Fantasy Feed

Gray is an insult to real moral ambiguity

 

Gustave Dore - Jaufry the Knight
Jaufry the Knight and The Fair Brunissende by Mary Lafon (1886); illustration by Gustave Dore

When Gareth Edwards wanted to make the case that his new Star Wars film, Rogue One, was something new for the franchise, he called it “gray.”

In some world, this is still an odd adjective to sell an entertainment product--connoting, as it does, dreary weather, concrete, and the absence of light, color, and action. But in the world we live in, Donald Trump is President and we all know that “gray” means that a work is for educated adults who have acquired a taste for watching characters they like get murdered.

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The Wizards and the Warriors & The Kings of the Wyld

Wizards and the WarriorHugh Cook's The Wizards and the Warriors (1987) has one of those timelessly awful late-1980s covers, and a generic cover quote - saying it'd be perfect for fans of David Eddings. In hindsight, someone in marketing really dropped the ball on this one. Maybe in the heady days of the 1980s, when Eddings was Martin, all you needed was a quest and a sword to earn that comparison. But for fantasy readers - or, hell, Eddings fans - buying the book on the strength of this platitude, Cook's debut must've come as one hell of a shock.

Wizards is, sort of, about a quest to stop an evil sorcerer. Kinda. We begin mid-journey, as three wizards have trekked halfway across the world in search of a fourth - a traitor that has unearthed an ancient artifact of doomslinging. Ostensibly linear, Wizards whirls about like the Tasmanian Devil. First, a pair of strapping mercenary warriors - in service to a corrupt local Prince - are recruited. But, well, not first, as they have their own problems to deal with before they can be convinced to join.

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Erin Lindsey's Bloodbound is back, still great

BloodboundErin Lindsey's Bloodbound was first published in 2014. The trilogy, continued with Bloodforged and concluded last year with Bloodsworn. The series is now - finally - out in the UK, which gives me an excuse to rave about it again. 

Here's how Bloodbound starts: a cavalry charge.

Alix Black, one of the scouts for the Kingdom of Alden, is watching a battle unfold. Her king is being overwhelmed by the invading forces of the Oridian empire, and, much to her horror, she can see that the King's brother is very much not executing his part of the plan. Treason is afoot, and both the King and the Kingdom are at risk.

In move that defines Alix - and to some degree, the entire series - Alix plunges recklessly into battle. There's only the slimmest chance of victory. Hell, there's only a fractional chance of survival, but Alix makes up her mind, trusts her gut and goes barrelling forward. 

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Small Press Shakedown: Christopher Teague of Pendragon Press

Bric-a-Brac-Man-Front-Cover-small-e1435060454931 9781906864248The UK has a fantastic small press scene. To celebrate the people behind the imprints, and help out the writers that are looking to them for publication, we've asked a number of editors to share what they're working on - and what they're looking for. This week, our guest is Christopher Teague from Pendragon Press.

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Pendragon are one of the classics of the UK scene, and you've given 'first breaks' to everyone from Gareth Powell to Mark Charan Newton. Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you're doing?

For nigh on 18 years, Pendragon Press has been part of my life – but I’ve been involved in the small press as a reader for over 20 years ever since I discovered Chris Reed’s BBR catalogue in the mid-90s.

I initially started out as a wannabe writer, with two stories to my name and plenty of rejections. It was when I got bounced from Nasty Piece of Work after about the third or fourth time I thought, “just how difficult would it be to put together an anthology?” And Nasty Snips was born.

The rest, as they say, is history. . .

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The White Witch should have been badass - but isn't.

Caspian Whistler_White WitchLet me say right out of the gate that the White Witch is not like any of the other baddies we’ve tackled so far. As a children’s villain, she’s not bogged down by pesky things like realism or complexity. She can be as powerful, as outrageous, as pure eeeeevil as she likes. That makes her both larger than life and somewhat two-dimensional. Even so, it would be a mistake to underestimate her. Like all things Narnia, her simplicity belies a strong theological and mythological pedigree. And, like the oldest fairy tales and nursery rhymes, though nominally intended for children, the White Witch is bloody horrifying.

