James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > By Contributor

Reviews by Contributor: Eisenstein, Phyllis (6)

Walk of Life

In the Red Lord’s Reach  (Tales of Alaric the Minstrel, volume 2)

By Phyllis Eisenstein  

7 May, 2024

Big Hair, Big Guns!

2 comments

Phyllis Eisenstein’s 1989 In the Red Lord’s Reach is a secondary-world fantasy fix-up. Red Lord is the second and to-date-final published book in her Tales of Alaric the Minstrel series.

Having escaped his family (as detailed here), Alaric sets his eyes on the north. What wonders are hidden beyond the forbidding mountains between Alaric and the semi-legendary Northern Sea?


Read more ➤

Melt Your Heart

The Crystal Palace  (Book of Elementals, volume 2)

By Phyllis Eisenstein  

2 Apr, 2024

Big Hair, Big Guns!

9 comments

1988’s The Crystal Palace is the second volume in Phyllis Eisenstein’s secondary universe fantasy Book of Elementals series. I reviewed the first volume, Sorcerer’s Son, here.

Having vanquished Sorcerer Rezhyk, nothing remains for sorcerer Detivev Ormoru and her son Cray but to live happily ever after. Easy enough for Detivev, who has her doting demon lover Gildrum. Easy enough for all the demons liberated by the relentless Cray. But where is Cray’s happily ever after?

The answer begins with a magic mirror.


Read more ➤

A Magic Web With Colours Gay

Sorcerer’s Son  (Book of Elementals, volume 1)

By Phyllis Eisenstein  

20 Dec, 2020

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

4 comments


1979’s Sorcerer’s Son is the first volume of Phyllis Eisenstein’s secondary-universe fantasy series, Book of Elementals. Sorcerer’s Son is a coming-of-age novel. 

Sorcerer Smada Rezhyk proposes marriage to Sorcerer Detivev Ormoru; she declines with a simple no.” Rezhyk concludes that this must indicate hostility, indeed must show that she is bent on his destruction! Aware that his bitter enemy’s command of nature makes her a formidable enemy, Rezhyk dispatches his most trusted demon Gildrum to distract Detivev long enough for Rezhyk to forge invincible armour for himself.

A direct attack would invite a direct response. Therefore, Gildrum takes the guise of a handsome young man named Mellor, the better to seduce the sorceress. 

The demon is successful beyond their wildest dreams.


Read more ➤

Continuing this week’s theme of travelling entertainers

Born to Exile  (The Tales of Alaric the Minstrel, volume 1)

By Phyllis Eisenstein  

7 Jun, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

0 comments

Phyllis Eisenstein’s award-winning 1978 Born to Exile takes us to a secondary world not unlike Medieval Europe, at least as perceived from the US. It’s a world with all the dangers and prejudices of old Europe minus (as far I can tell) anything like the Church. It is a region divided into pocket feudalisms, without any grand unifying authority. Although someone is working on that last detail.…

It’s also a world with magic or at least something that will do until genuine magic comes along. Alaric the Minstrel has a fine voice but he also has a special talent, a talent so very special that if any of the people listening to him sing had the faintest inkling he had such an odd talent, they would build a special commemorative bonfire with Alaric as the centerpiece.


Read more ➤

Pointed social commentary undermined by unfortunate world-building choices

Shadow of Earth

By Phyllis Eisenstein  

28 Sep, 2014

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

0 comments

Eisenstein is probably better known for her Alaric the Minstrel stories, if only because that’s still an on-going series; the most recent Alaric story, Caravan to Nowhere” appeared in 2014’s Rogues. As it happens, Eisenstein is one of those authors for whom I discover in retrospect I am a completist, so I could have reviewed Born to Exile, the first Alaric fix-in. Instead I decided to go with the considerably more obscure Shadow of Earth, a tale of a modern American woman who finds herself trapped in a backward world where her only value is as a brood mare of rare breed: a full-blooded white woman! 

Some aspects of this novel have aged more gracefully than other elements.

Read more ➤