Fantasy Titles
Bradamant's Quest by Ruth Berman
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It sounded like such a straightforward quest when Oberon proposed it—just gather up the magical talismans the fairies had given her family and give them back, now that King Charlemagne's war with Spain was over. But when Bradamant took on the quest, she didn't know that her brother would think it was trafficking with devils. Her cousins the magicians didn't want to give up their carefully indexed books of magic (much less the hippogriff—a useful steed and a loyal companion). Her sister-in-law was willing to give up the spear of Galafrone, but not until she'd finished using it. And her cousin Roland seemed to be haunting his grave, where his magically enduring sword was buried with him, and dead set against being disturbed. What's a warrior to do when valiance alone is not enough for her to complete a quest?

Midwest Book Review

"Bradamant's Quest" is a youthful fantasy from Ruth Berman who presents a story of Bradamant, who is charged in recovering her family's magical talismans after Charlemagne's wars are over. But faced with the forces of magic . . . Bradamant's task is anything but easily done. "Bradamant's Quest" is an excellent pick that shouldn't be overlooked.

Phyllis Ann Karr, author of Frostflower and Thorn, The Idylls of the Queen, and Amberleaf Fair

Prose by a poet. I look forward to rereading this many times

Paul McComas, award-winning author of Unforgettable, Planet of the Dates, and Unplugged.

The titular quest of Bradamant, Ruth Berman's formidable yet quite flesh-and-blood heroine, is to reclaim a series of talismans from various parties and return them to the Faerie realm whence they came. It is at once fitting and ironic that the author, in so beautifully chronicling the End of Magic, herself works a kind of literary spell. Then again, as the fairy Logistilla observes near the book's end, "spells" are related to "spelling," and "Speech was always at the heart of magic." In Bradamant's Quest, Berman "speaks" volumes, deploying deft descritpion, stunning set pieces, an unerring evocation of era (the reign of Charlemagne), and a freewheeling imagination to conjure the most elegant, authentic historical fantasy novel this author has ever read. Magic, indeed...and—in every sense—charming.

Eleanor Arnason, author of A Woman of the Iron People, winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award and Mythopoeic Society Award; and Ring of Swords, winner of the Minnesota Book Award.

Bradamant’s Quest is set in a rarely used fantasy world, that of romances about Charlemagne. It starts after the battle of Ronseval, where the emperor’s nephew Roland has died, along with many peers and knights. Among those who died with Roland is Bradamant’s husband; she is mourning him and the others when Berman’s novel begins.

Bradamant is not an ordinary medieval housewife, but a woman knight, borrowed from Orlando Furioso, a romance about Charlemagne’s knights by the Italian Renaissance poet Ariosto. In Berman’s version. she is an admirable character; intelligent, tough, stoic, resourceful, ambitious for honor and loyal. While she is still grieving for her husband, she is given a quest by Oberon, the king of the fairies. She must recover the magical tools that have belonged to members of her extended family and return them to Oberon. (It’s a large family, full of knights and magicians, and a lot of magical tools have come into the family’s hands.) The world of magic is drawing away from the world of humans; and magic must go back to its original home.

Here is another loss, added to the loss at Ronseval. Magic is leaving the world, as it does at the end of The Lord of the Rings. But before it goes, we meet it, as Bradamant carries out Oberon’s quest. There are gargoyles, a dragon, a sea-orc, mermaids, a hippogryff, a highly unfriendly ox-headed man and a couple of magicians. Recovering each magical tool is an adventure, often risky; and Bradamant has a truly interesting family.

It’s an entertaining journey through a France described in loving, realistic detail. Although Berman is drawing on medieval and Renaissance romance, she gives us real landscapes, real food, and the real problems of dealing with menstrual periods while on a quest. This realism is one of the charms of the novel. Berman anchors her romance in everyday pleasure and discomfort, in the grit and beauty of ordinary life.

I’m not going to tell you the end of the story, except to say it ends happily. It’s a novel about loss and recovering from loss. Though magic is gone or going, ordinary life remains; and ordinary life is pretty darn fine.

