Posts filed under ‘Fantasy’

‘The Wood Beyond the World’ by William Morris

This post is part of our on-going 2016 Spring Reading Spree. Kick off your own reading spree this spring by giving some love to the unread books on your shelf!


Oh, William Morris, you just did everything, don’t you? You were not content to merely create beautiful design or start the entire trend of Victorian medievalism or lead the Arts and Crafts Movement or create utterly lovely books. No, you had to also go ahead and invent the modern genre of fantasy fiction with your novel The Wood Beyond the World. Just couldn’t help yourself, is that it?

William Morris (who, in case you couldn’t tell, I adore) wrote The Wood Beyond the World in 1894 — that’s roughly 30 years before Lord Dunsany produced his fantasy urtext The King of Elfland’s Daughter and two years before Morris’ own influential The Well at the World’s End.

In other words: this is it, folks. This is the first adult fantasy novel. (more…)


June 9, 2016 at 6:54 am Leave a comment

Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's_AvatarIn many ways, this is the best of the first three books of Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel’s Legacy” series. It somehow manages to build off of the first two books without being annoyingly nostalgic, and while introducing new developments and difficulties without seeming cliched or contrived.

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, the series can be summarized as such: In an alternative medieval world where all of the French people are actually descended from angels, a woman named Phedre is born in a brothel who is marked by a red spot (or “mote,” as Carey insists on calling it) in one of her eyes. This mark signifies she’s a chosen of Kushiel, an angel of punishment and mercy, and she is eventually adopted by a nobleman, trained as a spy, and dashes off saving the world on far-flung adventures. In this, she’s accompanied by a man who originally swore to remain a celibate warrior-priest, but who forswore most of his vows in favor of becoming her consort and also bodyguard.

I know, I know. And the reason this series isn’t taken more seriously is because there’s a lot of sex, a lot of which involves whips and wheels and other toys, due to Phedre’s unique affinity for submission. But usually, sex is beside the point — one of the “gods” Phedre serves is revered for giving up her body as a means to a noble end, and that’s Phedre’s m.o. as well.

In this case, the larger cause is rescuing the son of a former patron who happens to be third in line to the throne of Phedre’s country. (more…)

January 20, 2016 at 2:08 pm Leave a comment

‘Kushiel’s Chosen’ by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's_ChosenWe can all agree that I am a big fat nerd for reading Kushiel’s Chosen. This series is practically a byword for geekdom — a fantasy series that incorporates angels, alterna-medieval politics, espionage and S&M. There are pirates, courtesans, dashing warrior-priests who have sworn (and forsworn) vows of chastity, women with startling beauty and unique eyes, and plots to overthrow a kingdom’s rightful rulers.

In short, it’s pretty much as amazing as it sounds.

There’s a lot going on in Kushiel’s Chosen, but I’d just come off a spate of YA fiction, and the main theme that stuck with me was the relationship between Phedre and Joscelin. Spoiler — at the end of Kushiel’s Dart, these two crazy kids finally admit they’re in love and they bop off to Phedre’s newly-discovered country estate, where presumably they live very happily for a period of several months and, for lack of a better term, boink like bunnies.


November 24, 2015 at 12:42 am Leave a comment

‘Sacré Bleu’ by Christopher Moore

sacrebleuIn attempting to describe Christopher Moore’s novel Sacré Bleu, the best I could come up with was a string of keywords: nineteenth-century Paris; imaginative fiction; art history; fanboy; murder mystery; blue (color). Lots of blue.

In the most basic sense, Sacré Bleu is about a couple of guys ineptly investigating their good friend’s suicide in the French countryside and eventually stumbling onto a fantastical conspiracy that has spurred on creativity and invention for millennia. This plot is enriched by the fact that the suicidal friend is Vincent van Gogh and one of the guys investigating is Henri Toulouse-Lautrec who, despite his artistic talents, is perhaps not the best person for the job. Something is rotten with the color blue and our heroes are going to figure out what. (more…)

November 5, 2015 at 2:31 pm Leave a comment

‘The Rook’ by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley was the very first book I checked out of my new public library after moving at the beginning of September.

(And, for those of you following along at home, I truly hope this move was the last in the string of roughly 12 moves I’ve chronicled over the last 16 months. At least for a while. I’m actually unpacking all my books, which means this new home is at least approaching something like stability.)

