I've had this on my Kindle for a while, and just recently felt in the mood for it. It's hard to categorise, which I like; you could call it a "weird WI've had this on my Kindle for a while, and just recently felt in the mood for it. It's hard to categorise, which I like; you could call it a "weird Western," but that would give almost completely the wrong impression. It's, among other things, an alternate history, in which a powerful supernatural being, known as "the devil" to people in the neighbouring countries, presides over a land called the Territory that sits between the Mississippi River - border of the United States - and the Spanish lands beyond the Rocky Mountains. Within these borders, various forms of magic, mostly small, and supernatural beings exist. The date appears to be somewhere around 1800. It feels like the author has done her research; I have no experience of travelling through the Midwest on a horse, but I was convinced that this is what it would be like. The book is a coming-of-age story, in which a sixteen-year-old girl, raised in the saloon which is the devil's headquarters, makes an agreement with him to become his Left Hand. This involves travelling the Territory, so she is handed over to a mentor, an experienced rider who is to teach her what she needs to know to travel the roads safely. Together, they discover and must deal with an invading bit of magic which has become dangerous to the Territory and its inhabitants. The pace is languid, epic-fantasy style, which is probably my main criticism of the book. I prefer a less leisurely narrative, in which the author doesn't take an entire paragraph to say that the protagonist got some coffee and an apple. The chapters (or "parts") are very long, which means that I often stopped reading in the middle of one, sometimes in the middle of a scene in which not much was happening. There will be readers who do this and never come back again. I kept coming back largely because of the evocative world. One measure, for me, of a book is how many ideas it gives me for my own stories, and this one gave me several - not things I want to directly steal, but new thoughts that were triggered off by an oblique or passing reference. I had the same experience reading Max Gladstone. The plot itself is a fairly standard coming-of-age fantasy, albeit interestingly genderflipped, and between that and the languid pace, plus a perhaps gratuitous level of hostility to Christianity, it didn't quite make it to five stars for me. It's a strong four, though. I almost gave it my "well-edited" tag, but I spotted 11 minor typos (ranging from a missing period, through common mistypings such as "that" for "than," to word substitutions like "pavement" for "payment," "house" for "hour" and "suspicious" for "suspicions"). They were typos, though, slips of the fingers rather than indications that the author didn't know how to punctuate or what words mean. The prose is highly competent, smooth and evocative, and conveys a good story in a fascinating world. ...more
Smoothly written and excellently edited, with an exciting and absorbing plot, this book kept me reading after I had planned to go to bed. Not withoutSmoothly written and excellently edited, with an exciting and absorbing plot, this book kept me reading after I had planned to go to bed. Not without its flaws, but the strengths more than make up for it.
If Temeraire is O'Brien meets Anne McCaffrey, this is O'Brien meets Julian May, or possibly early Sherry Tepper. Rather than the dragons of Temeraire, this Napoleonic naval story has Talents, who have what amount to psychic powers: telekinesis, teleportation, telepathy, clairvoyance, empathy, and, in the case of the protagonist, the ability to control fire. In fact, she has an Extraordinary-level ability with fire, which means she can extinguish it as well as lighting it.
This is a great premise, and the author explores the fire aspect well: its pleasures, its danger, its limitations as well as its powers, and what it means for a well-brought-up young woman of the Regency period to have such an ability. In order to avoid a compelled marriage, she convinces the First Lord of the Admiralty to use her as a weapon, and that drives the rest of the plot. She must confront the realities of being in the military, including how she feels about killing enemies and about the death of friends. She must also learn to stand up for herself in a man's world, which provides a wonderful character arc, and she gets the opportunity, rare for a woman of her class and time period, to be a friend and colleague to men.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I did note some issues. These weren't, for a change, with the copy editing; that was excellent. Rather, they were details of the setting and one or two things that looked like plot holes.
The idea of the Talents is wonderful, but I didn't get a sense of any depth of history to them. How were they regarded in earlier ages? What was the relationship of religion to them? (This could easily have been explored, as the ship's chaplain was an empath, though a very bad one.) How had they changed history - and how had they not changed history, so that England was fighting the Napoleonic Wars in what should have been a very different world? (This is also one of the weaknesses of Temeraire, or any historical fantasy, for that matter, and is, I assume, why Mary Robinette Kowal made the rule that the magic in her Glamourist Histories must be weak enough not to be able to change history very much.) I also didn't get a sense of how they were used outside a military context, which they surely would have been. Given that this is early-19th-century Britain, I would expect to see an elaborate set of social conventions around the talents, with special titles, forms of address, perhaps guilds with livery and officers and symbols and ritual, gradations of talent and training, odd medieval terminology and traditions. Instead, they felt as if they'd suddenly come into existence just a few years before the story was set (which was not what we were told).
