Story Review: The Tower of the Elephant by Robert E. Howard

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This is the second of the Robert E. Howard “Conan the Barbarian” stories I’ve covered, having reviewed The People of the Black Circle some time ago. I should be reviewing more in the future, as I plan to do at least 5 in total by the end of the year.

The story begins with a group of ruffians sitting in a candle-lit room. A Cimmerian comes in and discusses with a thief the Tower of the Elephant, a grand tower where a sorcerer named Yara keeps a treasure. They say Yara once turned a man into a small spider and stomped on him. 

A fight ensues, and the candle is knocked over. As the fire is relit, the crowd finds the Cimmerian gone and the thief dead.

Thus we’re introduced to Conan the Barbarian. He makes up his mind to enter the tower and retrieve the treasure within, called the Heart of the Elephant. This story is spectacular. I was glued to it after Conan made his way to the tower. From there, the different traps and perils were fascinating, and the treasure inside is interesting and different.

The one downside to this story is the lack of secondary characters. It’s short, so it could be that Howard didn’t have enough space to add many other characters, but much of the story is Conan coming across other people, monsters, or mysteries. I felt that People of the Black Circle benefited from Yasmina as a character.

If I had to choose which story I preferred, “The Tower of the Elephant” or “The People of the Black Circle”, I would have to choose the latter. This story is fantastic, but People of the Black Circle had many twists, characters, and interesting story progressions that this one was missing.

Still, I would recommend any fan of fantasy read this story. It’s short and easily worth your time.


If you like my work consider supporting me with a donation! http://www.paypal.me/FrankOrmond

You might want to read the previous Robert E. Howard review of The People of the Black Circle.

You may also like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

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Story Review: Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett

I can’t use the cover used in Planet Stories. However, this is the cover used for the story collection in Fantasy Masterworks.

I get this story recommended to me often. In truth, the circles I run in love older stories, and they seem to always extol Black Amazon of Mars as one of the better tales from the past.

Leigh Brackett was once called the “Queen of Space Opera”, and I have to admit that this story lives up to the hype.

Black Amazon of Mars has vivid storytelling, a fast pace, interesting action and characters, and twists and turns I didn’t see coming.

The story follows Eric John Stark, a recurring character in Brackett’s work. First published in 1951, it was originally in PLanet Stories, but subsequent publications used either the changed version or the original (depending). I read the original.

In this story, Eric is with his friend Camar, who is dying. Camar held in his possession a lens of some type that has some powerful abilities. As Camar dies, he Eric volunteers to take the lens back to his Martian people. However, a band of marauders, lead by the mysterious Lord Ciaran, are planning an attack on the city Camar comes from.

Stark is a good character, though he felt pretty generic. His “wandering rogue” aesthetic held pretty standard for a pulp story, but the real shining stars were the other characters. Lord Ciaran, in particular, was fascinating. There are a lot of martians in the city that interested me, but mostly by that part of the story, Ciaran’s uniqueness eclipsed the other characters.

All in all, I’d recommend this for anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy. It’s only about 70 pages, so I think it’s worth it. It’s fantastic.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson

I’ve reviewed several Poul Anderson books, including The Broken Sword and The High Crusade. Honestly, he’s quickly becoming my favorite author, though I suspect Jack Vance still holds that title in my heart.

Three Hearts and Three Lions follows Holger, an Allied fighter in World War 2, who awakens to find himself transported to a medieval fairy world of magic and witches. Finding himself with a horse and equipment in his size, as well as a shield bearing the titular “Three Hearts and Three Lions” design, he decides to go on a journey. He wants to find a way back, and on the way comes across a Dwarf named Hugi and a swan woman named Alianora.

The story is somewhat episodic. It would honestly make a decent television show, if not for the lackluster ending. Holger is a witty, 20th century personality in a medieval fantasy setting. He makes for a fantastic fish-out-of-water character.

There are several creative ideas. I love how Holger defeats a dragon, for example, or his riddles against a giant. Basically, if you like medieval fantasy with a touch of 20th century flair, this book is right up your alley.


If you liked this review you might like some of my others:

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

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Book Review: There Will Be Dragons by John Ringo

I’ve previously reviewed several of John Ringo’s books, including The Troy Rising series and Gust Front, part of the Legacy of the Aldenata series (also known as the Posleen War series).

This book is about war. Ringo’s writing is straightforward, and a lot of what he delves into is the logic inherent in the story. In the Posleen War series he goes into depth about how the aliens work, how to fight them, and what a war on the Earth would look like, all within the logic of the series. He does the same here.

He also does a good job in pacing. Early on I was a little worried that it was lagging too much, but right around the 100-page mark the story shifted dramatically and my interest was rekindled. Ringo setup a LOT in the early chapters, and the pay offs were worth it. If I have one complaint it’s that I couldn’t really follow a protagonist. Ringo sort of drifted between several POV characters, but ultimately seemed to “zoom in” on Edmund Talbot and Herzer Herrick.