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The Face in the Frost and The Obsessed

The Face in the Frost
The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs
(1969) is an oft-overlooked fantasy classic. Two elderly wizards - Prospero and Roger Bacon - meander across the North and South Kingdoms in search of a cure for some ill-defined metaphysical curse that's plaguing the land. The evil is deliberately vague, and all the more horrifying for it: an ancient tome is being read by a dark-hearted wizard, and badness is spilling forth. From damp moths to off-putting mists to an ominous sense of malaise, Bellairs excels at conveying an implicit wrongness that is more atmosphere than overt threat.

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"Dream Sequences and Dream Worlds" by Oliver Langmead

MetronomeFor a guy who's just about to have a book about dreams published, you might be surprised to learn that I'm not a great fan of dream sequences.

A lot of the time, they feel a bit unnecessary; one of the weaker parts of the narrative they're trying to enhance. Usually, it's the attempt at adding depth by using a combination of psychoanalytic metaphor and (more often than not) prophetic foresight which seems to fall a bit flat (with cunningly crafted exceptions, of course – take Twin Peaks, for example). As if, while attempting to add subtlety and depth, the writer has instead ended up making their narrative a bit obvious and shallow, or far too obscure to interpret. 

All of this being said, I am quite fond of dream worlds. It's a niche belonging to portal fantasy, in which the portal is the simple act of falling asleep, and it has a history of producing classics. Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz (film!), and even more contemporary essential pieces of reading, like Neil Gaiman's Sandman, have their own dedicated realms of dreaming, and each is considered important.

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Jyn, Rey and The Star Wars Experience

Leia

As with all great debates, this began in Forbidden Planet as a discussion about which Funko Pop! figure Jared should buy for his desk at work. We take Funkos very seriously here (an discussion for another day), and, before we knew it, a simple Rey/Jyn decision had spiralled out of control.

Also, contains spoilers for Rogue One, The Force Awakens and, in case you're Kimmy Schmidt, the original trilogy.

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A Planet for Texans and The School for Good and Evil

A Planet for Texans

Lone Star Planet (A Planet for Texans) by H. Beam Piper (1958) has been skulking on my shelf for ages, and, I'm pleased to say, there's (slightly) more to it than just a goofy cover. In the far future, the entire population of Texas has picked up to go settle a frontier planet - they're keen to get away from the rules and regulations and gov'mints and such. Our hero, the plucky ambassador from the Solar League, has been tasked to woo them back. There's an alien invasion on the horizon and New Texas would be better 'in the tent pissing out'... at least, so the League think.

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Review round-up: The SPFBO Finalists (Part 3 and Wrap-Up)

29416933The third and final batch o' SPFBO reviews: three books and a bit of wrap-up thunkery at the end.

You can read the first clump here and the second clump here and follow all the scoring from all the judges here.

The Music Box Girl by K.A. Stewart 

The gender-swapped steampunk Phantom of the Opera that you never knew you wanted! Stewart's story takes place in a shiny alt-history Detroit, complete with steam-powered robot servitors, mechanical glories and, of course, airships. 

The Music Box Girl follows three point of view characters. Tony is our Christine - he's a young man from a (hand-wavey) other country, here to make his destiny as a singer. He gets a job as a stagehand at the prestigious Detroit Opera House, but his after hours crooning earns the attention of the Opera House's very own phantom. Bess is Raoul. She's also from (wherever) and is a childhood friend of Tony. But whilst Tony is carving out a living as a prop-duster, Bess is an international tomb raider. Tired of society and its conventions, she carries guns and buckles swashes and dashes and dives in and out of adventures. But, secretly, she might be craving something a little more... romantic.

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