Think of the Shire at the end of The Lord of the Rings, when Sam comes home.

What else is there to say? The book is has images that stay in my mind: the marsh filled with gargoyles, the stony waste where the mad Saracen hides out, and Bradamant’s journey roped to a sea-orc, like Ahab to Moby Dick, though with a better ending.

Read it!

About the author

Ruth Berman's work has appeared in many science fiction and fantasy magazines and anthologies, as well as in general, literary, and scholarly magazines and anthologies. She edited Sissajig and Other Surprises (a collection of the fantasy writings of Ruth Plumly Thompson, IWOC), The Kerlan Awards in Children's Literature, 1975-2001 (Pogo Press), and Dear Poppa: the World War II Berman Family Letters (Minnesota Historical Society Press). She was one of the co-authors of Autumn World, a group novel.

Cat's Paw by L. A. Taylor
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Miranda Glivven's husband left home months ago on a secret assignment for the Governor and has not returned. Even his letters have stopped. With no news and no idea what has happened to him, Miranda goes on a search for her missing husband, accompanied only by a stray cat. On reaching her husband's last known location, she finds the local authorities uninterested in helping to find him. Worse, some of the local citizens suspect Miranda of using magic, a treasonous offense, because of the unusual cat that has followed her on her quest. Although Miranda has always believed that magic is superstitious nonsense, she finds the circumstances of her beloved husband's disappearance growing more and more mysterious....

Roland Green, Booklist

Taylor's modest but engaging tale combines mystery and fantasy elements. In a well-built fantasy world with a distinctly Victorian flavor, a woman's husband mysteriously disappears. Refusing to pine by the fire, she sets out in search of him, using both magical and mundane methods and having more than her share of adventures along the way. The title also correctly intimates that cats, magical and otherwise, play a large part in the story. The whole book is . . . intelligent, recalling the work of Esther Friesner, in particular, among humorous fantasists. Both lovers of Victoriana and lovers ofFelis domesticamay find it quite a treat.

Sally Estes, Booklist

Cats, magical and otherwise, play a large part in Taylor's novel, which concerns Miranda's search for her missing husband in a provincial kingdom where the practice of magic is outlawed.

Ingram

Miranda Glivven, part of a family that has tended the Gwynnhead lighthouse for years, seeks her missing husband--who disappeared while working secretly for the government—with the help of a strange golden cat and a little magic.

Library Journal

When Miranda's husband, the lightkeeper of the beacon at Gwynnhead, fails to return from a secret mission for the government, she sets out on a seemingly hopeless quest to find him. Taylor sets this low-key fantasy in a world where magic is officially denied despite hints of its continued existence. The presence of a protagonist who possesses no special skills except for her common sense and uncommon determination provides a refreshing departure from standard fantasy heroes. A good choice for most libraries.

School Library Journal

While on a trip completing secret investigative work for the Governor, Miranda's husband disappears. She decides to find him herself, since the local police force does not seem to care; a stray polydactyl cat accompanies her on her journey. Set in an unnamed civilization with the technological advancements of about the year 1910, the story reveals that the practice of magic has been outlawed but is still practiced by a few. The fast pace, good characterization, and hint of the outcome keep readers rapidly turning the pages. A great choice for a quick read or an introduction to fantasy.

Carolyn Cushman, Locus

A lighthouse keeper's wife decides to look for her missing husband. Her search takes her to a distant city where she's seen as a country bumpkin, but her sincere (and somewhat naive) determination carries her though dead ends and suspiciously unhelpful bureaucrats. Her only comfort from home is a stray cat that insists on accompanying her. But the title really refers to a different cat's paw: Miranda is being used as a pawn in a dangerous game of intrigue, murder, and rumors of magic, which she regards as strictly superstition--at least at first. . . .the blessed ordinariness of Miranda and most of the people she meets is a very welcome antidote to the usual generic fantasy.

Game of Royals by L. A. Taylor (formerly The Fathergod Experiment)
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A tale of treachery, betrayal, and conspiracy (imagine "The Tudors" meets "The X-Files").

