Realms of Fantasy, April 2006

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“Lady of Ashuelot” by Karen L. Abrahamson
“Moon Viewing at Shijo Bridge” by Richard Parks
“Anywhere There’s Game” by Greg van Eekhout
“Ducks in a Row” by Devon Monk
“Jane. A Story of Manners, Magic, and Romance” by Sarah Prineas

“Heart of Ice” by Jena Snyder

This issue features some wicked cover art, “The Hounds of Morrigan” by Kinuko Craft. As I opened this issue up I felt excited (perhaps because of Natalie Portman’s picture on the ToC page). But my excitement began to dim…

The first story in this issue, “Lady of Ashuelot” by Karen L. Abrahamson, is about some famous Arthurian heroes: Gwen (i.e. Guinevere), Lance (Lancelot), and the Lady of the Lake. Merlin and Arthur get mentioned but they’re “behind the scenes,” so to speak. The power of Excalibur has allowed the heroes to live all the way up to the modern day; however, they have been aging slowly. Gwen, the former fair Queen of Camelot, is now a buff blacksmith bitter over men. When Lance comes knocking at her door, after leaving her and the Lady all alone for centuries, old passions heat up. Except that Lance hasn’t returned for her, or for the Lady (who is now an aged senile crone). He has come for Excalibur, for Merlin has told him it’s time for King Arthur to return. Unfortunately, the waning power of the Lady is what keeps Gwen’s beautiful garden vibrant and green, and without Excalibur’s power to boost the Lady’s, it will wither and die.

This story left me feeling like I was reading a feminist rant that should have been titled “Men bad, Gardens good.” The story is told through Gwen’s viewpoint, so the author may have just been trying to be true to the character. If so, it strikes me as odd that Gwen would feel guilty over hopping in the sack with Lance yet again while remaining unconcerned over the state of the world in general and the resurrection of her husband in particular. Out of the three main characters, only the Lady left any room for me to be sympathetic toward. The mechanics of Abrahamson’s writing, however, shows good craftsmanship, and I would certainly be willing to read other stories from this author, and others may enjoy this particular story as well.

“Moon Viewing at Shijo Bridge” by Richard Parks is a Japanese fantasy tale filled with action and intrigue. Yamada and Prince Kanemore must protect Princess Teiko’s good name by recovering a letter that will disprove the rumors against her, rumors apparently spread by members of the Fujiwara clan in an attempt to usurp the Imperial throne. In their way are demonic shikigami, and not everything is as it appears. This story will keep you guessing from start to finish and is rich in cultural detail. Parks also manages to weave the tale in a way that won’t confuse a reader who isn’t familiar with Asian stories. I’d recommend this story to anyone.

“Anywhere There’s Game” by Greg van Eekhout is about the career of a star basketball player and his occasional encounters with magic and the supernatural. Just as memories are never in chronological order, neither is the plot. But that is what makes the story feel like someone is sitting there, telling you about his life experiences. The characters are fascinating to read about, and van Eekhout delves into many aspects of human nature and how it applies to modern-day sports.  Better still, you don’t have to be a sports enthusiast to enjoy this one.

“Ducks in a Row” by Devon Monk is about a boy with special powers at a carnival shooting gallery. While the plot is simple and straightforward, the main character is just the opposite. You feel sympathy for this kid. He’s done something terrible, but you can understand why. Well worth a read.

“Jane. A Story of Manners, Magic, and Romance” by Sarah Prineas is basically a romance story with magic in it; however, the magic plays an important role in the plot so the story fits anyone’s definition of fantasy.  Miss Jane Bigg-Wither is plagued by warlock suitors from Thameside College of Magic and Technology. Wither Castle, which is owned by Sir Percival, her uncle, is plagued by magical elemental storms. Enter Viscount Sanditon and Aubrey Day, the two warlocks sent by the college to discover the cause of the storms. The rest is pretty typical for a standard romantic triangle, but the mystery behind the storms and Jane’s apparent connection to the phenomenon drives the story’s plot in a manner that makes it a worthwhile read.

“Heart of Ice” by Jena Snyder is a dark tale of love and cannibalism. Jean-Baptiste meets a Kemewan woman, pale and cold. She lures him into the forest, to her cabin. As they make love, she tells him the story of the wittigo, a cold creature that feeds on the warm flesh of men. While the story is a formulaic standard, even ending at a cliffhanger, Snyder draws you in and keeps you reading. You feel sympathy for both characters, and the story leaves you pondering over the darker aspects of human nature during desperate times.

Thankfully, despite its rough start, this issue left me excited once again and eager to read the next one.