Pictures From (the end of) Steamcon IV in Seattle

I had big plans to attend Steamcon IV in Seattle this year. I had a costume I was going to work on, and though my Time Machine Pinball wasn’t ready for submission in the Art Exhibition, I was going to attend some of the presentations and maybe even one of the parties. Then, when I knew I wouldn’t have the costume ready, I thought, “no big deal…I’ll see what everyone else is wearing and then adjust accordingly next year.” However, as sometimes happens to the best-laid plans, it all went awry when I was struck down by a nasty cold bug a few days before the trip. Attending on Friday was out of the question, but I was hoping to wake up Saturday morning and be able to give it a go…

Well, I woke up Saturday to find I was in no condition to drive, but I thought I might be able to pull out of the miasma by late afternoon with some rest as a passenger. So after sleeping through most of the three hour drive, we stopped at Pike’s Market for lunch. However, lunch did not sit well and after some Codine I curled up in the backseat and went to sleep. My traveling companions decided to take me to the hotel, so I slept through the ferry ride, ate a little dinner, and crashed. Sunday morning I woke up early, took more Codine, and went back to bed. After a late start and another ferry ride, I arrived at my Dad’s for a quick, groggy visit, then it was off to Steamcon.

As we arrived at the Bellevue Hyatt mid-afternoon, we discovered that Steamcon was pretty much done. The Art Exhibition had ended at noon. To make matters worse, we were one of the few not in costume, which was sad, but gave me high hopes that my outfit that I’ll wear next year will be well-received. Fortunately the Grand Mercantile was still open, so I was able to snap some photos of goods, as well as people in costume. Although I was disappointed that my first Steamcon didn’t work out the way I had hoped, it did wet my appetite for next year’s event. Photos to follow…

There were stakes for vampire hunters…
…stylish hats for the gent stepping out…
…eyewear to see into places you shouldn’t…
…and guns to take care of nasty buggers…
…always fun to see Phil and Kaja Foglio at an event…
…even oriental steampunk was represented…
…this guy was having a lot of fun with the hand-cranked weapon…
…while this guy was packing some serious firepower (no, not the guy with the wrench!)…
…and this man’s gun was simply awe-inspiring…
…but the best costume I saw belonged to the gentleman on the right…

Many thanks to the individuals who took time to pose for the photos. Next year, I hope to arrive in similar style – and without a cold! Until then…

Classic Review: Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

Classic Review is a feature where I pull a book that is over 20 years old from my collection and re-read it, then review it…

Pawn of ProphecyFormat:  paperback, First Edition, 1982

Pages:  262

Reading Time:  6 hours

Pawn of Prophecy is the first book in the Belgariad, a series of five books that tells the story of a young boy named Garion.  It opens with a sort of “history of the gods and the world”, in which the basis for the story will be set.  From this we move to a narrative centered around Garion, a farm boy who lives with his Aunt Pol, and who is shadowed by a mysterious figure on horseback. When the eccentric Mr. Wolf shows up with some startling news, the quest to recover a stolen object begins. The story reveals that every one is not who they seem, including Garion, who is struggling to find his place in the world when he is uprooted from his home. Much has been written about this book…you can find reviews of the plot in many different places. I won’t re-hash the plot or provide spoilers here, but instead just give you some impressions of my re-read, and how it feels to revisit this book more than 20 years after I first read it.

This first book is, in my opinion, the worst of the series. For pages and pages, nothing really interesting happens. We are introduced to the characters and their personalities, and see some of the countryside as they travel, but significant events are few and far between. Only towards the end of the book does the pace and action pick up.  A person who had never read this book before could be excused for thinking that this book is full of tropes and stereotypes, a “coming-of-age” tale, the sort I would later come to detest. If, however, you consider its release in 1982, around the same time as Magician: Apprentice by Raymond Feist, you must consider that these stories were the basis for creating the tropes, not followers of such. Had the Belgariad and Magician books not been so popular, and thus not so emulated, they would stand alone on their own merits as quaint and enjoyable romps.

Eddings does some things well in this opening book. His characters, while at times one-dimensional, are likable and consistent. They communicate well, and the dialog is crisp and snappy. His world breathes with different cultures, each with their own political motivations, rituals, and beliefs. Too many authors these days set their stories in one culture, with people who either believe in the culture or are at odds with it. Eddings tries to populate his world with multiple cultures and should be commended for the attempt. My favorite character here is Silk. Witty, whiny, sarcastic, an actor and a thief, Silk is a great character, kind of a precursor to The Fool in Robin Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice.

