The Book of Magic

Gardner Dozois writes in the introduction to THE BOOK OF MAGIC (Amazon) that he “[…] endeavored to cover the whole world of magic” (xv). The stories collected in this anthology cover a wide range of magical people and places. While there are plenty of wizards in robes, magic takes many shapes in this anthology.

It’s no mistake that THE BOOK OF MAGIC begins and ends with comic fantasy. The energy and humor of showcased in the first and last stories propels the reader into the anthology and sends them off with a smile. The first story, K.J. Parker’s “The Return of the Pig” follows a wizard reluctantly returning to his hometown to find a new magic user, while also trying to outwit his rivals. “The Fall and Rise of the House of the Wizard Malkuril” by Scott Lynch begins with a wizard, but ends with a sentient house and several tribes of kobolds trying to make it in a tough world. It’s funny and sweet at the same time. While these stories differ in scope and setting, they share a sense of the absurd and were some of my favorites in the collection.

There are also plenty of amusing and wry tales in between. “The Devil’s Whatever” by Andy Duncan or “No Work of Mine” by Elizabeth Bear were good examples of lightheartedness combined with tight writing. Duncan’s voice is especially strong in his story about the Devil’s son-in-law trying to extricate himself from a tricky trap laid by the old man.

Quite a few of the stories had at least some connection to an author’s previous works, whether they were returning to familiar characters or worlds. For example, the protagonist of Lavie Tidhar’s “Widow Maker” is Gorel of Goliris, whose stories are collected in Tidhar’s anthologies. I hadn’t read Tidhar before and this tale was strange and compelling, standing well on its own without the other stories as context.

One of the few pieces that fell flat for me was “The Song of Fire” by Rachel Pollack, not because of poor writing, but because her story was so deeply enmeshed with her previous work that even the expository heavy-lifting she did couldn’t save the story for me. If you’re already a fan though, I’m sure this was a fun installment.

It was hard to choose stories to highlight for this review because the quality was high and I really enjoyed most of the offerings–this would be a great way to browse and discover authors to love. For me I also rediscovered old favorites. It’s been a while since I’ve read Megan Lindholdm (aka Robin Hobb) (“Community Service”) or Kate Elliot (“Bloom”), and both of their selections reminded that I should remedy that soon. Lindholm’s story was a modern fantasy with a super creepy toy-eating witch while Elliot’s offering was a more traditional fantasy setting but with an interesting magic system and an unlikable protagonist who had a nice arc. Other old favorites that caught my attention included “The Staff in the Stone” by Neil Gaiman, a story of a wizard who wants to be left alone but is forced to out himself from hiding to save the village he resides in.

If you are looking for urban fantasy, Greg Van Eekhout’s “The Wolf and the Manticore” was set in LA with hints of a radically different future and some cool bone magic. If you’re looking for more slipstream, steampunk, or urban fantasy, you might be advised to look elsewhere. This is fantasy with a capital “F.”

Each story is about 30 pages, which I mention only because that’s long enough to potentially produce bloated stories stuffed with unnecessary words and characters. Luckily for readers, THE BOOK OF MAGIC contains stories that use their word count wisely to bring together fantastic characters and magic in an entertaining array. A strong anthology with a number of memorable stories, THE BOOK OF MAGIC will delight readers.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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