STORM RIDERS

From the Dragon Brigade series , Vol. 2

Action, adventure, revenge, political intrigue and magical technology soar in the second volume in the Dragon Brigade series (Shadow Raiders, 2011).

Father Jacob Northrop and Sir Ander Martel have confirmed the identity of the bat-riding, demon-disguised attackers responsible for massacres and collapsing buildings. The Bottom Dwellers, descendants of an island sunk by powerful magic, have spent 500 years plotting retribution against all other countries of the world and developing the use of contramagic, spells which destroy other magical constructs. Unfortunately, the mere mention of contramagic is considered heretical, and the Grand Bishop will do anything to hide the church’s complicity in the Bottom Dwellers’ plight. Meanwhile, Capt. Stephano de Guichen of Rosia and his friends are powerless to counter the threat, as they’re stranded on a remote island—unless Stephano can persuade the island’s wild dragons to help. And Freyan spymaster Sir Henry Wallace also opposes the Bottom Dwellers (whom he inadvertently funded), while seeking what advantages he can for his own country. The novel is a great ride, offering shifting political alliances, thrilling battle sequences, angst-y romance and hairpin plot twists. Basing each fantasy nation’s language and culture on a European country is a bit of a cheat, but that’s outweighed by the floating palaces, magically steered dirigible ships and wyvern-drawn carriages. The series is also blessedly rich in strong, intriguing female characters, including Miri, the stubborn captain of the balloon ship Cloud Hopper; her mute, damaged but magically powerful sister, Gythe; Eiddwen, the ruthless mistress of disguise who serves the Bottom Dwellers; and especially Countess Cecile, the true power behind the Rosian throne, who has hidden her marriage to an executed traitor and her love for their apparently bastard son Stephano so that her many enemies will not target him.

Sheer epic fantasy fun.

Pub Date: July 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3349-0

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and...

DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

READY PLAYER ONE

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles. 

The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.

Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-88743-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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