From there, however, the book takes a turn. Instead of being a fantasy book set in the far future, it becomes military fantasy. I’m not complaining, I like that genre, but it wasn’t apparent from the beginning.

Also, if you don’t like discussion of sexual assault this book may not be for you. There’s a prominent attack, which hangs over the head of most of the characters the rest of the book.

Ultimately, I like the book a lot. After burning through the first two hundred pages, I got hooked. If you like military fantasy it’s for you.


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: The Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien

1009005228NOTE: Like a lot of Tolkien’s in-universe names, “Hurin” is spelled with an accent, which I do not include. This is simply because it’s hard to type every single time I have a letter that requires it. As such, I will not include those in this review.

Previously I reviewed The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, but the book Children of Hurin is more in line with The Silmarillion (considering the story was straight up mentioned in that book).  Likewise, it is one of three newly released volumes edited by Christopher Tolkien based on works by his father. Like “Beren and Luthien” and “The Fall of Gondolin” it follows events long before The Hobbit.

I’m not really sure how to summarize the entire book in one review. To be honest, there was a lot to it that I simply don’t remember after reading it. I do recall, however, that it reads like a Viking legend or Greek tragedy.

Essentially, the story follows the children of Hurin, who was taken prisoner by Morgoth. While imprisoned, great tragedies befall his family involving a daughter born and a son who leads his people in battle. His son, Turin, goes by a pseudonym several times in the story, and as such there’s a Greek tragedy element resulting from a dragon’s curse.

The book reads like a blend of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. If you liked both of those, you will like this book. If you liked Lord of the Rings but didn’t like The Silmarillion, then you’ll probably think it’s boring.

I, however, loved this book. I actually liked it more that The Silmarillion when I read it. Remember that this is a tragedy, so if that isn’t something you’d like, then avoid this. Beren and Luthien might fit you better.



You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

51Fp8XBGpBLTo continue my read through of older (and sometimes overlooked) works in the history of fantasy and science fiction literature, I have arrived in 1924 for Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter.

Previously I’ve read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912) and The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt (1924). I would recommend both for those interested in older literature of the spectacular. Also The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson was published in 1954, and fits as an influential book in its own right, if you’re interested in that.

The book was fantastic. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, though, no book is. There was a bit of a lag in the middle to end of the book, roughly the 50% to 75% mark. In addition, the story seems to have no real action by the main characters after the halfway point, but that’s by design. As far as how readable it is, I leave that up to the individual reader. I had no problem approaching the book, but will readily admit some difficulty after the middle section.

The story of the book was concerned with two kingdoms: the kingdom of men named Erl and the kingdom of fairies named Elfland. The king of Erl, in the beginning is asked by his people to give them a king who has magic. The king, knowing that what they were asking would lead to trouble, told his only son to venture to Elfland and wed the legendary princess there. That way, there would be magic in the royal bloodline.

The first quarter of the story was concerned with the prince of Erl finding his bride, returning with her, and living with her in Erl. Then, she decides to return to Elfland, and the rest of the book is concerned with the time difference between the two realms and how time doesn’t move for her and the fairies while the men search for a way to get to her.

The characters were the second weakest part of the book, the first being the plot. The titular character, Lirazel, was fascinating as a concept. But as a character she’s shallow. Lirazel was torn between loving Alveric and Erl, and longing to return to Elfland and her father.

Alveric himself was an unsympathetic character who went from heroic in the first quarter to utterly useless in the latter parts of the book.

Their child, Orion, was the most interesting character, in my opinion. He loved his hounds, wanted to meet his mother, but doesn’t want to leave the world he knows behind. It’s complicated and interesting. Ultimately, it culminates in a hunt he took to kill a unicorn. This proved to the people of Erl he was skilled, but also that he had some magic in him after all. Honestly, I had no interest in the unicorn hunt, but it was beautifully told.

The best part of the book was Dunsany’s writing. His descriptions of Elfland as bordering on the twilight of the sky was something magical taken directly from fairytales. The King of Elfland, himself, was never really seen as much as felt. He’s a presence in the story, whose power and authority echo throughout the tale. It’s fascinating and interesting and beautiful. The runes he used in the story had earth-shattering effects, able to change the border of his land to recede, to block people from entering.

It’s an amazing story. I would recommend it for anyone who loves older fiction and fantasy books.

Lord Dunsany writes like a man who has the muses on his shoulder, feeding him the language of imagination and wonder themselves.


You might like some of my other work:

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Book Review: Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

9781101965337-us-300Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan is a fine work in high fantasy. I will admit I imagined a far different story from the summary than what it ended up being, but it was a good read. I think I burned through it in about one afternoon.

