Book Review: Sabella

By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Paperback, 157 pages
1980, DAW

Sabella lives on the Earth-like colony of Nova Mars in the house where her mother died. After her aunt’s sudden death she finds herself being stalked by a young man who she met on the way to her aunt’s funeral. But Sabella knows what to do with handsome young men; she’s been feeding off their blood since she was fourteen. However, this young man brings with him a host of troubles that bring Sabella out of her secluded life.

I loved Sabella as a character, but as a book, not so much.

Continue reading

Judging A Book By Its Cover: Red As Blood

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I do purchase special editions of books and multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

As you know, I’m wild about the new Daw editions of Tanith’s work. I might have read Red As Blood back in high school, but I don’t recall any of the stories off the top of my head. I expected Redder Than Blood (which has another story or two compared to the first edition, I think) to be Mass Market sized and was surprised when it arrived and was so large. No, Amazon didn’t say it was Mass Market, I just wasn’t paying attention. But I don’t mind that the new edition is so huge because you can see Deharme’s gorgeous cover art even more clearly.

Red As Blood – Daw 1983, ISBN: 0879977906, cover illustration by Michael Whelan, interior illustrations by Tanith! (Can you imagine how excited I was to find out that she’s illustrated some of her books?)

Redder Than Blood – Daw 2017, ISBN: 9780756412517, cover art by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme (so friggen in love with his style), cover design by G-Force Design

Judging A Book By Its Cover: Madame Two Swords

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

Somewhat recently I got it in my head to search for a signed Tanith book – why didn’t I think of this idea sooner? No clue! I’m not always that smart xD

I was able to score this beauty off eBay – it was one of the only reasonably priced ones at the time – and while Tanith’s signature is a diddly friggen squiggle, I DON’T CARE BECAUSE SHE IS MY GODDESS. At least I own something of hers that’s signed now and this is a neat edition because it’s also signed by the illustrator (Thomas Canty) and numbered and it’s a first edition. It’s a 1988 (great year!) edition, published by Donald M. Grant, ISBN: 0937986798. The cover even has some nice gold accents that were frustratingly hard to capture.

Book Review: Piratica II & III

Piratica II: Return to Parrot Island
(Being: The Return of a Most Intrepid Heroine to Sea and Secrets)
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Hardcover, 320 pages
2006, Dutton Children’s Books
ISBN: 0525477691

Art and Felix return to the sea with their old crew, this time as privateers in the government’s employ, to fight against Franco-Spainia in support of a revolution for the people. Not only does she have some new crew members, but she also has orders, and struggles to bend to the will of her employers and stay true to her code: never kill.

Sequels are always hard to talk about, but I’m going to do my best to avoid a lot of plot points.

I was excited for more Art and Felix…and Ebad and Honest…and Dirk and Whuskery (they are the bro-est of bros and possibly romantically involved, or at least easy to imagine that way, which is wonderful) and of course Plunqwette and Muck. The new crew members were too numerous and oddly-named for me to really absorb any of them, so at times it was hard to picture what was going on when new faces were involved. There’s also another female pirate, Mr. (Belladora) Bell, who adds a little tension between newly married Art and Phoenix. Goldie Girl is back as a low-key villain as well, and we meet a new face, Mary Hell.

The drama in this book mainly revolves around Art and Felix realizing they have different visions for their lives together and Art’s desperation to return to sea upsets Felix, especially because she’s involved herself in a war where casualties are inevitable. The couple also seems to have a lot of moments where they don’t understand each other, or really even stop and try to, and I think this added some realism to their relationship. Despite spending the first book together, they didn’t get to know all that much about each other and it makes sense that they might now question if they really are a good match.

Art is less of a wunderkind this time around – she’s unsure of herself and her judgments and she finds herself making mistakes. She thought she could avoid the war and somehow get back to the crew’s old adventures, but instead, finds herself in situations where she might have to break her rule about never taking a life or sinking another ship. Again, I think this gives Art more depth.

We get more perspectives in this book too, aside from just Art. Of course, there’s Felix again, but we get a look at what’s going on with the English naval officers, Parliament (which is actually called the House of Talking or something similar, lol) and even Muck!

I also want to add that the English naval ship names had me laughing. Here are some standout examples (playing on the idea that something happened when the captains, or whoever, were christening their ships, interrupting true names): Lily Achoo, Is That A Wasp, Ow Blast, I Knew I Shouldn’t Have Had That Last Sausage. Is That A Wasp gets me laughing the most because I can picture myself going to name a ship and then suddenly noticing a nearby bug. The end battle was a bit hard to follow because so many ships were involved and I really only cared about Art’s.

