Category Archives: Fantasy

Phantasmagoria; Collected Essays on the Nature of Fantasy and Horror Literature

phantasmagoria-collected-essays-on-nature-fantasy-horror-literature-roger-c-schlobin-paperback-cover-art

Phantasmagoria; Collected Essays on the Nature of Fantasy and Horror Literature
Author Roger C. Schlobin
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN-10: 1-4819-4608-0
ISBN-13: 978-1-4819-4608-7

Dr. Roger C. Schlobin is a retired Professor Emeritus of Purdue Universty, among other credits. He has written six scholarly works and edited over fifty, including “The Literature of Fantasy: a Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography of Modern Fantasy Fiction” (1979). The essays in this self-published collection span over thirty years of his career. “The original purpose of this collection”, he says in the Preface, “was to publish it with a prestigious university press as a study of the invaluable place that secondary, archetypal characters hold in literature. However, teaching four classes of first-year writing a semester stalled my research in 2006. The working bibliography is published here in an appendix for someone, hopefully, to build upon. Then, retirement and back surgery made the tedious steps of publishing with a university press superfluous.”

These essays have been published previously in such scholarly reviews and books as “Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature”, “J. R. R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth”, and “The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from the Tenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts”. Sample titles are “The Irrelevancy of Setting”, “Prototypic Horror: The Book of Job”, and “In Search of Solitude: The Fascination with Evil”.

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The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

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The Cats of Tanglewood Forest
Charles de Lint (Author), Charles Vess (Illustrator)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0316053570
ISBN-13: 978-0316053570

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is a fairytale that reads like those old epic stories that tell of someone seemingly ordinary, but who has an extraordinarily kind heart. In the old stories, that was your hero who went on a long quest, filled with adventure, mystery and danger. At the heart of this tale is Lillian, a red-headed girl who loves to run and play in the forest, seeking out fairies and daydreaming under trees. She’s close to the earth and her kindness shows. She has respect for nature, respect for magic and is a lover of tales. You immediately love her and are drawn into her world with the beautiful writing of Charles de Lint, an expert at telling tales. His words paint a vivid and marvelous world full of magic. Charles Vess’ artwork, as always is dreamy, lush and gorgeous. His colors and brushstrokes pull you farther into this world that seems so real. The story makes you feel at home and it also takes you back into your childhood, reminding you of those hours you spent curled up with an old fairytale adventure, being transported into that world. Continue reading

The Emperor of All Things

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Author: Paul Witcover
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
Bantam Press

Book Description from the publisher:
Tempus Rerum Imperator: Time, Emperor of All Things

1758. England is embroiled in a globe-spanning conflict that stretches from her North American colonies to Europe and beyond. Across the Channel, the French prepare for an invasion ? an invasion rumored to be led by none other than Bonnie Prince Charlie. It seems the map of Europe is about to be redrawn. Yet behind these dramatic scenes, another war is raging – a war that will determine not just the fate of nations but of humanity itself…

Daniel Quare is a journeyman in an ancient guild, The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. He is also a Regulator, part of an elite network within the guild devoted to searching out and claiming for England’s exclusive use any horological innovation that could give them an upperhand, whether in business or in war.

Just such a mission has brought Quare to the London townhouse of eccentric collector, Lord Wichcote. He seeks a pocket watch rumoured to possess seemingly impossible properties that are more to do with magic than with any science familiar to Quare or to his superiors. And the strange
timepiece has attracted the attention of others as well: the mysterious masked thief known only as Grimalkin, and a deadly French spy who stop at nothing to bring the prize back to his masters. Soon Quare finds himself on a dangerous trail of intrigue and murder that leads far from the world he knows into an otherwhere of dragons and demigods, in which nothing is as it seems . . . time least of all.

****************

Be prepared for lush, evocative language that makes you want to linger on the page, hesitant to turn to the next just so you can savor it. Paul Witcover’s prose is poetic and beautiful. I fell so deeply in love with the language, with the construction of his sentences that I almost forgot to read the story. Almost. There is a STORY here. A great one really. One that has you as riveted and extraordinarily fascinated with the workings of clocks.

“The ticking of so many timepieces, no two synchronized, filled the space with a facsimile of whispered conversation, as if some ghostly parliament were meeting in the dead of night.”

