Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 8 (Witches)

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Mid-way through this week’s reading, I found myself in a gloomy wood, dark and astray; Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell; It were no easy task, how savage and wild those stories, how weird and rough their events, Which to remember only, my dismay; Renews, in bitterness not far from death. But try I will, to recount I must.

Gingerbread homunculi, bombshells begging kindness, and bayou-crossed lovers. I piqued my ears to catch the whispers of the forest and wrested these stories from the ghoulish clutches of gnarly wood. Week 8 approaches on the flight of witches.

97814668207539. The Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo

There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls…or so the story goes. But it’s just possible that the danger may be a little bit closer to home. This story is a companion folk tale to Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel, Shadow and Bone.

The Witch of Duva is set in around the forested mountain town of Duva. The disappearance of nearly eight young women has thrown the village into a frenzy; rumors of lecherous conspiracy and cannibalism begin to infect the town. Nadya is a young girl who lives in Duva along with her father, mother, and older brother Maxim. When her mother dies from a wasting disease and hunger during a terrible famine, a woman named Karina Stoyanova begins to court Nadya’s now widowed father. Nadya suspects that Karina is behind the girls’ abduction and may in fact be a khitka, a spiteful bloodthirsty forest spirit who hunger for the flesh of newborns. For the khitka are capable of taking many forms, but the shape it favors most is that of a beautiful woman.

Leigh Bardugo’s Witch of Duva is an exquisite, grotesque, and captivatingly imagined short-story that draws from the generous influence of Russian folk-tales, recreating their cautionary atmosphere and imbuing them with grisly originality born from an astute contemporary self-conscience.

The extent to which (harhar) Bardugo illustrates through her words the cold isolation and stark desperation of the town of Duva goes a long way into convincing me to suspend my disbelief about the preternatural forces encircling it. With all the strange otherworldly happenings that surround this town, the story never lacks in casting suspicion on the townspeople themselves, acknowledging their capacity in becoming the greatest monsters of all.

You’ll think you how this story will go all the way up until three fourths of the way. Believe me, you don’t and you won’t. If you’re a fan of dark contemporary fairy-tales such as John Connolly’s ‘The Book of Lost Things’, you especially should give this story its due.

978146682679398. The Cairn in Slater Woods by Gina Rosati

Dylan has just moved to New Hampshire to live in a house his family has inherited from a great aunt he’s never met. There he meets his cousin, a bully who resents Dylan’s family, and a mysterious girl who claims she can lead him to buried treasure in the woods on the property. The key to helping the girl involves uncovering a dark family secret and righting the wrongs of the past.

  • Let’s just get this out of the way:
  • Is ‘The Cairn in Slater Woods‘ predictable? ✓ Yes.
  • Is it in enjoyable? ✓ Yes.
  • Should you read it? Read on and let’s find out…

The Cairn in Slater Woods is an enjoyable snapshot of adolescence coming-of-age, magic realism, and urban legend. The majority of characters are teenagers and as such they act as one could imagine teenagers (or ourselves) at that age. Some are bullies, others are meek, some are shy, others are brash and foolish. Dylan reacts as many teenagers would if put into his situation; he’s been taking from his warm and familiar home in Orlando to spend the last year of high school living in the family house of his departed Aunt Z in New Hampshire. He’s taciturn, hard to approach, and mopey save for in the company of a pretty girl. His cousin “Jimbeau” is an unapologetic ass, Teagan is kind and not-so-subtle love interest, and Vanessa, the “Anime Girl” with the strawberry-blond hair and schoolgirl uniform…well, the less said about her (or all them), the better.

Cairn’ is an intriguing fantasy-horror story that feels at home alongside the writings of R.L. Stine and early Dean Koontz. It’s mysterious, it’s fun, and thoroughly breezy and enjoyable overall. The cover art courtesy of Eric Fortune is an apt representation of the story and exquisitely rendered. If any of those things sound like your dish of choice, feel free to dig in. If not, wait on the next course.

978146683215244. Wild Things by A.M. Dellamonica

Ah, love. A many splendored thing. Here is a rather unusual love story, sweet and strange as could only happen in the post-magical reality of the Indigo Springs “event.”