Lilz Chantwell was raised in the nobility, but with her father banished and her mother dead, she has to hire herself out as a servant—and a servant to the Hasten family, no less, which is as ruthless as they come. With no one to rescue her, Lilz will have to use all of her wits to survive and succeed despite the Hastens, who have a tendency to poison anyone who opposes them. Not the least is Sir Jen Makeready, who is dead—and he's not the only one. In fact, anyone who challenges Fenne, the spoiled-rotten granddaughter of Nevan Hasten, Dych of Summerlea, seems to end up poisoned. In the middle of all this intrigue is Lilz, bond-servant to the Hasten family and to Fenne. Lilz gradually comes to realize there's a conspiracy behind all this—a secret kept by the royal family and their confidants for many years. If that wasn't bad enough, she and everyone else has to evade the king's spies: human, animal, and mechanical. Lilz finds herself always living on the edge, always feeling she's being watched, knowing that one wrong step could lead to her death or imprisonment. She manages to survive for years by her wits and by making friends with anyone who can help her. But will that be enough to escape the plots of the Hasten family, who have a grip on power and intend to keep it by any means necessary? Especially when she starts to uncover the conspiracy and the secrets kept by Makeready, the Hastens, and the royal family?

Eleanor Arnason, author ofA Woman of the Iron People, winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award and Mythopoeic Society Award; and Ring of Swords, winner of the Minnesota Book Award.

L.A. Taylor has published a series of mysteries, a science fiction novel, and a charming fantasy, Cat's Paw. Now, in The Fathergod Experiment, she gives us a quirky, complex, interesting tale that combines court intrigue with mysteries both scientific and criminal, and a thoroughly satisfying story of an orphan rising from obscurity and oppression. While definitely science fiction, it offers the pleasures of several other kinds of fiction--historical romance, fantasy, and mystery--as well as the greater pleasure of watching an intelligent, sensible author play with, undercut, and reverse genre cliches. A neat book, fun to read. I recommend it.

Ruth Berman, Mythprint

L. A. Taylor before her death had set up Allau Press to reprint some of her own work that she thought would lend itself to self-publication, and brought out Footnote to Murder (a reprint of her first murder mystery, minus the editorial changes in the ending) and Women's Work (fantasy and sf stories reprinted from various magazines). She had also completed a novel, The Fathergod Experiment, which those of us who heard it workshopped loved. Her husband, Allen Sparer, has now brought it out in trade paperback format....

The Fathergod Experiment is intricately structured: chapters 1-13 are split-level, one part telling "current" events, as the indentured servant Lilz brings her selfish mistress Fenne news of a death that makes it possible for Fenne to divorce her first husband and re-marry, and the other part telling the events that led up to the death. When past catches up with present, the narrative continues with a not-dunnit murder mystery, a double riddle of getting Fenne acquitted of murder without letting her save herself by accusing Lilz. (It will be obvious to the reader that Lilz is not guilty. The actual question of who-dunnit is interesting, but the narrative concentrates on the less usual question of how to win acquittal.) The murder and the society are based on a model from a period rarely used in either fantasy or sf: the Overbury Murder Case from the reign of James I, in the early 17th century. Lilz's Kinland is similar to James's England, but much changed from our world by magic powers (or what they take to be magic powers) inherited by the kings. The novel is fascinating on all these levels—as a murder mystery, as historical, and as f/sf alternate-world.

Gene DeWeese, Midwest Book Review

An odd mixture of alternate worlds and cultural experimentation, told entirely from the viewpoint of the medieval world being experimented upon, The Fathergod Experiment is the late L. A. Taylor's longest and best novel. Both the heroine and her world are fully and vividly realized, not to mention interesting, even fascinating at times. For those who enjoyed Cat's Paw, her offbeat, hard-to-classify novel about magic that isn't really magic, The Fathergod Experiment is a "must read."

