New Books

New Books

by John O’Neill

It’s all about the books. This week we kick off Black Gate‘s regular books column with a look at the most interesting new releases for the first week of September — including a new Shannara novel from Terry Brooks and new work from Andre Norton, Gene Wolfe, L. E. Modesitt, and plenty more. Grab the mouse with both hands and hold on.

Ilse Witch

  • The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, Book 1
  • by Terry Brooks
  • Del Rey, September 5, 2000
  • 455 pg, $26.95 (hardcover)
  • ISBN: 0-345-39654-5
  • Cover Art by Steve Stone

It’s been over four years since First King of Shannara, the last Shannara novel — a long time to wait for fantasy fans. Brooks’ hasn’t exactly been idle in the interim, publishing a dark fantasy trilogy (A Knight of the Word) and a Star Wars novelization, but the announcement of a new Shannara novel has generated significant buzz. The latest installment kicks off a new series and takes place thirty years after the events of Talisman of Shannara (1993), in which Walker Boh reluctantly became a Druid. Now Walker, the only living Druid and the only survivor of the battles of a generation ago, is about to be caught up in an old and deadly mystey.

“When the mutilated body of a half-drowned elf is found floating in the seas of the Blue Divide, an old mystery resurfaces. Thirty years ago, the elven prince Kael Elessedil — brother to the current king — led an expedition in search of a legendary magic said to be more ancient, more powerful, than any in the world. Of all those who set out on that ill-fated voyage, not one has ever returned… Until now. For the rescued elf carries a map covered with mysterious symbols only one man has the skill to decipher. That man is Walker Boh, the last of the Druids. But someone else understands the map’s significance, someone dark and ruthless: the Ilse Witch, a beautiful but twisted young woman who wields a magic as potent as his own. She will stop at nothing to possess the map — and the magic it leads to. To stop her, Walker must find the magic first.

So begins the voyage of the Jerle Shannara. Aboard the sleek, swift airship are an elven prince; a Rover girl; a monstrous creature part man, part enigma; and a young man named Bek Rowe, who may unknowingly hold the key to the success of the mission — or to its cataclysmic failure. Now, as old secrets come to light, sowing seeds of mistrust and suspicion among the crew, the Jerle Shannara flies into the face of unknown terrors, while the Ilse Witch and her dark allies follow, waiting to strike…”

Scion of Cyador

  • Saga of Recluce, Book Eleven
  • by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Tor, September 22, 2000
  • 541 pg, $27.95 (hardcover)
  • ISBN:0-312-87379-4
  • Cover Art by Darrell K. Sweet

This is the second new Recluse novel this year (Magi’I of Cyador appeared in April), and the eleventh overall. I’m sure there are other modern fantasy sagas that have published eleven volumes… I just can’t think of any at the moment. What’s most amazing about Saga of Recluce is that a) it started less than a decade ago (the first volume, The Magic of Recluse, was published in 1991), and b) Modesitt has been writing at least three other popular series simultaneously, including The Spellsong Cycle (3 volumes), the Tangible Ghosts sequence (2), and the Ecolitan series (4), as well as numerous standalone SF novels such as Gravity Dreams and Adiamante. This is the kind of man collectors love and trees hate.

Scion of Cyador continues the story begun in Magi’i of Cyador. Exploring the rich depths of the history of Recluce, Magi’i introduced Lorn, a talented boy born into a family of Magi’i. A fastidious student mage who lacked blind devotion, Lorn was made into a lancer officer and shipped off to the frontier. Having survived an extended stint fighting both barbarian raiders and the giant beasts of the Accursed Forest, Lorn has proven himself to be a fine officer . . . perhaps too fine an officer. As his prowess has grown, so has his number of enemies and rivals. Too much success has made him a marked man. When he returns to his home, both he and his young family become targets while all of Cyad is in upheaval over the death of the Emperor.”

To the King a Daughter

  • Oak, Yew, Ash, and Rowan, Book One
  • by Andre Norton and Sasha Miller
  • Tor, September 13, 2000
  • 320 pg, $23.95 (hardcover)
  • ISBN:0-312-87336-0
  • Cover Art by Luis Royo

Andre Norton has been called the “Grand Dame of Science Fiction and Fantasy,” and for good reason. Her brand of accessible, exciting fiction has been entertaining genre readers for three generations, beginning in the 1950’s with novels such as Daybreak 2250 and The Beast Master. Here she teams with new comer Sasha Miller (Ladylord, Falcon Magic) to kick of a new four volume cycle.

To the King a Daughter begins the cycle of Oak, Yew, Ash, and Rowan: the four powers of the world who have been warring forcenturies. The Clan of Ash is slowly dying, their totem tree in the sacred square withering away to nothing. There is a prophecy that a daughter of Ash will rise again, but none have survived the mass killings, thereby rendering the prophecy unfillable.

But deep in the swamps, in the care of the witch-healer all need and all fear, there is a young girl-woman who can not be the witch’s daughter; a girl who, in fact, by virtue of her beauty and elegance and simmering power, can only be a Daughter of Ash, the one who will rise to fulfill the prophecy — and the destiny of her birthright.”

The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis

  • by Clemence Housman
  • Green Knight Publishing, July 30 2000
  • 320 pg, $14.95 (reprint, trade paperback)
  • Original publication: 1905
  • ISBN:1-928-99908-5
  • Cover Art by Marc Fishman

Green Knight Publishing spun out of the Chaosium, publishers of the brilliant Call of Cthulhu RPG, to escape the great tentacled shadow of that game and focus on Arthurian fiction — in particular, fiction based on or around Greg Stafford’s Pendragon role playing game. Over the last decade or so they’ve published a number of handsome volumes in trade paperback, including Edward Franklin’s Arthur, the Bear of Britain, To the Chapel Perilous by Naomi Mitchison, and many others. This time they’ve restored to print one of the great moldy classics of Arthurian literature, The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis, written by Clemence Housman (author of Were-Wolf) in 1905.

