Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review: _The High House_ by James Stoddard

The High House is a wonderful book of High Fantasy. It is the first novel by author James Stoddard. Plot, characterization, setting and theme blend to form a memorable piece of fantastic literature.

"The High House, Evenmere, that lifts its gabled roofs among tall hills overlooking a country of ivy and hawthorn and blackberries sweet but small as the end of a child's finger, has seldom been seen by ordinary men. Those who come there do so not by chance, and those who dwell there abide long within its dark halls, seldom venturing down the twisting road to the habitations of men." ( The High House by James Stoddard )

Thus begins this wonderful book's plot. Readers are introduced to the story of Carter Anderson and the mysterious High House, where a struggle between chaos and order occurs. The plot moves through a story from the loss of the Master Keys to an emotional and exciting climax. Along the way, we are treated to many twists and turns in the battle to defeat the Anarchists. The plot is clear and succinct. It is helped by good characters.

Mr. Stoddard has created wonderful, memorable characters. Carter Anderson, the main character, is filled with doubts and fears. He must overcome several obstacles in the book. His journey through the house brings changes in him. He is helped by several interesting secondary characters. William Hope starts as a lawyer but becomes Carter's advisor. Enoch winds the house's clocks and once talked with God. The lamp lighter Chant talks in poetic, literary quotes. Brittle is the affectionate valiant butler. These characters travel though an unusual setting.

Evenmere, the High House, is a strange and different world. The house is huge on the inside. Different nations exist within the rooms and halls of the house. These nations have doorways out into their own worlds. One of these nations is inhabited by talking tigers and Gnawlings-animals that camouflage themselves as furniture. The attic is occupied by a dragon. This setting helps develop the book's themes.

Thematic content revolves around the house. The house is like a miniature model of the universe. Masters of the House possess powers to combat the Anarchists. This keeps the universe in balance. Masters are chosen by the House like heroes called to serve their people. This book also contains a quest theme in Carter's search for the Master keys.

This book has great depth and wonderful characters. Readers of many genres would enjoy this book. Few Fantasy books published today give readers a sense of wonder. This book certainly does. I think The High House will become a Fantasy classic in years to come, joining Tolkien and many others.

Until next time, keep exploring fantasy worlds.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Review: _A Quest-Lover’s Treasury of the Fantastic_

Many people have been on a quest some time in their life. It could be for a better job, a house, saving for a dream vacation, etc. The quest is a common theme and part of the Fantasy genre. A Quest-Lover’s Treasury of the Fantastic edited by Margaret Weis is an anthology of Fantasy stories by various authors revolving around quests. The stories range from humorous to dark renditions of suspense. There are several entertaining stories for readers to enjoy.

A vivid story with a dark quest is “Misericorde” by the late Karl Edward Wagner. Tamaslei hires the legendary assassin Kane to avenge her lover’s death. She buys the four lives of those responsible. Kane proceeds on this nasty quest in a long tale of suspense and death. This is a startling tale filled with vivid images and a twist ending. It is a memorable story about revenge that readers will not forget for a long time.

Humor raises its head in the story “Mirror, Mirror on the Lam” by Tanya Huff. Ciro the thief steals a magic mirror from the most powerful wizard in the world. Magdalene discovers the theft and pursues Ciro to his city. She works with the thief to retrieve the mirror before a demon prince escapes into the human world. A funny story full of amusing incidents and dialogue ensues in this quirky story.

Arthurian Fantasy is represented in two stories. The first is "Chivalry" by Neil Gaiman. It is a story about an elderly woman who finds the Holy Grail in a thrift shop. She places it on her fireplace mantle for decoration until a young knight called Galaad comes to her home to request it. He keeps returning, offering Mrs. Whitaker fabulous things for it. This is a nice story of dreams fulfilled brought to life my Mr. Gaiman's descriptive talent.

The second Grail story is "The Cup and the Cauldron" by Mercedes Lackey. Set in the past, two young girls, one a pagan and one Christian, seek out the Grail. The country suffers from famine, plague and death. Elfrida, the pagan girl, goes on a quest for the cauldron of the Goddess. Leonine lives in a convent. She is called on to have a vision and sent on a quest for the Holy Grail. They meet on their quests and discover a truth about their goal. Ms. Lackey brings the world of Arthurian Britain to life with realistic descriptions of the setting and likable characters that grow.

“The Beast and the Bully” by Orson Scott Card is the story of Bork, a gigantic man who is considered a bully by everyone. He dreams of becoming a knight and marrying the count’s beautiful daughter. After winning many battles, Bork fails to slay the dragon and faces derision until he makes an important decision about his life.

“The Lands Beyond the World” by Michael Moorcock Elric finds himself trapped on an island where he meets the sailor warrior Smiorgan. Together they try to save the woman Vassliss from a determined sorcerer while finding a way back to their world. Mr. Moorcock provides an intriguing story full of suspense and adventure about his troubled incarnation of the Eternal Champion.

Quests are the lifeblood of the Fantasy genre. A Quest-Lovers Treasury of the Fantastic edited by Margaret Weis has several entertaining stories for readers to enjoy. Try the book and go on a quest into Fantasy worlds of humor, darkness or adventure. The journey is worth the reading.