cover image The Seascape Tattoo

The Seascape Tattoo

Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. Tor, $25.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7873-6

Niven and Barnes team up to deliver a trite epic fantasy with a few redeeming qualities. Neoloth-Pteor, the old and jaded wizard of Quillia, is secretly in love with Princess Tahlia. When the princess is kidnapped at sea by unknown nefarious sources and the queen offers the princess’s hand in marriage to any who rescue her, he decides to step up to the challenge. But to do that, he needs the help of former enemy Aros the Azteca. Readers will roll their eyes at the abundant clichés (the princess is literally locked in a tower), some of which are deeply discomfiting (a sole Smurfette-like woman wizard who’s primarily valued by the men for her “beauty and mystery”; the use of the Aztec name and elements of Aztec culture for the far-off “barbarian” lands, and the characterization of Aros as a classic noble savage). But those who are willing to overlook these significant flaws will enjoy the burgeoning friendship between wizard and warrior, their schemes to infiltrate the secrets of the isolationist kingdom responsible for Tahlia’s imprisonment, and the backdrop of failing magic and serious engagement with the question of whether a man can truly change. The stakes are satisfyingly personal and global, without any risk of the reader encountering something new. (July)