So, with Ola out on an extended Christmas break it falls to me to make sure there’s something going on on the blog 😉 There will be a “Re-Enchanted 2021” post soon, prepared by both of us some time before, but today I want to talk about two short pieces I read recently, a novella and a small short stories collection. I acquired a nice Christmas tree yesterday, packaged all the presents already, so I’m getting into the seasonal mood – I’ve chosen stuff I really like for today, I don’t want to spoil it 😉
I tried to catch the size of the thing… it’s huge, taking up a third of our living room. Wife wanted a large one, so I hope she’ll be happy when she sees it tomorrow. Although, perhaps, I overdid it a bit… anyway, I tried to carry it home on my shoulders, from a place that’s normally just a 15-minute walk away, but I had to call for help. A friend came and we tried to fit it into his car, we were not able to close the trunk 😉
Anyway, the books…
Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone This Is How You Lose the Time War
209-page 2019 novella, read on Kindle
I never ready anything by El-Mohtar, but I’ve enjoyed Gladstone’s Craft cycle, and then hated his Empress of Forever, so I wasn’t sure how to approach this one. I got it some time ago, after reading some enthusiastic reviews – several, I think, but I only found Bookforager’s in my archive. Recently, Andreas hated it so much he DNF’ed, and his critique brought the novella to my attention again. I’m also not a fan of romances, and I’ve always thought Gladstone’s worldbuilding much better than his characters, but the novella is short, so I went for it. And for me, it totally worked!
The premise is great, and it was what made me interested in the first place.
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.
A romance set against an epic time war! Sounds exiting. War and romance is a great (literary) combination, Casablanca, Arch of Triumph, and so many others. It’s also a great way of making a movie accessible for wider audiences, someone likes war movies, someone else romances, great, we can watch together 😉 Pardon the digression, I’m still struggling with my wife’s lack of interest in my favourite genres…
Universe created by the authors for the purpose of this story is one encompassed by a great war between two factions that conquered time, Agency and Garden. Agency wages war on behalf of an advanced, post-scarcity society that seems to remain firmly individualistic and only some of the members are even interested in the struggle, whereas Garden is a sort of conscious entity that transcends individual, its existence distributed throughout the matter in various times and places. At least that’s my impression, in such a short book there’s not enough space to flesh it all out. It might annoy some readers, but I got enough substance to serve as a backdrop of the plot. I’d happily read a novel that goes much deeper, although the rough sketches authors used would be difficult to translate into a fully-fledged universe… or we might end up with something like what we got in the Empress of Forever, and did I mention I hated that?
Anyway, one heroine, Red, is an agent of the Agency, while the other, Blue, works for the Garden. They fight on countless battlefields in many eras and places, on Earth and in other corners of space. Both champions of their sides, they frequently face each other, directly and indirectly. They start communicating, clandestinely, through letters hidden in some very inventive ways. Like, encoded in the flesh of a fish one knows the other will catch years later… being an expert in time travel gives you certain advantages 😉 Fascination turns into a romance, and then things get complicated… not too complicated, though, we only have 200 pages. To tell it all in such a short space, the story moves through very short chapters, depicting either a scene from the war with one of the heroines involved, sometimes so short it’s hard to get where and when it happens, or one of the letters. It perhaps lacks the depth and details, but I find it formally interesting and quite enjoyable.
This is not a masterpiece that every reader will love. This is a curious short thing for people like me, a play with form and language that has its limitations. Still, it won’t take you long to read it, give it a try 🙂
Benedict Patrick, And They Were Never Heard From Again: A Yarnsworld Tale (2019)
Today’s second dish is a short story you can get for free from the author. Well, the price is joining his mailing list but he’s not too intrusive. Anyway, this is a first taste of Yarnsworld, Patrick’s universe of magic and wonder. It came to my attention through Will’s post in his Beatiful World of Books series. The cover, by Jenny Zemanek, is indeed pretty, I like all the covers she made for this series.
The title story is a simple one, of two brothers in a wood full of malicious faeries, where villagers bar their doors each night and share the knowledge of how to appease monsters with words and rites. Stories have power in this world, and there are various magicks that can by used against – or by – humans. Not all powers are murderous, some might be even helpful, and with others you can bargain. But you have to know how, and when. If you’re, say, a naive, imaginative boy, you might call into being something that will haunt you.
It’s not an entirely new concept, what it reminded me most of is Patricia McKillips books like Winter Rose. But Patrick is darker. More graphic, sometimes cruel. I liked it and I’m quite sure I’ll read more, at some point. The first novel is on my Kindle TBB already. I’ll tell you more when I do, this was just a tiny bite, but a tasty one.
What else… oh, right, a piece of non-fiction. I’ve re-read Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, this time in a graphic novel version. It translated into this medium… surprisingly well. I’ve read a lot of great comics, some were very sophisticated, but I don’t remember reading such an ambitious non-fiction in that form. And here we have a great Harari primer, suitable for readers young and old. At least twelve, probably, but I’ll try to get my niece interested a bit earlier. Not now, though, she’s only eight.
Ok, that is all for today, please expect our summary of 2021 to be posted around Christmas, and there should be Best Of/Worst Of posts in early January.