Category Archives: Books

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: 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.

And Then I Read: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF THE MAD SCIENTISTS’ CLUB by Bertrand R. Brinley

madscientist_front082Illustration by Charles Geer.

When I was about 10 I joined the Cub Scouts, and continued into the Boy Scouts for a few years. With that, or perhaps through the Scouts but paid separately, I got a subscription to BOY’S LIFE magazine, the official Scout publication. In addition to all kinds of information, comics and factual articles, there was at least one short fiction story in each issue. A few were series, and one of my favorites of those was Brinley’s stories about the Mad Scientists’ Club of Mammoth Falls. Lead by tinkerer and scientific genius Henry Mulligan, it was a group of boys who worked together on scientific projects, plotted mischievous pranks on their home town, helped police with investigations, and tangled with a rival gang of boys who were always trying to ruin their plans. Long ago I found the first collection of Mad Scientists’ Club stories reprinted in book form. Recently I found this second collection at a book sale, and enjoyed reading the five adventures within, none of which I remembered.

The era of the stories is very 1950s, with small-town America brought to life, and the boys seem to have an endless supply of equipment, hang-outs and energy, not to mention permission to range far and wide in their territory at all hours with little or no parental supervision. The town’s police force sees more of them than their parents, seems like. The adventures are funny and fun, not to mention full of clever ideas. In one, they cash in on the then-current flying saucer reports flooding the news by creating a very believable one to panic the town, and amazingly do not get into serious trouble even when the police and the army are called in to investigate. In another, they buy a war trophy miniature German submarine and rebuild it to working condition, only to have the sub caught in their cavern hideout by a rock fall.

The hardcover edition of the book I have was reprinted by Purple House Press of Texas in 2002, and looking online, I see they’re still in business and have reprinted a number of books for children I like. It’s the second time recently I’ve found a small press doing this, and I think it’s a terrific trend. They also printed two further books about the Mad Scientists, novels rather than short stories, and also books I haven’t read or even known about. I’ve bought Kindle editions and will read them soon. Though a bit dated, I think these stories will still appeal to kids of today, but probably boys more than girls, as there’s hardly a girl in sight in them.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE EYE OF THE HERON by Ursula K. Le Guin

EyeHeron

Cover art by Mary GrandPre

The beginning and end of this short novel involve a group of humans, who have settled on the distant Earth-like world of Victoria, exploring new territory in search of a place to begin a new settlement. The rest of the book is quite different, and is a study of two human towns and societies in conflict.

In Victoria there are only two places where humans live: the City, which was founded by former Earth criminals many decades ago, and Shantih, a loose community of farmers, founded by another group from Earth that were exiled for political reasons. In brief, they were peace marchers on a grand scale, and the leaders of a movement that swept Earth for a time, but did not overcome Earth’s warlike behavior. Luz is a young woman of the City. Her father is a wealthy and important man there, one of the City Bosses. Luz feels trapped and confined in her home, where her father wants her to marry one of his political allies. She longs for the freedom of Shantih. Lev is a young man in Shantih who many look to for leadership. He is idealistic and charismatic. He holds to the ideals of the peace marchers, and their spiritual leaders like Gandhi and King. The two settlements have long been in partnership, but the City Bosses believe themselves in charge of Shantih as well as their own City. When they begin enforcing that belief, they meet the calm resistance of Lev and many others. Some are taken hostage. Others are forced to labor for the Bosses, until they slip away in the night. Meanwhile, Luz escapes the City and joins her former school friend Lev in Shantih. This precipitates a crisis that will forever change both settlements, and many of the people in them.

Wonderful book, which is no surprise. Le Guin’s understanding of society and human nature is deep, and her skill as a storyteller is strong. And her creative powers are as wonderful as ever, as in the beings native to Victoria known as Wotsits, among others. Highly recommended.

And Then I Read: DOWN THE MYSTERLY RIVER by Bill Willingham

MysterlyRiverImage © Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham.

So, you’ve finished the entire run of FABLES, and wondering where to get your next fantasy fix? This book is just what you need!

MaxWolf

A boy named Max, nicknamed “The Wolf,” finds himself suddenly walking through a forest in his Boy Scout uniform with no memory of how he got there. Max prides himself in his detective skills, he’s solved many mysteries at home, but here he’s completely lost.

Banderbrock

Before long he meets a talking badger named Banderbrock, who also doesn’t know how he got here. Soon they’re joined by a battle-scarred tomcat, McTavish and a peace-loving bear, Walden. Max has never met a talking beast before, and one thing he knows is that he’s in a very different world. Before they have much time to think about this, they’re attacked by a warrior with a blue sword known as a Cutter and must flee. Soon an entire company of Cutters are on their trail. Cutters, they learn, do not want to kill them. Their plan is worse. The swords they carry can cut into a person’s memories and personality, making him into a much different person than he wants to be. Soon they are fleeing down the Mysterly River hoping to reach the sanctuary of Wizard Swift’s Castle before the Cutters can remake them into dull model citizens of this place.

Needless to say I loved the writing by Bill and the many illustrations by Mark Buckingham. This book will not only appeal to their fans, but anyone who enjoys a good fantasy adventure with lots of action, many surprising twists and fascinating characters. I don’t know if there will be sequels, but this one certainly sets them up. If so, I’ll want to read them.

Highly recommended!