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Shadowed Souls

Shadowed SoulsUnknown-1

Edited by: Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes

ROC New York, NY 2016

ISBN: 978-0-451-47499-5

 

This is an anthology that explores that grey space between “good” and “evil”.   The stories tend towards characters most people would perceive as “evil” (or at least “bad”) doing good things.  Alternatively there are stories where the characters are doing “bad” things for “good” reasons or to positive outcomes.

The anthology is marketed to the fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series.  There is a Dresden Files story included (featuring Molly in her new role as Winter Queen).  Here fans of the Dresden series know Molly as a “good guy”.  She is after all the daughter of an Archangel.  However, being a queen in the fairy realm brings with it certain “conditions” and Molly hasn’t read all of the small print.

Jim C. Hines is another featured author in this anthology.  Many people see Hines as the “next” Jim Butcher.  Some of his work does seem like highly elevated fan fiction.  But he is clearly coming into his own and this piece is a good example.  Like Butcher’s story, Hines main character is a woman who is immediately perceived as a “good guy”.  But unlike Molly, Julia’s background isn’t happy and it’s coming back to bite her in the ass.

There does seem to be an attempt to include women authors in this anthology.  A good third of the stories are by women and like Hines and Butcher many of the male authors feature strong female characters.  The stand out female author for me was Kat Richardson.

Her short story, Peacock in Hell, did have a female protagonist, but her male counterpart was at least equally represented and in the end he was the one orchestrating the action.  What I liked about this short story was its potential.  This could easily be the lead in to a series, and one I’m sure I would enjoy.

In this short fiction the world is clearly established.  The setting is vividly drawn.  The dynamic between the characters is an entertaining push and pull.  The supernatural elements are well grounded in an internal logic, apparent even in this limited space.

I like a good anthology and this is a very good collection.  None of the stories fell flat.  All of them really did explore the question of that line between “good” and “evil”.  This fiction is thoughtful and thought provoking.  It’s well written and has a great appeal in the fantasy genre.

 

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Sunshine

Sunshinesunshine

by: Robin McKinley

The Berkley Publishing Group, New York, NY 2003

ISBN: 0-425-19178-8

 

I really enjoyed this book.  I have to agree with Neil Gaiman who said, “Pretty much perfect.”  I’ve read several of Robin McKinley’s retellings of fairy tales.  This is not one of them.  Many of the reviews you read will reference Beauty and the Beast, but I don’t buy it.  This tale stands alone (and begs to become a series, but the author says no.)

The main character, Sunshine, is a baker.  That by itself is enough to draw me in.  My daughter is a baker and she claims it’s from helping me in the kitchen.  Bakers are alchemists, transformers.  They turn slurry into dough.  They combine savory and sweet into something that sends our senses reeling.  And it seems that Sunshine is all that and more.

This is a world that humans “share” with the big three:  Weres, Demons, and Vampires.  The weres (and apparently you can be a were anything) are not such a problem.  It’s a once a month thing and there’s a drug for that.  Demons are rarely able to pass as human and when they do it’s because that’s what they want to be.  Vampires are a problem.

I am not big on vampire fiction.  I’m not enamored by the notion of romancing the undead.  I didn’t even get on the Buffy bandwagon until years after it aired and even more years after it was on DVD.  These vampires are spot on.

Robin McKinley manages to write with a sense of humor, a nod to fandom, and an ability to engage all of the senses.  When she describes being in the same space as a vampire you can feel your skin crawl along with the narrative.  She includes those senses of knowing without knowing how you know.

She also writes, not just the horror, but the impact of the horror.  Her characters don’t confront the monsters, wipe of the sword and prepare to fight another day.  They suffer real trauma.  Their relationships are impacted by their experiences.  Shared experiences build relationships and experiences that can’t be shared create wedges.

There is a lot of grey in Sunshine’s world.  There are people she knows who probably should be “registered” as supernatural, but aren’t.  There are law enforcement agents that are friends because of their stories, but who may not be trusted with secrets.  There are family connections that no one in the family will talk about, and plenty of speculation about what that might mean.

This is an engaging story.  A well crafted fantasy romp.  It might also be an allegory for the world we live in now.  There are no firm answers about where the tale will lead from here.  It really does beg for a sequel.  It also really stands very strongly on its own.

 

 

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the LaneUnknown-1

by: Neil Gaiman

Harper/Collins New York, NY  2013

ISBN:978-0-06-225565-5

The latest novel from Neil Gaiman continues the theme of searching for identity common to MirrorMask, American Gods and many of his other works.  It has the same mythic scope and the ability to make us question the boundaries of our own reality.

The story is told in the first person and is written almost as a memoir.  The main character and narrator is back in his childhood haunting grounds “escaping” from a funeral.  He wanders back to an old friend’s farm and sits by the small pond she called her ocean.  The body of the story unfolds as he remembers back to his seventh year.

I was charmed by this book, even in its darker moments.  I too had a childhood landscape that was marked by pathways leading to “other” places and objects that appeared different than what I knew them to be.  The child in this story is led through the landscape by his new friend Lettie, who is eleven to his seven.  Lettie lives on the farm with her mother and grandmother where they have lived forever.  The farm is listed in the Domesday Book and occasionally Lettie makes a comment that leads the reader to wonder if forever isn’t literally descriptive.