I could ignore all that, but there was also a question that kept occurring to me throughout the book: why don't the Scorchers (the fire-controllers) simply target the ships' magazines? Does their talent only work line-of-sight? This question could have been raised in order to be dismissed - but at one point the magazine is targeted. That seems like a plot hole to me.
There's a convenient coincidence, too, when the protagonist finds the pirates' base. There's only the one, so I'll reluctantly allow it, especially since there's plenty of bravery and danger going on at the time.
Just a couple more nitpicks, and I'll return to praising it. First, at one point it indirectly quotes a Rudyard Kipling poem ("Danegeld"), about a century too early, though I suppose Kipling could have been drawing on an existing saying. Second, and more importantly, there's some insistence that seeing black people in the West Indies was a strange novelty to the protagonist. It's now well established that there were plenty of black people in Britain around this period; there's at least one in Jane Austen, in fact. Possibly, as a sheltered daughter of a country family, she might not have encountered any, but they were hardly as exotic as it would seem from the way they're treated here.
Going in, I thought this would be a romance. For a very long time, it wasn't, and I finally decided it wasn't going to be - and then a romance plot did turn up near the end after all, so I can't quite decide what to call it. Military adventure fantasy with psychic powers and a (late-arriving) romance subplot, I think. Whatever it is, I enjoyed it very much, loved the main character, and want to read more in the series.
I received a copy via Netgalley for purposes of review. ...more
I always enjoy a Lindsay Buroker, and this is no exception. Swift, exciting action; under-resourced but still resourceful heroes; no-nonsense, competeI always enjoy a Lindsay Buroker, and this is no exception. Swift, exciting action; under-resourced but still resourceful heroes; no-nonsense, competent female characters who are, nevertheless, not without a touch of emotional vulnerability; a mismatched, bickering, but ultimately united ensemble cast; a gruff military man with a troubled past - the classic Buroker elements are all here, combined pleasingly.
I did have to suspend a bit of disbelief at how far the protagonist was willing to go in order to defend her former enemy against her own side, but somehow it seemed reasonable.
Highly entertaining and well done, as usual. ...more
I explained this book briefly to a friend as follows: "Aslan is not a tame lion."
I'm a Christian, but I don't usually read Christian fiction. This isI explained this book briefly to a friend as follows: "Aslan is not a tame lion."
I'm a Christian, but I don't usually read Christian fiction. This is largely because I expect it to be trite, shallow, neat, and preachy. The stories in this book are none of these things; in fact, some of them are very disturbing, all of them are thought-provoking, and all of them are well written. A number of the authors have impressive publication credentials in the fantasy and science fiction field.
I hope nobody is put off by the conventional tone of the acknowledgements from reading through to the introduction, which lays out the project: an anthology of good-quality fiction which deals with the mysteries, uncertainties, and difficult questions of the Christian faith, featuring Christian characters and themes in an authentic (and not necessarily comfortable, tidy, or doctrinally "pure") manner. Some Christians won't like it at all. Some non-Christians will find it, I think, approachable and interesting. And, of course, vice versa.
Let's go story by story.
"The Monastic," Daniel Southwell: an Irish-American priest who has taken up a hermitage on an island in Lake Superior must figure out how to relate to the mythical creatures he encounters there. Beautifully described and deeply characterised.
"When I Was Dead," Stephen Case: reminding me of C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, a story of something between Heaven and Purgatory, but with some interesting twists in terms of what it's like to speak to someone who went on before you.
"Forlorn," Bret Carter: a horror story, with beautifully handled suspense.
"Too Poor to Sin," H. L. Fullerton: a dystopia run by merciless angels, where sin and forgiveness are a kind of currency, used to manipulate humans into serving in the angels' war.
"Golgotha," David Tallerman: a disturbing encounter for a missionary to the South Seas, told by a sailor who witnessed it. Has a touch of Mythos about it, but just a touch.
"A Lack of Charity," James Beamon: another horror story, set either in a nightmare trans-dimensional landscape or in a real world horribly transformed by being seen through the lens of insanity. Disturbing themes of murder, serial murder, and rape, alongside forgiveness or the lack thereof, revenge, and the demonic.
