Monday, May 8, 2017

Blood, The Phoenix and a Rose by Storm Constantine

Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose: An Alchymical Triptych by Storm Constantine is, as the name suggests, a collection of three loosely interwoven stories that are set in her Wraeththu mythos. And yes, there is an alchemical theme. For those who're not in the know, this setting is one of her enduring (and endearing) worlds that offer us the tales of the Wraeththu – androgynous beings who are mankind's heirs after humanity is pretty much wiped out by its own efforts. In this setting, fantasy and science fiction blend to offer us an alternate future, where those who would name themselves hara have a second chance to do better.

"The Song of the Cannibals" begins at the mansion of Sallow Gandaloi, where the arrival of a stranger upsets the careful balance of the household. One of the hallmarks of Storm's writing is her love of architecture and how those who reside within the walls interact. This is a story about a har who hides a heart of darkness within, and those hara who do not tread carefully around he who is known as Gavensel.

"Half Sick of Shadows" continues with Gavensel's attempts to delve into his mysterious past, but this time it's told from his point of view as he strives to peel pack the shroud. He is mired in darkness, which is a danger to those who don't handle him with care.

"A Pyramid of Lions" provides us with a window into the world of Vashti, a har who grew up on the breeding farms of the infamous Varr tribe familiar to those who've read the primary books in the mythos. He is pragmatic in approach, and while at first it's not entirely clear how far his story tangles with Gavensel's, this will become clearer later.

I can't truly look at the stories as separate entities, and I'm going to be straight here – if you've not already read the other books in the series, it's probably best to wait with this one until you've done so, as there is a lot of backstory that is referenced that will make no sense to you otherwise.

To those, who like me are lore junkies, this triptych will fill in a lot of blanks, and especially offer insights into the world of the Varr tribe under the rule of Ponclast. The revelations are uncomfortable and deeply frightening as well, because they show how close the Wraeththu as a whole came to falling into darkness, stagnation and destruction as the human race.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Para Animalia: Creatures of Wraeththu

Right, so this is not a review, but I still feel like I should talk about the anthology even though I have two stories in it. Those who know me have an idea how much I love Storm Constantine's Wraeththu mythos. The premise is simple: Mankind bollocksed up one last time and through a genetic mutation the hermaphrodite Wraeththu race came into being – heirs to a ravaged earth. They are magical beings who have the power to both great good and ill, and it's clear that they are near and dear to Storm's heart.

However Storm's done what few other creators of worlds have done: She's opened her mythos to other writers to explore, and this anthology, Para Animalia: Creatures of Wraeththu is but one of a number of existing collections of short fiction that involve other authors. The theme here is self-evident – exploring the relationship between har and creature (har/hara being the term Wraeththu refer to themselves).

Storm's fans will be glad to know that she has two stories here, as well as two offerings from her long-time editor Wendy Darling. Other regulars, such as Martina Bellovicova, Maria J Leel, and ES Wynn are also present (and whose stories I adore). This time I had the wherewithal to write not one but two tales, which gave me such joy.

Fabulous beasts that feature include snakes, dragons, dogs, wolves and owls, among others. I explored my love for owls by writing an owl companion (that I admit I tend to do often in my writing, and I blame Jareth the Goblin King for that), as well as a tale exploring the bond between a har and his pack of African wild dogs. I'm grateful that Storm has given me free rein to play in my conception of Africa, but the other stories take place all over.

As always, the quality of writing is of a high standard, with some stories standing out more for me than others. A particular favourite for me was "Medium Brown Dog", mainly because of the dog's pragmatic and (unintentionally) humorous observations of hara. You don't necessarily need to have read previous Wraeththu mythos novels to understand what goes on in the setting and, if you still have to, then this is a wonderful opportunity for you to dip your toes into mythos as there is a broad range to give you little slices. This collection will especially appeal to fantasy readers who love animals.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Snitch by Edyth Bulbring, a review

The first thing you notice about this edition of Snitch by Edyth Bulbring, is the cover, which reminds me of some of the vintage Adrian Mole diaries (with some of the absurd humour). But all resemblance ends there because while our protagonist is awkward, he's no Adrian (and for that I'm grateful). And, while this is a YA book, typically of Edyth's writing, it goes much, much deeper. 

Ben Smith is what we can consider your everyday troubled teen. He lives with his mom, Sarah, and his sister Helen (who has blue dreads), as well as their aptly named dog Terror. His dad passed away when he was little, but his "uncle" Charlie visits often.

Without spoiling the story for you, I'll say this much, that we follow the heartaches and trials of Ben's school career when he is the subject of terrible bulling for Reasons [redacted due to spoilers]. The bonds of friendship and family are severely tested as Ben endures his ordeals ... and experiences that very first teenage love.

If I have to look at an underlying theme that runs through this book, it's about overcoming the labels that others apply to you. Bulbring's writing is at times humorous and poignant. She remains, as always, a keen observer of interpersonal relationships and how we often damage each other without meaning to. Snitch is accessible and highly enjoyable, and I'll add, not just for younger readers. And she's very much in touch with the issues that affect those who are coming of age.