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I spent most of an afternoon drawn into JM Guillen’s free short fiction over at Irrational Worlds, and was quickly hooked by the rich and evocative worlds conveyed in just a few paragraphs. Needing even more, I decided to try the novella Handmaiden’s Fury.
Handmaiden’s Fury is the story of a young priestess named Keiri. She is a devotee of the goddess Rydia, whose grants power through sexuality. Keiri’s power allows her to bond with people, control them, and even destroy. Of course, it is not without personal cost, as the rituals to channel Rydia’s power involve a fair share of pain and submission.
When Keiri’s master discovers an evil sorcerer who smuggles slaves and ritually tortures innocent victims, he decides to use Keiri to put a stop the vile magic. As he and Keiri work together to defeat their foe, Keiri realizes the depth of love and passion that she and her master share.
As with the short fiction at Irrational Worlds, I was immediately drawn into the story, which combines elements of horror, dark fantasy, and erotica. Sexuality is an important part of the story, but is handled tastefully. The bond between Keiri and her master is something to be treasured, and it keeps Keiri’s power from consuming anything in its path. The magic system is unusual and well-developed, and the city in which the story is set seems like an organic part of a much larger world. My only real complaint about Handmaiden’s Fury is that it didn’t come to a complete resolution, leaving me wanting more. I hope that Guillen returns to Keiri’s story one day.
This post is a part of a series of mini-reviews of books that I read while on blogging hiatus last fall.
The High Couch of Silistra by Janet Morris is set on a post-apocalyptic planet that had been ravaged by nuclear war. Genetic mutations have made it very difficult to procreate, and so society has been arranged to glorify promiscuity in the hopes that some genetic combinations may prove fruitful. Civilization is centered around the Wells, which are pretty much centers of prostitution, and women hold most of the power in society.
When Estri, the Well-Keepress of Astria, receives a mysterious letter detailing her conception, she begins a journey to discover more about her past and origins. She hopes that if she is able to find out who her alien father is, she might learn more about herself and what kind of man would allow her to produce a child. However, for most of the novel, she just wanders around and has kinky sex with a lot of people. Mind you, I don’t mind sex in my pulp fiction novels (Case in point: I strangely enjoy the John Norman’s Gor novels), but in High Couch of Silistra, it was too much of a distraction from an otherwise very interesting plot. The last 50 or so pages of the novel were a drastic improvement, and as such, I’d be willing to pick up the next book in the series if I ever come across it at a used book sale. At the same time, I wouldn’t go as far as actually recommending High Couch of Silistra unless you are extremely bored.
After seeing glowing reviews at The Little Red Reviewer, Lynn’s Book Blog, and Just Book Reading, I knew I had to read The Black Fire Concerto. I’m on a book-buying hiatus until the government shutdown ends and I have a regular paycheck again, but lucky for me, it is available through the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. It’s the first time I’ve used that particular feature of Amazon Prime. Mike Allen, you have taken my Kindle-book-borrowing virginity. Yay!
Every evening, twelve-year-old Erzelle is called to play her harp aboard a riverboat named the Red Empress. Like Scheherazade, this means that she can live another day. You see, the boat is kept by the Family, who lure unsuspecting diners aboard their ship to feast on ghoul meat, which is said to grant extended life. Once aboard, the poor unfortunates are bitten by ghouls, turned, and served up as dinner themselves. When they decide that Erzelle isn’t worth her keep, then she too will become dinner.
That all changes when Olyssa, a kickass woman with a magic pipe, shows up one night for dinner. She springs Erzelle from her predicament, and the two embark on a voyage to find Olyssa’s long-lost sister. While doing so, Erzelle learns about the origins of the magical apocalypse that caused the Storms, the ghouls, and the end of normal life.
The magical apocalypse envisioned in The Black Fire Concerto is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Magic is real, but humans only learned to tap the darkness a few decades ago. The results were catastrophic, and led to the dystopian society that presently exists.
One of the things that impressed me the most was the way that the author was able to depict the way that magic affects its users. This was especially evident as Erzelle learns how to use it and is gripped by the rage and the temptation to unleash too much power. Heroes and villains alike are shaped by the magic that they use, and every action has a consequence, regardless of intention.
Mike Allen’s imagery is incredible. He creates great machines fueled by rotting corpses, the friendly fox-like Vulpines, and villains that will give you nightmares and make you feel sympathetic at the same time. A blend of fantasy and horror, The Black Fire Concerto will leave you begging for more.
Verdict: Buy this. Immediately.
Silk Armor is the story of Claire Sydenham, an American woman teaching English in Turkey. While she is there, she observes the relationship between her colleague Victor and Didem, one of her students. Victor and Didem’s relationship is tragic and destructive, highlighting the clash between old and new cultural values.