"Of Thine Impenetrable Spirit," Robert B Finegold, MD: post-cyberpunk science fiction, addressing the age-old questions of mind, soul, and their relationship with the physical form. I didn't feel that it brought anything really new to the idea, and I found the premise unconvincing, though the protagonist's motivation (love for his son) was well portrayed. The lady-or-the-tiger ending was, I think, justified, for purposes of provoking thought in the reader; though this can easily be a gimmick or a way of avoiding writing the ending, I didn't think it was in this case.
"A Good Hoard," Pauline J. Alama: fantasy humour, well executed and with a clear, but not heavy-handed message about materialism.
"Yuri Gagarin Sees God," J. S. Bangs: one of those stories that plays with urban legend and questions it, in this case effectively.
"Confinement," Kenneth Schneyer: angels seem to be where a lot of people go when they think "Christian speculative fiction," and this is one of a number of stories in this book which use the idea. Each of them treats it differently, though, and this one (the angel bringing a woman to face something about herself) is well done. May be politically distasteful to some readers.
"The Angel Hunters," Christian Leithart: another, completely different take on angels as interdimensional aliens, drawing on the visions of Ezekiel, but through the POV of a tough female mercenary with a troubled past.
"Cutio," F. R. Michaels: told in a series of emails, an encounter with an automaton from an earlier century, and another exploration of the idea of soulless machines and judgement without mercy.
"St. Roomba's Gospel," Rachael K. Jones: a whimsical, lyrical story about a cleaning robot that does, apparently, possess both a soul and faith.
"Yuki and the Seven Oni," S. Q. Eries: an unusually thorough rewriting of "Snow White," not only in a different setting - Japan under the Shogunate - but with a very different plotline, though most of the classic non-plot elements are there (notably excluding the prince, unless Christ is implied to fill this role). It works well, and the Christian character shows great compassion and courage.
"A Recipe for Rain and Rainbows," Beth Cato: a nice bit of Southern American weird fiction, with a satisfying theme of revenge versus forgiveness.
"This Far Gethsemane," G. Scott Huggins: sets up a situation of a human unbeliever dealing with a missionary-converted alien on a remote planet - so, putting a science-fictional gloss over a classic storyline, but here using it to address ideas of violence, nonviolence, and friendship. I didn't find its resolution entirely satisfactory, but I think it was supposed to be messy rather than neat.
"Ascension," Laurel Amberdine: a story of finding faith through a miracle, but I liked how the character chose to deal with the miraculous object and the symbolism of it.
"Cracked Reflections," Joanna Michal Hoyt: a difficult story of the historical immigrant experience in America around the time of World War I, with resonances for our own time in the nativist propaganda and fear of the Other. The fantastic elements are slight; it's more of a gritty real-world historical, dealing with pacifism and the cooption of faith to patriotism (here, out of fear of being othered).
"The Physics of Faith," Mike Barretta: post-apocalyptic, dark and disturbing (in other words, not to my personal taste), with a strange fantastical element that I assume is some kind of reference to the idea of the Rapture.
"Horologium," Sarah Ellen Rogers: deeply researched, deeply felt, but for me the plot wasn't strong enough, and it came closest of any of the stories in the book to preaching. The fourteenth-century mystics are interesting to me, and I did enjoy the story, but I felt it needed more development and some editing down.
In summary, a wide variety of stories, both in terms of belonging to many different fantasy and science fiction subgenres and in terms of what kind of Christian elements they choose and how they develop them and use them in the stories. Angels and demons feature in more of the stories than any other single element, perhaps unsurprisingly, though there are also a couple of stories involving missionaries, a couple involving pacifism, several about coming to faith in one way or another, and several about forgiveness. Three stories deal with the question of machines and souls, two concluding that they can't have souls and one that they can.
While the dark and gritty tone of some of the stories was beyond the level I personally prefer, it also thoroughly dispels the stereotype of Christian fiction as happy fluffiness. There's some deep emotional, spiritual and philosophical territory being explored here. I don't know that any of the stories really attempt to explore theology, as such, though, apart from perhaps the last one. They take Christian ideas and themes as a starting point and take them in interesting story directions, without necessarily asserting that this is how the cosmos actually is, even metaphorically.
