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The Chart of Tomorrows by Chris Willrich fantasy book reviewsThe Chart of Tomorrows by Chris Willrich

The Chart of Tomorrows is the third book in Chris Willrich’s GAUNT AND BONE series. Book One, The Scroll of Years, began with Persimmon Gaunt, a rebellious poet, and Imago Bone, her thief husband, leaving a place that looked a little bit like the cities of classical European antiquity, and having adventures in a land like China. In the second book, Willrich expanded his mythology further, including a people of the steppes, the Karvaks, modeled on the Mongols. Along the way, Willrich mixes conventional folklore with his own magical systems. In The Chart of Tomorrows, he’s turned to the north, introducing northern European folklore, in a story filled with trolls, cow-maidens, battle-axes and runes.

The Chart of Tomorrows begins, not with Gaunt and Bone, but with their son Innocence. Innocence came of age within the Scroll of Years, so while it’s only been a year or so since he was born in his parents’ world, he’s about thirteen or fourteen. He partnered with the evil flying carpet Deadfall, and has developed a powerful magic of his own that he cannot control. The Norse people take him in and almost immediately he has an encounter with the uldra, the magical cow-maidens.

The story jumps between many points of view. Innocence’s childhood friend A-Girl-is-a-Joy, who goes by Joy, and her mother Snow Pine are having adventures; Gaunt and Bone travel with a Middle Eastern wizard and his magical servant, as well as the Karvak princess Steelfox, her warrior Nine Smiledons, Mad Katta the blind monk who can see evil (and whose magical weapons are cakes — no, really, cakes) and the shaman Northwing. The plot reveals that Joy and Innocence, both imbued with powerful magic and destinies, should, according to prophecy, be forced to battle one another. That’s serious enough, but Steelfox’s sister Jewelwolf has brought the Karvak horde north and plans to invade; the Nine Wolves, evil spirits of great power, have possessed nine human warriors; and Skrymir Hollowheart, Lord of the Trolls, delights in destruction. All of the world, and possibly all of reality, is at risk in this battle.

So, basically, there’s a lot going on.

The Chart of Tomorrows is a long book, over 500 pages. For the most part, Willrich’s banter between his motley crew of heroes kept me engaged. Despite all the action — and there’s a lot of action; it seems like there’s a new fight or disaster about every other page — about halfway through, the book stopped pulling me and I set it down for nearly a week. I went back to it only because I was reviewing it. Fortunately, the last 100 pages got me back on track.

So what is the problem? How can a book that rolls from crisis to crisis fail to hold my interest? Well, maybe the sheer volume of crises was part of the problem. Also, many of these issues played out on the same emotional level, even though some losses should have hurt more than others. Characters we’ve come to care about are lost and the story doesn’t slow down to honor that, and I wish it did. I also had a little bit of trouble with young Innocence having everything go wrong. It is plausible; he’s young, he’s inexperienced with his magic, and he’s being influenced by evil in a couple of different ways, but such ineptitude and such destruction was disappointing. It’s also possible that I was on information overload.

Willrich’s writing is lively and fun, although descriptions here start to sound a bit repetitive. Mostly what carried me through The Chart of Tomorrows was the crazy mixture of cultures and the repartee among our large and growing cast of characters. Northwing is a Shaman, while Mad Katta is a monk. Both have magic, both approach things differently. Another character asks why Northwing isn’t more appreciative of things, the way the monk is, and Northwing explains in two sentences.

“Why can’t you be more like Katta? Katta is polite. Katta appreciates rescuers.”

“Katta’s tradition involves harmonious interaction with the universe. My tradition involves haranguing the universe to make it do what we want. Get moving.”

Although there is a lot going on, Willrich juggles locations, point-of-view shifts, and subplots quite well here, and it’s great, as a woman reader, to have plenty of tough, smart women characters to tag along with. Women in these books do their share of the plot-driving, and I enjoy that. I also like that we can expect at least one poem from Persimmon Gaunt. In The Chart of Tomorrows we get a traditional northern battle-ballad, and one other poem that Gaunt uses to shame an enemy who used treachery to defeat Bone. Both are great fun.

I think the book could be shorter, but I still enjoyed it and I’m glad I went back to it. Willrich’s themes and writing are accessible and I think teen readers would enjoy this entire series.

Gaunt and Bone — (2013-2015) Publisher: Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone are a romantic couple and partners in crime. Persimmon is a poet from a well-to-do family, who found herself looking for adventure, while Imago is a thief in his ninth decade who is double-cursed, and his body has not aged in nearly seventy years. Together, their services and wanderlust have taken them into places better left unseen, and against odds best not spoken about. Now, they find themselves looking to get away, to the edge of the world, with Persimmon pregnant with their child, and the most feared duo of assassins hot on their trail. However, all is never what it seems, and a sordid adventure — complete with magic scrolls, gangs of thieves, and dragons both eastern and western — is at hand.

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  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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