From the first edition:

Kinland is full of secrets. High Court politics holds the key to a secret at the heart of a world. Jen Makeready is dead.... Now Lilz is caught up in the web of intrigue that may unravel a few secrets about her own past...and those of Kinland itself!

L. A. Taylor uses two threads—the past and the present—to weave a tapestry of betrayal and intrigue. As the pattern comes together, we see the girl Lilz used to be and the strong, complex woman she has become. What are the mysterious whizzers, not in keeping with the level of her culture's technology but very much in tune with the atmophere of secrets and spying? The science fiction is deftly woven into a society that has very little science.

About the author

Always someone who knew what she wanted, L. A. Taylor had already chosen a writing career by the time she was in first grade. Staring at the usual exhortation to Spot (Run! Run! Run! Run, Spot, run!), she was vouchsafed a blinding insight: People make this stuff up! I can do that! At the age of 11, she sent her first story to Analog, and got back her first rejection letter. Although she wasn't exactly discouraged, she didn't immediately return to writing. Meanwhile, she went to college, majored in math, worked at a variety of jobs, married and had two children. When she went back to writing, she started with poetry, and her collection Changing the Past won the Minnesota Voices award. L.A. Taylor is the author of several mystery novels (including Footnote to Murder), fantasy and science fiction novels (including Cat's Paw, and Blossom of Erda) and a number of short stories. She died of cancer in 1996. [Game of Royals] The Fathergod Experiment was published in her memory.

Sword of Queens by Joan Marie Verba
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The kingdom of Somerlie has been in the grip of the evil overlord Tashtalon for over 500 years. No one has ever seen Tashtalon, but he puts the kingdom to sleep every night, and during the night, people disappear, never to be seen again. Gill has spent her life thinking these things could not possibly by changed, until strange events point her to the only thing that can defeat Tashtalon…a magical weapon called the Sword of Queens. To prevent its use, Tashtalon made a law saying that any woman wielding a sword will be put to death…and he enforces that law savagely. Can Gill summon the courage to find the sword and use it before Tashtalon kills her?

Harriet Klausner, Midwest Book Review

For over five centuries, Tashtalon the overlord has ruled the patriarchal kingdom of Somerlie with an evil iron fist. No one has ever seen Tashtalon but everyone knows of his presence especially at night when sleeping is dangerous. Each evening, Tashtalon puts his subjects to sleep two hours after sunset; and awakens them each morning two after sunrise with some vanishing overnight. No one has any hope of overthrowing this invincible malevolent God.

Twentyish Gill is like everyone else living in fear of the evil ruler; wondering if she will disappear next and knowing how helpless it is as nothing can defeat Tashtalon. Gill wonders why the overlord's most enforced law is that no woman will yield a sword with the penalty of breaking his code instant death though she assumes it has to do with females being subservient to males. As she begins her required quest year "To Find Herself", Gill thinks of her elderly grandma's tales of life before Tashtalon. On her journey Gill learns that the magical Sword of Queens can destroy Tashtalon.

Sword of Queens is an excellent coming of age quest fantasy starring a likable heroine. The vibrant Verba world of magic seems real while the vile villain is made even stronger and eviler by the fearful whispers of his subjects. Sub-genre readers will enjoy Gill's adventures in an engaging good and evil thriller.

About the author

An experienced writer, Joan is the author of the nonfiction books Voyager: Exploring the Outer Planets and Boldly Writing as well as the novels Countdown to Action!, Action Alert!, Deadly Danger!, Situation: Critical!, Extreme Hazard!, and Danger Zone! plus numerous short stories and articles. She is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. She has served on the board of directors of both the Minnesota Science Fiction Society and the Mythopoeic Society.

Revenge, Denied by Joan Marie Verba
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A story of magic and triumph over hardship, with a shocking ending. At 6300 words, this story is a perfect short read.

Marlys, excited about being accepted as an apprentice sorceress, is astonished to find that the other apprentices bully her mercilessly. No matter how hard she tries, no matter what she does, she isn’t good enough. Worse, no one seems interested in teaching her sorcery. Can she become a sorceress despite this, and, if given the chance for revenge, will she take it?