This anthology is a collection of short mostly speculative stories with tinges of sci-fi, fantasy, folktale and the supernatural. A few come from the same world in which a few individuals have the ability to fly. These are excerpts from the author’s unpublished novel. Many fall short of feeling fully developed, resting instead at vignette status. None stand far above or below the rest.
One commonality throughout the collection is Nigeria as a background, often with American narrators. The uneasy pairing of Nigerian and American interests and values is the greatest strength to the anthology.
The original Grim’s fairy tales, unlike their Americanized, Disney-ified versions, are dark and morbid tales. This novella taps right into that bizarre, macabre canon, even borrowing the known Pied Piper, to tell this tale of murdered and mutilated children, a power hungry ogress and magical races on the brink of extinction by genocide.
The hero of the tale is a morphing were-rat who’s in love with a were-swan, despite the cold, entitled royalty of the were-swans. The ogress-mayor of a nearby human village is using a legion of twenty children to hunt the were-swans and then the magic of a murdered child-turned-juniper tree to transforms the bones of the murdered swans into self-playing musical instruments.
And somehow, this convoluted premise works.
The hero-rat, his beloved swan who’s now the last of her people, a few mutilated kids that refused to play their role in the ogress’ machinations, and the rat’s friend The Pied Piper, scheme together to end the ritual of the ogress and to save the last swan.
Girl-Power, high fantasy comes to vivid realization under Roc Upchurch’s fun, compelling art in Wiebe’s graphic series Rat Queens. The Queens are an irreverent band of mercenaries dealing in death, mayhem and hedonism. With a bounty on their heads.
Betty, the shroom-popping drunken smidgeon [think: hobbit], is busy chasing women when not thieving and skulking. Dee, the atheist healer human, is the daughter of squid-worshiping zealots. Violet, the hipster battle-dwarf, seeks her own destiny despite her male twin’s best efforts. And, finally, Hannah, is the goth-elf mage with the heart of an S&M madame.
Money, vengeance and pleasure guide their lives in what proves to be a romp of a series.
This is the worthy conclusion to the Shattered Seas trilogy. While not rising to the level of the second in the series, this installment is very good nevertheless. The trend continues of new protagonists steering the plot, while the series’ previous protagonists take strong secondary positions.
War has spread across the land as the High King and his vast armies look to overtake the loosely allied and normally mutually hostile nations of Gettland, Vansterland, and Throvenland. Whereas, the previous protagonists all arose from the capital of Gettland, the book follows Skara the princess of Throvenland as she finds her life and country upended. The competing and chafing goals for each nation threaten to break the alliance at every turn. Princess Skara’s initial introduction parallels that of Prince Yarvi in the first book. But it’s soon made clear that Skara accepts the duty of the crown and the pressures of diplomacy while Yarvi took his cunning in a self-serving, scheming direction.
The primary theme to the book explores what makes for a good warrior and a good war. What makes hostility justifiable.
The secondary theme to the book explores duty and love. Skara struggles to find the balance between what she wants and romantically and the expectations of her role. Meanwhile, young Koll and Rin have become romantically involved with each other since their introduction in the second book. However, as Yarvi’s apprentice for the Ministry, Koll is expected to give up notions of marriage and romance. In both cases, no room for compromise is left open.
This highly imaginative fantasy novel develops in unexpected ways taking what seems to be a fairly typical quest by a ragtag quartet and wending the plot into depths from which there’s possibly no return. Both a strength and weakness to the novel is the original quest, saving the kingdom from invading monstrous arthropods, being so sidelined that resolution sits off the horizon. One can only assume that there are planned sequels. Or the entire quest was a red herring, which might yet be the case even with subsequent chapters in this saga.
The original quartet [mage and warrior brothers, a female slave, and warrior-priest religious zealot] are turned out of a kingdom’s prison to regain honor by clearing the land of a growing menace. Their back stories are left under-explored with the exception of the slave. Their quest sends them in the direction of the deadly valley of insects whence the scourge emerged. They also find themselves in areas influenced by two separate mysterious but powerful people: Xan the ranger and Ink the dark wizard. Between these two influences, the quartet ricochet pulling them further from their original quest.
These two titular characters, Xan and Ink, become the focus of the novel, if not the main characters. Again, this calls into question whether the quartet was also a red herring. Yet, these two characters remain enigmatic despite becoming focal. Their motives and histories never become clear to the page.
The great pleasure of the book is in rich, organic descriptions that verge on poetic.
Meanwhile, the depth of detail in erotic scenes worthy of smut zines is not for the prudish. Nor are they critical to the plot.
Journalists and photojournalists tell living stories, with one subset going so far as to embed in war zones and other areas of terror and strife. Sometimes, these journalists become the story . . .
After Nigerian rebels fight off American oil interests with acts of terror and sabotage, an American journalist and his camera person decide to embed to tell the rebels’ story. The leader of the rebels, Icon, is less welcoming and stands more interested in telling a story through the reporter rather than with the reporter. Under threat of being killed, the reporter is told to shoot a young boy in the head. . .
Reporters can only report what they understand. When one cannot understand or trust what one is witnessing because it seems to defy the laws of nature and physics, the entire story is broken . . .
This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
The mash-up of supernatural urban fantasy and detective noir works time and time again. For Chicago this means Harry Dresden. London has Bob Howard of Stross’ Equoid. Here, Pollack gives NYC a reality-bending, multiverse-traveling detective named Johnny Shade. His wife is dead [by a poltergeist] and his daughter trapped in the reality beyond. Johnny stays a half step ahead of doom and demise by a canny network of associates and lovers.
He’s oath-bound to accept any client with his card, which cannot be a good thing. Especially when his own self-created and later destroyed–or so he thought–doppelganger comes to hire Johnny Shade to “beat” the duplicate’s maker, ie Johnny himself. As the duplicate Johnny known as Johnny Rev tries to take substance from the realm of dreams, Shade turns to the help of his ex-lover the Dream Hunter who happens to be the illegitimate daughter of a formerly worshipped sun god and the Queen of Eyes [oracle of oracles] . . .
The layers of the history and worlds upon worlds tantalizes as around every corner lies another Johnny Shade anecdote or past lesson learned or lucked through. This tale is highly recommended.
This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.