The book misses out on my "well-edited" tag primarily because it uses "ok" rather than "OK" or "okay" (resulting in the odd-looking "Ok" at the start of a sentence), and because it uses "alright" rather than "all right," a usage that a few publishing houses now permit, though the major style guides don't (and nor do I, when I'm editing). There are a few minor glitches, as well, which I'll pass on to the editor for future correction (Hebrew is read right to left, not left to right, for example). On the whole, though, the quality both of writing and of editing is excellent.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book for purposes of review from one of the editors, who is a fellow member of a writers' forum I belong to (along with several of the contributors). ...more
I much enjoyed this author's A Natural History of Dragons, which some people found dull. This is not dull. It's a fast-moving novella with plenty of aI much enjoyed this author's A Natural History of Dragons, which some people found dull. This is not dull. It's a fast-moving novella with plenty of action and conflict.
The plot is straightforward and doesn't break new ground (fetch quest with obstacles to overcome), and it begins with amnesia. Neither of these things are promising on the face of it. Main-character amnesia, in particular, is a cliche start, and is sometimes an inexperienced author's way of dealing with the fact that they don't know who their character is either. In the hands of an experienced author like this one, though (or like Roger Zelazny, who pulled it off wonderfully in Nine Princes in Amber), it can work, and here it did, for me.
Even though none of the individual elements shows us anything new, they're executed so well that I still enjoyed it. In particular, I liked the defiant punk-rock attitude of the main character, which elevated her from an amnesiac blank slate/standard-issue kickass warrior chick to someone I wanted to cheer for. When faced with decisions, she considers carefully and chooses well and bravely, for clear reasons.
Overall, then, proof that you don't have to innovate to craft an enjoyable story, though I would have preferred more innovation, on the whole. ...more
Some authors need a lot of editing, and, judging from the pre-release version I read (and the first in the series, which I also read before its releasSome authors need a lot of editing, and, judging from the pre-release version I read (and the first in the series, which I also read before its release), this author is one of those. I hope she gets it, because underneath a great many vocabulary fumbles and some comma and tense mistakes, there's a well-told story here. At the same time, I didn't feel as engaged in this book as I did with the previous one, and I'm struggling to put my finger on exactly why.
The protagonists have clear goals, which they pursue determinedly and at cost, against fit opposition. This would normally make for a compelling story, but I wasn't quite compelled. Perhaps I was looking for the characters to succeed a little more frequently in making progress towards their goals, though they do succeed occasionally.
Could it be that the two main viewpoint characters are separated throughout the book, so we keep switching from one to the other, and they never actually appear in a scene together (even when they're in almost the same place)? That may be part of it. I seem to remember that they were separate for much of Book 1, but they did join up partway through that book and have some interaction. Here, they don't interact at all with each other. Each one has a sidekick to talk to, although of the two sidekicks, only Tibs is really developed much, and his role is mainly to insult his friend in order to keep him mentally stable. Otherwise, the sidekicks don't contribute very much to the plot that any other generic character in the same situation couldn't contribute, and this seems like a lost opportunity.
Then, too, we don't have an onstage villain through most of the story, either. While the viewpoint characters face opposition, much of it is circumstantial, or from people who have somewhat adjacent, rather than opposing, agendas, and who either become or could become allies. The first book had a strong onstage villain with her own clear agenda, in opposition to the heroes', and that, I think, made it more engaging.
I liked this (setting aside the many failures of vocabulary, which, as I say, hopefully will be fixed); but I didn't love it, and I'm not sure I'll pick up the sequel. It's a story with a lot of potential, but I didn't feel that potential was fully realised. ...more
Much tell and little show, in heavy-footed prose, about characters who (at least by the time I abandoned it at the 27% mark) neither showed appealingMuch tell and little show, in heavy-footed prose, about characters who (at least by the time I abandoned it at the 27% mark) neither showed appealing personal characteristics nor appeared to be striving towards any particular goal. I was not engaged. ...more
Well done, but I was hoping not to be hit so hard so soon with so much death and tragedy. Sometimes I find a dark fantasy I like - because the authorWell done, but I was hoping not to be hit so hard so soon with so much death and tragedy. Sometimes I find a dark fantasy I like - because the author gets me invested in a noble character early on and only then springs the darkness - but this is not one of those, and so not to my taste. ...more
I have a difficult relationship with funny SFF. As a Commonwealth citizen, I have more of a British than an American sense of humour, and a lot of "fuI have a difficult relationship with funny SFF. As a Commonwealth citizen, I have more of a British than an American sense of humour, and a lot of "funny" SFF isn't necessarily as funny to me as it is to other people. Yet I always want to see more of it in the world.
