Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the second of those reviews.

Legacy is the second book in Bujold's Sharing Knife series. To say it is the continuation of the story begun in book one, Beguilement, is an understatement, for Legacy picks up exactly where Beguilement left off. One might imagine the author having written both books at the same time as one giant volume, then chopping them in two when it came time for publication.

That being said, Legacy is, in fact, a semi-conclusion to events set in motion in book one. Dag and Fawn, married now, set out to return to Dag's Lakewalker camp where they hope to settle into the typical life of a Lakewalker married couple. The reader is given the feeling through Dag that things aren't going to be that simple. In Lakewalker eyes, farmers are not exactly inferior, but certainly not equals. Precedent as well as tradition dictate the two peoples remain separate, for it is believed that long ago Lakewalker sorcerers ruled common folk as lords. But bad things happened, and the modern day scourge of malice was the result. Now, Lakewalkers spend their days searching for malice uprisings, all the while recognizing that it was their doing that created them in the first place.

Dag and Fawn are not greeted with open arms. Just when things seem at their worst for our duo, the camp is presented with the distraction of a particularly bad malice uprising very nearly under a farmer village (a malice feeds best from children, so 'coming up' in such a place presents a bounty for the malice to feed from and grow in power). Dag is selected to lead the war party, and domestic disaster is averted, or is it? I will leave it up to you to find out for yourself.

In many ways Legacy is very much like Beguilement. The writing flows identically; you can tell Bujold wrote them both in one sitting (figuratively speaking, of course). The dilemmas as well, for while Dag and Fawn had to contest Fawn's family and their own traditions, so must they face similar challenges with Dag's Lakewalker brethren. The story also moves along at a fairly even pace. Don't expect a lot of grab you by the seat of your pants action or suspense. There are some gripping moments as the Lakewalker hunting party closes in on the malice and then has to deal with the subsequent fallout, but those moments are short. Mostly, Legacy is a romance about the veteran Lakewalker, Dag, and his farmer bride, Fawn, and the challenges such a union must overcome.

Personally, I'm enjoying the series. The writing is excellent and has a certain 'folksy' mannerism about it that just works. Dag is an interesting character, especially as he begins to discover a whole new side to his sorcery, and one can't but help feel for Fawn as she attempts to make nice with her unappreciative mother-in-law.

Legacy is a fine demonstration of impressive writing, world-building, and characters. In other words, it’s a must-read.

Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett

I picked up a copy of Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett a while back as part of my research into a potential future project that would blend the genres of fantasy and mystery. Lord Darcy is just that: alternate historical fiction blended with mystery. It's a world where Richard the Lion-Hearted did not die on the battlefield, but instead went on to build the foundation of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

Lord Darcy is Chief Special Investigator for the Duke of Normandy and, as such, he's called in to solve particular crimes perpetrated against members of the aristocracy. Much like Holmes had his Watson, Darcy has his O'Lochlainn: Master Sorcerer Sean O'Lochlainn, to be precise. Magic works in a sort of alchemy meets science manner. There are Laws of Magic and symposiums, all regulated by the government to the point where sorcerers must be licensed to practice else face severe penalties. There is also Black Magic, outlawed and dangerous as one might expect. Rest assured Darcy and O'Lochlainn have a tangle or two with practitioners of the dark form of sorcery.

Lord Darcy is a collection of short stories. While some are clever, others are so brief it's hard to immerse oneself in them. There is the novella Too Many Magicians which I found kind of droll--much of it is told through dialog and it quickly wore me down and I really found it confusing at times.

Lord Darcy (the character this time) and others come across as flat, and I think this is the biggest flaw with the entire collection. The characters have histories--Darcy himself is in his 40's (I'm guessing)--but we're never given much of a glimpse into his past or anything about his personal life. It's all about the crimes and the ease at which he sees what no one else can. This unfortunately is the fatal flaw in this book for me. I never cared a whole lot whether the crime was solved or not, the murderer discovered, or the conspirators brought to justice. Sorry, but that's just not good.

Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the first of those reviews.

Like many novels, Bujold's Beguilement is multi-layered. On one level, it is a fantasy novel where Lakewalker patrollers protect the lands from malice. On another, it's a romance novel, where the veteran patroller, Dag, and a runaway farm girl, Fawn Bluefield, meet under life-threatening circumstances and, as one might suspect, develop a romantic relationship with one another.

There are other things going in Beguilement, such as the dichotomy between Lakewalkers and farmers, but, for purposes of this review, I'd like to focus on the fantasy and romance layers first.

First, the fantasy: In this respect, Beguilement is good stuff. It takes place in an unnamed world where Lakewalkers, thought to have once been lords and known to be sorcerers, patrol the lands searching for signs of blight and its cause, malices. A malice is a concentration of energy, what Lakewalkers term 'ground', brought to life under mysterious and not fully understood circumstances. Malices are not good. They bring with them beguilement and death, draining the ground from other beings in order to evolve into increasingly more powerful beings. Worst of all, a malice doesn't understand death. This grants them a certain immortality.

Enter the sharing knife.

A sharing knife is a special Lakewalker weapon that, when used on a malice, 'shares' a death with the creature. This act of sharing is the only way to kill a malice.

As much as the book's title denotes one of the principal powers of a malice, it also refers to the effect Dag and Fawn have on one another. Herein enters the romance.

Dag is a dry-witted Lakewalker, a veteran with over twenty malice kills and a reputation as a capable, resourceful patroller. He has tragedy in his makeup, which I won't say necessarily haunts him, but certainly fills him with a sense of regret. It is this regret which increasingly weighs heavy on him when, out on patrol, a new malice threat and a farmer girl named Fawn Bluefield enter his life. I won't ruin anything about the encounter with the malice, only that both Dag and Fawn survive and go on to become lovers. It's an odd relationship: by custom, Lakewalkers and farmers do not interrelate in such ways. They take this 'forbidden love' back to Fawn's home where much drama ensues between herself, her family, and Dag.

