Thursday, June 1, 2023

LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

"Hail royal June, sun-bright with poppies crowned" said John Cowper Powys, the English philosopher, lecturer, novelist, critic and poet. But I echo that hail today for another reason in addition to joyous Summer. It is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, and with it let me continue to offer my undying support for the LGBTQIA+ community and reiterate the role Fantasy literature plays in supporting them by, to start, inviting people to read my LGBTQIA+ in Fantasy page, and listen to what happened to me today. As I state on the just mentioned page, I personally am not LGBTQIA+. However, I have students who are and today I told them – quite truthfully, by the way – that I am writing a Fantasy book in which one of the key characters is lesbian. Their eyes lit and they were on their feet in less time than it takes to say it. But it is the moment when I told them that the character is a Queen that I shall forever remember, for the glow on their faces out-shown the lights on the ceiling by a leap and a bound. They began questioning me about the character, wanting to know her name, what she looked like, all about the land she ruled and, most importantly, when the book was coming out. To this last I gave them a disappointing answer, for an unfinished rough draft of a 500+ page book is naturally years away from publication, and they asked me how they were supposed to wait that long for a book with a gay Queen. They want to see the rough draft as it stands and one who has some artistic skill began drawing this Queen based on my description. The moral of the story? Representation matters, people. Seeing yourself in literature matters in a huge way. Indeed, when I found these students they were eagerly pursuing the school library's LGBTQIA+ Pride Month book display.

Moving on, permit me to quote in full this article from The Hill titled In an era of book bans, sci-fi and fantasy offer an LGBTQ refuge for young readers:

Science fiction and fantasy are providing an oasis for young readers craving LGBTQ characters they can relate to as activists and wary parents increasingly clamp down on material they find offensive. Books featuring LGBTQ content are disproportionately targeted for bans in U.S. schools and libraries, with the most challenged titles regularly including “Gender Queer,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” But while those memoirs and realistic coming-of-age stories take the hits, superheroes, space travel and dragons often escape mainstream notice — and the heat that comes with it. Author TJ Klune told The Hill he knows some schools have at least a few of his magical, queer-themed works, including “The House in the Cerulean Sea,” “Under the Whispering Door” and the young adult “Extraordinaries” trilogy. Klune said the “Extraordinaries” series, which centers on a gay high schooler in a world where superheroes are real, has been mentioned in book-banning conversations before, but he hasn’t seen the full onslaught faced by other writers.

“It’s strange: Those young adult books are very sex-positive, in that it has discussions on consent and boundaries and protection and best practices for younger queer people. Why those have slipped under the radar, I have no idea,” he said. “I believe, at least in part, that it has to do with privilege. I am a cis, white, queer man. Many of the book challenges are from queer/trans authors of color. If you don’t think the color of my skin is playing a role in this, you’d be mistaken.”

The American Library Association says last year saw the highest number of books banned since it started keeping track of the issue 20 years ago. There were 2,571 unique titles censored in 2022, compared to 1,858 the year before. There is no clear formula for certain books getting banned over others, but reasons behind challenges can include genre, prior media attention and even the directness of a title, said Kathy M. Newman, a professor of English literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon University who pointed to Maia Kobabe’s memoir “Gender Queer.” 

“It’s very explicitly about nonbinary identity in a way that some of these fantasy young adult novels are about a lot of different issues,” Newman said. Fantasy works can require significantly more effort to sift for LGBTQ content. “The House in the Cerulean Sea” could be about nearly anything based on its title; it just so happens to be about a found family of magical creatures with a gay romance at its center. Newman said activists go through public records and news articles to get ideas for what books they should target, regularly hitting ones they’ve seen censored elsewhere. She also pointed out that sci-fi and fantasy books for younger readers are often not “taught explicitly in the classroom.” “It might be under the radar,” she said. Lisa Jenn Bigelow, an award-winning author who writes children’s books with queer themes, hasn’t heard of her works — which include “Hazel’s Theory of Evolution” and “This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us” — specifically getting banned but said it is important to note the concept of “soft censorship” in the library world.

“That’s when gatekeepers might decline to purchase or include a book in classrooms and libraries because, sometimes, they disagree with the content themselves, but more often, even they’re worried that the content could provoke a book challenge from the community. And so rather than take that risk, they just say, ‘Well, we’re not even gonna bother. We’re not gonna go there,’” said Bigelow, who also works as a librarian. David Geiger, a gay middle school English teacher in Virginia, said too many people treat anything queer-themed as inherently sexual in nature.

“Some parents think that because a book has LGBTQ characters or is by an LGBTQ author, they’re automatically inappropriate. I disagree with that,” he said. Geiger said his school has LGBTQ offerings in its book club, and he offers some in his classroom reading, specifically praising, among others, Bigelow’s “Drum Roll, Please.” He said he gives parents a list of books students are allowed to read in his class, and if they object to any, he gives the student an alternate reading assignment.

“I know not to pick books that get into sexually explicit content,” he said. Geiger said he hasn’t had any problems with angry parents, emphasizing that LGBTQ representation is particularly important for young readers. “I try and make sure that as many students can see themselves in the literature as possible,” he said.

