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Bookends: One Night of the Innkeeper’s Tale December 31, 2018

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Bookends: One Night of the Innkeeper’s Tale

By Dan Davidson

May 16, 2018

– 950 words –

 

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind

DAW Books

722 pages

$11.99

 

“My name is Kvothe.” (pronounced like “quoth)

“I have stolen princesses back from the sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

“You may have heard of me.”

Indeed, the man called the Chronicler has heard of Kvothe, and has been trying to track him down to make some sense of the many and conflicting stories that are told about the man.

The last place he expected to find him, though some obscure signs did point him in that direction, was as the owner and barkeeper at the Waystone Inn, hiding in plain sight under the name of Kote.

We begin this tale at the inn, where locals are sitting around listening to the tales told by old men. Kote does his duty and seems unremarkable.

We move then to the road that leads to the village where the Chronicler has been set upon by thieves, who have robbed him of most of his worldly goods and his horse, thus making his journey more difficult. Not long after, one of those thieves, horribly mangled, staggers into the Waystone, followed by a type of metallic spider monster that needs killing and burning.

Later, Kote dispatches a number of these creatures out in the forest, saving the Chronicler in the process and more or less revealing himself to be something more than an innkeeper.

When the Chronicler, who seeks refuge at the inn, finally works up the nerve to demand his story, Kote, somewhat encouraged by his assistant, who turns out to be a alien, regardless of how he may appear, agrees to tell it to him. He stipulates that it must take three days, that the Chronicler must record it exactly as he speaks it, and nothing must be added or subtracted.

This book is the part of the tale that was told on the first day.

Kvothe was born to a troupe of travelling players, actors and musicians, and his life as such is recalled as being idyllic until the day that everyone except him is slaughtered by a group of beings called the Chandrian, about whom his father has made the mistake of collecting lore and weaving it into a song. During those early years Kvothe was tutored by a magician who instilled in him the desire to learn more of the arcane ways of the world, to attend the University, and to do things like learning the name of the wind.

Following the slaughter, Kvothe managed to stay alive, living first as a scavenger in the forest, and later in the city of Tarbean where he was one of the begging, thieving classes of children. In both cases, he acquired skills that would later serve him well.

Years passed, and he managed, by one means and another, to put together enough money to get him to Imre, the city where the University was. Here, his life moved from being one of Dickensian squalor to the narrative of a young man at magic school. It’s still a tough life, but nothing like his years living on the streets, and he has a series of small triumphs, not the least of which was bluffing his way into the University in the first place, displaying a breadth of knowledge and wit that he looked too young – was too young – to have acquired.

He made friends; he made some enemies; he pursued clandestine research into the nature of the beings who had killed his parents and extended family. He found the love of his life (that part, any way) and had an unusual relationship with her, one that eventually led to an adventure far from the University where, no matter how bad he felt about doing it, he had to kill a dragon.

Kvothe is not yet out of his teens at this point in the telling, and there is much left to be said, but the book does leave us in a comfortable place, anticipating more, but willing to wait.

The whole thing will be called The Kingkiller Chronicles, and the main narrative is supposed to take three books, one for each day of the telling.

Book one, the title of which refers to a type of magic, appeared in 2007 and is already considered special enough to have a deluxe, illustrated, 10 year anniversary edition. Book two, The Wise Man’s Fear, appeared in 2011. A small volume about one of the secondary characters, under 200 pages in length, called The Slow Regard of Silent Things, appeared in 2014. So far there’s no word on the progress of the third day’s narrative.

I have Day 2, but I’m reluctant to read it and then have to wait for the finale. George R.R. Martin has made us all reluctant to have to delay our gratification.

There is certainly an underlying base of fantasy in Rothfuss’ work, but it reminds me somewhat more of the writing of Guy Gavriel Kay, in which the fantasy elements are implied more often than they are explicit.

Rothfuss is, at any rate, the best new voice I have encountered for this sort of work in some time, and I look forward to reading more of his stories.

 

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Bookends: One Night of the Innkeeper’s Tale December 31, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: One Night of the Innkeeper’s Tale

By Dan Davidson

May 16, 2018

– 950 words –

 

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the WindDAW Books

722 pages

$11.99

 

“My name is Kvothe.” (pronounced like “quoth)

“I have stolen princesses back from the sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

“You may have heard of me.”

Indeed, the man called the Chronicler has heard of Kvothe, and has been trying to track him down to make some sense of the many and conflicting stories that are told about the man.