Unlike American Gods, the mythology Gaiman draws upon isn’t laid out in neat pieces.  Unlike Mirror Mask it isn’t hidden away in the magic and mirrors of carnival entertainment.  These are the figures of the land and if you know the land, you know the stories.  Otherwise they are just those folks who’ve always been there, forever.  The things that become so familiar no one but the children ever look twice.

When we return in the tale to the day of the funeral the memories that have been reclaimed stay with our narrator, at least for a moment.  He recognizes the woman who greeted him, not as Lettie’s mother aged but rather as the Grandmother just as she always was.  He wonders if, when Lettie comes back to the farm, she will still be eleven.  It’s the question he asked her as a seven year old, not just how old was she but “How long have you been eleven?”

The dedication to this book is to Gaimen’s wife and performing artist Amanda Palmer.  The implication is that he wrote the book because she wanted to know something about his childhood.  Indeed Gaiman drew heavily on his childhood home and the country where he grew up.  He leave us to wonder how much of the mythic was a part of his childhood as well.  Especially since the main character is left with a scare where his heart was touched by the “other world” that would never quite heal over.

This too is mythic.  Those who wander into the realm of Fairy and who survive to find their way out often spend the rest of their lives searching for a means by which to return.  For Gaiman, clearly his means is in his writing.  Thankfully he seems willing to take some of the rest of us with him as he goes.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Fantasy, Memoir

 

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The Name of the Wind

The Name of the WindUnknown

by: Patrick Rothfuss

DAW Books New York, NY   2007

ISBN: 978-0-7564-0589-2

This is a beautiful book from a literary perspective.  It’s a bittersweet story told in an interesting format with flowing language and engaging characters.  I was enchanted.  Patrick Rothfuss has set this up as a trilogy.  A hero, mythic figure, and outlaw hiding from himself as much as he is hiding from the world tells the story of his life as he would like to be remembered.  It is a common literary device, but in this book it is handled with a grace, and elegance, that enhances the overall story telling.

The world of this novel is older than its history.  Pieces of the before times are left in fairy tales and children’s sing songs.  But the world that was before is not entirely gone.  That violent magic touches our hero when he is a youth and it gives his life purpose.  Magic, or rather Arcania, is present in this world and studied in all its forms at the University Arcanum.  This school has some of the charm of Hogwarts and some of the student body dynamic of Lord of the Flies.  Boys in competition are not always kind to each other and punishments for getting caught at misbehavior include taking lashes at the post.

This was not an easy life, and the story is told with an honesty that makes it all the more compelling.    As Kvothe, the storyteller, explores his own life he talks openly about the moments that were hints of who he would become.  Trained as an entertainer, he takes us to the crossroads of his life.  We, the readers, debate his choices and their consequences along with him.  In his telling it is clear that the man is reviewing his own culpability in becoming the legendary Kvothe.

Kvothe has said it will take him three days to tell the tale. This is the structure of the trilogy, and so this first book is the story of the hero’s childhood.  Set against the frame of a man who is apparently waiting to die the adventuresome spirit and insatiable curiosity of the boy is poignant.  The occasional breaks in the story where we return to the present are both a relief and an emphasis of how far this child has to travel.  They also give the characters hearing the story and the reader a chance to breathe and to sympathize with the little boy who was.

When I picked up this book I hoped that the trilogy was complete.  This book does stand alone, even as it makes the reader beg for more.  Sadly the author’s life intervened and the second book in the trilogy was just released last year.  The author’s web site is encouraging about his work on the third book and I can only hope he will finish it soon.  Although I suspect that even if quite a bit of time goes by a re-reading of this novel would not be diminished by the change of perspective that passing time inevitably produces.  Yet another underlining of one of the books themes.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2013 in Fantasy

 

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A Nameless Witch

A Nameless Witch: A Tale of Vengeance, True Love, and CannibalismUnknown

A. Lee Martinez

Tom Doherty Assoc., LCC,  NY, NY  2007

ISBN:0-7653-1868-7

The title is intriguing, the subtitle gruesome and the entire tale a delightful fantasy romp.  The story line reads like many modern teen fiction novels.  A girl who is cursed from birth trains to become a witch.  She acquires a blood-thirsty familiar and takes on a troll as a companion.  When she meets the White Knight she works desperately to hide her true self and her forbidden attraction to him.  Only it’s not what it sounds like.

This story is written with the wry humor of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett.  It has the quality of the early work of either of those renowned authors.  In that style, the characters are developed as much through their witty and distinctive dialogue as by their actions.  This technique is at its most charming when the Nameless Witch struggles to sound like a “proper witch”.

The evil wizard who stalks the land is an illusionist and there-in lies the depth of the tale.  There is nothing about this book that demands a literary examination.  It is a fun, light escape.  Should the reader choose to look deeper each character is confronted with making the distinction between reality and illusion.  They all have major character flaws that they can indulge or deny.  They can also choose the third option and come fully to terms with who they are.

The True Love in the story is carefully nurtured by a beautiful prostitute who has the capacity to see past the illusions to the heart of the matter.  It is reminiscent of teen love in its intensity, shyness and in the way destiny strives to pull it apart.  These characters are truly torn when their natures are in conflict with their desires.

This was a quick read and a nice break from the intensity of some of the other books I’ve been reading.  It put a smile on my face. It even made me laugh out loud.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Fantasy, Teen Fiction

 

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