It had been sunny a moment ago – where was the sun?

Someone grabbed her. Hands twisted into her clothing and pulled her into the air. She clutched at her rescuers, gasped for air, heaving deep breaths that tasted of brine, slimy and salty. But she was out of the water. She was safe. She wasn’t going to die.

Many people talk about pirates as if they lived a romantic kind of life. I suppose many historical eras have people longing for them. But there was little romance going on in days that were usually all about survival. Marjorie Cooper is the Captain of the pirate ship Jill ends up on. Cooper and the rest of the crew quickly realize that Jill is completely at a loss about everything that has to do with a pirate’s life. Suspicions about her being a spy for Edmund Blane (another pirate) are soon squashed by her ineptitude. Even fencing, a sport Jill thought she excelled at, was of a whole different caliber in the Bahamas in the late 1800’s.

Jill could only shake her head – no, she’d never fought for blood. Not real blood. Only ranks, medals, and maybe a college scholarship. She bowed her head, embarrassed, when tears fell. She wiped them away quickly. Her still-wet hair stuck to her cheeks. Salt water crusted her clothing. However much she wanted to sit down, pass out – or drop the rapier, which she wouldn’t have been able to raise again if Henry came at her in another attack – she remained standing before the captain, as straight as she could, which wasn’t very at moment.

“What’s your name, lass?”

“Jill. Jill Archer,” she said, her voice scratching. She only just noticed that she was thirsty.

“And, Jill, how do you come to be adrift in the wide sea so far from home?”

The tears almost broke then, and she took a moment to answer. “I don’t know.”

Slowly, Jill learns what it means to be a pirate and also what it means to be an adult. Basically, that meant work. The kind that left her little time and energy to plan, to regret or to think about her family. Wood had to be kept free of mold, sails had to be mended, ropes had to be spliced, the ship had to be emptied and barnacles removed and repeat. Slaves were rescued, battles fought, magic rapier tips followed and lives were put on the line. All the time the Diana kept on chasing Blane and Jill became more and more part of most of the crew. But not all of it, the Diana‘s prisoner included.

On board, the pirates have a Doctor Emory. When Diana was landed to clean off barnacles, he tried to signal his friends in the hopes that they would see and come rescue him and kill the pirates. Having signed their articles, Jill does not feel the same.

Often, Jill finds herself thinking that she should tell her siblings Tom and Mandy about her experiences. She wonders if her family misses her. She regrets her moping, when, really, there was nothing to mope about. Slowly she goes from being an unaware, privileged, white, middle-class girl to learning some of life’s more difficult lessons. One is that very little in life can be taken for granted. A difficult lesson to learn is that when you feel helpless it is easier to follow orders you do not understand rather than to disobey. What happens when a point that seems like one of no return appears? What then? Jill learns what obsession looks like and how it brings danger to others. She learns about the dire consequences some choices have and how some of those consequences reach far into the future to bring a 16-year old girl into the past to right them.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Steel can be found at Amazon

Carr, Patrick W.: A Cast of Stones (The Staff and the Sword I) (2013)

A Cast of Stones, Bethany House Publishers, 2013
I think A Cast of Stones fits the Harry Potter age range. Patrick W. Carr’s writing is technically excellent. The story is well-edited and the text flows from sentence to sentence. As far as plots go, A Cast of Stones is stereotypical epic fantasy and much of it reminds me of other stories. Readers should be able to tell how the trilogy will end after finishing A Cast of Stones. At times Carr fell for the temptation to moralize. In spite of this, I recommend it for readers who need clear HEROs. Errol is definitely that, although he does not start as one.

Cruk grunted and grimaced his imitation of a smile. “The boy’s got the right of it. He is pretty useless.”

Errol nodded with satisfaction. “See?” (p.103)

That uselessness is due, for the most part, to his alcoholism. A few years earlier, when he was 14 years old, Errol experienced something traumatic enough to drive him to drink. Being an orphan made it easier to go down that road. Because he is our HERO, we know he must find his way to a heroic personality. One of his tools for staying away from alcohol is fighting with a staff.

The only person who remains as he was at the beginning is Liam.

“We’re all the same,” Liam said. “I just concentrate and try really hard at everything. Anyone can do it if they just try hard enough.”