The fantastical England Wicote writes of is completely wonderful, an 18th century England that you completely believe in. You could swear you read about the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in a long-forgotten history book and you’ll be scratching your head wondering just where. It is the kind of book that grabs you and makes you a part of its world. It’s clever, intricate and maddening in its twists and turns, as mazelike as the tunnels Quare is led through under the streets. Continue reading

Fred Patten Reviews: A Confusion of Princes

A Confusion of Princes
Author: Garth Nix
Publisher: HarperCollins/Harper
ISBN-10: 0-06-009694-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-009694-6

This is Young Adult interstellar science-fiction, in the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton, two classic YA s-f authors to whom this book is dedicated. I grew up devouring the YA s-f of Heinlein and Norton in my teens. How close does A Confusion of Princes come? Very – and current to the 2010s, not the 1950s, too!

“I have died three times, and three times been reborn, though I am not yet twenty in the old Earth years by which it is still the fashion to measure time.” (p. 1)

Khemri is a Prince of the galaxy-spanning Empire. This is not as much a biological title as a political and technological one. The Empire, with tens of thousands of worlds and a population of multi-quintillions, has ten million Princes (male and female) to help run it. To serve efficiently, the Princes are educated from infancy to rule and are turned into cyborgs; biologically and psychically enhanced, including a connection to the Imperial Mind so that, if killed, they can be reborn.

But technologically enhanced ruling abilities (“techno-wizardry”) do not preclude personal ambition. By tradition, the Emperor abdicates every twenty years, naming one of the ten million Princes as his heir. Some, if not most, of the Princes are jockeying for position to become that heir. Young and naïve Prince Khemri quickly discovers that one or more of his fellow Princes is out to assassinate him – nothing personal; just eliminating one more competitor.

This is a novel of character development. Unfortunately, to develop into an admirably complex and self-assured character, Khemri has to start out as shallow and superficial, arrogant about his lofty status. Nix keeps his readers through Khemri’s unpleasant beginnings by painting his colorful background, a galaxy of a glittering upper class of seemingly-perfect supermen and a lower class of benevolently-ruled peasants, plus exotic alien enemies; and by presenting the story as a flashback, with Khemri wryly acknowledging his original naïvete.

The education to rule is based on a thorough understanding of the Imperial technology, which is divided into three classes, the mechanical Mektek, the biological Bitek, and the mental Psytek, each of which is managed and controlled by a priesthood that worships different Aspects of the divine Emperor – which the reader will recognize is a cadre of scientific bureaucrats disguised as a religion. The reality is shown by the fact that the first of his/her court that a Prince meets, upon becoming a Prince on his eighteenth birthday, is his Master of Assassins. The main duty of a Master of Assassins is not to assassinate anyone, but to keep his brand-new Prince from being assassinated by his nine-plus million peers.

A Confusion of Princes follows Khemri from his eighteenth-birthday investiture, expecting to become an all-powerful and all-important Prince of the Empire, through his introduction to Haddad, his Master of Assassins; Haddad’s immediate saving him from an assassination attempt; their flight to the Naval Academy of the Imperial Navy on the world of Kwanantil Nine where Khemri can connect to the Imperial Mind; Khemri’s year as a Naval cadet, and more. His experiences are fast-paced, colorful, and humbling as he learns more about what life in the Empire is really like. At the same time, he gradually realizes that his experiences are more than those of an average Prince. “So Haddad was a very senior Master of Assassins indeed. Why had he been assigned to me? And why had I been sponsored to join the Imperial Mind by an arch-priest, the head of an Aspect I’d never even heard about, read about, or suspected existed?” (p. 49)

Spoiler alert: it later turns out that the Empire has a secret service of “Adjustors” within the ten million Princes, to secretly police them and keep them from getting out of control. This “seventh service” is what Khemri is being groomed for. But the rigorous testing includes surviving for a year as an ordinary human, without any Princely powers.

During that time, disguised as Khem, a Fringe trader, he meets Raine Gryphon, a communication specialist in an interstellar wartime situation, and her family. She is the first woman that he comes to know other than a Prince’s sex servant or a fellow Prince. “It was an inexplicable, emotional response, one I had never felt before. I didn’t like it, because it felt weak, but somehow I couldn’t stop it. I tried to tell myself that she was just like a mind-programmed servant of my household, but she wasn’t. They were all the same. She was … different. More interesting … and she was different from all the humans I’d met in my training. I’d gotten on well enough with some of them, but I’d certainly never felt like I needed to protect them.” (p. 211)

At the end of the year, Khemri has passed his test and becomes an Adjustor, which he learns puts him on an inside track to become the next Emperor. But after a year as an ordinary human, with the freedom from the rigidly stratified life of a Prince, full of ultimate power and pleasure but having to always fear assassination, Khemri must decide whether he prefers the perquisites of Princedom or the liberty of a commoner. A Confusion of Princes is a swiftly-moving, vividly exotic adventure of the far future for adolescents (especially boys) and adults.

