Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cliff Road Chronicles: Tales of the Brotherhood of Darkness
Anne Fraser, Inanna Arthen (editor)
By Light Unseen Media, Sep 21 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9781935303275

The Cliff Road Chronicles is a fitting tribute to the late Anne Fraser whose take on the 1990s urban fantasy is extremely refreshing and showcases how ahead of the sub-genre she was (and still is). Filled with amusing puns, these contributions provide intriguing relationships and personal tsuris that vamps, mages, druids, werewolves, fairies and humans confront.

“Gideon and Joshua: A Love Story” consists of eleven shorts that start in the mid 1990s to 2006 mostly in Maine in the chronological order they occur; while simultaneously matching when they were released. They are a direct follow-up to the superb vampire novel Gideon Redoak. The key to these entries is that the pair has relationship issues as mortal couples have, but also has additional issues. With Gideon the baron so tense over several crises, his human lover Joshua books them for a few days at Club Undead in the Caribbean. Over their time together, the lovers admit their love for one another, become engaged and marry, but face problems like any couple compounded by the Pope’s condemning gay couples “To Burn In Hell”. The tales end with the stunning twist of “The Lost Boy.”

“The Adventures of the Brotherhood of Darkness” focuses on other members of the "Cliff Road Crowd" with the same concepts in time (from 1998 to 2007) as the Gideon-Joshua tales. In “Daven’s Stream”, Ray Griffin the mage is asked to sit for a spell. While driving Vampire widow Alex Goldanias almost suffers a cardiac even without a heartbeat when his “Fairy Godmother” appears out of nowhere to lecture him. The other four tales range from jocular inanity to taut suspense.

Harriet Klausner

The Alloy of Life
Brandon Sanderson
Tor, Nov 8 2011, $24.99
ISBN: 9780765330420

In the last few decades a steel based technology boom has come to Scadrial. The new Steel Age has led to railroads traversing the surface, electric lights on streets and skyscrapers. At the same time, the ancient magical system of Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy remains potent though more so in the perilous Roughs than in the urban centers.

For twenty years Waxillium Ladrian has enforced the law in the Rough using his Twinborn skill of deploying Allomancy to Pull metal and employing Feruchemy to change his weight. However, his time in the Rough is over as he must return home to the modern city of Elendel to replace his recently deceased uncle as Lord Ladrian. However, he learns upon coming home that a ruthless gang of thieves the Vanishers are abducting women and stealing cargo from the railcars. His sense of justice and honor has Wax, along with his friend depraved Wayne and genius Marasi, on a mission to rescue the kidnapped and to end the Vanishers reign of robberies.

The Alloy of Law is a stand alone urban fantasy that occurs in the lands of the Mistborn Trilogy, but in the future three centuries after the heroes of the previous tales are alive only as legends. The brilliant story line can be read without the perusing the trilogy though those who do so will miss out on a fabulous magical fantasy series. The key to this strong action adventure is the emerging competition between magic and technology except when a rare practitioner combines them. Wax and his two compatriots add amusing banter to a brisk High Noon in Mistborn guns and sorcery thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Mirror Maze
Michaele Jordan
PYR, Oct 25 2011, $16.00
ISBN 9781616145293

In 1882 London Jacob Aldridge grieves the death of his beloved fiancée Rhoda Carothers. Everything he does requires him to push himself as he just wants to lie down and die. His kind landlady Mrs. Florence tries to help him with his depression, but neither her or his twin sister Cecily can do much for him.

After being soaked by a carriage, Jacob comes home to find a woman sitting in his least favorite chair in his flat. She looks exactly like his beloved Rhoda; he becomes euphoric when she explains she came to haunt him. Concerned Mrs. Florence sends for Cecily because her renter was rude, filthy and profane. Cecily makes her sibling wash up and take a walk with her. They meet Livia Aram, who looks like the late Rhoda’s identical twin. He obsesses over her, which frightens her. However, they learn the truth about their late respective fathers who were wizards who dabbled in the paranormal leading to a curse upon their families. Now the twins, Livia and her guardian Dr. Chang confront a demon who thrives on human suffering with Jacob his current sustenance.

This is a superb Victorian fantasy in which no one is quite like they seem except in the dangerous Mirror Maze that connects the realms. The lead quartet are solid players who must face truths that are impossible for their rationale minds to grasp (except for Dr. Chang); while each step brings them closer to an all or nothing soul-saving vs. dying confrontation against a demon abetted by the horrific curse. Although the audience can become lost in the convoluted Mirror Maze, fans will still relish joining the fearsome foursome as they traverse a London filled magical horror.

Harriet Klausner

Antiquitas Lost: The Last of the Shamalans
Robert Louis Smith; Geof Isherwood (illustrator)
Medlock Publishing, Oct 1 2011, $19.00
ISBN: 9780615460475

Fifteen year old Elliott worries about his mom Mary who he believes his dying. They moved to New Orleans to live with her elderly father in his home built in 1796. The kind old man tells him about the house’s history and sadly informs his grandson that his mother has breast cancer.

Hi grandfather sounds as crazy as his dad claimed him to be with talk of the cause of the cancer and artifacts in the basement. Elliot explores the basement where he finds strange paintings and hears whispers. He soon finds himself in the Forest of Ondor in war wracked Pangrelor where two tiny gimlets (Marvus and Jingo) believe he is a Shamalan. They explain his species once ruled the realm, but due to ethnic cleansing are down to Princess Sarintha, prisoner of the Serpans at war with the Shamalans, Gimlets and the Grayfarers. They take him to the ruling council who plan to execute Elliot and Hooks the Susquatanian, but Jingo and Marvus rescue both. The quartet tries to prevent a Serpan attack, rescue the princess and elude the Council; while the hero needs to be with his mom.

This is an entertaining quest fantasy with unique species that bring a brisk freshness to the tale. The story line is fast-paced with vivid illustrations enhancing the good vs. bad guys plot. The Serpans who seem to be winning the war come across as incompetent in battle scenes (even their pictures make them look like losers). Mindful of the NeverEnding Story, young adult readers will appreciate this engaging thriller starring heroes with histories and allies with nebulous motives not as lucid as they first appear.

Harriet Klausner

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