Reviews

Wyrd & Wonder 2019 – A TIME OF BLOOD (Of Blood and Bone #2), by John Gwynne

 

I received this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

My very first book by John Gwynne was this novel’s predecessor, A Time of Dread, and it revealed to me not just an author who has rapidly become one of my favorites, but a complex world that simply begged to be explored: for this reason I backtracked to Gwynne’s first series, The Faithful and the Fallen, and now that I have read its first two books I am getting a more detailed picture of the historical background for this new series titled Of Blood and Bone.  As I said in my review for A Time of Dread, it’s not necessary to have read the four volumes of The Faithful and the Fallen to enjoy this new saga, but having walked through half of that journey helped me to appreciate this new story more, and every time there is a mention of characters or events from the past, it feels like meeting some old friends.

Unlike all other books I read from this author, who likes to prepare the scene at a leisurely stride, A Time of Blood starts at a high speed and never, ever stops, increasing its pace all throughout the story with almost no respite at all: the playing field has been set, the pieces are all in their places, and now there seems to be room only for action. The forces of evil are on the move, and as we learned previously, they have been preparing for a long time for their comeback, yet what’s terrifying is how they prepared: not just by working secretly for their return, but by forging alliances and increasing their numbers in ways that go well beyond the simple act of recruiting troops. Prepare to be shocked, terrified and revolted at the same time…

As for the forces of good… well, in some instances they have unwittingly moved in directions that might ultimately aid the ancient enemy: the Order of the Bright Star and the Ben-Elim are still allies, of course, but somewhat uneasy ones, and their different perspectives on how to prepare for the battle against the never-vanquished Kadoshim often generate the kind of attrition that undermines such alliances. The members of the Order are proud of their past history and present accomplishments, and don’t look too favorably on the Ben-Elim lording it over everything and everyone, posing as the sole saviors of humanity.  There is a definite feel of political strife here that counterbalances nicely the physical battles and adds a worrisome note to what might be the outcome of the final struggle that looms ever closer on the horizon.  And where politics are concerned, there is always the possibility of deceit and betrayal, which in a few instances come completely out of the blue and leave you reeling in shock.

A Time of Blood is indeed a book in which revelations abound, either concerning characters or present and past events, and it’s because of these surprises that the quick pacing of the story becomes more like a flood against which we have no other recourse but to go with the flow and see where it takes us. As if this were not enough, the novel contains an amazing number of battle scenes described with such a cinematic quality that it feels as if we were watching one of those complex action movies where the different clashes are choreographed with great skill and allow you to follow the single skirmishes together with the overall battle, without losing any detail. If this story were ever to be transposed either to the big or the small screen, these would be epic scenes, indeed, and once more I’m in awe of the author’s technique in blending the descriptions of weapons wielding with the characters’ feelings as they fight, adding the human side of the equation to what might otherwise be a simple portrayal of clashing steel.

The term epic is indeed the only one that can be correctly applied to this story where the brewing conflicts of Book 1 have come out into the open, encompassing a whole world, and we witness the bloody combat in which men and giants, angels and devils fight against each other together with their own allies – bears and wolvens and hellish creatures that are the stuff of nightmares. A title as A Time of Blood hardly prepares you to the level of violence described here, although it must be said that it’s never gratuitous and always serves the narrative purposes of the overall story, not to mention that it’s wonderfully balanced by the themes of hope and love, of friendship and loyalty that have often been the only light in this encroaching darkness.  Still, John Gwynne is not the kind of author who cossets his characters, so they are more often than not put through the grinder, to the point that there is never the absolute certainty of their survival – and previous experience with his writing has taught me that no one is truly safe, which adds another layer to the high level of tension that runs through this book.

Speaking of the characters, they continue to shine and to gain new facets as their journey moves forward: my favorite remains young Drem – the hero of this tale – as he moves from the naive boy who lived in the wilderness with his father and had little experience of the world, to a determined warrior who knows he has to find his courage and fulfill his role in the coming war. It came natural for me to draw a parallel between Drem and Corban, the main character from The Faithful and the Fallen: in my musings about the latter I wrote that he gave off some “reluctant Chosen One” vibes I did not particularly enjoy, since he seemed at time prone to the why me? kind of whining that annoys me a little. While I’m aware that I don’t know Corban’s whole story yet, and therefore I know that I should suspend my judgement, I can’t help but feeling more partial toward Drem who does not show any of the usual signs of the fictional hero, but is rather an ordinary person called to deal with extraordinary events and doing his best to face them with bravery and determination.