This is a solid sequel and if you enjoyed the first book, I recommend you keep reading.


Piratica III: The Family Sea
(Being The Gallant Take of a Fearless Heroine and a Fatal Secret)
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Paperback, 396 pages
2007, Hodder Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780340930854

After assisting England in the war, Art and Felix have returned home to raise their daughter, Africa. But Art yearns for the sea and when the couple finds their assets suddenly seized by the government, Art takes the opportunity to rejoin her crew, or some of them anyway, once again. This time she’s hired to guide the brother of an old crew member to the famed Parrot Island in search of further treasures.

Alright, I’ll admit I know next to nothing about the publishing world, but I’m mad that Dutton didn’t publish this in hardcover with the art that matches the first two! Nothing is worse than not being able own a matching series because some books simply don’t exist in that design! Argh! My solution is to also buy the Hodder paperbacks of the first two books so that I at least have one matching set. Not that I need an excuse to buy more Tanith books, or multiple copies of her books!

Right, on to the actual review. This book was bittersweet. It’s the end of a trilogy (and sadly with Tanith’s passing, no hope of it ever being revived -sob-) and it did not at all turn out how I expected.

There’s drama once more between Art and Felix regarding her obsession with the sea and her aversion to their daughter. To me, it seemed that Art was suffering from post-partum (I could be wrong), though there wasn’t a lot of depth brought into this aspect, perhaps because the novel is geared towards middle-grade/teens.

Man, it’s hard not to give away the plot. Let’s see…we get some new characters again, namely Moira, Queen of Scotland. I didn’t really care for her – she just didn’t leave an impression on me. And also for other reasons that are plot related that I won’t talk about.

It also seems that each book delves more into the viewpoints of characters aside from Art and I think we spent just as much time looking through the eyes of others than we did of Art, if not more. In this book, I’m not sure it worked as well though. I wasn’t excited by what other characters were experiencing through and I just wanted more Art.

The ending – ugh. Art is very changed from who she was at the start of the first book and it’s sad but in a good way. I was kind of left thinking “What? That’s it?!” and yet I enjoyed the slightly tortured feeling. Gaahd, I wish we could get more from this series, with a slightly older Art, like mid to late twenties. :[

This book was less atmospheric than its predecessors though, and that might be due to the constant location changes.  I hate to say, but the finale was middle of the road for me. This is still an awesome, fun and witty series that I would recommend in a heartbeat, and I think the conclusion is worth reading, it’s just not as gripping.

Judging A Book By Its Cover: The Secret Books Of Venus

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

I’m excited because I recently found a copy of Venus Preserved in good used condition (like new, really) and that completed my set for the Secret Books of Venus. Owning the two omnibus editions wasn’t enough because I prefer to read each book alone (also they’re more portable that way), so I set out to own each individual book. I’m not sure if other collections of cover art even exist, but I naturally had to have matching editions as well. Someday I’ll actually read the series!

The paperbacks are all published by Overlook Press, with cover designs by Yellowstone Ltd. and cover illustrations by J.K. Potter. The omnibus editions are published by SFBC Fantasy with cover art by Gary Lippincott.

Faces Under Water – 1998, ISBN: 1585672459
Saint Fire – 1999, ISBN: 1585674257
A Bed of Earth – 2002, ISBN: 1585674559
Venus Preserved – 2003, ISBN: 1585676535
1 & 2 Omni – 1999, ISBN: 073940699x
3 & 4 Omni – 2003, ISBN: 0739438425

                                                              hello, I’m full of glare

                                                                    me too!

Book Review: Piratica

(Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventure Upon the High Seas)
By My Queen Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Hardcover, 288 pages
2003, Dutton Children’s Books
ISBN: 0525473246

Art has been banished to the Angels Academy for the last six years of her life, learning deportment and other ladylike qualities that bore her to death. A fall down the stairs and a knock to the head suddenly causes her to remember her childhood, which was spent at her mother’s side on a pirate ship. Art quickly escapes the academy, finds her mother’s old crew and revives their spirits by basically forcing them back into a life of piracy as she lives in the spirit of her legendary mother, Piratica.

