Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.
“If we walk far enough, we shall sometime come to someplace.”
-Dorothy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
This column’s theme: We’re off to see the wizard.
This month, it’s fantasy novels on the lighter side, all of which, unsurprisingly involve encounters with users of magic. So if you like your fantasy novels more on the fantastical side, and less on the grim and dark then you’re in luck. All of these books are standalone stories with a more straightforward narrative, faster pacing, and generally less complexity than, say Game of Thrones or The Lord of The Rings. These are all quick reads, but if you can’t get enough of them you’re all set, because these authors have written a lot of books that follow after.
So if you like:
Magic that’s less the solution, and more the problem.
Your fantasy worlds believable but not gritty.
Role playing games.
Books appropriate for ages 10 and up.
You might like
The Misenchanted Sword, Book 1 of the Ethshar series, by Lawrence Watt Evans.
A soldier stuck behind enemy lines thought he was lucky to acquire a sword that, once drawn, becomes the ultimate weapon. He feels a lot less lucky when he finds out that some gifts come with a price.
“I’m finished with your sword, I said. It’s carrying all the enchantments I could put on it under the circumstances. If it won’t get you home safely, then nothing I know will. Take it and go. And don’t draw it until you’re over the horizon.”
Still befuddled, Valder accepted the sword and looked at it stupidly for a moment before hanging it in its accustomed place on his belt. It looked no different, as far as he could see by the fire’s faint glow, from what it had been when he arrived. When it was securely in place, he reached for the hilt to check the draw; a soldier needed to be able to get his blade out quickly.
“No, I said!” the wizard barked at him; a bony hand clamped around his wrist. “You mustn’t draw it here! It’s dangerous! Don’t draw it until you need it, and you won’t need it until you’re well away from here.”
“Whatever you say,” Valder said, taking his hand off the sword.
The wizard calmed. “That’s better. Ah… I gave it a name.”
“What?” Valder was still too sleepy to keep up with this apparent change of subject.
“I gave the sword a name; it’s to be called Wirikidor.”
“Wirikidor? What kind of a name is Wirikidor?”
“An old one, soldier. It’s from a language so old that the name of the tongue is forgotten and no trace remains of the people who spoke it. It means ‘slayer of warriors,’ and it was part of the spell I put on the thing, so now that’s its name.”
Valder glanced down and resisted the temptation to grip the hilt again.
“I was never much for naming swords; some of the men do, but it never seemed to do them any good.”
“I didn’t say it will do you any good, but that sword’s name is Wirikidor now, and I thought you ought to know, since it will be yours. Ah… that is, it should be. It’s got an untriggered spell on it, a variant of the Spell of True Ownership; whoever draws it next will be its owner for as long as he lives. Make sure that’s you, soldier, and the blade will protect you.”
“Protect me how?”
“Ah… I’m not quite sure, actually.”
“It will protect me once I draw it, but I mustn’t draw it until I’m leagues from here?”
The Misenchanted Sword is the first of Watt-Evans’ Ethshar novels, which take place in the same world with different characters over years. Ethshar came out of Evans’ work on a role playing game, which serves to give the world an additional sense of depth since the reader gets the sense that there are rules that dictate how things like magic work, and the advantages provided by any character’s profession probably have drawbacks as well. If you’re looking for well-grounded, realistic fantasy stories that don’t have the gritty and depressing feel of Grimdark, and aren’t goofy parodies, the Ethshar novels are for you.
Or if you like:
Characters with a unique talent.
Fantasy realms shaped like Florida.
…and godawful puns (I realize I’ve mentioned that twice, but given the quantity involved, it does bear repeating…)
You might like
In a land where everyone can do some sort of magic, Bink can’t, and is facing exile because of it.
“What is your question for Humfrey, if I may ask?”
What difference did it make? “I have no magic,” he confessed. “At least, I seem to have none. All through my childhood I was at a disadvantage because I couldn’t use magic to compete. I could run faster than anybody else, but the kid who could levitate still won the race. Stuff like that.”