The last place he expected to find him, though some obscure signs did point him in that direction, was as the owner and barkeeper at the Waystone Inn, hiding in plain sight under the name of Kote.

We begin this tale at the inn, where locals are sitting around listening to the tales told by old men. Kote does his duty and seems unremarkable.

We move then to the road that leads to the village where the Chronicler has been set upon by thieves, who have robbed him of most of his worldly goods and his horse, thus making his journey more difficult. Not long after, one of those thieves, horribly mangled, staggers into the Waystone, followed by a type of metallic spider monster that needs killing and burning.

Later, Kote dispatches a number of these creatures out in the forest, saving the Chronicler in the process and more or less revealing himself to be something more than an innkeeper.

When the Chronicler, who seeks refuge at the inn, finally works up the nerve to demand his story, Kote, somewhat encouraged by his assistant, who turns out to be a alien, regardless of how he may appear, agrees to tell it to him. He stipulates that it must take three days, that the Chronicler must record it exactly as he speaks it, and nothing must be added or subtracted.

This book is the part of the tale that was told on the first day.

Kvothe was born to a troupe of travelling players, actors and musicians, and his life as such is recalled as being idyllic until the day that everyone except him is slaughtered by a group of beings called the Chandrian, about whom his father has made the mistake of collecting lore and weaving it into a song. During those early years Kvothe was tutored by a magician who instilled in him the desire to learn more of the arcane ways of the world, to attend the University, and to do things like learning the name of the wind.

Following the slaughter, Kvothe managed to stay alive, living first as a scavenger in the forest, and later in the city of Tarbean where he was one of the begging, thieving classes of children. In both cases, he acquired skills that would later serve him well.

Years passed, and he managed, by one means and another, to put together enough money to get him to Imre, the city where the University was. Here, his life moved from being one of Dickensian squalor to the narrative of a young man at magic school. It’s still a tough life, but nothing like his years living on the streets, and he has a series of small triumphs, not the least of which was bluffing his way into the University in the first place, displaying a breadth of knowledge and wit that he looked too young – was too young – to have acquired.

He made friends; he made some enemies; he pursued clandestine research into the nature of the beings who had killed his parents and extended family. He found the love of his life (that part, any way) and had an unusual relationship with her, one that eventually led to an adventure far from the University where, no matter how bad he felt about doing it, he had to kill a dragon.

Kvothe is not yet out of his teens at this point in the telling, and there is much left to be said, but the book does leave us in a comfortable place, anticipating more, but willing to wait.

The whole thing will be called The Kingkiller Chronicles, and the main narrative is supposed to take three books, one for each day of the telling.

Book one, the title of which refers to a type of magic, appeared in 2007 and is already considered special enough to have a deluxe, illustrated, 10 year anniversary edition. Book two, The Wise Man’s Fear, appeared in 2011. A small volume about one of the secondary characters, under 200 pages in length, called The Slow Regard of Silent Things, appeared in 2014. So far there’s no word on the progress of the third day’s narrative.

I have Day 2, but I’m reluctant to read it and then have to wait for the finale. George R.R. Martin has made us all reluctant to have to delay our gratification.

There is certainly an underlying base of fantasy in Rothfuss’ work, but it reminds me somewhat more of the writing of Guy Gavriel Kay, in which the fantasy elements are implied more often than they are explicit.

Rothfuss is, at any rate, the best new voice I have encountered for this sort of work in some time, and I look forward to reading more of his stories.

 

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Bookends: a fantastical collection of material December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: a fantastical collection of material

By Dan Davidson

April 11, 2018

Dreadful Young Ladies

– 615 words –

 

Dreadful Young Ladies and other stories

By Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Books

304 pages

$34.95

 

Kelly Barnhill ended this collection of eight short stories and one novella (115 pages) with an acknowledgements section that had one of the most heartfelt appreciations of the act of reading that I have seen in a long time.  Here it is.

“It should be noted that I am, always and forever, in a state of awe and gratitude for the fact that there are readers in the world. There is, at its center, something immutably miraculous about the substance and process of reading stories. We read because we hunger to know, to empathize, to feel, to connect, to laugh, to fear, to wonder, and to become, with each page, more than ourselves. To become creatures with souls.

“We read because it allows us, through force of mind, to hold hands, touch lives, speak as another speaks, listen as another listens, and feel as another feels. We read because we wish to journey forth together. There is, despite everything, a place for empathy and compassion and rumination, and just knowing that fact, for me, is an occasion for joy.

