Realms of Fantasy, February 2011
“The Swan Troika” by Richard Parks
“Thirteen Incantations” by Desirina Boskovich
“Magpie” by Mark Rigney
“No Tale for Troubadours” by Pauline J. Alama
“The Time of His Life” by Scott William Carter
Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell
In “The Swan Troika” by Richard Parks, Pyotr encounters a rusalka, the malevolent spirit of a drowned girl, while on his way to a masquerade at his great-aunt’s house. The river has iced over, locking the rusalka from her home until spring. Pyotr is both attracted to her beauty, and feels sorry for her, so he invites her to join him for the party. She agrees. Pyotr decides to call her Anya.
There’s something familiar about her. Pyotr introduces Anya to Svetlana, his great-aunt. He’s sure Svetlana knows what Ayna is, and recognizes who she was. When Pyotr tries to leave, he discovers Svetlana has other plans. He isn’t going to give up so easily, but his aunt has some more surprises for him.
This story is a delight, well written and nicely cadenced, the kind of tale that develops in layers, creating enough mystery to keep me entranced.
“Thirteen Incantations” by Desirina Boskovich tells of Elizabeth, who becomes friends with Ana Celina. As their friendship blossoms, Ana Celina shares her secret. Her mother is a perfumer, and a witch. Her magics are of little, everyday things, but she puts spells into her perfumes. The girls resolve to sneak in and try some. It hints at new possibilities for Elizabeth. She believes she’s found something special with Ana Celina.
This story is well written. But where Parks introduces a hint of danger and a touch of intrigue, Boskovich traipses through the mundane. It’s not that I object to a slow start–quite the opposite. I find it a nice antidote to our instant-gratification world. But there’s a point at which the hook should be set, and this tale didn’t have that, for me. That said, if you’re a fan of romance, you might enjoy this one.
In “Magpie” by Mark Rigney, seven-year-old Cath sees her family swept away by a flood. A strange man takes her under his wing, quite literally, when he turns her into a bird. Jackdaw sends her to learn many things, including thievery. She steals for him. They’re always on the move; Jackdaw fears discovery and won’t stay long. Cath longs for roots and family. Finally, she finds a way to fill the void.
Sometimes, reviewing takes perseverance. This time, I’m glad it pushed me. The story’s details won’t stand scrutiny, but its folksy, overblown voice is surprisingly effective as a cover. Though rough-edged, this tale has a sophisticated ending.
“No Tale for Troubadours” by Pauline J. Alama tells us of Ursula, an esteemed figure who gave up heroism for hearth and motherhood. With the men all gone, she’s called back to action, the last hope for the land of Valabas. Trolls attack, killing the people and desecrating the dead. Before Ursula can set it right, she’ll have to convince her former sidekick, Isabeau, to leave the cloisters. Isabeau isn’t eager, but relents. They bicker their way to the scene of battle, revealing the scars both incurred before their last parting. What they observe tests their resolve.
The characters and dialogue are the strength of this piece. It’s an interesting mix, part spoof, part historic commentary on the Crusades, perhaps designed to educate those of us for whom the term “religious war” isn’t enough of a clue. Unfortunately, it’s a bit heavy-handed, and the ending of the story becomes obvious far too soon.
In “The Time of His Life” by Scott William Carter, Tim finds the demands on him leave him short on time. When he moves into a new house, the mystery of a hidden door entices him to explore. There’s something odd about the room beyond. It gives him the gift he covets most—time. Everything works out beautifully, for a while.
I enjoyed this story. It built slowly, but introduced its mystery before my patience waned. From there, its vague sense of menace and quick pace pulled me right to the end.