What is very enjoyable in the characters of this saga (and the one that preceded it) is that they are equally flawed, be it because of pride, or arrogance, or the penchant for evil, but they all share one common trait: they believe in what they do, even the villains, they have a reason for being what they are, and even though there is no way I can sympathize with some of the “bad guys”, I can see where they come from, and this makes them real, and relatable just as much as the heroes of the story. And this is one of the elements that makes these novels so intriguing and riveting.

Did I find any fault in this second book? Yes, one: it ended too soon and did so on a massive cliffhanger which makes me wish I could read the final installment right now.

But it’s not really a fault – it’s an encouragement. As if I needed one… 🙂

 

My Rating:  

 

(image courtesy of kasana86)
Reviews

Wyrd & Wonder 2019 – Selections from BY BLOOD WE LIVE – Edited by John Joseph Adams

(image courtesy of kasana86)

 

I found this anthology on the Baen Free Library, and I was instantly captivated by the idea of a series of stories focused on the vampire myth, one of the most powerful in the horror and paranormal landscape. It was an interesting journey indeed…

 

 

Under St. Peter’s by Harry Turtledove

This is indeed the weirdest vampire story I ever encountered and, as the editor wrote in his introduction, one that carries more than a whiff of blasphemy – which stands as a warning for anyone choosing to sample it – and still it makes for a fascinating read, one that becomes bizarrely more compelling as the hints pile up and one starts to understand that they are heading without fail in that particular direction. To anticipate anything would be a huge disservice: suffice it to know – and to act as a teaser – that there is an ancient, terrible secret buried under St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome, one that’s revealed to any new Pope right after their investiture…

 

Lifeblood by Michael A. Burstein

As a counterpoint to the previous story, this one deals with the vampire threat – and the possible defenses against it – from the point of view of Jewish religion: in the legendarium surrounding vampires, the Christian cross is a powerful instrument in stopping and repelling a vampire, but what happens if the potential victim does not belong to the Christian faith?  In Lifeblood, a distraught father enters a synagogue looking for help: his son has been bitten three times by a vampire, which means that by the end of this day he will turn into one, and the man is searching frantically for a way to avoid that, while being very aware that his distance from the faith of his ancestors might prove to be the boy’s undoing.  An intriguing tale, and one that makes us think about the power of faith, no matter its origins and its precepts.

 

Do Not Hasten to Bid Me Adieu by Norman Partridge

This is a mix between a retelling of the myth of Dracula as narrated by Bram Stoker, and a sort of… well, unhappily-ever-after focused on a Texas cowboy returning home after the events of the Stoker novel. It’s a strange tale, somehow disconnected due to its alternating between two timelines, but it’s also a poignant one about love and the deathlessness of the emotion even beyond actual death. Unconventional, but quite fascinating.

 

This Is Now by Michael Marshall Smith

There are no vampires as such in this story, but rather the suggestion of them, or at least of strange, deadly creatures held behind an electrified fence by the government since the mid-eighties: three friends, now in their forties, recall a long-ago night of thirty years prior, when they scaled the fence on a dare, on a cold, snowy night, and found more than they bargained for. Now that they are older, and probably wiser, only a night of drinking and reminiscing brings them back to that fence and the desire to see if they can try again.

 

After the Stone Age by Brian Stableford  

Interesting, but so far the weakest of the lot: the premise here is that offering oneself as a willing “blood donor” for a vampire can have positive effects for an overweight person. A weird story, and one that felt too strange by far.