Now, as an adult, I freely admit that when I approached the book, I fully expected the charm and esteem I once held it for it might have rubbed off a little. There were so many coming-of-age stories released in the 80s and 90s that I grew sick of them and vowed not to read them anymore. However, with the current trend towards darker fiction, I found my way back to such stories through series like Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice, Delaney’s Spook’s Apprentice, and Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series. What I have discovered is that between massive tomes of epic stories or dark volumes that are now popular, there is a place in my reading for light-hearted stories that are a nice diversion and quickly consumed. When I go back and read Pawn of Prophecy in this context, that it where the story shines. For despite its flaws, it has far more depth and consistency than many of the coming-of-age stories of today. I wonder if reading the series as an omnibus – as one complete story – might actually be better than individual novels.

So did the re-read work for me? From a nostalgic viewpoint, it did, but others won’t have that same experience. If you enjoy YA books, and can struggle through the first book, you will be rewarded with a series that gets a little better in each book. If you can’t get into YA, coming-of-age stories, or a slow plot that exists only to explore the lands and cultures of the author’s imagined world, you’ll want to avoid this. For me, it is a revisiting of my youth, a nostalgic reminder that once upon a time, I was not so critical a reader…

Book Review: The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

Format:  Trade Paperback, affinity bridgeFirst Edition, 2009

Pages: 334

Reading time:  about 6 hours

As a lover of all things steampunk, I should have found my way to this book sooner. However, the queue has rarely allowed such a diversion. After acquiring The Affinity Bridge from Powell’s Books recently, I managed to work it into the queue. And having now read it, my impressions are detailed below.

The main protagonist of the book is Sir Maurice Newberry, a consultant to Scotland Yard, but whose real employer is Queen Victoria. Newberry investigates matters of concern to the Crown, and these credentials lend considerable weight to his inquiries. Newberry is clearly modeled after Sherlock Holmes, right down to the addiction to Maudlin. He is thoughtful, well-spoken, and dedicated. Unlike Holmes, however, Newberry occasionally rushes into action and takes matters into his own hands, including some all-out brawls.

Newberry is assisted by newly hired Veronica Hobbes, who plays Watson to Newberry’s Holmes. Hobbes is smart, dependable, and has some grit herself, though she is equally at ease in a ballroom gown. Mann paints some sexual tension between the two into the story, but they are both far too dedicated and respectful to take their feelings out into the open. The other main supporting character is Charles Bainbridge, head of Scotland Yard and old friend of Newberry. Bainbridge appears quite frequently throughout the story and is presented with similar traits to Newberry, although Bainbridge is older and a little more rough, colored by years of police work.

Mann presents turn-of-the-century London as a city in contrast, setting scenes in museums and opulent houses, as well as slums and factories. The influence of steampunk is subtle, and rather inconsistent. Brass automata pilot dirigibles, and steam-powered taxis are abundant. There’s even a cool weapon that unfolds from an nondescript item, powered by some kind of electrical force, as well as doctors with machines that perform surgery and are filled with wonderous liquids. But that seems to be as far as the steampunk influence goes…it is more subtly applied, rather than dominating society.

The plot concerns an airship crash which may or may not have been an accident. As Newberry and Hobbes investigate, Bainbridge has also requested Newberry to help tracking down a phantom-like, glowing policeman who has been on a murder spree. Then there’s the matter of a plague sweeping London that appears to turn people into zombies. As Newberry gets further into the investigation, he meets the owner of the airship company, the inventor of the automata, examines murder victims, but gets no closer to solving the case. That’s until he is set to meet with an art gallery owner who turns up dead.

This early part of the story can be summed up in one word: boring. It’s not that Mann’s prose is bad; in fact it’s rather elegant. And it not that the story suffered from not having a plot; obviously there were several situations happening at once that required investigation. It’s not even that the characters aren’t interesting; I really liked Newberry, Hobbes, and Bainbridge. It’s just that, well, nothing happens! Newberry and Hobbes investigate the crash scene, they talk to people, they formulate hypotheses, but nothing of real significance happens. My initial interest in the story became a struggle as page after page turns with more of the same. It became a real chore to stick with it, but I manage to persevere through 200 pages of this. The pages do fly by thanks to narrow margins and large fonts.

