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Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko

The forces of light and darkness clash in this Russian urban fantasy.

Night Watch

Hyperion, 1998, 455 pages

Set in modern day Moscow, Night Watch is a world as elaborate and imaginative as Tolkien or the best Asimov. Living among us are the "Others", an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. A thousand-year treaty has maintained the balance of power, and the two sides coexist in an uneasy truce. But an ancient prophecy decrees that one supreme "Other" will rise up and tip the balance, plunging the world into a catastrophic war between the Dark and the Light.

When a young boy with extraordinary powers emerges, fulfilling the first half of the prophecy, will the forces of the Light be able to keep the Dark from corrupting the boy and destroying the world?

Not so much black and white as many grim shades of gray.

My complete list of book reviews.

In the Grip of the Minotaur

In the Grip of the Minotaur, a novel by Farnham Bishop and Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, was serialised in Adventure magazine in 1916. It might play a bit fast and loose with history but it’s undeniably entertaining. And it has Vikings taking on the Minoan Empire! Here's my review on my book blog.

A world of witches, the Inquisition, and nuclear warfare.

Age of Witches

Amazon Digital Services, 2014 (originally published in Russian in 1997), 330 pages

Is it easy to be a witch? Who can, and more importantly, who would want to understand her: this evil otherworldly creature, the symbol of promiscuity and whimsy? The symbol of the Woman?

Is it easy to be the Great Inquisitor? Who can, and more importantly, who would want to understand him, a heartless executioner, carrying out the will of the Inquisition? What would happen if the souls of these two, as incompatible as ice and fire, come into contact?

The novel THE AGE OF WITCHES contains several winningly rare combinations: that of a thriller, detective and melodrama, Western traditions and Eastern European textures. The epic scope of events and tension go hand in hand with the intense psychological twister representing the characters’ inner lives. An element of mystery allows for a new approach to the ancient questions.

What makes the novel unique? The dense atmosphere of a modern city is invaded by the poetry of folk demonology. The characters abide by the cruel laws of nuclear society, and by those of a mythical world. This is a book about love, but also about the price of freedom, and the meaning of life. It is about what can save our world from being suffocated by contradictions and hate.

"Death to all things foul!" in this weird contemporary Russian urban fantasy.

Also by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko: My reviews of The Scar and Vita Nostra.

My complete list of book reviews.

Talbot Mundy's Tros

Talbot Mundy (1879-1940) is a little-known writer today, which is unfortunate. He was not only one of the masters of the adventure tale but a major force in the development of pulp fiction. He contributed to pulp magazines such as Adventure and Argosy and wrote 45 novels.

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Tros, Talbot Mundy

A. Merritt’s Dwellers in the Mirage

Abraham Merritt (1884-1942), usually known simply as A. Merritt, was one of the more interesting American pulp writers of horror and fantastic fiction. Dwellers in the Mirage was one of several “lost world” novels that he wrote and as usual he gives the sub-genre his own distinctive twists.

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A. Merritt’s Dwellers in the Mirage

the cost of magic

One of the things I liked about Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, and also most of Tim Powers’ fantasy novels, is that magic is either difficult to do or it imposes a heavy cost on the magic user. This has the advantage of making magic less than all-powerful and therefore means the author cannot easily use magic to get out of plot difficulties.

What fantasy novels in this category, where magic is not easy to use, have you particularly enjoyed?
An Edwardian psychic detective chases Scooby Doo villains and the occasional Outer Monstrosity.

The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder

Wordsworth Editions, Ltd, 2006, 191 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg. (The Gutenberg edition is missing three stories — you can also find all of them here.)

Thomas Carnacki is a ghost finder, an Edwardian psychic detective, investigating a wide range of terrifying hauntings presented in the nine stories in this complete collection of his adventures. Encountering such spine-chilling phenomena as 'The Whistling Room', the life-threatening dangers of the phantom steed in 'The Horse of the Invisible' and the demons from the outside world in 'The Hog', Carnacki is constantly challenged by spiritual forces beyond our knowledge. To complicate matters, he encounters human skullduggery also. Armed with a camera, his Electric Pentacle and various ancient tomes on magic, Carnacki faces the various dangers his supernatural investigations present with great courage. These exciting and frightening stories have long been out of print. Now readers can thrill to them again in this new Wordsworth series.