“That we still, in this frenetic and bombastic and self-centered age, have legions of people who can and do return to the quietness of the page, opening their minds and hearts, again and again, to the wild world and stuff of life, pinned into scenes and characters, sharp images and pretty sentences – well. It sure feels like a miracle doesn’t it? I thank you, readers, and I salute you. With an open heart and a curious mind, I, too, return to the page. Let us hold hands and journey forth.”

Barnhill, who is a past winner of the World Fantasy Award (for The Unlicensed Magician, the long piece in this collection) and the Newbery Medal for The Girl Who Drank the Moon). is probably better known for her books for younger readers. On her website she posts she is “a former teacher, former bartender, former waitress, former activist, former park ranger, former secretary, former janitor and former church-guitar-player.”

A lot of the stories in this collection are about relationships. There’s the widow who marries a sasquatch; a series of letters linking a narrative about a failed marriage; the story of a girl who fell in love with poetry; a tale of four dreadful young ladies; an adventure in taxidermy; an elegy to a persecuted and marvellous young woman; a fractured fairy tale with transformations; a debate between two scientists, neither of them quite normal; finally, the story of the magical girl that almost no one can see.

These are an odd bunch of stories. I’m left with the impression that the writer is playing with forms of story telling and trying different things to see how they work out. I found the longer works the most satisfying and liked the novella best of all.

Various reviewers have compared her work to that of Neil Gaiman and, reaching quite a ways back, to the late Ray Bradbury. I think both references are apt, as both writers, in their times and in different ways, tinker with the stuff of fantasy and faerie and make it their own, as she does. She doesn’t make references to any particular source material, but it lurks under the surface of all these works.

Her website, https://kellybarnhill.wordpress.com, is full of interesting musings not unlike the bit that I quoted so extensively at the beginning of this essay. Browsing among her blog posts makes me want to read more of her books, so I probably will.

 

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Bookends: A Shapeshifting Love Story December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends: A Shapeshifting Love Story

By Dan Davidson

March 27, 2018Medicine Road

– 836 words –

 

Medicine Road

By Charles de Lint

Illustrations by Charles Vess

Tachyon Publications

186 pages

$21.95

 

Since Ottawa based de Lint is himself a poet, songwriter, performer and folklorist as well as being the author of over 65 books, and the winner of the World Fantasy Award (among others), it’s no surprise that two of the central characters in this fantasy novel would be travelling musicians.

The Dillard twin sisters, Laurel and Bess, were introduced to readers in a book called Seven Wild Sisters, which, being a de Lint book, is not at all what the title sounds like it might be. It happens that this was their introduction to the world of faerie, so when some strange things happen in the present book, they’re not totally in shock, even though this series of events is quite different.

The story actually begins with two unhappy Native American spirits, Jim Changing Dog and Alice Corn Hair, who were originally a red dog and a jackalope. In some versions of Native mythology individuals can have both human and animal characteristics, with the ability to shift back and forth between forms.

Red Dog and Jackalope do not have this ability until it is granted to them by Coyote Woman (whose human, or “five fingered” form, is known as Corinna). She gives them a 100-year deadline to find their true loves, or have their shapeshifting ability revoked.

For Alice, this is not a problem. Years ago she found a human artist named Thomas and they have had a fine life together, though there is the strain of knowing that he is subject to mortal aging while she is not.

Jim, on the other hand, has never had a problem connecting with females. It’s just that nothing ever hit him like a ton of bricks until he met Laurel, and he only has a couple of weeks to establish a relationship, tell her who (or what) he really is, and see if she can accept him on those terms.

We already know, from the experience of a snake/woman named Ramona, that such acceptance can be difficult, and perhaps disappointing. Ramona, embittered by that failed relationship in her life, does her best to spoil the bonding between Jim and Laurel. But there are actually are no villains in this novel, which is essentially a love story; it’s just that sometimes people (and other beings) make mistakes and don’t behave as well as they should. Ideally, they learn better.

De Lint has used a lot of these ideas before, most especially in his urban fantasy books set in the city of Newford (which is a North American city that bears some resemblance to Ottawa). It’s also pretty common for him to move characters around from book to book, and some of the Newford people are referenced here, even though they don’t appear.

The Dillard sisters originate in the northern part of Appalachia but here they are touring as a bluegrass/traditional folk duo, doing a series of small pub and home routes style concert gigs in the American southwest. It is during one of these that they meet Jim, Alice and Corinna, and strange things begin to happen.