Lies Beneath


Lies Beneath
Author: Anne Greenwood Brown
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Imprint: Delacorte BFYR
Pub Date: June 12, 2012
ISBN: 9780385742016

This isn’t your mother’s mermaid story. This isn’t a Disney story. This is a story of murder, betrayal and love. LIES BENEATH is dark and delicious.

It is the story of Calder White, a merman who tries to fight his nature. In LIES BENEATH, merfolk are cold-blooded serial killers, draining their victims of their happy emotions and feeding on them much like vampires, without conscience or care. Calder is different. He fights the strong pull, he has a conscience. He also fights the pull of cold Lake Superior, where he must migrate to each year to be with his sisters, one of them unbelievably cruel.

When he receives the call from his sister this year, it is different. The sisters have found a man whom they believe is the son of a man who caused their mother’s death and they are out for vengeance. Reluctantly, Calder sets out to join them in their quest for revenge and in the process falls in love with Lily, daughter of the man he’s to help kill.

I had my doubts about this book at first. Mermaids as serial killers? I mostly read of mermaids as self-sacrificing (Hans Christian Anderson) or Disneyesque. This was a very dark turn. I fell in love with the book in the first chapter and it made me think a bit of an old Tim Powers book I’d fallen in love with in the ’70’s called THE STRESS OF HER REGARD about a murderous Lamia. The writing isn’t like it, nor is the story, but the concept of a mermaid killer brought it to mind.

Calder is a wonderful character. He’s so messed up, intricate and complex that it’s a pleasure going along for the ride in his mind. Lily too, is another interesting character, she’s strong, determined and intelligent. The sisters as well are well-developed and complex. There are some great plot twists and surprises with them that I found to be completely unexpected. The wonderful descriptions of Lake Superior and what lies beneath it were a fantastic element and added so much to the story.

LIES BENEATH is the first in a triology and I’m eagerly looking forward to the second book. Highly recommended for plot, strong characters and an amazing story. I would caution that this is for more mature YA readers as there is violence and some nudity.

Suggested hashtags:  #mermaids #amoxcallireviews #books #ya #fantasy #fiction #annegreenwoodbrown #lakesuperior #fairytales

Check out the great book trailer below:

Book description from the publisher:

The lore of mermaids and mermen is real. Just wait until you meet Calder White in this addictive debut novel that is destined to make a splash!

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters must prey on humans and absorb their positive energy. Usually they select their victims at random, but this time around the underwater clan chooses its target for a reason: revenge. They want to kill Jason Hancock, the man they blame for their mother’s death.

It’s going to take the whole White family to lure the aquaphobic Hancock onto the water. Calder’s job is to gain Hancock’s trust by getting close to his family. Relying on his irresistible good looks and charm, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock’s daughter Lily. Easy enough, but Calder screws everything up by falling in love—just as Lily starts to suspect that there’s more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined, and just as the mermaids threaten to take matters into their own hands, forcing Calder to choose between family and the girl he loves. One thing’s for sure, whatever Calder decides, the outcome won’t be pretty.

About the author

ANNE GREENWOOD BROWN grew up sailing the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior, leaning over the rail and wondering, with a lake that big, that ancient, what amazing thing might flash by. Now she knows. Lies Beneath is her first novel.

Facebook: http://facebook.com/annegreenwoodbrown
Twitter: @AnneGBrown

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review via NetGalley, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

A Tale of Time City

A Tale of Time City

Author:  Diana Wynne Jones, Forward by Ursula K. Le Guin

Publisher: Firebird; Reprint edition (April 12, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0142420158
ISBN-13:978-0142420157

I have always been a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones, and have read most of her books. I was excited to read A TALE OF TIME CITY, and it did not disappoint. One of the things I love about Jones’ books is how a fantastical world can seem so real and believable. Taking a tour of Time City, I was as agog with wonder as Vivian in the story and yet, like Vivian, I fully believed it was real. I didn’t feel lied to or tricked, which sometimes happens when Fantasy writing goes awry.

