Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold, the third installment in the Penric and Desdemona series, picks up some months after events in Penric and the Shaman. Once more, Penric is called upon to solve a murder mystery and, once more, he finds himself in a partnership with Locator Oswyl. Not to give anything away, but he also enlists the aid of Shaman Inglis, who was the titular shaman introduced in Penric and the Shaman.

A quick word about the ordering of the books in this series since there are multiple lists out there and it isn’t clear from just looking at the titles. On one hand, there is the publication order, but this isn’t the same as the chronological order. To further confuse things, the Penric and Desdemona series fits within the greater World of the Five Gods series, which also includes The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt, none of which feature Penric or Desdemona. For my reading and reviewing purposes, I’m reading the books in the order shown on the Chalion Wiki.

Like the other books in the series, Penric’s Fox is somewhat short; the Kindle edition comes in at 113 pages. I’d therefore classify this as a novella more than a novel similar to the previous two installments. Its brevity makes for a fairly quick read that you might be able to fit into one long sitting or several moderate ones. Regardless, I think you’ll find Bujold’s writing style easily readable and the characters interesting and enjoyable. Bujold has a knack for creating believable yet not overly complex characters that you can relate to on many different levels because they are in many respects as normal as you or I.

Once more I’m giving three rockets to a book in this series. It’s become a common theme. The books are good reads, but they’re not spectacular. However, three rockets means I recommend each without reservation. It’s just that they aren’t going to blow your socks off or make you say, “Wow.” But, if you’re looking for novella length books that span a series that contains at least five other stories then I don’t think you can go wrong with Penric’s Fox and the others in the Penric and Desdemona series.

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold is the second novella in the Penric and Desdemona series featuring the symbiotic pair of the same name. In Bujold’s world, demons are ethereal creatures, unable to remain stable in our world without a host to serve as a sort of anchor. Penric and Desdemona found themselves joined together after circumstances brought them together in the first book in the series, Penric’s Demon, which I reviewed not too long ago. At the end of the first book, Penric found himself enrolled in sorcerer’s school. This second book skips over all of that, taking place some four years later. This is actually good since, let’s face it, apprentices learning to become full-fledged sorcerers has been done a few times already.

In the service of a princess, Penric, now a sorcerer—albeit a young one whose stature was gotten more from Desdemona’s vast experience more so than his own—is asked to accompany a Locator, a person who can detect the presence of magic. Together the two are charged with hunting down a renegade shaman wanted for murder.

It’s a fairly interesting plot to which we’re introduced via Bujold’s always inviting style of writing. Bujold doesn’t waste a lot of time with exposition or flowery wording; you’re going to get lots of good storytelling and a plot that moves along at a steady pace. I’ll admit to some favoritism; Bujold’s Sharing Knife series remains one of my all-time favorite fantasy series. But, back to Penric and the Shaman, as one might expect, things are not as simple as tracking down a shaman wanted for murder. Penric will have plenty of opportunities to test his sorcery while attempting to find a balance between justice and levity.

I’m giving Penric and the Shaman three rockets because it’s a solid story with a few twists, but doesn’t go as deep as I would have liked due to its relatively short length (about 160 pages). Still, it’s a good addition to the series and I’ve already started reading the next book in the series, Penric’s Fox.

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold is the first in a series about Penric and the demon, Desdemona. The novella is short (as befits a novella), coming in at 109 pages, making it a fairly quick read with a fairly linear storyline. It’s somewhat of a classic fantasy read, set in a world and with many characters whom we only get to know cursorily. Still, the magic, the setting, and the demons are all interesting in their own way; I want to continue with the series, in other words.

At the onset, we find Penric on his way to his wedding. As a minor noble, Penric finds himself matched with a better lady than he’d hoped, and he’s looking forward to the union. On the way, however, he stops to come to the aid of a fallen elderly woman, not knowing that she is in actuality a powerful sorceress and a host to a likewise powerful demon. As one might imagine, Penric’s life becomes entangled with that of the demon in such a way that the two become inseparable.

Penric is a likeable enough fellow. He’s not exactly the most heroic character, but he also doesn’t shy away from doing the right thing. Desdemona is a bit of a mystery and an intriguing one at that. She’s very old, very powerful, and very motherly when it comes to Penric. Or maybe she’s more like an older sister. Regardless, she becomes a tutor of sorts to him, imbuing him with her experience and knowledge, both of which come in handy when Penric needs to get himself out of a jam.

I’m giving Penric’s Demon three rockets because it’s a fun, fast, enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to reading on in the series.