Almost right at the 200 page mark, the story abruptly shifts and becomes a non-stop action adventure, with Newberry leaping from one conflict to another. Although the story moves furiously through these conflicts, and is a welcome change to the drudgery of the first part, it does require a suspension of disbelief. As Newberry caroms from one battle to the next, he takes wound after wound, bruise after bruise, is stitched up, and then takes more punishment. So much, in fact, that at one point I had to throw my hands up in the air and shake my head. There is Deus Ex Machina taking place here, with Newberry able to withstand wounds no mortal could survive, let alone succumb to shock or loss of consciousness. When Newberry does succumb, he has already saved the day. And he is conveniently immune to the plague sweeping London, one of the few known to have such an immunity. It really is a bit too much.

The worst part is yet to come, however. From the early pages, only a few characters are introduced as potential suspects, and this really doesn’t change through the story. This takes away much of the intrigue, because we already know who the villan is…there aren’t any other possibilities. This reduces the plot to waiting to see how Newberry and Hobbes get the bad guy. As a result, there aren’t any twists or turns I didn’t see coming…the story was very predictable, with all plot threads neatly wrapped up at the end, save one: what caused the plague, why does it turn people into living zombies, and how will it be cured?

Despite the issues I’ve described above, it isn’t a bad story. Mann has an excellent prose and descriptive imagery that captures turn-of-the-century London wonderfully. I was never left wondering what characters were thinking, what their motivations were, and the plot was easy to follow. I would give it a reluctant recommendation for those who like steampunk or Sherlock Holmes novels; there’s a lot to like here, but the flaws hold it back. From what I’ve presented above, you should have enough information to determine whether or not it’s worth giving it a go.

Classic Review – Thieves’ World edited by Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey

Classic Review is a feature where I pull a book that is over 20 years old from my collection and re-read it, then review it…


Format:  paperback, Ace Edition, 1982

Pages:  308 (including the editor’s addendum)

Reading Time:  about 6 hours

There seems to be an abundance of thieves and assassins in modern fantasy, but in the 80s there was little room for these types of characters as Epic Fantasy dominated the scene. One of the exceptions was Thieves’ World. Created by Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey, the concept was simple: create a shared world, in which authors were free to use each others’ characters in their story. The setting was Sanctuary, a city populated by crime lords, thieves, wizards, ladies of the night, squabbling priests, and brutal guards. Eight authors contributed stories for the first volume of this shared anthology, resulting in wonderfully diverse story lines, with each author centering their story around a memorable character.

The current state of affairs has Prince Kadakithis, or Prince Kittycat as the locals call him, arriving in Sanctuary to “clean up the armpit of the Empire.” The Prince is a member of the Rankan Empire nobility, which is at odds with those who favor the old kingdom (and gods) of Ilsig. The Prince is attended by his personal bodyguard called Hell Hounds. But the Prince has an agenda of his own, and to everyone’s surprise, they may be underestimating the resolve of man who they consider a fop…

At the end of the review I’ll have comments on the book as a whole, but first you’ll find a brief synopsis of each story; these tales vary in length from 23 to 53 pages. Most authors weave a fast-paced story bereft of intricate details. Such are the tales of a thief’s world…

Sentences of Death by John Brunner: here Brunner plots a story about a young woman who has been abused at a young age and is in the employment of a scribe. It is a tale of a magic scroll that weaves a spell of death, an attempt on the Prince, and revenge. However, this young woman mainly exists to introduce us to the character of Enas Yorl, a cursed, shape-changing mage. I would have preferred to read more about Yorl, who would be a much more striking character with more pages and detail devoted to him.

The Face of Chaos by Lynn Abbey: a new author at the time that this book was released, Abbey gives us a tale centering around Illyra, a fortune-teller who gets caught up in trying to avert a virgin’s sacrifice to bless a newly-constructed temple. We are introduced to the gods of the land and how they are at war with each other. This is the first story where the author uses other writers’ characters.

