Bookshelf (Starburst Reviews) Bookshelf compiled by David Howe
• part of Starburst's monthly Reviews section
selected from Starburst #261

Selected this month: the latest fantasy novels from Juliet Marillier and
Harry Harrison

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Daughter of the Forest
by Juliet Marillier
Published by Voyager • April 2000 • 538pp, trade p/b

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'This is a terrific book, well written and unputdownable'

This hugely enjoyable, romantic Celtic fantasy (Book One of the Sevenwaters Trilogy) combines elements of the old Irish legend The Children of Lir and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Eleven Swans with the history of Ireland, England, and the Isle of Man.

If her mother hadn’t died in childbirth, Sorcha and her six older brothers would have had an idyllic childhood running wild in the forests. But when she is nearly 14, their father Lord Colum marries the mysterious Lady Oonagh, who is a malevolent and powerful sorceress. When Colum’s children try to warn him against her, Oonagh turns her six stepsons into swans and Sorcha flees for her life.

A devastated Sorcha asks the Fair Folk how to restore her brothers to human form. It’s no easy task. She must remain mute until she has made each brother a shirt from stinging Starwort. As she begins her painful task, she little realizes how long it will take, or what other perils await a lone and vulnerable girl. Nor does she anticipate meeting Lord Hugh of Harrowfield, a red-haired Briton with good reason to hate her family …

This is a terrific book, well written and unputdownable. Marillier evokes the Fair Folk inhabited Irish forest and the warlike attitudes of the 10th Century well. She knows how to tell a story, engaging our sympathies for Sorcha, then piling onto her young, self-sacrificing shoulders endless hardship, cruelty, and injustice until both Sorcha (and the reader) are close to breaking point! Lady Oonagh and the smarmy Lord Richard are hissworthy villains, and it looks like Oonagh at least will return in subsequent books of the trilogy.

Daughter of the Forest is an excellent novel that can be read on its own. I’m looking forward to the sequel: Son of the Shadows.

Starburst rating: 10 / 10
Barbara Davies

The Stainless Steel Rat joins the Circus
by Harry Harrison
Published by Gollancz • 269pp • hardback

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'The plot? It involves a ruthless blackmailer, the kidnapping of Jim’s wife, and a planet of corrupt police, undercover agents, and tax collectors.'

Not so young as he used to be, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the eponymous hero of this long running series of Space Operas was over the hill, long in the tooth and past his best for the sort of quick-thinking, rough and tumble SF adventure so beloved of his many fans after a shelf full of novels.

And here, for perhaps the last time, is slippery Jim deGriz being conned into – yes – joining the circus in order to learn who’s responsible for a series of daring bank robberies. At one point, borrowing a line from Lethal Weapon’s aged Sgt Murtaugh, the outwitted and imprisoned Jim grumbles quietly that he’s “too old for this shit”.

The plot? It involves a ruthless blackmailer, the kidnapping of Jim’s wife, and a planet of corrupt police, undercover agents, and tax collectors. Indeed, the notable sense of the bizarre prevalent throughout Harry Harrison’s humorous works is here focused on the most unlikely taxman you could imagine, in any genre.

Our hero’s twin sons, James and Bolivar, also feature in this stainless steel tale of their dear old dad’s twilight days adventuring, appearing just in time to save both parents from a fate worse than boredom on more than one occasion. But, of course, despite the villain’s impressively cunning plan, resulting in one or two near fatal mishaps along the way, the resourceful rat pack win a much deserved victory over their enemies.

Curiously enough, the chapters describing Jim’s induction into the magic circle, and his learning of stagecraft secrets kept from the public for centuries are just as entertaining, for all their sleight of hand card tricks, and rabbits-from-a-top-hat familiarity, as the book’s rather more sophisticated caper aspects.

Starburst rating: 8 / 10
Tony Lee

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