As one who commits fantasy fiction, I read a lot. Not only fantasy, but science fiction, mystery, classics, magical realism, thrillers, you name it. Not to mention lots of nonfiction for research.
When I’m working on a story, I prefer to stay away from that particular genre in my reading. So I haven’t read too much fantasy in the last couple of years.
That said, here are my reviews of three books I did read that I think are really great and deserve more attention.
The Healer’s Choice by Kathryn Hinds
Epic fantasy: a first novel by an author with lots of expertise in history and medieval scholarship.
My review: The characters are varied and true-to-life, and every one is rooted in the imagined cultures in which they live. The world-building is complex and beautifully wrought, from the smallest details of daily living to the intricacies of war, medicine, philosophy, religion, and magic. The story is multi-faceted, with twists and surprises that are alternately exhilarating and heart-breaking.
The author manages multiple viewpoint characters and story lines with a deft touch, keeping the reader intrigued. She even throws in some lovely poetry that feels authentic to the people and times she writes about. Magical!
More, Ms. Hinds! More!
The Dragon Scale Lute by JC Kang
Note: this title has recently been rebranded as Songs of Insurrection: A Legends of Tivara Story (The Dragon Songs Saga Book 1)
My review: Excellent epic fantasy set in a world inspired by pre-industrial Asia.
Beautiful, detailed world-building, sympathetic and interesting characters, well-defined magic, and very skillful writing. To be honest, most indie-published fantasy novels I’ve read have not been up to what I’d consider professional standards. This one is certainly an exception.
First in a series.
School of the Ages: The Ghost in the Crystal
by Matt Posner
A YA urban fantasy and the first of a series.
My review: Like other reviewers, I read the blurb and thought, “Oh, like a New York City version of Harry Potter. I’ll bite.” In many ways the comparison is valid:
- a secret magic school in the midst of the real world
- intriguing, quirky, multi-ethnic, convincing teenage characters,
- a varied set of adults, magical and non-magical, with interesting perspectives and sometimes murky motives.
- a many-layered plot that keeps cooking with twists and surprises.
What I find unique here is the quality of the magic. Harry Potter magic is fun, a combination of pure invention and recycled pop culture tropes. School of Ages magic is serious—rooted in mystical traditions (primarily Hebrew) and concocted with plenty of mental horsepower. At times I wasn’t sure if I was reading YA fantasy or being taught occult metaphysics:
“They say time is a like a river, always flowing forward, ever changing. Not true. Time is a wind. It goes in all directions, this way and that, moves many things, leaves others in place.”
“The good of magic,” Dr. Archer said, “is not principally in doing, but in knowing what ought to be done.”
Yikes! If, like me, you favor serious magic in your fiction, it doesn’t get any better that this.