Category Archives: Reviews

And Then I Read: A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS by George R.R. Martin

KnightSevenKingdomsCover art by Larry Rostant.

This hardcover collects three novelettes about the hedge knight Ser Duncan taking place in the land of Westeros about 100 years before the beginning of Martin’s “Game of Thrones” saga. Dunk, as he calls himself, had been taken from the slums by an older hedge knight, Ser Arlan, as his page. Ser Arlan was well past his prime, but had plenty to teach the boy, who grew into something of a giant in his apprenticeship, nearly seven feet tall and strongly built. Size does not help one in the knightly skill of jousting, however, and when Dunk enters a tournament at Ashford Meadow, he knows he has a tough road to victory. First, he has to sell one of his two horses to get enough money to buy armor, and if he should lose, he will forfeit both armor and horse. It’s a big chance he wants to take.

Dunk is helped more than he expected by the boy Egg who attaches himself to the novice knight as his new squire. Egg is small, slim and bare-headed, but he does seem to know a great deal about knights and the landed families of Westeros. When Dunk lands in hot water at Ashford Meadows, Egg helps him find a way to escape prison and punishment through a trial by combat. And Egg turns out to be much more than the peasant boy he seems.

Two other adventures take Dunk and Egg south as hired sword to an elderly land-owner, Ser Eustace Osgrey, who is in dispute over water rights with his more powerful neighbor. Then Dunk and Egg are enticed into another tournament that is a secret gathering for a group of knights plotting against the king. All three adventures are wonderfully written. Martin seems to have absorbed medieval culture so completely he can write about it as if he lived it. More than that, Martin excels at showing what that culture could really be like when human nature found the cruel side of chivalry. This is not the uplifting tales of King Arthur I grew up on, but it’s much more real, and Dunk and Egg do find some good in the people they meet as well as bad.

GianniEndpapersI’m not too fond of the cover art seen above, but the art inside the book by my friend Gary Gianni is very much to my liking! Here’s the beautiful endpapers painting by Gary that depicts Ser Dunk’s shield much more correctly for one thing.

GianniArtThroughout the book are 160 of Gary’s wonderful line drawings that are nearly as important in bringing the story and characters to life as the writing. Gary is the perfect choice for this type of story, especially after eight years on the “Prince Valiant” newspaper strip. Kudos to Martin for bringing Gianni to the project, it makes it all the more excellent.

Highly recommended!

And Then I Read: SWAMP THING #4

Swamp-Thing-4-2016Image © DC Comics.

Alec Holland’s old friend Matthew Cable has returned with a way to let Alec regain his human form. To do it, Matthew and Alec will change places, making Matthew the new Swamp Thing. They accomplish this with the help of Zatanna, and a powerful magical object Matthew has discovered. The exchange is made, and at first Alec is delighted to be human again. Then he begins to see what Matthew has in mind for his role as Swamp Thing, and it’s far from benign.

Write Len Wein and artist Kelley Jones continue to entertain in this mini-series which kind of takes Swamp Thing back to simpler days and a small cast, but still delivers lots of interesting events and amazing art.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: SURVIVORS’ CLUB #5

SurvivorsClub5FCCover illustration by Bill Sienkiewicz.

This issue kicks things back to the larger story of a 1980s video game that has twisted the lives of a group of young people who played it back when, and is returning to mess with them again. Some have gone off the deep end, others are already strange enough in their own ways to apparently hold their own. The pair of sisters who are somehow more than human are creepy and fascinating as they interrogate one of the less lucky folks. Another escapes from a mental hospital to wreak havoc in a hospital. Meanwhile, two men in Portland who seem to have resurrected the hellish game are making their own plans, and somebody has a really nasty neck bite with something hidden in it. I don’t quite know what to make of this book, but it has me in its grip, even though I have no interest in video games. The characters, the writing and the art are all good reasons!

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE LAST COMPANION Chapter One

LastCompanionImage © William Neal McPheeters.

Two friends and partners have traveled from the far future to a time that’s still well in the future for us, a time of war between robots and men. They’re on a mission to retrieve an item containing important knowledge. The setting is in the canyons of the American southwest. Ted, the man in the green shirt above, and Robear, the gun-toting intelligent bear, soon find themselves involved with a group of Native Americans who are the target of both robots and other humans. A red raven leads Ted and Robear to the woman named Raven and her friends, and the pair from the future agree to help them to a safe haven. Along the way, Ted and Raven become more than friends, and all face many dangers in the perilous war-torn canyon country.

My friend Neal McPheeters gave me an advance copy of his 64-page graphic novel to read, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I think you will, too. It combines elements of science fiction, western, action/adventure and other genres, but the characters and dialogue are what make it fun to read. It’s not yet published. In fact, it’s being Kickstarted. You can get in on the adventure HERE. Neal and I have known each other and occasionally worked together since the 1980s, and his latest project is one close to his heart, and well worth your support. And, hey, there’s a smart-ass talking bear with a gun!

And Then I Read: TUNNELS by Gordon & Williams

TunnelsCover illustration © David Wyatt.

The Burrows family (get it?) has a father and son who share a similar obsession: digging holes and tunnels. Dr. Burrows is the curator of a small museum, and always looking for artifacts and lost bits of history, while his fourteen-year-old son Will simply enjoys the process of digging into the earth. Will’s mother seems to be addicted to watching television and does little else, and his sister Rebecca, the most practical member of the family, is stuck with the cooking, cleaning and scheduling, which she’s not happy about. Will and his father make a dig into some remarkable ruins, but their progress seems to be constantly thwarted by someone or some group that keeps filling up their tunnels. Meanwhile, Dr. Burrows is on the trail of mysterious characters lurking in their neighborhood who might be connected to their findings.

One morning the family awakes to find that Dr. Burrows has disappeared from his own basement study. Will and his friend Chester begin to investigate, and Will is determined to find out what happened. They discover a hidden tunnel entrance in the room, but it’s again filled in. Undaunted, Will and Chester re-dig the tunnel until it opens out into an underground world they can barely believe. That’s only the beginning of their troubles. Soon, they’re caught and imprisoned in a secret underground city that has been cut off from the surface world for many decades. Most curious of all, some of the citizens there declare that Will is their long-lost relative!

I enjoyed this book in general, but there were two areas that I had problems with. First, the scope of the underground world beneath modern London is so vast and complex it strained belief. Fortunately the characters and story line otherwise were engaging enough to overcome that for me. It’s a long thrill ride through inventive creations and underground perils of all kinds, and in that way, a good read. The other problem is there’s no satisfying resolution at the end of the 472 pages, just unresolved problems that are “to be continued” in the next book. That’s okay for a 22 page comic, but I expect more from a novel, especially one this long. Because of that, I can only mildly recommend the book, but if it sounds appealing to you, and you’re willing to sign on for the entire series, go for it.