book review

Reading the Witcher--The Last Wish, Sword of Destiny, Blood of Elves, and The Time of Contempt

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I'm a huge fan of the video game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt --it's got great game play and an excellent story. I enjoyed the game so much that after my first play through (I'm on my second right now), I decided to try reading the books that inspired the game, as well as a new Netflix series with Henry Cavill. The Witcher books were written by Andrzej Sapkowski, a Polish author who's considered the Tolkien of Poland. He's had a huge influence on fantasy in Poland, and it's clear why--the books are fun to read, with compelling characters and great, if episodic, storytelling.

The first Witcher book, The Last Wish: Introducing The Witcher, is a collection of short stories linked by the main character, Geralt. Many of them are extremely dark, heart-rending re-tellings of fairy tales, including a brutal version of Snow White, but some of the stories, especially “The Last Wish” story the collection is named after, are hilariously funny. Anyone who’s played the games knows that for the the pathos and tragedy that surrounds his life, Geralt can still get into some screamingly funny misadventures! The book tells about many of the key moments of Geralt's early life, including his first meeting with Yennefer and how he invoked the Law of Surprise to become Ciri's eventual guardian. While some of the language in translation is a bit clunky, the characters and stories in the book make it a compelling read, especially for anyone who loved the game.

The next book is in the Witcher series is another collection of short stories, The Sword of Destiny. I ended up loving this collection almost as much as The Last Wish. It explores Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship further, in particular how their inability to have a child together despite Yennefer’s desperate yearning complicates their relationship. To me, the stories in The Sword of Destiny are ultimately about family and love (though with plenty of monsters, dragons, infidelity, and dryads along the way). Geralt was bereft of a family from a young age, having been abandoned by his sorceress mother with the Witchers. Yennefer also is bereft of a family, and her and Geralt’s infertility make it impossible for them to form their own in a typical way. They dance around each other, in love and sadness. Likewise, Geralt meets Ciri for the first time, but her formidable grandmother, the Lioness of Cintra, makes it clear that despite the Law of Surprise, she won’t let him take her.

But destiny is a twisting and complicated road, though as Geralt notes, destiny by itself requires something more. And in the haunting and heartrending final, it’s clear what that is—love. This is another book I’d highly recommend—it might be my favorite of the Witcher books, though I also loved The Last Wish. so it’s hard to pick a definitive favorite. While you don’t necessarily need to read The Last Wish to appreciate The Sword of Destiny, it might help to establish the relationships with the characters.

The next book in the series, Blood of Elves, is more of a cohesive novel, but since it tells its story from multiple perspectives it's still a bit episodic. Nonetheless, it tells an excellent story and as usual, the characters are one of the best parts. Geralt seems like the strong, silent type, but Sapkowski gives him a depth and mystery that make him compelling even when he's understated. And Yennefer develops into a complex, intriguing woman with a subtle intelligence. If you don't understand why Geralt is so in love with her after playing the games, this book shows why. Sapkowski draws a complicated web of relationships between Geralt, Yennefer, Ciri and Triss, creating both understanding and mystery.

The Time of Contempt is the second novel and the fourth book in Adrzej Sapkowski's series of books on the Witcher. I really enjoyed the first two books, and this one did not disappoint. The story focuses as much on Ciri as it does on Geralt, but both their stories are exciting and interesting. What's more, for a book with plenty of action, the story is surprisingly philosophical at times. Geralt tries to do what he thinks is best to protect Ciri and do the right thing. Yet, time and again Sapkowski shows how tricky it is to determine the "right" path in a complex, morally ambiguous world. The haunting tragedy of war, and the terrible choices that people make when confronted by devastating circumstances become a running theme.

I loved the characterizations of Geralt and Yennefer--their relationship has complexity and depth, and the reader ends up sympathetic to both characters even when they seem opposed to each other. Their touching love for Ciri shines through their actions, even when they disagree about what's best for her. Even Dandelion becomes a fascinating character, one with more complicated connections than you might think. What's more, Dandelion's "translations" of Geralt and Yennefer's discussions is both touching and hilarious.

For those of you who love the games, this book gives quite a bit of backstory on characters like Phillippa Eilhart and Dijkstra. It also reveals the origins of the political strife and warfare from the games.

I'd recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fantasy, the Witcher games, or is excited to see the new Netiflix series with Henry Cavill. Reading these books had deepened my appreciation for the game, yet they are excellent reads even if you don't ever play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt . They have a world as deep and fully realized as anything in Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, and rich, intriguing characters.

If you like my posts, check out my books, Sapience or Saints and Curses, and subscribe to my newsletter!