Errol stared. Did Liam really believe that?

“Now,” Liam said, “recite the vowels and consonants.”

He really did. (116)

Liam does most things by working hard and by having a heap-load of talent. In spite of being near-perfect, Errol admires him. And so does every other person Liam meets. Especially women. But Liam is not affected by this adoration and seems not to notice it.

Errol and Liam are joined by Martin, Luis and Crux. All three have secrets they hide from the “boys” (19 years old) and pasts they need to pick up again. Martin and Luis are meddlers and Crux a protector. He is also a tough teacher to Errol who lacks most “civilized knowledge”.

‘Cruk’s eyes narrowed. “You’ll have to learn on the way. I’ll teach you. First lesson, don’t ever annoy your teacher.”‘ (p.82)

At times, the methods employed by meddling Martin and Luis are highly questionable. They,  appear to believe that “the ends justify the means”. For churchmen and believers, they do not have much faith. In fact, that could probably be said of most of the church people we meet in this trilogy. Faith in their deity’s power is low.

The religion we learn about in A Cast of Stones is similar to the Roman-Catholic faith. Three-in-one godhead, celibate priesthood, rituals and hierarchies are close to identical to the RC church. Except for the magic bit that its Readers employ. Any magic but Reader-magic is forbidden and magic-users are usually killed. Rulers inherit their power but each ruler is invested with his (yes, his) powers. The old King has no heirs, which is why a new one must be found. Errol and Liam play an important role in picking the new ruler. No wonder people want to stop them.

One of the people who tries to hinder Errol from fulfilling his heroic destiny is Abbot Morin. He also believes that “the end justifies the means”. Some of those means carry a high price for both Errol and himself.


Reviews:


Cast of Stones is currently free at Kindle

Flynn, Sabrina; The Broken God (Legends of Fyrsta III) (2016)

Although The Broken God can be read alone, it is better to read A Thread in the Tangle and King’s Folly first.

Some characters hit me harder than others. In The Broken God that was the boy Zoshi. There really isn’t anything unique about Zoshi. He’s just another “street-rat” among many others. Like street-rats everywhere, hunger, homelessness and poverty are his companions.

“The street rat had survived eight years in the docks, and he knew what danger felt like. This was it. All prickling over his body, making his legs want to run.”

We first met Zoshi in King’s Folly. His plight broke my heart. Zoshi’s story in The Broken God is just as difficult for me to read.

“… The light wavered with his shaking. Zoshi gripped his own arm, trying to keep it still. He was falling, he was sure of it, and his stomach had been left at the cave wall.

Tears slipped down his cheeks and piss seeped down his leg – the smell of courage. It was strangely reassuring in the void of time and space. …”

Courage is like that, and I love that Flynn recognizes this. I also love that one of the bravest people in her story is this 8-year old boy who had just been through one terror and now tries to muddle through his another. All alone, except for the dog/mammoth/crow Crumpet.

Marsais is a mess. Being at least 2000 years old and a seer will do that to you. His mind travels all potential futures and “endless hallways of memory“. Keeping track of when he is has become almost impossible. His meddling left one of his stabilizers behind. Isiilde did not get on the ship with him. Marsais may come to regret that decision; but like all meddlers, he feels he has done what needed to be done. At least Oenghus is with him. Oen is a rock. Yet even stone can crack. Being without his daughter has also destabilized him. But both men have seriously underestimated Isiilde.

“Finally,” she said, “you’re treating me like an equal rather than a pet to be indulged. I will not become one of Syre’s pet nymphs and I am no longer yours.”

A nymph fighting for the humans who view her as an animal is a struggle for Isiilde. Lieutenant Rivan is probably the only one of the Sacred Order who does not. He is also the only man, other than her father, who is not distracted by her presence. Unless you count  challenging his faith. Blind faith is a dangerous thing. It is easy to forget that knowledge must have precedence. Rivan viewing Isiilde as equal to humans makes him heretic in the eyes of his Order.  He is not alone in questioning old beliefs. Captain Acacia Mael keeps on learning that what her Order claims does not add up with what she observes.

