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Monthly Archives: June 2016

“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

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Naomi Novik, author of the fantasy/alternate history Temeraire series, has branched out into another subgenre of fantasy with her most recent novel, Uprooted. It starts like a classic fairy tale: a peasant girl named Agnieszka is sent to work as a household servant for the local lord, who also happens to be a powerful wizard. Over time, she becomes his apprentice, and must find unknown reserves of talent and courage within herself when strange creatures from a malevolent forest threaten her home village. But the book goes beyond that fairy tale framework to prevent a story with complexity and depth.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Uprooted was the setting. Most fantasy novels present a world that bears strong resemblances to medieval Western Europe, but while the world of Uprooted is medieval, it has more of an Eastern European flavor. The names of the characters, the kinds of clothing they wear, and the foods they eat, all reinforce this aspect of the setting. The names of the two major countries in the region are Polnya and Rosya—close enough to Poland and Russia that I wondered whether this book is meant to be compatible with the Temeraire series (though it seems to take place in an earlier historical period).

I also appreciated the way Agnieszka’s magic is described. Her form of magic is more instinctive and fluid than the regimented system used by most other wizards. She consistently sets her incantations to songs—lullabies, work songs, and songs that are used to pass on traditional stories.

As far as plot goes, Uprooted was engrossing. I was continually wanting to turn the next page to find out what happened next. I found myself speculating about what the characters would do, what the nature of the mysterious intelligence behind the Wood was, and so on.

The one quibble I had with this book is that Novik sometimes overused the same few words to describe characters. “Hard,” for example, is often used to describe the faces of a couple of characters, and while it’s a fitting word for the circumstances, it’s repeated often enough to become tedious. The same is true for using the word “panting” to describe a character who’s become exhausted by physical or magical exertion. This is a relatively minor nitpick, however. Overall, this is probably my favorite of the books I’ve read so far this year.

“The Second Snowball” by Nina Shepardson published in Bitterzoet Magazine

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Most of my writing is speculative fiction, but I do occasionally write literary fiction. One such story, “The Second Snowball,” has been published in Bitterzoet Magazine. You can read it here.

“A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos” by S.T. Joshi (editor)

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This anthology, put together by weird fiction scholar S.T. Joshi, includes 23 stories that draw on the entities and themes of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. The stories span seventy years, with one (Mearle Prout’s “The House of the Worm”) having been written during Lovecraft’s lifetime.

With “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” being one of Lovecraft’s most iconic tales, it’s not surprising that many of the stories in this anthology take place in coastal settings. “The Spawn of the Green Abyss” has many direct parallels with “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” but the author brings enough of his own sensibilities to it that it doesn’t feel like a mere imitation. The much more recent story “Virgin’s Island” was one of my favorites in the collection because of how masterfully it handles the slow but steady buildup of dread until the climax is finally reached.

One thing I particularly appreciated is that some of the pieces included here draw on Lovecraft’s lesser-known stories for their inspiration. “Mobymart After Midnight,” for example, could be considered a direct sequel to “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” while “The Man with the Horn” borrows thematic elements from “The Music of Erich Zann.”

Lovecraft spent his whole life in New England, and consequently set most of his stories there. Another theme of this anthology is setting stories that mirror Lovecraft’s themes in locations that are geographically far removed from most of his work. “Where Yidhra Walks,” for instance, takes place in Texas, while the events of “Sigma Octantis” occur in South America. This diversity of setting helped to keep the stories fresh and interesting. And in some ways, it also presents its own theme that is entirely consistent with the “cosmic horror” Lovecraft’s oeuvre is known for: no matter where you go, you can’t escape the Great Old Ones. Regardless of where “here” is for you, they were here first.

The one story that felt out of place in the collection was “The Wreck of the Aurora.” Not because it was a bad story, but because it didn’t seem to fit in an anthology of Lovecraftian pieces. It does involve a person going insane, and it takes place on a desolate island…but that’s about it. There isn’t really any suggestion of the supernatural, and we don’t find out why the main character’s father went insane and did a certain thing that he did.

Aside from that one flaw, this is an excellent anthology that presents a widely-varied set of stories tied together by common themes. Fans of Lovecraft’s work will definitely enjoy most of these.

“To the Waters and the Wild” by Nina Shepardson published in The Fable Online

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My short story “To the Waters and the Wild” has been published in Issue 16 of The Fable Online. At around 5,000 words, this is one of my longer pieces. You can read it here. The general website for The Fable Online (where you can find the previous 15 issues) is here.