Posts tagged ‘fantasy’

January 4, 2011

Book Review: The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe

by thiszine

by Mark Barrowcliffe

Soho Press, Inc.
(November 2009, $14, 288 pages)

I have a confession. While in high school during the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was fascinated by odd, awkward and distant boys who played Dungeons & Dragons, fascinated almost to the point of a forbidden crush. They were so different, marching around in heavy black trench coats and big black boots. They avoided attention because it was usually derogatory and spoke to each other in a sophisticated nearly foreign language about things of which I could relate only vaguely back to J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. They seemed to possess a knowledge of a secret world which buoyed them during the boring and sometimes cruel existence of life as a teen on the outside of normalcy.

The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe brought me back into the secret world that I had wondered about. This memoir is a lively, honest, hilarious and at times heartbreaking recount of Barrowcliffe’s adolescence as a committed Dungeons & Dragons Gamer.

At age 12, Mark Barrowcliffe chose an obscure path of wizard, warrior, evil priest or dwarf over the the more conventional path of typical rebellion. He didn’t tread lightly. He dove right in and immersed himself entirely in a world where the socially awkward boy from Coventry, England became Alf the Elf, Foghat the Gnome or Effilc Worrab, an elf warrior with the head of a mule.

Barrowcliffe describes his total preoccupation with Dungeons & Dragons as, “an obsession, a way for damaged people to damage themselves further.” The Dungeons & Dragons game became a connecting lifeline for ostracized, similarly obsessed dweebs in the mid-1970s. It was an unprecedented narrative story game that armed the players with paper, pencils, oddly shaped dice and exquisite imagination. The game typically went on for days, which for the school-aged Barrowcliffe, was from Friday afternoon to mid-Sunday afternoon. He played non-stop with a cast of memorable characters, including the most remarkable, Billy, who welcomed Barrowcliffe to the gaming table with, “Sit down between the wind and his nobility!” He then let out an enormous fart.

The Eflish Gene exposes the world of geeks and role-playing gamers. Barrowcliffe spares no humility; he was the lowest echelon in his world. His frank, self-deprecating observations of his own annoying mannerisms and over-the-top enthusiasm while playing are amusing. The responses and reactions of the other players to Barrowcliffe’s Alf the Elf are cruelly entertaining. The unforgettable characters live for the secret world of superior knowledge. They are smug in their sequestered realm which is in reality just an escape from the cruel world of normalcy. It was boys’ world because there were no girl players. Girls would destroy the game. It was a world of “bullied, power hungry twerps with no discernible skills and absolutely no hope of a girlfriend.”

Girls ultimately provide the escape ladder for Barrowcliffe’s painful extraction from the fantasy obsession of his awkward youth. The recount of his extraction from the world of Dungeons & Dragons and its circle of cloistered misfits is a bit sad yet necessary in order to for him to successfully navigate the real world. Typical of most superior-minded nerds, he takes on a tone of snide disdain when revisiting the Dungeons & Dragons gaming tables. Perhaps this is a reflection of wasted youth? Regardless, reading about this fantasy world of war gaming geeks is well worth the time spent.


December 17, 2010

Book Review: Laidenn The Dark Elf by Lyle Perez-Tinics

by thiszine

by Lyle Perez-Tinics

(November 2010, $8.99, 134 pages)

The great thing about zombie authors is their dedication to the genre. Just when I think they have reached the limits of the imagination, I stumble upon something that expands zombie fiction into other genres – engulfs them, really. NOM NOM NOM! While other genres add glitter to their monsters, one author has brought the zombie culture to the North Pole.

When I read the introduction to Laidenn The Dark Elf by Lyle Perez-Tinics and realized that I would be reading a story about vampire snowmen and zombie elves, I didn’t know whether to laugh or beat myself with my laptop. After carefully noting that Perez-Tinics loves Christmas and the holiday season, I decided to approach this book with the same seriousness I would give to any fantasy tale. Keep in mind, this is young adult fiction, with the goal of appealing to both children and adults, so not quite as dark as you might expect, and age appropriate for grade school and up.

There are Light Elves and Dark Elves. The Light Elves make the toys and are enjoying a well-deserved night off at an enchanted amusement park when Laidenn realizes that they are about to be attacked by vampire snowmen. Perez-Tinic’s talent for detail shows when Laidenn prepares to fight with bags of salt. As Laidenn tries to make the other elves aware of the impending danger, we learn more about how light and dark magic work at the North Pole. We also discover that there are actually two different breeds of vampires as well.

I laughed at the description of the horrible things that took place in Santa’s workshop, such as Barbie heads with Ken bodies! Santa defends his workshop with the stealth and swiftness that would make Van Helsing proud. Don’t let the fat, jolly appearance fool you – this Santa has the moves of a warrior. He also has command of zombie elves! This is the Santa I want at my house.

