Letter From The Editor - Issue 39 - May 2014

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Writing Fantasy

  
Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
February 2011

Title: The Winds of Khalakovo
Author: Bradley P. Beaulieu
EAN: 978-1-59780-218-5

If your reading habits are anything like mine, difficult pronunciation in a book can be a real turn off. If I scan down a book's jacket and find that the main characters' names are long strings of apostrophes and consonants, nine times out of ten I'll put it right back on the shelf and move on. This is not the case for all books, of course -- I shudder to think who would I be right now if I had never picked up Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, but discussion over the pronunciation of "Eilonwy" often kept my best friend and me awake into the wee hours.

From the very front cover (the author's last name is pronounced "bowl-yer"), The Winds of Khalakovo can appear daunting -- so I will tell you right away that this is an excellent, epic, Russian-based fantasy about airships and elemental spirits. It is absolutely worth the time it takes to become familiar with the characters. I'll even help you out a bit so you can jump right in.

The best rule of thumb when pronouncing eyeball-exploding names that have been translated from a non-Germanic or non-Romantic language is to pronounce every letter. There is never a set translation -- from the Greek, "adelfos" and "adelphos" are both spelled correctly, because delta has a "f" sound -- but translators usually do their best to spell the word or name phonetically. My own name is a great example: "Alethea" is pronounced by enunciating every letter, and both "e"s are long.

Can you pronounce "Khalakovo," "Nikandr," and "Maharraht"? Of course you can. But trying to memorize the map or the glossary before you read the book will probably explode your eyeballs, so I advise against it. Just jump right in and start reading.

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There is a blight in Khalakovo, and a wasting disease. In the midst of all this turmoil, two of the Nine Dukes are uniting their children in marriage -- for financial gain as well as a boost in national morale. But the guerrilla Maharraht are set on attacking the majestic windships and destroying the Landed Gentry, and they are using elemental spirits to do it.

The nomenclature of the spirits is also daunting, but when you figure out the logic to it, it's easily recognizable (if not so easily said). The elemental spirits are called "hezhan," and the men who master control of them are "quiram." The elements are "hava" (wind), "vana" (earth), "dhosha" (life), "surra" (fire), and "jala" (water). Then you just put the words together: havaquiram are the masters of havahezhan. Without knowing this rule, a four-letter word (that letter being "h") like "dhoshahezhan" might explode your eyeballs.

Prince Nikandr is an excellent protagonist. The reader sympathizes with him right away, and he's so busy dealing with the attacks on his country (as well he should be), that we never know if his heart truly lies with Princess Atiana (his betrothed) or Rehada (his Maharraht mistress). We never stop cheering for him when his soulstone goes dark, or during his quest to rescue Nasim, the strange orphan boy with stranger powers.

The Winds of Khalokovo is filled with clean prose, intelligent language, and brilliant imagination. Reading this fantasy was like sinking my teeth into a rich and exotic dessert. It was certainly not a fluffy palate-cleanser with a cheesy, predictable ending, and it was worth every ounce of energy I put in the learning curve to read it. I challenge you all to do the same.


". . . and many others."

Any writer who has ever been in a magazine or anthology hates the words ". . . and many others." Reviewers do read the whole book or issue, but only a few stories still resonate when that reviewer sits down to write his or her column, and those are the stories that get mentioned. Depending on the reviewer and his or her state of mind at the time, the highlight stories usually vary pretty wildly. The rest fall into a blanket sentence like: "These stories, and many others, make this anthology well worth the purchase price."

I don't like giving bad reviews -- reading is incredibly subjective. If a book doesn't appeal to me, my next-door neighbor might love it. I refuse to bash any author who had the talent and good fortune to land a book contract, especially if it's an author I might meet at a convention one day. And I'm never going to tell anyone not to read something (unless it puts more money into that horrible Snooki's pocket). So if you're looking for badmouthing here (apart from that Snooki bit), you're not going to find it.

Last year, I took on the responsibility of being the official monthly reviewer here at IGMS (instead of the bi-monthly alongside the esteemed James Maxey). You can imagine how many books cross the threshold of my door (or my inbox) each week, and how many books I start that -- for one reason or another -- never get finished.

In the three years I've been reviewing for IGMS, I have never failed to turn in two (minimum) or three (maximum) reviews -- usually I am far ahead of my reading and turn my columns in early. This month, that was not the case. (It certainly wasn't from a lack of inventory.) To give you a taste of the reviewing lifestyle, here are a few of the books I've stopped reading over the last few months that -- for one reason or another -- you haven't seen in this column.

Hexbound, by Chloe Neill -- I made it about 70 pages into this book and realized it wasn't working for me. This is a sequel to Firespell, and there was too much in the first chapter that referenced the previous book. The story lost both me and my interest -- which was disappointing, since I was was intrigued by the back-cover copy. I may one day go back and start with Firespell . . . though considering my TBR pile, I doubt it.

Eyes Like Stars, by Lisa Mantchev -- This book is an exceptionally unique book, written in an exceptionally brilliant stage-play format. Shakespeare, theatre, and fairies: what's not to love? I took the gorgeous dust jacket off and set it on the shelf so I wouldn't mess it up while reading. Now, I can't seem to find the book . . . but the pretty dust jacket is right here (grumble). If ever the twain shall meet again, I look forward to reading the rest.

Starbound, by Joe Haldeman -- In this book there is human life, there is life on Mars, and there are "Others." I picked it up and started reading it the morning before my copy of Robin McKinley's Pegasus showed up at the bookstore (see last month's review column). When assembling the books for this particular article, I found Starbound and realized I never finished. Now I can.

Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, by Michael Moorcock -- I picked up this book in an overwhelming desire to a) read more science fiction and b) indulge myself with Doctor Who. Unfortunately, Moorcock indulged himself a bit too much with purple prose, and I only made it partway into Chapter Two before I gave up. Perhaps my hopes were a bit too high.

Night School, by Mari Mancusi and Ghost Town, by Rachel Caine -- Mari Mancusi is a dear friend of mine and the publisher offered me an interview with Rachel Caine . . . but neither of those enticements were enough for me to get over the vampire hump. Vampires have been "hot" for the last ten years . . . and I've been tired of them for the last eight. It's gotten to the point now where I find them neither sexy nor interesting . . . which is a bummer, because I really did want to enjoy both of these books. Mari and Rachel: it's not you. It's me. I promise. I hope your books still sell tons of copies.

Read more by Alethea Kontis


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