This is not your average Fantasy novel: At Amberleaf Fair contains no Chosen One and no Dark Lord, no swords and only very little sorcery, no battles are waged and no duels fought, no heroes show up and no villains, in fact there is barely any conflict at all, it takes place in a peaceful world among mostly happy people and there is far and wide no sign of that staple of fantasy novel structuring, the travelogue. In short, this brief novel is about both as un-Epic and as un-Grimdark as it gets and reads more like a cozy mystery (except there is no murder either) than a Fantasy novel.
I posted a couple of brief reviews on several (not all) episodes of the second season of the ongoing e-book serial The Witch Who Came In From the Cold; and while each of them is too short for a blog post, I was thinking that maybe it might be of inerest to someone if I posted the whole bunch colletively (which is either a desperate attempt to scrape out the bottom of the barrel to scratch out a new blog post or a clever way to go meta and imitate the serial / omnibus structure in my post – your pick).
Half a Crown is the final instalment of Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy which is set in alternative history Great Britain in which England arranged itself with the Nazis, which led to Germany winning the Second World War and Britain starting a slow slide into fascism.
While I love me some Sword & Sorcery or Epic Fantasy, I also find myself often bewailing the many wasted chance in this genre: Fantasy – as the name already should indicate but so very often it turns out to be a misnomer – offers so many possibilities to the imaginative authors, and yet most of would give your average Harlequin Romance a run when it comes to sticking with a true-and-trusted formula. There are exceptions; but they are rare and one has to go looking for them.
It does not happen often that Leander and me disagree on a book we both have read; Fool’s Assassin, the first in Robin Hobb’s most recent trilogy in her Realm of the Elderlings series has been one of those rare occasions, with me enjoying it greatly and much more than that author’s Dragon Wild Chronicles, while Leander was not terribly keen on it. We’ll see whether we’re still diverging on this second volume of Fitz and the Fool.
This is a collection of Urban Fantasy stories – “Urban Fantasy” in the more traditional (think Charles de Lint etc.) sense of magic spilling into everyday life rather than the more recent (think Charlaine Harris) of sexy vampires and werewolves. It also is a collection of stories by a Malaysian author, and the tales are deeply steeped not only in Malaysian folklore but also in the languages of Malaysia – a very distinctive way of using English which is generously peppered with (presumably) Malaysian terms, not to mention all kinds of exotic foodstuffs. I was glad to be reading this on a Kindle, as that way I could at least easily look up the latter, but of course I did not get very far with the words from Malay that way; so be prepared to be puzzled a lot or have frequent recourse to the internet search engine of your choice.
From what I can tell, Frances Hardinge appears to be the spiritual successor of Diana Wynne Jones. Not that their books were even faintly alike in themselves, but their works are children’s books that are not only widely read but also almost universally – and enthusiastically – loved by adults. I’m not a great reader of children’s books (or even so-called Young Adult) myself, but once in a blue moon I do come across a writer whose charm I find irresistible. Apart from Wynne Jones, that has basically been Patricia Wrede (whose Enchanted Forest series I really should finish some day), and now I can add a third name to that list, namely Frances Hardinge.
This issue’s first story is once again part of a series, and like a previous instance of this, does not stand very well on its own. “For Lost Time” by Therese Arkenberg is even less independent than ““Sweet Death” in Issue #161 was – it is not episodic but reads like it was ripped out of the middle of an ongoing longer tale. That being said, I still thought that “For Lost Time” works better than “Sweet Death”, the reason for it being that Therese Arkenberg’s story relies very heavily on atmosphere (and is very deft at conjuring it), which makes it enjoyable to read even if one does not really get either the plot or the characters. Of course, the story will likely be better if it is read in context with the other parts, and I will be looking out for a sequel in future issues of the magazine.
“Day of the Dragonfly” by Raphael Ordoñez is a variation on the dragon slayer story, in a genre that one will probably have to call “Sword & Steampunk”. It’s competently written and does some fun things with Fantasy tropes, but I just could not warm up to it; for some reason the story’s individual elements just did not come together for me. But, seeing how I can’t even say why the story did not work for me, the fault lies very likely with me rather than the story.
After the twofold cliffhanger The Way Into Chaos ended on, I of course had to grab the second volume right away and dig into it. The Way Into Magic continues seamlessly where the previous volume left off – so much so, in fact, that it reads more than the second part of a single novel than the second novel in a trilogy.