In the meantime, healer must become warrior again. Morigan, and the rest of the Isle of the Wise, are beset by betrayal and the Fey. The Fey are phantoms whose whispers invade a person’s mind and leave them incapable of fighting back. Most become mad or die. Morigan does neither. She and Brynhilde are amazing women who do their best for the people they are in charge of.

I think that what I liked most about The Broken God and The Legend of Fyrsta series was that while there were a huge number of endings, there were no happy endings. There were, however, new beginnings. Occasionally, death is postponed and, instead, another chance was given. Not to make things over or better than before, but to continue trying to make a go of it. We can’t really ask for more than that. Except maybe strawberries.

Absolutely loved it. Definitely recommended.

I was asked to review The Broken God by Sabrina Flynn


My reviews of:

  1. A Thread in the Tangle
  2. King’s Folly

Lynn, Elizabeth A.: Watchtower (Chronicles of Tornor I) (1979)

“Tornor Keep was dead and burning.

Ryke’s face was soot-stained, and his wrists were skinned raw where he had torn them twisting in his chains. His head ached.”

From this moment we are in the company of Ryke, a man who remains in a state of shock through the story. All of his friends, his leaders and his place in the world and loyalties have been torn from him. He thought he understood war, but he had never seen it from the side of the loser. War is much more brutal and bloody when you are not the winner. Why he has been kept alive when the rest of the Keep (excluding the women who were raped and kept on as chattel) was killed is a mystery to Ryke.

Then Col Istor (master of the invaders) shows him why. Errel, Prince of Tornor until the invaders took the keep, is still alive. Given a beating, but still alive. In return for keeping him that way, Ryke must pledge his service to Istor. Ryke gives the only pledge he feels capable of keeping. It is accepted.

“I’ll serve you,” he said, “with loyalty, as long as Errel’s left alone and unharmed.”

The Northern border is a land where the gap between male and female is immense. As is usual in such societies, women are meant for marriage, childbirth and possibly healing of the kind wise women did. Men, well, men. I am glad Elizabeth A Lynn wrote this book the way she did. Ryke’s prejudices are challenged. Lynn shows us that  prejudices do not necessarily change even when confronted with evidence and anecdotes. This has been my experience as well, and I find it just as frustrating as Sorren and Norres expressed.

“The other was unimportant. It happened to all women. In war you could not even call it rape.”

Ryke is used to being in “middle management”. He likes leadership, but only to a certain extent. Beyond that, he prefers having another person tell him what to do and, to a certain extent, what to think. Errel (Prince to Ryke) is supposed to fill that spot, but Errel is not willing to play along. He challenges Ryke to think for himself and to make his own choices. Ryke hates that. At times I have wanted people to choose for me. Often I wonder if that is the way most of us want the world to be. If others choose for us, perhaps we have less responsibility? But I would not choose to have Ryke’s fear of choice. In the end, neither would he.

Definitely recommended.

P.S: I have not been able to find a link to Elizabeth A. Lynn anywhere.

P.P.S: “The art of the chearis, as it is described, resembles in some aspects the Japanese martial art aikido, created by Master Morihei Uyeshiba. This imitation is deliberate. Writers must write what they know. In gratitude for that knowledge, the author respectfully wishes to thank her teachers.” (Dedication page)


1980 World Fantasy Award


Reviews:


Watchtower is available on scribd.com


Translations:

Edghill, Rosemary: The Warslayer: The Incredibly True Adventures of Vixen the Slayer, the Beginning (2002)

http://www.carolheyer.com/fantasy-art.html
Cover art by Carol Heyer

Rosemary Edghill does her usual cracking job writing The Warslayer.

“A terrible power has been unleashed in the land of Erchanen. Long was it prisoned upon the peaks of Grey Arlinn, until foul mischance freed it once more. Now it stalks the plains of Serenthodial, and Great Drathil is no more than an abode of shadows. We are a simple gentle people, without the arts of war, and we knew that only the greatest warrior who ever lived could help our people in their hour of greatest need. You are she.”

Quite understandably, Gloria (Glory) McArdle is a bit skeptical to being approached by three apparently insane (like all conventioneers) fans who are taking fandom to the extreme. What she gets instead is a new world.

