Category Archives: DarkFantasy

At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

beesAt the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

Small Beer Press, Easthampton, MA 2012

From my TBR pile.  Kij Johnson has won the Theodore Sturgeon, World Fantasy and Nebula awards.  This is an odd and moving collection by one of my favorite authors and goes onto my Best of 2013 list.

It is unusual to come across a collection of stories that is  emotionally deep and, at the same time, chilling and even horrific.  I have loved Johnson’s writing since I read The Fox Woman years ago and ordered this book as soon as I heard about it.  Not keeping up with fantasy publications,  none of these were familiar to me.  I find them difficult to describe.  Most feature animals, there are aliens and most feature humans in all their strange and convoluted glory.

All moments are this moment.  Past and future jumble together: Jingu cannot say which is which.  And because everything — sorrow and anger and love and grief — is equally immediate, she finds herself strangely distanced from her own life.  It is as though she listens to a storyteller recite a tale she has heard too many times, the tale of the empress Jingu.  From The Empress Jingu Fishes, page 109.

Built with elements of folk and fairy tales, mythology and science fiction, the stories bend and twist out of those forms and enter what I consider the realm of slipstream.  Some are are made of memory and there are often stories within stories.   Johnson travels to unfamiliar places, even for fantasy.   I find myself wanting to follow her, as long as I am sure I know the way back.

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Filed under 2013 Challenges, DarkFantasy, Fantasy, Once Upon A Time VII, StoryCollection

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

grossmanThe Magician King by Lev Grossman

Viking Press, New York, 2011

From my TBR pile.  My first book for the Once Upon A Time VII challenge.

I read The Magicians last year and found it just okay.  Early reviews mentioned “Harry Potter for adults”.  The novel is about a New York City teenager, Quinton Coldwater, who while thinking he is  applying for university is  surprised with an invitation to attend Brakesbills College, a kind of ivy league Hogwarts.  Quinton, along with other “Physical” students,  spends years in class, learning spell casting, and enjoying first loves, sex, drugs and drinking.  Eventually several of the students enter the land of Fillory, an “imaginary” place from a series of  beloved children’s book very much like C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  Maybe it was the referential use of this classic series that made me a bit squeamish.

I found the second book  much more satisfying.  It centers on two of the characters from the first book, Quinton and Julia, and brings historic depth and clarity to their behavior and their choices.  There is better storytelling, more fantasy, with strong roots in folklore and mythology.  I think Grossman worked hard to bring his characters to life and strengthen the magic.   I am hoping that there will be more books to come because  I’d like to know what happens to these young people.

The goddess was warm, even humorous, and loving, but she had a second aspect, terrible in its bleakness: a mourning aspect that she assumed in winter, when she descended into the underworld, away from the light.  There were different versions of the story.  In some she grew angry at all mankind and hid herself underground half the year out of rage.  In some she lost one of her dryad-daughters and retired to Hades in grief.  In others the goddess was fooled by some Loki-type trickster-god and bound to spend half the year hiding her warmth and fruitfulness in the underworld, against her will.  But in each version her dual nature was clear.  She was the goddess of darkness as well as light.   A Black Madonna:  the blackness of death, but also the blackness of good soil, dark with decay, which gives rise to life.  From page 325.

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Filed under 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, DarkFantasy, Fantasy, LiteraryFiction, Once Upon A Time VII

The Graveyard Book – Week Three

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

From my book shelves.  Organized by Carl V, Week 3 of our read-along covers chapters 7 and 8 of Neil Gaiman’s Newbury, Carnegie, Hugo and Locus award-winning novel.   It has been a joy reading along with others and seeing their thoughts.  Please visit Carl’s blog for links to other posts about this deeply felt, wonderfully written book.

In Chapter 8 Silas is drawn away from The Graveyard but refuses to tell Bod where he is going or what he is doing.  Bod’s friend, Scarlett, returns from Glasgow and finds herself in a place that seems awfully familiar.  She is befriended by a nice man, Mr Frost, who takes rubbings of gravestones.   With his encouragement she  eventually discovers Bod’s family history, but this discovery has unintended results.

Bod finally learns about his past, about The Man Jack and his organization, and is faced with a difficult decision.  The choice he makes puts Scarlett in extreme danger and she cannot understand it and cannot forgive him for it.  He looses his friend, and is at a loss understanding why.

In Chapter 9 Bod enters young adulthood and begins to change, finding it harder and harder to see his friends and loved ones.  Eventually he must leave The Graveyard and journey into the wider world.

The Graveyard Book is all about growing up, be it in a normal family or a ghostly one.  We make choices, face the consequences and hopefully grow wiser with each of these steps.  If we are lucky we live in a circle of love, amid friends and family who support us, even when we make bad decisions.

Neil Gaiman states in his acknowledgements that he read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book over and over as a child and as an adult.  This is a book I love and read-aloud to elementary-aged children.  I can see the resemblance, but Gaiman has created a world of his own, filled with wonderful, caring, sometimes strict beings who surround and support Bod as he grows and finally leaves his home.  Maybe someday we will learn about his adventures in the world of the living.

There is a balance between gentleness and horror in this book.  A balance Neil Gaiman holds brilliantly.

