Fantasy

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Belfast has a bright new star in writer Laurence Donaghy, whose Folk’d trilogy (Folk’d, Folk’d Up, and Completely Folk’d) is creative, gloriously weird, and irreverently funny.

Folk'd by Laurence Donaghy

Book 1: Folk’d

Laurence Donaghy’s Folk’d trilogy riffs off the old myths of the Tuatha dé Danann and transports us to modern Belfast, where Danny Morrigan has got his girlfriend Ellie pregnant, and together they are struggling to keep mind and body together as they deal with being new parents before they even took one step on the career track.

If you have any notion of the legends of the Tuatha dé, you know the Morrigan is the goddess of war, and you assume Danny’s name will turn out to be more than mere coincidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Celtic scholar Juliene Osborne-McKnight’s novel Song of Ireland is a very enjoyable dramatization of the arrival of the Celts in Ireland and their clash with the Tuatha de Danaan.

Book Review: Song of Ireland by Juilene Osborne- McKnight

Song of Ireland by Juilene Osborne-McKnight (paperback, Tor)

To start off, Osborne-McKnight does a wonderful job of drawing the ancient Celts as a people with a nomadic spirit, moving around Europe and as far as Egypt as mercenaries, attracting respect and riches wherever they went. The life of Amergin, son of warrior king Mil, is vivid and she gives a real sense of their beliefs, social, and religious structure. As a founding myth, the idea of the Irish being fundamentally nomadic in our core puts a more positive spin on decades of emigration, and is a valid reading of our history.  Read the rest of this entry »

And in the Indies Choice YA category, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book overcame Cory Doctorow’s excellent Little Brother. Here’s how I handsell The Graveyard Book:

In this colorful tale — essentially a reworking of  The Jungle Book — a young boy is  raised by ghosts in a graveyard. As he grows, he discovers that certain ghost skills (like invisibility and haunting) are very useful in the real world, while others can be unhelpful. The Graveyard Book is one of the most-inventive novels of the year, a picturesque coming of age story that will appeal to both imaginative children and their parents.

Links

In case the endorsement of knowledgeable booksellers from all over the US wasn’t enough, The Graveyard Book was recently awarded this year’s Newberry Medal by the American Library Association.

With the awesome news that the wonderful Kelley Eskridge (author of the novel Solitaire) has a novella nominated for the Nebula Award, I dug through the hard drive to find a short review I wrote about her excellent collection of short stories, Dangerous Space, a year ago — the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted it in the header graphic above. It turned out to be very short, so I picked up the book, reread the brilliant “Dangerous Space,” and wrote a longer review.

The opening line that I wrote last year is still true: this is the best collection of short stories I’ve read in forever. Cutting edge in every sense, Eskridge mines the raw edges of emotion — love, lust, and fear — and places her characters in settings just a little bit different to our own — the near future, the recent past, or the slightly fantastical. It’s odd that I respond to a collection of short stories, because I usually find the form disappointing: just when I’m getting to like a character or understand their world the story is over. But the fault lies with me, not short story writers: I guess I’m simply a story fan, and shorts generally don’t have enough story to keep me happy.

This isn’t the problem in Kelley Eskridge’s fiction. It’s quickly apparent that she knows the minutia of each milieu she depicts in incredible detail. After reading stories like “Strings” and “Dangerous Space” I am impressed by her knowledge of music, both the specialized vocabulary of the aficionado, but also the technical knowledge of a professional sound engineer. Eskridge may be neither of those things, but she completely convinces the reader that her characters are, and makes the world they inhabit fully real and vivid. Like her partner Nicola Griffith, Eskridge understands violence at a bone-deep level, the casual, understated violence of conversation, the accepted institutional violence of office politics, as well as the thin line between pleasure and pain often present in physical violence.

Nebula–nominated “Dangerous Space” concerns the romantic entanglement of Mars, an in-demand sound engineer and music producer making her way in the sexist music business. [Edit: it turns out the question of Mars’ gender is entirely up for grabs – see comments. You can make a case for the character being male or female, which makes the story all the more amazing. I’m sticking with my initial, gender-biased response because the comments would make no sense if I changed it;-)] Mars is highly competent and very successful, able to pick and choose the bands she produces. She agrees to work with Noir, an up-and-coming rock band fronted by a charismatic lead singer. While Mars isn’t willing to be another notch on his bedpost, she feels that the process of making music with him is as intimate as anything they might get up to in the sack. The sexual tension in the story is stretched tighter than guitar strings and the narrative arc is not your conventional opposites-attract love story. Eskridge plays with gender boundaries by introducing F-tech, a new technology that allows an individual to experience everything another individual does. Developed initially for the medical field, the adult entertainment industry quickly exploits it. Mars feels she has no need of it, because she knows “how the best sex feels. It feels like music.” “Dangerous Space” is a brave and convincing meditation on love, on sexuality and the possibility of truly connecting with another human being. (But don’t take my word for it, the whole story is available online. Go read it.)

Another story that explores the tortured path to sexual and emotional fulfillment is “Eye of the Storm,” a tale about a group of mercenaries perfecting their fighting techniques and seeking stable employment. One soldier is conflicted about his guilty secret: he’s turned on by the violence. Starved of physical comfort or affection as a child, he grows to manhood knowing the touch of others only through the use of force.  The small group of mercenaries, male and female, he bonds with come to understand his enjoyment, and must decide whether they can accommodate it. This is probably the story in the collection that most screams out to be expanded into a novel, as it features a rich cast of characters and wrestles with taboo themes.

Published by the tiny feminist publishing house Aqueduct Press in Seattle, Dangerous Space is a book you’d be hard pressed to find in a chain bookstore, and is just the combination of high-quality storytelling and unorthodox perspective that independent bookstores should be promoting in order to set themselves apart. There isn’t a bad story in the whole book, and all reward rereading. If you (or your customers) like the work of Kelly Link, Nicola Griffith or Neil Gaiman, you’ll love Kelley Eskridge’s Dangerous Space.

Links

Kelley’s blog

Interview with Kelley Eskridge about Dangerous Space.

Aqueduct Press


You’ve got to admire Martin Millar‘s creative powers. He can spin a tall tale with the best of them, and leave you hiccuping with laughter and smiling ruefully in recognition. Millar is the creative genius who brought us the irreverent and hilarious Good Fairies of New York. His second book to be publishing in the US, Lonely Werewolf Girl is about a confused young werewolf overwhelmed by the pressures of life, who gets taken under the wings of two well-meaning, but very naive students. One is an obsessive record collector, the other a romantic, new age Goth. Both are blissfully unaware that their exotic new friend is under sentence of death from her werewolf family, and that the werewolf world is just about to be torn apart by civil war.

As usual, Millar’s focus is on the outsiders, the uncool, and the clueless. His werewolves have flaws, vices and addictions, and they’re all the more human because of them. On the one hand, Lonely Werewolf Girl concerns a feud between two brothers, the heirs to the Thane of the werewolves. On the other, it’s a book about family, about fractured, flawed people trying to find their place in the world and most often finding that the obstacles they must overcome are the expectations, theirs and others’, of what they should do or be. Happily, Millar is well aware that laughter is the best medicine, and he ensures that his books are above all fast, funny romps populated by vivid characters.

Lonely Werewolf Girl is just as offbeat and wonderful as Good Fairies, and displays a sympathy and understanding for outsiders, the lost and the lonely that reminds us that seriousness and sobriety are often the enemies of great writing. Fans of Terry Pratchett take note, the heir is at hand.

An excerpt from this review appeared in the Book Sense Spring – Summer 2008 Reading Group Picks list.