Archive | Fantasy

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).

The Magician King | Lev Grossman

The cover of Grossman's The Magician KingQuentin still can’t get no satisfaction.

This was the main theme of the first novel of the Magician Trilogy (The Magicians). The emptiness in your life follows you even if you accomplish the things you long for. You can’t put a square block in a round hole. The Magician King begins with King Quentin still longing for that missing something.

What Quentin gets is a quest—a massive, no holds barred quest for the future of the entire multiverse. The plot is unpredictable and satisfying, at least for the reader. For Quentin, it’s another story.

I suppose we’ll find out in Volume Three, The Magician’s Land, if Quentin ever learns, let alone finds what he’s looking for.

—Lev Grossman, The Magician King (New York: Plume, 2011).

The Magicians | Lev Grossman

The cover of Grossman's The MagiciansHarry Potter meets Narnia, the blurbers promised! What’s not to love?

The Magicians is a novel where a socially awkward kid finds out that he has amazing powers. The blurbers were right—almost to a fault. The first half of the book concerns a magician’s school while the second half explores alternate universes. Rowling meets Lewis, indeed! My only criticism was that the nods to Potter and Narnia felt too derivative at times. I quickly got over that.

This book gripped me from the first until the last page. Grossman has written a lead character that acts as realistically as you might expect in the situation he’s given. He makes the sort of decisions any one of us might make in the same circumstances.

The villain is truly terrifying and the magic system is complex and satisfying. I’m curious to see where the next books takes us!

—Lev Grossman, The Magicians (New York: Plume, 2009).

Pump Six and other Stories| Paolo Bagigalupi

The cover of Bagigalupi's Pump SixOne of the most profitable ways to interpret apocalyptic literature is to consider what the words meant to the original hearers. Revelation, for example, was a worship text for the early church which gave them the confidence to persevere in trial. In an analogous way, Bagigalupi’s collection of short dystopian fiction speaks volumes to our present reality.

I purchased this collection because two of the short stories it contains (“Yellow Card Man” and “The Calorie Man”) were precursors to The Windup Girl. These stories were nominated for the Hugo award and won the Sturgeon Award, respectively. As powerful as these stories were, I was captivated by some of the other stories just as much. Each story, regardless of the mechanics, illustrates some of the trajectories of our world, pursued ad infinitum.  “The Fluted Girl” is a story about genetic engineering and politics gone awry. “Pop Squad” explores the quest for eternal life, along with its dark corollaries.

The title story was perhaps the best of the lot. If you’re concerned at all about societal tendencies towards distraction and hedonism, “Pump Six” explores how far down that road we could go as a society, wrapped up in a compelling mystery story.

Pump Six is a disturbing but important collection of stories that describe a world left to its selfish devices—apocalypticism without the hope.

—Paolo Bagigalupi, Pump Six and Other Stories (San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2008).

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

antispam