Guest Post, an Interview, and two Reviews

I’ve been busy promoting both my books, Sapience and Saints and Curses, and I’m happy with how that’s going! Today, my friend Sarah Mensinga and I had out first book signing at a local Half Price Bookstore in Plano, TX! We’ll be doing a mini tour of bookstores (find our schedule here). In addition to in-person events, I’ve done another guest post, an interview, and I’ve had two more reviews, including my first by a booktuber!

Me (Alexis Lantgen) holding a copy of my book, Saints and Curses: A Collection of Fantasy Short Stories, at my table at Half Price Books.

Me (Alexis Lantgen) holding a copy of my book, Saints and Curses: A Collection of Fantasy Short Stories, at my table at Half Price Books.

You can find my latest guest post at the Sorcerer of Tea’s website. I wrote “5 Tips for First Time Book Convention Vendors,” and I’m happy with how it turned out. If you’re a writer interested in potentially getting a table at a Comicon, or if you just love Comicons, check it out!

I knew as soon as I decided to publish my first book, Sapience, that I’d love to get a table at a local book convention. I’d been to cons before, and there are always tons of science fiction/fantasy fans roaming about, enjoying the finely polished dice and the hilarious T-shirt slogans.

My most recent interview is with Pond’s Press, which is website about Video Games, Movies, and Netflix shows. I appreciate Chase Pond for contacting me!

My next interview is about a leader in a science fiction writing organization here in DFW. Let’s hear more about it from Alexis Lantgen.

I’m also happy to have a new review of Saints and Curses from writer and book blogger Laura Elizabeth. She has some really beautiful things to say about my book, and it’s always wonderful to hear how much someone enjoyed your stories (honestly, I even enjoy reading a thoughtful critique—it’s nice when someone thinks deeply about your work as well).

I enjoyed the variety in these stories, and Lantgen does well to give each one a completely distinct feel. Moving from story to story we’re treated to some vivid and surprisingly detailed characters, a real strength of the collection, and completely different narrative tones.

Last but not least, I got my first review by a booktuber, April Grace. She gives a very thoughtful description of the stories in Saints and Curses in the video below. She’s agreed to read Sapience as well, and I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say about my science fiction short stories too.

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Review: The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest

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The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest is collection of fantasy short stories and poems that I found at the library. It was edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, the same duo who had edited another book I enjoyed, Black Swan, White Raven, so I decided to check it out. I loved the theme of the book, and since I just returned from a trip to the Redwood Forest, it felt like the right book for me to read. I'm glad I did, because while I didn't love all the stories, many of them were haunting and unique, and I'm looking forward to reading more from those authors.

Some of my favorite stories were "Grand Central Park," by Delia Sherman, "A World Painted by Birds" by Katherine Vaz, and "Joshua Tree" by Emma Bull. These stories captured the theme in beautifully imaginative ways, but each one was as different from the others as water from fire. In particular, I loved the coming-of-age theme in "Grand Central Park," as well as the heroine's kindness and generosity even as she "wins." Vaz's story is as gorgeous and lush as a canvas, yet as sorrowful and haunting as a poem by Frederico Garcia Lorca. I loved her imagery, and how the worst characters had some humanity in them, even the selfish General's Wife. In contrast, Bull's "Joshua Tree" was spare and understated, yet the germs of hope and freedom her main character discovers in the desert felt as tough as the trees in her title. It was a reminder that there's a beauty even in harsh, hard-to-survive environments, like high school and the desert.

Other notable stories included "Fee, Fie, Foe, et Cetera" by Gregory Maguire, "Remnants" by Kathe Koja, and "The Pagodas of Ciboure" by M. Shayne Bell. I loved Maguire's matter-of-fact take on fairy tales, where Jack has to contend with taxes and bureaucracy as much as a giant. Koja's "Remnants" on the other hand, had one of the darkest takes on the theme in the anthology. The forest of trash is both a refuge and perhaps a trap for the main character, who seems both magical and deeply disturbed. The dark secrets she uses the forest to conceal lurk beneath her supposedly sunny outlook, and the enemies she fears might be people trying to help her, if perhaps ineffectually. It's a story that definitely sticks in your mind, and raises uncomfortable questions about society and the "trash" we throw away. In contrast, "The Pagodas of Ciboure" is a charming, lovely story about the imagined childhood of one of my favorite composers, Maurice Ravel. I loved, loved, loved the pagodas, which are not Chinese temples but a type of French fairy creature made of porcelain, jewels, and crystal. The lovely little creatures and their relationship with a kind but sickly boy made this story one of the most enjoyable to read.

