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New and Noteworthy

Once again we dive into the mix of titles arriving at our office to pick out the week's most noteworthy titles. We've also added On The Shelves, a look at notable SF and Fantasy books still in print that you may have missed.

New Releases

July continues to be a month of surprises, with a fine mix of original work and new titles in some of our favorite series.

Sorcerers of Majipoor (HarperPrism, August 97, 462 pages, $23), by Robert Silverberg, is the fifth volume in the science fantasy series that began with Lord Valentine's Castle in 1980. Silverberg is one of the most prolific writers in the genre with a bibliography which, including the work published under his pseudonyms, runs literally into the hundreds of titles. The Majipoor cycle is his major contribution to fantasy, a sprawling epic spanning centuries on a massive planet that serves as a fantastic canvas for tales of sorcery and intrigue.

The story is set a thousand years before Lord Valentine. The aged Pontifex Prankipin, the man who brought sorcery to the Fifty Cities, is approaching death. The Funeral Games have begun, and the ladder of succession creaks as several of the key players prepare to take a step upward. But young Korsibar, passed over for the position of Coronal, has been visited by an Oracle, and heard the whispered words that will shape his destiny: "You will shake the world!"

Roger Zelazny died last year, but not without leaving three unfinished works. Now Avon has published the first: Donnerjack (Avon Books, July, 462 pages, $23), completed by Zelazny's companion, the novelist Jane Lindskold.

One should always be suspicious of posthumous collaborations, but this one appears surprisingly effective. For one thing, Zelazny completed several hundred of pages of the original manuscript before his untimely death and discussed the ending with Lindskold at length. Second, Lindskold has taken great pains to maintain Zelazny's tone and writing style, so that the fusion of prose is fairly seamless. And lastly, Lindskold herself is an accomplished novelist with a distinctive list of recent titles, including the SF Site Featured Selection for May, When the Gods Are Silent.

But the best reason to pick up Donnerjack is the story itself. This is a novel of the near future, a realm where fantasy and reality have collided and where gods walk amongst the realms of Virtual Reality and plot to enter into the world of reality. Donnerjack is a return to the themes and ideals of some of Zelazny's greatest works, such as Lord of Light and Creatures of Light and Darkness.

David Drake has a reputation for military SF. In fact it's typecast him, probably unfairly, as a writer whose interests are solely within that genre. The truth is that while Drake has produced a significant body of work featuring large caliber characters, his skills as an adventure storyteller would serve him well in any number of genres. And now along comes Lord of the Isles (Tor, August 18th, 459 pages, $24.95) to prove it.

One thing you can count on with Drake is that he always does his homework. Both the religion and magic in Lord of the Isles are based on ancient Sumeriam practice, and the epic poets Homer and Horace both duck in for a brief cameo as Celondre and Rigal. The story is set in a world where the elemental forces that empower magic are rising to a thousand- year peak, and three survivors from the last great cycle are here to witness it: Tenoctris, a quiet sorceress whose civilization sank beneath the waves a millennia ago; King Carus, the ghost of the Isles' greatest ruler; and The Hooded One, the ancient creature who caused the last great catastrophe. As the magical cycle builds towards a great new pitch, these three and the mortals they gather to them find themselves in a race for the ultimate prize. Lord of the Isles is the first volume in what promises to be an exciting new fantasy series.

If you're looking for something just a little bit more compact than a new fantasy epic, we'll happily turn your attention to the latest from Paula Volsky, The White Tribunal (Bantam Spectra, August 11, 390 pages, $13.95). Volsky's recent works, including Illusion and The Gates of Twilight, have been original standalone volumes and this promises to be no exception.

The land of Upper Hetzia, where magic is feared and loathed and the scattered artifacts from the ancient Sortilegious Wars can still be found, is ruled by a dreaded Inquisition. Those suspected of sorcerery are tried by the infamous White Tribunal. When young Tradian liMarchborg's family is framed for practicing forbidden rites and executed, he makes a dark bargain with a demonic force for powers which allow him to challenge the Tribunal itself. But in the capital city of Lis Folaze, he crosses paths with Glennian liTarngrav, a woman whose mission is opposite to his own, yet in whom he discovers a powerful potential ally. Together the two find themselves in a race against time to redeem the nation and save Tradian's soul... or watch as both are plunged into eternal darkness.

On the Shelves

Sometimes it takes a while for word of a great new book to filter through the industry -- especially if it appeared outside of the normal venues for SF and Fantasy. Here we point out those books still in print which we've recently discovered or which we've just had recommended to us. As always, if you have your own suggestions (and we know you do!) be sure to let us know.

Fantasy takes many shapes. Not all of the fantasy volumes we see involve elves, swords, and ancient prophecies. Some of the most original work we've encountered this year has fantasy elements that are buried deep... or are so obvious you can overlook them.

The heroine of Brian Hall's The Saskiad (Houghton Mifflin, 380 pages, $23.95) uses fantasy the way other characters might use a sword -- to ward off evil in her life and escape from her share of dicey situations... except the greatest evil facing Saskia may be terminal boredom. Saskia is twelve years old and extremely well read, growing up in (and largely holding together) a disintegrating commune in rural New York. She turns to fantasy to keep her spirits up, walking to school with Odysseus at her side, having long talks with Marco Polo and even trying to dodge the unwanted affections of Captain Hornblower. When her fantasy life and reality unexpectedly collide with the sudden arrival of a postcard from her long-vanished father in a faraway land, the first real mystery of her life begins to unfold. A very different sort of fantasy novel that we think you'll find quite rewarding.

And lastly we have a complete fantasy trilogy from the prolific Jane Yolen, author of more than 150 books for children and adults. The series is The Pit Dragon Trilogy, originally published in 1984 - 87 but recently reprinted in handsome new editions through her own Magic Carpet line, a division of Harcourt Brace: Dragons Blood, Heart's Blood, and A Sending of Dragons (Magic Carpet, 292, 338, and 286 pages, $6 each). The first two volumes were an ALA notable book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, respectively, but they are the kind of rollicking fantasy adventure that will appeal to all ages.

The series opens with fifteen-year-old Jakkin Stewart, a servant in Master Sarkkhan's dragon barns. Stealing a dragon to secretly train as a fighter is his only hope of freedom. But the risks of getting caught are very great... and so are the consequences if he fails to train his stolen dragon correctly. In the second volume, Jakkin risks everything, including his freedom and his dragon, to rescue his beloved Akki, who vanished a year ago but who manages to send him a desperate message.

By the third volume, Jakkin and Akki are on the run. In a forbidding mountain wilderness they find a strange set of caves which may conceal them from their pursuers. But within the caves are dragon bones, clues to something bloodier than anything the two have ever imagined. Soon they are caught in a desperate battle for their very lives.

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