The Gate of Flying Knives by Poul Anderson: In this story we are introduced Cappen Vera, a minstral who has recently lost his meal ticket. Illyra features prominently here as Vera seeks to find his lost love, Danlis, with the fortune-teller’s help. We are first introduced to the Maze, a dangerous slum, and The Vulgar Unicorn, where scoundrels go to buy and sell information and make contacts. Vera’s quest to reunite with his love bring in other writers’ characters such as Jamie the Red, One Thumb, Hanse (Shadowspawn), and Enas Yorl. The minstral makes a daring raid through a portal in a temple in his rescue attempt, but the results are bittersweet. Though constantly changing tenses, Anderson embraces an adventurous spirit and even throws in a little poetry. This is probably my second favorite story in the book, and it is also the longest.

Shadowspawn by Andrew Offutt: Young Hanse, also known as Shadowspawn, is enlisted to steal the Prince’s rod of authority and discredit him. When the traitors try to double-cross Hanse, all hell breaks loose. Offutt weaves a light, deft tale of betrayal and uneasy alliances, and this story is easily my favorite of the bunch.

The Price of Doing Business by Robert Lynn Asprin: Jubal is a former gladiator-turned-crimelord who deals in the black market. In a moment of betrayal, Jubal nearly finds what the price of doing business is in Sanctuary, and discusses his choices in a philosophical battle with a Hell Hound. Asprin does a good job of explaining character motivations in this tale.

Blood Brothers by Joe Haldeman: This is a story about One Thumb, the crooked bartender at The Vulgar Unicorn. Some of his merchandise goes missing, and he attempts to retrieve it, only to fall into the middle of a sorcerous feud. I have to say the ending left me a bit puzzled and put off, and this is probably the worst story in the anthology. It’s also the shortest.

Myrtis by Christine DeWees: Myrtis is the proprietor of the Aphrodisia House, a pleasure house in the red lamp district that services the men of Sanctuary. When the Prince comes up with a plan to close the brothel houses, Myrtis is forced to hatch a plan that will counteract the Prince’s wishes. DeWees displays a deft hand and elegant prose; though having very little to do with thieves, Myrtis is by far the most well-written tale of the anthology, a great accomplishment for a novice writer.

The Secret of the Blue Star by Marion Zimmer Bradley: Lythande is a mercenary/magician who becomes embroiled in a sorecerous duel. For on Lythande’s head blazes the blue star, a symbol of Lythande’s order, and symbolizing a secret. If the secret were discovered, Lythande would lose all wizardly powers. And another magician seeks to learn this secret of Lythande’s. With a clever writing style and a flair for the dramatic, Bradley deftly weaves a tale with a reveal that will surprise some, but that other readers may correctly anticipate. A good short story, although having little to do with thieves except for a brief appearance by Cappen Vera.

Some of the stories seem a bit light on thievery and skullduggery…it is mainly the setting of Sanctuary, itself being a respute for such activities, that lends the book its name. Character voices change from story to story, which the editor explains as a difference in the perspective of the storyteller. For instance, Lythande may appear quite different in various stories, but that can be attributed to the difference in, say, a story told by the cursed sorcerer Enas Yorl, as to one told by the cynical thief Shadowspawn…characters have different perspectives, and see the world – and other characters – differently from each other. And it’s the imaginative characters that give these stories their appeal…characters in later books in the series don’t quite measure up.

In conclusion there are a few gems here, but anyone looking for the kind of thieves you’d find in a novel from Lynch or Weeks will be disappointed. These are light-hearted tales, with little emphasis on character detail and heavy doses of tongue-in-cheek humor. Looking forward to the next book in the series, Tales From the Vulgar Unicorn, things start to turn a little more serious and a little darker. If you like anthologies and don’t need to read dark, serious tales all the time, you might enjoy a few of these stories. Considering the age of the book, you should be able to acquire it cheaply at a good used book store, as I doubt many libraries would carry this. The point is, don’t spend a lot of money to acquire it, as there are several newly-released anthologies out there that are probably far superior to this.

