Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
July 2009

Title: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker
Author: Leanna Renee Hieber
Publisher: Leisure Books
EAN: 9780843962963

Percy Parker can see dead people. She can also hear dead people and, due to her remarkable fluency in almost ten languages, she can carry on conversations with them. Percy even looks like a ghost herself, with skin and hair like a marble statue and eyes so pale and sensitive to light that she must wear dark glasses at all times. But for all her unique characteristics, Percy is the typical mythic heroine -- orphaned, gifted, attending a mysterious Academy, and destined to fulfill a prophecy written back when the Temple of Athena still stood in one piece atop the Acropolis.

I fell in love with this book as soon as I read the title. It's one of those fabulous titles that adeptly distills the essence of the novel. Forget what's pictured on the cover -- to be fair, the title takes up most of the cover anyway -- this title is the best warning label of what you're about to get yourself into. Percy Parker's adventure promises to be poetic, wordy, Victorian, haunting, shadowy, subtle, and romantic.

But before I started Miss Parker's Tale, I met her author. I was invited to an intimate publisher brunch at BEA, and Leanna was the guest star. Now, I've met a good many authors in my time. If I like the author, I will make a whole-hearted attempt to read their book. (If I don't like the author then I don't attempt at all . . . but I can count the number of authors I don't like on one hand.) Similarly, just because I enjoy the author doesn't mean I'll love their fiction. I have some very best friends who know I don't care for their particular bent, and it doesn't affect our relationship one way or another.

All that said, by the end of said brunch Leanna and I were not only talking a million miles and hour, but we were also finishing each other's sentences. I couldn't wait to read the book. When I got back to Tennessee, I pestered the publisher until they emailed me a copy of the manuscript, and the second it popped up in my inbox, I dove right in.

I was in exactly the right mood to read this tasteful, gothic Victorian adventure. Its pages are like the petals of a rose: a many-layered tale gorgeously told. The reader immediately finds the strangely beautiful Percy Parker haunting the halls of Athens Academy along with her specters. We realize she is seventh in an ancient prophecy of gods and demons. It is up to The Guard -- the original six who have kept London safe from the otherworldy thus far -- to recognize their Prophecy and follow the path of destiny. Easier said than done, though, as The Guard is constantly distracted by an evil force they call "The Ripper."

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is Bullfinch's Mythology and Harry Potter and Wuthering Heights mashed in a blender. It is a historic, dark, fantasy mystery . . . Add Miss Parker's sudden and torrid love for her dark and brooding tutor Professor Alexi, and it also becomes a delicate and understated romance. A simple dance raised more goosebumps on my arms than the steamy scenes in most of the usual romance novels of today. I miss that.

I am happy to have been as impressed by this book as I was by its author . . . and happier still that Leanna is currently working on a sequel. Huzzah!

Title: A Fantasy Medley
Editor: Yanni Kuznia
Publisher: Subterranean Press
EAN: 9781596062245

While I was looking up the details to make sure I had everything correct on this title, I discovered a disturbing thing -- it's already out of print! Such is the life sometimes in small press: you have a limited print run of an April release, the book gets a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, and BAM! That's all she wrote.

Technically, that's all they wrote -- the medley of A Fantasy Medley is made up of Fantasy Goddesses Kelly Armstrong, Kate Elliot, Robin Hobb, and C. E. Murphy. The medley is edited and put together in its neat, tidy, ominous little package by Subterranean Wonder Woman Yanni Kuznia. Picking up the book made me feel like I was back in college, holding a ticket to my favorite all-girl indie rock band. Score!

Kelley Armstrong kicks off the set with "Zen and the Art of Vampires." As vamp-averse as I am this year (as you might have noticed in previous columns), Kelley writes with a cleanness that sets the reader at ease. Her characters fall right into their dialogue and stay true to their attitudes. It's also refreshing that she's not reinventing the wheel -- her main character is an Asian lesbian vampire who's being strong-armed out of her territory in Toronto. She uses her wits and her connections to get out of a tight spot. The fact that she is a vampire is simply a flavor, not the point. Any story you finish smiling is a good story.