While authors and schools have been forced to the frontlines of the book ban issue, some are not concerned about the pushback they could receive. Bigelow said she expects her titles will come under the microscope sooner or later, “especially since the book-banning movement is getting more aggressive and is targeting more and more books.”

On that note, let me also reiterate that I utterly condemn such book banners, and they feel the full force of my contempt so hard it ought to frost their windows. So if you are anti-LGBTQIA+ and are reading this, do not even THINK of commenting on this or any other Stars Uncounted page or post spouting your intolerant drivel, because I will take one look and delete it. It will never appear, and I will lose no sleep over it. Rather, I will be laughing at how you are so insecure that you feel the need to rant on a Fantasy blog while reflecting on the truth of another Mercedes Lackey quote: "Make someone a devout, fanatical anything, and his brain turns to mulch." Then I will stop laughing and forget all about you, because I categorically deem anti-LGBTQIA+ people as a class of idiot so utterly unworthy of respect that I will not waste any more minutes thinking about you. You are a mosquito whose comment was a bite on this blog, and I will flick your comment away with as little thought or care as I would an actual mosquito misguided enough to try to get at my blood. Less care, actually, since, unlike true mosquito bites, deleted comments do not itch after the fact.

"The young must grow old,
Whilst old ones grow older,
And cowards will shrink,
As the bold grow bolder.
Courage may blossom in quiet hearts,
For who can tell where bravery starts?
Truth is a song, oft lying unsung,
Some mother bird, protecting her young,
Those who lay down their lives for friends,
The echo rolls onward, it seldom ends.
Who never turned and ran, but stayed?
This is a warrior born, not made!
Living in peace, aye many a season,
Calm in life and sound in reason,
'Til evil arrives, a wicked horde,
Driving a warrior to pick up his sword,
The challenger rings then, straight and fair,
Justice is with us, beware. Beware!"

Friday, May 26, 2023

My father and I just finished The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, the second book of the Winterhouse trilogy

My father and I just finished The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, the second book of the Winterhouse trilogy.

Again Elizabeth comes for the New Year, but also again something is queer. A seal on the floor and rumors of doors, strange guests not come for a rest along with new rules as she and Freddy search for clues. For Granger's game is not done, more secrets await, a map a words to a choice either to love or hate. For what is not dead may in eternal lie, and even seeing the body Winters did not die. So the hunt went on, Elizabeth is brave, and once more Winterhouse did she save. But a rumble below, a barely felt echo, tells that the tale did not end under rock, ice, and snow.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

I have started The Shadow Roads, Book Three of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell

I have started The Shadow Roads, Book Three of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell.

What are the wars between the Renné or Wills over a crown or the deathless enmity of the children of Wyrr when Death himself now threatens the land between the mountains? For dark bargains have been made as two wars, the open and ancient, now overlap with a third that is older still and far more than thrice as dangerous. Now fell roads must be taken through lands hidden and mapped to find the sleeping sons of the swan, for only they can hold the line between life and Death. What hope is there of victory? All sides bear the swan banner, and only together, I think, can Death be stopped and peace restored to the One Kingdom of Ayr.

Friday, May 19, 2023

I have just finished The Isle of Battle, Book Two of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell

I have just finished The Isle of Battle, Book Two of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell.

Thus do the children of Wyrr and the Knights of the Vow walk the earth once more, and the land between the mountains trembles with the force of battles fought and yet to come. For though the Isle of Battle stands, treachery lurks like a snake; and while both friends and foes have escaped the Stillwater, the key is missing. Yet beneath it all the true sons of the swan stir from ancient slumber, their movements rousing even Death to action.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

A song of and for Fantasy

Here is a song that I feel is a lovely tribute to the spirit of adventure that is the beating heart of the Fantastic; a sentiment most of the Youtube commenters firmly agree with.



Monday, May 8, 2023

My father and I just finished Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, the first of the Winterhouse trilogy

My father and I just finished Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, the first of the Winterhouse trilogy.

Riddles and puzzles, magic and lore, together make a book that is never a bore; and for Elizabeth and Freddy words are the key to unraveling a generational mystery. But enemies abound, and a hatred that is a curse, which along with a blessing is wrapped in cipher and verse. So they searched for clues and made a few mistakes, plus a feeling that causes objects to shake. But the Falls family did not fall but has stood, for in the end Elizabeth did choose the good. Yet though she did in this adventure prevail, we are far from done with the Winterhouse tale.

Monday, May 1, 2023

The Principles of Riddle Mastery

Having taught 3rd-6th graders riddles for years to long past the point of having developed a whole system of Riddle Mastery, here are the collected Principles of Riddle Mastery which, as the name implies, describe the semi-culture – for lack of a better phrase – and knowledge the activity imparts on those of my students who throw themselves into riddles.