A TALE OF TIME CITY is the story of Vivian, or V.S who is mistakenly kidnapped from a train station in WWII England where she is being sent to be fostered as were many children during the war to keep them safe from the bombings. Her kidnappers are two young boys, Jonathan and Sam. They think she is someone called the Time Lady who is out to do harm to their city, a curious alternate reality that sits outside of time itself and observes all the eras. Their world is shaking up, becoming uncertain and they are determined to save it.

At first, Vivian is angry and upset, but her anger quickly fades to wonder at her new and fantastic surroundings. A friendship develops with the boys, yet there is always that undercurrent of tension that you often find with siblings. They are the annoying brothers that you love, but exasperate you. She tastes her first butterpie, a magical and delicious creamy concoction on a stick that when you eat it, is both hot and cold. She gets used to the strange clothing and customs as well as struggling through a very common struggle for children – school. As Vivian becomes a part of the boys world, she becomes just as determined as they to save it and an exciting quest ensues. Will they save the city? Who or what is Faber John? Who is the mysterious time ghost who daily tries to climb the clock tower? More importantly, who is the Time Lady and what is Vivian’s role in Time City?

Jones, with her usual magic of deft writing, humor and skillful world-building is at her best in A TALE OF TIME CITY. The book, though published years ago, stands the test of time and is in no way dated though the book was first published back i 1987. Jones manages to bring both the fantastical world of Time City brilliantly to life as well as draw a realistic England in World War II. The Firebird re-issue is beautifully done with a lovely forward by none other than Ursual Le Guin, another incredible writer. There’s a reason Diana Wynne Jones was called the Queen of the Fantastic, and this book is a great example of why.

Highly recommended!

About the Author

Diana Wynne Jones was the multiple award-winning author of many fantasy novels for children, teenagers, and adults. Her book Howl’s Moving Castle was made into an Academy Award-nominated major animated feature by Hayao Miyazaki. She received the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Married to the medievalist J. A. Burrow, with whom she had three sons, she lived for many years in Bristol, the setting for many of her books. Diana Wynne Jones passed away in March 2011, after a long illness.

Ursula K. Le Guin is the revered author of Tales from Earthsea.

Fred Patten Reviews The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
Author: Gideon Defoe
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN10: 1-4088-2495-7
ISBN13: 978-1-4088-2495-5

Let’s be frank:  this book would not be reviewed if it were not for the April 2012 release in America of the Aardman Animations stop-motion movie The Pirates! Band of Misfits. This is a retitling for Americans of the British release The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, which is an adaptation of the first novel (2004) in a long-running series by Gideon Defoe that presumably the American Distributors thought that American audiences wouldn’t have heard of.  Actually, there is an American edition (Pantheon, October 2004), but the movie is doing nothing to promote the series in either country.  (Or Canada.  Or Scotland.)  So read about it here.

The publicity compares The Pirates! novels favorably with Monty Python, Douglas Adams, Blackadder, and other bits of British humour [sic.] that flagrantly promote being funny over being historically accurate.  Therefore the movie is set in 1837 but has a Pirate King whose costume is a parody of Elvis Presley’s, a pirate’s parrot that is really a dodo (extinct since the 1670s), and mermaids which have been extinct since … well, whenever.  And “Aarrr, matey!” pirates were long-gone by 1837, for that matter.  The novel has Post-It notes, the Elephant Man, Coco-Pops, a mysterious reference to a metal lady (a robot?), and so on.

The novel opens with the Pirate Captain and his first mate, the pirate with the scarf, talking about their recent Adventure with Cowboys.  This is a sly reference to make the reader feel frustrated because there is no “In an Adventure with Cowboys”.  “In an Adventure with Moby Dick”, yes.  With Communists (Karl Marx has a very piratical beard), with Napoleon, with the Romantics (the pirates meet Lord Byron, Percy Shelly, and Mary Wollstonecraft).  But no Cowboys.  Yet.