Calla’s got herself a swamp man. And man, is he a piece of work.

“Instead of hair, he grew whisper-thin stems. Every morning we made a ritual of shaving his scalp, breaking those new-grown shoots. Once when time got away from us and they were left to grow a couple days, he broke out in catkins, a crown of fuzzy, pollen-laden locks of gold.”

She loves him anyway, and he loves her too. But there’s a problem. Aidan is an illegal immigrant.

a couple witches in Oregon had spilled (or unveiled or unleashed, depending on whose spin you were buying) magic into the U.S. Actual friggin’ magic, as June puts it: flying carpets, people wielding lightning bolts, monster fish in Puget Sound, the whole nine yards. Mount St. Helens erupted and terrorist wizards sank a U.S. aircraft carrier. The forest north of Portland overgrew and jammed up with trees—weird, enchanted, supertall trees—and monsters too.

But Canada was supposed to be mostly clean: the government had gone to the expense of posting signs at Burnaby Lake, promising it was safe.

….

Maybe we were all a little crazy now. Last Christmas our biggest problems had been climate change, the recession, and war in the Middle East. Now it was glowing rabid raccoons sneaking around Seattle, magic-wielding cults fighting the FBI, refugees, missing persons by the thousands, tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, quakes in the news every week, and people turning into animals.

Plus climate change, war, and an even worse recession.

Munere docendi cum eu, vim congue probatus repudiandae at, vel in vidisse tacimates. Sumo mundi eloquentiam nec ei, eum autem luptatum an. Eu eos autem splendide. Quis novum te sed, labitur meliore sea eu, odio possim expetendis mea ei. Te utinam tacimates gubergren sit, per an natum prima. Agam facer latine at sed.

See you next week, December 17!

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Illuminated Manuscripts: The Sandman Overture (1 of 6)

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I’ve been meaning to review Sandman: Overture, the highly-anticipated prequel to Neil Gaiman’s original magnum opus, for more than a month now, but seeing how the second issue of the series has been delayed by two months now, I can afford to be a little easier on myself. If Neil Gaiman can make mistakes, so can I! [Warning: Here be spoilers.]

The original 75 issue, 10 volume limited series of Sandman is a masterwork, one of many gems of illustrated storytelling/mythmaking produced by DC imprint Vertigo Comics during the early to mid-90’s. Few contemporary comics rival Sandman in either its ambitions or its achievements.

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Let’s Read The Tor Stories: Week 7 (Fairies)

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Long time no read, Dear Reader, but I’m back and I’ve got plenty of new posts to share! Just as the seasons have shifted, so too has the seventh week of the Tor Story Let’s Read metamorphosed into something entirely new and strange after a long hibernation. The former shape just might reveal itself some day, but now is for “new” and not for the “what might have been”. A reverend mediating the interests of two alien faiths, An artist wrestling with the ethics of Peter Pan, and clockwork pixies facilitating the canonization of lovers. In Week 7 of the Tor Stories, it’s all about belief.

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23. Shall We Gather by Alex Bledsoe

When one world brushes another, asking the right question can be magic…

Craig Chess is a Reverend who has worked for years to build a healthy congregation on the cusp of the Appalachian region. Late one night Chess is woken by Lula Mae Pennycuff, calling him on the behest of her father who is passing and wishes for the Reverend deliver his last rites. A typical duty, “All part of the job description”, with the exception of one vital detail. The people of Chess’ congregation have maintained a careful, mutually separate coexistence with the fairyfolk known as the Tufa. The Pennycuff’s are the only humans who live in “Cloud County”, the ancestral home of Tufa, with few outsiders allowed passage by the “First Daughters”, the inner circle of governing Tufa. But this occasion is special, not only for this but another reason.  Chess is approached with a request by one of the First Daughters, and what this request entails just might surprise the young Reverend.

