Posts Tagged ‘Epic Fantasy’


“I helped him advance on the staircase of worlds.”

A pretty euphemism for assassination, no?

About :

The Good Land lives for centuries at a time without serious threat to its traditions. Each dynastic emperor rules from The Heart of the World, unseen by the masses and advised by his eunuchs. Periodically, rebellions protest the power of the emperor’s “usurper” mother, who appears to rule the throne; fortunately for the ruling class, the only real competing power lies with “The Grey Helpers” of “The Houses of Joyful Departure”—you guessed it, an assassin’s guild 😉

But the emperor takes fearful notice when the Man of a Thousand Lives reappears, a man who is reincarnated cyclically through the ages to share the wisdom of the prophets about the Portal of a Thousand Worlds. This time, the Man of a Thousand Lives prophesies the opening of the Portal. As the auguries pile up, the powerful grow nervous, for the Portal always brings great changes to the Good Land. Dynasties end and natural disasters rock the land.

The changes rarely favor the powerful. The Portal of a Thousand Worlds is adult epic fantasy/alternate history authored by Dave Duncan and published February 14th 2017 by Open Road Media Science & Fantasy. Duncan also authored The King’s Blades and The Seventh Sword series.

Thoughts :

Portal of a Thousand Worlds feels like the sort of book that might take a lifetime to write—tightly plotted and cast, fully-developed in setting and characterized by the sort of raucous, racy and word-perfect humor that enlivens what might otherwise be considered a grim Chinese political fantasy.

The conflict between Emperor’s family and the rebels is the main focus of the book. Every so often, the focus slides back to the Man of a Thousand Lives (also known as the “Firstborn” or the “Urfather”) and his mysterious agenda; but basically every other narrator (and there are many) focuses on the palace intrigue. Most of the narrators are either nobility or Grey Helpers, and from them we learn delicious details of both palace life and the inner workings of the assassin’s guild. It’s like a very (very! Wonderfully! Atmospherically!!) Chinese Game of Thrones.

The story builds to address the climactic mystery of The Portal. Only rumors survive about its opening in centuries past, and nobody knows why. But everyone wants to know, of course—so they ask the Firstborn, who currently resides in the body of a fourteen year old peasant boy named “Sunlight.” But even he doesn’t know much—he always gets assassinated before the Portal itself opens.

So everybody watches and waits, anxious about the opening of the great portal.

My favorite part of Portal is the delightfully wicked and ever-present humor. Clever verbal gymnastics, situations that lurch sideways and riotous personality humor kept me giggling throughout the book. The Firstborn himself trademarks his own running joke, sharing hilarious anecdotes or reprimands about the confusion surrounding past philosophical teachings.

On top of the humor, surprises show up on every page. Tensions run high with conflicting character agendas, sudden tips in power, deaths, magics and all kinds of other ingenious plot twists. I was never bored. Certain portions could have probably been trimmed to shorten the book—I didn’t expect to take two weeks to read this ARC; but every page was honestly a pleasure to read.

The ending may disappoint readers who enjoy the concrete answers often found in a hard-fantasy like Brandon Sanderson’s stories; nevertheless, I found it to be profoundly touching and everything I didn’t know I wanted. I love the theme about how the passage of time can affect religion and public perception of religion. The religion also serves justice in a rather unique way…

The limitations of the female sex may also bother some readers. Life is unapologetically rough for all but noblemen (emphasis on the “men”), in this early 1800s-like Chinese fantasy. Women can gain only a little power, and only by birthing sons; as such, every female with a modicum of power spends or has spent time as a prostitute or concubine. If feminism is a touchy issue for you, you might consider the female situation anything from boring to grating; I took off half a star for the disturbingly obvious lack of strong, unique female heroines. But thankfully despite the limits on female power, I enjoyed the female characters as much as the heroes in this one. The range of personalities is both vast and entertaining. (My favorite character, Horse, grew up in a House of Joyful Departure where females get just as much opportunity and have just as much success as males. He is one of the few men who respects women outside the bedroom…and you might like where his arc leads, and what it promises for the future of the Good Land.)

Overall :

I thoroughly enjoyed Portal. The humor and inventiveness far outweigh any negative considerations. It’s billed as a Chinese Game of Thrones, which seems like a fair description. (You might take this with a grain of salt, as I’m only familiar with book 1 + season 1 of GoT.) Occasional short action scenes pop up, but mostly as humorous or dramatic beats. The book is much more about politics and power than about the magic or even the Portal, really.

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a hilarious and political epic fantasy with a Chinese twist. Not recommended to feminists. Slight content warning for younger readers, there’s some violence and a loooooot of sex, haha. I don’t recall anything too dramatic, but sex is probably mentioned on every other page, in some form or another (often as a device of humor).

4.5/5 STARS

Thank you so much to Dave Duncan,  Open Road Media Science & Fantasy and Netgalley for this amazing ARC of Portal of a Thousand Worlds!