 

House of the Rising Sun by Elizabeth Bear

This story proved puzzling besides being darkly fascinating: it could not have been otherwise since its background is New Orleans – a city where traditions, mystery and a touch of the uncanny always manage to create a very peculiar atmosphere. The main character is a vampire who prowls the streets not so much to sate his own thirst but rather to procure blood for his mistress, an old vampire whose extreme old age makes her incapable of feeding directly from the victims. There is a definite feel of sadness and misery in this undead man that’s quite touching, but that’s not all: from a few hints, and from the editor’s preface to the story, it would seem that the man used to be a famous singer, and the lyric quotes from older songs should be the key to the mystery. Unfortunately, my knowledge of music is sadly lacking, so I’m left with a big, unanswered question…

 

Peking Man by Robert J. Sawyer

Just imagine a story where paleontology is applied to vampires, and you will have an inkling about the core concept of this short tale, one that alternates between the discoveries of a dig in Chinese soil at the start of World War II and a series of flashbacks about a primitive tribe, probably of Neanderthals, meeting a strange creature,  tall, thin, pale, with red-rimmed eyes that somehow seemed to glow from beneath his brow ridge”, one who first douses their precious fire, throwing their night back into terrifying darkness, and then proceeds to catch them, one by one, and drink their blood…  “Fascinating” does not even start to cover my reactions to this intriguing journey.

 

Exsanguinations: A Handbook for the Educated Vampire by Anna S. Oppenhagen-Petrescu and translated from the Romanian by Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne Valente is one of those authors I have not managed to read yet, despite my growing curiosity at every enthusiastic review I see of her works, but if this short story is any example, I will certainly enjoy any of her books – if nothing else for the tongue-in-cheek humor exhibited here in a mock essay (with footnotes!!!) about vampirism allegedly written by one of the undead blood-suckers, the titular Anna Petrescu. To say more would be to spoil the utter fun this story offers: just read it  🙂

 

Lucy, In Her Splendor by Charles Coleman Finlay

Another somewhat disappointing story, made more so because it was the last of this anthology and closed it on a lukewarm note, especially after the fun that was the Valente short, which would have been a better way to end the book, in my opinion.

Reviews

Wyrd & Wonder 2019 – MIDDLEGAME, by Seanan McGuire

 

Oh my, where to start in describing this novel? And how to do it without revealing too much and therefore spoiling your enjoyment the story?  Well, let’s begin with the cover, one that would have drawn my attention even without the name of Seanan McGuire, one of my favorite authors, acting like a magnet. That hand-shaped candle with the burning wicks at the end of each finger carries such an ominous overtone that I could not wait to learn what it meant – by the way, it’s a Hand of Glory, it features prominently from a certain point onwards, and “ominous” barely scratches the surface as far as I’m concerned…

The beginning of Middlegame might seem a little confusing, but my advice is to go with the flow and trust the author to carry you where she intends to: everything will become clear in no time at all.  Even though the story is set in modern times, it shows some intriguing anachronisms: in the beginning we meet James Reed, an alchemist and at the same time a Frankenstein-like construct created by another famous alchemist, Asphodel Baker, whose dream was to harness the Doctrine, the fundamental force ruling the world, to shape it according to her vision.  Baker never reached such a goal, hindered as she was by the Alchemical Congress, but Reed intends to continue his creator’s work – not so much to bring her legacy to fruition, but rather to gain absolute power.  Reed’s way to make the Doctrine pliable to his will is to channel it in living flesh, embodying its constituent elements in twin children, each of whom will receive half of this energy.

Roger and Dodger are two such twins (not the only ones, though…), brought to life in Reed’s lab and infused, respectively, with the gift of language and mathematics, the two halves of the whole Doctrine. They are then separated and given to foster families, to grow as normal children until maturity will turn them into the tools Reed needs to wield.  They are not normal children however, because their talents go well beyond the usual range to move into genius territory: Roger possesses an uncanny gift for languages, and Dodger plays with numbers as other girls do with dolls. One day, despite being hundreds of miles apart, they connect with each other, establishing a mind link that will indelibly shape their lives and their future, while at the same time mitigating in part their essential loneliness.  As much as their creator and his minders try to keep them apart, to prevent them from reaching the desired peak too early, Roger and Dodger move through the years in a complicated dance of closeness and distance, friendship and hurt, mutual comfort and profound misunderstandings that will culminate one day in their actual meeting and the start of an unpredictable chain of events, involving time flow and the fabric of reality.

