An Import of Intrigue, by Marshall Ryan Maresca

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – November 1, 2016

Summary: The neighborhood of the Little East is a collision of cultures, languages, and traditions, hidden away in the city of Maradaine. A set of streets to be avoided or ignored. When a foreign dignitary is murdered, solving the crime falls to the most unpopular inspectors in the Maradaine Constabulary: exposed fraud Satrine Rainey, and Uncircled mage Minox Welling.

With a murder scene deliberately constructed to point blame toward the rival groups resident in this exotic section of Maradaine, Rainey is forced to confront her former life, while Welling’s ignorance of his own power threatens to consume him. And the conflicts erupting in the Little East will spark a citywide war unless the Constabulary solves the case quickly.

Review: It’s multicultural mayhem in the second of Maresca’s Maradaine Constabulary novels! Inspectors Rainey and Welling are called to the scene of a murder, which is par for the course as these things go. But that murder took place in a part of the city where many foreign cultures intermingle, where they don’t always get along, and where the law tends to overlook and ignore in favour of dealing with their own people. With culture clash at the forefront, Rainey having to confront her past, and Welling’s magic getting wildly out of control, it’s a race against time to see whether the murder will be solved and the perpetrator brought to justice, or a massively dangerous situation will get too out of hand to contain.

I kind of love reading about the adventures and misadventures of Rainey and Welling. They’re such a wonderful duo, loyal to their cause and to each other as partners-in-solving-crime, but that loyalty doesn’t go so far as to blind them to each others’ faults. Nor does it spill over into romance, the way so many novels do. Satrine Rainey is married, and though that’s a more complicated situation than the previous novel revealed (and what it revealed was complicated enough), she stays loyal to him. Minox Welling doesn’t seem to have an interest in Rainey, either. They have a great friendship and work-partnership, and I think part of my appreciation for that comes from comparison, seeing how most authors would have hooked up the leading male and leading female characters because that’s just what you do. Only here it isn’t, and I love seeing that.

It was particularly interesting to see the various cultures in the Little East, each with their own ways of doing things, customs, idiosyncrasies. And more than that, they weren’t just thinly-veiled versions of cultures that exist in our world today. There were a few echoes of inspiration, or at least I thought I saw some in naming conventions and the way some words sounded, but for the most part Maresca steered clear of the stereotypes that often make their way into fantasy novels that present multiple different cultures.

Again, this is something that’s best appreciated in comparison to other novels on the market. I’ve lost count of just how many secondary worlds take place surrounding characters based on Western and European ideals, running into cultures that sound like transplanted Middle Eastern or East Asian groups. It’s almost standard fare. And it’s this comparison that makes Maresca’s novels so appealing to me. On the surface, they’re fun fantasy adventures that feel a lot like comfort fiction. But dig a bit into it and you see how Maresca works to make his novels stand apart, to do things a little bit differently even when on the whole they feel very comfortably familiar. You’ve got complex familial hierarchies and mourning rituals and legal matters and all of it requires more thought behind the scenes than tends to be on the page, and from both a reader’s and writer’s standpoint, I can appreciate the work that Maresca put into making sure that individuality was there.

But even aside from dipping below the surface and liking the novel for what it isn’t, I also like it for what it is. It’s a fun romp through a fantasy city, a murder mystery with depth, and enough intrigue (as the title suggests) to keep me turning pages to see what comes next. Is Welling’s magic going to get out of hand and hurt someone? Is he going to dip further into the madness that might let him see the connections in the case? Is Rainey going to manage to avoid an assassin from her past? Are any of the Fuergans or Imachans or Lyranans ever going to cooperate without being forced to? Who even is the murderer, let alone why did they murder? There’s a lot going on, intertwining stories, and everything coming to a head at the same moment, so there’s a load of fantastic tension and momentum to keep everything moving forward at a smooth and tantalizing pace.

