Category Archives: Fantasy

Fiction with strange or other worldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality. Includes: fantasy (Dungeons & Dragons, High Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy), fables (mythical creatures, like unicorns, faeries, ghosts, Greek and Roman gods, vampires, zombies, werewolves and other were-animals), non-Biblical angels and demons, and other non-sensical or magical creatures or characters.

Department Zero by Crilley

Multiple dimensions, the end of reality and all worlds, plus Cthulhu.

Department Zero
By Paul Crilley
Pyr
January 2017

Harry Priest is a crime scene cleaner. It was as close as he could get to being in law enforcement. He’s called to a scene that defies logic – it’s so graphically gross. He is sent off the scene by Havelock Graves, someone who works for something called ICD (Interstitial Crime Department). When Harry accidentally kills a member of ICD, Graves brings him on as a replacement/ bait and he soon finds himself embroiled in an interdimensional battle to save all of time and space from the monsters written of by H.P. Lovecraft.

Good comedy usually has a funny character and a straight character, but this book has two so-called comedians. Everything they say is sarcastic and rude to each other. By the time I got to the midpoint of the book, I came to believe that Harry and Graves are essentially the same person. And when everyone in the book is equally sarcastic no one becomes likeable. It’s like bad cop, bad cop. One of these guys should have been the good cop. I stuck it out to see how it went – partially because of the inexplicably close relationship Harry has with his daughter and the hope that he and his estranged wife may work things out. No spoilers!

In the end, we have an interesting idea, cool settings, fun gadgets, a main character that is easy to like because of his family, and a lot of cliché writing. If expectations are lowered to this point, then this book can be entertaining. But for the most part, I’d recommend re-writing Harry to remove the sarcasm and give us an “every man” to root for.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Dark Blood by Smith

darkbloodRham Jas Rami is on a mission that only he can do. But he is going to need help. And he is going to have to complete it quickly.

The Dark Blood
by A.J. Smith
Heads of Zeus
December 2016

In the second installment of the Long War, the title moves from Brom (the Black Guard) to Rham Jas Rami (the assassin with uncanny powers) who is the only person who can get past their dark magic and kill one of the Seven Sisters. All the living characters from the first book continue their story as well, including interesting intersections between them as knights confront Free Company barbarians, southern warriors against merchant cities, and the introduction to a new race and participant in the Long War and perhaps the last Old Blood.

What I enjoy about this book is that while characters do rise and some die, they all evolve. They aren’t the same caricatures of fantasy heroes that serve their function and then pass away. They also aren’t morally ambiguous. I love that several characters who are enemies, remain enemies, but join the battle against the dark god who is trying to win the Long War. Why? Because right or wrong outweigh nationality. And good characters are good, bad characters are bad. I find this better and more enjoyable, like Tolkien, rather than the moral mess that Martin has started (but not finished.)

I’m very much looking forward to the third installment. This is epic fantasy in a very well crafted world with characters I enjoy reading about.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Black Guard by Smith

blackguardBrom’s parents are dead, his friends and sister missing, and his home sacked. And he’s too far away to do anything about it.

The Black Guard
by A.J. Smith
Heads of Zeus
September 2016

The Long War has been waged for eons and will continue for eons – unless the Seven Sisters can upset the status quo and win the war for their god. Under their power, kingdoms wage war and established gods find their followers and influence diminishing. By the time the world wakes up will it be too late to stop?

The world of the Long War is suitably small – just three countries, surrounded by waters to the west and between them, ice to the north, sand to the south and unending forest to the east, with a map helpfully included – but also very deep as well. At the start of the saga, Smith gives the reader only information about the three main countries, but as the novel progresses – and the who trilogy – we find a lot more than what met the eye. Additional races, histories and creatures – even more gods – join the war. But the story stays relatable, unlike some “epic” fantasy, by focusing on a core group of characters and their interactions with the war.

Brom, his sister, their friends, and even some knights and warriors of the countries around them give characters that are easy to follow and find yourself rooting for. Unlike Martin’s characters, which this book alludes to on the cover, there are good and evil characters and while death does come it doesn’t come to everyone or in meaningless ways. In this way, I found this series to be superior to the messy, never ending series of books in the Game of Thrones series.

This is a fantastic, fun, deep, and well written epic fantasy more in line with Goodkind, Williams or even Sanderson than Martin. I enjoyed it thoroughly and look forward to the next books.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Isis Orb by Anthony

IsisOrbI really, really loved Xanth. Loved.