Bledsoe purposefully and meticulously hangs the scenery of the premise within the first three-or-so pages of the story. It’s not a long story to begin with, but his pace in bringing readers up to speed with the going-on’s of the plot (what this community is, why things are the way they are, the role of faith and religion in the region, etc.) goes a long way in winning my attention and interest.  Chess is a relatable character, a Shepard of faith mediating his own conscious and internal questioning of faith, approached by forces outside his ken (and his faith) to probe a question on the mutual matters of life and death between the humans and the Tufa.

I liked the location, the broad gestures of implied relationships illustrating a rich past and enduring life for Chess after the events of this story. I liked the his goal and the outcome of pursuing, if not accomplising that goal. If I had to say anything in criticism, the ending felt a tad “flat” to me on my initial reading. But looking back on it now, I see it as one of those endings that grows upon consideration through the lens of hindsight.

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80. About Fairies by Pat Murphy

Some things happen whether or not you clap your hands.

Jennifer is a young artist who, , after a chance encounter with the absent-minded CEO of a major toy manufacturer, is hired on as a creative consultant for a new line of fairy-based toys. Jennifer is a avid enthusiast of the origins and myths surrounding fairies with an intimate knowledge of the macabre details of James Matthew Barrie’s original Peter Pan. The chance discovery of a mysterious mirror, repeated encounters with the taciturn Web developer Rocky, and the deathbed ramblings of her elderly father coalesce and bring Jennifer into a fledgling new understanding of life, death, belief, and strangeness in-between.

Murphy does an extraordinary job of coloring the strained, begrudgingly caring relationship that Jennifer has with her father. A widowed former archaeologist with a IQ high enough to be inducted into MENSA, now an embittered old man; coldly sarcastic and indiscriminately hostile. But she loves him, as much as a daughter could be expected to love such a person they call their father. I see their relationship, along with her analogous fascination with gruesome fairies, as the fulcrum for which the rest of the story pivots. I can’t be sure what entirely was “gained” or “lost” through this story, aside from her loved one, but I think that the value of it is in brewing maturation of her faith and her own sense of self-certainty.

Rocko is an interesting character; You can never really read him, and I think that’s the point. It’s heavily implied that he is something ‘other’ than what he at first appears, but it’s never conclusively “resolved”. And come to think of it, it’s not entirely that big of a deal. I like a little persistent mystery, it broadens the “life” of story and offers the reader an opportunity to participate. Something I wish more stories would do, something I think the best short stories do. And definitely something to learn from.

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94. Clockwork Fairies by Cat Rambo

Desiree feels the most at home with her clockwork creations, but Claude worries about all this science and Darwinist nonsense—after all, where do clockwork fairies fall in the Great Chain of Being?

Claude Stone is a brash and ambitious social-climber living in 19th Century, informally betrothed to one Desiree Southland, a mechanically savvy and mentally independent mulatto woman with a proclivity for building beautifully intricate clockwork automatons. Stone vies for Desiree’s hand in marriage and, despite the protests of her suffragist father, believes that the promise of her consent and dowery are all but assured. But when a mysterious Irishman enters the scene, Can Claude convince Desiree (and himself) of their compatibility?

Cat Rambo really knocked it out of the park with this one. Not only did I come out of this story adding a couple of choice, interestingly new words to my vocabulary (ex. nonpareil, verdigris, besotted, blacmange, etc.) but Rambo showcased her ability to gradually create an expository character that I grew to increasingly dislike over time, while still maintaining my desire to “empathize” with his perspective in order to pursue the rest of the plot, regardless of how disagreeable I find him. Claude is the epitome of Victorian sensibilities towards women, race, and women of minority race, ’nuff said. Desiree is a wonderful character, I love her inquisitive craftsmanship, her articulate self-awareness of being an independent free-thinking mulatto woman in an intensely patriarchal, unapologetically racist “high society”.

I loved the ending to this story. I take a particular pride in taking the particular strengths and weaknesses of a story and reducing them to broad yet descriptive suggestions, so as not to spoil them for prospective readers. I will say no more on the topic other than I highly recommend that you read this story for its adept descriptions of Victorian architecture and life warped ever-so-carefully through the fun-house mirror of speculative fiction/steam-punk.

See you later tonight, December 2nd!