There are so many levels to this story that on hindsight I’ve come to acknowledge the fact that the core concepts of the Doctrine and Reed’s megalomaniac plans become secondary to the evolution of Roger and Dodger as persons: they are wonderfully depicted characters, their journey from childhood to maturity a fascinating progress that has little to do with their uncanny abilities and more with their sense of kinship, that bond which unites them from early on and is never broken even through separation and fallings-out.  If there is a topic in which Seanan McGuire excels is the exploration of the human soul and the hurts children suffer as they grow up: Roger and Dodger are essentially lonely children, excluded by their nature and upbringing from their peers’ usual activities, always “on the outside looking in” and more often than not unable to understand the reasons for this rift.

There is a very poignant quality in the awareness of their isolation, which leads to the easy acceptance of the voice each of them hears inside their heads as the first contact is made and both children understand on some basic level that they have met their complement – the missing half, the part that completes them just as language and math, heart and reason, complete each other. Through them we explore the themes of friendship and family, of the connections we establish with other people and how deeply they can run, of the way our abilities can shape us and direct our lives.  But above all we come to care for these odd twins and the way their respective orbits move around the center represented by their need to be together in order to be complete, and that’s the kind of story that compelled me to keep reading and made me resent every moment when I had to put the book down.

One of the reasons Middlegame is so absorbing comes from its peculiar narrative style, one that does not care too much about linearity and starts at what looks like an ending, and a shocking one at that: “There is so much blood.”, a sentence that informs the overall mood of the novel and keeps the reader mired in uncertainty about the fate of the main characters. From here the story moves haphazardly from past to future to past, the only navigational directions coming from the time and date given at the beginning of each chapter: such fluidity has its roots in one of the novel’s core themes, which is also an astounding discovery of the twins’ powers.  I have often remarked how the vagaries of time can be a tricky subject where I am concerned, but here it all made a lot of sense, not to mention that it increased my perception of the stakes at hand, and just for once I did not care for the intricacies of time-hopping and its inherent contradictions because McGuire made it all appear so natural, so understandable in its very impossibility, that I could only accept and enjoy it.

The other characters in the story are truly secondary when compared with Roger and Dodger, so that the main villain Reed is not drawn too precisely, for example, although that turned out to be of little importance to me because in the end he was a little like Tolkien’s Sauron – a dire, evil presence in the background, mentioned but hardly seen.  A little more definite is Reed’s henchwoman Leslie, another alchemical construct assembled from parts of dead women (which is a thoroughly chilling concept): her penchant for murder, mayhem and the suffering of others plays an interesting contrast with Reed’s detached cruelty. But the one who most drew my attention, in a strange mixture of dislike and pity, is Erin, the surviving half of another pair of experimental twins, and Leslie’s deputy of sorts: hers is an intriguing journey and one that I don’t want to spoil – discovering her depths and facets is one of the fascinating surprises of this novel.

Much as I always enjoy works penned by Seanan McGuire, I have to acknowledge that Middlegame feels like a further step up in her writing, plotting and character exploration skills, certainly the best book I have read so far from this author.  Don’t let it pass you by, or you will miss an amazing story.

 

My Rating:

 

(image courtesy of kasana86)
Reviews

Wyrd & Wonder 2019: BLUE ANGEL (Ordshaw #2), by Phil Williams (review)

 

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review: my thanks for this opportunity.

As the saying goes, this second volume in the new Urban Fantasy series Ordshaw hits the ground running: while its predecessor Under Ordshaw needed to establish the playing field and to sketch the main characters’ profile and therefore suffered some slight pacing problems, Blue Angel can now afford to start exactly where we left off and drive at high speed toward the next phase of the story.  And ‘high speed’ is indeed the code word here, since events move at such a breakneck pace that at times I felt dizzy just trying to follow them all, especially when considering that, as was the case in Book 1, they all happen in a very short time span.