Kate Elliot follows with "Riding the Shore of the River of Death," and the reader is immediately dumped into a blood-soaked tale of epic proportions. It is a coming-of-age story of tribal customs and honor warring with one another, and doing what's right for someone else at the cost of one's own happiness. My only problem with this story is that it -- and the dense world surrounding it -- deserved to be a novel all on its own.

C. E. Murphy's "From Russia with Love" instantly stole my heart in the same way all those tales that started with "Once Upon a Time" did . . . well . . . once upon a time. This story of Baba Yaga's daughter is full of witchery and dragons and seductive demons hidden in dark disguises with the same deft hand that Neil Gaiman used to draw attention away from the character of Silas in The Graveyard Book. (And yes, the house on chicken legs does make several appearances.)

And then directly after C. E. Murphy stole my heart, Robin Hobb took my breath away with her finale, "Words Like Coins." Mirrifen is a young girl in a drought-stricken country, with just enough hedge-witchery skills to be dangerous. Her duty is to care for her heavily pregnant sister-in-law Jami. Mirrifen must keep her fed, hydrated, and safe from both the rats and Jami's irrational fear of pecksies -- fairy-like creatures with a bad rep. Once a pecksie is bound into servitude, it must do whatever it is asked . . . to whatever ends that might bring. Words have power, and we must be careful what we wish for.

Of course, my one wish would be that this lovely little book was still in print! Be sure to keep an eye out for it, and snatch it up if you can. It's well worth the trouble.

Title: Redheart
Author: Jackie Gamber
Publisher: Meadowhawk Press
EAN: 9780987732608

I remember fondly the days when Mom and Dad would come back from the Friends of the Library booksale with a bag of books just for me. Mom especially always had a great eye for items that would be right up our alley. And these weren't part of the twenty-book maximum we were allowed to check out every two weeks, these books were ours to keep forever and ever. We couldn't afford to be picky; happily, my tastes were fairly diverse, and "fantasy" covers a broad range. That magical bag of books held everything from well-known classics to obscure little stories that Mom liked the covers of. Some of my favorites: The Nunga Punga and The Booch, Magician's Bane, and The Magic Carpet and the Brick Wall were probably already rarities when they were picked up twenty years ago. Now they're virtually impossible to find.

Jackie Gamber's Redheart would have been one of these books for me . . . only technology has come up to meet small presses head to head, and the idea of books fading into obscurity is almost obsolete. It is this technology that allowed Meadowhawk Press -- a publisher I would never have been familiar with if I didn't travel the convention circuit -- to gain enough visibility to win the Philip K. Dick Award for David Walton's Terminal Mind earlier this year.

Mom would have picked up Redheart for me because of the giant red dragon on the cover, and I would have loved it for the first chapter alone. Kallon Redheart, an orphaned dragon and last of the Reds, is flying through the air when he hears a scream. Against his better judgment, he rescues a young woman, Riza, from being attacked. Contrary to most young adult tales, the two of them are not fast friends from the start, but in time, as they're thrown together in one adventure after another, they grow to love each other. Kallon and Riza face a dragon-hunter, a power-hungry dragon leader, the mystery behind the death of Kallon's parents, and their own forbidden affection for each other. Once upon a time humans and dragons lived in harmony, but this is a new age.

Jackie has a crisp writing style that doesn't try to get ahead of itself. The dialogue rings true to dynamic characters faced with difficult situations . . . but never gets overdramatic and emotionally overbearing. You will finish this book and dream about flying, I can almost guarantee it. You know, there needs to be more books in the world about flying and dragons and friendship. I, for one, look forward to further installments of the Leland Dragon Series.

Read more by Alethea Kontis


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