book review: Cloak of the Two Winds

Piracy! Magic! Strange creatures! Sword fights! Love!

Like The Princess Bride, this book combines a number of beloved fantasy elements into a riveting story that satisfies on many levels. Yet despite the familiar tropes, there is nothing derivative about this book; the world of Cloak of the Two Winds, called Glimnodd, is entirely its own. The book’s main characters are Iruks, from the south polar region. In some ways they are similar to our world’s Inuit, but they have no problem switching from hunting to piracy when a likely target appears. The Iruk hunting party’s boat is as versatile as the hunters: with a quick conversion, it can sail as easily on ice as it can on water. This is a necessary capability because the waters of Glimnodd change to ice, and back again, at a moment’s notice–and the shifts are becoming more and more unpredictable and drastic. The Iruks’ piratical venture soon embroils them in Glimnodd’s climate-change emergency, which all revolves around a stolen cloak with the power to control the winds that cause freezing and melting. Of more immediate concern to the Iruk hunting band, one of their members has disappeared. The only person who may be able to help them find and rescue her is the witch whose ship they raided–a witch who is being pursued by at least one of Glimnodd’s most powerful magic workers.

This book had me at “ice pirates,” but the story was even richer than I expected. I quickly came to care about the characters, and the devotion the members of the hunting party had for each other was truly moving. I found the magical system intriguing and loved its mystical elements of seeing into the Deepmind, a kind of collective unconscious. We meet a few different cultures in this book, but the Iruk culture is the primary one, and its customs are portrayed so deftly that it is easy to imagine being part of that society (which appears, by the way, to practice full gender equality). In sum, Cloak of the Two Winds is a riveting fantasy adventure set in a fascinating world, and I recommend it highly. (Also, while this is not a YA novel per se, I think it would make a great YA read.)

Here’s hoping there will be another book soon to follow!

book review: The Red Khémèresh

I read Mab Morris’s absorbing, fascinating novella The Red Khémèresh in one sitting and found myself still thinking about the characters and setting for days afterward. The author does an impressive job of evoking a Mongolia-like steppe society and creating a fully developed mythology as a matrix within which the characters pursue their goals. And I love the protagonist, Phayaden, a seemingly failed shaman who may or may not be mad, walking a thin line between this world and the spirit world, trying her best to fulfill her duty to her family even as a mysterious stranger pulls her into a conflict that ripples out far beyond anything she has previously known.

 

The Forty: a review!

Kimberly Richardson–photographer, anthologist, novelist, and short-story writer, whose books include Tales from a Goth Librarian, Mabon and Pomegranate, and The Decembrists–has given The Forty this fine review on her blog:

The Forty [is] a delightful idea brought to life by photographer Fox Gradin and writers Kathryn Hinds and James Palmer. The concept is this: deep in the Cave of Wonders are the Forty Thieves of Ali Baba. However, Ali Baba is away on an adventure, and so the thieves decide to tell their stories to each other to pass the time. Whoever had the best story would win all of the bottles of the Forty and enjoy a very good drink. The Forty are men and women, cowboys, samurai, petty thieves, and vampires, and each story is compelling. A photo of the thief accompanies each story, breathing life into the tales and the diversity of the Forty.

Although I enjoyed reading each story, my personal favourites were The Dandy Dealer, Duo Marceau, Jenny Cutpurse, Phantom of the Dunes, and Fortunato. To me, those stories stood out in my mind due to the “interactions” the thieves went through before they arrived at the Cave of Wonders. At the end of the book are the stories of Morgiana and Kasim, Ali Baba’s brother; they explain the real reason behind the Forty and why Ali Baba used such measures to lead them to the Cave of Wonders. I found it to be a rather interesting ending and would love it if there was a “sequel”. This is a book worth reading again and again!

The Healer’s Choice: a review!

Christy English, author of the SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE series, has given The Healer’s Choice a wonderful review on Amazon and Goodreads:

“This is the kind of book that I not only loved, but that stayed with me long after I put it down. The best way I can express it is to say this beautiful novel is like the best of Marion Zimmer Bradley. Though set in a fantasy world with a fantasy war, THE HEALER’S CHOICE could easily have been Britain as it fell to Roman occupation. A lovely, well-written novel with fascinating characters on both sides of the war. I want to read it again. I want to read the next one in the series. I love it so much, I am buying copies for my friends. It’s just that good.”

book review: Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey is a thoroughly engaging novel, adding magic to the world, sensibility, and style of Jane Austen. Here, magic is known as glamour, and it is closely linked to the arts–so, just as with the arts in Austen’s time, there are professional glamourists, but glamour is also one of the accomplishments pursued by young ladies and used to entertain their families and beautify their homes. This book not only entertains with its Austenesque characters, their friendships and romances, but also explores the subtle interplay between appearances and reality on multiple levels. I highly recommend Shades of Milk and Honey to lovers of Austen and Regencies, as well as to anyone simply looking for a well-written historical fantasy.

book review: The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd

This is a moving, beautifully written story with a protagonist you quickly come to care deeply about. Lady Elspeth Douglas is in France when World War I breaks out, and in the course of making her way back to England, the suffering she sees among the first soldiers returning from the front impels her to join Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. Knowing her guardian would believe that this service is beneath a woman of her class, she signs up without getting his permission or revealing her rank to anyone. It turns out that she has a true gift and passion for nursing; she takes pride in her work and in serving her country and feels, for the first time in her life, that she is truly doing something worthwhile. Her newfound sense of purpose and of herself is threatened, however, when word gets back to her guardian about her nursing career. To complicate matters, her French fiancé has been wounded and captured by the Germans, and even as she has anxiously awaited news of him, she has, despite all her efforts, become increasingly attached to one of her patients, a Scottish captain who was a childhood friend and would like to be much, much more. This book can be read and enjoyed purely for its characters, romance, and historical elements, but it is also a thought-provoking exploration of issues such as honor, duty, class, gender roles, and how we give our lives meaning.