  1. Knowing the four basic types of riddles: Logic, Wordplay, Scenario, and Combination. (Plus the semi-fifth Knowledge-type)
  2. Knowing the ranks of difficulty: Easy, Lower through Upper Middle-ranking, Hard, Master, and Sovereign-class.
  3. Knowing that simply knowing the answer to a riddle means nothing. It is solving them that make the Riddle Master.
  4. If you solve a riddle, give no hints and tell no one the answer so others get a long chance to solve it.
  5. Knowing that everyone's minds works differently, some riddles are easy to some but not for others; that even Master Solvers struggle on some Easy-ranked ones.
  6. Knowing that no one solves every riddle.
  7. Knowing that Mastery in Solving and Making takes a lot of practice and that very few are naturally gifted.
  8. Knowing that there are two kinds of Riddle Masters: the Riddle Solver and the Riddle Maker, the latter of whom creates riddles. It is the Makers' task to train the Solvers' in answering, and the Solvers' task to challenge the Makers' in creating as well as test new riddles. Neither can truly flourish without the other.
  9. Knowing that how fast one solves a riddles means little. It is the solving that matters, not the speed.
  10. Knowing that riddles are supposed to be fun, the overall purpose being to stretch minds.
  11. Knowing that riddles are not a competition and that who solves the most riddles is not the point.
  12. Knowing that poor Solvers can make great Makers and great Solvers poor Makers, that some are naturally better at Solving or Making Wordplay over Logic and vice versa.
  13. Knowing that 95% of all riddles are Middle-ranking and that one must test a riddle on many people to determine its rank.
  14. Knowing that a good riddle has only one perfect answer and that a Maker who finds a flaw in a riddle must fix it, because Solvers will point out the flaw by coming up with the other possible answers and then explain why their other answer works when you say it is not correct. Even deeply experienced Riddle Masters Makers do not think of everything and can make mistakes.
  15. Knowing that the riddle reflects the Maker's mind.
  16. Knowing that the riddles with the most obvious answers are often the hardest to solve.
  17. Knowing that the overall point of riddles is for people to solve them. If you create mostly/only Hard through Master and above riddles, how many do you think will solve them? The answer: very few. What happens when very few people solve your riddles? The answer: very few will want to hear them.
  18. Knowing that everyone is better at riddles than they think they are at first.
  19. Knowing that one must never lie about whether or not one has solved a riddle.
  20. Knowing that Riddle Mastery is voluntary, and that there is no shame in one or others losing interest or taking a break.
  21. Knowing that there is always more to learn. That, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "all is a riddle, and the key to a riddle...is another riddle."
  22. Above all, knowing that Riddle Mastery is about respecting the riddle, the answer, and the effort, dedication, and skill it takes to make, solve, and achieve Mastery. This is why Riddle Masters respect each other, for they all abide by the Principles of Riddle Mastery (and get angry at those who break them).

Sunday, April 23, 2023

I have started The Isle of Battle, Book Two of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell

I have started The Isle of Battle, Book Two of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell.

The strange River Wynnd, a haunted river of many branches and secrets that may take travelers to lands on no maps; a river once called the Wyrr, for the mighty enchanter said to sleep within. Yet his children sleep not and war rises as ghosts from a forgotten past with them, for the Westbrook Fair has ended in tragedy, plots revealed and plans gone awry. Now all who would seek and avoid war, be they Renné or Wills or otherwise, must chart a course through those hidden lands, for Alaan alone holds the key.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

My father and I just finished reading The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel: The Lost Stories Collection by Michael Scott.

My father and I just finished reading The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel: The Lost Stories Collection by Michael Scott.

Back in 2012 we finished The Enchantress, the final volume in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series. A series that was five years of our lives, five years reading a Legend, for across all our vast Fantasy experience Michael Scott is the best myth-maker there is, welding real-world mytho-history into an epic mythos of a fast-paced, heart-stopping and utterly amazing masterwork. Hence returning to the world of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel in The Lost Stories Collection was the joy of seeing old and dear friends again. Friends like the Alchemyst & Sorceress Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel, Marethyu, the Shadow Twins Scatty and Aoife, along with others such as Niccolò Machiavelli, Billy the Kid, and Virginia Dare. Plus a few new faces and tales of first meetings, such as Nicholas and Perenelle getting the Codex and of course nearly getting killed for it.

All told, and as expected, we had a delightful time of it.

I have finished The One Kingdom, Book One of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell

I have finished The One Kingdom, Book One of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell.

Two Houses, the ancient Renné and Wills, would drown the divided One Kingdom of Ayr in blood to claim a throne long gone. Yet their war, their hatreds, is but a shadow of the war and hate that rises as shades from the strange River Wynnd. For even as two living Heirs long for peace do secrets and sorcery long dead return. Treachery has blossomed and war has come. Yet I strongly suspect that the road to peace runs through lands that appear on no maps of the land between the mountains. A journey that had just begun. Luck to ye Toren, Elise, Michael, and the Fael and Valemen, and pray that the whist and the children of Wyrr do not call your names.



Sunday, April 16, 2023

Middle-earth and Hogwarts return to the big screen.