It isn’t often a stuffed elephant gets to have a major supporting role, but Gorden, the elephant, does. Glory depends on him for comfort in all the strangeness and he is also in an essential place when one of the Allimir needs him. Or at least Vixen thinks that when she and Belegir are seeking the will of the Oracle. Comfort objects are important tools in emergencies and daily life. I think it is safe to say that Vixen’s new life is traumatic.

Vixen also brings her highly impractical costume including a real and blunt sword. It was thought that, for the sake of realism, the role as Vixen required learning to fight with a real weapon. Well, kind of fight. She discovers that her choreographed moves are of little use and improvisation is a must. In fact, having been an Olympic gymnast is far more important to Glory’s survival.

“The terrace directly below was still clear. It was an eight-foot drop. Glory turned away from the stairs and jumped.

They hated having her do her own stunts on TITAoVtS, because if she got hurt, production stopped dead, but in fact she was damned good at it, and the stuntpeople had taught her a few helpful tricks. She held the sword well out from her body and threw herself into a forward somersault, landing on her feet, crouching to absorb the impact – just like the vaulting horse, that – and backing up quickly against the wall. …”

Getting back to Earth after her arrival on Erchane requires the help of the Oracle. Belegir, the head wizard, goes with her as a guide. When they get there, Glory discovers that the Alimir aren’t as peaceful as they had told her. The walls of the temple are full of paintings of Allimirs’ killing.

“You-told-me-you-didn’t-do-things-like-that-” she growled in a low husky feline rumble, leaning over until she was staring right into his eyes. “You said you didn’t know how!”

Well, once upon a time, the Allimir had been a murdering horde killing everything in their way. Kind of like humans. Then, somehow, the old hero, Cinnas, banished War from Erchanen. But that enchantment only lasted one thousand years. And this magic was what the Allimir wanted Vixen to repeat. Like many of us they wanted another to deal with the consequences of their actions. I guess that fits with how my generation seems to feel about the future of the Earth. NOT our problem! Please solve and fix our mistakes and intentional shit. Because that is how we humans are, isn’t it? But Gloria is fully aware of her limitations.

“Well, cheer up. You’ve got me, now. When She sees that, She oughtta wet herself laughing. C’mon.”

The style of story, sword and sorcerery, kind of gives the ending away. As with most adventure stories the odds seem impossibly stacked against Vixen.

The Warslayer is an odd, yet profoundly pleasing, adventure tale with lots of action, humour and food for thought. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


The Warslayer available at Amazon UK

Abbey, Lynn: Rifkind’s Challenge (2006)

Rifkind's Challenge - Lynn Abbey
Cover art by Julie Bell

Stories about strong female characters have always been important to me. In my younger days these stories were difficult to find. Usually the women depended on a man to be heroic and choices we laud in women were not acceptable in the so-called “weaker sex”. Female authors have been just as guilty as male authors in perpetrating this stereotype. But some authors dared break through unwritten rules and wrote about women who might still struggle to be accepted by readers. Rifkind is one such woman. Her author is Lynn Abbey.

Rifkind’s Challenge is about adventure taking place in a medieval type of society. There are necromancers, possessions, zombies, strange power and sword fighting. Rifkind is tiny and usually underestimated by her much larger opponents. The smart ones quickly learn no to. Other opponents cannot deal with a woman defeating them. Often they end up with their entrails hanging out due to that stupidity.

Rifkind’s Challenge is about difficult choices we make in life. Rifkind leaves the Ashereen because of her dreams. As eldest son to Chief Hamarach, Tyrokon is supposed to take over; but with his handicap, he would just be putting his clan into danger. Chief Hamarach asks Rifkind to go with Tyrokon part of the way. Cho considers himself Tyrokon’s second and goes along. He happens to be Rifkind’s son. Tyrokon ends up being a mediator between Cho and Rifkind. Their family skills are complicated by Rifkind’s fame, youthful appearance and abilities.

“Where does she come off fighting like that? She is a healer … a healer! Isn’t that enough? Does she have to have men’s honors, too? Who does she think she is?”

I have not read the previous two installments in this series, but Rifkind’s Challenge works well as a stand-alone novel and is a great sword and sourcery adventure.

Recommended.


Reviews:


Rifkind’s Challenge available at Scribd.com