Invisible horses, demonic pigs, stolen rare books, haunted ships, and good-old fashioned human skulduggery.

My complete list of book reviews.

Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

A fantasy Ocean's Eleven and Pirates of the Caribbean mash-up.

Red Seas Under Red Skies

Bantam Spectra, 2007, 558 pages

After a brutal battle with the underworld that nearly destroyed him, Locke Lamora and his trusted sidekick, Jean, fled the island city of their birth and landed on the exotic shores of Tal Verrar to nurse their wounds. But even at this westernmost edge of civilization, they can't rest for long---and they are soon back doing what they do best: stealing from the undeserving rich and pocketing the proceeds for themselves.

This time, however, they have targeted the grandest prize of all: the Sinspire, the most exclusive and heavily guarded gambling house in the world. Its nine floors attract the wealthiest clientele - and to rise to the top, one must impress with good credit, amusing behavior...and excruciatingly impeccable play. For there is one cardinal rule, enforced by Requin, the house's cold-blooded master: it is death to cheat at any game at the Sinspire. Brazenly undeterred, Locke and Jean have orchestrated an elaborate plan to lie, trick, and swindle their way up the nine floors...straight to Requin's teeming vault. Under the cloak of false identities, they meticulously make their climb - until they are closer to the spoils than ever.

But someone in Tal Verrar has uncovered the duo's secret. Someone from their past who has every intention of making the impudent criminals pay for their sins. Now it will take every ounce of cunning to save their mercenary souls. And even that may not be enough.

The Gentleman Bastards go a'piratin' in a crapsack fantasy world.

Also by Scott Lynch: My review of The Lies of Locke Lamora.

My complete list of book reviews.

Anita, by Keith Roberts

Anita the Teenage British Witch: Georgy Girl meets Granny Weatherwax.


Ace Books, 1970, 221 pages

Meet Anita Thompson: she's young, she's lovely, she's clever ... and she's a witch. A real one.

Anita lives in two worlds: the modern world of supermarkets and sports cars, radio and rock & roll, where she is a thoroughly modern girl with a thoroughly modern interest in boys and fast living and her own independence. But the ancient and rustic world of traditions, cauldrons, and familiars , where she and her Granny (a witch of the Old School, broom and all) invoke elemental spirits in the service of Him Wot's Down Under. She has senses no ordinary mortal can imagine (at least nine); with them, she can hear the voices of every creature of the night. She can changer her shape, call a drowned corpse from a lake, reverse the flow of time, and ride the Sea Serpent (there's only the one, you know; always has been -- always will be) deep into the ocean in the company of a mermaid, even though the modern world is trying to crowd aside -- and even change -- that world of witchcraft and magic. Yet, complicated as a young witch's life may become, Anita never loses her sense of fun, or her essential innocence.

Anita was a teenager when Samantha was a housewife.

Verdict: These stories are a trip, a dated trip back to 60s Britain. Anita is a precursor to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, Buffy, and the entire contemporary urban fantasy genre. I would love to see someone write Harry Potter fan fiction with Anita appearing at Hogwarts. 7/10.

My complete list of book reviews.

1939 Retro-Hugo Awards Best Novel

The 1939 Retro-Hugo Awards were awarded this month. The five nominees for best novel were:

The Sword in the Stone, T. H. White (Collins)
Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis (The Bodley Head)
Galactic Patrol, E. E. Smith (Astounding Stories, February 1938)
The Legion of Time, Jack Williamson (Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1938)
Carson of Venus, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Argosy, February 1938)

The winner was The Sword in the Stone, which was of course the first installment of The Once and Future King. The Once and Future King happens to be the first fantasy novel I ever read, and I can still remember the huge impact it had on me.. For this reason it’s impossible for me to judge such a book dispassionately, although I will note that when I re-read it some years later I still loved it.

So what do you think of these awards? Do you think The Sword in the Stone was a worthy winner?