Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide To The Fantastical World Around You, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (Simon and Schuster, 2005)

This is the long-awaited capstone to the bestselling, highly popular Spiderwick Chronicles, and is actually a replica of the book which carries much of the story’s plot. In the books, the three Grace children find their uncle’s Field Guide to the creatures of Faerie, and are thusly hounded, hunted, bedeviled and threatened by the various goblins, gnomes, trolls and what-not that are described within. Here at last is the book which started it all, recreated in all its glory by superb artist Tony DiTerlizzi, with help from the ever-impressive Holly Black.

Covering dozens of creatures, including many not actually seen in the Spiderwick Chronicles, it combines full-color drawings with textual articles on everything from Brownies to Unicorns, Dragons to Phookas, Goblins to Salamanders, and much more. Every page is a work of art, combining fresh new art with samples of Arthur Spiderwick’s original journal notes. As well, there are notes added by the next generation, in the form of the Grace children after their own encounters with the creatures of magic. If you were planning to study supernatural beings, this book might very well be a great place to start, provided you have the right equipment and a certain lack of self-preservation.

Quite simply, this is the logical successor to Brian Froud’s fairy books, as good as anything he has done on the subject if not better. Beautifully put-together, with richly intricate and whimsical art on every page, laid out with the utmost of care, the Field Guide is a worthy addition to the shelf of any fantasy lover, and a must-have for Spiderwick fans. DiTerlizzi and Black have outdone themselves here. I can’t recommend this item highly enough, and I suspect we’ll be seeing more from this creative team in the near future.

A Note About Reviews…

You may notice that many reviews have ISBN, page count, release date and price that doesn’t always jib with what’s in the stores. In many cases, I was working with the hardcover or some other edition of the book in question, and in the time sense, a trade paperback or mass market edition, or one from another publisher has come out. Therefore, I suggest you take the information with a grain of salt. If a book looks intriguing, I’m sure you know how to track it down via your local store or online. If not, feel free to ask me for details via the handy contact button.

Welcome!

Well, according to Google, this site is currently the top result if you were to look for “Michael M Jones.” I apologize for the bareness, we’re still uploading my review archive, but do feel free to visit often in the meantime. Thanks for stopping by. In the meantime, you can visit me at my Livejournal at oneminutemonkey.livejournal.com, where I’ve been keeping things somewhat up to date.

Upcoming Publication!

And better news: Mike Resnick and Eric Flint bought the reprint rights to “Claus of Death” to be published in the upcoming Baen anthology, THE DRAGON DONE IT (scheduled for late 2007). Other authors to be featured in this book include Neil Gaiman, Esther Friesner, Harry Turtledove, Gene Wolfe and Tanya Huff. All great people, many of whom I’ve admired for a long time. I’m looking forward to this! More details when I have them.

First Publication!

My first story to be published in a print medium, on a large scale, was “Claus of Death” in the DAW anthology SLIPSTREAMS, edited by John Helfers and Martin Greenberg. It came out in May 2006, and I know you can still find copies in many major bookstores, or online. I’m particularly proud of this story, as it introduces Nick St. Claus, mythical person turned P.I. who’s sure to be a major player in my universe eventually.

Eldest, by Christopher Paolini (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)

[image_name]No sooner has one battle ended for young hunter-turned-reluctant hero Eragon and his dragon Saphira, than another begins. For the world has become an ever more dangerous place, filled with uncertainty and potential betrayal around every corner. The Empire now hunts for Eragon and Saphira with every resource it can muster, and Eragon can no longer stay with the organization of rebels known as the Varden. He must learn to master his gifts as one of the legendary Riders, learn to properly wield the magic that flows through him, and strengthen his bond with Saphira. So with a small select group of allies, he travels to Ellesmera, the homeland of the elves, to embark upon the next stage in his education. Little does he know how he’ll be tested, trained, and ultimately changed by his time there. Worse yet, he’ll do it without the aid of a dear friend, who falls early on due to treachery and violence. Can he overcome his limitations to become a true Rider, in time to save the Varden from annihilation?

Meanwhile, Eragon’s cousin, Roran, has a war of his own to wage when the Empire’s forces threaten his home of Carvahall. What begins as a simple act of defiance soon turns into an epic struggle and a desperate journey across the land, molding a man into a leader, and a small town into a near-legendary force to be reckoned with. But will Roran find what he seeks, and will the people of Carvahall escape with their lives when the Empire comes calling? Ultimately, Eragon and Roran’s paths must cross, but will it be as friends, or enemies? And what awful truths about Eragon’s past will finally be revealed?