De Lint likes to use multiple points of view in his work. Bess’s and Laurel’s chapter segments are given to us as first person narratives, while all the other major characters (Alice, Jim and Ramona) are given to us in the third person. We see Corinna only though the eyes of the others.

In de Lint’s mystical cosmography there is a closer association between the various orders of creation than we are perhaps used to. Animals have a touch of humanity and people have links to the animals. It is Corinna’s special gift to be able to enhance that connection if there are certain qualities and a willingness to find that link in the individual.

A century ago she had seen that Red Dog and Jackalope could be more than predator and prey. With the Dillard twins she senses a connection to another form that would certainly never be revealed by checking Ancestry.com, or any of those DNA testing services. There is a need to bring out the deer in the girls if she is to be able to play cupid the way she intends to.

Accessing these changes involves a bit of interdimensional travel. There are realities beyond ours that shape shifters can visit, and various parts of this book take place in two of those higher planes.

In addition to the amount of detailed description in this book, it is graced with 16 illustrations by World Fantasy and Eisner Award winning artist Charles Vess.

Earlier editions of the author’s book bios mention that he spent some of his time in the Yukon when he was very young, as his father worked for a survey firm and they moved around a lot. More current versions just refer to Western Canada.

 

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Bookends: Magic Aids in Solving a Mystery December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Magic Aids in Solving a Mystery

By Dan Davidson

March 14, 2018

Ironfoot– 855 words –

 

Ironfoot

By

Night Shade Books

332 pages

$22.49

 

As Ironfootis something of a coming of age novel, there will be certain comparisons to the Harry Potter books as well as the Earthsea quartet of Ursula LeGuin, and perhaps Lev Grossman’s Magicians series.

That might be a little misleading. Although magic does play a definite role in this book, it is more reminiscent of Ellis Peters’ Cadfael medieval mystery series, particularly in that a murder mystery is the driving heart of the plot.

There is, however, a school of magic at the beginning of the tale, and young Durwin is sent there largely because his impoverished family doesn’t know what else to do with him. The year is 1164, and England is under Norman rule. The time period is about the same as in the Cadfael mysteries. Things have been unsettled and are really just beginning to get sorted to some form of stability.

Durwin is nicknamed Ironfoot –sort of a slur – as one of his legs is shorter than the other, the result of a childhood accident. Because of this, one of his boots has a built up iron sole to level him out a bit. He is very good with horses, being the son of a hostler, and so he is taken on as a student at the magic academy in Helmdon, where they allow him to pay his fees by tending the horses and the stable, where he also sleeps at night.

This begins when he is 14. It is not an easy life, as he is a Saxon amongst a school of upper class Normans. There are class issues and clashes, but on the whole he thrives in his studies and by the time we get seriously into the story, when he is 20 years old, he has become a sort of teacher’s aid, giving instruction to younger students in areas he has already mastered. Class snobbery sometimes makes this difficult, but he is actually a good teacher.

The magic in this historical fantasy world is somewhat acknowledged, although frowned upon, by the Christian Church, and has not yet been outlawed or persecuted. Indeed, King Harald has an Enchanter General in his court, a post to which it seems likely, from the way events progress, that our narrator may one day achieve.

The spells in this version of magic come from books called grimoires, which are largely hand copied and often full of errors, some of which are deliberate on the part of the secretive magicians. A good many of them need to be chanted, or sung, and many of them require more than one voice, most often two, with appropriate harmonies.

At this point in the projected trilogy, which is called The Enchanter General, Durwin is still a magician’s apprentice until events at the home town of one of his instructors causes him to be sent there with his teacher. Before the journey he is elevated to the overdue rank of Adept (which has been delayed by his status as a Saxon) and sent to travel with Sage Rolf. Along with them is sent Durwin’s least favorite person, a Norman student bigot named William.

It’s not an easy trip for William either, as Durwin’s promotion to Adept means that he is now William’s superior in rank, a reality which the troubled young nobleman can hardly stomach.

Arriving at Barton, they discover that the castle’s Sage has died under suspicious circumstances, and they are barely there a day before Rolf also succumbs, leaving Durwin as the ranking magician in the village. Through his knowledge of herbs and potions he determines conclusively, even to those who are skeptical, that murder has been committed in both cases, and his use of magic incantations enables him to discover that there is actually a third death which no one had noticed.

The other major plot strand in this book is the developing relationship between Durwin and William, which starts out as nothing but antagonistic, but slowly changes as the mystery gets deeper and the pair begin to bond in a cooperative effort to solve the puzzle, keep anyone else from getting killed, and protect each other. Since the King is about to arrive for a visit, this is a task that has some urgency attached. While this was a predictable development, it was still enjoyable to watch it happen.