The novel and the movie are quite different, but the humour [sic. again] is very similar.  The Pirate Captain and his inept, ham-loving crew (the pirate with gout, the albino pirate, the pirate dressed in green, the pirate with a nut allergy, etc.), sailing the seas for adventure and booty, are tricked by their old enemy Black Bellamy into thinking that Charles Darwin’s HMS Beagle is a Bank of England ship overflowing with gold.  Darwin explains to the disappointed pirates that he has been successfully training and educating a monkey, Mr. Bobo, to dress up like a gentleman and become a refined Man-panzee (although Mr. Bobo cannot speak except through an amazingly comprehensive set of flash cards).  Unfortunately, Darwin’s revolutionary scientific theories have drawn the ire of the Bishop of Oxford, not because of any religious controversy but because the Bishop has just become the largest shareholder in P. T. Barnum’s Circus of Freaks, and the Bishop fears that Mr. Bobo will upstage Barnum’s star freak, the Elephant Man.  The Bishop has denounced Darwin for blasphemy, and he has just kidnapped Darwin’s brother Erasmus to force Darwin to abandon his research.  The Pirate Captain is aghast at such villainy, and pledges to help Darwin to rescue his brother even if this means sailing to London, which has a policy of hanging pirates in irons at Execution Dock.

The pirates have a fascinating time sightseeing in London and visiting the Natural History Museum disguised as scientists.  London is plastered with posters for P. T. Barnum’s (in association with the Bishop of Oxford) Circus of Freaks, with five free Ladies’ Nights a week.

“‘I wonder if that foreshadows anything sinister?’ said the Pirate Captain.
‘We shouldn’t leap to conclusions, just because the unspeakable Bishop is our enemy,’ said Darwin reasonably.  ‘After all, it may be that he feels sorry for ladies, and thinks they could do with some free entertainment.’
‘Why would he feel sorry for ladies?’ asked the albino pirate.
‘Well, with so many of them going missing lately, and then being found washed up in the River Thames, all shriveled and lifeless.’” (pgs. 84-85).

The Pirate Captain announces a lecture featuring Darwin and Mr. Bobo at the Museum, to draw the Bishop out, while the pirate with the scarf in disguise is assigned to investigate the very popular Circus of Freaks, where he meets Jennifer, who is looking for her sister who disappeared while visiting the Circus.  This leads to a dramatic climax in which the Pirate Captain and the evil Bishop hunt each other throughout the Natural History Museum, while the pirate with the scarf, Jennifer, and Erasmus Darwin are trapped in a gigantic death machine in the Circus of Freaks.  You can guess who wins by the fact that there are four sequels (to date).  Jennifer becomes a regular member of the pirates.

The movie features Charles Darwin and Mr. Bobo (as Darwin’s man-panzee-servant), and the pirates disguised as scientists at the Natural History Museum.  It substitutes Queen Victoria for the Bishop of Oxford as the villain, adds the Pirate Captain’s pet dodo-parrot, eliminates the Circus of Freaks, and invents a new subplot with the Pirate Captain competing with Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz (from The Pirates! In an Adventure with Moby Dick) for the Pirate of the Year Award.  It is very funny, and different enough from the novel that readers/viewers of one can enjoy the other without knowing how it will turn out.  And while there is only one movie, there are four more novels!  Gideon Defoe has an admirable talent for writing humor [no sic.] that is silly but genuinely funny; witty and nonsensical at the same time; outrageously anachronistic in its main text but solemnly accurate in its footnotes.  Please, use the movie to promote the novels!

Fred Patten Reviews Transmutation NOW!


Transmutation NOW!

Author: Phil Geusz
Publisher:  Legion Publishing
ISBN10:  none
ISBN13:  978-0-9771867-6-1

This s-f novel was first written during 1997-1998.  It was almost immediately outdated by real-world technological advances.  Nevertheless, it has had several new editions including this latest (2012) by Legion Publishing, proving that technological obsolescence cannot keep a good s-f story down.  (How many futuristic thrillers about the Americans vs. the Soviets vying for world domination were rendered obsolete by the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991?  Yet the best of them are still suspenseful political thrillers.)

In the undated but near future, biotechnological advances in decoding the human genome and DNA manipulation plus genetic splicing have enabled the human body to be turned into, well, almost anything organic; although the horrendously expensive cost limits this to a mostly theoretical breakthrough.  The movie studio that aging star actor Jack Strafford is contracting to is willing to pay that price for the publicity value of converting Strafford into a genuine humanoid White Rabbit to play that role in a big-budget remake of Alice in Wonderland.  Strafford’s initial refusal is turned to agreement by the studio’s promise to not only restore his human body after the shoot, but to recreate his younger, mid-20s body instead of his aging one.  The transmutation process takes months in an artificial womb, and when Strafford wakes up, he is not a human-rabbit hybrid but an almost total rabbit, with human intelligence but a rabbit’s instincts.  During his transmutation there was a terrorist nuclear bombing of Tokyo, a worldwide panic and major depression, and his movie studio went bankrupt before finishing paying for his extreme makeover.  The medical technicians at Trans-Tech Genetics did all that they could for him with their own money, but Strafford is still left a small freak hopping about in a human world.