Classic Review – Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Classic Review is a feature where I pull a book that is over 20 years old from my collection and re-read it, then review it…

DragonsofAutumnTwilight_1984originalFormat:  paperback, first printing, 1984

Pages:  441

Reading time: about 10 hours

This is a review that may cause some groans among the audience. Dragonlance has its share of proponents and detractors. I find myself somewhere in the middle, and the following review will reveal why.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight is the first book in the Dragonlance Chronicles. Based off of Dungeons and Dragons sessions the authors experienced in their self-created world of Krynn, you run into some of your standard tropes – haughty elves with pointy ears, gruff dwarves, Kender (the hobbit equivalent of Krynn), Draconians (the orc equivalent of Krynn), honorable knights, etc. A group of disparate parts is assembled to quest after the Dragonlance, a powerful magic relic. However, there are also some unique ideas, like gnomes that are inventors, gully dwarves that lack brainpower, and an addled old wizard named Fizban who manages to create as many problems as he fixes.

Sometimes the first book in a series can drag as world-building and characters are established. Dragonlance avoids this by copious amounts of action sequences, and characters and world-building are developed on the fly. This methodology works surprisingly well, as each character has his or her own voice, and establish their personas more through their actions than through info dumps and backstories. The overall effect is a light, quick-paced read that doesn’t to fail on entertainment…there’s fight scenes, magic battles, humor, inner turmoil, and love interests.

Some readers will find this potporri a turn-off, as you won’t get lengthy introspection but you will get comedy that at times strains one’s patience as it tries too hard. Others dismiss the plot and action-driven sequences as simplistic and derivative. Fans who enjoy modern, dark and gritty fantasy and don’t care for lighter fare like Terry Brooks or David Eddings probably won’t care for this, either.

The main characters are a varied bunch. Tanis the half-elf is really the lead protagonist…he’s the glue that holds the group together, but has his own problems including a love triangle and struggles with the lack of acceptance from humans and elves. Sturm Brightblade is a Knight of Solamnia, who is attempting to restore the honor of the fallen knighthood. Goldmoon is barbarian cleric, a chieftan’s daughter of pure heart who bears the Crystal Staff, which the Draconians are searching for. Riverwind is Goldmoon’s mate and protector, quick to anger and defensive of Goldmoon. Raistlin is a young mage whose health is shattered but possesses much power, though he seems to have his own interests at heart. Caramon is Raistlin’s twin brother, a hulking bruiser with a slow mind who is protective of his brother and overlooks Raistlin’s agenda. Flint Fireforge is ancient dwarf, gruff on the exterior but soft on the inside. Tasslehoff Burrfoot is a Kender that has an innocent nature, a thief who steals without really being aware of it.

The plot involves a homecoming, in which the characters return after some time of having parted ways. The happiness at returning to their home of Solace is disturbed by the arrival of Goldmoon and Riverwind with the Staff, and the goblins and Draconians that have occupied their home. When the group helps Goldmoon and Riverwind escape this threat, and offer to escort them to a city of wise men (who hopefully have answers regarding the Staff), they become marked. What follows is the group attempting to evade capture by Draconian forces as they get into one problem after another. They learn that a god known as the Dark Queen covets the Staff, and controls the Draconians. Eventually their adventure leads them into a battle with the Dark Queen’s champion, Verminaard.

The story has some problems, mainly that it seems to lack direction as it moves from conflict to conflict. Also, fight scenes, which are abundant, are not only poorly described, they feel like the reader is sitting in on a Dungeons and Dragons session – it’s almost as if you can hear the dice rolling as it determines the outcome. The humor in the story sometimes feels forced. And although the characters are likable enough and have a legion of devoted readers, you won’t find much depth to them.

There are a few nice extra features…the front sports a map, which is always welcome. Each chapter heading features pencil artwork from Den Beauvais. The end of the book has a few pages that render the poem “The Song of Huma”. And the last two pages involve the authors talking about how the characters and world of Krynn came to be.

In conclusion, this book does have some charm and is fast-paced. At times it feels a little dated, but if you like epic fantasy, with a variety of characters, lots of action, standard fantasy tropes, and easy-to-follow writing, you might like this. Dragonlance does have a legion of devoted fans, a large library of follow-up books, and has spun off numerous products such as role playing books, board games, and miniatures for a reason.