This is a review of Books I-IV. Series unfinished.

Premise: Fifteen-year-old Clary finds herself launched into an urban-fantasy version of NYC when she witnesses the murder of a demon–by demonhunters.

Thoughts: I like a lot of the wordbuilding and mythology of this series. I LOVE SIMON.

But I don’t care for the City of Bones series. I wanted to like it, but I can’t finish it, even on audio. (It doesn’t help that I disliked the voice and style of the audiobook narrator of #5 City of Lost Souls, the book I tried to begin again with. Molly C. Quinn makes a melodramatic series sound even more melodramatic.)

This is one of those series that tells me I’ve lost touch with the genre, just a little bit, because every teen girl I talk to loves it. Like, “Hey girl, what have you been readi-” “OMG CITY OF BONES IT’S THE BEST THING EVER AND BANE CHRONICLES I LOVE IT SO MUCH <3<3<3”

I liked it well enough at ages 18/19, but I stopped after book IV because the series became a drag as I lost interest. I won’t read six (very long) books for the love of one character.

A couple adult booktubers seem to love this series and I just don’t get it. It’s melodramatic and angsty- she bit her lip until it bled; he stayed up waiting until five am when exhaustion finally took its toll; all of the teenagers are skinny or gorgeous. Does no one else get tired of the cliches?

And also, I really don’t like Jace. Sorry girls! Too arrogant for me. My final complaint: there’s too much focus on how everybody looks. That really doesn’t matter to the story…

Recommendation: But like I said, I enjoyed the series well enough, as a teen. If you can get a teen reading it, go for it—the worldbuilding is really smart. The series just doesn’t appeal to adult me.

** 2/5 STARS

2nd Australian Edition2006 Puffin Books

Premise: Alongside the other orphans raised in the household of their charitable Baron, Will discovers his place in the world: training to become a king’s Ranger.

About: Children’s high fantasy, 2004. I picked this up because the series has reached, I don’t know, book #24? (*I just checked: it is now finished, at book 12.*) Anyway, I figured it was time to join the crowd, and I’m relatively pleased that I did so.

What I Liked: (1) The main thing I like about this series is the decently-developed protagonist—Will. We won’t mind discovering the colorful world of the series through his eyes. (2) And that’s the second thing I really like about this series—I’m excited to see the worldbuilding expand with each book. (3) Because the book focuses so much on Will’s character and future occupation, we can also expect to enjoy further adventures from his perspective. (4) The plot moves right along, even though it isn’t very original. (It’s the hero’s journey.) (5) The tension inherent in Will’s desire line (he wishes, above all, to honor his heroic father’s memory) sufficiently entices readers along without resorting to eye-rolling constructs such as, “If you don’t pass your Faction testing, you’re an outcast FOREVER!!!!!!” in order to elevate the tension. The tensions feel like legitimate concerns and stakes for a fifteen year old boy living in medieval times: Will doesn’t want to fail out of the exciting careers and be forced into a lifetime of farming. He doesn’t want to shame the name of his heroic father. (Highlight to read SPOILER: I also really like how this comes full circle, in that his father was not a glorious knight, but simply a brave fighter in the army.)

Other Observations:

-Character: My favorite part was the evolution of Horace’s character. (Highlight to read SPOILER: Horace was a bully until, later in the book, he experienced bullying himself and it changed him completely—for the better.) I also enjoyed the rivalry between Will and Horace—it was done really well (Highlight to read SPOILER: I liked the rivalry right up until they stopped hating each other’s guts. The “make up” scene was rather silly. Horace should have had more of a role to play. But the epic fight against Horace’s bullies completely made up for that.) I tend to be a character-driven reader, so of course I wanted more characterization, but I’m sure Flanagan was trying to keep this novel relatively short and there wasn’t a lot of room for pure characterization. I guess that’s what the next books are for, right? (*pleasepleaseplease*)

-Worldbuilding: It’s decent, thus far. It feels like medieval times, although there aren’t a whole lot of setting details that paint the medieval lifestyle, like there are in some high fantasies (such as, say, The Protector of the Small quartet, which portrays everything you could think of about becoming a knight in a medieval castle).

The One Thing I Didn’t Like: (Highlight to read SPOILER: That kiss at the end was silly. We hardly heard two words from Alyss the whole story, and suddenly she’s kissing Will? Meh. Silly.

Overall: Nothing super original, but I’m excited to see where the series goes, nonetheless. That’s really what I’m here for—a great high Fantasy series to keep returning to. I’m excited to see where Flanagan goes with the character-development and world-building.

Recommendation: I recommend this book to pathological readers of children’s fantasy or to children in general. It’s never too early to jumpstart an enduring love of fantasy, and I think MG readers can and do eat this first novel up.

I’m definitely reading the next in the series. I think I may be in it for the long haul!

***3/5 stars