“Centaurs get along perfectly well without magic,” she pointed out. “We wouldn’t take magic if it were offered.”
Bink did not believe that, but did not make an issue of it. “Humans have a different attitude, I guess. When I got older, it got worse. Now I will be exiled if I don’t show some magic talent. I’m hoping Magician Humfrey can-well, if I do have magic, it means I can stay and marry my girl and have some pride. Finally.”
Cherie nodded. “I suspected it was something like that. I suppose if I were in your situation I could choke down the necessity of having magic, though I really think your culture’s values are distorted. You should base your citizenship on superior qualities of personality and achievement, not on-”
“Exactly,” Bink agreed fervently.
She smiled. “You really should have been a centaur.” She shook her head so that her hair flung out prettily. “You have undertaken a hazardous journey.”
“Not more hazardous than the one to the Mundane world that will otherwise be forced on me.”
A Spell For Chameleon chronicles Bink’s hero’s journey of finding himself and his place in the world, and that magical world of Xanth (looking suspiciously like Florida) where everyone should have some kind of magical ability is an interesting one. If there is a quibble to be had with the writing, it’s that re-reading this as an adult, it does come across as maybe trying too hard, with the feel of a non-stop series of in jokes and a whole lot of tell-don’t-show and the odd racy aside. Still, I’d read a bunch of Anthony’s work as a teenager and the preponderance of Xanth books (45 and counting) is a solid indicator that it’s fans abound, so you might want to check it out.
Or if you like:
Characters using limited powers creatively.
A more satirical take on fantasy tropes.
The hero’s journey.You might like
Another Fine Myth, Book 1 of the Myth-Adventures series, by Robert Asprin.
Apprentice magician Skeeve learns the assassins that killed his master may be coming for him next, but fortunately he’s teamed up with Aahz; an experienced scaly sorcerer from another dimension…who has just lost all ability to do magic. Still that’s something? Right?
The demon curled its lips back, revealing a double row of needle-sharp teeth.
I considered changing my chosen course of action; I considered fainting.
The demon ran a purple tongue over his lips and began to slowly extend a taloned hand toward me. That did it! I went backward, not in a catlike graceful bound, but scrabbling on all fours. It’s surprising how fast you can move that way when properly inspired. I managed to build up a substantial head of steam before I crashed head-first into the wall.
“Gaahh. …” I said. It may not seem like much, but at the time it was the calmest expression of pain and terror I could think of.
At my outburst, the demon seemed to choke. Several ragged shouts erupted, then he began to laugh. It wasn’t a low menacing laugh, but the wholehearted enthusiastic laughter of someone who has just seen something hysterically funny.
I found it both disquieting and annoying. Annoying because I had a growing suspicion I was the source of his amusement; disquieting because . . . well… he was a demon and demons are….
“Cold, vicious, and bloodthirsty,” the demon gasped as if he had read my thoughts. “You really bought the whole line, didn’t you, kid?”
“I beg your pardon?” I said because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Something wrong with your ears? I said ‘cold, vicious….’ ”
“I heard you. I meant what did you mean.”
“What I meant was that you were scared stiff, by a few well chosen words from my esteemed colleague, I’ll wager.” He jerked a thumb at Garkin’s body. “Sorry for the dramatics. I felt a touch of comic relief was necessary to lighten an otherwise tragic moment.”
“Well, actually, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. You should have seen your face.”
Having originally read this a few decades back, I’ve got to say it holds up surprisingly well. The comedic touches are light, yet not so outrageous that they break the flow of the novel. The pacing is good, and the smartass quotes that precede each chapter foreshadow what the reader is in for. Aahz, even without his magical powers is enough of a con man to be dangerous, and this works well in explaining why he and Skeeve initially team up. In terms of tone it’s definitely closer to Ethshar than Xanth, and if you like it, there’s a bunch more Myth books.
So, what other books should be on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column.