Overall, I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in fantasy stories. Like many anthologies, there's such a wide variety of voices and approaches to the theme that it's easy to find stories to love.

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Review: Fractalistic by Gerardo Delgadillo

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Gerardo Delgadillo and I were in a writing group together for several years, so when he sent me an ARC of his latest book, Fractalistc, I was excited to read it. I’m glad I did, because Fractalistic is a fascinating book—part scifi, part bildungsroman, part romance, with a lovely dash of Mexican culture that makes the setting vivid and interesting.

After moving to Mexico with her parents, Winter Gutan had been hoping the local alternative medicine doctor would cure her mother’s illness. When her mother does not survive his controversial treatments, Winter’s life spirals in despair.

In particular, I loved Fractalistic’s colorful and engaging cast of characters. Winter, the main character, has all the intensity and passion of a traumatized and confused teenager, in a good way. She’s deeply flawed and makes mistakes, but she’s also kind. I know that this is a small part of the book, but I loved Winter’s kindness to animals, including the dog she decides to adopt, and her sweetness to a crying child at one point in the story. Winter’s friends (or the classmates from her school who become her friends) are just as interesting, and have complex lives of their own. Even her love interest, Rafa, turns out to be way more than the hunky soccer player he seems at first. Meanwhile, grief and pain threaten to overwhelm Winter’s father, and the depictions of his drinking and descent into misery felt as vivid and painful as a fresh cut.

I thought the plot was also engaging, and it kept me guessing about people’s motives and their secrets through most of the book. Winter is distrustful, and with good reason, since many of the people close to her aren’t being very honest.

Overall, I really loved this book! The author’s depictions of Mexico are so real you can practically taste the churros, and I found myself wanting to attend a Mexican soccer game more than I’d ever have expected. I loved the characters and their relationships, and the story kept me guessing. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in YA, light scifi, or light, sweet romance. Fractalistic is available for preorder now, and comes out July 9, 2019!

Book Review: G.M. Nair's Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire

I picked up a copy of G.M. Nair’s Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire because I met him on Twitter, and he seemed very funny! Also, I happen to love scifi/fantasy comedies like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and anything by Terry Pratchett, so I was excited to read one by a new author. I’m so glad I did, because Nair’s book is a joy to read. It’s funny, but it also has moments of great drama and pathos, and I loved the characters.

It took Michael and Stephanie nearly an hour of walking before they spotted a lone cab searching the edge of suburbia for a fare like a grandparent canvassing a toy store for a "Nintendo Playstation."

Michael Duckett and Stephanie Dyer seem at first like the most hilariously awkward/incompetent duo to ever fumble their way through a cosmos spanning mystery. But one of the things I loved about the book was how they grew and developed as the story progressed. They both come to reevaluate their lives and their friendship in meaningful ways, Even side characters, ones we barely meet, seem to grow over the course of the book. What’s more, while the story has plenty of moments of zany comedy, there are moments of poignancy and depth that I loved. As the book progressed, Nair gave both Duckett & Dyer a level of self-awareness that lead to some very thoughtful, sweet moments.

Overall, I really loved this book. If I had any criticism, it’s that the set up was a little long, but the payoff was so great it was totally worth it. Like the best comedies, it has a kind and compassionate heart, and like the best scifi, it has a fascinating and engaging world. I can only hope that G.M. Nair is working on a sequel, because I can’t wait to read what happens next!

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Reviews, Book Spotlights, and Author Interviews for Saints and Curses!

I’m so happy that Saints and Curses has been getting some excellent reviews and ratings on Goodreads and Amazon! In particular, I’m really happy about this review from Killian Wolf.

This Anthology is like opening up a portal and dipping into different magical worlds all in one book. Alexis Lantgen does it again in her newest Anthology, Saints and Curses, with her ability to weave magical worlds, so detailed, that you could almost hear the music playing from within the pages, or taste the food being served at a festival.

If you’d like to know more about how people are liking Saints and Curses, check it out!

In addition to an excellent review, I did another author interview at Meet the Author by Camilla Downs.

What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?

My family went on an incredible trip to the Redwoods National Park in California. Seeing the redwood forest–they’re the tallest trees on Earth, and it’s impossible to convey their majesty. It was the most magical place I’ve ever been, and I loved it. I want to go back again someday, and show the redwoods to my children.

Last but not least, I’m happy to have a book spotlight for Saints and Curses on Timothy Bateson’s Website! Thank you once again, Timothy!

My author copies for Arlingcon—I’m so excited to get them in!

My author copies for Arlingcon—I’m so excited to get them in!