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Nope, nope, nope.

I have no more excuses. Sure, I’ve been in a terrible mood for the past year or so and my writing output is diddly squat. (That’s the technical term we professional writer types use.) But here in Italy, we went to “White” level this week—restrictions are lifted, tourists are streaming in, and most importantly, all the good gelato places are open.

It’s obvious: I’ve been reading so many wonderful books, and it’s time to get those reviews out. Please check out my upcoming reviews, starting with several from the fantasy genre, from classic quests to SciFi to a clever use of fanfiction.

So… you want to write a fantasy novel?

I reviewed Raining Embers for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

I reviewed The Jack of Ruin for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

I know! You could have a medieval-type world where the Dark Lord, once thought defeated, now returns to gather his [why is it always his?] dark forces. The end of the world (or at least the bits we like with, you know, dashing heroes, and good sanitation, and of course ice cream…) is at hand. But wait! Although raised in secrecy with no knowledge of his true destiny, our Hero gathers a devoted but motley band, some Shitastic Artifact/ Ring of Power/ Awesome Sword-thingie, and they all proceed to kick Dark Force butt, after which Hero manages to personally defeat the Dark Lord, probably in one-on-one combat.

  • If this story occurs over 27 volumes, it is high fantasy
  • If the Shitastic Artifact/ Ring of Power/ Awesome Sword-thingies are for that night’s D&D tournament, it is low fantasy.
  • If Hero turns out the be The One, hidden heir to the kingdom, who must assemble the devoted but motley band to aid in restoring him to the throne, it is quest fantasy.
  • If Hero has a magic horse/dragon/flying creature, plus he finds a snarky but brave girl who is surprisingly good with a sword, but nevertheless needs to be rescued with depressing regularity, after which they have sex (or if it’s YA they have a Moment and maybe even a Kiss) on horse/dragon/flying creature-back, it’s fantasy romance.
  • If Hero has a fairy godmother, three wishes, or a super-mean stepmother, it is a fairy tale and Hero has absolutely no business doing anything of the sort on a horse because if the PTA gets hold of this, Hero’s story will be banned and his name will show up on registered sex-offender sites.
  • If Hero meets talking animals who help demonstrate a Universal Truth (like “i before e, Except after c, Or when sounded as “a,”As in neighbour and weigh.” or “If it seems too good to be true it’s probably an election year”) it’s a fable. (Not to be confused with Classic Truth “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice (1813).)
  • If Hero is rescued by two brothers named Sam and Dean, it’s fanfiction. Most probably really bad fanfiction…

Only… okay. So that’s been done from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter and everything in between. That’s the good thing about tropes like this. When done right, they are absolutely magic. And a heck of a lot of fun.

Please join me in the next three posts for quick reviews of the ways three authors  use, subvert, or totally make these tropes their bitches. (Are we having fun yet?)

Fantasy rescue

[image credit: “God Speed!” by Edmund Leighton (1900)]


After getting kidnapped by a demigod and imprisoned in another dimension, Makayla was really hoping that her life would get back to normal. Or at least as normal as life could be when you had a goblin for a best friend.

But now her sleepy midwestern town is being invaded by shadows. Her neighbors are being stolen away and replaced by changelings. And when she tries to escape, her path threatens to take her to the one place she never wanted to return to: the mysterious and dangerous Land of Annwfyn.

In this sequel to The Changeling’s Daughter, Makayla and Brynn must confront their deepest fears and their worst enemies as their journey takes them to the farthest ends of the Earth and beyond.


My Review:  4 out of 5 Stars for The Trickster’s Sister (The Coblyn Chronicles Book 2) by R. Chris Reeder

Epic fantasy is an ambitious genre to take on. After Lord of the Rings defined it, great series from the Belgariad to Harry Potter refined it, and Star Wars took it into space, it’s got to be a challenge to extend the tropes into new territory, especially for the middle book of a series.