I also believe that humorous stories should work as stories, even for someone who doesn't find them funny, and that doing some easy mockery of common tropes with a few silly names thrown in is not nearly enough. At the same time, I'm willing to excuse a few weaknesses in a story if it makes me laugh.
This collection runs the gamut, for me, from a few stories I felt didn't work especially well to a number of others that I enjoyed a good deal. I'll go through them one at a time, and give each one its own rating out of 10 and brief commentary. I'm well aware of how subjective humour is, and no doubt the stories which didn't work for me will be someone else's favourites, and vice versa.
7/10 "My Enemy, the Unicorn" (Bill Ferris): cryptids in captivity scheming among themselves and against each other. Twisty enough to be enjoyable for that reason, and also with a trickster protagonist, which is generally a plus for me.
6/10 "The Trouble With Hairy" (David Gerrold): exhibits a fault that I've seen a few times in comedic SFF, which is that it's almost entirely in "tell" mode. There's very little dialog, and while there are some named characters, we're told rather than shown what they do. The story itself, about a "solution" to LA's traffic woes, is absurd, but in mostly a good way, and enjoyably told; but "told" is exactly what it is, and that loses it some points.
7/10 "B.U.M.P. in the Knight" (Esther Friesner): Friesner is one of my favourite American SFF humourists. Her stories mostly play with the tropes, but she does it very well, and this is no exception; princesses and dragons scheme against knights, and come up with a clever solution to a pressing problem.
8/10 "If I Could Give This Time Machine Zero Stars, I Would" (James Wesley Rogers): simultaneously a clever time travel story and an effective parody of online consumer reviews. Either one of those elements could easily have failed (I've seen both done poorly), but in this story, neither one did.
5/10 "The Pi Files" (Laura Resnick): for me, Laura Resnick's pieces can tend to be a bit too much playing with tropes and silly names, and not quite enough fresh, effective story, and this is an example. Trying to cram the X-Files, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001, and, for some reason, Casablanca all into one story was probably too much, and left all of the elements underdeveloped. A bit reminiscent of Mad Magazine, because of the silly names, and I never did find that style funny.
8/10 "Prophet Margins" (Zach Shephard): this is an example of a story that works as a story first, and is secondarily funny, and none the worse for that. It's relatively fresh, with worldbuilding I hadn't seen before (different methods of predicting the future), and also charming. The terrible jokes that one of the characters tells are truly awful, but they're supposed to be.
7/10 "The Deliverable" (Shaenon K. Garrity): told in emails, this story parodies startup culture and the multiplication of coffee shops in the San Francisco Bay Area. Parodies of a current phenomenon can easily go sideways, as can the epistolary style, but this one is well executed, bringing out distinct characters who are both individuals and recognisable types, and telling an apocalyptic story in the process. Perhaps had one or two more characters than it strictly needed, because I found myself losing track of them at one point.
7/10 "The Mayoral Stakes" (Mike Resnick): a Runyonesque, one of my personal favourite story styles, with the same main character as the author's story in the Funny Fantasy anthology I reviewed not long ago. I didn't feel that this story was quite as good as that one, somehow; it perhaps would have benefited from a reduction in characters and a bit of streamlining in the first third, but it's still an enjoyable tale of betting on, and manipulating, New York mayoral elections.
6/10 "Rude Mechanicals" (Jody Lynn Nye): works both as a police-procedural murder mystery and an SF story involving aliens and AIs. However, I didn't find it outstandingly funny, and the style was somehow flat for me.
7/10 "Kaylee the Huntress" (Tim Pratt): the thoroughly dislikable protagonist (a spoiled "mean girl" type) lowers the mark I'm giving this one. It's a clever premise - she accidentally becomes a supernatural huntress and has to deal with the consequences - and well written, but I just disliked her so much. Which I was supposed to, but still.
5/10: "Best Chef Season Three: Tau Ceti E" (Caroline M. Yoachim): one kind of "funny" story I tend to dislike is one in which terrible things happen but the tone is kept light, never acknowledging the horror in the slightest. This is one such. That conflict between dark deeds and a light tone just isn't a thing I enjoy much. Other stories in this book have dark deeds, but manage to work for me because they give at least some acknowledgement to how people would really feel about them. The premise of a cooking reality show run by aliens is a fairly obvious one, too, and I didn't feel that the author took it anywhere truly creative.
8/10: "Won't You Please Give One of These Species-Planets a Second Chance?" (Nathan Hillstrom): an amusing mashup of two ideas, "powerful aliens rescue/threaten Earth" and "shelter pet adoption". The teenager who knows how to manipulate people into adopting pets is wonderful.
