“The Boys Are Back in Town” by Christopher Golden (Spectra, 2008)

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Christopher Golden has established himself as a talented writer within the horror genre. In The Boys Are Back in Town, he tells an incredible story, one that reminds readers there are still great books being written that will suck you in from the first page, and make you want to shut off from your life and commitments until you get to that last page.

Will James is in his late twenties and while he hasn’t necessarily managed to follow his dreams, he is a journalist working for a newspaper and is happy with the life he has. He suffers suspicion from others due to his pursuit of the supernatural and any story involving magic. However, he considers it his job to debunk these people and reveal them as the frauds they are. The high point for his weekend is his ten-year high school reunion, which begins Friday night with a meeting with Stacy, a former friend who has become an interesting and beautiful woman. But when Will asks where his best high school friend Mike is, he is greeted with anger and furious stares, and a short while later memories surface of Mike dying in a horrific hit-and-run accident during their senior year. Will is confused, for he has vaguer memories – shadows in his mind – of knowing Mike through college and receiving an e-mail from him just the week before about coming to the reunion.

The next day at the Homecoming game, Will makes a comment to another close friend, Ashleigh, about the Homecoming Queen during their senior year, but then is corrected by her. She says that it was a different person because the girl was raped the night before. Before his eyes, Will watches Ashleigh visibly change, as she recounts how she was also raped, which is why she can’t have children. Will feels his mind splitting, since he recalls visiting Ashleigh and her husband last Christmas, and seeing their beautiful twins. He knows there is something very wrong going on here, not just someone playing a prank on him; someone is messing with his timeline, his reality, changing events. He has some ideas about who is involved, but he’s going to have to go back to the life of magic that he had deliberately forgotten; it will require using a spell that will take him back to his high school years. He’s going to have to stop whoever is doing this, whoever is rewriting history, and changing his life before his very eyes.

The Boys Are Back in Town will horrify and astound, as well as bring back memories of your high school era. Golden writes with a skill and emotion that brings these years to life on the page, while adding a deadly element – for memories are meant to stay the same, and are not supposed to change on the fly.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 1st 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Christopher Golden check out BookBanter Episode 12.

“A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K. LeGuin (Parnassus Press, 1968)

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If you call this a work of classic fantasy, meaning it’s like every other fantasy series with its magic and wizards and made-up worlds, you would be wrong.  If you call this a work of classic fantasy, meaning it’s a great piece of work that set the foundation – like Lord of the Rings­ – for a lot of other series, you would be right.

A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book in the Earthsea series and as all fantasy series should, it begins with a young wizard, Ged, who knows nothing of magic and the ways of being a wizard, other than his innate ability promising him a career as a great wizard.  First he lives with a wise mage, and learns much about the simple things in life and magic and that everything has a cost.  He soon discovers this when he performs a dark spell from a book he shouldn’t have touched.  A deadly shadow is summoned and then banished by his teacher, but Ged knows he will be facing it again.

Ged then travels to the isle of Roke where he spends years becoming a master wizard.  Upon his graduation, he faces the dark shadow once more but is unable to hold against it and flees in terror.  As a renowned wizard now, he travels around the islands, helping those less fortunate, battling dragons and other monsters.  Then once again he faces the shadow and barely survives, fleeing once more.  He returns to his old master, unsure what to do.  The wizened wizard tells him he must face the shadow and in turn face his greatest fear.  And so Ged heads out into the deep sea where none have gone before and there faces the shadow and wages a great battle, finally defeating him.  The book ends with Ged returning to land with his friend, now a true and accomplished wizard with the thousands of islands of Earthsea before him.

What makes LeGuin’s fantasy series more meaningful than most is that all the magic performed here comes at a cost, which the main character has to deal with throughout the book.  It requires time and energy, afterwards one is tired; to create illusions is much easier than to actually change or create matter.  Unlike the world of Harry Potter, here there are rules; not everyone can be a wizard.  Along with this is the magical world of Earthsea with the many islands of different peoples, many of which know little of each other.  And for a wizard to travel from one island to another is a great adventure.  The next book in the series is The Tombs of Atuan.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 21st, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Ladies of Grace Adieu” by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, 2006)

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While Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is not required reading for this short story collection, it provides a fuller and more complete background to the stories you are reading, nevertheless, one can certainly enjoy them and understand what’s going on without having read the aforementioned 600+ page book.