-screams- TANITH! Er, ok, so, I’ve read a ton of middle-grade this month and, sadly, none of it has impressed me. It was time for a change and I knew just what would do the trick – Tanith Lee! I’ve been sitting on this Piratica series for FAR too long and I don’t know why. I love how atmospheric her Claidi series is and my semi-recent re-read of The Unicorn Trilogy made me recall the special place her middle-grade/teen (I feel like all these series fall somewhere in between) books have in my crusty little heart.

From the first page, I was giddy at the thought of diving into another of Tanith’s worlds and Art’s didn’t disappoint. Tanith has created a semi-Victorian (Regency? I don’t know time periods, sorry!) world in the year of Seventeen-Twelvety (how awesome is that?!) which somewhat resembles the actual year of 1802. This world primarily differs from our own in how the countries are laid out and there’s a handy map in the front that I actually referenced for once. But because this is Tanith and I am a flappy-handed fangirl for everything she’s written (ugh except Greyglass  -tosses if off a cliff-) I felt there was something subtle about her world that differed from an actual historic period. I can’t explain this further and likely I am crazy.

Art is fantastic. She’s bold and witty and smart and super talented at being a pirate, despite not having been one for the past six years. She could potentially suffer from special snowflake syndrome, but she doesn’t because she has to work to win over her crew and she doesn’t have the shining, sapphire eyes and porcelain doll-like features of your usual heroine. And oh, the sun doesn’t shine out of her ass. Anyway! She’s a great lead, but her crew is small enough that most of them actually (I think I’m saying this word too much in this review, but I’m too lazy to change it) feel different and developed, where they could easily have fallen to the wayside (portside?)

There’s a lot to the plot that I can’t talk about or I’ll spoil the fun, but from the moment Art rediscovers her crew and takes on her new life as a pirate, I had this underlying sense of something more. I knew something else was up and it was a nice feeling, knowing that the plot had another element that wasn’t being revealed, even though the plot was acting like everything had been revealed.

Look, I have a hard time analyzing Tanith’s work because I am super biased. But I can say, if you’re looking for a witty, semi-middle-grade-semi-teen pirate adventure with swashbuckling, a fantastically charming ragtag group of pirates, talented parrot and dog companions, a strong female lead and totally hawt boi, but no love triangles and no breaths being held unbeknownst to the holder, then Piratica may be just what you’re looking for! I can’t wait to read the other two books (even though the third was never published in hardcover and therefore doesn’t match the first two.)

Sadly, Tanith doesn’t really have a website, but her Wikipedia page does a decent job of at least listing out all her work.

Book Review: Space of Her Own

Asimov’s Space of Her Own
By Various Authors

My Edition:
Paperback, 244 pages
1983, Ace Books
ISBN: 0441778712

This book contains 17 sci-fi stories written by women. The subjects range from alien worlds, post-apocalyptic scenarios, advanced technology and adventures through space.

I initially purchased this book because my goddess Tanith Lee has a story in it and I finally picked it up thanks to Vintage Sci-fi Month. I didn’t dislike any of the stories, though I naturally preferred some over the others. I’m just going to highlight the ones I had the most thoughts about.

The Sidon in the Mirror by Connie Willis: This was a slightly trippy look at life in a small community on a mining planet. The world building was fairly complex considering the length, but I think I got a good taste of what Willis created. I enjoyed that characters had a local dialect. Overall it was sad and a little mysterious.

The Jarabon by Lee Killough: Killough created an interesting and compelling thief, as well as a unique form of space travel. I really loved where she went with this and would have loved for this to be a full-length novel. I wanted to know more about her badass thief-lady and her sordid past.

Belling Martha by Leigh Kennedy: This is a post-apocalyptic tale where food is scarce and winter might not end. A young girl has escaped a religious camp and made her way to the city to seek her father. This story was incredibly fucked up and a little gross, but believable. I was really into what was going on and this is another one I’d love a novel of.

La Reine Blanche by Tanith Lee: Tanith gives readers a fairy-tale-esque short about a widowed queen trapped in a tower and a magic raven who comes to see her. This had her classic atmospheric world-building and otherworldly characters, though it deals with some timey-wimey stuff so it was a tad confusing.

Miles to go Before I Sleep by Julie Stevens: Another tale set after some sort of apocalypse has hit the earth and created a divide between those who live in cities and those who fend for themselves in small towns. It had a sort of Mad Max feel because I got the feeling fuel sources were low and perhaps plant life as well? I really wanted a novel of this and I felt that just as I had an inkling of what was going on in this world, the story was over!