7/10: "Fantastic Coverage" (Mitchell Shanklin): something that "funny fantasy" anthologies tend to get a lot of is parodies of aspects, especially frustrating aspects, of contemporary life with a tropish science-fictional or fantastic overlay, and here we have an insurance claims agent whose job is to find loopholes and deny payouts in cases of fantastical disaster. It could easily be weak, but it's well executed and has a fun twist at the end.
7/10: "Mistaken Identity" (Daniel J. Davis): what it's like to be mistakenly targeted by a costumed vigilante. The comedy of errors for the hapless protagonist escalates amusingly.
7/10: "Customer Service Hobgoblin" (Paul R. Hardy): one of the commonest topics for funny fantasy stories is the supernatural helpline, and it's a story idea that is pretty well mined out by this point. Not completely, though, as this story proves, with its trickster protagonist and twisty plot.
6/10: "The Lesser of Two Evils" (Shane Halbach): likewise, the "IT is really magic/demons" idea must be close to getting its retirement gift, giant novelty card and generic congratulatory message from the CEO by now. This story doesn't take it in any startlingly new direction, though it's well enough executed.
7/10: "Appointment at Titlanitza" (Fred Stesney): noir detective with a Mexican setting and an ancient aliens theme. Some absurd moments amused me, which boosted the rating.
5/10: "The Problem with Poofs" (Gini Koch): to me, this stumbled, mostly because unnecessarily large numbers of characters were introduced in batches, meaning that by the time they did anything I'd forgotten which character went with which name. Also, I didn't find it especially funny. The title is an obvious reference to the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles," - and, indeed, a lot of the story feels generically Trekkish - but the tribble-like poofs of the title are never actually a problem, only a solution. Otherwise, it's a fairly standard story of human exceptionalism among alien races (which are all unimaginatively based on Earth creatures), with not enough to the plot to rescue it from its other faults. A disappointing close to what was, on average, a good collection.
Disclosures: I received a review copy from the editor, who is an online acquaintance. I also submitted stories to this anthology, and previous UFO anthologies, unsuccessfully....more
I received a review copy of this book from one of the authors (Kate Heartfield), because we are members of the same writers' community.
Shakespeare caI received a review copy of this book from one of the authors (Kate Heartfield), because we are members of the same writers' community.
Shakespeare can legitimately be considered one of the early English fantasists, based on A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Macbeth, Hamlet, and bits and pieces in a few of the other plays, so the idea of a book which takes his fantastica and creates new stories appealed to me. It's been done before, of course, in various ways, and will be done again, with various degrees of success. This one distributes the story between several different authors, and I was keen to see how they handled it.
I assumed, going in, that it would be a themed anthology, but it's more than that; the stories interlink and form an overall narrative. Unfortunately (in my opinion) it becomes more and more meta, literary, and, to me, pretentious as it goes along, until we're in second person present tense, breaking the fourth wall left and right in a full-on metafictional multiverse.
It doesn't start out that way, though. It starts out with Foz Meadows' "Coral Bones," which begins some time after The Tempest finishes and questions whether Miranda would really be happy with Ferdinand (who was, after all, basically the first man she ever met, if you don't count Caliban or her father). It's well written, well edited, and does a good job of building on the original story. It has an explicit five-act structure, and, of course, refers to several Shakespeare plays as source material (the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream play crucial roles; in this version of the setting, the faerie courts are openly known to the mortal world and interact with mortal courts), but that's as close to the plays as it gets. It's a short story, and a good one, which brings the themes bang up to date and doesn't try to be anything else.
Kate Heartfield is next, with "The Course of True Love". Here we have a witch, a faerie changeling, Duke Orsino (from Twelfth Night), and Queen Mab, as well as Titania and Oberon. It's becoming clear that the stories are linked, at least by sharing a setting. The main characters of this story don't recur later in the book, but it does advance the metaplot somewhat. It's a rather charming romance between older people, though for me it wrapped up a little too neatly. Again, it's presented in five acts, and again, it's well edited.
Emma Newman's "The Unkindest Cut" had a few minor faults. One was trying too hard to shoehorn in Shakespearian references; there were also a few places where words were used oddly, and the occasional comma splice. The story was strong, though, a tragedy of manipulation and murder in the clear spirit of Shakespeare (as well as involving several of his characters). Unlike the preceding stories and the one that follows, it isn't split up into five acts.
