Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: TIGANA by Guy Gavriel Kay

TiganaI’ve had this very long book for a very long time (not the edition shown, the first edition from 1990, couldn’t find a good image of that cover). One of those books that kept migrating to the bottom of my reading pile until I had time for it, and I finally did.

Kay creates an entire new fantasy world for this book, unconnected to his other books. It takes place in a large peninsula containing nine provinces that is reminiscent of medieval Italy. To the south over high mountains is a separate kingdom, and two others are east and west by sea, with a fourth by sea to the north. The Peninsula of the Palm, where the story takes place, is the site of a decades-long power struggle between two invading magicians, one from the eastern and one from the western kingdoms over the sea. Each of these men holds about half of the provinces with a single province still in dispute between them. The people native to this land are conquered people, but since the main wars of conquest are decades ago now, they have resumed much of the life they had before, with one exception. The province now called Lower Corte was the last to fall to the conquering King Brandin, and in the battle for it, Brandin’s son was slain. Brandin was so wounded and enraged by this that he used his troops to destroy every city in the province, and his magic to make even the original name of the province, Tigana, something that men from elsewhere cannot hear or say. The book is about some of the displaced and persecuted people of the former Tigana who have long plotted to regain their name and their freedom from both magicians. This complex plan has taken decades to bear fruit, and finally the time seems right.

Two main story lines focus on individuals caught in this mesh of intrigue and rebellion. Devin, a young singer trying to make a career with a troop of traveling players, and a new group he joins that are the leaders of the secret rebellion, and are soon traveling through the Palm gathering support while dodging enemies. Meanwhile, in the court of King Brandin, the beautiful courtesan Dianora struggles with her own divided feelings. Secretly a daughter of Tigana, she came to Brandin hoping to find a way to kill him, but instead has fallen in love with the magician king.

I enjoyed this book, though it moves slowly, at times too slowly. The first 150 pages of this 673 page novel take place in a single day, for instance. There is much to appreciate and enjoy; fine characters, an intricate plot, wise understanding of human nature, and just enough magic to make it a fantasy, but magic that always has a high cost. I do think it could have been told more succinctly. Kay’s next novel, “A Song for Arbonne” did something similar with less words and a better result. Still, this book is well worth reading.


And Then I Read: THE OUTCAST OF REDWALL by Brian Jacques

OutcastofRedwallCover art by Troy Howell.

I enjoyed the first few books of the Redwall series, though I felt they had some major flaws, at least for me, things that took me out of the story. I gave up reading them a few years ago, but there are still two on my reading pile, and I chose this one for summer beach reading. My opinion has not really changed.

The story begins with a young badger held captive and being tortured by a band of evil ferrets and such led by Swartt Sixclaw. The badger escapes with the help of a young kestrel, Skarlath, and the two become friends, fleeing the ferret band together. The badger knows nothing of his background, and does not even have a name, but he and Skarlath settle on the name Sunflash for the bright yellow stripe on his head. Soon they meet a small group of moles and hedgehogs who take them in and hide them from Sixclaw and his band of marauders. Eventually Sunflash learns of his heritage and destiny as the lord of Salamandastron, a huge mountain fortress on the coast to the south, and makes his way there, where he is welcomed and trained by the warrior hares and other animals.

Meanwhile, at Redwall Abbey we meet the current generation of gentle animals, who are endangered by the approach of the evil army of Swartt Sixclaw. Sixclaw himself has craftily taken over an even larger band of warrior creatures by killing their leader, and now has a formidable army. He also has become a father, but cares nothing for his son, who is left behind after a mighty battle, and is brought to Redwall Abbey. There he is raised with kindness and given the name Veil, but his evil heritage surfaces as he grows, and eventually he is cast out of Redwall, though his caretaker Bryony and her friend Toggert, a mouse and a mole, decide to join and follow him, even though Veil rejects their company.

The army of Swartt Sixclaw eventually reaches Salamandastron where they battle the inhabitants and lay siege to the mountain fortress, and in the last part of the book, the personal battle between Swartt and Sunflash, as well as Veil, comes to a head.

So, my issues with this series are these: The animals are essentially people in animal guise, in a long literary and fantasy tradition, but they still have enough animal characteristics to make their interactions strange. Tiny mice fight alongside huge badgers with no mention of the size difference. Rabbits and mice are often fierce warriors. Animals that are predator and prey in nature are best buddies here, and all eat mostly plants, though with some fish, who are left out of the character roster. Accents and dialect are sometimes hard to understand, particularly the moles. Everyone is obsessed with feasting and food, and descriptions of food preparation are full of nonsensical made-up ingredients and silly food names. Descriptions of feasts are long and repetitious. Plot drives the narrative in ways that don’t make sense, even regarding the world itself. In this book, a large river seems to flow uphill toward the mountains in order to make the plot work, for instance.