The Ascent of the North Face by Ursula K. Le Guin: Alright, I’m calling out this tale because I honestly don’t know what to make of it. There is a party of explorers climbing something, perhaps a mountain, except they refer to sections like the Roof and Chimney. I was confused as to whether these were tiny people scaling a normal sized house, normal sized people scaling a giant house, or if it was really just an oddly named mountain.

Blue Heart by Stephanie A. Smith: The main character in this is a sort of light house warden who can mentally connect to some sort of net that guides spaceships through her area of space. But she’s getting old and worried that she won’t be able to do her job much longer, so she’s looking into transferring her consciousness into a robot. I enjoyed the technology mentioned in this story and the general sadness it evoked.

Fire-Caller by Sydney J. Van Scyoc: This is a tale of slavery and warring peoples and a woman who can create fire from within herself when she speaks to the old gods. Another very atmospheric tale that I would have loved a full-length novel of. Just as I had an idea of what was going on and became attached to the characters, the story ended.

I’m thankful for Vintage Sci-fi Month because it prompts me to pick up some books that I probably would have left alone for who knows how long. This is a great collection for anyone looking for female voices, especially as all of these tales were written in the 80s, just as female writers were really starting to break into the genre and earn respect for their craft.

Book Review: Dark Castle, White Horse

Dark Castle, White Horse
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Paperback, 302 pages
1986, DAW
ISBN: 0886771137

A girl in a black castle sends a summoning spell for someone to help free her from her ancient guardians. A wandering bard with a magical harp made with bone answers the call, but so does a force of evil. A prince who cannot remember his past, nor even his name, finds himself atop a talking horse on his way to a castle made of bone.

This book is actually comprised of two separate stories, The Castle of Dark and Prince on a White Horse. Thematically, I’m sure they have something in common, aside from both being fantasy adventures, but I don’t really know what. I picked it up because I need to read more of my Tanith collection and it’s vintage sci-fi month (hosted by my friend Jason) so what better time to start? Also that cover! –heart eyes-

Sometimes it’s hard for me to review Tanith’s work because I love almost everything of hers I’ve read so far. I just want to say “I love her work, read it!” Her books are instantaneously atmospheric and immersive and I love her simplistic, yet detailed style. I tweeted about the feeling of experiencing real magic when I read a book of hers (or any favorite author really.)  So I’ll try to make some sense, but I can’t promise anything.

The Castle of Dark introduces readers to Lilune, a young girl imprisoned in a strange castle by two old crones. She knows nothing about the world outside the castle because she’s never allowed to leave and she is allowed to roam the castle grounds only at night, as she must sleep during the day. She uses the only spell she’s learned from her captors in an attempt to summon someone to help her escape and so Lir, a harper, comes to her aid. Once free of the castle, the two blunder their way through the surrounding forest, hampered by Lilune’s weakness to sunlight and her compulsion to sleep during the day. They’re separated and when Lilune is off adventuring on her own is when the book truly started to show Tanith’s skill for world building and atmosphere. I liked Lilune because she showed growth, despite the short length of the story. Lir felt a little standard, as far as the hero character goes, but I didn’t mind.

Prince on a White horse had a surprisingly funny tone. A prince who knows nothing about who he is or where he’s from wakes in a strange land with only a talking horse to guide him – though when asked, the horse replies that he cannot talk. Even though the prince is tasked with saving this weird realm from a source of great evil, the story remained lighthearted. I don’t think I’ve ever chuckled so much when reading one of Tanith’s books before. The prince has a very RPG experience, in that he’s incredibly lucky and many characters come to aid or hinder him in cliché ways, but that’s what made the story entertaining.

I, of course, recommend this book to everyone because it’s Tanith and I enjoyed it.

Book Review: The Unicorn Series

The Unicorn Series
By Tanith Lee

My Editions:
Black Unicorn – 192 pages, 1993, Tor Books
Gold Unicorn – 244 pages, 1996, Tor Books
Red Unicorn – 192 pages, 1998, Tor Books

Tanaquil has grown up in her mother’s desert fortress, where, due to her mother’s powerful magic, household items are always disappearing or changing, and Tanaquil has grown restless and feels ignored. But when a peeve, who has picked up some language thanks to stray magic, brings Tanaquil a strange, shimmering bone, Tanaquil’s life is turned upside down. Thanks to her incredible mending skills and the hoard of bones the peeve finds, Tanaquil builds a unicorn that her mother’s magic brings to life. Through the unicorn, Tanaquil finally finds the willpower to leave her mother’s fortress and explore the world, the peeve at her side. Throughout her travels, she encounters several mystical unicorns and grows into her own skin as she experiences and affects the world around her.

