Archive | Fantasy

The Strange Bird | Jeff Vandermeer

The cover of Vandermeer's The Strange Bird“Experimental Storytelling, stunning design, original voices,” reads the tag line on the publisher’s Twitter feed. They hit the nail on the head with Strange Bird.

This short novel gives the reader a new vertical perspective on the world of Borne. If Borne was weird, Strange Bird is just flat-out bizarre. Vandermeer has created a genetic engineering, mystery, coming-of-age, survival, dystopian, horror, love(?) story. Stranger still, it works! Vandermeer makes the weird feel plausible.

The foxes, the sorcerer, Rachel, and Wick all figure in to this new story arc that overlaps the events of Borne yet remains its own. If you enjoyed Borne, then you will need to read Strange Bird.


Vandermeer, Jeff. The Strange Bird. New York: MCD x FSG Originals, 2017.

The Water Knife | Paolo Bacigalupi

The cover of Bacigalupi's The Water KnifeAngel Velasquez is a water knife. He cuts water supplies to drought-stricken towns in the American Southwest to make his employer’s desert thrive. Set in the near future, Bacigalupi imagines what the world could become when human greed and cut-throat litigation run wild.

Bacigalupi set the bar high with The Windup Girl. Unfortunately, The Water Knife doesn’t live up to is predecessor. While he is still able to create a terrifyingly plausible near future, this book is more thriller, less social commentary.

I’m aware that many people may in fact prefer The Water Knife to The Windup Girl. This newer book reads like a soon-to-be optioned movie thriller. If that’s what you enjoy, then The Water Knife has action to spare. If you’re more interested in the world we are creating, then the over-the-top shockers and cliff-hanging chapters leave little room for reflection.


Bacigalupi, Paolo. The Water Knife. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

Neverwhere | Neil Gaiman

The cover of Gaiman's NeverwhereNeil Gaiman can do no wrong. From American Gods to The Sandman, from The Ocean at the End of the Lane to Norse Mythology—everything he writes is compelling. Gaiman has the ability to transport you into alternate worlds that feel, despite their fantastical nature, just as real as the chair in which you read them.

In the introduction to this, the Author’s preferred text, Gaiman explains that

I wanted to write a book that would do for adults what the books I had loved when younger, books like Alice in Wonderland, or the Narnia books, or The Wizasrd of Oz, did for me as a kid. (xii)

He succeeded. Neverwhere is the story of the underside of London where people who fall through the cracks live. It’s a place where rats are honored, villains have careers that last for centuries, and character like Door can, well, open doors. Think Narnia only darker and far more dangerous.

To echo the words that Guy Gavriel Kay wrote to first-time readers of The Once and Future King, I envy everyone who has not yet read this book. You have the gift of being able to read Neverwhere for the first time.


Gaiman, Neil. Neverwhere. Author’s Preferred Text. New York: William Morrow, 2015.

The Erstwhile | B. Catling

The cover of Catling's The ErstwhileThe Ersthile are the abandoned. Having failed their responsibility to protect of the primeval tree, they were abandoned by their creator to seek meager shelter as they faded away under fallen leaves and soil. That is, until they begin to awake.

With this theme in mind, Catling returned to the surreal world he created in The Vohr, picking up right where he left off. Like the first novel, Catling develops his fiction with a dash of history. In lieu of Muybridge, we are introduced to William Blake. Unlike the first novel, this story is tighter—the plot threads are more tightly intertwined.

The final scene sets up the third novel, The Cloven, to be released next year. I can hardly wait.


Catling, B. The Erstwhile. New York: Vintage Books, 2017.

Stardust | Neil Gaiman

The cover of Gaiman's StardustThe town of Wall has an eponymous stone wall to the East. There is only one six foot break in the wall that separates Wall, the city, from the realm of the fairy. For thousands of years the town had posted two guards at the entrance to prevent traffic between the two worlds. This arrangement worked well until a certain Tristran Thorn decided to chase a falling star.

Stardust is fairy-tale at its finest. Although first published in 1999, it feels like something far older—something George MacDonald might pen. The classic themes of love and adventure, mystery and sacrifice, are woven into a tale that will linger in the reader’s mind.

I read Stardust in one evening. It has that sort of compelling power. It’s the perfect companion for a candlelit evening when the power goes out and the world seems strange. Read it and you’ll never look at a shooting star the same way again!


Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. New York: William Morrow, 2016.

Norse Mythology | Neil Gaiman

The cover of Gaiman's Norse MythologyOdin, Thor, and Loki are literally the stuff of legends. Their exploits, recorded by Snorri Sturluson in his Edda have been reinterpreted for English readers by many people—from J. R. R. Tolkien to Stan Lee! Neil Gaiman dove deeply into Norse Mythology to ground his American Gods, so it seems fitting that he has offered his own rewritten version of the ancient myths.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman tells the story of the Norse gods from creation to their eschaton: Ragnarok. These are stories of Elves and Giants, of war and betrayal. Gaiman’s prose is as rustic and direct, suitable for the gods of a harsh land. It’s clear that he’s sipped deeply from Odin’s gift.

One sentence in the introduction has stuck with me. We know relatively little about Norse Mythology and what we do know hints at many more stories. “We have lost so much” (14). Fortunately, in Gaiman’s hands, what we do have comes alive a millennium after it was first penned.


Gaiman, Neil. Norse Mythology. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.

The Vorrh | B. Catling

The cover of Catling's The VorrhIn the heart of Africa lies the Vorrh, a primal forest from which the world was created. The Vorrh is not a place to be wandered into lightly—it changes people, erasing memories.

The Vorrh appealed to me because the premise echoed Vandermeer’s gripping Southern Reach Trilogy. Furthermore, Vandermeer’s blurb on the back cover said The Vorrh “is unlike anything I’ve read.” I had to find out for myself.

B. Catling, a poet, sculptor, painter, and performance artist turned novelist, has created a compelling surrealist fantasy. It’s a world where an orphan cyclops raised by robots lives alongside historical figures like experimental photographer Eadweard Muybridge and French author Raymond Roussel. At times it reminded me of some of Michael Ende’s Mirror Within the Mirror stories.

Speaking of Muybridge leads me to my only criticism of the book. Some of the plot threads refuse to coalesce. I finished the book thinking that Muybridge’s narrative could have been a separate novel without effecting the primary narrative of The Vorrh. I have read that in his sequel, The Erstwhile, Catling has tightened his storytelling. I can hardly wait dive back into Catling’s vision.


Catling, B. The Vorrh. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

The Magician’s Land | Lev Grossman

The cover of Grossman's The Magician's LandIt’s time to return to Brakebills, to Fillory, to the world of Quentin Coldwater.

When we left Quentin at the end of The Magician King, he was banished from his beloved land. We meet him in The Magician’s Land walking into an under-average looking bookstore on earth trying to figure out how to live a meaningful life.

A meaningful life is the underlying theme of the Magician Trilogy. In each volume we see Quentin transform from a self-centered angst-ridden prodigy to something deeper. The Magician’s Land finishes this transformation in fantastic style. Grossman pulls together a number of old plot threads into a completely satisfying concluding volume.

The Magician’s Trilogy ranks among the finest Fantasy literature around. I’m proud to shelve these volumes beside Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, and of course, C. S. Lewis.

—Lev Grossman, The Magician’s Land (New York: Plume, 2014).

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