Isis Orb
Xanth 40
by Pierce Anthony
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy
October 2016

Hapless, a man who’s Talent is to conjure any instrument and make others play them perfectly but cannot play them himself, is minding his own business when he is visited by the Magician Humfrey and invited to go on a Quest. Deciding that he has nothing to lose and a lot to gain he goes to the castle and starts the Quest. Along the way he meets several seemingly (ahem) hapless characters who help. Their job: capture the five elemental Totems and confront the demoness Isis over the Orb she controls. He can then use the Orb to gain what he wants most.

The same puns I remember from my childhood and young adult years are on full display. The exact same ones. Twenty five years later. Some changes are clear though. There are non-stop references to nudity, sex, and [SPOILERS] a goal of losing his virginity to one of the two good girlfriends and one bad girlfriend Hapless will find along the way. [END SPOILERS]. The Adult Conspiracy was introduced in Crewel Lye (1984), which is the 8th book. I only read through the 19th book, where sex wasn’t the sole focus of the books, when I was last in the world of Xanth so maybe this is the norm now. It seemed like the whole point of this story was for the females to show (and allow touching of) their breasts and naked bodies to Hapless and ultimately to fulfil his sexual desires. The Quest is derivative and boring. The whole story seemed (ahem, now it’s my turn) hapless.

Anthony has published at least one Xanth book a year since 1986, mostly every year prior back to 1977, and two books in 1993 and 2013 – and even another scheduled this year! I have very fond memories of the books I read in High School and college, but after the long gap in my reading of the Xanth novels, from 1995’s Roc and a Hard Place to this book, I’m surprised by the quality of the story. I’m left wondering if 1) the books were never very good and I just didn’t know better, 2) Anthony is getting more derivative in his work product as time goes on or 3) the gap may have given me some perspective, like seeing someone for the first time in 21 years and noticing differences that someone who was there the whole time slowly grew accustomed to. Whatever the case, this book is simply not very good.

It didn’t help my enjoyment of the book to read the Afterward first. Anthony actually tells the story of how a young girl sent him almost the whole plot of this book asking him to write it for her. It mirrors so closely what he says she sent that it seems like she should have been credited as co-author! He also mentions, and I remember this from earlier books, he lists all the puns that readers sent in to him. After finishing the book, unlike in my memories of previous stories, it seems like most of the fan puns are simply throw away jokes inserted where he can fit them in regardless of relevance to the story. This whole book is like fan fiction but with the actual author doing it for you.

(Interestingly, Anthony admits in his notes that the change to Open Road Media was prompted because his old publisher, not sure if he means Tor, Avon or Del Rey, didn’t like the fact that he using so much of his fan’s ideas in his novels.)

In the end, I’m moving on from Xanth. I have my memories. There are a lot of really great, funny authors out there. this book, unfortunately, is, in my opinion, at best a pastiche of Anthony’s own prior work.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Emperor’s Railroad by Haley

emperorA slow moving novella that leaves the reader wanting more.

The Emperor’s Railroad
by Guy Haley
read by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Macmillan Audio / Tor
April 2016

UPDATE: The previous version of this review was based on a copy where there were parts of the audio book missing from the recording. The whole fight with the [SPOILERS] dragon was MIA. [END SPOILERS] It turns out there was a glitch in the audio book format causing a large, important portion to be cut out. If you are missing the fight then delete and redownload your Audible book to fix. Trust me, this new (full) version makes a huge difference in the story and enjoyment thereof.

Without giving too much away, [BUT SPOILERS ARE POSSIBLE] this story starts out with Abney, our narrator, and his mother on the road fleeing their home city, which was overrun by the dead (zombies, but slightly different.) Their wagon hit a pothole, broke an axle and their driver, a postman, has broken his neck and passed away. Into this dire predicament rides Quinn, a knight of the “dreaming city of Atlantis.” Quinn agrees to take the two survivors to a settlement north of Charleston in the Kingdom of Virginia.

Along the way we run into a few zombies, a railroad with carts that are driven by teams of animals rather than steam, and a town with hydro-electricity. [CLEAR SPOILERS] At the end there is a battle with the dragon – who is the physical embodiment of punishment by the “angels.” We are left with a lot of questions in the end.