Though I’m going to admit, there was plenty of uncomfortable language in An Import of Intrigue. Racist epithets being hurled around, sexism, you name it. Which isn’t surprising, given the setting, and it makes perfect sense as to why it would be there. It fits. It’s part of the story being told, the way people talk. Nor do I think that it’s a reflection of the author’s attitudes to women or… Well, I can’t say people of colour, really, because the slurs used are in reference to cultures that only exist within the Maradaine novels. Nobody in this world is grey-skinned and gets called a tyzo, for instance; that’s just something that isn’t applicable. I suppose what bothers me about it isn’t so much that it exists in books so much as it existing in books is a reflection of the worlds created, which are influenced by the world we live in. We still live in a world where sexist and racist terms get used so thoughtlessly, so casually, and my discomfort isn’t with the issue being in An Import of Intrigue or any other Maradaine novel so much as it’s with what it signifies.

That being said, the colloquialisms do add flavour, and it’s very easy to get a solid feel for what Maradaine is like by the way people speak. You feel like you’re reading about a real place, complex and ugly and full of all the sights, sounds, and smells you’d find in such a place.

I normally would say that I dislike cliffhanger endings (and I do), but somehow the ending of this book didn’t bother me in the slightest. I suppose it was less of a cliffhanger and more of a strong hint at what’s to come, peeling back the layers to show what’s been in the shadows, and what could develop in future novels. It was a well-done teaser, almost like the season finale of a show you know will continue into another season, and it left me hungry for more.

When all is said and done, I really enjoyed An Import of Intrigue, not just for the interesting presentation of other cultures and the examination of Welling’s magical troubles and Rainey’s extremely fascinating past, but for the adventure I got to go on with the characters. I closed the book wanting to immediately grab another one, only there isn’t another one yet. You know a book has really grabbed you when that’s your reaction. They’re fun novels, interesting stories, great characters, and I think any fan of fantasy adventures will enjoy reading them as much as I do.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

February Wrap-Up

For such a short month, February sure seems to have dragged on. Somehow. I blame the 2 large storms in a single week, followed by a week of mild weather that resulted in all that snow melting and leaking into my basement.

Fun times.

Plus convenient things to blame for time wonkiness.

Anyway, down to what you actually came here to see.

Other Stuff

Super Sekrit Project is a bit delayed, but I figure eh, I may as well stop making it so Super Sekrit. I’m starting up a series of video game review videos.

Yes, yes, I know that by this point, everyone and their dog has a YouTube channel talking about video games. This is hardly the most original idea I’ve ever had. I’m aware that whatever I do isn’t going to get big and be game-changing. But that’s not why I want to do it. Much like with books, I play a fair number of video games, and I have opinions about them, and I figure there’s no reason why I shouldn’t talk about those opinions.

And with video, I can show footage of the game to better illustrate points, rather than relying solely on text.

Plus sometimes I come across games that are just really bad, and there’s something fun about highlighting that every now and then.

I’m not 100% sure when it’ll go live. I’m thinking maybe the middle or March, or maybe a bit more toward the end of the month. Recording games and editing videos is surprisingly time-consuming, even while I enjoy it. So while I can’t say for certain that yes, everything will go live on a certain date, it shouldn’t be too much longer. I’ll make a post here when it does, in case anyone’s curious and fancies taking a look.

The Books

The Cloud Roads, by Martha Wells
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Summary: Moon has spent his life hiding what he is – a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself… someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community. What this stranger doesn’t tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power… that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony’s survival… and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save and himself… and his newfound kin.

Review: Reread; full review here.

The Serpent Sea, by Martha Wells
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Summary: Moon, once a solitary wanderer, has become consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court. Together, they travel with their people on a pair of flying ships in hopes of finding a new home for their colony. Moon finally feels like he’s found a tribe where he belongs. But when the travelers reach the ancestral home of Indigo Cloud, shrouded within the trunk of a mountain-sized tree, they discover a blight infecting its core. Nearby they find the remains of the invaders who may be responsible, as well as evidence of a devastating theft. This discovery sends Moon and the hunters of Indigo Cloud on a quest for the heartstone of the tree — a quest that will lead them far away, across the Serpent Sea.

