Novella Review: Clay Tongue by Nicholas Conley

Clay Tongue: A NoveletteClay Tongue: A Novelette by Nicholas Conley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful modern day folktale as a girl explores the scary and wondrous world beyond her house in order to alleviate the family’s frustrations in the wake of her beloved grandfather’s stroke. He’s been left aphasic, and the stress of caring for him weighs on the girl’s mother. The tale builds on the Jewish lore of the golem, a clay-made servant that has the ability to grant wishes. Though, with a girl turning toward fantasy, albeit unknown potentially scary fantasy, in order to solve a family’s problems, one is reminded of a less-dark Pan’s Labyrinth.

The seed for young Katie’s adventure is planted when she secretly reads her grandfather’s notebook containing either a story he’s written or a journal entry he’s made. The tale is unfinished, but tells of a young married couple many decades ago moving into a house just like her grandfather’s house that she lives in with him and her parents. The house in the notebook is in her town. And the name of the young bride is Kate’s grandmother’s name. When the couple move into the house, they are told of a cave in the back forested part of the property which–legend holds–houses a golem made by the original owner of the house. The golem was created to grant one wish to each person who dared visit it.

Even with such ripe fodder for the imagination, Kate’s brave adventure amusingly cites other fantastical creatures. With a mysterious key in hand, she finds a cave in the forested back part of the property:

Right above her head was an iron lock with foreign characters cut into it. Katie knocked, waited for a moment, hoping that maybe a friendly troll or fairy might answer. No answer came–so if there was a troll on the other side, it wasn’t a nice one . . .

The cave rumbled, as if from a minor earthquake. Katie stopped, and a deep growling noise reverberated from deep inside the cavern–a low, guttural moan, as if a dragon had just awakened . . .

“I’m here,” she whispered to any friendly trolls that might hear her.

This tale is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Writers of the Future, Volume 33 edited by David Farland

Writers of the Future: Volume 33Writers of the Future: Volume 33 by Anne McCaffrey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This annual competition and anthology never fails to introduce emergent voices in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. The open-to-all format leads to a pleasantly wide diversity. The anthology also always includes a short story written by L. Ron Hubbard and a couple other guests writers. These were far less impressive than the contests winners–as usual.

Five stories stood out for me, all meriting 4 of 5 stars:
“Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson is a murder mystery set on a moonbase. When the detective is the only other person on the moon, things are interesting . . .
“The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza is a profoundly moving tale about a military man that merged his thoughts and memories with that of the AI in his mech suit. The blurred lines between human and android lead to interesting developments.
“Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker is a Lovecraftian tale of a centuries-old alien envoy to Earth plopped down in the Antarctic. After centuries of sitting there, the reasons for the visit remain elusive. But this trip is different . . .
“Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery conveys the generational gap and the loss of traditional lore through the metaphor of magic. The older generations know lots of magic, but the next knows very little and it’s increasingly useless. But yet, it’s no less endearing to share . . .
“The Magnificent Bhajan” by David VonAllmen depicts one man’s aging through his descent from being an able wizard to a mere illusionist living within his memories of former greatness. Pride, wisdom, and self-worth all tug at his grip on reality.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the included contest winners:
Atkins, Molly Elizabeth–“Obsidian Spire”–3 stars
Hildebrandt, Ziporah–“The Long Dizzy Down”–3 stars
Merilainen, Ville–“The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove”–3 stars
Roberts, Andrew L.–“Tears for Shülna”–3 stars
Dinjos, Walter–“The Woodcutters’ Deity”–2 stars
Hazlett, Sean–“Adramelech”–2 stars
Kagmi, C. L.–“The Drake Equation”–2 stars
Marley, Jake–“Acquisition”–2 stars
Rose, Anton–“A Glowing Heart”–2 stars

Also included are:
Hubbard, L. Ron–“The Devil’s Rescue”–3 stars
McCaffrey, Todd–“The Dragon Killer’s Daughter”–2 stars
Sawyer, Robert J.–“Gator”–2 stars

I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I previously enjoyed previous years’ Writers of the Future Volume 31 and Writers of the Future Volume 32 also edited by David Farland. Both of the previous anthologies rated 4 stars.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove” by Ville Merilainen

3 of 5 stars.

This is a fantastical folktale in which 3 sisters journey to the world tree in order to bring Spring back in a world of endless winter. They’re guided by a parable etched in stone along the journey that tells of a brave wolf, a clever fox and a little dove that journeyed through winter to the river of the Swan King. Wolf faced the Swan King who stood in the way of the verdant fields beyond. The fox came up with a plan. And the little dove found the acorn that brought forth Spring. But not before the wolf sacrificed herself for the plan to work.

The sisters try to follow the parable as a guide while avoiding the fate of the characters within the parable. They are also armed with the knowledge that their parents died trying to do the same thing. Rose [the wolf] was trained in the ways of the sword by her mother. The narrator [the fox] was trained in the ways of magic by her father. Lily [the dove] was born during the parents attempts to thaw the world tree. They sacrificed themselves so that she might live to try again.