Classic Review – Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson

Classic Review is a feature where I pull a book that is over 20 years old from my collection and re-read it, then review it…

LordFoulFormat:  paperback, 11th printing, 1977

Pages:  474

Reading time:  about 13 hours

Lord Foul’s Bane is the first book in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series. The first three books in the series feature Thomas Covenant as the protagonist. Before I get to the plot, I should first opine that Covenant is the ultimate anti-hero: an average man, suffering from leprosy, with two amputated fingers, divorced from his wife (due to the leprosy), feared by his neighbors (again, the leprosy), and who is anti-social and self-loathing from – you guessed it – his leprosy. To make matters worse, early on in the story, Covenant rapes a woman. There’s no way to sugar-coat this horrible act – Donaldson smacks you right across the face with it. The fact that Covenant believes himself in a dream, or feels a sudden emotional response to being healed, are no excuse. Yet after the briefest of dismissals, he moves on. It is at this callous moment, this suddenly insignificant turn, that some readers choose to abandon the story in disgust. In truth I certainly understand why someone chooses this course of action. However, by doing so they miss out on what is a fantastic story. Be assured that this is not an insignificant event…the consequences of this single act will come back to haunt Covenant for the rest of the series.

The plot revolves around Covenant being summoned from our world to a place called The Land. Throughout the series, we are never really sure whether The Land is some real place, or just a product of Covenant’s imagination when he falls unconscious and strikes his head. Magic is real in The Land, and Covenant is summoned by an evil creature called a cave wight, who is named Drool Rockworm. This creature summons Covenant with an artifact known as the Staff of Law, seeking to claim the white gold wedding band which Covenant bears. An item made from white gold is the most powerful source of magic in the land, and Rockworm seeks to dominate with it. But before Rockworm can take control, another being intervenes. Things go from bad to worse when Covenant learns that this mysterious being is Lord Foul the Despiser, an ancient enemy of the land who has been gathering power for 1000 years and also covets the white gold’s magic. Leaving Covenant with a message to deliver to the Lords who care for the land, Foul warns of Rockworm discovering the Illearth Stone, another destructively powerful magic. However, Foul claims that eventually all creatures will bow down before The Despiser.

From here the plot follows Covenant’s journey through The Land to carry the message to the Lords, and aid them in their attempt to stop Rockworm. It seems that the amputated fingers of Covenant invoke memories of The Land’s greatest hero, Berek Halfhand. Donaldson uses this journey, and subsequent quest, to introduce the people and magic of The Land, and several fantastical elements. There are Loremasters, who can make fire from wood without burning it, or mold and work stone as if it were clay. There are the Lords, who use magic staves to channel power from the earth. Hurtloam is a mud that heals wounds, and Aliantha is a plant, of which a single berry nourishes like a full meal. The Bloodguard are a monk-like people that fight without weapons, Giants are a gentle sea-loving folk that carve stone, and the Ramen care for the Ranyhyn, the great wild horses. There is much, much more, and Donaldson reveals an incredible amount of imagination in creating this world.

Donaldson’s prose runs smoothly and effortlessly, although he will have you occasionally running for a dictionary to look up words that are obscure. Although Covenant’s self-loathing becomes a chore to read through, an aspect of Donaldson’s writing that requires much praise is his ability to make you care about what happens to The Land and it’s people. One of the glaring complaints I have with some other writers (such as Terry Brooks for instance), is that they focus on the heroes and a few supporting characters to the exclusion of all others. Such writing has me asking why I should care about whether or not all those other people are saved. I never feel that way with Donaldson’s story…from the Loremasters and Lords, to the Bloodguard, Ramen, Saltheart Foamfollower (a Giant and Covenant’s friend), and servants, all of them have a nobility and strength of spirit that makes you want Covenant to succeed and save them. These people even care about Covenant despite his negativity and self-absorption. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most readers care about what happens to The Land a lot more than they care about Covenant, and I’m sure this is Donaldson’s design. The Land is a place worth saving.

In conclusion, this is a book worth reading. The characters are well-developed, have their own voice, are easy to root for, and act consistently. Fantastic elements abound, and Donaldson describes The Land with abundant detail. There is a map of The Land in the front of the book, and a glossary in the back. The ending occurs a little abruptly, but the stage for the next story is set. It is a story that holds up to today’s environment remarkably well. If you can overlook the main character’s flaws and attitude, you are in for an excellent story. Highly recommended for readers of high fantasy who don’t mind a seriously flawed protagonist. Also, the Darrel Sweet cover art is probably some of his best work. It makes Sweet’s Wheel of Time artwork seem uninspired. There are some alternate covers available that are more mainstream but less interesting.

