fantasy and science fiction book reviewsJohn Joseph Adams, in recent years the editor of a raft of excellent anthologies on different science fiction, fantasy and horror themes, has now become the editor of Fantasy Magazine. The March 2011 issue is the first published under his red pencil, so to speak, and its mix of new and reprint fantasy material is promising. All content is free on the web, though ebook subscriptions and editions are available for sale.

“The Sandal-Bride,” by Genevieve Valentine, is about Sara, a woman who needs to travel from one land to another to join her husband, a shoemaker who has gone before her. She chooses to join the spice merchant who narrates the tale, offering a sapphire necklace as a “dowry,” in lieu of bed rights; she will be his sandal-bride, his wife for the course of the journey. The merchant accepts the deal, thinking mostly that it means trouble despite the richness of the dowry. Sara is excited by the trip; she’s never been outside the walls of the city in which she was born before. And she is full of curiosity. She insists on sleeping outdoors, in order to see the sky, and she asks anyone and everyone she sees for his or her story. And oh, is she a good listener!  And so, by her unassuming ways of encouraging others to talk, she changes the lives of all those around her, and especially the spice merchant’s. This story is so quiet and deceptively simple that it draws the reader into its time and place with no boundary crossing; one moment you’re reading, and the next you’re under the stars, learning the constellations along with Sara. She brings out generosity in those around her with her keen desire to learn all about them, and they quickly forget that she is ugly. “I saw how people changed as they spoke of things they loved,” says the merchant, and the whole world changes for him.

Valentine’s first novel, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, will be published by Prime Books this year. After reading this story, I’ll be the first in line to buy it.

Holly Black’s tale, “The Dog King,” is a werewolf tale with a king who hides a secret. It is elegantly told, a nice recombination of fantasy tropes into a new shape. To say more would be to betray the tale, and you really should just read it for yourself. The story is reprinted from Black’s excellent collection, The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, which I recommend as well.

Tanith Lee has always been one of my favorite fantasy writers. “The God Orkrem” is a new tale, joining her vast collection of about 300 short stories and 90 novels and collections. Orkrem is a harsh god who lets mothers die in childbirth, allows women to betray their loving husbands, and lets children grow up alone – like the narrator, who has seen much too much of Okrem’s gifts to his people. The narrator vows to seek out Orkrem, and climbs to the top of the sky to find him. When he is face to face with his god, he gets a gift he did not expect – and does not want. The story is typical of Lee’s writing, the prose just this side of purple, rich as fudge and as delicious. Lee makes us wrestle with the big questions, too, unwilling to just give us something pretty.

“The Lonely Songs of Laren Door” is a story reprinted from George R.R. Martin’s A Song for Lya and Other Stories, first published more than 30 years ago but still as fresh as when it first appeared. It is the story of Sharra, a woman who travels between the worlds, looking always for her lost lover. She arrives on one world to find there a man, Laren Door, the only living human on his world, exiled by the Seven Guardians of the gates that allow for passage from one world to the next. Sharra agrees to stay with him for a month, offering her both rest and love. She agrees, somewhat reluctantly, but comes to enjoy his company – and his world – more than she expected. Still, when the month is done, she prepares to leave. And it is then that the secrets are revealed. It is a dark, sad story, one that will leave you melancholy but enriched.

Each of the fiction pieces is followed by a short interview with the author, except for the Martin piece, which is followed by a long biographical note. There is also a lengthy interview with Steven Erikson, who has just finished his 10-volume series, the MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN. The interviews are competently done, well worth reading.

Grame McMillan’s nonfiction piece, “Three Real Historical Figures Who Embarked Upon the Hero’s Journey,” is a fine follow-up to Valentine’s fiction. Short and to the point, it gives short histories of Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo and Alexandra David-Neel, all of whom traveled far and wide in a world in which that required a lot more effort than getting on a series of airplanes. I’d never heard of Battuta and David-Neel before, and I’m curious now to read the works they wrote when they’d finished their travels.

Te Jefferson and J. Corbeau offer “Five Fantasy Worlds That You Wouldn’t Want to Visit,” calling out various settings created with a little too much reality for the comfort of these authors. Regardless of the grandeur of Middle Earth, for instance, would you really want to visit? And is there any good fantasy world that isn’t riven by war? Think twice when you book your next vacation.

Finally, LaShawn M. Wanak’s essay, “From Story to Screen,” offers glimpses of fantasy stories that have moved from the page to the camera, and how successful those translations where.

Fantasy Magazine seems to be in good hands under Adams’s leadership. I enjoyed the fiction more than the nonfiction; aside from the interviews, the nonfiction offerings weren’t particularly strong examples of the art of the essay. Perhaps I’m asking too much from this sort of magazine, which doesn’t seem to be looking for creative nonfiction, but for straightforward informational pieces. Still, if I were to complain about Fantasy at all – which I’m really not – it would be to ask for richer, juicier nonfiction. There’s room for that in this field, and this forum would seem a good one for it. Few magazines seem to have the emphasis on any sort of nonfiction except reviews of one sort or another, and it rather looks to me as if Fantasy is trying to experiment in that field. It will be interesting to watch to see if I’m right.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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