Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
Title: Swords & Dark Magic: The New Swords & Sorcery
Editors: Lou Anders & Jonathan Strahan
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
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
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
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
Read more by Alethea Kontis