As I noted in my The History (& Golden Age) of Fantasy page, and as all basically already know, J.R.R. Tolkien is the Father of Modern Fantasy per his The Lord of the Rings while J.K. Rowling began the current Golden Age of Fantasy by producing Harry Potter, a classic that also transcended the term and became a cultural phenomenon so as to inspire another whole generation of readers. Alongside a generation of film-makers, for twenty years ago the iconic The Lord of the Rings movies were released and soon nominated for a total of 30 Academy Awards, of which they won 17, both records for any movie trilogy. Then, over the course of a generation, the much beloved Harry Potter movies came out, described as one of the major Hollywood "tent-poles" akin to James Bond, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Then came the success of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire which broke into the world of TV series in the form of HBO's phenomenally successful The Game of Thrones, followed by the The Shannara Chronicles as an adaptation of Terry Brooks' Original Shannara Trilogy, tailed by BBC's TV adaption of Sir Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, then by Amazon's The Rings of Power and adaption of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. Oh yes, and apparently Radar Pictures is bringing Mercedes Lackey's The Last Herald-Mage trilogy to the TV screen. To say nothing of that an Eragon live-action TV series is in early development at Disney+, something I have high hopes for seeing as Christopher Paolini will serve as co-writer and executive producer; to say nothing of the fact that 2006 Eragon film is justly condemned as a cinematic mockery due to the makers utter unfaithfulness to the source material, hence hopefully the new TV series will learn from that.

Anyway, given all this, and that thus far no show has managed to match the success of The Game of Thrones, it should perhaps not come as too great shock that Warner Brothers has ordered a Harry Potter TV series. I will skip the dramatics and lay the facts as I obtained them from The New York Times:

“We are delighted to give audiences the opportunity to discover Hogwarts in a whole new way,” Casey Bloys, the chairman and chief executive of HBO and Max content, said in a statement. “Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon, and it is clear there is such an enduring love and thirst for the Wizarding World,” he said. A news release announcing the series said it would be a “faithful adaptation” of the best-selling book series, which spans seven books published between 1997 and 2007. Eight hit films based on the books were released between 2001 and 2011. The upcoming show, which is described as a decade-long series, “will feature a new cast to lead a new generation of fandom, full of the fantastic detail, much-loved characters and dramatic locations that Harry Potter fans have loved for over 25 years,” according to the release. It will be available on Max in the United States and around the world. No time frame for the show’s release was given. Ms. Rowling, who has drawn waves of criticism in recent years over her remarks on gender identity issues, will be an executive producer for the series.

That's all she wrote, as is said, but apparently not all she filmed. However, seeing as I never watched the Harry Potter movies, this news carries little emotion resonance with me.

What does carry resonance with me is that Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema have declared that multiple new Lord of the Rings movies are in the works. However, unlike with the new Harry Potter show, we are uncertain what these new movies will entail exactly. Will they be another retelling of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or like Amazon's The Ring of Power, an exploration into the history of Arda? Or both? Recent tidings seem to suggest the latter:

“The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim,” an anime film, is due in theaters April 12, 2024. It is set 183 years before the events in Tolkien's “The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and tells the story of the Helm Hammerhand, the king of Rohan. Beyond that, there are no more films or dates announced. But the multi-year agreement involves films based on "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," De Luca and Abdy said in a statement. "But for all the scope and detail lovingly packed into the two trilogies, the vast, complex and dazzling universe dreamed up by J.R.R. Tolkien remains largely unexplored on film," they said. Warner Bros. and Freemode will produce the movies with New Line Cinema, the Warner Bros.-owned production company behind the original "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Elijah Wood, the actor of Frodo, has voiced cautious optimism regarding these new adaptions, saying:

"Obviously, at the core of that, is a desire to make a lot of money. It's not that a bunch of executives are like, 'Let's make really awesome art,'" he continued. "And, again, not begrudging anybody because, of course, it is commerce. But great art can come from commerce. So those two things are not mutually exclusive. But Lord of the Rings didn't come out of that place," Wood noted. "It came out of a passion for these books and wanting to see them realized. And I hope that that is ultimately what will drive everything forward with whatever these subsequent movies are."

A hope I share with him. Frankly, I do not see how we can lose this one. If they flop then we still have the original classics, but if successful...

Saturday, April 8, 2023

The Winds of Winter on Goodreads

Here is a conundrum for you: The Winds of Winter, book 6 of George R.R. Martin's bloody A Song of Ice and Fire, is not out yet; yet on Goodreads has a 4.4 Star ranking complete with over 10,000 ratings and 500+ reviews. How exactly? Well, the earliest reviews (written around 2015) are just what one would expect, devoted fans talking about how much they loved A Dance with Dragons and absolutely NEED Book Six, or telling people to bug off bothering GRRM and just let him write because surely The Winds of Winter will be out in a couple years.

Fast forward to 2022 and 2023:

"Someone please read this to my headstone, as I fear I will be dead many a year from old age before whoever finishes this book, is finally done. Whether it be Martin, or whoever the state has finish and rake in the cash for it, I would have it read to my corpse."

"I've been waiting for this book for so long the whole experience feels like an elaborate joke."