There are two more novels projected in this series, and Duncan’s website reveals that both Trial by Treasonand Merlin Reduxhave been completed.

Born in Scotland, Dave Duncan has lived in Canada all his adult life and currently resides in Victoria, BC. He has been the author of 13 two to seven book series, as well as 16 standalone novels. He is best known for his work in the fantasy genre and is a founding member and honourary lifetime member of SF Canada as well as a member of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, where he was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2015.

 

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Bookends: What Happens After the End? December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: What Happens After the End?

By Dan Davidson

January 16, 2018

After Life

– 790 words –

 

 

Afterlife

By Marcus Sakey

Thomas & Mercer

302 pages

$22.95

 

We meet the villain of this piece on page 1. He is Edmund. It is the year 1532 and he is about to become so much more than the man he is when we first meet.

As the surviving sailor on a becalmed ship, Edmund finally makes it to land, where he dies. And then … he is in another place, an afterlife stranger than any that had been suggested to him by the church. There are creatures there, dangerous demons. He manages to kill one of them and is reborn as a result, reborn with the power to enter other beings, creatures or humans, and to begin to amass the power that will make him a major player in the various worlds that he is able to visit.

He feeds on pain and distress and has the means to cause a lot of it, possessing the bodies of still living creatures and people and bending them to do his bidding.

In the present day, a killer is stalking Chicago. The FBI’s Will Brody is one of many people trying to track down the killer. Brody is in a relationship with FBI agent Claire McCoy, the person who has had to be the face of the investigation for the television cameras. She is his superior, so they are not supposed to be together. We spend enough time with them to establish the depth of the relationship before Brody gets killed investigating a sighting of the killer, who has progressed from rifles to bombs, in a church.

And then he wakes up in another place, which looks just like the one where he died, facing a group of hard eyed persons with machetes who seem intent on killing him – again.  The ex-Marine takes some damage before he manages to dispose of one of his attackers. The others flee and Brody discovers that all his injuries have healed and he is suddenly a powerhouse.

He meets peaceful others just like him, also deceased before their natural time, those who have determined not to gain power by killing in this afterlife, and learns the rules of this shadow dimension.

They can survive there, walking among the haunts of the living without touching them, being seen, seeing or affecting them. Eventually they will fade and go … somewhere else … to some other level of the afterlife. But if they succumb to the urge to kill others, they will become addicted to the power transfer.

Meanwhile, back in our reality, Claire has managed to track down the killer, who seems to be an ordinary little man, until he blows himself and her up in his home and emerges from the dust, taller, stronger and whole. Just as she is whole.

She and Brody have both been having flashes of awareness of each other since his death, and his have led him to where she has confrontation with the being who has inhabited Simon Tucks. He arrives in time to save her from Edmund, but that’s just the beginning of a new adventure for both of them.

The evil dead have never been organized until Edmund arrives among them. His goal is to dominate this half-life dimension, and this threatens everyone else who is there. They have to find a way to overcome his power.

It falls to Claire and Will to find a way back to actual life, and then to work their way through the various dimensional levels until they achieve their aim of dealing with the being they originally pursued when they thought he was just an ordinary serial killer.

What starts out as a blend of police procedural and thriller turns into a metaphysical romp through layered dimensions in search of answers and solutions. How it is all resolved turns out to be a bit of a surprise, but it works.

Parts of this book reminded me very strongly of a graphic novel from the early 2000s called Midnight Nation, written by J. Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5 fame) and illustrated by Gary Frank.  There’s also a bit of What Dreams May Come(1978), a supernatural tour de force by Richard Matheson, which was made into a fairly trippy Academy Award winning film. starring Robin Williams, of the same name in 1998.

I don’t mention these to disparage Sakey’s work in any way. This book was a good read, and if you’d like something similar, these others will reward you. All are still available.

According to his website, both this book and a trilogy called Brilliance are due to be turned into movies. Should be interesting.

 

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Bookends: Three books with magical tales April 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Childen's, fantasy, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Three books with magical tales

By Dan Davidson

December 20, 2017

– 665 words –

 

Classic Storybook Fables

Classic Fables

Retold and Illustrated by Scott Gustafson

Artisan/Workman

84 pages

 

$19.95

 

This beautifully illustrated book is much larger that the average picture book and ha s much more complex text. In a note at the end, Gustafson cites the original sources for all eight of the tales he has chosen for this book, his fourth foray into this anthology style territory. In this case he read many versions of the stories and then retold them in his own style.