Review: Reread; full review here.

The Siren Depths, by Martha Wells
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Summary: All his life, Moon roamed the Three Worlds, a solitary wanderer forced to hide his true nature — until he was reunited with his own kind, the Raksura, and found a new life as consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud court. But now a rival court has laid claim to him, and Jade may or may not be willing to fight for him. Beset by doubts, Moon must travel in the company of strangers to a distant realm where he will finally face the forgotten secrets of his past, even as an old enemy returns with a vengeance. The Fell, a vicious race of shape-shifting predators, menaces groundlings and Raksura alike. Determined to crossbreed with the Raksura for arcane purposes, they are driven by an ancient voice that cries out from . . . .The siren depths.

Review: Review forthcoming.

The Alchemy of Chaos, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
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Summary: Veranix Calbert is The Thorn—the street vigilante-turned-legend—and a danger to Willem Fenmere, the drug kingpin of Dentonhill. Veranix is determined to stop Fenmere and the effitte drug trade, especially when he discovers that Fenmere is planning on using the Red Rabbits gang in his neighborhood. But Veranix is also a magic student at the University of Maradaine, and it’s exam week. With his academic career riding on his performance, there’s no time to go after Fenmere or the Red Rabbits. But when a series of pranks on campus grow deadly, it’s clear that someone has a vendetta against the university, and Veranix may be the only one who can stop them…

Review: Having read and enjoyed the other two Maradaine novels that Maresca has written, it was no surprise to me that I similarly enjoyed this one. The story returns to Veranix, still attempting to get through his classes at the university while maintaining his secret life as a vigilante bent on bringing down a druglord. The pressure rises as attacks on the University and its residents disrupt life and make it more difficult for Veranix to sneak out and live his alternate life, and at the same time a group of assassins have been hired to take down the Thorn once and for all.

Maresca has a gift for writing action and intrigue, both of which shine in The Alchemy of Chaos. There’s a mystery afoot, and while some hints are dropped along the way, there’s also enough misdirection to keep the reader turning pages, looking for more information about who’s attacking the University and who’s prodding the Red Rabbits along. First you think you know, then you don’t. It’s a great tense mystery, and it was a lot of fun to read through. That’s really what these novels come down to, in a nutshell. They’re fun. They’re fast and witty and like any good action story, they keep you hanging on and wanting more because you don’t want the adventure to end. That’s why I enjoy this series so much. It doesn’t pretend to be deep and dark and serious and some epic world-changing piece of fantasy. It excels at being what it is, and that is pure enjoyment.

I do have a minor nitpick, and your mileage may vary on this one, but the the ending of the novel seem too… neat for my taste. Specifically, a chance accident early on in the book leads to things being set up in what is stated as literally the only way for the culprit’s plan to be foiled and everyone to be saved. I admit that in a novel that is basically about a secondary-world superhero, you have to allow for some suspension of disbelief, but this too-convenient setup stretched that to its limits. It didn’t ruin anything, but it did have me raising an eyebrow.

Still, The Alchemy of Chaos was a good trip back into a fun fantasy world, and I’m keeping my eyes open for future installments. This is the kind of series that you keep coming back to for low-commitment low-stress light reading, and I like this ideas that Maresca plays with here, from retribution to the effects of the past to just plain knowing the difference between friends and enemies. Worth taking a chance on, and if you already liked the other 2 books he wrote, then chances are you’ll like this one too.

The Paper Menagerie, and Other Stories, by Ken Liu
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Summary: With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

A must-have for every science fiction and fantasy fan, this beautiful book is an anthology to savor.

Review: Review forthcoming.