That, in a nutshell, is what Beguilement is about. The story has points of slowness, but I never felt like it bogged down. The writing is excellent and tight; while there are other sub-plots intertwined with the main ones, none of them were a distraction. If anything, exactly the opposite: there's plenty of character-building here, and the characters are grounded, believable, and exceptionally thought-out. Fawn, despite entering the story as a runaway farm girl (which seemed a bit of a stereotype), soon shows us she is much more. Dag, for his part, plays the role of veteran soldier-sorcerer well; it's what lies beneath that draws the reader in and allows us to sympathize with his past and what he hopes for his future.

I found Bujold's system of magic and such concepts as the sharing knife to be original and intriguing. In many ways, it was this intrigue which kept me reading and wanting to know more.

One warning: Bujold leaps from one book to another with nary a break in the story. I imagine her having written all four books at one time (is there a fifth still to come?), then the publisher coming along later and slicing it into the four books we currently have. This probably isn't the case, but that's how one might look at it. With that in mind, if you read Beguilement, you'll at least want to pick up Legacy, because it picks up right where book one left off and goes a long way towards concluding the storyline begun in book one.

I think Bujold delivers with Beguilement and the larger The Sharing Knife series as a whole. Superb writing, well-grounded characters, and a colorful world and an intriguing magic system all come together to form an entertaining, engaging read.

The Memory of Earth by Orson Scott Card

So I'd never read anything by Orson Scott Card before. Of course I had heard of him and seen his books all over, but he was just one of those authors I never quite got around to reading. While that misstep has now been corrected, I had to put down The Memory of Earth.

I fully intended to read the book front to back, but something had been nagging me almost since the beginning. Given that I was a newcomer to Card's work, I was keeping an open mind and had no idea what to expect except that he's a prolific author so his stuff must be good, right? The thing is, the book isn't bad, it's just not good. It's a great idea--benevolent supercomputer controls peoples' minds, keeping them from destroying each other like they did literally 30 or so million years ago on Earth. Except that the computer starts to break down and needs help, so it starts to send certain individuals visions (that's how it communicates) saying more or less that it needs help. Sounds good, right?

Except the book really lacks two things: (1) execution and (2) complexity. What I basically mean by #1 is that not enough happens, and, when something does happen, I often thought, "oh, that's nice." Not nearly enough suspense and the characters really aren't engaging enough. #2 has to do with the author's style. It's too simplistic. He tells me that this character is angry, and this one is sad instead of showing it, or something happens where its painfully obvious what's going on, but Card has to come along and throw in an explanatory sentence just in case you didn't get it. It was annoying to say the least.

One of these days I'll take a look at Ender's Game, if only because it's considered the author's seminal work. For now, though, Card fades to the background on my reading list.

Seeds of Change by John Joseph Adams (editor)

Back in early June, John Joseph Adams sent out a request for advanced readers for his Seeds of Change anthology. Of course, I took him up on it.

Adams is the assistant editor at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, but he's also been on a tear of late editing anthologies. There's The Living Dead, Wastelands, and, now, Seeds of Change.

While Adams gave plenty of advanced notice of the imminent release of the anthology, I fell behind with some other reading and wasn't able to start it until after it had already been released. Fortunately, Seeds of Change is a fast-paced, easy read (though I have to admit I did not read every story through, see below), and so this review comes only shortly after the official release. You can purchase Seeds of Change in hardcover or Kindle formats.

Now, on to my review…

I'm going to start with an introduction pulled from the Seeds of Change web site to give you a taste of what this anthology is all about:

Imagine the moment when the present ends, and the future begins–when the world we knew is no more and a brave new world is thrust upon us. Gathering stories by nine of today’s most incisive minds, Seeds of Change confronts the pivotal issues facing our society today: racism, global warming, peak oil, technological advancement, and political revolution.

A heady claim, to be sure, but Seeds of Change delivered, for me, seven out of nine times.

That calls for an explanation: There are nine stories in total; two of them didn't do it for me, and I had to stop reading. But of the seven stories I did finish, I found each of them both entertaining and thought-provoking. That's a rare combination, IMO. Often an author will go too far into the literary realm, which is all well and fine when one is looking for that sort of thing. But these days I'll take entertaining over literary nine times out of ten. It was a pleasant surprise that Seeds of Change provided both, and probably why I found it such an easy read.

Of the seven stories I completed, the most entertaining were those by Jay Lake, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, and Ted Kosmatka. Tobias Buckell was up there as well, but I found his Pepper story contribution a bit of a letdown. Perhaps I'd gotten too used to the character's zombie butt-kicking ways from Sly Mongoose that to see him thoughtful and almost introspective threw me. On the other hand, this anthology is about change, so seeing things in a different light may be what it's all about.

Seeds of Change scores a ten on quality of writing. Regardless of what I might have thought about a story's theme or characters, the authors each come through with a wholly engaging style. That goes for the two stories I didn't finish as well.

For the record, those two were "A Dance Called Armageddon", by Ken MacLeod, and "Artists Aren't Stupid", by Jeremiah Tolbert. There was nothing inherently wrong with either story. The oration simply wasn't doing it for me. At my age (I'm 38), that's enough for me to give it a pass.

But that fact takes nothing away from the anthology. If you're looking for a healthy dose of thought-provoking literature leavened by a hefty shot of entertainment to put an exclamation on these final summer days, I highly recommend Seeds of Change.