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues by J.M. Martin (editor)

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Blackguards by J.M. Martin (editor) is a collection of short works by a plethora of notable authors. As the title of the collection suggests, the stories center around an assortment of rogues, thieves, assassins, and generally unsavory individuals. Some are roguish on the exterior with some shred of decency beneath; others are just bad characters with no hope (or desire) for redemption. The origin of Blackguards can be traced back to Kickstarter, where a successful funding campaign resulted in the gathering of such authors as Cat Rambo, Michael J. Sullivan, Paul S. Kemp, Django Wexler, Joseph R. Lallo, Shawn Speakman, and many others.

“I’ve a tale about a prisoner what let a rat eat him bit by bit. He thought the most of him could escape that way, though he never figgered how to get his bones out…” – Seeds by Carol Berg

For all that, Blackguards gets off on a shaky foot. The forward, by notable author Glen Cook, is, to put it lightly, confusing. But, OK, it’s just the forward and not part of the collection itself. The introduction from the editor, J.M. Martin, is a bit more grounded and at least makes sense as he outlines his early fascination with rogues and how that culminated into the present collection. Good. Now I’m ready to jump in and immerse myself in some truly dastardly characters and stories. The first tale, Mainon by Jean Rabe, left me a little unfulfilled, especially as the reading experience came to a screeching start as I encountered this gem:

the waiter brought desert

Desert? Really? How about “the waiter brought dessert.” Talk about killing the reading experience. But, moving on, the story itself never grabbed me and I found the ending unfulfilling. No matter. It’s only one story and there were many more to explore. Besides, in any collection like this there are bound to be some gems and some duds.

The next story, Irindai by Bradley P. Beaulieu, is beautifully written and actually got off to a great start. But, again, it seemed to fizzle at about at its midway point. Needless to say, two stories in with an egregious error to boot, and I was not feeling good about this book.

Fortunately Cat Rambo’s The Subtler Art got my reading experience back on track. From that point onward I liked almost every story. Notable amongst those, I’d list A Better Man by Paul S. Kemp, which features Kemp’s sword and sorcery duo Egil and Nix; The First Kill by Django Wexler; Better To Live Than To Die by John Gwynne; The Secret by Mark Lawrence; and many others. As noted above, in any collection like these you’re going to have a mixed bag. That’s not to say any of the stories were just outright horrible. Only that a few didn’t appeal to me. They may very well resonate with you, or you may find ones I really enjoyed to lack anything notable for you.

In all, though, Blackguards is a wonderful collection of roguish tales. It’s a solid four rockets, or would have been I should say, if not for the numerous typos. I’m fairly forgiving of these kinds of errors. One, two, even three I can tolerate. But Blackguards piled one proofreading error on top of another. In addition to the above mentioned use of ‘desert,’ here’s a few more:

But let Laureen think I’m some was a clumsy, yellow-haired twit.
She wore charms, talismans of made of bone and feathers and other items
trying to sense of the tingle of a ward
Ieve if it had been magical
Her last few moment of consciousness flickered through her

Unfortunately, there are more. In our current publishing arena, where self-published works are skewered over an open flame for such missteps, I cannot in good conscience expect anything less from supposed professionally published works. Blackguards gets 4 rockets, but I’m marking it down 1 rocket due to the extreme number of proofreading errors.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien is a charming collection of the letters Mr. Tolkien wrote to his children each year for Christmas as they were growing up. Each story is told from the perspective of Father Christmas himself, but there are other characters that sometimes take the spotlight and write to the children, including most notably a polar bear who seems to find himself in a bit of trouble with Father Christmas from time to time and has his own adventures worth sharing with Tolkien’s children.

The letters are actually meticulously crafted demonstrations of art and calligraphy. While the former seems intended for a young audience, with dancing bears and a variety of colors, the typography is something to behold all by itself. When one considers the same meticulousness that went into certain other works of the author, it’s no wonder he put such thought and care into the lettering of these whimsical narrations.

One recommendation: If you buy the Kindle edition of this book, do yourself a favor and read it on a color device such as a Fire tablet or iPad. A black and white, E Ink Kindle does not do the art, colors, and typography justice, and that’s what you’ll want to see most here. The stories told in each letter are charming in their own right, but they’re not the main attraction (though they do provide some amusement).

 

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien is a fun, almost nostalgic-like glimpse into the lives of the Tolkiens. It’s the sort of book one can share with the children each and every year much like Mr. Tolkien did with his own children. I’m giving it a solid three rockets and hope you enjoy it.