Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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

Title: Swords & Dark Magic: The New Swords & Sorcery
Editors: Lou Anders & Jonathan Strahan
EAN: 9780061723810

Ah, Summertime. The time for cookouts and beach balls and lemonade. For bibliophiles, it's the time of mass-market paperbacks and anthologies. Why lug Umbert Eco into your hammock when you could have a relaxing love story, a swashbuckling swordfight, a puzzling mystery . . . or -- let's go crazy -- all three?

Swords & Dark Magic is really the epitome of fun. In the introduction ("Check Your Dark Lord at the Door"), Lou and Jonathan get together and dynamically discuss the origins of the term "sword & sorcery," all the way back to the Odyssey. From Conan to Elric they cover it all . . . and then present a series of very strong original tales from some of the masters of the genre. Steven Erickson, Glen Cook, Robert Silverberg, Tanith Lee -- sometimes predictable but always entertaining, you may want to read this with a bucket of popcorn.

Two stories in the collection stood out for me -- James Enge's "The Singing Spear" and Scott Lynch's "In the Stacks." Long after I had finished the anthology, these were the two stories I kept telling people about, as if they could buy tickets and go see the movie before it left the big screen. I adored the voice of Enge's Moorlock Ambrosius from the first line of the story: "To drink until you vomit and then drink again is dull work." I enjoyed the sense of humor Enge was able to convey consistently and masterfully all the way to the end.

"In the Stacks" is a story I could go on about at length, and have, as Justin -- who was stuck in the car with me on the ride home the day I read it -- will happily tell you. The High University of Hazar is where wizards learn how to be wizards. Part of the final exam? Returning a book back to the Living Library. That's right, boys and girls, you need to fully understand what those (fully-armed) librarians have gone through every day of your education, what sacrifices they had to make to get requested books to and from the stacks every day. The library's motto: RETRIEVE. RETURN. SURVIVE. And the best monsters ever: the vocabuvores. Okay, I promise I won't keep on forever -- just read the story. I'm going to read it again right now. And Hollywood, if you're listening, please snap this one up. Like, yesterday. I've got my popcorn ready.

Title: The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker
Author: Leanna Renee Hieber
EAN: 9780843962970

As some of you might remember from an earlier review, I was a pretty huge fan of Leanna Renee Hieber's debut Percy Parker novel. In her sophomore effort, The Darkly Luminous Tale of Percy Parker, similar fans will not be disappointed. Newcomers to the series will not be left in the dark (pun intended), and can look upon the first title as a prequel of sorts. While Darkly Luminous does start out with Percy having been recognized as the reincarnation of the goddess Persephone and taking her place as the seventh member of The Guard, we finally get to see The Guard in action for the first time -- working together like a bunch of Victorian Ghostbusters.

We also get to know each of the original six as individuals instead of merely fantastical prophesied saviors. The danger here is that the reader now gets to play favorites. I quickly became a fan of the foppish Elijah, who pulls no punches when it comes to cutting their leader Alexi down to size. His comments after Percy and Alexi's wedding had me rolling with belly laughs and cheering his schoolboy crush on the fashionable Frenchwoman Josiphine, who keeps getting called out on alarms while wearing her most outrageous ballgowns. I was probably supposed to be more interested in Headmisstress Rebecca's unrequited love for Alexi, but I found it difficult, since the world had fought so long and hard for Percy and Alexi to be together in the first place.

I have to give Ms. Hieber all due credit for staying true to her main couple. It would have been too easy to pair Percy and Alexi off as the perfect duo, meant for each other and completely understanding of one another from Day One. Instead of going with the cliché, Leanna does not erase the fact that these two strong, independent personalities had already spent a significant amount of time on the earth without each other, nor does she ignore that -- having been thrown together in the previous adventure and married with all due haste -- the two of them really barely know each other. Moments of humor shine through Alexi's dark and brooding Severus Snape demeanor, and moments of doubt bubble up in Percy despite her shiny new goddess-powers. Alexi is as unused to caring for someone as Percy is letting herself be cared for, and they still spend large amounts of time in solitude -- as they would have if art truly did imitate life.

I enjoyed this deeper expedition into Leanna's elaborate Whisper-world of ghosts and Darkness, laughing and crying and biting my nails in turn. I have since learned that Strangely Beautiful has been optioned to be made into a musical -- I've been privileged enough to hear a few of the song concepts, and I can't wait to see the production. I've also been informed that the Percy Parker series will continue on in a novella collection (A Midwinter Fantasy) this fall and then two more full volumes . . . again, I will be interested to see how the third volume will launch as the second one's end tied up in quite a satisfying bow. If I am as impressed with it as I have been these first two, you'll certainly hear about it here!

Title: Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight
Author: Cat Rambo
EAN: 9780979534959

The story of how this book has followed me on my travels for the past six months is almost as diverse and diverting as the collection itself. Lawrence at Paper Golem sent me a gorgeous ARC, which I promptly buried on my dining room table and discovered again while cleaning the house. When I ran away from home shortly after, it was one of three books (the others being a Greek cookbook and Robin McKinley's Blue Sword) that came with me in my $70 suitcase to Wisconsin. It came with me on my several-week multiple-state road trip over the Christmas holidays, and it was in the first wave of carloads when I moved to DC a couple of months later. At this point, I can honestly say that Cat makes as lovely a copilot as she does a dinner companion. As a short story maven, of course, she blows both of those away. I am honored to be -- finally! -- reviewing her beautiful collection.

"Beautiful" is definitely the word to describe Cat Rambo's easy and lyrical prose, refreshing and clever as a cup of spiced tea, colorful and engrossing as taproom war stories. The collection's title is that of the first story -- one of my favorites -- about the incarnations of a sorceress's eyes the three times the main character encounters her. It made me smile, since I could easily write a similar story about Cats' hair color the first three times I saw her at a convention.

The stories, though not related to each other, do have a definite flow that encourages you to keep going right on the next one. I read the first half of the book in one sitting. I was confused when I saw a listing for the chronology of Tabat in the table of contents, but it made more sense as I read the introductions to each story. Tabat is a mythical seaport setting that Cat frequently uses as a backdrop for her stories, and it was fun to keep returning there, though perhaps they should have been a collection unto themselves. I found myself thinking things like: Hasn't Cat already written about snake women before? Because she had, only when it was mentioned again in a separate story I had to remember that it was not another story about snake women, it was a story set in Tabat. And once I remembered that, I was free to go about my business.

I was already a fan of Cat's, so I was happy to add Eyes Like Stars . . . to my collection. If you are not a fan of Cat Rambo's, you should be. And if you are, then you should definitely have this beautiful book. Especially if you plan on lots of cross-country traveling.

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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