“The Glass Galago” by A. M. Dellamonica
Reviewed by Bob Blough
There is a lot of fiction at Tor.com for January. There is also a lot of diversity in the featured writers as well as in their writing skill. However, all of the stories ths time around are fantasy. I hope that the future has more of a balance between SF and Fantasy.
The month starts out on a rather mediocre note with “The Glass Galago.” The setting is great – a seagoing fleet that is itself the governing body of the many islands it visits. The tale stars the captain, Gale Feliachild and her extremely handsome assistant, Parrish. Gale has been enchanted to be seen as unremarkable by everyone she meets, but is a very influential person in the governing of the lands and the magic inherent to these people. A. M. Dellamonica sets up an interesting world with a clever way of dealing with magic (through the patent/legal system) but then forgets to hang a very interesting tale on it. A galago (a small primate) and a woman have been magic-ed into moving glass. Both will break soon if a patent situation is not handled with alacrity. It is fine as far as it goes, but the writing is more pedestrian than exciting and the story holds very little oomph. It is, however, a full story – with a beginning, middle and an end – even though it is part of an on-going series.
Now, “Two’s Company” by Joe Abercromie really hits the spot. It is a pastiche of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series that raises itself above mere pastiche into a delightful tale. This follows two females – a smart but timid thief and a warrior thief – who are on the run from the law. This is Shevedieh and Javre. On a bridge that can only be crossed one way at a time they encounter Cracknut Whirrun also on the run from a king in the north. The two warriors bristle, the timid thief complains and all mayhem breaks loose. The fights are epic and the characters are wonderfully funny. Read this one. You do not have to have read anything else in this series because Mr. Abercrombie knows how to write a full story – not just to give back story and not just to give loyal readers something between books – but to craft a story around interesting characters and a real situation. Fritz Leiber knew how to do that with his series and I am glad that Mr. Abercrombie does as well!
“Finnegan’s Field” is a truly dark fantasy about a young six-year old taken by the fairies in modern day Australia. It is not about the abduction nor the grief of her parents but begins with Madrigal’s return home three years later. She hasn’t grown much and looks like herself but her mother, Anne, finds her a bit cold and strange at times. Madrigal does not remember anything from her three years away but the reader soon finds out. Angela Slatter has written very grippingly of this cuckoo place in the midst of a broken family with pathos and clarity. It is a good horror story even for those of us who usually dislike horror.
Mike Wallace has a series going as well, and “Small Wars” seems to be another in that series. It features the Sin du Jour Catering & Events Company run by supernatural beings. In this story they need to supply gold to a royal goblin wedding that is only to be found in old Welsh mines. They find thmselves in a battle between gnomes and leprechauns that we are to take as funny. I didn’t find it so.
Next we get to a very creepy story that could be SF or Fantasy but has more of a fantasy feel. “The Caretakers” by David Nickle concerns a group of people who, in the past, have all been helped by a woman called Miss Erish. She took care of them when they most needed help but now she needs them to take care of her. Miss Erish is not an old sick woman, but is in fact someone with which to be reckoned. We see the effects of Miss Erish on the viewpoint character, Andrea, before we ever meet her. Her presence hangs like a scary black cloud over the proceedings as the other members of her caretakers group show up and join Andrea in relating their fears and mistrusts. When Miss Erish finally comes on stage, the reader is not disappointed. Although not all answers are given, this is an atmospheric, strange, and memorable story.
“First Kill” by Jennifer Fallon is another story from a series. (Are SF/F writers running out of new ideas – or do we have a plethora of series because of publishers/money, or can we really just want safety in our supposedly mind-expanding genre?) In any case, this does not feel very robust to me. It is a bog-standard medieval kind of setting with an assassin’s guild. Our hero, Kiam Miar, is sent on his first assignation to pass his last test to join the guild. His mentor is sent along to watch and report, or if failure occurs to finish the job and kill the inefficient assassin-intern, as well. There are the usual set-pieces, fights, magic, and questions. The handling of the assassination is pretty clever but the voice is mundane. It was not an unpleasant read, but not very memorable.
Verena, odd child out, in a family wracked with grief, is the heroine of the final story this month. She has just lost her brother and her mother in an accident and her father loses their fortune shortly thereafter. At the same time, a serial kidnapper and/or murderer is roaming the village. The women taken are never seen again. This is a fine set up for Melissa Marr’s ‘The Maiden Thief” which takes place in a vaguely fairy tale land of cottages and castles. She and her two remaining sisters try to make do without their mother but life is hard and cruel. This is an original retelling of an old fairy tale. I applaud the ending and was enchanted through it all.
Seven stories in a month is more than usual for Tor.com. If they give us this variety every month I would be very happy. Adding SF to the mix would only improve the time spent reading this webzine.