“The Ugly Duckling” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” were originally told by Hans Christian Andersen.

“Beauty and the Beast” was written by Gabrielle-Susanne Barbot de Villeneuve.

“The Crow and the Pitcher”, “The boy who Cried Wolf” and “The Mice in Council” are attributed to the storyteller we know as Aesop.

“The Little Red Hen” is said to be Russian in origin.

“The Boy Who Went to the North Wind” is from Scandinavia.

The fashion in children’s books these days is to be quire cartoony, and there’s nothing wring with that, but it’s nice to see a really well painted version once in awhile. Gustafson works in oils.

 

Magic in a Year

The Magic in a Year

Written by Frank Boylan

Illustrated by Sally Garland

Flowerpot Press

32 pages

 

$21.99

“Every year has months and seasons.

I love each for different reasons.

Turn the page and you will see

What makes each month special to me.”

Rhyming books are particularly fun for the 4 to 8 year olds that this book was written for, but can be fun for older kids as well.

 

Boylan’s rhymes take us through the year, with each double-page highlighting a new month. Garland’s illustrations, dome in a combination of acrylic paint and pencil, tweaked with a variety of digital tools, are lively and colourful, suited to the poems.

On the cover, Boylan credits Sara Coleridge for inspiration and her 1834 poe

m “The Garden Year” is reproduced on the final pages. Boylan has used the idea and the meter of the original poem in creating his text.

Ther author lives in Canada, though he was born in Ireland. The illustrator lives in Glasgow, making this book a very international creation.

 

Mr. Owliver’s Magic at the MuseumMr. Owliver copy

Written and illustrated by Carolyn Bracken

Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

32 pages

$21.90

Carolyn Bracken is perhaps best known for her artwork on the books in The Magic Schoolbus series of educational adventure books. Here, she undertakes the task of providing a children’s primer in art history.

Mr. Owliver is the night watchman at the Animaltown Art Museum and each night he wanders through the rooms, reacquainting himself with his “friends” the paintings. The fun of this is that all the paintings are animalized versions of real works, such as the “Mona Lizard” by Leonardo Da Vinci, “American Gothic” by Grant Woodchuck, and so on.

Sometimes it’s the name of the painting that has changed; sometimes it’s the name of the artist. At any rate, the person who used to be in the frame is now a different species.

The mystery in this little tale is that one night – the night of Mr. Owl’s birthday – all the characters in the paintings have vanished, and there is nothing left but their backdrops and settings.

I’ll leave it to you to learn where they eventually turn up, because I wasn’t to focus on the last four pages of the book, This is where Bracken credits all the works she has altered for her book, gives their names, who actually created them, and where they might be found. They are all staples in any standard art history book and, of course, could easily be found these days by typing their right names into a search engine.

Finally, the last two pages provide a basic art history timeline, from the 1500s to just before World War I.

It’s a great idea and it’s really well executed.

 

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Bookends: Tracking Reality back to the Source April 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Tracking Reality back to the Source

By Dan Davidson

December 13, 2017

– 718 words –

Savior's Game

By Sean Chercover

Thomas & Mercer

272 pages

$10.49

There are lots of disadvantages to coming in on the third volume of a trilogy. From the clues in this book, it appears that in The Trinity Game andThe Devil’s Game, Daniel Byrne, a former investigator for a secret Branch of the Vatican, in charge of authenticating miracles, has undergone a crisis of faith. After debunking 721 such events over a ten-year period, case number 722 turned out to be something different.

It involved Daniel’s uncle, an ecclesiastical con man named Tim Trinity who called himself a Reverend, and who suddenly began to manifest actual precognitive powers. Eventually these seem to be accounted for by a mysterious mental virus, which causes people to have visions and eventually become mad and catatonic. They call it the Plague.

This problem continues into book two, which introduces a couple of secret organizations. Daniel is recruited by the Foundation to work against the Council, which seems to have plans for world domination, but eventually decides to take matters into his own hands and eliminate the Council’s chief agent. Along the way, he began experiencing some of the symptoms of the Plague, beginning with what he believes to be auditory hallucinations.

Along with the doctor who had assisted him in the second book he drops out of sight, changes his name, and seeks to understand what might be happening to him. By the time we join the story in book three, he and his partner have had to separate to remain hidden, and Daniel has begun to have visions to go with the voices he has been hearing.

He learns, from his previous allies in the Foundation, that the Plague, which they have renamed AIT (Anomalous Information Transfer) is spreading, and that thousands have been infected, more each week.