It can be hard to review a series without spoiling plot details, but I’ll do my best. As you may know, I started this re-read of the series with Jacob because he’d never read Tanith before. I was happy to revisit a series that I know I love and it turns out there were many little details in this books which I’d forgotten.

Black Unicorn is our introduction to Tanaquil, the peeve and the world they live in. Tanaquil feels neglected by her mother, who is a powerful sorceress and disappointed that her daughter doesn’t share her knack for magic. Tanaquil does have the ability to mend things and when she uses her skill to create a unicorn, she is able to escape the isolation and loneliness of her mother’s fortress. The unicorn that she, the peeve and her mother’s magic created shows up periodically to both help and hinder Tanaquil as she makes her way to a city by the sea.

The peeve is utterly adorable and annoying in all the right ways. If you don’t want to own a peeve after reading this series, I’m not sure you’re human. Tanaquil is refreshingly bold, outspoken, but also unsure of herself and it was great to watch her come into herself throughout not only this book, but the series.

As always, Tanith paints a wonderfully detailed world with seemingly broad strokes. I would classify this series on the border of middle-grade and YA, and the books are very short, but Tanith accomplishes a lot of depth.

While we don’t see a whole lot of the unicorn in this book, we do get a glimpse of the world it comes from. Tanaquil’s mother has spoken of other worlds, both perfect and terrible, that those with magic hope to be able to explore. Tanaquil gets a glimpse of the perfect world the black unicorn lives in and understands that humans have no place in it. Yet rather than become depressed when she returns to her own world, Tanaquil learns to appreciate the beauty around her and that speaks volumes about her character.

In Gold Unicorn, we get more information about the unicorn and I think it strengthens the story. This is actually my favorite book in the series (though the other two are close behind) because we get more depth from the characters and the world-building. In Black Unicorn, the unicorn is a catalyst for Tanaquil’s adventures, but in Gold Unicorn, we have a beast that is affected by the humans who created it. In turn, the unicorn leads them to a dark world that reflects the purpose for which the humans intended their creation and opens all their eyes.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot (the back of the book gives enough away and I wouldn’t recommend reading it – just dive right in!) but Tanaquil’s adventures strengthen her as a character and as usual, I enjoy her dry sense of humor. We also get a better look at Tanaquil’s mending abilities and how she uses them and allows them to be used by others. The dark world that the crew enters because of the unicorn is a change-up that also adds depths to the characters because of how they react in the new environment.

In Red Unicorn, Tanaquil makes her way back home to her mother after a couple years away. She is more self-assured, yet is unsure how to approach her mother, especially now that her mother has found love. It seems to Tanaquil that everyone she knows has paired off now, even the peeve, and she feels more alone than before she left home.

She spends the majority of this book in yet another world, one that appears to be a sort of twisted version of her own world, where there are copies of people she knows, but with opposite personalities. There’s even a copy of herself, who constantly breaks things, and another peeve (called a veepe) as well. Here, Tanaquil discovers more of her own magic and learns a lot about herself and those she knows thanks to their doubles. Her time in this world finally makes her realize she feels lonely because she let the man she loves leave her life, so she decides she must go after him.

There’s another unicorn (red, obviously), but it’s back to being a background character, leaving the focus on Tanaquil and her actions and personal discoveries.

It was a wonderful ending to the series and contains my favorite lines:

“Say yes properly, or I’ll push you into the fire.”
“Yes properly.”

If you enjoy YA/middle-grade fantasy with smart and smarmy female charactersand a focus on self-discovery, I highly recommend you give this series a shot!

Judging A Book By Its Cover: The Birthgrave Trilogy

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books, or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

These are the Birthgrave trilogy 40th anniversary reprint editions from DAW and I luff them. The cover art is so fantastic, and while I love the fabulous 80’s fantasy covers that most of Tanith’s work are adorned with, it’s nice to see updated editions. I especially love the vaguely steampunk (to me, anyway) details that can be seen when you look closely at the character’s faces. Fabulous job they did with these. The Birthgrave was reprinted in 2015, 9780756411053. Shadowfire (formerly Vazkor son of Vazkor) was also reprinted in 2015, ISBN: 9780756411121. Hunting the White Witch (formerly Quest for the White Witch) was reprinted this year, ISBN: 9780756411138.