Thanks to Carl V and all the folks who took part in this read-along.

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Filed under Books, Carnegie Award, DarkFantasy, Horror, Hugo Award, Locus Award, Newbury Award, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult

The Graveyard Book – Week One

 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

From my shelves.  I am reading this book along with others in celebration of R.I.P. VII.   Carl V  suggested that we read The Graveyard Book in three sections, and post our thoughts on consecutive Sundays.  The first section covers Chapters One through Three.

This book has an extremely creepy opening.  The Man Jack goes about his business in a completely ordinary way and the horror builds so quietly from paragraph to paragraph that it is like a dream.  How can a story be frightening and calming at the same time?

A toddler finds his way to a graveyard and is taken in by a community unlike any other I have ever met.  There is so much love here.   I find warmth and comfort among the grave stones, in a place where those feelings are totally unexpected.  The toddler, Nobody Owens, has found a home.

How do the dead take care of the living?  Luckily, there is one who lives in-between and he sees to Bod’s earthly and intellectual needs.  Bod makes a friend, learns his lessons and has adventures.  When his protector, Silas, is forced to take  a journey Bod meets a new teacher.   She is strict in her discipline and who holds a great secret.

It is hard to write about this book without giving much of the story away.  It is layered with horror, mystery, romance and mythology.  I am so glad to be rereading it, going deeper.

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Filed under DarkFantasy, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult

Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Aspect Fiction, New York, 1998

From my TBR pile.  My second read for R.I.P. VII.  Winner of the Locus Award and the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in 1999.

Nalo Hopkinson is Jamaican, now living in Canada.  Her novels and stories are filled with Caribbean folklore, history and language.  The title comes from a traditional West Indian ring game song.

This dystopian novel takes place in Toronto.  The city center has collapsed politically and economically, leaving those who can’t afford to leave, mostly people of color, struggling to survive any way they can.    The wealthy population runs to the suburbs and edge cities, areas now protected by barricades and road blocks.

Ti-Jeanne, gifted with visions she does not understand, lives with her new baby and grandmother, Gros-Jeanne.  This is  a  situation she found herself in after running from her lover, Tony, and she is not at all happy with it.  Tony has a bad drug habit and is caught up in the Posse, a mob-like organization run by Rudy, a thug and spiritual practitioner. Rudy is the self-proclaimed boss of the central city, running a gang, terrorizing residents and keeping nasty spirits under his control.

In this dark urban fantasy  Ti-Jeanne finds herself with ancestors she didn’t know she had and powers she does not really want, but it is up to her to face the spirits and protect her family.

I have read newer works by Hopkinson, and now have a better understanding of her style of fantasy based in Caribbean history .  I found some of the patois hard to read, but enjoyed the story.  I am looking forward to reading So Long, Been Dreaming, a collecting of Science Fiction and Fantasy she helped edit in 2004.

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Filed under Books, CanadianBookChallenge6, DarkFantasy, Dystopian, R.I.P. VII, SpeculativeFiction

Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman

Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman

Ace Books, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my library. Nominated for the 2012 World Fantasy Award.  This is the first book I’ve read for R.I.P. VII.

I think is I try to summarize this novel I might give something away so I am including a quote from the author’s website:

The year is 1935. Veteran of the Great War and failed academic Frank Nichols ignores a warning not to move into the home he inherits in the small southern town of Whitbrow; a home his wife calls “The Canary House” because of its fresh coat of yellow paint.

But there is another house in the woods beyond the river, an estate that lies in ruins; the once-magnificent Savoyard plantation, where a cruel forebear of Frank’s drove his slaves to murder him. Frank means to find this ruin and write about the horrors that occurred there, but little does he suspect that his presence in town will stir something that should have been left sleeping. Something with a long memory. If the people of Whitbrow have forgotten why they don’t go across the river, they will soon remember.

This is southern gothic with a twist.   Buehlman has written a novel that evokes the years of the Great Depression in a small town in the southern United States, with undercurrents of poverty and racism.  More than that, there is terror.   Hidden away on the other side of the river is memory, and that memory carries horror with it.  This combination of elements creates an interesting analogy, horror and parts of our history as a nation.  I found this a great read for R.I.P.  Give it a try.

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Filed under Books, DarkFantasy, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts

A More Diverse Universe – Sept 23-29 2012

Thanks to Aarti at Booklust for announcing A More Diverse Universe, a reading event and blog tour celebrating diversity in fantasy fiction. I’m not usually one for blog tours but I think this is and extremely important event.  And with R.I.P. VII happening the timing is just perfect.

From Aarti’s post:

For one week in September (the week of the 23rd), we want ALL OF YOU fantasy readers (with blogs and without) to read a fantasy novel written by a person of color.  And to write a review of that book.  You know as well as I do that books succeed based on word of mouth and mentions and conversation, and this is where bloggers can help the MOST.  Just read one book.  And share your thoughts on that one book.

I plan on reading several books written by people of color for R.I.P. VII.  There are links to a wide selection of authors and book titles in Aarti’s post.  Please join us and spread the word.

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Filed under Blog Tour, Books, DarkFantasy, Diversity, Events, Fantasy, PoC