Friday, October 30, 2015

Mullaney, Eternal Blue Sky (2015)

Marguerite Mullaney, Eternal Blue Sky. SGW Books, 2015. Pp. 262. ISBN 978-0-69245-217-2. $12.00 pb/$6.99 e.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Eternal Blue Sky is an indie-published historical adventure/fantasy novel involving slightly far-fetched technology and time travel to the crucial period of Mongolian history. The land and skies of Mongolia are almost a character in themselves, which is just as well since most of the human characters range between unsympathetic and downright repugnant; it really is a strikingly unromantic view of the exotic past. Despite some writing flaws and slightly grating cultural appropriation, and the fact that many of the basic elements of this book were not really my cup of tea (it is an historical fantasy adventure/thriller with an ostensibly science fictional setting, rather than fiction about the science or even social themes), the premise itself is interesting, and the adventure at times exciting and gripping.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Holland, Dragon Heart (2015)

Cecelia Holland, Dragon Heart. Tor Books, 2015. Pp. 286. ISBN 978-0-7653-3794-8. $25.99.

Reviewed by Cait Coker

For the first time in ages, I’ve recently joined a writing group. Thus far we’ve had several conversations about writing genre, and what that means, both online and face-to-face. One of the things I’ve found puzzling, in both the teaching of writing and of speculative literature, is the difficulties that abound in describing what makes a genre, any genre, a member of a specific category. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Romance stories obviously have love as a consistent theme, mysteries a puzzle or murder to solve, science fiction has rocket ships (unless, of course, it doesn’t), fantasy has magic, and history has, well, history. But if we look more closely, it’s amazing how quickly these supposed walls disappear, and how excellent writers can take a hoary staple and utterly subvert it. Further, as the popularity of Young Adult literature has shown, genre mash-ups create entirely new sub-genres like dystopian romances or historic fantasy, among many others. And it’s with these thoughts in mind that I started reading Cecelia Holland’s Dragon Heart, a fantasy novel by a writer who has made her mark in historical fiction.

Monday, October 05, 2015

James, Mesmerist’s Daughter (2015)

Heidi James, The Mesmerist’s Daughter. Neon Books, 2015. Pp. 28. ISBN 978-1-3113-6569-9. £4.00.

Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad

Nicola’s mother is a wolf. Maybe a werewolf, maybe a wolf disguised as a human during the day, maybe a magician or mesmerist of some kind who is able to pull the sheep’s clothing-wool over people’s eyes at will. During the day she is a sarcastic, dissatisfied, compulsive liar, somewhat bullying mother and unfaithful wife; at night she sloughs her human skin and voraciously attacks Nicola in her bed. Afraid that she is not able to control her voice and keep her mother’s secret, Nicola stops speaking altogether after the age of 4, and goes through her whole childhood voluntarily mute, thereby treated like an idiot by the world and especially her lycanthrope mother. The story of this semi-real life is interspersed with scenes from Nicola’s later stays in a psychiatric institution, where she reflects with the benefit of hindsight on her paranormal childhood. This short novella by Heidi James, author of the well-received spousal-angst novel Wounding, reprinted by Neon Books who specialize in poetic and slipstream chapbooks, tells a story full of unsettling developments and leads to the bathetic, inevitable climax. This is not the first story to use monstrous imagery to describe an unhappy childhood, nor does it break new ground in its use of unreliable, potentially psychotic narrator, but it is a refreshingly unapologetic combination of absurdist, surrealist, and nightmarish content in the service of a genuinely emotive story.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Prokopiev, Homunculus (2015)

Aleksandar Prokopiev, Homunculus: Fairy Tales from the Left Pocket. Istros Books, 2015. Pp. 140. ISBN 978-1-9082-3623-4. £9.99 pb/$4.99 e.

Reviewed by Małgorzata Mika

Today, I shall tell you a fairy-tale; not the bedtime story that allows you to safely drift into the realm of dreams; nor will it be shaped in the image of a Disney princess whose amygdaliform eyes filter out all the symbolic content to leave you with a B-Smart version of the original story. The Western consuming approach to literary left the legacy of our ancestors in a rather consumptive condition. It coughs and spits emptiness into the cartoon-shaped chimeras of once lost three-dimensional treasures. A common reader may find it doubtful that a different kingdom expands beyond the barbed wire of our prison camp. In fact, seven seas and seven forests can bring us to the place where the true jewels can be found, if you travel long enough. The collection of stories Homunculus: Fairy Tales from the Left Pocket is one of them.