A Murder of Mages, by Marshall Ryan Maresca

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – July 7, 2015

Summary: A Murder of Mages marks the debut of Marshall Ryan Maresca’s novels of The Maradaine Constabulary, his second series set amid the bustling streets and crime-ridden districts of the exotic city called Maradaine. A Murder of Mages introduces us to this spellbinding port city as seen through the eyes of the people who strive to maintain law and order, the hardworking men and women of the Maradaine Constabulary.

Satrine Rainey—former street rat, ex-spy, mother of two, and wife to a Constabulary Inspector who lies on the edge of death, injured in the line of duty—has been forced to fake her way into the post of Constabulary Inspector to support her family.

Minox Welling is a brilliant, unorthodox Inspector and an Uncircled mage—almost a crime in itself. Nicknamed “the jinx” because of the misfortunes that seem to befall anyone around him, Minox has been partnered with Satrine because no one else will work with either of them.

Their first case together—the ritual murder of a Circled mage— sends Satrine back to the streets she grew up on and brings Minox face-to-face with mage politics he’s desperate to avoid. As the body count rises, Satrine and Minox must race to catch the killer before their own secrets are exposed and they, too, become targets.

Thoughts: While it does make reference to some events from The Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages is not exactly a sequel. More accurately, it’s a novel set in the same world, during the events of the first book, but a full standalone story that you don’t need to have read the other book to appreciate. So if you haven’t had a chance to read The Thorn of Dentonhill, not to worry. That being said, if you have read it and enjoyed it, then chances are you’ll find the same level of entertainment in A Murder of Mages.

Satrine Rainey is in a horrible position. Her husband, a Constabulary inspector, has been badly injured and is incapable now of even communicating, let alone working and earning money to support his wife and 2 daughters. Desperate, Satrine fakes qualifications to gain herself a position as an inspector. Her partner, Minox Welling, is a man with magic, Uncircled, and so despised by mages and non-mages alike. On their first day working together, they’re thrown into the middle of what becomes a serial murder case, with the killer targeting mages and killing them in a ritualistic fashion.

The gritty streets of Maradaine aren’t the most comfortable to read about at times. It’s far from a pristine rich fantasy city, with everyone going happily about their lives in comfort. Law enforcement is looked down upon, hated by many in most areas of the city, to the point where even those with no connection to a crime will act antagonistic and refuse to help. Further hampering the investigation is the general hatred of mages; most people are quick to blame mages for any small thing, and are pretty happy to see a few less around. Satrine and Minox are met with opposition on just about every front, which could make for frustrating reading, but Maresca manages to avoid that by keeping the side-stories going during the few lulls in the case. You get to see glimpses into both of their family lives, which are distinct and interesting and add to the development of not only Satrine and Minox themselves, but other characters along the way.

Twice now, Maresca has demonstrated that he’s capable of creating a not-so-generic fantasy world, using only a few elements that most people would consider fantasy tropes and using them as a frame for a larger story, rather than trying to make the story all about how unique the world is. Personally, I think it works better this way. Characters are products of their world, absolutely, but they manage to be memorable and unique by their actions, not because the world they live in is spectacularly different from every single other fantasy world you may read about. It’s a good balance of the familiar and the new, which more and more I enjoy seeing in SFF novels.

The pace of this novel is tight and fast, making it an easy story to sink into with plenty to keep readers engaged and curious. It’s not utterly relentless, but it does keep the plot moving along quickly and smoothly, and with the interchanging perspectives of Minox and Satrine, there’s plenty of interest on the pages.

Speaking of interest, it’s worth noting that there’s no romantic subplot between Satrine and Minox, which I was very happy about. Minox is single but doesn’t appear to be looking for a romantic partner. Satrine’s husband may be largely unresponsive to any stimuli, but she’s devoted to him and isn’t on the lookout for a new partner either. I have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelves for novels in which a man and a woman can work together without getting romantic or sexual, and A Murder of Mages definitely occupies a spot.