“Originally published in 1905 and long unavailable in an affordable format, The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis is a psychological reconstruction of the life of a minor character in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, showing the dark underside of the Round Table. It is a Job-like tale of the rogue knight Aglovale, son of King Pellinore, and his path toward spiritual redemption. Written in the fine slow prose of contemplation, Sir Aglovale was Clemence Housman’s third and final novel. It is also her finest achievement, a work of such impact that famed mystery novelist Ellis Peters called it “By far the finest work on an Arthurian theme since Malory.”

A Clash of Kings

  • A Song of Ice and Fire, Book Two
  • by George R. R. Martin
  • Bantam Spectra, September 12, 2000
  • 1056 pg, $6.99 (reprint, paperback)
  • Original publication: March 1999
  • ISBN: 0-553-57990-8
  • Art by Stephen Youll

Bantam Spectra has simultaneously released the paperback editon of George R.R. Martin’s best selling A Clash of Kings, second volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, and the hardcover edition of the third, A Storm of Swords. Clever marketing people. This is one of the most intelligent and popular fantasy sagas of the last few decades, and the hardcover edition of A Clash of Kings was picked as the top book of 1999 by the readers of the SF Site.

If, like many people, you’ve sworn off waiting years between installments and now make sure an entire trilogy is in print before starting the first one… well, you’ve got a long road ahead. Martin has recently announced that A Song of Ice and Fire will constitute at least six volumes. (I’d say give it up. Start now and beat the rush.)

“A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. And from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel… and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.”

Brotherhood of the Wolf

  • The Runelords, Volume Two
  • by David Farland
  • Tor, September 2000
  • 659 pg, $7.99 (reprint, paperback)
  • Original publication: May 1999
  • ISBN:0-812-57069-3
  • Cover Art by Darrell K. Sweet

What I remember chiefly about The Runelords was the inventive magic system. Lords and ladies (and villains and scoundrels) could receive “endowments” — gifts of attributes such as strength, smarts, and charm — from their subjects, who then lose those attribites themselves (often becoming “dedicates,” people who have surrendered so much they are virtully helpless). It’s a system wide open to abuse, and in the first volume Raj Ahtan, a conquoror, strides the land demanding endowments from his victims… snowballing in power and might towards his vision of becoming the immortal Sum of All Men. Farland (who also writes as Dave Wolverton) returns to the world to pick up some of the more intriguing plot threads from the first book.

“In The Runelords, Raj Ahtan, ruler of Indhopal used enough forcibles to transform himself into the ultimate warrior: The Sum of All Men. Ahtan sought to bring all of humanity under his rule — destroying anything and anyone that stood in his path, including many friends and allies of young Prince Gaborn Val Orden… including Gaborn’s father. But Gaborn fulfilled a 2000-year-old prophecy, becoming the Earth King, a mythic figure who can unleash the forces of the Earth itself.

And now the struggle continues in Brotherhood of the Wolf. Gaborn has managed to drive off Raj Ahtan, but Ahtan is far from defeated. Striking at far-flung cities and fortresses and killing dedicates, Ahtan seeks to draw out the Earth King from his seat of power, in order to crush him. But as they weaken each other’s forces in battle, the armies of an ancient and implacable enemy issue forth from the very bowels of the earth.”

On Blue’s Waters

Book of the Short Sun, Volume One
by Gene Wolfe
Tor, September 11, 2000
381 pg, $15.95 (reprint, trade paperback)
Original publication: October 1999
ISBN: 0-312-87257-7

Cover Art by Jim Burns

If you’re new to Gene Wolfe’s novels this is going to take some explaining, so hang in there.

About, oh, twenty years ago Gene Wolfe started writing a novella that eventually turned into a four-volume science fantasy series, known today as The Book of the New Sun (back when we were reading it as it came out, it was “that kick-ass new Wolfe series.”) It featured the assistant torturer Severian, banished from his guild for the crime of love, and his episodic adventures on a decadant, far-future earth. Later a fifth book, Urth of the New Sun (1988) turned the series into a quintology. New Sun was extremely well received, and became one of the most critically acclaimed genre works of the decade.

In the early 90’s Wolfe began a second series, also four volumes, set in the same baroque far-future, this time on an enormous colony ship moving out through the stars: The Book of the Long Sun. It was likewise well loved, and both of the early series are still in print from Tor, in handsome omnibus editions which collect two novels each.

I bet you can tell where this is going. Last year Wolfe released On Blue’s Waters, the first volume of the Book of the Short Sun, and followed that with In Green’s Jungles in August. On Blue’s Waters, which begins a rousing adventure tale featuring one of the characters from Long Sun, was one of the best books of last year.

In short: it’s a lot to bite off, but if you’re in the mood for a rich banquet of science fantasy, with fascinating characters and one of the most well-developed settings in the genre’s history, Gene Wolfe is your chef for the evening.

On Blue’s Waters is the start of a new major work by Gene Wolfe, the first of three volumes that comprise The Book of the Short Sun, which takes place in the years after Wolfe’s four-volume Book of the Long Sun.

Horn, who was the narrator of the earlier work, now tells his own story. Though life is hard on the newly settled planet of Blue, Horn and his family have made a decent life for themselves. But Horn is the only one who can locate the great leader Silk — the central character of The Book of the Long Sun — and convince him to return to Blue and lead them to prosperity. So Horn sets sail in a small boat, on a long and difficult quest across the planet, trying to return to the Whorl — the giant interstellar ship still inhabited by the civilization that brought the settlers to Blue — in search for the now-legendary Patera Silk.”

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