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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Novel Review: Metronome by Oliver Langmead

MetronomeMetronome by Oliver Langmead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s fantasy–and then there’s fantastical. Metronome takes the reader and the narrator on a fantastical journey worthy of a Miyazaki film. Elderly Scotsman, Manderlay, once was a celebrated violinist and avid sailor. Now, he bides his time breaking rules at the retirement home, until his increasingly vivid dreams sweep him away to the fantastical world where all dreams come together.

Amid memories of his deceased wife and of his former musical glory, Manderlay sets off on an adventure through stunning towered cities forever bathed in light, to dark shadowed places always under the moon. Aboard the clockwork flying ship, Metronome Manderlay and his odd companions of a nightmare, a nightmare hunter and an insane pirate captain set off for the eye of the storm always churning at the edge of the world of dreams. Their only map is the music of Manderlay’s last album . . .

Others have learned how to manipulate their shared dream so as to create magic in the world. Manderlay wants to do the same, and fights the inclination to awaken into his elderly limited world again.

The writing creates a beautiful, wondrous landscape leading to a meandering pseudo-ending that won’t satisfy all as it doesn’t feel the need to justify and situate its Neverland/Wonderland/Oz/Narnia.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the publisher, Unsung Stories, 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 Magnificent Bhajan” by David VonAllmen

4 of 5 stars.

The heart of many humans lives gone astray is succinctly depicted in this short tale of nostalgia, pride, illusion, wisdom and self-worth. A quartet of characters embody different ratios of these elements in a beautiful metaphor for the aging process. One can embrace where one is in life while honoring one’s past self, or one can flounder in the memories of better, more able times losing the grasp of what can accomplish today.

40 years ago, Bhajan was the very talented court magician for the maharaja. Really, he was more wizard than magician, then. In this position, he uncovered an assassination plot by Ranjeet the Usurper, but he revealed it publicly, embarrassing the maharaja. Ranjeet was banished to the desert to die. Bhajan was turned out from the court.

Now, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the coronation of the maharaja, Bhajan returns to audition for a place in the festival. With age his magics have dwindled to mere illusions. But he savors these illusions as remnants of his better days and takes a drug to immerse himself in them. His illusions are not enough to invite him into the festivities.

He also thinks he’s uncovered a plot by the somehow still alive Ranjeet to finish what he attempted 40 years ago. Who would trust a drug-addled illusionist once publicly shamed? He turns to the wise maharani, wife of the maharaja, with his concerns . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Blood Rites [The Dresden Files, #6] by Jim Butcher

Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6)Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The modern day Chicago wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, throws himself headlong, as he is wont to do, into yet another deadly situation making himself the target for multiple supernatural nasties. The brilliance of this series doesn’t reside in the details of the individual cases but in the continual development and enrichment of both the urban fantasy world and in the abilities, mindset, and personal connections of protagonist Harry Dresden.

When the series started, Harry was a loner running half-afoul of the law and the ruling wizarding counsels. He quickly added Karren Murphy of the Chicago PD to his friends list as they investigated supernatural crimes that found their way into non-supernatural awareness. Other cases, but still including the increasingly less skeptical Murphy, took place entirely in the realm of the Fae or the war between the wizards and the vampires.

This installment manages many things for the series. It opens the closed book on orphaned Harry’s family. His mother’s history comes to tantalizing light. A half-sibling emerges from the ether. And seriously concerning enlightenment is cast upon Harry’s foster-parentage. This is very welcome development.

Also, the world of the vampires along with the cultures and politics gets blown open in unexpected ways. While previously established that the 3 “courts” of vampires are very culturally different, here it’s seen that they are unrelated species barely tolerating each other. This case revolves around the lust-feeding, emotion-devouring foppish White Court vamps. They may not touch blood, and they don’t, but they are no less toxic. Making them major players in the world of porn production is just plain fun–no need to stalk prey if they’ll come willingly to you . . .

I’ve previously read the following Dresden books and stories:
     Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
     Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
     Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
     Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)–4 stars
     Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5)–4 stars
     “Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars
     “Love Hurts” (The Dresden Files, #11.5)–5 stars

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery

4 of 5 stars.

Family is complicated. Small towns that emulate an extended family can also be complicated. Not everyone expresses themselves well nor in a manner compatible with how others would wish to be treated. Nor are peoples’ talents and interests the same throughout the group. But it can also be those same differences that make the relationship or family or small town more interesting.

John’s dad knew quite a few magic spells. None were overly practical, but they could prove entertaining at times. Especially if he wasn’t trying so hard. His dad wasn’t known for expressing himself well or being overly nice. He was also overtly disappointed that each of his children could perform exactly 1 magic spell. One could make flowers grow. One could change the temperature by a few degrees. And one could make a quiet bubble of a few feet diameter.

Others magic families found the same things–the next generation could only master a single random spell. The second generation could do none-of-the-above.

What a beautiful metaphor for the many changes between the generations and the transition from rural America to modern urbanized America . . .

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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