Books (#SFWApro)

PHANTASTES was George MacDonald’s first novel (one of Ballantine Books’ Adult Fantasy line), in which the protagonist’s fairy grandmother send him on a visit to fairyland, where he encounters phenomena ranging from cute flower fairiess to the menacing, malevolent Ash. MacDonald gives the shifting nature of the realm a good dream feeling, but this isn’t as good as his later Lilith, having too much aimless wandering—an evil shadow attaches itself to the protagonist at one point, for instance, then gets almost forgotten about after a while. Readable, but no more than that.
THE THIEF OF BROKEN TOYS by Tim Lebbon has a grieving father finally able to live again through the mysterious work of the title toy repairman (“Every dead child had at least one toy their parents promised to fix and didn’t.”) only to discover There’s a Price. Proof a great concept can’t always triumph over so-so execution: The father’s grief feels very real, but the healing feels phony and the ending just doesn’t work for me—even given that horror/dark fantasy protagonists often get arbitrary fates, this one felt very “off.” The shifts in POV early on jar me a lot too.
THE YEARS BEST FANTASY STORIES edited by Lin Carter is an early 1970s collection that comes off my like “The Year’s Best Stories from Lin Carter and His Friends” as it includes two by Carter, one by frequent collaborator L. Sprague deCamp and stories by other writers in his circle including Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance. Admittedly Vance, deCamp and Leiber are A-list, but still … It’s also very heavy on swords-and-sorcery (although Carter certainly appreciated other types). It does boast a good short story by Pat McIntosh and Charles Saunders’ first story of his black sword-and-sorcery hero Imaro, battling across a supernatural African landscape (I can’t help but wonder if the scene of decadent white people sacrificing Imaro’s woman to their blasphemous gods isn’t a deliberate inversion of pulp stereotypes about Black Jungle Devils). Still far from the best “best fantasy” collection I’ve read.
A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN SIX GLASSES by Tom Standage is a look at how after millenia of drinking water, humanity would come to embrace beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea and Coke (which Standage sees as embodying American imperialism as much as tea came to embody the British version) in their turn. This didn’t work for me as well as Standage’s Victorian Internet, partly because there’s more I already know (the tea section particularly) and partly because it needs more depth—no real look at how coffee culture has changed in the past few decades, for instance, and water deserves more coverage than it gets in the epilog.
DARKER STILL: A Novel of Magic Most Foul is a young-adult fantasy by Leanna Renee Hieber in which a mute 19th century gentlewoman struggles to free the soul of an English nobleman trapped in an enchanted painting, inevitably falling in love in the process. This was the kind of Y/A romance that doesn’t work for me (lots of space spent on long, supposedly deep conversations between the leads) but it’s certainly well-done (good period detail, minimal info-dumping) so I’ll try one of Hieber’s adult novels at some point.

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3 responses to “Books (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Something I should have mentioned (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Books | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Comics and Books (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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