Category Archives: Reviews

And Then I Read: ARTHUR, THE SEEING STONE by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Generally I steer away from retellings of the Arthurian legends because I so love the version by T.H. White that others pale by comparison. This book, the first of a trilogy, seemed a different enough approach to be worth a try, and I enjoyed it.

The Arthur of this story is Arthur de Caldicot, living with his family in their manor house/castle on the English side of the Welsh border in 1199. Arthur’s father is the lord of the small village and nearby territory. One of the members of his village is an old man named Merlin who is revered for his wisdom, but in many ways seems no more than an old man. Arthur’s life is troubled by the jealousy of his older brother, and the treatment of some of the lower class people in his village. He longs to become a Knight like his father, but in fact shows little aptitude for it.

All that changes when Merlin secretly gives him a shiny black stone that in time becomes a window into the past. A window into the time of another Arthur who is the one we know of in the legends. This story’s Arthur sees many parallels in that Arthur’s life to his own, and as mystery of the seeing stone reveals ever more of the past, the Arthur of 1199 finds his secret knowledge gives him insights into those around him he never had before. Soon secrets in his own life begin to unravel, opening up new possibilities for the boy, all against a well-researched backdrop of mediaeval life of the time.

Well done, I will look for the rest of the trilogy. Recommended.

And Then I Read: DOCTOR FATE #18

Image © DC Comics.

The final issue of this run of DOCTOR FATE is the second half of a two-part story that mostly stands apart from the previous issues, with psychedelic art by Brendan McCarthy and a pretty good story by Paul Levitz. This issue drops us into everything midstream with no recap or explanation. I suspect these issues were intended to be an Annual, but that’s just a guess.

The best thing in it is that Khalid finally gets to meet the god who powers his helmet and himself, Thoth. Taking a break from battling evil creatures, Thoth and Khalid have a wonderful conversation about wisdom and free will that’s worth the price of admission. The rest of the issue is fun visually but somewhat predictable. There’s not much sense of closure at the finish, another signal this was not written as a final issue, but in the DC Universe, Doctor Fate will go on to other iterations, so perhaps that’s okay. We can imagine Khalid’s future in our own ways.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: WONDER WOMAN #11

Image © DC Comics.

The first modern-day story arc by writer Greg Rucka and artist Liam Sharp concludes with an issue full of delicious, lush coloring by Laura Martin. Diana and Steve Trevor have arrived in Themyscira at last, but one that’s strangely different than either of them remember. Diana has a hard time recognizing this at first, and when she does, with Steve’s help, she is devastated. What has gone wrong? Meanwhile, Wonder Woman’s handlers and friends are facing a threat from within their own ranks that will tear that group apart. Fine writing, wonderful art, great issue.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: LOST AMONG THE STARS by Paul Di Filippo

While I grew up reading lots of science fiction and fantasy short stories in magazines and anthologies, I rarely read them now. Somehow I’m more drawn to novels, where you spend more time in one created space. This collection by my friend Paul Di Filippo was a nice change, and brought me back to the pleasures of short stories, which must work with economy to grab the reader and get him involved quickly. If anything, as Paul says, it’s harder to write short than long, and he does it well.

“City of Beauty, City of Scars” tells of a city where social status is architectural and human flaws are unforgivable. As the girl narrating rises in society and in the levels of the city, her beauty must remain perfect, leaving no room for emotion. Her ambition must leave everyone, even her family behind, and will the reward be worth the price?

“The Kings of Mount Golden” is a story of rivalry between two men, one an inventor, the other his rich patron, over the woman they both love, and then her son, Brannock, who is raised by the patron, but fascinated by his real father, the inventor. Brannock tracks down his father, only to find himself poorly used for a machine that can swap the shapes of two people, his father’s latest invention.

In “Adventures in Cognitive Homogamy,” a scientist is seduced and abducted, but finds his skills used in ways he never expected, and his outlook changing.

“Desperados of the Badlands” imagines a future where technological skins enhance the senses and abilities of those who can afford them, or have jobs that provide them, like Ruy Lambeth, sent to capture vandals in Alberta, Canada’s Dinosaur Provincial Park. These vandals have skills equal to his own, though, and a secret weapon that might bring dinosaurs to life.

Those are a few of the fine stories in this anthology, which I enjoyed a great deal, and recommend.

And Then I Read: HER MAJESTY, GRACE JONES by Jane Langton

Cover illustration by Emily Arnold McCully.

This is not about the singer, it’s a delightful novel for children written in 1961, but taking place in America in the 1930s. Grace and her family have moved from Boston to Ohio because Grace’s father was promised a factory job there, but when they arrive, that position has been put on hold. Grace, Will and their parents have a new home on a hill overlooking their new town, but almost no money. Everyone is angry with the factory owner, who keeps promising he will be in touch as soon as he can reopen that position, but meanwhile they must gradually sell off their belongings to get by.

Grace is full of imagination, and has decided that she’s secretly a child of the current King of England, and glories in her private royalty. She even writes the King a letter to see if he might help her family out in their hard times. Meanwhile, she and Will and their friends get into all kinds of trouble and adventures, always trying to think of ways to get a little extra money for the family.

When Petunia, the family car, has to be sold, Grace rebels by hiding out in the rumble seat and confronting the new owners angrily when they get the car home. This works out in the end, as the new owners are understanding, and agree to help out the family by taking them on errands in their former car. Other friends are found along the way, as everyone in the country is in much the same situation, waiting for better times to arrive. Grace haunts the mailbox waiting for the King’s reply. Will it ever come?

Recommended. (Previously titled “The Majesty of Grace.”)