Clarke spent a decade writing Jonathan Strange, so it is not surprising that in her spare time she wrote some stories set in this magnificent world, which while not directly involved in the actions and events of her opus, do play by its rules and restrictions.  Some of the stories may even have been cut from the massive manuscript that was Jonathan Strange and now find themselves in this collection, finally in print.

These eight stories run the gamut of what Clarke might want to tell about her world, from what a couple of ladies with magical abilities must do (from the title story); to a tale of Mary, Queen of Scots; to a story involving the same Jonathan Strange of her book.  What links all these stories together is the reality of magic, whether the characters in the stories choose to accept its existence or not.  The result is a delightful, seemingly romantic, and entertaining change to the glut of fantasy filling the book world these days.  Magic in Clarke’s world cannot be done by everyone; it is subtle, exhausting, and hard to do.  Like the Bartimaeus Trilogy, Clarke’s magical world presents something new and therefore captivating in its own way.

While my complaint of Clarke is that she can often be long winded and due for some heavy editing – both in this collection and in her weighty novel – in the end one is left with the wonderful feeling that one has just read something special and will delight in reading it again some day.  Not to mention Ladies of Grace Adieu also features mesmerizing black and white illustrations by Charles Vess (who illustrated Neil Gaiman’s Stardust), the book is a worthy addition to anyone’s library.  The question remains now: how long will it be before Clarke publishes another collection or novel?  Does she have a box full of cut stories and material from Jonathan Strange waiting to be viewed by a reader’s eyes?  Only time will reveal this truth.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 12th, 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, 2004)

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This was my second attempt at reading this book. I’d tried when it first came out, with the heavy intimidating hardback (though sometimes a giant hardback that I can’t hold in one hand is the best thing ever!). Since it was a fantasy novel with magic and wizards and set within a historical period, I was expecting something fast paced and somewhat action packed. So when I got 200+ pages in and had yet to have a scene where something physically happened involving some sort of action, I gave up.

When the paperback came out I was unable to stop myself from purchasing it. This is a thing that’s developed in me over the years spent in the book business. When I see a book that I think should be good and has a really great cover (since I have seen many bad covers, such as all the Robert Jordan books), I need to own it. I’d told myself that I’d give this book another try at a later date and so before I left Copperfield’s I bought it.

About a month ago I started listening to it on audiobook, got about fifteen minutes into it, and while the voices were very good and English, I could tell from the well developed language of the book that it would be better and deserved to be read in the paper form. I sloughed through it this time, finally rewarded with a few actions scenes, and some very interesting plot. I still felt it went on a little too long and there could’ve been an entire book of the same size with all the stuff that didn’t get revealed in the book. When you create a unique world, I like to know how it came to be and a lot of the details of why it is this way, and there wasn’t as much of that in Jonathan Strange. It centered more around two kind of lame magicians, one of which is an old annoying selfish fart, and an ego-maniacal fairy who wants to control the real world as well as that of Faerie. Near the end some of the characters did some weird things as well that I thought were unwarranted and kind of came out of nowhere, which really bugs me with long books that have the room and the time to set this up.

Nevertheless, I’m definitely glad I worked through it and read the whole thing and that I own it and maybe, in five or ten years, I’ll give it a reread and see it in a totally different way.

I’ve discovered in my reading that it really depends on my current mood and state of what I can get from a book. I can be impatient and want something to grab me right away, which is why I didn’t like the book at first, but when I tried again in a calmer state, I was able to enjoy it. It’s all very weird and probably a little OCD in some way, but over the many many years of reading and the many many books read, I’ve become picky in what I read and what I want to read and how I want to read it.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 26th, 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.