Sword of Avalon–Diana L Paxton


This is the last published book in the Avalon series, although it’s not the last in the series timeline, which is not in any way linear. If you want to go via the series timeline you’ll be reading completely out of publication order. This one falls somewhat near the beginning–probably the second, maybe the third, in the timeline of the series.

Basically, these books are about the British Isles in and around the time of the Arthur legend, focused on the priestesses and druids of the early pagan religion in that area.

I appreciate the female-centric viewpoint and I really appreciate the control that the women have over their lives and the control they have over their countries and homes.

But these processes are very primitive in their own way. In this book, we see the beginning of the super creepy kingship ritual that we see the priestesses of Avalon use later in the timeline. This involves the prospective king fasting and drugging himself and then killing a massive stag with his bare hands and then sleeping with a virginal priestess.

This book also shows the moment when the control of the country started shifting from queens to kings, which is a bit bittersweet for a series that is so centered on female power.

In this book, we follow the journey of the queen’s son after his family is slaughtered as the priestesses of Avalon hide him and raise him to be part warrior and part priest. Then he’s kidnapped and sold into slavery and becomes trained as a warrior in Greece before heading back home to take on the guy who killed his family.

By the end he’s ruling with his priestess-consort and it’s the beginning of something entirely new for the country and it’s that which allows for the rise of Arthur and Merlin and the Arthurian legend.

These books are fun but intense. A lot of blood and a lot of sacrifice and intense religious experiences, but they’re good for people who are interested in early Celtic history, or who have an interest in Celtic paganism, or indeed, who like to see a fantasy series that focuses on women for a change.


The Fellowship of the Ring–JRR Tolkien


I KNOW, it’s hard to believe that I haven’t read these yet. What kind of book nerd am I, anyway?

Interestingly, for every fantasy geek that adores these books, there’s someone who mutters about them being overrated. They mutter it because they fear the wrath of the fantasy geeks, and rightfully so. Those people have no sense of humor about it.

The net result of listening to both sides was that I went into these books with an open mind, equally willing to believe that it is the epitome of fantasy and that it’s overrated.

All in all, I think I side with the fantasy geeks here.

As indeed with many other trailblazers, coming to a classic long after it is written presents some issues. The widespread imitation and emulation of classics by later (and often lesser) authors can make the original seem less innovative. You say, oh, I’ve seen this before, without fully appreciating how unique it was when it was created.

This is the situation with the Lord of the Ring books. Many have replicated the basic feel and scope but without the efficiency and effectiveness of Tolkien. I’m looking at you, Robert Jordan.

What I really appreciated about this book wasn’t the story line, since (like the rest of the world) I’ve seen Peter Jackson’s movies. I knew what I would get, although of course there are minor changes and alterations.

What pleased me with this book is the efficiency of his storytelling. This despite at least one person telling me the descriptions were too long for them. I suppose they haven’t spent time with Tolstoy. Tolstoy will harden you to description bloat.

The pace was deliberate but effective. You get the feel of long summer days and frigid winter nights that stretch on and on but the story continues to move forward. Unsurprisingly, even in the first book you develop a strong appreciation for Sam.

These are cornerstone books in the fantasy world. The form the basis of much of the current catalog of fantasy and are the gold standard that fantasy writers still aspire to meet. I recommend this first book at the very least to fantasy fans and even to non-fantasy readers who enjoyed the movies.

Murder with Peacocks–Donna Andrews


This is the first of the Meg Langslow books. I like these books, although like most series, the later ones are getting a bit stale.

In this one, we meet Meg, who is a blacksmith. She’s also the most functional member of her eccentric family. I come from an eccentric family myself, and I really identify with her. She’s deeply organized and level-headed and as a result, she’s planning three weddings simultaneously.

One, for her partner, is Renaissance themed. One, for her brother, involves live peacocks. The last, for her mom, produces the victim, the sister of the groom who is truly unpleasant.

Her life is threatened, her dad is trying to live out his mystery-solving fantasies, and the extremely handsome son of the local dressmaker is flirting with her.

This mysteries are ridiculous. They’re absurd fantasies, but they are so very funny. These early ones are very good. My favorite, I think, is a later one, “Owl’s Well that Ends Well,” but this one is very good. Even the later ones are fun and playful, so I keep reading even as the mysteries become a little silly.