Where is Atlantis? What are “Angels?” What exactly is the dragon? How do the Angels control the dead and the dragons? Why are there knights with swords when guns exist? Very little is answered here. And in fact, this novella is one of two (later in 2016) intended, it seems, to whet the appetite of this new fantasy world centered on the exploits of Quinn. Like an old fashioned Western film, the hero rides off at the end, but unlike a Western, there is clearly more to this story. [END SPOILERS]

When I read the description of a post-apocalyptic world with zombies, angels, dragons and knights I was intrigued. It’s more than that though. It’s methodical, slow paced and at worst times prodding and at best wistful. We don’t know much about what happens prior to or after this story, but we get an interesting primer into what to expect going forward. As Abney says in his final words, “I know that out there Quinn carried on his search. What was he looking for? I don’t know. It bothered me for years that I never found out. I guess I made my peace with that. Maybe he found ’em. Maybe he didn’t. Whatever fortune did to Quinn, wherever he went and why I’m sure as the good lord is enthroned in Heaven that someone, somewhere knows what happened to Quinn next… if you find out, stop by my grave and whisper it to the earth when you come home. It will be much appreciated.”

Note about the reader (audio book version): Reynolds does an outstanding job on his Virginia drawl and slow, methodical narration. The complexity of his gravelly and at times gentile voice worked really well as the voice of an older Abney. Very easy to listen to.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Off to be the Wizard by Meyer

Martin was a completely normal geek. Until he found a hidden program and became a god.

Off to be the Wizard
Magic 2.0 #1
by Scott Meyer
narrated by Luke Daniels
Brilliance Audio
March 2014

The hidden file was on a hidden server and looked completely harmless. It seemed to contain random numbers and words, but Martin’s habit of searching for himself turned into the discovery of a lifetime. Or well, all life times. His name was there. And with some fidgeting and problem solving so was his age, weight and height, and – interestingly – his bank account balance. After thinking he was going crazy when messing with his height in the machine and seeming to actually change height, he changed the amount in there and checked. His bank reflected what the file said. In fact, everything in the file changed “reality.”

Quickly finding ways to shut down aging and making himself impervious to injury, he decides to make his life easy – way easy – by giving himself a lot of extra money. Of course, banks and the Fed have questions when bank accounts start getting money with no deposits. So they come a calling leaving Martin the option of trying to explain this to them or running to a safe place and time. He chooses England in the middle ages.

Thinking he would wow the residents of the first town he comes upon he quickly finds that he isn’t the only “wizard” who had the idea to go back and time and live like a king. He just happens to be the most recent hacker to find the file. Navigating friends from foes, keeping the “wizard” powers secret and living life as he wants to is going to be hard but with almost unlimited power, money and time, Martin looks forward to the challenge.

This very funny book, similar to Robert Asprin’s Myth books, with interesting comedic characters that exist mostly for the silliness of living in a Matrix-type world that they can control. Whether Martin defeats the evil [SPOILER] Merlin [END SPOILER} or not isn’t really the point. It’s the journey rather than the destination. And I enjoyed every minute of this laugh out loud journey.

A NOTE ABOUT THE AUDIO: Luke Daniels does a great job with differentiating voices, pacing of sentences, evenness of volume and – importantly – in comedic timing. His voice still comes into my head at times during the day, “Marrrtiiiin!” Excellent job.

The Deavys by Foster

DeavysI wanted to read this book for two reasons: 1) Alan Dean Foster has a great reputation and a long list of books, and 2) somewhere in the press for this book it was mentioned that Foster would use puns ala Terry Pratchett or Pierce Anthony. Within the first few pages, though, it didn’t matter who the author was – this is no Discworld or Xanth. In fact, for most of the book I was bored.

The Deavys
by Alan Dean Foster
Open Road Media Teen & Tween
February 2016

Simwan (pronounced “Someone”), his two and a half sisters (one phases in and out of physical reality) and their cat go on an adventure to find the “Turth” which was stolen and taken to [MILD SPOILERS] New York. The four kids (I count N/Ice as a person even if she isn’t always around, and yes, that is the terrible name of the third sister) and the cat travel to visit their uncle (a zombie) to start looking for the Crub, who they think is behind the theft. Along the way they come across several bad guys, none of whom are interesting, and good guys, ditto. They go to a place, do some stuff, somehow fight off terrible and powerful monsters (as four kids under 16 and their cat are known to do) and … well if you really want to know how it works out you can suffer through the book if you like. I’m not happy that I did. [END SPOILERS]

The book isn’t punny or funny. It’s long winded, hard to read at times (see above names for examples), and not that interesting. The idea that someone stole the Truth could totally be a great Xanth novel, but Anthony is busy writing much better books than this. I really hate saying all of this about the book. But it’s the Truth (there, I found it for you.)

