A Bitter-Sweet Disagreement

100 Words of Speculation written over a background of fountain pen and printed text

Our tale begins in fair Verona. Where two families, Costi and Moretta, equal in iniquity, unite in discord. From ancient grounds froth new dispute, and uncivil words make civil hands unclean.

From two foes sprang forth our lovers, Julia and Romolo, fair of form and well-composed. For was ever thus that fine similarity does lead more to foul difference.

But they end not their lives with the feud. For youth heeds not parents’ consent and flights are cheap. And so our end is distant Winchester where our lovers dwell, uncaring whether coffee is served with biscotti or biscotti with coffee.

Game of Bones

100 Words of Speculation written over a background of fountain pen and printed text

“Preston Williams, your life is spent.”

That’s one realistic mask. Obviously, some new road safety campaign. “That’s not cool! Last thing I need is like a heart attack.”

Bony as fuck. Let’s see how committed they are. “If you’re Death, then you’ve got to let me play a game. Not chess. We’ll play Hide and Seek. You hide. If I find you, I win.”

“On one condition. My scythe is obvious enough you would find me easily; yet it cannot be left unattended.”

I take it and close my eyes.

When I open them, I know my duty.

Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat by Keith Fentonmiller

Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat by Keith FentonmillerWeaving a thread of the fantastical through the very real history of prejudice in mid-twentieth century Europe and America, Fentonmiller provides a compelling insight into some of the ways facing cruelty can turn a person cruel without allowing hope to be overwhelmed by the bleakness of concentration camps and race riots.

A Better World

100 Words of Speculation written over a background of fountain pen and printed text

The Akathi gave us unlimited clean energy. And then the murders started.

At first, no one connected them; one more death a week somewhere in the world. Then someone noticed the pattern: torn apart by nails and teeth; no attempt made to hide the body, but never any witnesses.

A few whispered about the Akathi. But we had no proof and each victim was depraved: rapists, abusers, murderers. So, we treated it as a price for our better world. Until the first video.

Ordinary people turning on a man and tearing him apart, then acting as if nothing had happened.

The Nightblade Epic, Volume One by Garrett Robinson

The Nightblade Epic, Volume One by Garrett RobinsonBlending the coming-of-age tropes of the classic quest with a more realistically imperfect world, Robinson creates an immediately accessible fantasy while avoiding a sense of pastiche or staleness. While this collection is closer to young adult than epic fantasy, it has the complexity to engage readers with greater experience of fantasy and life in general.

This book collects Nightblade, Mystic, and Darkfire (the first three books in the Robinson’s Underrealm series), along with a series of essays on the world.

Loren has lived her entire life in a small village. her only escape from her parents abuse are her fantasies of becoming the most famous thief in the world. Until a chance encounter with a fugitive wizard convinces her to make her dreams of heroism a reality – even if the wizard doesn’t want her help. However, the world is filled with people equally as cruel as her parents, but with much more significant goals than marrying their daughter for money and social station. Tangled in another plot before she even understands the one that drew her from her home, Loren discovers that neither thievery nor deeds to inspire legends are the clear and cheerful things the tales made them seem.

Taken at the highest level, this is the classic fantasy tale of a farm hand heading of in search of adventure, complete with the conflict between plain honest peasant-craft and complex political civilisation, noble thieves, and mysterious forces. However, Robinson does not limit himself to the safe discomforts and conflicts of the chosen one trope: the child abuse threaded through the narrative is realistic rather than fairytale; and the violence by many is casual rather than only the evil of the clearly bad or justified defence of the clearly good.

While each of the three books in this collection contains a complete arc, capable of standing on its own, it also leaves threads of the greater plot hanging for later instalments. As such, this box set will reduce reader frustration in addition to any saving over the individual parts.

Loren herself is equally a mix of classic fantasy and gritty realism. Her expectations of life are straight out of a fable: stealing from the deserving, having trusted companions, slipping unseen from shadow to shadow. However, the abuse she has suffered in childhood also manifests in a very plausible ambivalence to threats: she either capitulates without attempting opposition or refuses to accept weakness. Shifting along these two axes from scene to scene, she displays archetypal yet complex reactions, making her – at first – sympathetic if occasionally irritating character. As each betrayal, reversal, and victory, challenges Loren’s view of what is possible and right her responses become more complex. However, Robinson does not fall back on the classic trope of innocence becoming realism; while Loren’s principles bring her difficulties they also bring her strength and respect.

Despite the gritty realism of life as a youth in a feudal world, the plot also contains plenty of lighter moments where Loren’s mix of cunning and naïvety conflict with expectations.

The supporting cast show a similar blend of fantasy trope and nuanced character. Decent humane guards break the law not to avoid injustice but due to specific corruption. Motherly crime lords genuinely care for the cheeky ruffians who steal for them, but also possess decidedly unsavoury habits. Warriors tasked with defeating a genuine evil disagree over suitable methods and acceptable collateral damage.

Unlike some expansive fantasy series, these novels do not require an encyclopaedia or character list to understand. However, the collection does include four appendices containing selected history, timekeeping, fauna, and facsimile documents that explain or expand on events in the novels. As with the appendices to Lord of the Rings (a comparison Robinson actively seeks), these are likely to be of interest to only a subset of readers. However, unlike Tolkien’s offerings, they are pitched more at the lay reader than the academic making that subset the majority.

Overall, I enjoyed this collection greatly. I recommend it to readers looking for fantasy that balances depth with accessibility.

I have read earlier editions of each of the novels. I received a free copy from the publisher with a request for a fair review.

And Justice From All

To mark International Women’s Day, Google+ invited me to share a photograph of a woman who inspires me: I chose Her Honour Judge Brown.

Her Honour Judge Brown in formal robes
Her Honour Judge Brown

Not because there is something specific about Her Honour that inspires me, but because I found a photograph of her before I found one of one of the another female judge that I’ve appeared before.

Because that’s what inspires me: that there are enough immense intellects who’ve dedicated themselves to justice and equity who also happen to be female that I’ve appeared before too many to pick one on achievements alone.

So, pure alphabetic order wins it.

Friends

100 Words of Speculation written over a background of fountain pen and printed text

My mother always said I could be anything I wanted, so I became your friend.

Wasn’t easy, learning all the ways of being popular; the signs of just being better than ordinary people. Developing a sense for when cool was about to become dated.

But in the end, that wasn’t a burden. Getting to be close to you inspired me to keep going even when things seemed difficult; until it seemed natural to care more about the things you liked than the things I used to.

No, the hard part was getting her skin off without tearing any delicate areas.