The world tree is protected by wolves that seek to bring down all of the trios making pilgrimage to bring about Spring.

This tale works in its form as a fantastical short story. World building is minimal and narrow-focused. Character building is reduced to the narrowly defined parameters of the parable.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Dragon Killer’s Daughter” by Todd McCaffrey

2 of 5 stars.

This tale was created in the fashion of many writing prompts, in this case based on a still drawing of an armored man fighting a dragon. That’s not much to go on and leaves things wide open for interpretation. Unfortunately, the fantastical folk tale that emerges is thin on plot and lacking development.

Creatures called raksha prey on domestic farm animals driving the rural folk away. Dragons feed on raksha. Until, that is, there are too few to feed on and then dragons prey on humans. Again, driving the rural folk away. Dragons also hoard gold because of legend and folk lore. It’s some sort of innate draw to one random element or particularly shiny color.

When raksha infest a village and then a dragon comes to feed on the raksha, the villagers send word to the duke to get help. The duke sends his disposable 7th son. The son kills the dragon, but stays in the village. That’s all pre-history. The tale follows the young pre-teen dragonslayer’s daughter as she hears the tale of the dragon every year on her birthday. Questions about her absent mother remain unanswered until her 12th birthday. In the absence of the dragon, raksha have returned and devastated the land driving the villagers away. If only there was a dragon to drive the raksha away . . .

The daughter has a bizarre draw to gold . . . and the father knows that her 12th birthday is an important one because, this is a folktale and knowledge that 12 will be an important number can just be assumed without reason, or prophecy or precedent . . .

This tale was included in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Woodcutters’ Deity” by Walter Dinjos

2 of 5 stars.

Lying between folktale and myth, this Nigerian-based tale centers on supernatural royals and demi-gods exiled together. Two gods have disappeared and the ruling king and queen are dead. The four princes have been secluded until it is determined which has been divinely chosen to rule. The youngest of the four narrates and seems the most in tune to his surroundings, including to the presence of the missing nefarious goddess within the large tree on the grounds of the princes’ cabins.

Like folkloric trials, the young prince notices a series of 3 toxic animals [a scorpion, a snake and a spider] stalking his 3 brothers [one to each] under the power of the tree-trapped goddess. He stops each. The brother demands the almost offending animal killed. The youngest brother refuses, and then is stung or bitten by each before it disappears. The same pattern replays for each.

The youngest brother alone recognizes the innate cruelty in the older brothers. But also in the goddess. And in himself . . .

The tale doesn’t develop far beyond this series of events, nor does it truly get into the pre-history between the gods and parents. Also, the brothers are merely caricatures.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “A Glowing Heart” by Anton Rose

2 of 5 stars.

This original folk tale contains not only fantastical elements, as one would expect, but also a darkness reminiscent of non-Disney-fied Grimm’s tales. The narrator [the only developed character] is a young adult that must decide whether to do something brutal to an innocent and rare creature in order to save a human life. The weight of the equation is skewed by the sick adult being the mother of the narrator. The assumption that any human life ranks above non-human lives is implied, but taken to an elevated if not horrific level.

The creature in question is a rare and magical hawk with crystal feathers and a glowing heart. No parts of the bird will directly save a life. But the sale of its parts on the market, or possibly black market, will provide far more than enough money to pay for the mother’s needed medicine. The creature might be the last of its kind in the area, even. This moral argument is akin [if not exactly equal] to saying that it’s okay to slaughter an elephant for its tusks or a rare rhino for its horn knowing that one could sell its parts on the black market and thereby pay one’s medical bills.

While it’s clear the narrator wrestles with the idea, the subject could be explored to a much deeper level. It’s not the creature that’s saving the life, it’s the money. And yet the true economics aren’t contemplated.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Obsidian Spire” by Molly Elizabeth Atkins

3 of 5 stars.

Fairy tales and folk tales often present a bit of the fantastical or magical along with a quest and perhaps a suggested moral. Nuanced character development is usually lacking as tropes of heroes and nobles [usually unquestioned in their born privilege] come with a ready package. This tight tale is no exception.

An ancient ominous tower of obsidian looms over a small idyllic village. Then, rumors of threats coming from the long abandoned tower scares the peasants into inactivity. Young Lady Varga, daughter of the ruling Lord, assumes the quest of finding out the truth and perhaps dealing with any threats to the village therein. If only she can rise above her own privileged arrogance.

Only one person volunteers to lead Lady Varga into the woods and up the mountain to the obsidian tower, a scrappy young guy by the name of Fiske armed only with a fishing spear. [He’s the only other named character in the tale.] Lady Varga is not impressed with what she sees, but hasn’t much choice in guides.

No surprises lurk in this story, but a beast up the mountain is surprisingly original and almost sympathetic.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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