3Q 2013 Book Reviews

Flow cover

Flow (Double Dragon Publishing)
by Lindsey Duncan

Veteran A&A author Lindsey Duncan has a book out, and we were excited to read it. Flow is a fantasy about inherited magical abilities, faerie-being manifestations, and being royally pissed at someone else choosing your destiny based on things that happened before you were born. There are many genre novels with these basic themes, but Ms. Duncan’s invention of the water witches and their undersea world and how it reaches out through various bodies of water is fresh and new. The book is worth reading for that alone, but there is much more to recommend it.

Teenage figure skater Kit is an intriguing character. Sure, you’ve met young-but-strong women or defiant, angry protagonists before. But I’ll bet you never met one with a magic sketchbook who battles on a skating rink of frozen holy water.

Water-witch Chailyn is a study in contradictions: a young lady with awe-inspiring powers, fully-trained but a babe-in-the-woods on the shore. Her perspectives on what it means to be human are very skewed by being raised underwater and while she’s likeable and noble, she has no clue.  Despite declaring herself Kit’s protector she needs to be rescued by Kit’s common sense and practical experience, time and time again. And Hadrian, the con man and forger who got his powers from an alchemist instead of a spider bite? How can I top Kit’s acerbic description of him? “The man has an awesome voice and the personality of a cold sore.” He says he’s helping the young ladies out of boredom, but you soon suspect he’s more altruistic than he lets on.

Even the secondary characters are well-drawn, complex and fascinating. The many plot threads all resolve in a most satisfying manner. There is even a little romance, but not of the “must rescue the helpless ladies” variety.

I really enjoyed Flow—to the point of re-reading it—and I think you’ll enjoy it, too.

 

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Shiny Thing (Papaveria Press)
by Patricia Russo

Where do I start? Shall we begin with a discussion of how almost none of the “stories” in this collection have full resolution? The book reads like a series of depressing, disjointed vignettes: scenes that are glimpsed through a strobe light, utterly disconnected by anything but their very alienation from each other. Perhaps the title is a reference to items in a magpie’s nest of oddities, of items collected with preferences that only make sense in a bird’s mind.

Come to think of it, that’s all you need to know about Shiny Thing.

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The Way of the Shaman: Discovering the Way (Blueberry Lane Books)
by Ken Atlabef

It has been said that most science fiction is written by scientists or amateur scientists, and most fantasy is written by anthropologists or amateur anthropologists. This book is a fantasy set in Eskimo culture, and is an anthropologist’s wet dream. It’s full of a wholly different culture and set of religious beliefs, and transports you into an all but alien landscape. Plus, those who have read the first book in the series who wanted to find out what happens to Ulruk will not be disappointed.

We follow young Ulruk’s struggles to protect his nomadic tribe’s lives on the ice as his mysterious shaman mentor disappears into yet another one of his unexplained northern journeys. This absence lasts three years, and during that time terrible things befall Ulruk’s tribe that can only be fixed when Ulruk follows his mentor north to unravel the mystery. Along the way we meet more of the Eskimo pantheon of nature spirits and Ulruk grows in his shamanic gifts. How he deals with marauding skinwalkers, vengeful ghosts (not necessarily human ones), and the nature spirits’ dangerous indifference to his novice prayers for game for the hunt all weave seamlessly with his emerging manhood and his mentor’s unfinished business.

One thing I particularly admire about Altabef’s writing is that his characters are not oh-so-perfect. They make mistakes, for very human reasons, and the consequences of those mistakes range from trivial to devastating – just like in real life. When the chief mistake of  his mentor threatens not only his adoptive mother but his people and his very life, Ulruk forces a confrontation that stretches across both time and species-barriers. In the end he survives to fight another day, and picks up a whole new set of responsibilities that include non-human apprentices. And, a wife.

This is book two of a five-part series. Great things in book three are hinted at, and this reviewer looks forward to reading the entire series. Those who want to immerse themselves in a whole new world would do well to read these books.

 Event Horizon Rivera cover

Across the Event Horizon (NewCon Press)
by Mercurio D. Rivera

Mercurio D. Rivera is not a writer. He’s an effing force of nature.

This is one of the best short story collections I have ever read. Ever. You know that blow-by-blow, story-by-story description of short stories I usually do? I’m not doing that here. I don’t want to give anything away, or deprive you of one molecule of the overwhelming pleasure you’re sure to get from reading these works.

It has an introduction by Terry Bisson. Terry Bisson, and he’s impressed. So am I. What a powerhouse writer Rivera is. This book is phenomenal – for God’s sake, if you’re a genre fan don’t miss it.

RECOMMENDED

 telling tales antho cover

Telling Tales: The Clarion West 30th Anniversary Anthology (Hydra House)
edited by Ellen Datlow

So many good writers here. So many stand-out stories. So many styles and voices. While there is something for everyone in this wonderful collection, that variety almost guarantees you will love some of the short stories more than others. But that’s fine: everything is well written and the amazing stable of writers and commentators assembled here by Ellen Datlow is truly breathtaking.

Personal favorites were Nish Shawl’s “Water Museum,” Kij Johnson’s “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change,” and David Levine’s “I Hold My Father’s Paws.”

This short story collection is a delight. It’s all reprints, but the interstitial material by the Clarion teachers is all new material and worth the purchase of the book all on its own. Clarion West teachers, it seems, just cannot stop teaching how to tell tales.

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