"Oh, my sweet summer child. Do you remember what it was like to have such hope? Such confidence? 2015. It was going to be your year. But as summer of 2022 fades and the leaves begin to fall, it is clear that no one will be reading this book even now, some 7 years later, in 2022. What could have been?"

"It took a nearly fatal run-in with a van for Stephen King to finally guide "The Dark Tower" series to its decades-awaited conclusion. What kind of violent sign from the universe will it take to nudge George R. R. Martin toward the "Song of Ice and Fire" finish line?"

"Five Stars for when Brandon Sanderson finishes it."

"The year is 2199, George R.R Martin has preserved his brain in a freezer and uploaded his consciousness in order to avoid death and continue procrastinating writing this book. My great great grandchild raises me from the grave so I can read this book, and my ghost thoroughly enjoys it."

And then there are the meme ones:


My reaction is epitomized in this review:

"HAHAHHA When I saw that this book not only had ratings but also had tons of reviews I honestly thought "Did I somehow miss an announcement that this book had been published?" Fast forward up until about 5 minutes ago and words can not do justice for just how hilarious and amazing the Lions Share of these reviews are. LOL Some are so impressive and entertaining that I actually created an account for the sole purpose of leaving this "Review/Response". Kudos to all of you who have left some of the most amazing snarky one liners and outlandish scenarios I have ever read online in a review. Thanks for the laughs for sure."
Point of order, I only posted the funny ones here. Others of a similar vein just say point blank that they have lost faith in GRRM – which is fine with me but, again, not funny, a point I emphasize because Dad and I were literally howling with laughter looking at these.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Quote of the month - The Song of Amergin

"I am the wind on the sea;
I am the wave of the sea;
I am the bull of seven battles;
I am the eagle on the rock
I am a flash from the sun;
I am the most beautiful of plants;
I am a strong wild boar;
I am a salmon in the water;
I am a lake in the plain;
I am the word of knowledge;
I am the head of the spear in battle;
I am the god that puts fire in the head;
Who spreads light in the gathering on the hills?
Who can tell the ages of the moon?
Who can tell the place where the sun rests?"

Amergin Glúingel

Saturday, March 25, 2023

I just started The One Kingdom, Book One of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell

I just started The One Kingdom, Book One of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell.

Sometimes one needs return to the classic tradition of Epic Fantasy and all that genre implies: sweeping, dramatic vistas dripping with equally ballad-worthy history as a backdrop to a main story flush with intrigue rooted in sorcery and war both ancient and new, plain and unseen. Such is the world I have leapt into, the One Kingdom of Ayr that is currently neither one nor a kingdom as two rival Houses battle not only for a long empty throne, but also those among them who dream of peace. A war rooted in ancient, fell enchantments as much as political ambition.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

I am stopping the grimdark Terra Incognita by Kevin J. Anderson

This is one voyage I can do without, for the destination is not as advertised, so I am taking the ship's lifeboat and going ashore. Yes, against all expectations, namely my own, I am doing what I have only done thrice before: quit a Fantasy series. Quite Terra Incognita by Kevin J. Anderson. Unlike Paul Kearney's Monarchies of God, I did not smell the grimdark on this one, for the coating is light, like a thin veneer of oil over pure water, but like Monarchies of God, Terra Incognita begins with the destruction of the Holy City and devolves into a full-blown war full of atrocities and counter-atrocities between rival Faiths until hatred is the only true religion there is.

At first, before this became bloodily apparent, I was willing to brush it off, figuring that half the tale would be on land and the other the epic adventure on the high seas I was hoping for and led to expect by the back (& front) cover(s). An expectation not born out halfway through so, per my standard protocol when thinking about quitting a book, I delved into the reviews and found, in addition to comparisons to GRRM, that this bloody trend continues; complete with the classic grimdark trait of many characters dying. But is the series truly grimdark, given that is not generally classified as such? Maybe, maybe not. But there is enough of grimdark's poison present to repel me, and if I need lessons on the folly of religious fanaticism/intolerance and the hatred-born wars they breed then I can read from my history bookshelf. Hence my decision and I am seriously disappointed about this since I had been looking forward to Terra Incognita for years, but it is time to cut my losses and abandon ship.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

My father and I have finished Greenglass House by Kate Milford

My father and I have finished Greenglass House by Kate Milford.

Greenglass House, a creaky old inn for smugglers perched atop an icy tor. But this Christmas Vacation Milo Pine will get little rest but lots of fun as a cast of strange characters arrive out of the cold, none being the regular smugglers but all of whom have unstated goals and interests in the inn. Thus Milo and his new friend Meddy must unravel clues, thefts, and tangled histories woven into the aging, rickety wood and green stain-glass filtered light in a delightful, and delightfully smart, mystery filled with unique in-and-outs, layers and twists in the equally distinctive halls and rooms of Greenglass House. So distinctive that though this book is classified as a Mystery, it felt like a Fantasy. Call it a Mystery quasi-fantasy.

Until next time, my friends.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

MURTAGH!

