REVIEW

Our best picks from the world of fantasy fiction

Windswept and gothic on the page

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by New Zealand author H. G. Parry (Orbit $22.99) is the ultimate book-lover's fantasy.

Parry's debut novel has echoes of the Jasper Fforde novels and Cornelia Funke's Inkheart trilogy, as she delivers "a love letter to reading".

Young Wellington University academic Charley Sutherland is a "summoner" with the power to bring literary characters into the real world. A problem is that they often escape his control. As the novel opens, Charley calls his lawyer brother Rob in the middle of the night with the news, "Uriah Heep's loose on the ninth floor...and I can't catch him".

Fictional mayhem ensues as another "summoner" unleashes characters who threaten the fabric of the world, with Wellington the literary faultline: "Stories bring things into the world, and they can't be put away again".

Reading is an act of interpretation allowing famous characters to emerge like Dorian Gray, Heathcliff , multiple Mr Darcys, Victor Frankenstein, Ebenezer Scrooge , and even the hound from The Hound of the Baskervilles, as they become centre stage.

Dr Parry skilfully mixes reflections on the power of literature on our lives in a clever, engaging fantasy mystery which will appeal to all age ranges.

The Cobra Queen (Echo Publishing, $29.99) by Canadian-Australian author Tara Moss is the fourth in her Pandora English series ,which combines urban supernatural fantasy and gothic horror.

Pandora, who lives in Great Aunt Celia's Victorian mansion in Manhattan, is the "chosen one", the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. Moss has said she preferred to follow "a matriarchal line rather than patriarchal line that we have seen in older tales".

Pandora is a fashion journalist covering an upcoming Egyptian exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, which will awake a wronged female pharaoh and threaten the apocalyptic "Revolution of the Dead". Without Pandora, "the living world will fall and the balance will be undone".

The ensuing battle will test all of Pandora's supernatural gifts and those of her allies ,including her beloved "spirit guide", Civil War soldier, Lieutenant Luke Thomas.

Moss says she pays homage to '"classic mythology, old school horror tales and popular stories of the paranormal but with a twist". The twist is "the powerful and complex, and not always good" Pandora, who carries the story through to a rousing conclusion.

Sarah Maas' two young adult books, Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses, have sold more than 9,000,000 copies globally. House of Earth and Blood (Bloomsbury $29.99), which also mixes the paranormal with urban fantasy, is her first adult fantasy, containing liberal doses of strong language and violence.

The storyline follows half-Fae and half-human Bryce Quinlan, who sells magical antiquities by day and parties at night in the clubs of Crescent City. She is devastated, however, when her best friends are murdered. Ultimately, to find their killer, Bryce partners with a fallen angel, Hunt Athalar. Hunt is promised his freedom if he can help Bryce capture the murderer, even if this means exposing their pasts and forging a relationship to find the truth in Crescent City's dark underbelly.

Cambridge University English graduate, A.K. Larkwood makes an impressive fantasy novel debut, with The Unspoken Name (Tor, $29.99), the first in the Serpents Gates trilogy. Csorwe, brought up in the strict religious House of Silence, is to be sacrificed to a god when she reaches 14. With her death hours away, Csorwe is saved by Sethennai, a powerful sorcerer, but what is his reason? Larkwood has said. "What do you owe to someone who saves your life, and what do they owe to you?"

Sethennai makes Csorwe his aide and an apprentice sword-hand as he seeks a mysterious reliquary, the key to unlock portals to other worlds. Csorwe is now bound to Sethennai, who may or may not have her best interests at heart. And the gods never forget. The Unspoken Name is an original fantasy debut encompassing themes of sacrifice and loss, abandonment and vengeance, loyalty and ultimately love.

The publicity for Melbourne author Claire McKenna's fantasy debut, Monstrous Heart (Harper Collins, $29.95), references the successful novels and TV series Outlander, which decidedly overhypes the textual reality.

Arden Beacon arrives in the windswept, "coarse coastal town", of Vigil tasked with following in the tradition of her late uncle and using blood magic to keep a lighthouse operating off the coast. Arden and her friend Chalice have to challenge traditional mores in a society with hidden secrets. The tumultuous seas are filled with krakens and leviathans, hunted by individuals such as Arden's neighbour, Jonah Riven, whom rumour asserts has killed his wife to placate the monsters of the deep. Everyone tells Arden to avoid Raven but naturally the opposite occurs.

McKenna mixes real and fantasy settings within a complex plotline, elements which never really fuse successfully, while the slow burning relationship between Arden and Jason clearly indicates a sequel.

This story Windswept and gothic on the page first appeared on The Canberra Times.