Book 2 alternates its focus between the characters we already know – Pax, Letty, the Bartons and Casaria – and some new perspectives, like Sam Ward from the shady Ministry of Environmental Energy, which add further layers to the story and offer an inside look on the MEE and the bureaucratic mentality of politicians dealing with the supernatural – which is not exactly a wholesome or comforting sight…

The sense of chaos that plagued me before is present in Blue Angel as well, but here it finally makes sense, because we are trying to patch together the pieces of this complicated puzzle, and like the characters we understand we don’t have all the tiles of the mosaic and we struggle alongside these fictional people to find some order in the madness that has hit the city of Ordshaw since the events of the previous book.  Toward the end, once some of the characters have finally understood that they stand a better chance of succeeding if they cooperate with each other, the picture becomes a little less fuzzy, but at the same time it takes on some very ominous overtones due to the unsettling discoveries made along the way, not the least of which is that there is a mastermind behind it all and it’s clearly NOT a friendly one.

As fascinating as the mystery is, however, the characters still take over the stage, particularly the fae: Letty continues to be the irreverent, loudmouthed pest we all know and love – and her brashness is inversely proportional to her size, which makes the diminutive creature even more hilarious – but here we see some important changes in her attitude, especially toward Pax. Despite the name-calling and the slanderous remarks she employs quite liberally, Letty doesn’t hide how she cares for the human young woman and her safety, and I enjoyed the direction their relationship is going, especially in consideration of the otherwise quite strained human/fae interactions.  Letty’s stance is further highlighted by the introduction of another fae, Lightgate, who makes Letty look like a dainty lady: Lightgate is a garish dresser who always goes around with a bottle of spirits from which she sip frequently, has a very low opinion of everyone who is not fae, and is prone to mindless violence.  Which makes her a delightful foil for Letty’s newfound point of view.

As for the humans, Pax truly shines here as the only one with enough wits and intelligence not to be led astray by false trails and misdirections, while showing an inordinate amount of courage in the face of the harrowing situations she is involved in: there are moments when she regrets becoming involved in this whole, complicated mess, and when she yearns for the “good old times”

She’d been happy playing cards. She’d been happy wandering Ordshaw at night, not knowing what lay under the surface. She didn’t need this.

but these are just quick flashes of nostalgia for a simpler past, soon forgotten in the wake of the more compelling requirements of the adventure that started only a couple of days prior in that bar, and Pax never fails to rise to the occasion.  She is not your classical UF heroine, one gifted with special abilities she can call upon when needed: she is an ordinary person thrown into extraordinary circumstances, and doing her best to cope with them, which makes her more approachable and likable as a character.

The newcomer Sam Ward, the Ministry employee gifted with intelligence and foresight who was therefore shunted into a useless sinecure (that’s bureaucracy for you…) is equally interesting, so I liked the way she took over once the circumstances at the MEE changed drastically, and I have high hopes of her becoming a more permanent fixture in the overall story. After the antics from Casaria, the King of Weirdos, Sam comes across as a fresh breath of air and a voice for sanity in the general foolishness and lack of imagination that seems to be the main requirements for Ministry employees.

As a counterpoint, we see very little of Barton, which I confess did not feel like a great loss because he seemed more like a bumbling amateur than anything else – and some of the discoveries Pax makes in the course of the story would point out to him and his former underground explorer friends as clumsy fools seeking adventures to relieve the boredom of a dull life rather than true paladins of the city’s safety.

Clueless fools. They’d blundered into something big enough to affect the whole city, and then sat around boozing and making home videos […]  No wonder the Blue Angel had taken advantage of them.

This second volume in the Ordshaw series sets the stage for some interesting developments and revelations in what looks like a scenario where no one can truly understand what’s going on, unless some more of the Ordshaw mysteries are revealed. It’s going to be an interesting journey, indeed…

 

My Rating:

 

(image courtesy of kasana86)
Reviews

Wyrd and Wonder 2019: SHORT STORY REVIEW

(image courtesy of kasana86)

 

QUEEN OF SALT AND BLOOD,

by Nixx Winters

 

The Fantasy Hive is – as the name indicates – a site dedicated to all things fantasy, showcasing book reviews, author interviews and many other articles concerning the genre. Much as I would like to, I don’t always have the time to fully explore it, but when I do, one of my favorite ‘stops’ is the section concerning short stories from well-known or new-to-me authors, a place where I can always find some intriguing brief works to read either between books or to fill some free time.