Gaining some level of control over his visions, he finds himself able to visit what seems to be an alternate reality, one in which things seem to be more real than the reality he has always known. He meets the woman who goes with the voice he has been hearing and learns that this other place had been experiencing a population growth that matches the spread of AIT.

Visitors refer to the place as the Source. This used to be a friendly place, but lately it has come to be dominated by one individual, who has a vast amount of the “magical” energies (teleportation, other mental abilities, manifestation of objects and food, among other things) that every one seems to possess to some degree in this place.

This individual has used his abilities to create a massive tower, and seems to have enslaved most of the other visitors to the place, using their – I almost want to write “worship”, though that’s not quite the right term. They are in an addictive, meditative state.

This man has come to think of himself as a god-like being, and he intends to harness the power of AIT to extend his control from the Source into the real world, which he considers to be just a pale facsimile of the world he controls.

Daniel has to come up with ways to survive in both worlds, stop the AIT plague which threatens to overtake most of humanity, and stop a plot to plunge the world into a devastating conflict which will further the plans of the being who calls himself Noah.

From what I’ve written you’ll get the impression that this is an oddly shaped book, one which partakes of some features of the action thriller genre, while other parts seem more akin with something out of Dr. Strange. To some degree there’s a touch of the Matrix here, or that Christopher Nolan film, Inception.

From the Amazon.ca descriptions of the first two books (which I admit to mining for this review), I would venture that they have far less of the mumbo-jumbo/alternate reality flavour than does this final volume. If this whole story line intrigues you, might want to pick up used or Kindle editions of the first two books (available for around $2 each). I got enough out of book three to be content without doing that.

 

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Bookends: Beating back against the Apocalypse March 1, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Beating back against the Apocalypse

By Dan Davidson

Fuller MemorandumSeptember 11, 2017

– 749 words –

 

The Fuller Memorandum

By Charles Stross

Ace

320 pages

Kindle edition: $8.99

 

 

This is how Bob Howard warns us not to read this book.

“This is the story of how I lost my atheism, and why I wish I could regain it. This is the story of the people who lost their lives in an alien desert bathed by the hideous radiance of a dead sun, and the love that was lost and the terror that wakes me up in a cold sweat about once a week, clawing at the sheets with cramping fingers and drool on my chin. It’s why Mo and I aren’t living together right now, why my right arm doesn’t work properly, and why I’m toiling late into the night, trying to bury the smoking wreckage of my life beneath a heap of work.”

Bob, an agent name picked for its resemblance to the writer Robert E, Howard, creator of Conan, and member of the Lovecraft circle of American fantasy writers, is an agent in an arcane branch of the British Secret Service which is known as The Laundry. It deals in sorcery and magic or, as Bob prefers to term it, a branch of applied mathematics.

You don’t apply to join the Laundry; you get drafted (or killed) after you’ve accidentally almost done something very dangerous with numbers, generally (these days) involving the use of a computer, although such things have been done in the past without them.

Stross’s Laundry novels are what happens when eldritch fantasy of the Cthulhu type gets dumped into a literary blender with various sorts of spy/thriller fiction. Each one is a little different than the one before it, with the ghosts of assorted spy master authors from Green to Fleming and others lurking between the lines. In addition there’s always a healthy dose of bureaucratic spoofing of the “Yes Minister” or Farley Mowat (the first chapters of Never Cry Wolf) variety.

As a 21st century sort of magician, Bob carries a loaded PDA around with him instead of a grimoire, with incantations pre-inscribed and ready to cast at the push of a button. About midway through he has to replace it and trades up for a tremendously amusing spoof of a certain Apple product. At the office, he’s sort of the local IT expert, but he’s also a field agent, as is his wife, Mo.

While Bob is more of a traditional magic user, Mo is bonded to a particularly powerful demon that appears in our reality as a bone white violin. When she plays it, with bleeding fingers, spells are cast and, generally, nasty people die.

This book is partly about what happens when Mo’s work follows her home. She’s been on an assignment. Imagine something like Israel taking out an Iranian nuclear facility, only make it an attempt to breach the protective walls that are keeping some proto-nasty beings from crossing over into our dimension. They used to rule here, and they’d like to come back. Mo put an end to that, but the human agency working with them decides to take its revenge back in London.

It doesn’t work, but the implications are bad. To get to Bob and Mo and pass the wards around their home implies inside knowledge, which means the Laundry has been infiltrated – again. On top of this, Angleton, Bob’s top boss and the head of the agency, vanishes, after sending Bob off on a routine sounding investigation that turns out to be anything but.