I recommend you pass. Especially if you are looking for a funny, and fun, book.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Black City Saint by Knaak

BlackCitySaintNick saved the world years ago in an event humans know as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Unfortunately, another “opportunity” has come his way.

Black City Saint
by Richard A. Knaak
Pyr
March 2016

This is a fascinating setting: Chicago in the 1920s, the height of prohibition with bootleggers and gangsters warring for turf, and very few electronic devices. [SPOILERS] Nick even humorously ponders about how great it would be if there were such things as portable devices to contact people from their automobile, among other things. [END SPOILERS] The two gangs and name dropping of some real gangsters gave readers something to connect with in such a foreign world. A detective noir set in this world isn’t so much of a stretch, but adding in magic, fantasy creatures and more makes this very different from most books. But not all.

Fans of the Dresden Files by Butcher wont be able to miss the obvious parallels. [SPOILERS] An out of time detective that only solves fantasy problems, with fantastical, and not always trustworthy sidekicks, tied to a ruling council from another, hidden world, tries to stop the big bad from using their magic to destroy a Chicago. [END SPOILERS] As a fan of Dresden, more is usually better. But Knaak’s Nick isn’t the same as Butcher’s Dresden, though for one very big reason: the addition of Christian characters into the mythology.

I was introduced to Knaak in my adolescence via his contributions to the Dragonlance saga. Legend of Huma is a favorite all these years later. One thing a Christian who loves fantasy has to do is to distinguish between fantasy “gods” and the real “God.” I dislike (very much) when an author takes real Christian characters and changes them and their theology/ the theology they represent to fit the fantasy of their world. This was a real concern for me when [SPOILERS] Nick turns out to be Saint George (who fought the dragon), who believes in the real God, but also fights to keep the realms of humans and faeries separate. Faeries aren’t allowed to enter churches, holy water and blessed items hurt them, Saint Michael/ Michael the Arch Angel shows up possibly, and so on also conflate the issue. While I’m not usually a fan of this, Knaak did a good job walking a line here of being respectful to the characters while integrating them into the mythology. Nick Medea, for instance, is grounded even by his name – he is named after the real place of St. Georgius’ death, Nicomedia. [END SPOILERS] But the main issue for me still exists: the Christian characters have been merged with fantasy characters and included and treated like mythology. As a Christian, and acknowledging that the battle between St. George and the Dragon is very likely legendary, I prefer that Christianity not be included as just another source for mythology, because to me it isn’t.

This is a fast paced, fun fantasy noir that fans of both genres will enjoy.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Hunt for Valamon by Mok

valamonHigh Fantasy. Intrigue. Heart.

Hunt for Valamon
by DK Mok
Spence City
April 2015

A prince of the Talgaran Empire is taken from the heart of the castle, in the citadel of the capital, by forbidden sorcery the hunt is on. Drafted into service, reclusive cleric Seris is joined by cursed champion Elhan on a journey to the outskirts of the empire passing through rich port cities, desert prisons, forest kingdoms, and ultimately to a villain that isn’t who she seems to be. All the while, the question of whether or not Valamon can be saved, should be saved or is even worth saving is on the table. Divided loyalty to the champion and cleric leads some in the empire to fight to help them while others seek to stop (or kill) them. All the while, a vast army unseen is advancing on the capital and the end of the empire draws near. Even the loyalty of gods cannot be depended upon.

During the adventure (or “hunt”) Seris and Elhan both develop from cliché to fully fleshed out characters. Seris finds himself and his purpose in the hunt, while Elhan realizes there is more to life than what was afforded due to her curse. (Her curse causes death and destruction for those around her, while keeping her safe through unlikely and amazingly lucky ways.) Both are interesting characters that this reader fully enjoyed. Other smaller characters are less developed but more nuanced than you find in normal, cynical fantasy novels. [SPOILERS] What I really liked about this book was the optimism and goodness of the characters. Valamon and Seris fully believe in the rightness of good and the value of every human. Elhan is jaded by her experience of being cursed, but comes to find that there is more to life, and life itself matters. [REALLY SPOILING SPOILER] Even the main “bad guy” Lord Haska comes around as she learns to release the hatred she feels at the loss of her parents at the hands of King Delmar. Unfortunately, King Delmar, Crown Prince Falon, the Captain of the guard Lord Qara, and the “evil” General Barratt and Sorceress Amoriel aren’t as well developed. The King and Queen show up for mere moments and then are gone. Falon does gain insight that he is not what he thinks he has to be, which is good, but his change is abrupt. By setting aside some of these characters and their stories (King, Queen, General and Sorcerer) we are able to have the ending that was so surprising and enjoyable, though. [END SPOILERS]