HUZZAH!! Since before and especially after The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm we knew that Christopher Paolini was not done with his wondrous world of Alagaësia, the book giving us tantalizing hints of what was to come. And what has come is the unutterably splendid news of Murtagh, the next and first true full book sequel to The Inheritance Cycle! Truly I cannot adequately express my excitement as my love for this series is second to none save The Lord of the Rings itself, for Eragon was the first great Fantasy book I read on my own in the 6th grade (my father having read LOTR to me the year before)!

Ah, Alagaësia... land of the Dragon Riders and the Ancient Language. Both of which may be under very real threat. So, while Eragon manages rebuilding the Riders, tis up to an old friend, to Murtagh (and Thorn), to seek out this new enigmatic evil on roads both new and familiar; and maybe, hopefully, decide to rejoin friends who miss him. Kvetha Fricai, sé onr sverdar sitja hvass! I cannot wait for November!

Sunday, March 5, 2023

I have started The Edge of the World, book one of Terra Incognita by Kevin J. Anderson

I have started The Edge of the World, book one of Terra Incognita by Kevin J. Anderson.

This series has been sitting on my shelf for years, so it is with enormous excitement that I at last set sail to explore these uncharted waters for, ever since I first read Le Guin' Earthsea, I have been fascinated with heavily seafaring Fantasies – rare as saltwater pearls. The question is, which waters are more dangerous? The Ocean, Middle, and unexplored seas rife with sea serpents, storms, and worse, or the political one between Tierra and Uraba? Truly this is terra incognita, and hope lies on the blank spaces on the map marked only by the words "here be monsters."

"When you reach the edge of the world, you can fly." – The Book of Aiden

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Just finished Sword-Bearer, volume eight of the Novels of Tiger and Del by Jennifer Roberson

He was Tiger, born of the desert winds. She was Del, born of ice and storm.

Just finished Sword-Bearer, volume eight of the Novels of Tiger and Del by Jennifer Roberson.
Well, that just just tears it. If it is not tamed wild weather magic that uses dust-storms for sheepdogs, it is another Northern bandit; to say nothing of honor codes so inflexible and sword-dance specific they have little honor left. Still, that least that ioSkandic magic finally earned its keep and one enemy is very dead. But only one, and despite this being the last book out I am dead certain there will be another. An-elisua or no, codes or not, some songs need to be cut off - with steel. Regardless, it has been lovely riding with the Sandtiger's woman and Delilah's man, not to mention Neesha, Alric, Lena, and little Sula. Until next time, and the next circle, my friends.

Sulhaya.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Epic Fantasy Music - Coronation

This is my first try at making Epic Fantasy Music using Magix Music Maker. I owe my inspiration to the muses Adrian von Ziegler, Peter Crowley, and BrunuhVille. The image is a pending scene from the only internet comic I read, GhostBlade, which matches the theme (and shares a title with) the song. The girl is Princess Aeolian of the Northern Desert, daughter of the Peaceful Titan and a master warrior in her own right. (Initially I was going to use a completely different AI-generated image of my own design, but then decided to support this master artist and storyteller.)

Monday, February 27, 2023

Hyloscirtus tolkieni

Hyloscirtus tolkieni

A newfound species of stream fog has been discovered on the slopes of the Andes mountains in Ecuador by researchers Juan C. Sánchez-Nivicela, José M. Falcón-Reibán, and Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia. Interesting news certainly, but why is this on a Fantasy blog. Because the trio of scientists are also devout fans of a certain trilogy entitled The Lord of the Rings, and have named the critter Hyloscirtus tolkieni.

"'It would seem that it lives in a universe of fantasies, like those created by Tolkien,' the researchers wrote in a news release. 'The truth is that the tropical Andes are magical ecosystems where some of the most wonderful species of flora, funga, and fauna in the world are present.'...After immersing himself in the works of Tolkien, particularly The Lord of the Rings, Sánchez-Nivicela now sees parallels between the author’s fantastical creations and the mystical jungle world he traverses while on field expeditions." 

This parallelism is owed to the fact that protecting, maintaining, the world's natural beauty is a key theme in The Lord of the Rings, as evidenced in places such as The Shire, Rivendell, Fangorn Forest, Lothlórien, and Ithilien. Treebeard and the other Ents are called Shepherds of the Trees, guarding the Fangorn. Faramir and his  Rangers of Ithilien protect, naturally, Ithilien. While Elrond and Galadriel used their Rings to "ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world" in Rivendell and Lothlórien. As to The Shire, well, the Hobbits protect and maintain their own. Another parallel which factored Sánchez-Nivicela’s decision to name the new frog after Tolkien lies in the fact that, much as the natural beauty of Middle-earth was threatened by the greed and industrialization of Sauron and Saruman, so is our world's threatened by similar is less supernatural forces. On that note, I shall let the good researchers have the last word.

“In a stream in the forest there lived a Hyloscirtus. Not a nasty, dirty stream, with spoor of contamination and a muddy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy stream with nothing in it to perch on or to eat: it was a Hyloscirtus-stream, and that means environmental quality.”