As a result, an apparently innocent human being is killed in an eldritch burst of power. Bob is held responsible for this and placed on kind of administrative leave, pending a review of his actions – kind of like a police officer being investigated for having discharged a firearm.

This leads Bob to the question of the existence of a document called the Fuller Memorandum, which outlines how a extremely powerful entity, with the lovely name of The Eater of Souls, was bound into symbiosis with a human agent, and how, if the bad guys in this story manage to gain control of this being, they could invite all the elder gods to come and sample the buffet on planet earth.

Bob’s job – on leave pending an Audit or not – is to figure out just what the ungodly have in mind and prevent it from happening. It is a tale with many twists and turns, no small amount of sarcastic humour, and moments of both sheer terror and tenderness. I highly recommend the series.

 

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Bookends: The tale of the Immortal Man February 17, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Whitehorse Star.
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Man of LegendsBookends: The tale of the Immortal Man

By Dan Davidson

September 5, 2017

– 824 words –

 

The Man of Legends

By Kenneth Johnson

47 North (Amazon)

413 pages

$21.95

This story begins with a batch of seemingly random encounters. A number of quite different people, with an assortment of different personal issues, are approached by a man who makes a suggestion to them or nudges them in a specific direction, and when they follow his urging they find that it makes a positive difference in their lives.

The man is named Will or, at least, that’s one of the many names he has used during his extended lifespan. He appears to be about 33 years of age, and has seemed to be that old since about 33 AD. There are various legends about immortal men that are linked to that date. They are always connected to the crucifixion of Christ. One is the story of the Wandering Jew. Another is linked to the Roman soldier who stabbed Jesus with spear while he was hanging on the cross, in order to check whether or not he had died. In both cases the men are said to be cursed to live until the Second Coming.

The character who becomes Will is not either of these fellows, but has been similarly afflicted due to something he did to Jesus while Christ was carrying his cross along that uphill climb to Calvary. We don’t learn what this was right away.

Will’s curse has been tampered with by another agency, a former angel who also goes by a variety of names. Will can only stay in one place for three days at a time before he experiences extreme pain and must move a fixed distance away. Further, once he has been in a particular place, somewhat more than three centuries must pass before he can be there again.

This curse has caused him to lose everyone he has ever loved. He saw his original family grow old and die. All of his important friendships must, of necessity, be ephemeral in nature. This is a bit of a plot problem, for we are asked to believe that he has been an important factor in the lives of a number of significant historical personages over the centuries, and it would have been hard for him to sustain any long term relationships for the length of time needed to form strong relationships.

The three day factor also applies to his health. Early on, when the full import of what had happened to him began to sink in, he attempted suicide a number of times. He failed. His body repairs itself from any sort of damage within three days.

Twice in his long life he has lived in hope of his time coming to an end. The first time was at the end of the first millennium AD, which some texts had prophesied would mark Christ’s return. The second time is where we pick up the story, approaching the end of the year 2000, and the real beginning of the 21st century in 2001.

It’s New Year’s weekend when an aspiring journalist named Jillian Guthrie, who is working for one of those tabloid supermarket “papers” while looking for a way out, discovers a series of pictures while putting together a spread for her paper. The same man, looking the same age, stands alongside Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, and Gandhi in three different photographs spanning eighty-five years of history. More to the point, she has recently seen this man in the flesh. She persuades a colleague to help her track down this mystery man.

At about the same time, Will is busy saving some people from a burning building. He is horribly burned himself and becomes a news story. Jillian recognizes his face in the newscasts and haunts the hospital where he has been taken.

Not far away is the dapper young man who has often turned up in Will’s travels over he centuries – his original name usually rendered in English as Lucifer Morningstar.

Also nearby is an agent of the Vatican, tasked with a generations old task of tracking down the nameless immortal whose existence is so perplexing and perhaps troubling to the Roman Catholic Church.

Finally, there is Hannah, an elderly former UN Envoy with whom Will had enjoyed his last romance many decades earlier, from whom he had to flee the last time that Vatican agents got this close to him.

We learn a lot of Will’s personal story while he is slipping in and out of delirium in the hospital. Some we get from the Vatican agent, some more from Hannah.

The story builds to a climax of supernatural proportions, in which many of the bit players we met at the beginning of the book play a significant role.

Quite often fantasies of this nature don’t take matters of good and evil seriously. This book was refreshing in that it did.

 

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