O’Malley’s inaugural novel was released three years ago, but it came to my attention only recently via Book Riot’s latest attempt to “help fill the Harry Potter void” in our lives. These lists are probably the most common sort of list when it comes to the bookish internet (heck, we here at Literary Transgressions have often wondered what to do post-Harry Potter), but I can’t stop myself from reading them every time a new one appears. Will there finally be something on this new list that actually fills the Harry Potter-shaped hole in my reading life? I wonder. Even though there rarely (um, never?) is, the optimist in me always excitedly whispers, yes, maybe this time!

I don’t want to hold you all in suspense, so: no, not this time. Book Riot’s list included the usual suspects and then some books that captured some aspect of Harry Potter (boarding school or magic or an orphan or England) or were straight-up High Fantasy. None sounded appealing.

Then, at the very end of the list, there was a little trio of recommended books clustered together: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Night Circus, and The Rook. Now, the first two are two of my all-time favorite books. Ever. But the third? I’d never even heard of it. I was halfway out the door and heading to the library almost before I read anything about it. You group an author together with Susanna Clarke and Erin Morgenstern and, Harry Potter comparisons aside, you have my attention. And, in this case, I couldn’t be gladder of the recommendation. (more…)

October 1, 2015 at 3:17 am 5 comments

‘Kushiel’s Dart’ by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's_DartIf Jane Lindskold, Phillipa Gregory and George R. R. Martin (and perhaps Alison Weir) all banded together to write a book, it might turn out like Kushiel’s Dart. But it could hardly be better than Jacqueline Carey’s work, which is suspenseful and compelling, somehow managing to encompass a huge plot of epic proportions while keeping the reader’s attention locked into each individual scene.

The premise of the work is that, in some alternate history, the blood of Yeshua ben Yosef (let’s assume that name is recognizable) mixed with the tears of Mary Magdalene and the earth, from which was wrought an angel named Elua. A number of angels descended from heaven to become Elua’s companions when he refused to ascend, and, in accordance with some apocryphal stories recognizable from Jewish folklore and the Old Testament, these angels mingled with humans and begot a race of nearly-divine people known as the D’Angeline, who have settled an area of Western Europe known as Terre d’Ange. (You will note that, apparently, the angels spoke French.)

One of these companions was called Namaah, and her story is that, in order to serve and protect Elua, she gave herself to a number of important people as a sexual plaything. But, in honor of her, prostitution is legal and even revered in this alternate medieval Europe, with codes and rules and regulations and various, um, flavors. “Love as thou wilt” is a key aphorism.

Enter Phedre, who, like her Greek namesake, has some desires generally considered non-traditional. (more…)

September 15, 2015 at 12:41 am 4 comments

‘A Great and Terrible Beauty’ by Libba Bray

I’ve been in a bit of a reading lull for much of June after I read The Magicians Trilogy and then Ian Frazier’s excellent Travels in Siberia. I’ve never been struck by Post-Amazing Book Disorder so strongly, so I suspect dashing about preparing for a rather lengthy stretch of travel probably fostered the disease a bit more than usual.

In between panicking and packing throughout June, I haunted more “what to read if you liked The Magicians” lists than I care to admit and came up with nothing terribly inspirational. I roamed my bookshelves hoping to inspired and even pilfered a few volumes from my mother’s bookshelves. I started doing crossword puzzles for the first time in years. In short, I was rather adrift, literarily.

The one book from those post-Magicians lists that seemed at least worth trying was Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, about a British girl shipped back to England from her Indian home after her mother’s death to attend a “proper” finishing school. Amidst this upheaval, said girl also starts to have magical visions into a beautiful alternate reality, haunted by her mother and a hideous black spirit intent upon her destruction.

It’s a promising setup, combining some bits of Hogwartsy boarding school with Victorian notions of spiritualism and magic (the Cottingley Fairies girls spring to mind more than once) plus a dash of “Mean Girls” tossed back a hundred years or so.

Despite these alluring parts, I would not by any stretch say this was a particularly great book. What I liked about it most was its largely female cast — there are only about four male characters of any consequence amid a large cast of starring and supporting women, all with rich personalities and backstories. It is rare to find a book so unabashedly focused on women, particularly one spotlighting a teenage girl that doesn’t veer immediately off into territory which defines her by which boy she has a crush on or which male authority figure is telling her what to do.

A Great and Terrible Beauty focuses instead on the intricacies of female intimacy, power, and friendship. This emphasis is both welcome and unusual. Indeed, in terms of casual feminism, author Libba Bray certainly deserves a polite and ladylike “cheers!” for her efforts. (more…)

July 2, 2015 at 2:48 am Leave a comment

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