Maresca’s novels are certainly getting attention from fantasy readers, and I’d say it’s well-deserved. Quick reads, good action, and just generally very fun books to have around. I’m already a fan of both branches of Maradaine novels, and I’m looking forward to what new fun stories he’ll tell in that world in the future.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

GIVEAWAY: A Murder of Mages, by Marshall Ryan Maresca

Marshall Ryan Maresca’s The Thorn of Dentonhill was a really entertaining fantasy novel, and so it’s with great pleasure that I’m pleased to announce a giveaway for his upcoming novel, A Murder of Mages, courtesy of Daw!

A Murder of Mages marks the debut of Marshall Ryan Maresca’s novels of The Maradaine Constabulary, his second series set amid the bustling streets and crime-ridden districts of the exotic city called Maradaine. A Murder of Mages introduces us to this spellbinding port city as seen through the eyes of the people who strive to maintain law and order, the hardworking men and women of the Maradaine Constabulary.

Satrine Rainey—former street rat, ex-spy, mother of two, and wife to a Constabulary Inspector who lies on the edge of death, injured in the line of duty—has been forced to fake her way into the post of Constabulary Inspector to support her family.

Minox Welling is a brilliant, unorthodox Inspector and an Uncircled mage—almost a crime in itself. Nicknamed “the jinx” because of the misfortunes that seem to befall anyone around him, Minox has been partnered with Satrine because no one else will work with either of them.

Their first case together—the ritual murder of a Circled mage— sends Satrine back to the streets she grew up on and brings Minox face-to-face with mage politics he’s desperate to avoid. As the body count rises, Satrine and Minox must race to catch the killer before their own secrets are exposed and they, too, become targets.

Rules

  • Must have a US mailing address; no PO Boxes
  • Must provide mailing address if chosen as a winner, which will be sent to the publisher for shipping and not retained by me
  • Comment on this post to enter; must provide valid contact info in the comment in case you win
  • Limit of 1 (one) entry per person
  • Giveaway closes at 11:59 PM, PST, Sunday June 21, 2015
  • Winners will be drawn and announced on Monday June 22, 2015

I’ve got high hopes for this novel, and I’ll be reviewing it later next week!

The Thorn of Dentonhill, by Marshall Ryan Maresca

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – February 3, 2015

Summary: Veranix Calbert leads a double life. By day, he’s a struggling magic student at the University of Maradaine. At night, he spoils the drug trade of Willem Fenmere, crime boss of Dentonhill and murderer of Veranix’s father. He’s determined to shut Fenmere down.

With that goal in mind, Veranix disrupts the delivery of two magical artifacts meant for Fenmere’s clients, the mages of the Blue Hand Circle.  Using these power-filled objects in his fight, he quickly becomes a real thorn in Fenmere’s side.

So much so that soon not only Fenmere, but powerful mages, assassins, and street gangs all want a piece of “The Thorn.” And with professors and prefects on the verge of discovering his secrets, Veranix’s double life might just fall apart. Unless, of course, Fenmere puts an end to it first.

Thoughts: Sometimes you like books because they introduce something new and incredible to your world, expanding your viewpoint and challenging preconceived notions and doing so while they take you along on an amazing ride through places you never expected. Other times, you like books because they’re just fun, good and simple fun, relying on the tried-and-true and tweaking it just enough to make it a unique story in its own right but still leaving enough comfortable familiarity to let you enjoy it without really taxing yourself.

The Thorn of Dentonhill is definitely in the second category.

Veranix is a university student, studying magic and approaching his graduation. But by night, he’s a bit of a vigilante, seeking out drug users and dealers and putting whatever dents he can in the machine that is the drug trade. Veranix has a massive hate-on for the drug effitte, having seen it destroy the lives of those close to him in one way or another, and he’s determined to undermine the trade by any means necessary. So when he comes across what seems to be a drug deal but that actually turns out to be the trade of a seemingly normal cloak and length of rope, his life spins just a little further out of control when he finds himself in the middle of artifact-trading and dark magical rituals and happenings that go far beyond the relatively simple drug busts he’s used to.