When I read Laidenn The Dark Elf to my five-year-old (we’re talking about a kid who has already acted in a zombie film), he thought this would make a great movie and I agree. (Maybe a joint Pixar and Full Moon production?) This is a great holiday story for the whole family, especially if you’re already fans of the classic monsters: vampires, zombies, and the like. I know Christmas will never be the same at our house again.

Lyle Perez-Tinics is the writer and creator of, a site dedicated to zombie books and the authors. He dreams about opening a bookstore filled entirely with the horror genre. You can contact him at or follow him on twitter

Ursula K. Raphael

September 14, 2010

Book Review: Bloodborn by Nathan Long

by thiszine

(Ulrike the Vampire – Warhammer)
by Nathan Long

Games Workshop
May 2010, $8.99, 416 pages)

Nathan Long has written three Warhammer novels featuring the Blackhearts (a group of criminals turned soldiers), and has taken over the Gotrek and Felix series, starting with Orcslayer. Long also wrote the short story, “None So Blind,” about an invasion by High Elves from Ulthuan on a mission to attack and take revenge on Malekith, Witch King of the Dark Elves, that can be found in the Warhammer anthology, Invasion.

In the Gotrek & Felix series, Ulrika Magdova was Felix’s former love interest. She was a Kislevite noble, daughter to Ivan Straghov, the March Warden of the Border, who fought against the Chaos hordes in the north. Before Ulrika was turned into a vampire, she traveled with Gotrek, Felix, and Max Schreiber during an expedition to Karag Dum. After, she was kidnapped by Krieger in Sylvania and from him received the “blood kiss.” In Manslayer, she wanted to get back together with Felix, but their differences were too great.

Bloodborn takes place between her last appearance in Vampireslayer and her return in Manslayer. Ulrika has only been a vampire for a couple of weeks and is having a terrible time controlling her urge to feed. The story begins with her running naked in a forest, about to feed on a victim, when her mistress, Countess Gabriella, and her blood-swain, Rodrik, stop her. The Countess takes Ulrika back to her castle, and continues her attempts to teach Ulrika not only to control her hunger, but to control how much blood she takes when she is allowed to feed.

Before the Countess is able to fully train Ulrika in the Lahmian ways, the vampire queen instructs Gabriella to help her sisters in Nuln. Two of the six sisters have been ripped apart by an unknown assailant. The corpses were left in public areas with their claws and fangs extended, causing a panic among the human population and attracting the wrath of the witch hunters.

Once Gabriella and Ulrika arrive in Nuln, it is obvious that internal politics between the sisters is going to impede the investigation into the deaths. When it is clear the Gabriella’s sisters are too paranoid to trust one another, suspecting each other of the murders, Ulrika is ordered to spy on them. While searching for clues, Ulrika comes face to face with a witch hunter named Templar Friedrich Holmann, who does not realize that she is a vampire. They eventually agree to hunt together, which furthers complicates Ulrika’s situation with her mistress and the other vampire sisters.

I think Nathan Long did a great job of writing a strong, female character as a tragic heroine. With all the clawing, sword-fighting, and ghoul attacks, these vampires were far from the fops that are usually found in vampire tales. In fact, this particular novel was more horror than fantasy. There were just enough flashbacks to tie this book into the Gotrek & Felix series without it being necessary to have actually read the other Warhammer books. Even though this is just the first in an Ulrika series (the next one will be Bloodforged ), I still thought the ending was a bit too abrupt: an element of the story, a mysterious voice, was never revealed. Everything else was wrapped up into Ulrika’s training with the Countess.

I love both the Gotrek & Felix series and the spin-off Thanquol & Boneripper series, but if you don’t have time to catch up or backtrack the Warhammer timeline (by reading, for example, Gotrek & Felix: The First Omnibus (Warhammer), you can learn more about the characters in Ulrika’s world in the collection Death & Dishonour, which includes vampires, witch hunters, and more. You can visit Nathan Long’s blog here.

~Ursula K. Raphael

May 30, 2010

Book Review: Death & Dishonor: Warhammer

by thiszine

Anthology – Various Authors

Black Library
(January 26, 2010, $8.99, 320 pages)

Over the years, the stories based on the Warhammer games & miniatures have gained their own following. No longer do you have to be a player to know the intricate details of this fantasy world, though it helps. Several of the books have branched into a series of novels, each with their own trademark characters. Populated with various races, such as elves, dwarves, and rat-men called Skavens, just to name a few, the world of Warhammer offers tales of bloody battles, political intrigue, and tests of faith. Bad guys are usually agents of Chaos – demonic forces accidentally unleashed upon the world, and the good guys are usually complex characters with loads of baggage that grow with each new adventure.

In Death & Dishonour, the Black Library has very wisely compiled a collection of the very best Warhammer fantasy sagas…a sort of literary appetizer that offers a sampling of the characters and creatures they have to offer. It would be unfair to write a general review of a book with nine different stories, especially when considering the talent of the authors, so I wrote about each one:

“Red Snow” by Nathan Long is a Gotrek & Felix tale set in the Mountains of Mourn. They’re guarding a caravan of merchants because Gotrek is hoping to find his doom along the way, but they’re delayed by an avalanche. A Sigmar priest, Father Gessler, invites them to stay in a nearby village while they dig out the mountain pass. He tells them about a monster roaming the mountains, so – of course – Gotrek wants to fight the monster. Long does an excellent job of writing a new story without disturbing the timeline of the Gotrek & Felix saga. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading Shamanslayer.

