Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
March 2010

Title: The Iron King
Author: Julie Kagawa
EAN: 978-0373210084

Julie Kagawa is one seriously fantastic panel moderator. The first time I did that, I was voted moderator by default since I was the last one to show up to the panel (and the other guests were EVIL). Julie's first time was also at Hypericon 2009, several years after my own dazzling debut, and she dazzled us all with her wit, wisdom, and preparation. It also helped that Julie herself was a pretty cool chick. She told us all about her book that would debut in 2010, and I was eager to get my hands on a copy. Lucky for me, I am the Princess, and I have my ways.

The heroine of Julie's The Iron King is also a princess -- Meghan Chase is the bastard child of Oberon, King of the Seelie Court and the Summer Fey. She doesn't know that, of course . . . on the surface she's just a gangly, pale-faced, sixteen-year-old misfit who wishes she was a member of the cheerleading squad . . . when she's not wishing they would turn into pigs. Her best friend is Robbie Goodfell -- yes, the selfsame Puck -- who calls her "Princess" as a joke. Or not.

It's not until her four-year-old half-brother, Ethan, is kidnapped by a rogue fey and replaced by a changeling that Meghan is forced to accept her destiny and pull the veil of ignorance back from her eyes. She crosses back over the border into Nevernever and is reintroduced to her biological father, as well as Queen Mab, her Unseelie court, and her all-too-handsome son, Ash. But it is neither of these factions who have their hands on Ethan -- and so Meghan discovers the existence of the Iron Fey, led by the Iron King Machina.

I was intrigued by these Iron Fey. Except for certain Eastern cultures, Iron is typically anathema to fairies. However, in this universe, it seems that technology is driving a wedge into the land of make-believe and becoming legendary all unto itself. Clockwork animals, cloned knights, and tinker packrats serve a king who is one part Mephisto and one part Locutus of Borg. Julie masterfully introduces a new mythology -- for better or worse -- into the typical Fairy Kingdoms we know of old. It gives Meghan quite a landscape for her and her comrades to cavort in and out of.

Meghan herself, however, I have to say I had a hard time connecting with. I wanted to know more about her, her extracurricular activities, her hobbies, her favorite food, her favorite television show. She's swept with a quickness like Sarah into the Labyrinth, and the reader is pulled along with her, still curious about whether or not we even know enough to like her. I guess I was just looking for something else that made her unique -- something, you know, besides the fact that she's the daughter of a fairy king. I felt the same way about Ash, though I did thoroughly enjoy both Robbie and the Cheshire Cattish Grimalkin. But who doesn't like Puck? Or smart aleck cats?

Then again, perhaps I'm just one picky princess.

Title: Bellwether
Author: Connie Willis
Read by: Kate Reading
Blackstone Audio
EAN: 978-1433246265

I confess -- I had never before read anything by the fabulous, award-winning Connie Willis, so when I came across this audiobook of her classic short novel Bellwether, I was intrigued. It was a little over six hours -- extremely short for the audiobook format -- but as my patience for audios quickly runs thin, I figured I had a much better chance of sticking with it until the end.

The novel was originally published in 1997 (and was subsequently nominated for a Nebula), but Blackstone Audio produced their version just last year. Kate Reading did an admirable job -- she has a rich voice with tones on the lower register that at times reminded me of Candice Bergen. She complements Willis's storytelling perfectly, making the laundry list of informative sociological tidbits as interesting to the "reader" as the quirky characters.

Sandra Foster and Bennett O'Reilly work at HiTek -- a Dilbertvillesque company full of scientists filling out forms and chasing the mysterious, ever-elusive Niebnitz Grant. The mailroom assistant, Flip, is the trendsetting Abby Sciuto of the department, only lazy to the extreme. Instead of firing Flip, HiTek's Management gives her an assistant -- a woman who is exceptionally capable, incredibly knowledgeable . . . and a smoker.

From personal ads to herding sheep, Bellwether is a lovely tale that -- like many of us -- falls into an interesting mix of genres. While it is all about history, sociology, and chaos theory I'm not sure I would label it "science fiction" -- it's sort of a mix of Crichton (without the speculative element) and Office Space (if the role of Peter was played by Flip). Beneath it all is a subtle fairy tale with a little bit of romance and a lot of fairy godmother. I enjoyed this one immensely. This is a nice snack for those of you who like to gobble up audiobooks . . . and a fantastic entre for those of you who haven't decided which side of the audio fence you're on.

Read more by Alethea Kontis


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