Adrian Tchaikovsky's "Even In the Cannon's Mouth" brings us characters from several other plays (As You Like It being one), caught up in the war that's been referenced also in the first three stories. Each scene opens with the kind of scene-setting that you get at the beginning of a Shakespearian scene, including the stage direction "Enter" and whichever character or characters start off the scene. The characters are vivid, their interaction well handled, and the writing rich and competent, but there's the occasional typo or slight homonym error ("bad" for "bade" twice, "institute" for "institution," "sheath" for "sheathe"). In Act Five, the fourth wall is broken, and we get our first taste of second person and our first indication of the metafictional multiverse. This is where, for me, the book started to go sideways.
Finally, we have Jonathan Barnes' "On the Twelfth Night," which has nothing really to do with the play Twelfth Night, but is set around the twelve days (or nights) of Christmas, 1601. It involves Shakespeare's family, and is (for the first eleven nights) told in second person, present tense, as if addressing Anne, Shakespeare's wife. I was unsurprised to learn, in the back matter, that Barnes writes for the Times Literary Supplement and the Literary Review and is a writer-in-residence at a university; the whole thing is very literary, in a way I personally don't care for much. It does remain spec-fic, in that the metafictional multiverse is at the heart of the story, though it goes through a lot of atmospheric setting-up to get there. It misuses the word "catechism" to mean "prayer," misplaces some commas, and uses "hove" as if it were the present tense (which should be "heave"), but otherwise reads smoothly enough.
Here we see a conflict between the expectations of "genre" and "literary" fiction. (view spoiler)[Because the overall story is "genre," the expected outcome is that the metafictional war that's been going on all along will be won by the brave and competent efforts of the heroes, and indeed it is. However, because this story is "literary," it's expected to proceed through helplessness to hopelessness, with the protagonist not making a difference to the outcome of events and being unable to break out of her social role, and so the victory happens offstage, is not driven by the protagonist, and indeed doesn't involve her except as collateral damage. I'll leave it to psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists to discuss why the literature of the elite might depict characters as unable to go beyond their place in life, while popular literature shows us characters making a difference. (hide spoiler)]
As you may have detected, I enjoyed each story in the book slightly less than its predecessor, and if I was just going by the last one I'd consider three stars, though I'd probably settle on four; it's competently done, for the most part, though not the kind of thing I love. The standard starts out high, however, and the decline is gradual until we hit the final story. Speaking for myself, I would have preferred a sequence of stories like Foz Meadows' one, which didn't try too hard and just extrapolated and expanded on the source material in an entertaining and thought-provoking way, keeping firmly within the fiction. That's just my taste, though, and yours may well differ. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It reminds me, in many ways, of a Terry Pratchett story. We have not one, but two earnest, rather hapless young men with burning ideals about how the world should be, who struggle and sacrifice and are willing to pay any price to make it that way, because they care very deeply. We have several capable, no-nonsense young women who eventually come round to the young men's way of thinking, and provide necessary ingredients of the solution. We have some dark moments, but also some very funny moments, mostly either "hapless young man is hapless" or else clever play with language. The plot is exciting, suspenseful, and far from predictable. Every so often we have a beautifully phrased philosophical statement like "People only knew what they wanted, not what was important. That's why things didn't work." The editing is excellent, and I don't say that often or lightly.
There is one way in which I felt the book could have been improved, and it's an issue that this kind of book is vulnerable to. There are a lot of fairly generic minor characters, and I had trouble, when one showed up again after an interval, remembering who they were or anything else about them. The main characters were OK; we saw enough of them, and they had enough things that they wanted and enough distinctive attributes, that they were easy to remember and tell apart. The minor characters, though, needed to stand out from the background a bit more clearly, even if it was just through a couple of initial descriptive tags that could be mentioned again when they reappeared (the Roger Zelazny method).
Apart from that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will be looking out for more from D.K. Mok. ...more
Romantic suspense (with billionaires) is far from my usual genre, but I know the author slightly online, and enjoyed her comedic thriller I Never ArkaRomantic suspense (with billionaires) is far from my usual genre, but I know the author slightly online, and enjoyed her comedic thriller I Never Arkansas It Coming. I picked this up when I wanted something light but enjoyable, and it provided exactly that.
