Fantasy Fiction

                                                                                                      

The Weirdness by Jeremy P. Bushnell

You’re a young, struggling writer living in Brooklyn, working in a sandwich shop, with a love relationship on the brink. You desperately want the approval of your literary peers, and to have your novel published. Would you go so far as to make a deal with the Devil? That’s the prospect that Billy Ridgeway faces one morning when he wakes up to find the Devil sitting on the living room couch. The Devil whips up a cup of coffee and delivers a PowerPoint presentation along with a proposition. Some warlocks inhabiting NYC are in possession of the Neko (a waving cat statue typically seen in Asian restaurants) of Infinite Equilibrium. It has the power to destroy the world, and the Devil wants to retrieve it. So he asks for your help, and in return he’ll arrange for your novel to be published. Accept this premise, hang on, and enjoy the ride! Action-packed and full of fantastical plot twists, turns, moral dilemmas, and more than its share of “weirdness,” this literary debut straddles between a coming-of-age novel and a video game, The Weirdness is an urban fantasy delivered in a comedic and contemporary writing style. At times dark and visceral, bordering on the absurd, but always entertaining, The Weirdness will surely appeal to 20- and 30-something readers. But any reader willing to suspend logic and reality as we know it for protective shields, invisible buildings, and “sex-demon-wolf-things” will enjoy Bushnell’s literary romp through the juxtaposition of good and evil.

Read-alikes would include The Writers Afterlife by Richard Vetere; The Devil of Echo Lake by Douglas Wynne; and Up Jumps the Devil by Michael Poore.

Deborah Formosa,  Northport-East Northport Public Library


The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane takes place on a country lane in West Sussex, England.  Lettie’s ocean at the end of the lane is really just a pond, but it is also a portal between our world and a scary, inexplicable one where death or worse is possible.  Forty years ago the boy’s family lived in a small house in the Sussex countryside – mom, dad, older daughter, younger son.  When 11 year-old neighbor Lettie Hempstock and the boy walk into the pond which she calls her ocean, he accidentally lets go of her hand, leaving himself vulnerable to an unknown presence that lives in the pond.  At that moment it enters his body via his foot in the form of a long worm.   That worm later becomes Ursula Monkton who, well, just isn’t right (or even human for that matter).  Not the kind of creature that should be hired as a nanny to a family that live on a lonely country lane.  Thank goodness the women at the Hempstock Farm are … special, too.

Read-alikes:
Something wicked this way comes by Ray Bradbury
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Perfect by Rachel Joyce
The City by Dean R. Koontz
Among Others by Jo Walton

- Kathleen Carter, Retired - Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Quentin receives a letter that changes his life – magic is real and he’s invited to take the entrance exams to go to magic college. Having been obsessed with a series of books similar to The Chronicles of Narnia all his life, Quentin is thrilled. What follows are years of work learning how to do spells in multiple languages and specializing in a magical craft that will take Quentin into adulthood as well as an adventure Quentin and his new classmates will never forget.

Does the premise sound familiar? This novel, a mix between Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, never quite lives up to the reader’s hope of being transplanted into magic college. Quentin is an unlikable character, never quite happy and very directionless. His friends at magic college are one dimensional, with the exception of Alice, and most of their time is spent hanging out talking about magic and trying to sound smart as opposed to actually practicing magic and showing the reader what the magical world is really like. The college itself prepares the students for nothing and upon graduating the students have no idea what they’re supposed to do. The only time the reader really gets a glimpse at a magical world is with the secondary plot line of going on a mission in Fillory, the world from Quentin’s books that is similar to Narnia.

Some chapters are enthralling making the reader feel as if he or she is part of the story while other chapters are repetitive and literary just for the sake of being so leaving the reader slightly confused and wondering why he or she should care. The characters are never quite fleshed out and there’s so much twenty-something melancholy throughout the book that the characters are constantly lost and make rash decisions that turn deadly. The teachers are there for the sake of every school needing teachers, but they provide no guidance of support to the students. The Magicians is more a coming-of-age story set at a magic college than a fantasy book about magicians and the magical world. The audience for this book would be readers in their twenties and thirties as anyone older probably wouldn’t be able to relate to the characters constant search for self or for those who enjoy a light fantasy read without the world building and real magical background.

Read-alikes
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library

Highfell Grimoires by Langley Hyde

Neil Franklin’s well born parents die suddenly, leaving Neil and his sister Nell in dire financial circumstances.  They accept the help of an uncle who offers Nell a home and Neil a job teaching at a boarding school. As the story unfolds we learn that the school is not what it seems, and the uncle not what he appears to be: the tale turns Dickensian which is unsurprising as this is steampunk, a fantasy sub-genre noted for its Victorian/Edwardian sensibilities and early industrial age technology used in alternative world ways.

The boarding school flies high in the clouds, supported there by hot air/steam machinery and the mysterious aether.  Neil is a scholar of languages and deciphering spells, and hates to turn over, as a stipulation of his uncle’s help, the family grimoire.  Grimoires are family heirlooms, chests which contain various magic spells, correctly only unlockable by one of matrilineal descent, but Neil becomes aware that dark misdeeds are occurring at Highfell Hall, concerning a grimoire collection and his students. Their caretaker, Leofa, is a rough but charismatic, intriguing man, near Neil’s age.  Righting the wrongs at the Hall brings Neil and Leofa closer together, and their passionate love affair becomes central to the story.

Hyde’s debut shows promise: her writing is accomplished, and her plotting is capable. Some describe her style as atmospheric and world-creating, likening her work to that of Ursula Le Guin. Other read-alikes would include Beth Cato’s new title, “The Clockwork Dagger” (Harper Voyager: 2014) and “The Mammoth Book of Steampunk”, edited by Sean Wallace (Running Press: 2012). This latter presents thirty short stories and might be a perfect introduction to the genre. Something about Hyde’s style reminds me of the work of Canadian Robertson Davies (1913-1995), whose provocative writing I’d like to see revived from the relative obscurity into which it has fallen. Davies combined magic and Jungian thought in a very imaginative body of work.

Langley Hyde has a blog, and her own webpage.  She studied at Oxford, eclectically, reading about alchemy and heresy. She lived in London, near the Science Museum, and haunted the neighborhoods of Camden Town and Soho.  The Cloisters was a favorite destination while she lived in New York. 

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library
                                                              

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce  
                  
Christmas Day a family hears a knock at the door and is astounded to find their daughter Tara there.  Tara had gone missing twenty years before at age sixteen and has been long presumed dead.   Tara not only looks like she is still sixteen, she thinks she was missing for only six months and claims she was abducted by fairies.   Her parents are ecstatic about her return as is her brother Peter, but her family is also suspect of her explanation of where she has been all these years.  Richie, Tara’s boyfriend at the time of her disappearance and the only suspect, has never gotten over Tara and is hopeful to reunite with her.  Her family wants to know what happened to Tara while she was gone and seeks out the services of a renowned Psychiatrist, Dr. Underwood.  They hope he can help them find out what happened to Tara.  We follow Tara as she recalls her experiences with the fairies.  Her recollections are magical but dreamlike, scary and delusional all at the same time.  Tara struggles to adjust to being with her family and feels misunderstood about her experience, becoming alienated from the family she so desperately wanted to get back to.
Some characters were one dimensional, such as Tara’s parents, but the other characters such as Tara, Peter and Richie were well developed.  The chapters alternate between an unknown narrator and the Psychiatrist.  The tone is ominous and one of uncertainty.  It is a little slow in the going, but once you get past the first few chapters, it is hard to put down.  Overall, an interesting blend of mystery, folklore and fantasy that was like a modern day fairy tale with a dark twist.

Author Notes:

Graham Joyce (born 22 October 1954) was an English writer of speculative fictions and the recipient of numerous awards, including the O. Henry Award, for both his novels and short stories.  He taught Creative Writing to graduate students at  Nottingham Trent University.  Some Kind of Fairy Tale was his 19th novel.  He published one after that.  He is also the author of numerous short stories and articles.  Some Kind of Fairy Tale won the British Fantasy Society's Fantasy Novel of the Year award 2013. Joyce died in September  of 2014, having been diagnosed with lymphoma the year before.

Read-alikes
The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell
Storm Front by Jim Butler

Donna Brown, Northport –East Northport Public Library


 Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Under Heaven is the first novel in a historical fantasy series that takes place in the land of Kitai, a fictional representation of Tang Dynasty China during the 8th century.

Shen Tai, a former soldier and aspiring scholar, has spent the last two years in solitude by a remote mountain lake burying the dead soldiers from a battle between Kitai and its Taguran rival. He does this to honor the memory of his deceased father, a general. To honor his sacrifice he is gifted by a princess with 250 Sardian horses, the finest in the land. This is a gift worthy of an emperor, and one which instantly makes him a player in Kitai power politics. It also happens to paint a big target on his back, as the gift threatens a lot of rivals at the court. As the story progresses we find that there is more back story to the gift than just a great honor to Shen Tai.

The author’s goal was “to keep his readers turning pages until 2 A.M.,” and he largely succeeds in this. Under Heaven is full of intrigue, court politics, some violence, a little magic, and a good erotic sensibility.

Kay spent seven years researching Chinese history to get the book right and his research shows. He creates both sympathetic and dastardly characters with richly imagined lives, and settings that vividly bring the history of China to life.

One thing Kay doesn’t do is try to pretend he has insight into a real person’s life and thoughts. Kay says, “I have come to dislike the appropriation of real lives as a vehicle for an author’s guesswork or distortion. I prefer to offer a character inspired by…rather than pretend I have any access to the thoughts and relationships of the real figure.”

If you or your patrons enjoy fantasy fiction, you should put Guy Gavriel Kay at the top of your reading list. Under Heaven would be a great choice for Game of Thrones fans, as well as for those fantasy readers who want something different than the usual quasi-medieval, Viking type novels that populate most epic fantasy sections. Those interested in Chinese history would also be likely to appreciate the book.

Read-alikes would include:

George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones)
Glen Cook, The Black Company novels
Maurice Druon, The Iron King (Book one of The Accursed Kings series)
Guy Gavriel Kay, River of Stars (Sequel to Under Heaven)
Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon (Based on Arabian mythos)
Amish Tripathi, The Immortals of Meluha. (Based on Indian and Hindu mythos)

The author was born in Manitoba, Canada in 1954. He is trained as a lawyer, and was in practice for several years, before he joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as a writer and producer. Since the late 1980s he has been a full time writer.

Bruce Silverstein, Patchogue-Medford Library


The City by Dean Koontz       
                                                    
Jonah Kirk’s mom is a gifted singer who won scholarships as a teen.  His grand-father, Teddy Bledsoe, is a “formidable” piano man.  The City is New York.  Set in the sixties, Koontz’ story encompasses three years in the life of 8-year old Jonah.  A musical prodigy at the piano, he is entranced not by rock music but by big band swing music, his grandfather’s legacy. 

The City, in the form of a woman called Pearl, takes Jonah under her wing and in a series of dreams he sees what lies ahead and begins preparing for what is to come  and who the enemy is.  When a strange woman named Fiona Cassidy shows up as a new tenant in Jonah’s building, his instincts place him on guard - he recognizes her from his nightmarish dreams.

As the mystery deepens, Jonah finds help from a neighbor, Mr. Yoshioka, a former detainee at Manzanar.  There’s much subterfuge and a touch of the supernatural going on.  Somehow the father who had abandoned Jonah is involved and the plot continues to thicken.

Recommended for all Koontz fans – men, women and teens.  There’s history about famous musicians and singers of the big band and rock eras.  An atmospheric New York City setting.  Opposition to the Vietnam War.  Race relations.  Art.  Social mores.

Expect the unexpected and you won’t be disappointed or as one critic wrote, “Koontz offers a passable modern fairy tale about good and evil, love and loyalty.”  (Kirkus)

Read-alikes:
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Invisible by James Patterson
The Lost Island by Douglas Preston
Trader by Charles De Lint
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff

Grace O’Connor, West Islip Public Library


Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

All is not well in the Kingdom of the Mists, aka San Francisco.  Faerie Duke Sylvester Torquill’s beloved wife and daughter are missing, and Toby Day, half-fey Knight of the realm, has come out of seclusion to track them.  Her search takes her from a carp pond in Golden Gate Park to “Home,” a squat from her own troubled past, to the posh apartment of a murdered Faerie countess.  Bound to use her limited powers to protect the countess’ treasure from the killer, Toby forges on.

This gritty urban fantasy proceeds by fits and starts as our overmatched heroine is attacked, fights back, loses, recovers with the aid of sympathetic characters, and tries again.  The mood is bleak, the action violent, and the settings dark and mysterious, but the tone is brightened by Toby’s can-do attitude and the friendly creatures who come to her aid.  The book is an unlikely combination of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Maltese Falcon, and A Knight’s Tale (the Heath Ledger movie).  Anyone with a taste for strong female characters or noir or fairy lore will be satisfied.

Rosemary and Rue is the first in the October Daye series, which now numbers eight books.  Under the name Mira Grant, McGuire has written two Science Fiction/Horror series:  The Newsflesh Trilogy (Zombies) and the Parasitology series (genetically engineered tapeworms).  This year, she was involved in a bizarre dustup over the choice of a host for the Hugo awards.

Read-alikes:
Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Hounded by Kevin Hearne
Under the Gun by Hannah Jayne
Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell
DarkFever by Karen Marie Moning

Jackie Malone, North Bellmore Public Library


Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Game of Thrones is Book One of the epic fantasy series Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Martin started writing the series in 1991 and the first installment was published in 1996.

Game of Thrones is set on two continents Westeros and Essos on which an extraordinary and unexplained event has thrown the seasons out of balance and the continent of Westeros has been enjoying a decade-long summer – till now.  The recurring observation that Winter is Coming fills the reader with foreboding.

The fantasy elements of Game of Thrones are intense: White Walkers who appear to be impossible to kill with their black grabbing hands and piercing dead blue eyes; the Red Queen with her psychic powers and terrifying black magic as part of her evil arsenal (a recurring observation which heralds the arrival of the Red Queen is the night is dark and full of terrors; and of course the birth of three dragons to round out the fantastical world Martin has created.

If all that weren’t enough Martin, has conceived a complex world in which there are seven kingdoms all of which have a “king” and so the Game of Thrones ensues.

This is a splendid saga with superbly crafted characters, although at times a bit convoluted and hard to keep track of them all, but so worth it.

Read-alikes:
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Once and Future King by T. H. White

Peggy McCarthy, Smithtown/West Islip Library

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

This book is set in Scadriel, where ash falls from the sky, the few plants are ragged and brown and the immortal Lord Ruler keeps his subjects in line using violence and terror. Vin is a ragged member of a thieving crew, grateful to get a mouthful of food and escape regular beatings, when she meets half-Skaa Kelsier.  Vin knows that she has a special powers but Kelsier informs her that she is a Mistborn with allomantic abilities, (the ability to ingest metals to enhance her strength, to shield herself and to fight.)  Under Kelsier’s tutelage, Vin learns to use her powers.

Kelsier is one of the greatest Mistborn Allomancers and also one of the very few to ever escape the Pits of Hathsin where he worked as a slave.  Kelsier is hired to pull off a robbery and foment a Skaa rebellion.  Unbeknownst to his employers, he decides to overthrow the government and destroy the Lord Ruler. He assembles a loyal crew of powerful allomancers, each with a special power, to meet this objective.