I started with a disadvantage because I haven’t read The Changeling’s Daughter, Book 1 in the Coblyn Chronicles series. And while author R. Chris Reeder does an excellent job of slipping in the important details as his story moves forward, the usual middle-book issue of introducing an ever-increasing cast of supporting characters is compounded by the mortal sin of fantasy writers: loads of fantasy creatures with unpronounceable names containing too many or not enough vowels—”…he’d been interrupted by a family of gwyllion whose cavern had been vandalized by a band of pwca colts…”

This is compounded by long descriptions of magical spells and babbling that basically involves applied phlebotinum (a term supposedly coined by Buffy writer David Greenwalt to move a plot forward using a fictional material possessing made-up properties unknown in the real world.

Phlebotinum is the versatile substance that may be rubbed on almost anything to cause an effect needed by a plot, from time-tuning necklaces to instant interstellar travel.
In essence, it is the stuff that makes the plot go. Without it, the story would grind to an abrupt halt. It’s science, it’s magic, it’s strange things unknown to science or magic. The reader does not know how Phlebotinum would work and the creators hope nobody cares.
According to Joss Whedon, during the DVD commentary for the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the term “phlebotinum” originates from Buffy writer (and Angel co-creator) David Greenwalt’s sudden outburst: “Don’t touch the phlebotinum!” apropos of nothing.

Provided the actinic cache hasn’t been depleted, this cauldron should be able to achieve transdimensional transparency.

Luckily for all of us, author R. Chris Reeder soon tires of this epic-soup, and turns to the coming-of-age stories of his two teenaged protagonists, Makayla and her goblin bestie, Brynn.

Their hometown, Jeffersonville Indianna, is being systematically destroyed by demonic changelings, while their actual family, friends, and fellow residents have been taken…somewhere. When Brynn’s parents disappear, leaving the girls to watch over Brynn’s baby sister, the two friends realize it’s up to them to babysit. And save the world.

There were standard epic tropes, nicely-subverted in most cases. For example, there is a dragon-pommeled sword, a gift from the most powerful warrior, and a tiny magic fairy nut which the girls faithfully haul around with them but which never seem to quite win the day.  There was a hobbit, at least he was hobbity most of the time. There was an ancient evil that could be killed but not, perhaps, defeated.

But oddly, none of those things were really what the book was about. Instead—and the parts I most enjoyed— it’s about friendship, and love, and being the outsider, and fitting in. It’s about growing up to acknowledge that you can’t win unless you celebrate what makes you different.

What I absolutely loved about the tale as it moves forward is that instead of being the Chosen One(s) prophesied to save the world (while mastering convenient new powers in the nick of time, of course), Makayla and Brynn instead are friends with issues. Makayla is suffering from PTSD after their last traumatic adventure, while Brynn is profoundly distrustful of her own newfound abilities. Brynn’s younger brother is conflicted about pretending to be human while denying his goblin nature. In addition, both girls are coming to terms with their sexuality and attraction to each other, although in Brynn’s case that’s a little more unusual:

 I mean, I’m a goblin,” Brynn said with a shrug. “But I still think of myself as a person So I like people…But I also see a goblin and go, hmm.’ And there was that hot horse person, the pwca, and I don’t know if…if that horse person…was a boy or a girl or what. So yeah, I like girls, But I don’t think that’s all I like. Is that okay?

So even though bad guys have a tendency to come back from the dead, and this episode ends in a seriously disturbing (think Sophie’s Choice) confrontation followed by a cliffhanger, and there are way too many pantheon-swapping supernatural creatures with annoyingly few vowels in their names, I ended up enjoying the ways The Trickster’s Sister used its high/low/epic/fairytale fantasy mashup to evoke and subvert fantasy genre tropes. And I especially liked the way two young women grow, and love, and learn to use their flaws and their idiosyncrasies as their advantages.

I reviewed The Trickster’s Sister for Rosie’s Book Review Team

***I received this book for free from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***