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Completed The DioField Chronicle

I just finished playing The DioField Chronicle, a game of stellar political complexity with a combat system wedding the best elements of Fire Emblem and Age of Empires, all augmented by incredible graphics and being fully voice-acted. All of which makes the game quite engrossing and unique, though it was quite a bit on the short side for my taste. As to the plotline, well, it all comes down to game's official description: "A band of elite mercenaries calling themselves Blue Fox arise amidst the flames and the chaos, their fates and valiant deeds to be sung of in ages yet to come. But when all is said and done, will the name Blue Fox come to signify hope or darkest tragedy?"

A question I now know the answer to.

Regardless, it was an honor working with you Izelair and Zoruaq Wigan, Fredret Lester, Iscarion Colchester, Lorraine Luckshaw, Rickenback "Rickles" Madea, Shivat Malzin, Estalt Yewfare, Castavere Bunnow, Umarida, Tremina Umbert, Catherine, Donovar Sullion, Hezeliah Shaytham, and Chappleman.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Just started Sword-Bearer, volume eight of the Novels of Tiger and Del by Jennifer Roberson

He was Tiger, born of the desert winds. She was Del, born of ice and storm.

Just started Sword-Bearer, volume eight of the Novels of Tiger and Del by Jennifer Roberson.
I know weather is fickle and the deadly Punja desert more so, but one basic fact everyone can take for gods' granted truth is that it does not snow in the, as Del put it, hoolies-cursed hot South. Until now. Si'anasa, weather-working, weather magic, is a play which can only mean trouble. Which means tis likely time to return North to face this North-born threat, hope Tiger can put his ioSkandic nature to controlled use, and that this time Del meeting Kalle does not end in a death-dance. Indeed, the only certainty now is that they will get captured at least once. Meaning it is time to step back into the circle.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Just finished Sword-Bound, volume seven of the Novels of Tiger and Del by Jennifer Roberson

He was Tiger, born of the desert winds. She was Del, born of ice and storm.

Just finished Sword-Bound, volume seven of the Novels of Tiger and Del by Jennifer Roberson.
Guarding caravans and fighting death-dances, rescuing others and getting rescued – because of course Tiger and Del got captured again. Adventure is nice, but domesticity is definitely better. As to Umir, well, one definition of insanity is going the same thing repeatedly yet expecting different results, and no one ever called Umir a sane man; though the price for his madness was high on all sides. Terribly high. No wonder Del wanted an ale at the end.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

My father and I just finished The Kingdoms and Empires Series by Jaclyn Moriarty

My father and I just finished The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere by Jaclyn Moriarty, the fourth and final book of her Kingdoms and Empires Series.

I cannot stand it. A double sentiment here, firstly because it is over and secondly since I said this any numbers of times as we read it. For this book is a celebration of everything that makes the Kingdoms and Empires great! Like book one it was a madcap adventure that went beyond the mere whimsicality to the point of a nearly new sub-genre of Absurdist Fantasy, but with the poignant emotional depths of book three and written in the beautiful back and forth narrative of book two. (I mean come on, whoever heard of questing to save an Elf City from their own king-choosing ritual gone wrong that even gone right risks collective mass death?) Better yet – we were JONESED! – for not only did Moriarty continue to channel the great Diana Wynne Jones, she played a trick that had us howling at the ceiling and pounding the bed in mad delight summarized by the words "I cannot stand it" and "just another day in the Kingdoms and Empires." Days we will miss, for reading this series was almost like getting Jones back. An utter, grinning ear-to-ear and groaning joy filled with all the unexpected tricks of bright magic.

We already miss you so much Bronte Mettlestone and the Mettlestone-Staranise sisters Astrid, Esther, and Imogen; Oscar from our world, Alejandro, Finlay, Honey Bee and rest of the Children of Spindrift, the various Mettlestone Aunts. The K&E Alliance is blessed to have you.

(By the way, Jaclyn Moriarty obviously had WAY TOO MUCH FUN writing this series!) 

Just started Sword-Bound, volume seven of the Novels of Tiger and Del by Jennifer Roberson

He was Tiger, born of the desert winds. She was Del, born of ice and storm.

Just started Sword-Bound, volume seven of the Novels of Tiger and Del by Jennifer Roberson.
Domesticity definitely agrees with the Sandtiger and Del, but a little adventure to sharpen skills could not hurt, could it? Oh no. Because half the sword-dancers of the South are totally not still hoolies-bent on killing them (or at least Tiger), and other half absolutely do not want to drag Tiger (and probably Del too) before Umir the Ruthless. What could possibly go wrong? Knowing these two, everything, but it is still an absolute joy to rejoin them and see how often they get captured and escape. Time to step into the circle once again.

(Yes, I know I said I would pick up Sword-Bound upon completing the Lumatere Chronicles, but I tore through it with time enough to spare to for the Nine Realms, and then I had to fulfill a very pleasant promise to J.V. Hillard by reading Vorodin's Lair. Still, tis only February. Seems I am a faster reader than I thought.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Finalist in The Feathered Quill 2023 Book Awards

Actually, I had forgotten that The Last War was even in the running for The Feathered Quill 2023 Book Awards 😅 So learning that my book was a Finalist in the Fantasy category is a pleasant surprise.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

I have finished Vorodin's Lair, Book Two of J.V. Hilliard's Warminster Series

“Crimson flags borne on horses of white, see them ride, ye children of light." – The Ballad of Eldwal

I have finished Vorodin's Lair, Book Two of J.V. Hilliard's Warminster Series.