I will be covering the characters, so if you don’t want to hear the beats of the story, just know I think it was a good book, but wish it had been more focused.

The story follows a few characters:

Raithe is a warrior from a barbarian-type clan. He maliciously kills a Fhrey, a god to humans, in a dispute of his father and his father’s family sword. Raithe is called the god-killer, and as such travels with his new companion, Malcolm, a former slave of the Fhrey. They eventually find themselves in Dahl Rhen.

Arion is the next character, though it feels she was underutilized. Arion is the tutor to the prince, and as such holds a great amount of respect in Fhrey society. She’s a gifted mage (or whatever they call them) and has great powers even among the Fhrey. Interestingly, the Fhrey society seems to have almost developed a caste system over time, and it was only slightly touched upon in the book. She is eventually told to find the god-killer.

Persephone is the widow of the former chief of Dahl Rhen. She is intelligent and finds herself drawn to Raithe, when the man arrives. However, it’s interesting how she keeps him at arm’s length due to her recent loss. She also listens to Suri, a young mystic with a pet wolf.

Suri is my least favorite character. She seemingly has no real problems or weaknesses. Instead, she’s already gifted and even Arion sees a skilled mage in her. I’m not sure why she rubs me the wrong way other than the fact that she’s supposed to be perfect; all bad things seemingly come to her from outside, never internally. Suri has foretold the coming destruction of their society, and because of that she works with Persephone to forestall it.

REAL SPOILERS BELOW, read on at your own peril!

The only thing I didn’t like was the mention of Raithe’s killing of the Fhrey actually after he had incapacitated the elven being. It seemed like a big deal, but it was tossed aside with a single line of dialogue towards the end of the book.

Also, there was the “conspiracy” aspect. I won’t spoil it for you, but it came out of nowhere and felt like it wasn’t set up at all. Payoffs require setups, so I wish it had been setup better.

 

Ultimately, I liked the book. Great characters and an interesting setting. I would love to see more of the Fhrey, so we’ll see how the next books are!

 


 

If you liked my review you might like these others:

Book Review: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

You may also like these posts I wrote about scifi and writing:

What is Science Fiction?

Finding Your Writing Style

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Book Review: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

anderson_broken_sword_carterI previously covered Poul Anderson with my book review of The Enemy Stars. It was okay, but with The Broken Sword, I feel like he really shined as an author.

The Broken Sword is a fantasy novel, but it’s set in real locations during the viking age of Northern Europe. The twist is that there are actual faeriekin, as they’re called, who are the legendary creatures of old. Interestingly, this means the gods of various locales exist as well, with Odin and Thor being mentioned prominently, as well as various Celtic deities. The Christian god is mentioned as well, in the context of being the “new god” that the old ones fear. It’s an interesting idea.

The story opens with an elf named Imric, who steals a child from a viking leader named Orm and replaces the child with a changeling he sired with a captured troll woman. To celebrate the child, one of the Aesir, the Norse gods, gifts a cursed sword to Imric. The changeling and the human child grow up separately, but look similar in appearance. The human child is named Skafloc, and he comes to understand the elfs’ ways, going so far as to make love to the elf women at times. The changeling is named Valgard, and he becomes a ruthless beserker.

Before I get into spoilers, I want to say that I absolutely loved this book. I think it was one of the best fantasy novels I’d ever read and by far the most interesting thing I’ve read from Poul Anderson yet. The ending didn’t awe me, but it was satisfying. I would say this is a hugely underrated classic of fantasy.

SPOILERS BELOW

One of the odd parts of the book is how Valgard kills basically his whole family, except his foster sister. She flees, and is smitten with Skafloc, who she doesn’t know is her brother. This whole relationship was a little off-putting, but I think that was the point. When their relationship is revealed by the ghost of Orm, it’s shocking and ruins any chance they had to be together.

As far as the ending goes, while I understand a “happy ending” was impossible, I still wished for it as I read. I knew it was coming, with Odin being seen previously multiple times, but it was still sad to see happen.


You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

jemisin_fifthseason-tpI’ve had this book recommended to me multiple times over the past year, but just recently picked it up. I’m glad I did!

The trilogy of novels started with The Fifth Season is critically acclaimed, the first book winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016.

The Fifth Season is three stories in one, told throughout the novel. The first follows a young girl who revealed supernatural powers, the second follows a young woman in the Fulcrum (which is essentially a guild for the orogenes), and the third story is in second person following an older woman. The stories switch between each POV throughout the story.

Throughout the three stories you explore a little about the characters but a lot about the world. Honestly, the world as a dying Earth with strict social structures and a magical system based on geology was creative and unique.

A few things I don’t like:

  • Damaya doesn’t seem to have much of a character, and is a little obvious as far as her characterization goes. She has no real growth or change, and seems to remain the strong-willed overly intelligent girl right from the beginning.