“The Assassin’s Dilemma” by David Earle was a sweet surprise – I wasn’t expecting a Skaven story. This tale takes place years after Skavenslayer, but includes several references to the Battle of Nuln. Sneeq Foulblade of Clan Eshin has been contracted by Warlord Glut to steal human weapons, and kidnap the engineer, Werner Grunhelm. Grey Seer Qik wants to kill Grunhelm himself, so Sneeq is forced to make alternate plans…yet another example of Clan politics undermining the Skaven race. If you enjoy this Skaven tale, then you should read Grey Seer (Thanquol & Boneripper novel).

“Rest Eternal” by Anthony Reynolds begins with the last moments of a battle between the knight Calard and a wyvern, in the Grey Mountains – although, those few moments are described over several pages. For the life of me, I didn’t see a reason for stretching out the battle, until I read the twist halfway through the story. This was one of the most unpredictable stories I have ever read, and the best fantasy-fiction that I’ve read in a long time. Reynolds has an amazing imagination. If you like this tale, consider reading Knight Errant.

“The Miracle At Berlau” by Darius Hinks is a tale concerning a young man nicknamed Ratboy, and his friendship with a Sigmar priest, Brother Wolff. As the two struggle to defeat a creature called The Reaver, details are revealed bit by bit about how the two met, and how they came to be in a blown-up temple. I love that the priest teaching the boy to read, in the past, played a part in the discovery of “The Miracle.” It was a nice enough story, but not nearly as much action as I would have expected from a Warhammer tale, although his Warrior Priest is a good book.

“Noblesse Oblige” by Robert Earl gives us a taste of the Florin & Lorenzo saga. The story unfolds with a watchman happening upon some Skaven (yaay!) in a grain store, presumably up to no good, and quickly moves onto Florin & Lorenzo selling corn to an Empire merchant named Gristwald. Afterwards, Florin & Lorenzo decide to visit a fighting pit that has Skaven as entertainment. After a bad decision on Florin’s part (several bad decisions in a row, actually), the two find themselves in the middle of complicated murder plot, which leads to a unique mêlée. One of the best tales in the collection!

In “The Last Ride of Heiner Rothstein” by Ross O’Brien, Heiner is apparently already dead. The tale is told from the point-of-view of his son, Wolfram. Over half the story is spent describing the unrest among the pistoliers, who have been drinking and telling stories in their campsite. They all seem to be having trouble remembering the details of their previous battle. Eventually, they find themselves fighting again, and that is when Wolfram begins to see people he thought were dead. While the plot twist was slightly predictable, the very end was not at all what I expected.

“Broken Blood” by Paul Kearney is about two brothers, Gabriel and Michael, separated in battle by Chaos sorcery. Two years later, Gabriel is near the end of a campaign to find out what has become of his brother, and the details of the separation are revealed in Gabriel’s flashbacks. Most of the story is pages upon pages of his final battle with the Chaos horde, in which I began to lose interest. By the time he learned what had happened to Michael, I didn’t care anymore. Broken Blood failed to impress me as much as the first six stories did. However, the ending wasn’t too bad.

“The Judgment of Crows” by Chris Wraight centers around the Amethyst wizard, Katerina Lautermann, sent to save Herrendorf from the unquiet dead. Unfortunately, she does not have the support or confidence of the villagers. A Sigmar priest, Boris, tells her the mausoleum of another Amethyst wizard may hold the key to saving the village, but when she summons the spirit of the wizard Arfol, she discovers a horrible secret. This story is a decent zombie-fantasy tale. Wraight also wrote Masters of Magic.

“Wolfshead” by C.L. Werner is a Brunner the Bounty Hunter adventure. I am not a fan of the trilogy, but I still thought the story was well-written. Brunner is not happy about having to keep Victor Schwartz alive to collect his bounty; to make matters worse, while trekking through a dense forest, a witch appears to warn them that they are being hunted. I could see where the story was going right away, but it was still fun to read.

One of the things that I liked best about this collection was the length of the stories. I also enjoyed having so many characters and settings from the world of Warhammer brought into one book. If you’re already a fan, you’ll recognize a lot of the names, places and time frames but if you’ve never read Warhammer before, this is an excellent book to begin with. You’ll have an idea whether or not Warhammer has any fantasy sagas you would enjoy.
~ Ursula K. Raphael


Ursula K. Raphael is a 35 year old wife and mother of one child living in Grand Rapids, MI. She homeschools her son and in her spare time reviews books, music, and movies. In addition to her interest in sci-fi/fantasy literature, she’s also preparing for the zombie apocalypse. You can find her parent survival tips at