As I say, not my normal genre, but I got the feeling that it followed the genre formula fairly closely. It did so capably, though, and the plot moved along briskly. The characters had strong backstories, and the conflicts were powerful and well played out. ...more
I enjoyed this novella, as I did the previous one, though in both cases I wished there was more. The plot is quite linear, without as many complicatioI enjoyed this novella, as I did the previous one, though in both cases I wished there was more. The plot is quite linear, without as many complications or as much protagonist agency as is often the case with Bujold's best work. Compensating somewhat, the characters are well developed; in fact, the development of the three viewpoint characters is what primarily happens in the book.
The three are also very different: a middle-aged man who is basically a policeman, a young sorcerer/divine, and a young shaman who has made a terrible mistake and doesn't see his way clear to fixing it until the other young man comes along.
Other reviewers have regretted the lesser role of Desdemona, the sorcerer's demon, in this book, and I understand why; she's amusing, especially when she's in conflict with her sorcerer. However, the first book set up that relationship, and now the second one is building on that as a given and taking the character of Penric, the sorcerer, forward.
Penric has a lot of wisdom for a young man, and it seems that part of the reason he has come to be so good-natured and accepting is his own unusual situation. He's admirable, and enjoyable to read. It's nice to see a wise, kind character in a genre where the characters are often given to stupid decisions and, sometimes, cruel and selfish ones.
I'm coming to this book as a "genre" fan, and Beagle really isn't a genre author, not in a traditional way. He's more of a literary author who uses geI'm coming to this book as a "genre" fan, and Beagle really isn't a genre author, not in a traditional way. He's more of a literary author who uses genre elements - even though, unlike some other authors who do the same, he's been warmly embraced by the genre crowd. (I suspect it has more to do with which conferences you go to and which other authors you hang out with than anything in the work itself.)
Accordingly, the structure and the pacing and the way the book develops and resolves, or, in some ways, doesn't resolve, are not what I'm used to as a genre reader, and this made for a sometimes uncomfortable reading experience for me. This, really, is why I've given it four stars instead of five. It's excellently done, speaking objectively; but, speaking subjectively, what it is isn't a thing I completely love, and in part that's because I don't usually read this kind of book. (And, in much larger part, I don't usually read this kind of book because I don't completely love things like this.)
First, the pacing. The best metaphor I can offer is that Beagle builds the picture out of a great many small brushstrokes, and this takes time. It's not a fast-paced book; it's not meant to be. It's a book about the characters and how they change and develop and interact, and it's much more about how they respond to events than how they affect events, and the events themselves are mostly, especially at first, mundane and low-key.
I'm definitely not saying that I was bored. I did feel the slowness of the pace, but recognised what the author was doing and appreciated how well he did it. People who are looking for an action-oriented book will be disappointed, though.
So what about the structure and development and resolution? It isn't tidy. It isn't neat. It doesn't answer all the questions, restore the status quo, defeat the villain (since there really isn't one; even though there's a candidate, it's pretty clearly shown that he's unqualified for the position), or, in most ways, leave the characters better off than when they started. In other ways, though, it does leave them deeper, more open to experience, broader, and fuller than when they started, even if the blessing is extremely mixed.
There's a powerful vein of symbolism running through the story, as you'd expect; it's about the mundane meeting the mythic and being partly (and troublingly, and painfully, and in unexpected ways) transformed, though most of the key changes are not, in themselves, supernatural. Meeting the mythic enables the transformations to take place, but they were always inherent and potential in the characters. They just needed to be unlocked by the right experiences.
Among those experiences, at the hinge point of the book, is a terrible decision by one of the main characters. It's a decision that I thought might be implied by the starting situation; that, as I came to know the characters better, I began to think would not occur; and that I was troubled to see occur, because it seemed like a stereotype, and because it was a really bad idea, and because it's stereotypical because it happens all too often in real life, and because it seemed inadequately motivated given what there was to lose, and because I wished the character (and the other party to the decision) had chosen otherwise. And out of this decision comes messiness and no good resolution, which is where the realism comes in.
What Beagle does so powerfully in all his stories is to show the mythic meeting the realistic - the "realistic" in the form of beautifully rendered stereotypes raised almost to the level of archetypes, like the crotchety retired Jewish professor and the middle-aged Sicilian flight attendant who are central to this book. This is, I think, something literary fiction often does - showing people trapped in their stereotypes and struggling against them in vain - but in Beagle, at least, sometimes they encounter the mythic, enabling them to partially emerge from that struggle and develop in unexpected ways, while still being dragged down by the weight of reality. That's certainly the case here.
I don't know that I would say I liked the book. I certainly didn't love it. But I do admire it as a piece of art.