• Elizabeth Bear's "Shattered Pillars" (Tor, $26.99, 333 pages) and "Steles of the Sky" (Tor, $26.99, 429 pages), which complete the series that began with "Range of Ghosts," are right at the top of the must-read list of her work.

    "The Eternal Sky" series (which includes two other novellas) is a wonderful combination of history (Central Asia just after the death of Genghis Khan) and fantasy (the requisite dragons, magic and a lot of reworked geography). The complex plot involves a whole bunch of characters, and though most are interesting, the evil villain's motivation for his nonstop villainy isn't quite as well worked out as for those who are out to do good.

    Another nitpick: After more than a thousand pages of struggle and woe, the protagonists (spoiler alert if you've never read a fantasy book before) finally win -- and get about five pages of smiles and redemption. How about a little more peace, love and understanding at the end of such a long slog through demons, evil djinns, and general pain and suffering?

    But most readers are used to that structure by now, so I wholeheartedly recommend this series -- but definitely start with "Range of Ghosts," or you'll never quite catch up to Bear's complex world-building.


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  • I'm guessing Melanie Rawn is a fan of the Who. In "Elsewhens" (Tor, $15.99, 400 pages), the second installment in the "Glass Thorns" series, she tracks the ups and downs of Touchstone, a four-man band of touring artists who are led by an enormously talented writer with a large nose (read Pete Townshend). They are inspired by an unreliable (if not crazy) but enormously talented member (read Keith Moon); their frontman is incredibly handsome (read Roger Daltrey), and the fourth member is solid as a rock (read John Entwhistle).

    Rawn sets this quartet on a world with magic -- these four perform dramas that are fueled by that magic, which allows four people to put on complete shows -- and then sends them off, in "Elsewhens," to tour another continent.

    OK, there's more to "Elsewhens" than the British invasion of the '60s, as Rawn has given her Townshend figure a troubling magical ability to see potential futures, most of which end up with the Moon figure dead, dying or a miserable drug addict. The relationship between these two is really the focus of the first two in the four-book series, and it's complicated by their devotion to alcohol and a complex drug called thorn, which apparently combines the effects of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines, depending on how it's made.

    This constant harping on the rapidly changing emotional states of the two protagonists -- complicated, of course, by their relationships with women and other band members -- gets in the way of enjoying Rawn's carefully built world (there are giants, wizards, goblins and other races) and a plot that could be a lot more interesting if it were more front and center.

  • Chris Willrich has a way to go with the adventures of Imago Bone and Persimmon Gaunt, and after "The Silk Map" (Pyr, $15.95, 450 pages), I'm not sure I'm going to hang in there. Willrich has created an imaginary medieval China, Mongolia and Central Asia with magic, strange creatures and even a talking magic carpet. The complex plot constantly shifts gears, and I found it hard to keep up with who was betraying whom and exactly who had the magic sword.

    Still, Willrich is an engaging writer, and his mashup of history and culture sets the stage for his fast-paced series of hairbreadth escapes and unlikely occurrences.

    Contact Clay Kallam at clayk@fullcourt.com.