The “Books I’ve Read” Page

On the upper right of the screen I have added a new page titled “Books I’ve Read.” This is a summary of all the fantasy books that I have devoured, some of which I still own and others that were traded in, listed alphabetically by authors’ last names. I think there’s probably over a dozen that I’ve read but can’t recall, so those of course aren’t on the list yet. Many of these books listed will be targets for my Classic Review posts…

Book Review: Grimalkin the Witch Assassin by Joseph Delaney

grimalkinFormat:  Hard Cover, First Edition, 2012

Pages: 387

Reading Time: about 3 hours


Grimalkin the Witch Assassin is the ninth book in The Last Apprentice series. It seems my wish has been granted; I had been hoping for more of Grimalkin, who I consider the most interesting character in the series. Did this live up to my expectations? Read on to find out, with minor spoilers to follow…

This is the first book in the series where the point of view is from a character other than Tom Ward, the Spook apprentice. This is due to the fact that at the end of Rage of the Fallen, the story splits into two arcs: the Spook and Tom are trying to research how to destroy the Fiend, while Grimalkin has the Fiend’s head and tries to keep the pursuing forces away from Tom to buy him some time. The story follows the witch assassin as she tries to stay ahead of the masses of forces pursuing her – they want to reclaim the Fiend’s head, which can then be re-attached to his body, allowing his followers to re-animate him.

Grimalkin is aided by several supporting characters: Thorne, Grimalkin’s apprentice; the lamia witches that are Tom’s aunts; Alice’s aunt, Agnes; a knight in a castle; and Alice herself. The help is sorely needed, as the pursuers consist of almost 100 witches, a dark mage, and an abhuman beast called the Kretch, a giant wolf-like creature.

I was slightly disappointed at the way Grimalkin’s character was presented in the story. There is a little blurb at the beginning of each chapter that gives the reader insight into Grimalkin’s thought process and character, and during the story the reader is also presented with Grimalkin’s backstory and her thoughts on the dangers she faced. However, other than dismay at her deteriorating condition, a poignant moment of loss and a sequence of cold vengeance, I didn’t get a good feeling for what Grimalkin felt. In other words, I often knew what Grimalkin was thinking, but not what she was feeling. In my opinion, Delaney missed a prime opportunity to really develop Grimalkin into something special, instead sacrificing depth for action sequences. Now I should say that this has been normal through the series, and Delaney is being consistent; also, this is a YA novel, so we’re not going to get Wheel of Time character profiles. I just wished for a little more personality for my favorite character.

Ultimately, this is a story about mortality: Grimalkin accepts that she may not have much time left. She deals with the effects of the poison: slower reflexes, bouts of weakness, blackouts, and depletion of her strength and magic. To her, it becomes imperative that Thorne assumes her responsibilities, and Grimalkin tries to instill something in Thorne…well, we can’t call it goodness, but maybe a good word to use instead would be a conscience. Grimalkin doesn’t kill for fun; she kills for a purpose, and she feels the loss of those who make sacrifices on her behalf. Unlike most witches, she seems to have some kind of conscience, and is not totally evil. In fact, her motivation for destroying the Fiend is quite believable, because the Fiend killed her baby. Also, where tradition has had challengers fight the witch assassin and either lose and perish, or win and assume the title, Grimalkin intends to change that by stepping aside when her apprentice is ready. She doesn’t want to fight and kill Thorne, she wants her apprentice to succeed. So though her motivation is to destroy the Fiend, she has another – to see Thorne, who she cares about, step into her shoes.

One more minor complaint I have is the use of Alice as a Deus Ex Machina…suddenly Alice has become an extremely powerful witch, almost overnight and out of nowhere. We know she is the daughter of the Fiend, and as a result has some power, but suddenly she is able to do things she couldn’t do before, including a healing that her aunt, a witch who had practiced healing all her life, couldn’t do.

In conclusion, Delaney has given me what I asked for: more of Grimalkin. While I would have liked to see her fleshed out more, rather than simply moving from one battle to the next, I did find the story interesting. As an action book it succeeds, but on an emotional level it falls a bit short. Recommended for fans of the series, especially those who really like Grimalkin’s character, but not to the casual reader who hasn’t read any of the previous books.