One of my latest discoveries is Queen of Salt and Blood, a story of slowly crafted revenge that kept me glued to the screen with no option of turning away until I reached the end: I always enjoy a good vengeance tale, and this is one of the best I recall ever reading.

Coran is one of the ladies-in-waiting for Queen Adela, besieged in her castle by Raulo Ironside, an uncouth barbarian she rejected long ago in a very public, very humiliating way: his army is now at their gates, and all is lost for Adela and her surviving retinue – once Ironside storms into the castle, everyone knows he will exact the vengeance he has waited so long for, and the sight of his men as they enter the throne room, “beards matted with blood and soil to a ubiquitous shade of ugly”, confirms Coran’s worst fears.

As the invaders settle into the realm, some of the Queen’s retainers suffer under their rule, while others bow to the new rulers, and Coran finds herself isolated and in danger, caught in the difficult balancing act of surviving and protecting those she cares about: she will have to resort to all her wiles, and what magic she can muster, to stay alive and retaliate for the losses she suffered.

Queen of Salt and Blood is a tale of violence, both of the most common, physical sort, and of the more subtle but not less cruel kind wielded by those who are desperate and have nothing to lose, but are aware that “vengeance [is] a funeral procession, not a cavalry charge”: as such it was a journey in equal parts fascinating and harrowing, and one that left a deep mark on my imagination.

 

My Rating:

 

Read the story online:

PART ONE

PART TWO

PART THREE

PART FOUR

Reviews

Wyrd & Wonder 2019: IN AN ABSENT DREAM (Wayward Children #4), by Seanan McGuire

Author Seanan McGuire never fails to surprise me with the different moods and unique quality of her writing: from the emotion-laden drama of the October Daye series to the balance between seriousness and humor of the Incryptid novels to the stark dread inherent in the Newsflesh cycle she writes as Mira Grant, this author can use a wide variety of voices, making each book an engaging surprise. With the Wayward Children series McGuire delves into the realm of fairy tale, employing a language more suited to this genre, more… poetic for want of a better word, and with In An Absent Dream she reaches lyrical heights that touched me deeply and made this book the best of the series so far.

The premise at the core of the Wayward Children setting is that there are doors that open toward weird, fantastical realms, and they open only for children whose roots in our primary world are not as deep as others’: in these places they might develop their potential in a way that the “real” world would never allow them to, but sometimes – either by accident or because of homesickness – they find their way back and are unable to adjust to their old reality.  For this reason the school created by Ms. West (herself once a returned child) exists to help these youngsters adapt back to our world, or find again the way back to those realms, if they are lucky, the understanding being that once the innocence of youth is lost, once the gift of wild imagination dwindles in the face of more adult responsibilities, the doors stay closed and never appear again, effectively stranding the child forever.

Katherine Lundy is the middle child of a well-to-do family, but also a lonely one: her father being the school’s principal prevents her from forming any friendship with her school mates, so she takes refuge in books and the certainties offered by the rules she loves to obey.  While she’s not outwardly unhappy – at some point we see how she’s unable to even entertain the concept of unhappiness – something is indeed missing deep inside, so that when one day a door appears in a gnarled tree on her path, she turns the knob and finds herself in the colorful, unruly and wildly amazing Goblin Market, a place at the opposite side of the spectrum of her quietly ordered life.  The economy, if such a term can be applied, of the Goblin Market is based on the concept of fair value, an intriguing kind of barter system which sees the people incurring in too many unpaid debts transformed into birds. Tutored by the Archivist and helped by Moon, the first real friend in Lundy’s existence, she spends a year in the Market, leaving it only in the aftermath of a tragedy.   Since Lundy is still a child (her first foray happens when she’s nine years old), the rules of the Market allow her to return time and time again until her eighteenth birthday, when she will have to make the choice to either stay or go away forever.  Despite realizing that only in the realm beyond the magical door she can truly be herself, she feels the pull of her original family and finds herself torn between two equally powerful claims on her commitment, knowing that either choice will mean pain and loss.

Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series is her most pathos-laden work to date, not only because young people are at the center of it and their distress feels more poignant than it would if the characters were grown-ups, but because of its focus on the need to fit in, to belong – a feeling that everyone experiences sooner or later and that is more emphasized when it concerns kids, whose coping mechanisms are far less developed than those of adults.  The author reminds us often that the doors don’t manifest themselves if the children have no real need for a different world than the one they live in, but this also means that those who walk through the doors sooner or later will have to face some hard choices. This is Lundy’s case, when she goes home for the last time to say goodbye to her family: her now-grown younger sister Diana lays her claim to Lundy because she wants the sister she never had, and Lundy must choose between the family of her blood and that of her heart.

Of all the enchanted worlds shown so far in this series, the Goblin Market is the most detailed one, painted with vivid images and peopled by lively characters, the place “where dreamers go when they don’t fit in with the dreams their homes think worth dreaming”: where until now we only saw glimpses of other realms, here we get a living, breathing place where colors are more vibrant and smells more pervasive – and I dare anyone deny that their mouths did not water at all those mentions of fruit and meat pies that Lundy buys from the centaur baker…     The Market is also a stark contrast with Lundy’s drab home life, made of distant parents and a painful lack of friends, while the rest of the world expects her to sacrifice her drives and expectations on the altar of conformity: if her first venture into the Market is the product of accident and curiosity, the second time Lundy chooses to go there as an act of rebellion once she understands that she was “living in a world that told her, day after day after grinding, demoralizing day, that adventures were only for boys; that girls had better things to worry about, like making sure those same boys had a safe harbor to come home to”.

Choosing to follow the calling of her heart and dwell forever in the Goblin Market, Lundy will have to sacrifice her sister Diana’s happiness, her desire to get to know the sister she knew she had but never had a chance to share her life with; on the other hand, choosing to follow the call of blood, Lundy will have to sacrifice herself – her dreams, her hopes, her true being.  Here the starkest meaning of fair value comes to the fore with dramatic clarity, because it stresses the difference between wanting and needing, and as the Archivist told Lundy once, “When you need, it’s important that the people around you not be looking to take advantage”.  And having to choose between wanting and needing can tear a person apart…

Poignant, heart-wrenching and powerfully evocative, In An Absent Dream is one of Seanan McGuire’s strongest offerings to date, and a very recommended reading.

 

My Rating:

 

(image courtesy of kasana86)
Reviews

Wyrd & Wonder 2019 – SHORT STORY REVIEW

(image courtesy of kasana86)

 

THE LAST BANQUET OF TEMPORAL CONFECTIONS, by Tina Connolly

(click on the LINK to read the story online)

 

One of the more intriguing fantasy stories I remember reading, and one that will stay with me for a long time. While the core elements of the background are drawn from a more classic fantasy stile – a realm in turmoil at the death of its king; the proverbial villain who takes power through deadly force; the reign of terror that ensues – the narrative moves along a very unusual path.

Saffron is the wife of a village baker, a very talented young man whose breads and sweetmeats have gathered a faithful clientele who knows to always expect something surprising from brilliant Danny.  In recent times Danny, who likes to experiment with his ingredients, has found a way to draw forth emotions from his special confectionery, and word of his gift has reached the Traitor King’s ear, with the awful consequence that Danny has been forcibly recruited as head pastry chief at the castle, and Saffron, not wanting to be separated from him, offered her services as confection taster – another word for poison detector.

As the story opens, a special banquet is underway, a Temporal Confections dinner in which the usurper and his court will taste Danny’s special sweets that will elicit buried memories in the guests.  The tension in the air is quite palpable, not only because of the ruler’s proverbial cruelty and his mercurial temper, but because it becomes soon clear that something is going to happen, something that literally vibrates under the faked air of conviviality in the banquet hall…

I will leave you to discover this remarkable tale for yourselves, to do otherwise would spoil the effect, but I want to share some of the names of Danny’s unusual pastries in the hopes of piquing your curiosity: Fennel Flatbread of Sunlit Days Gone By, or Rose-Pepper Shortbread of Sweetness Lost, or again Lemon Tart of Profound Regret.

And now I feel a strong need to find something sweet to eat…  😉

 

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