RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: December 2016

“Witches of Lychford” and “The Lost Child of Lychford” by Paul Cornell

Paul Cornell is one of only two people to be nominated for a Hugo Award for prose, television, and comics. His Shadow Police series follows a unit of London police officers who are gifted (or cursed?) with the ability to see magical creatures and effects. Two recent novellas, Witches of Lychford and The Lost Child of Lychford, take the reader to a more rural setting: the small English town of Lychford. The village is located at a place where the barriers between worlds are thin, and the very shape of Lychford ensures that those barriers don’t collapse entirely.

Witches of Lychford introduces us to the town of Lychford and to the three main characters: Judith, an older woman who has known about Lychford’s magical significance for a long time; Autumn, whose rationalism is challenged when she falls in love with one of the Fair Folk; and Lizzie, whose struggle with her faith gets a lot more complicated when she discovers the existence of magic. Each one is shown as a fully-realized character with her own goals and problems. This story also introduces the reader to the way magic works in this setting, but does so in a way that doesn’t detract from the plot.

In The Lost Child of Lychford, we see the continuation of two plotlines that were introduced in Witches but not completely resolved: Lizzie’s crisis of faith and a mysterious apparition that’s been haunting Judith. We’re also presented with a ghost-child who seems to be trying to warn the main characters about some impending catastrophe. Once again, the three-dimensional characterization of Lizzie, Autumn, and Judith helps the reader to care about what happens to them. This story also expands the setting, hinting at stranger—and more terrifying—alternate realities than those we’ve seen before.

Both novellas are fairly quick reads, but despite that, they provide interesting and engaging stories. Hopefully there are more Lychford tales in Cornell’s future.

“The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe” by Kij Johnson

I enjoyed Kij Johnson’s short story collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees, and I love H.P. Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle stories, particularly The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, so Johnson’s novella set in Lovecraft’s Dreamlands was a must-read for me. The main character in this piece is Vellitt Boe, a teacher at Ulthar Women’s College. Boe was a traveler in her younger days, and must call on those skills again when a precocious student of hers sets out for the waking world with a dreamer.

In the original Kadath, the Dreamlands have a native population of their own, who live and die within that dream-world. Johnson’s story fleshes out the geography and culture of the Dreamlands, strengthening this sense of an existence independent of human dreamers.

As one might expect, there are some direct parallels with the original Kadath. As she’s leaving Ulthar to start her quest, Boe is joined by a small black kitten, much like the one that Randolph Carter befriends when he visits Ulthar. And like Carter, Boe travels with the ghouls for a time and has an acrimonious encounter with the zoogs. But unlike Carter, Boe is a native citizen of the Dreamlands, and as such, is invested in the world and its people in a way that Carter isn’t. Her perspective on the Dreamlands is a very different one, and that brings a freshness to the story. I liked this book and will look forward to reading more from Johnson.

“Night Music: Nocturnes Volume 2” by John Connolly

Although he’s best known for his detective/crime novels, John Connolly has also made his mark in the speculative fiction world with The Book of Lost Things and The Gates. In 2005, he branched out further, writing a collection of short stories called Nocturnes. Most of the pieces in that collection were excellent, so I was excited to learn that Connolly had put together another one, Night Music: Nocturnes Vol. 2.

While this anthology has a definite slant towards dark fantasy and horror, the tone and style of the stories varies. Two of the longer stories, “The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository” and “The Fractured Atlas: Five Fragments,” share a theme about the love of books, but come at it from very different angles. In “Caxton,” a recently retired bibliophile encounters a manifestation of a character from a famous novel, which leads him to the titular institution. While the event that initiates the plot is an emotionally distressing one for the main character, the story ends on a light-hearted note. “Atlas,” by contrast, is a story in the same vein as much of H.P. Lovecraft’s work. One of the strengths of this piece is characterization: each of the five sections focuses on a different character, and all have fully realized personalities.

“The Children of Dr. Lyall” is one of the most atmospherically creepy stories I’ve read in a long time. During the London Blitz, a pair of burglars who steal from destroyed or abandoned homes get more than they bargained for when they end up robbing a haunted house.

“Razorshins” at first appears to simply be looking at the flip side of the coin from Connolly’s crime novels: instead of an investigator, it focuses on a group of bootleggers during Prohibition. But there’s more going on here, and not every backwoods legend is just a legend. The characterization in this piece was very well-done, making it one of my favorites in the collection.

Fans of The Book of Lost Things may be happy to know that one of the stories in Night Music, “The Hollow King,” is set in that world.

Overall, this is a worthy successor to Connolly’s first collection. Here’s hoping for a Nocturnes, Vol. 3 sometime in the future.