The book starts off a little shakily, with a rather meandering story and a few awkward infodumps about magic that seem very much out of place for the characters involved but are nevertheless somewhat important to the reader. It’s established that Veranix is both student by day and drug buster by night, leading his double life, but it’s not until he finds that cloak and rope that the story really gets started, and, as such, tightens up dramatically. The downside to this is that those giving the book a 3-chapter try might find themselves bored and wondering where the actual story is, and may end up giving up on the book because nothing really happens for a while, and as such end up missing out on a fun novel because the early pacing isn’t that great.

But rest assured, once it does get going, it really gets going. Things improve a lot after that one scene, so it’s worth sticking with.

Maresca has taken the time to do some interesting worldbuilding, which shows up less in the scenery and more in the characters. For the most part, it’s a fairly generic fantasy world with just a few tweaks, but nothing you couldn’t transplant into just about any other classic fantasy world already in existence. Magic is fuelled by drawing on energy, known as numina. The streets have gangs, some better than others, some worse. There’s a destructive drug problem. Mages guard their secrets and stick together in cliquish Circles. Fairly standard stuff that could pop up anywhere, and has a dozen times over. But it’s in the characters that it all really comes together and you see glimpses of a wider world than just the streets of Maradaine. Mages have a very high metabolism, and the more powerful the mage, the more they have to eat to fuel themselves. Street gangs have their own ways of doing things, their own divisions of territory and speciality. Slang shows up in ways that make you really feel like the world goes back a lot further than just the characters we’re seeing on the pages now, that they’re just a small part of something much more complete. I was impressed by the way the world shaped and showed in the characters, rather than the other way around. It gave everything a much more well-rounded feel than you often get in fantasy novels that take place in such a small span of time and over a very small area (less than a city, really, since you only get to see the university and a few streets and buildings).

For those who enjoy their fantasy filled with action, there’s definitely plenty of that in here. It may not be dark and gritty with gory and horrific wounds all over the place, but there’s a good amount of energy and tension more often than not. It’s neither bloodless nor sanitized, but it does feel like clean violence, so to speak, more along the lines of what you’d seen on TV when something has a PG rating. It’s there, it’s exciting, but it’s not tremendously graphic. Which, honestly, adds to the light and fun feel of the book overall. It actually does a lot to keep the pacing of the novel rather tight, which may be part of the problem of the early chapters; there’s very little action there and a whole lot of setup.

One thing I did particularly like about this book is that it addresses the creation of legends in an amusing way. Veranix at one point, and only one point, calls himself the thorn in Fenmere’s side. From there, the idea sticks, and then snowballs, until he’s known on the streets at the Thorn, a local hero, and with an image that is a bit larger than life. One small phrase and before he knows it, he’s a local legend, with people rooting for him and using him in propaganda. Veranix didn’t set out to create that image of himself for other people to hero-worship. He was just doing what he does, and the rest happened in the minds of those who heard the stories. I thought it was a great way of presenting how a person’s image can change in the public eye not because of something that they’re done, but because of something the public wants and thinks. The image of Veranix became larger than the man himself, and he had to content not only with living his usual double-life and trying to solve the mystery of the cloak and rope, but also with keeping people from finding out who this new superhero really was.

But when all is said and done, The Thorn on Dentonhill is a pretty good fantasy novel, good for relaxing reading when you don’t feel like immersing yourself in something entirely new. It’s got plenty to keep readers turning the pages, at least once they get past the early bits, and enough action and mystery to have them speculating right alongside the characters. I’m definitely interested in seeing what Maresca will do with the world in future novels, because while this novel could stand alone in its own right with no need for any continuation, I can’t shake the feeling that there are more stories to be wrung from this world, and I want to be there when they are. Definitely a fun read, and one classic fantasy fans will likely enjoy.

(Received for review from the publisher.)