It is also a rare book that has so many strong, multidimensional female lead characters. While this isn’t required, it is appreciated. Two of the main “bad guys” are female. The Queen runs the kingdom. The captain of the guard is female. One of the main champions is female. The best part is that they are all excellent characters and none seem out of place or forced. It is sad that this is something that readers may notice, but the facts are that there are not enough great female characters in genres like fantasy or science fiction, or on TV or film. Kudos to Mok for writing these characters well.

If there is one thing that did distract from an otherwise excellent fantasy it was Mok’s constant early use of jokes, obscure language descriptions and anachronistic phrases and descriptions. It is like Mok really, really wants the reader to know clever and fun they are. Most of the descriptions follow this pattern: serious, serious, silly. Like, “Mutterings, exclamations and the occasional axe bounced around the tables…” (p 17) or “They looked out into a sea of longbows, shortbows, crossbows and the occasional confused javelineer” (p 20). People in the kitchen die of “Too Much Pudding” (p 2) and clerics have “remarkable therapeutic potatoes” (p 9) and so on. Other phrases or terms are joltingly out of place “violence floats like smog” (p 19) where there is no industry to create smog. Or references to rhinoceroses in a world that doesn’t have them otherwise, like “sombrero” (p 15) in a non-Latino world. There are also obscure words used every so often, that jar the reader, like hessian (used often, instead of hemp) or sangfroid (p 4, instead of cool composure in the face of danger). The good news is that once the silliness is established, it becomes more and more rare throughout the novel allowing the characters to be themselves (mostly – as there is an odd horse perspective passage that seems very out of place during the thick of the final battle.) Even with these quirks, the reader is able to quickly get back into the story.

What the reader gets in the end is a fantasy that is fully developed, complicated but approachable, fun and adventurous and overflowing with heart. It will be enjoyable for teens and young adults as well as high fantasy readers. As for this reader, I have to admit that this was the most fun I’ve had reading a fantasy in a really long time.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Taken by Iserles

the-takenFROM THE PUBLISHER: The first book in a thrilling fantasy trilogy starring one of the animal kingdom’s most hunted heroes. Foxcraft is full of excitement and heart, and a touch of magic.

The Taken
Foxcraft #1
by Inbali Iserles
Scholastic Press
September 2015

Isla and her brother are two young foxes living just outside the lands of the furless — humans. The life of a fox is filled with dangers, but Isla has begun to learn mysterious skills meant to help her survive. Then the unthinkable happens. Returning to her den, Isla finds it set ablaze and surrounded by strange foxes, and her family is nowhere in sight. Forced to flee, she escapes into the cold, gray world of the furless. Now Isla must navigate this bewildering and deadly terrain, all while being hunted by a ruthless enemy. In order to survive, she will need to master the ancient arts of her kind — magical gifts of cunning known only to foxes. She must unravel the secrets of Foxcraft.

REVIEW: A fox, Isla, returns to her home one day to find it destroyed and her family missing. So she goes in search of them. To find them she will have to gain new magical abilities (Foxcraft). While this is a pretty straight forward premise, this story diverges from the expected by placing the world of the magical foxes firmly in contemporary human society (think muggles). This isn’t just about fantastical creatures who live in a fantasy setting and I appreciated that. Personally, I found the book to be a little slow at times and ended up skimming some chapters to get to better ones later on. By the end, there was a satisfying set up for the next book in the series. I found it a fun, interesting, easy fantasy read. But I’m not the target audience.

Here’s what my 12 year old daughter thought: “This book is absolutely amazing! It’s so full of adventure and mystery. I really loved the idea of foxes and how the story was laid out. I enjoyed the interactions between the characters and how they acted differently towards each other. I think everybody will enjoy this book a lot for those reasons! And many many more!” So satisfied target audience: achieved.


Sunshine is a 12 year old avid book reader who we love to ask what she thought of the books she reads so we can share a young reader’s perspective with you!

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.