The arrows of war are given as the realm of Warminster lurches like the Antlered Man into a conflict born of vengeance, treachery, and the blackest magic imaginable. I said in my first Official Book Review that J.V. Hilliard's mastery of Fantasy lies in taking known if rarely used elements of the genre and merging them into a by extension brilliantly unique tale. A trend that continues, this second book adding cryptids and cryptid-worshiping cults not unlike those of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, necromancy seldom seem beyond Dungeons & Dragons, and honorable, blunt, and warlike Norsemen. Thus hope remains for Warminster even as treason raises its skeletal head on all sides, for answers were found in Vorodin's Lair, Daemus Alaric succeeded in his rescue mission, and Princess Addilyn Elspeth and Sir Ritter Valkeneer ride to rally the land against the true threat, a dark alliance, from the mysterious Dragon’s Breath Mountains. May Erud's light guide them.

"The face of despair appears invincible, but in time, it always fades." – Warminster the Mage

Friday, January 20, 2023

Day of Swiftest Solving

As a school librarian, this year I have taught my students Riddle Mastery via a giant computer/TV screen positioned in the library, something I have never done before. In the past as an After-school teacher and camp counselor I always naturally had my own group/class which I directly interacted with in the manner expected of those roles, teaching riddles in that capacity. Hence, lacking a specific class as a school librarian, I had doubts regarding how effectively I could teach riddles through a computer/TV screen since the students would get the riddles and lessons by reading the screen as they passed through the library on their way to classes and whenever they came to the library.

Well... as of today those fears are officially laid to rest as in the space of twenty-four hours 9 people solved the Grandmaster, 3 the Championmaster (two of whom solved it in less than a day), and 1 made history as the first to ever solve the Adeptmaster (and in fifteen minutes no less). I have been teaching riddles for over a decade and today did not just shatter past records, it transcended them enough that I will remember this absolutely crazy day as the Day of Swiftest Solving.

Better yet, a group of students are now determined to become Master Riddle-makers. Truly an excellent day, and the best part was not the solving but the joy – the ecstatic triumph! – on the students faces when they solve these newly dubbed Sovereign-class riddles!

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Invoke the Dwarves

Dwarves. The deep mountain dwellers, bearded, gruff and undeniably proud, yet the dictionary definition of loyal and brave – willing and able to fight to the death in the protection of home, kith and kin. A people who, unlike the nature-loving Elves, pour their skill and devotion into mining and smithing, delving into the deep places of the world to wrest gems and metals free from their dark prisons in order to forge them into works of breathtaking beauty or unyielding armor. Peerless they are in the working of stone, yet share with the Elves a love of song to record the great deeds of their forebears. As in so many things Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien's effectively created Dwarves as they are thought of today, most notably in The Hobbit yet also in the wonderful character of Gimli in The Lord of the Rings. Describing the race as a whole (in The Silmarillion): "Since they were to come in the days of the power of Melkor, Aulë made the dwarves strong to endure. Therefore they are stone-hard, stubborn, fast in friendship and in enmity, and they suffer toil and hunger and hurt of body more hardily than all other speaking peoples; and they live long, far beyond the span of Men, yet not forever."

Truly a great race, often employed in classical Fantasy. However, in lyrical music few can invoke them as Tolkien did in The Misty Mountains Cold and The Song of Durin. Yet at least one musical ensemble can, that being Clamavi De Profundis. So enjoy The Song of Hammerdeep!

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Two dozen

Today my Grandmaster Riddle was solved for the 24th time, by a fellow teacher no less. (This may not sound impressive, but I have told this riddle to hundreds of people – both children and adult – for over a decade as part of my strictly informal work teaching Riddle Mastery, and this monster is almost never solved even by those who can answer Master-ranked riddles.)

Monday, January 2, 2023

My father and I just finished The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst by Jaclyn Moriarty

My father and I just finished The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst by Jaclyn Moriarty, book three of her Kingdoms and Empires Series.
 
Good grief. This book takes the phrase "expect the unexpected" to such twisted ends that only Dad's and my experience with Diana Wynne Jones – whom Moriarty continues to channel! – lets us keep our heads above water. Wreathed in whimsicality like the others, this one tackled head-on issues such as gaslighting and fear-born bigotry, with an antagonist who provokes nothing less than sheer, unadulterated rage from the reader in a manner similar to one ex-Professor Dolores Umbridge. All of which made the climax one of the most cathartic we have ever read. One might call it Spellbinding but, since that insider joke is wearing thin, I will sum up by saying that Esther's 6th grade term at the Katherine Valley Boarding School is flooded with emotion and safest bet is to ride the tidal waves to an ending that leaves you buoyant.
 
I would say farewell to the Mettlestone-Staranise sisters Astrid, Esther, and Imogen save that I am quite certain we have not seen the last of either them or Bronte.