To be fair, she does have some interesting storylines, like the one with the kids bullying her in the Fulcrum. I also like the interactions she had with her Guardian.

  • The second person sections were creative, but difficult to read. Honestly I had so much trouble adjusting to it, but once I did, I enjoyed what I read.

A few things I like:

  • Syenite and Alabaster’s story is the most interesting story in the book. It’s got character development, growth, change, and mysteries that are explored. I loved it.

Syen is a little shallow, but Alabaster was fascinating. When they’re first introduced it was awkward and uncomfortable. As they went on, they maintained a level of awkwardness but it was understandable.

  • The big star was the worldbuilding. N. K. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is fantastic. From the fully-developed organization and culture to the magic system everything is fleshed out and interesting.

Before I get into spoilers, let me say this: the book is award winning. It’s well deserved.

I think this is one of the best written books I’ve read in the fantasy genre, and would recommend it to anyone who errs on the side of experimentation and creativity with genre fiction. Despite how picky I am, I would say it’s fantastic.

SPOILERS BELOW

The first main twist in the book is the fact that all three storylines follow the same character. I absolutely loved that revelation. Syen as a character was a little boring, but the story was told so brilliantly that it didn’t matter.

What’s more is that Alabaster basically made up for Syen’s lack of depth. ‘Baster was forced to continually impregnate other orogenes due to his status as a ten ring. However, he was most likely a closeted gay man. He also never fell in love with Syen, which made a ton of sense.

I think at this point my other major complaint can be aired: the lack of love. I understand this was probably intentional, given the world the story takes place in, but it felt alien and inhuman, transferring that oddity to the characters. It was also apparent when Syen had her first child. You felt little to no love between mother and child, and made Syed seem robotic.

Now, I want to talk about the ending, so I’ll give you a nice warning and white out the text below:

ENDING SPOILER

Syen ends up killing her son in the end, to kill the Guardian that was bonded to her. It was heartbreaking and sad, but also felt soulless because it didn’t seem like Syen even cared about the kid to begin with. I kind of don’t understand why she had to kill him anyways if the obelisk was all ready moving towards her for aid, or why she didn’t just launch more projectiles at the ships.

The ending revelation as to what caused the Earth to get into its “current” state was interesting. I also noticed the distinct lack of description of the moon, and when they revealed that humanity killed Earth’s child, I knew it was the moon (as did most readers I’m sure). So for the book to end with the question from a damaged Alabaster concerning the moon was a nice surprise. 

All in all I would, again, recommend this book.


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You may also like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

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Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

51r6XIPWmoL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Oh my, this is a big one. I first read Tolkien back in middle school. Like many other people, I was forced to read The Hobbit and discuss it in class. I remember vividly the cassette recording my teacher played of Tolkien himself reading the “riddles in the dark” section of The Hobbit. It was fantastic.

But today I want to review the sequel. Most critics agree that Tolkien outdid himself with his sequel, The Lord of the Rings.

The book is technically three books. These are The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. And even further than that, each book has two parts to it. This is especially seen in the last two books, where the stories diverge between Frodo and Sam and the rest of the fellowship.

The story is concerned with the events after The Hobbit ended. Bilbo Baggins is in Bag End, and has his ward Frodo. The story opens with Bilbo’s birthday. He’s 111 years old but doesn’t seem to have aged. He still has the invisibility ring he got at the end of The Hobbit, but doesn’t seem to be adventuring anymore.

However, like The Hobbit, Gandalf arrives and everything changes. Bilbo uses the ring and leaves it behind, leaving for the land of the elves. Frodo is given the ring instead, and it’s revealed the object belongs to Sauron of Mordor, the great evil to the East.

The story follows Bilbo and his friends as they take the ring through Middle Earth to destroy it in Mount Doom. Honestly, the book ramps up once the hobbits leave the Shire. It especially hits its stride when they meet Strider, who is also known as Aragorn.

That leads to my one complaint. It’s one that’s been leveled at the book in modernity: Aragorn is good at everything. He seemingly has little flaw, despite his wanderings with the Rangers. The other issue with the book is the lack of progression in the Frodo and Sam story line. Once they get to Mordor it picks up, but it certainly drags at times.

As far as positives, I can’t speak enough praises to this book. Tolkien blends song and poetry with prose in unique places in the book, and it’s beautifully written. His world is thoroughly developed, the world-building being a step above every other author of the time (though I’d still prefer Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian).

If all you’ve ever seen of Lord of the Rings are the movies, you’re well-equipped to understand the story. However, much is redacted from the books to cover a 9 to 12 hour run time. Characters like Tom Bombadil and scenes like the return to the Shire are completely left out (the latter being one of my favorite scenes in the book).

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy, as it was basically the guidebook on how to write fantasy during the 20th century.


If you like my work consider supporting me with a donation! http://www.paypal.me/FrankOrmond

You may also like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman