Monday, August 26, 2013

FIRE SEA by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Fire Sea is a 1991 fantasy novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the third in the seven-volume Death Gate Cycle. Here, Haplo travels to the subterranean world of Abarrach, a dying realm in which the Sartan remnant has turned to the forbidden art of necromancy.

This is easily the best novel in the series thus far. The authors use their striking atmosphere – a third distinct and captivating world – to tell what is essentially a horror story. It certainly helps that the novel depicts a scenario that’s extremely horrific.

Fire Sea also starts to give us some real insight into the questions raised in previous novels, particularly the burning question of what happened to the Sartan on the other worlds. At the same time, the authors introduce compelling new questions while simultaneously ratcheting up the stakes for all concerned.

We also get some nice character development for both Haplo and Alfred, with Haplo beginning to make the obvious move from antihero to a man with a conscience, and with Alfred beginning to maybe grow a pair. Both characters can, from time to time, feel like one-note caricatures, so this evolution is welcome, even if their moody self-questioning can be a little much.

In short, Fire Sea is a compelling blend of horror and intrigue, one that is full of bold promise for the rest of this series.


Monday, August 19, 2013


11 Great Horror Stories (1969) contains famous works from Lovecraft, Poe, and Stoker in addition to stories from a number of lesser-known authors, including Jack Finney, L. P. Hartley, Gerald Kersh, John Collier, A. E. Sendling, Anthony Vercoe, E. Everett Evans, and Fielden Hughes.

This collection is ambitiously but inaccurately named. While it may come as little surprise that not all the stories are great (most, in fact, are not), a goodly number of them aren’t even horror. There’s some straight fantasy here, and some historical fiction, and about the only thing these entries share with actual horror stories is some small measure of suspense.  

On the whole, the quality of the stories here is average. “The Oblong Box” is hardly Poe’s finest work, and all the horror stories are more or less by the numbers. The non-horror tales here, some of which are more ill-fitting than others, are of similar quality to these.  

The highlights of 11 Stories are Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” and Stoker’s “The Judge’s House” – you can easily find both of these classics in other, superior volumes, and there’s really not much else to get excited about.


Monday, August 12, 2013

ELVEN STAR by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Elven Star is a 1990 fantasy novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the second in the seven-volume Death Gate Cycle. Here, Haplo travels to the jungle world of Pryan, where the threat of destruction hangs over the populace.

Weis and Hickman give us another interesting (and mysterious) world here, and they do a very nice job of portraying the dread and terror the characters face. The tytans are truly menacing antagonists, which goes a long way toward making the story compelling. Unlike those in Dragon Wing, however, Elven Star’s featured characters aren’t the movers and shakers of the world, and the authors’ focus on peripheral characters makes the book something of a slow starter.

Elven Star really stumbles with the romance. While it’s handled competently in some chapters, the book’s prominent love story is rushed over by the authors in its initial stages, which makes it tough to buy into. Moods swing like pendulums, and the reader may roll his or her eyes more than once.

Weis and Hickman also grind the gears a bit at the end when shifting to Haplo’s story (the engrossing mystery of what happened to the Sartan, whose fingerprints are everywhere) from everyone else’s (and they get a little preachy about racism, too). Nevertheless, there’s lots going on, and the novel is satisfying enough.

Zifnab, Dragonlance’s Fizban imported to the smallest detail, is something of a sticky wicket. His antics and pop culture anachronisms are good for some humor, but his introduction early in the story (and with a dragon, no less) and relatively prominent role amount to, essentially, deus ex machina arriving at the beginning of the book and then waiting around until called upon (those who have read the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy will see this immediately). Certainly it allows the authors to set plot advancement to Beginner difficulty.  

It’s got some problems, but Elven Star is another page-turner from Weis and Hickman set in an imaginative world.


Monday, August 5, 2013


Billy Graham in Quotes is a 2011 book compiled by Franklin Graham and Donna Lee Toney. It does what it says on the cover.

The vast majority of these quotes are taken from Billy Graham’s many books. The quotes are arranged topically: “Billy Graham on Abortion,” “…on Addiction,” “…on Age,” America, angels, anger, anxiety, and so forth, all the way down to “Billy Graham on Young People.” There are about a hundred topics, with an average of three or four pages devoted to each. The quotes are centered on the page; that takes some getting used to. 

This book is nearly 400 pages. While this is perfectly understandable given Graham’s sixty-plus years of ministry and authorship, it’s unusually large for a book of this sort. But it should come as little surprise that the book can get awfully repetitive very quickly. Not that there are any bad or worthless quotes, but there’s a great deal of overlap; quantity over quality, as it were. The book could have been cut by a quarter or more without any real damage being done.

Graham is almost never witty or clever; his quotes are nearly always simple statements of biblical truth. This isn’t a criticism by any means; it’s just that he’s hardly quotable in the way Ben Franklin or Mark Twain is. This has a further hampering effect on readability, particularly as many of these quotes would really have benefitted from some context.

It’s also hard for me to imagine much application for this book. It could be used as a topical reference for those with a comprehensive library of Graham’s books, I suppose, or as good bathroom reading on its own.

I affirm the vast majority of what Graham says in his quotes; I just don’t see much need for this particular book. I’d imagine most readers would be better off spending the time reading Graham’s actual books (or the Bible).


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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”