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The Last Princess

 

Title: The Last Princess

Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Imprint: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pub Date: May 01, 2012
ISBN: 9780316185486

Set in post-apocalyptic England, THE LAST PRINCESS features a strong female protagonist, Eliza Tudor. In this alternate England, the world is struggling. The Seventeen Days, a series of natural disasters that rained down fire from the sky among other things, has practically obliterated all that was. Crops and plants are scarce, food is hard to come by, electricity and pretty much any technology is gone. Bands of cannibals (yes cannibals) roam what is left of the woods seeking prey. England is completely cut off from the rest of the world, and no one knows if other countries have survived the Seventeen Days.  England is now in turmoil as a vicious and cruel revolutionary plots to overthrow the Tudors.  Eliza was present as a revolutionary killed her pregnant mother by poison. Some years later, the same revolutionary has taken over Buckingham Palace during a ball and is rounding people up and into Death Camps. Eliza escapes and vows revenge.

The story is fast-paced and interesting. The sixteen year old Eliza’s battle to save her family and defeat
Cyrus, is seriously engaging. She joins his army in disguise and learns first hand of his cruelty and what happens in the Death Camps. She manages to escape yet again and makes her way to the old family retreat in Scotland where she heals from her wounds and rallies an army.

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Bride of the Rat God

Bride of the Rat God
Author: Barbara Hambly

Kindle Version:
Publisher: Open Road (March 29, 2011)
ASIN: B004TC146E

Paperback version:

Publisher: Del Rey (October 31, 1994)
ISBN-10: 0345381017?I
SBN-13: 978-0345381019

 

I should start off  by saying I’ve been a huge Barbara Hambly fan for years, so it’s no surprise that I wanted to review this book.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Barbara Hambly is an expert at creating worlds and drawing the reader in, and in this book, set in the Los Angeles of the Roaring Twenties, she does what she does best – makes you believe in this odd alternate L.A. where monsters and demons exist amongst bootleggers, silent film actors and flappers.  Hambly brings to life the Los Angeles of the Twenties in vivid detail.  Being a native Angeleno, I really appreciated the history lesson and also appreciated recognizing streets, buildings and the many sub-sections of L.A.  What I loved most was that she made old L.A. so recognizable, so intertwined with the current L.A. that it seemed like a dear old friend.  She’s paid homage to the buildings and architecture I love in this city and to the silent era of film that made this town the glittering beacon that still draws like the slinky, seductive vamps of that era.

The silent film star Chrysandra Flamande, aka Christine Blackstone, aka Chavela (quite the vamp), has a Hollywood life, complete with three pekinese dogs, a widowed sister-in-law companion, bathtub gin, cocaine and lovers.  Christine is a silly girl, but one with a good heart under all that affectation.   Strange things start happening and a mysterious Chinese gentleman appears with dire warnings about her opal necklace, which as it turns out was pilfered from Manchurian China.  It seems that Christine, by wearing the necklace is now slated to be the sacrificial bride to the demon Rat God.

The Chinese wizard, Norah (the sister in law) and her cinematographer friend Alec, and the pekinese (fierce Fu dogs reincarnated as bits of fluff), all set out to protect Christine and save her from the Rat God all while filming a not quite Biblical epic complete with chariots and a demon-possessed lead actor.

Hambly’s characters are wonderful: the grief-stricken, almost fragile Norah who becomes stronger as the story unfolds, Christine who is silly but who turns resolute and brave; and her vivid depictions of Hollywood producers, directors, and actors are spot on and believable.  Even the city becomes a character; I could almost taste the Kung Pao in her wonderful Chinatown, a place I spend a lot of time in.  The buildings and streets, the canals of Venice and the theaters like the Egyptian and Million-Dollar made me feel at home in her alternate L.A.

There are stories within the story as well, Norah’s past, the wounds of the very recent WW1 and more, which I leave you to discover. The result is a multi-layered, fascinating read that you won’t be able to put down. I highly recommend BRIDE OF THE RAT GOD and in truth, any of Hambly’s books.  You’ll be sucked in and swept away to another world and come out on the other end all the better for it.

Disclosure:  I received a free ebook copy of this book from Netgalley.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.