For Didem, romance with Victor is forbidden. She fears how her father will react when he finds out, knowing that he will beat her (or worse). For Victor, the affair begins as a fling in another country, but he is tortured by the realization of what it costs Didem. For Didem and her friends, sexuality isn’t as casual as it can be in America, and just the attitudes surrounding it can have a major impact on one’s future. There are very real consequences for one’s actions.
Silk Armor is told in a nonlinear manner which can at times be confusing. The story is mostly told from Claire’s perspective, but it jumps around chronologically and also includes fragments from Victor’s journal. It is an attempt to shed light on a confusing and difficult situation which has quite clearly had a profound impact on Claire’s life.
Even the minor characters are vivid and complex. There’s the traditional Segvi, who struggles with her own Muslim faith as she watches Didem rebel. If she sanction’s Didem’s actions and goes along with them, she feels like she is betraying and minimizing her faith. Then there’s Didem’s first love, the former goatherd Mustafa. He’s also a draft dodger, so he lives an impermanent and nomadic lifestyle, sleeping on friends’ couches and working at a bar. Even though he seems like his life isn’t put together, he is stronger than he appears, and has been saving the bulk of his pay for a bride price.
The central theme of the novel is the clash between old and new values. Sydenham doesn’t portray one as being better than the other; each of the characters must struggle with Turkey’s evolving culture and must choose his or her place in it, and the decisions people make aren’t always the ones that are expected.
On the whole, I would recommend Silk Armor despite the confusing narration style. Before reading the novel, I didn’t know much about life in modern Turkey, but I found myself caught up in the characters’ struggles and wanting to learn more about the world in which they live.
I received a copy of Silk Armor by Claire Sydenham from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I received a review copy of Caleb Crain’s novel Necessary Errors in exchange for an honest review.
Jacob Putnam is a young expat teaching English in the Czech Republic. He went there because he was inspired by the ideas of the revolution, but he’s too late, and instead witnesses the country’s transition from socialism to capitalism.
The plot of the novel isn’t exciting, but it isn’t meant to be. It’s supposed to capture the atmosphere of what it was like to be in Prague during a transitional period, and the characters’ own lives and experiences are a reflection of the country’s. We see Jacob searching for love and companionship in a gay nightclub, only to become disillusioned by the people he meets as he finds out why they’re really there. We see characters who feel lost, wondering if Prague is the right place for them or whether they should travel to a different country. We see relationships form between different members of the expats’ social circle. Each character discovers the fine line between possibility and reality as they meander through their lives with no destination in mind. Even the city itself is in a transitional period, and the transition between socialism and capitalism is portrayed simultaneously as freedom and lost innocence.
Even though the plot is slow, Crain’s writing creates a vivid atmosphere, and it’s the kind of atmosphere that I’d like to be a part of. Necessary Errors reminds me of my own experience studying abroad in Russia. The descriptions of daily life in Prague make me miss Eastern Europe, and make me hope that I might one day be able to travel there again.
I received a copy of Victor LaValle’s novella Lucretia and the Kroons through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The novella is a companion prequel to LaValle’s full-length novel The Devil in Silver.
Twelve-year-old Lucretia Gardner (Loochie for short) is excited at the chance to have her best friend Sunny over for a late birthday celebration. Sunny missed Loochie’s real birthday celebration because she has cancer and was in the hospital for treatments. Right before Sunny is supposed to come over, Loochie’s brother tells her a story about the Kroons, a family of crackhead monsters living in unit 6D who snatch children.
“I don’t know why things like that have to happen to children,” Louis said quietly. “But being young doesn’t protect you. Horrors come for kids, too.”
When Sunny doesn’t show up, Loochie knows what she must do. She must travel to unit 6D and face the evil Kroons who abducted her friend.
The sinister and nightmarish world beyond the doors of unit 6D serves as a backdrop to Lucretia’s deeper struggle, coming to terms with her friend’s condition and learning to move on.
It is always heartening to see a more diverse world in speculative fiction. Lucretia and the Kroons is a perfect example. Lucretia is African American, and Sunny is Chinese. The story takes place in an apartment building in Queens, and the monsters are suited to an urban environment. For example, while in a park in unit 6D, Loochie battles flying rats with pigeon wings. The horrors imagined by Victor LaValle are equally as scary as more traditional monsters, and are without a doubt a product of hellish alternate version of New York City.
The ending of the story leaves more questions than answers. It didn’t feel organic, but rather like a way to set the stage for The Devil in Silver.
If the theme of the book wasn’t so horribly depressing (and let’s face it, cancer always is), I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Lucretia’s adventures in the land of the Kroons were action-packed and filled with suspense. However, readers quickly realize the message that Loochie is there to learn. Bad things can happen even to children. The Kroons are a metaphor for the cancer that is ravaging Sunny.
At only 102 pages, Lucretia and the Kroons isn’t a particularly long read, so if the premise sounds interesting, then by all means give it a try. Even though the book was more depressing than I generally like, I give LaValle credit for an unusual and imaginative story.