Eldest continues the story of Eragon, Saphira, Murtagh, Arya, Nasuada, and the Varden in proper epic style. Like all good middle books in a trilogy, it raises as many questions as it answers, moves the hero further along his path of self-discovery and maturation, and places all the pieces so they’ll be ready for the final book. It’s easy to look at the Inheritance trilogy and pick out all of Christopher Paolini’s numerous influences, especially Tolkien, Joseph Campbell, and Star Wars. But while Paolini may show his influences, he’s not overly beholden to them, taking old and familiar elements (dragons, elves, dwarves, prophecies, an evil empire, a valiant rebellion, an ageless master, and so forth) and weaving them into a highly-enjoyable story. In some ways, the predictability of various twists is almost refreshing; it proves that Paolini respects the genre conventions he’s working with. That he can do so and still turn out a good, solid story is even better. I’ll definitely be looking forward to the last book in the series, to see if he can wrap it up properly.

Originally posted on SF Site, 2006

Spirits That Walk In Shadow, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Viking, 2006)

[image_name]For those who attend college, freshman year is perhaps the strangest, most trying period of their time there. Away from home for an extended period of time, with ready access to drugs, alcohol, and the opposite sex, exposed to all sorts of new and interesting things, it’s the perfect time for young adults to go a little crazy. But in Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s new book, two roommates are about to find out just how weird college can really be.

Kim Calloway is an artist whose ability to capture moods and feelings through color borders on the supernatural. However, ever since her best friend betrayed her, she’s been too depressed to work, almost to the point of suicide. Meanwhile, Jaimie Locke comes from a family where magic is a way of life, and the mundane world is full of uncertainty and strangeness. Can two roomies, one coping with a crippling emotional burden, the other representing the ultimate in insular ethnic groups, learn to get along?

It doesn’t take Jaimie long at all to figure out that what’s bugging Kim is of supernatural origin, though. Determined to help her new friend, Jaimie enlists the aid of her cousins, as well as that of her “household god” to track down the emotional vampire which has been preying on Kim for months. Now this unusual collection of erstwhile friends and allies have to survive college and the things which go bump in the night. Talk about new experiences all around!

Hoffman perfectly captures that mixed cocktail of bewilderment, excitement, alienation, experimentation, culture shock and endless possibilities which almost every college student experiences as they learn to adjust to their new setting. From Jaimie learning how to cope with her mundane surroundings, to Kim dealing with her emotions and learning to trust other people again, to Jaimie’s cousins taking responsibility for the dangers they face, it’s all about growing up through adversity. And as always, Hoffman’s ability to weave strands of the fantastic into a real world setting is top-notch. I absolutely loved Spirits That Walk In Shadow, and I hope she’ll return to these characters again soon.

Originally posted on SF Site, 2006

Larklight, by Phillip Reeve (Bloomsbury, 2006)

For Art and Myrtle Mumby, life is anything but normal. They dwell in the sprawling house known as Larklight, which occupies an orbit out in the blackness of space beyond the Earth’s Moon. Their history is one in which Newton’s discoveries allowed for the British Empire to rapidly journey into space and conquer the solar system, both dominating and trading with the many bizarre alien species which inhabit the nooks and crannies of planets far stranger than ever imagined. And when a mysterious visitor called Mr. Webster comes to visit Larklight, Art and Myrtle end up on the greatest adventure of their young lives. For Mr. Webster is a giant spider, and his race have plans for Larklight, and beyond that, the universe.

Now Art and Myrtle are caught up in an exciting race against time to free their father from captivity, even as they work with the infamous space pirate, Captain Jack Havock, and his ragtag crew of misfits, to prevent an ancient, evil plan from succeeding. It’s no-holds-barred action as they outwit the ships of the Royal Navy, terror as they delve deep into the bowels of enemy strongholds, and mystery as they unravel the secrets of Larklight. And throughout it all, our heroes will have to keep a stiff upper lip, and maintain that proper British can-do attitude. For Queen and Empire!

Larklight is without a doubt one of the most intriguingly-strange, brilliantly-different books I’ve read in a while. It’s an alternate-history Victorian kids’ adventure with space pirates, evil spiders, crackpot technology, and a roller-coaster of a storyline. You won’t learn anything about science or astronomy here, but you will have a grand old time. To add to the excellence of this book, David Wyatt’s illustrations perfectly capture the slightly over-the-top absurdity excitement, whether he’s depicting motley aliens, a battered old pirate ship, a gleaming ship of the Royal Navy, or mock-retro advertisements. He really manages to evoke the right blend of humor and action, and the combination of story and art pushes this book past good and into superb, in my opinion.

Though Larklight is targeted at somewhat younger readers, it will undoubtedly appeal to a wide audience. I can hardly wait for Phillip Reeve’s next offering in the series.