When the action happens, the story is more interesting to me, and the characters are often well-developed and complex, but getting past all the above makes the books hard for me to get absorbed into. I think young readers may be more able to overlook or not notice things that bother me, and for them the books may well be enjoyed and even loved. I was less critical myself then!

And Then I Read: A WIZARD ALONE by Diane Duane

awizardaloneThis is the sixth book in the Young Wizards series by Duane. I’ve enjoyed one through four but missed book five, so there were some new plot elements and characters in this one I need to catch up on, things that factored into the plot here. Most importantly, the death of Nita’s mother and Kit’s magic-empowered dog Ponch.

Kit and Nita are the young wizards, part of a universe-wide elite group that works to make good things happen and fights evil. They are assigned tasks by older wizards and try their best to carry them out, usually with difficulty. This time Kit is assigned to investigate a boy named Darryl who has been undergoing his Wizard Ordeal for months, far longer than usual, and seems to be trapped somewhere. Kit and his dog Ponch find ways into Darryl’s mental world and try to help him, but are threatened themselves by the evil they find there. Darryl is autistic, and can’t be spoken to or reasoned with in normal ways, and only in his own mental world can he be reached at all. Meanwhile, Kit’s partner Nita is still trying to recover from the death of her mother, and is not able to be of much help to Kit and Ponch…until that need for help becomes desperate.

I enjoy this series, though it is becoming increasingly inward-looking, and at times the mental gymnastics are tiring to follow. More real-world action would be better for this reader. Still, good characters and ideas.


And Then I Read: STAR RANGERS by Andre Norton

StarRangersAnother early science fiction novel by Norton that I missed all these years, first published in 1953, and loosely connected to “Star Guard,” reviewed here recently. This book takes place about 4,000 years later as the galactic empire described in the first book is falling apart. The Stellar Patrol, populated by beings from many worlds and serving as a police force, has been falling apart as well, their ships degrading and barely working. One such ship, among many, the Starfire, has been sent to the edge of the galaxy supposedly in search of lost systems and colonies, but in fact as a way to get rid of them. The ship crashes on an Earthlike world, and though the Captain is injured and unable to accept the truth, will never fly again. On board are a group of Star Rangers, the exploration team of the ship, with two human members, and the rest “bemmies,” or non-human aliens, all with powerful mental and physical skills, but treated with suspicion by the rest of the crew.

Human Ranger Sergeant Kartr is the viewpoint character of the book, from a world that has been destroyed in war, and very close to his Ranger team. Together they explore the area, finding plenty of plant and animal life to sustain the small surviving Patrol group. They also discover an ancient city that has been occupied by survivors of another crashed ship, run by a crafty politician, Joyd Cummi, who has seized control by force. Most of the Patrol wants to join this group, but the Rangers are skeptical, especially when it becomes clear their non-humans will be treated as second-class members or worse. Eventually a rebellion breaks out in the city, and Kartr and his team may be the only ones who can stop Cummi from destroying them all.

I enjoyed this. Norton is not a flashy writer, her plots and ideas are not remarkable by science fiction standards, but she tells a good story with memorable, sympathetic characters, and she makes good moral points here. Substitute Muslims or African Americans for the bemmies in the story, and it would become relevant to today. And there is a great plot point that resonates with our own history in the last third of the story that I won’t spoil for you.




Lynne is recently separated from her husband Kurt, and trying to find ways to bond with her grumpy teenage daughter Dinah. Camping seems like something worth a try, and Lynne has the chance to buy a classic old Covered Wagon camper made in the 1930s from an elderly friend. Dinah is not impressed, but gradually takes an interest in fixing up and refurbishing the trailer with her mother, and they plan a weekend trip to a nearby park with campgrounds. When they wake up there after their first night in the camper, they are stunned to discover they’ve traveled back in time to 1962. Lynne and Dinah manage to avoid making the other campers suspicious of their true home time period, though it’s not an easy thing to do, and after another night in the camper, they’re back in the present.

Further adventures are had in a second camping trip that puts them back in 1954. This time they narrowly avoid worse trouble when other campers suspect them of being Communist sympathizers, but a third trip carrying them to 1946 gets very scary for Dinah when she’s taken hostage by an escaped prisoner on work duty at the campground. Lynne and Dinah agree they should put a stop to the trips, but a family fight results in Dinah going back on her own to the 1930s. When she doesn’t return, Lynne and Kurt must work together to follow and try to find her.

This was a fun read. Nortman obviously knows a lot about camping, and a lot about family life, and has done her research to make the past episodes real and believable. My only quibble is the time-traveling aspect is never explained, but that doesn’t harm the story.