Mistborn is the first in a fantasy trilogy. Sanderson does an excellent job of developing his large cast of characters, giving each distinctive traits and voices. The world of Scadriel comes alive with Sanderson’s skillful descriptions which are woven into the story. Although it is an imaginary world, there is a strong sense of place. The psychological aspects of the use of the allomantic powers contrasts with most fantasy series in that the internal magic requires more emotional contribution than the external magic that comes from swords and wands.

Fantasy fans will enjoy the straightforward writing and interesting mix of characters of Mistborn. 

Read-alikes:
Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin
Shannara Series by Terry Brooks
Runelords series by David Farland

Terry Z. Lucas, Rogers Memorial Library



Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Clay Jannon, the main character of Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore is a laid off web designer.  Desperate for a job, he walks into the 24 hour bookstore and is hired by Mr. Penumbra.  Clay works the night shift and hardly sees any customers at all.  He is sure that the book store is a cover for some other clandestine activity because the store is also a lending library and peculiar people come to borrow books from the special collection.   Only members are allowed to borrow the books and Clay is warned not to even look at the books.  But he does and finds that the books make no sense and seem to be just a stream of writing written in code.  Mr. Penumbra explains that the books are a puzzle that lead to something special. 

The story takes place sometime in the 21st century in Silicon Valley.  One of Clay’s roommates is an android.  There are allusions to modern day technology, such as Kindles, Nooks and 3D visualization.  Clay meets a girl who works at Google.  She is very smart and talks about the idea of the Singularity, when technology and computers will develop and humans will find new ways to think and solve many of the world’s problems like cancer and perhaps achieve immortality.

Clay decides to make a 3D version of bookstore to try to locate books, verify which are on loan and to whom and to predict which book a member will request next.  The members come with regularity and it seems to him that they are all working on the same puzzle.  In working on the 3D program, Clay solves one of the important clues that the members have been working on for many years.  He tells Penumbra that he used a computer to break the code and the following day Penumbra disappears.  The members become concerned that Penumbra is going to be punished by the Fellowship.  Clay goes on a quest to find Penumbra and learns that the Fellowship has its headquarters in New York.  There the members of this secret society wear black robes and meet in a room where large, ancient books are studied.  When he finds Penumbra, Penumbra explains that the Fellowship is working on the ancient texts to decode the greatest question:  How to live forever.
 
Clay doesn’t believe in the theory of immortality but because of his friendship with Penumbra he tries to help.  With his Googler friend, Kat, and the powerful computational force of Google they attempt to break the code of the ancient texts. 

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour bookstore has elements of fantasy, mystery and adventure.   It is a story about a quest for knowledge but also about the conflict between old knowledge in books and new technology.  The secret society with its ancient texts is mysterious and reminds you of the similar themes in books like Shadow of the Wind or Angel & Demons.  The story is told from Clay’s point of view and the humor and intelligence of this young modern man is engaging.  When he describes the confused look of Mr. Penumbra he says it was “equivalent of 404 page not found.”  Clay and his friend Neel also reenact some of their role playing games of a Dungeon and Dragons type game they played as kids.  It is a fantasy in the modern technology age where the power of Google computers and programmers can help solve a 500 year old mystery.

This book is recommended for readers who appreciate the magic of technology and the joy of books.  The protagonist’s tone is conversational and humorous and pulls the reader into a fun adventure/fantasy.

Robin Sloan graduated from Michigan State University where he studied economics and co-founded a literary magazine called Oats.  He worked in various jobs that involved media, including Twitter.  He began this novel as a short story on his blog.  It became a bestseller in the U.S. and has been published in more than 20 countries.  

Awards: A Winner of the Alex Award, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle.

Read-alikes: 
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron, 
The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay,
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson.


Myrna Velez, Brentwood Public Library