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March 2003
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

Current Issue • Departments • Bibliography

Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

The Briar King by Greg Keyes,
Del Rey, 2003, $23.95

The good thing about high fantasy is that whenever you think it's pretty much been beaten into the ground, someone like Greg Keyes comes along to prove that those old familiar settings can still be successfully reworked. The secret is in the characters. Even if they're archetypes, they still need to be individual to come alive, and this is something that Keyes obviously knows because the characters in The Briar King absolutely brim with life.

There's the King's holter (forest ranger) Aspar White, pragmatic and efficient, even when confronted with the impossible; the naive would-be monk, Stephen Darige, who quickly learns humility at the hands of both White and the monks of his order; Princess Anne, the youngest of the King's children, who proves that fairy tales and fables can prepare one for the real world; the stalwart young knight, Sir Neil MeqVren, who learns that different politics rule in the court and the battlefield; the charming and dashing swordsman, Cazio Pachiamadia da Chiovatio, on one hand a rogue, on the other a man of great honor.

And there are so many others, including the mysterious Green Man-like title character, the Sefry who seem to be some combination of elves and Gypsies, and otherworldly creatures such as the Greffyn. Even Keyes's walk-on characters are of interest.

The plot doesn't lag, either. Whether it's political machinations, a duel, or a quiet conversation, there's always forward motion and the reader never loses interest.

What I liked the best is that here is a high fantasy novel that has the grit of secular combat and the heart of one of the great Romances, but it hasn't forgotten one of the main reasons we turn to fantasy: a sense of wonder. Yes, there are battles and campaigns and political maneuvering, but there are also marvels invoking awe and mystery.

And happily, while this is the opening gambit of a new series by Keyes, and obviously storylines trail from it into the book that will follow it, The Briar King does come to its own satisfying conclusion. In other words, there's no cliffhanger and then a year-long wait to find out what happens next.

It's been a while since I was this taken with a traditional fantasy novel, but Keyes hooked me from the first page and I'll now be eagerly anticipating sitting down with each future volume of the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series as they are published.

*     *     *

Boneyard Volume One by Richard Moore,
NBM Publishing, 2002; 96pp; $12.95
Trade paperback

Michael Paris has inherited a cemetery--Raven's Hollow Boneyard, to be exact--and discovers that this inheritance immediately puts him in the middle of a conflict between the residents of the nearby town of Raven's Hollow and the residents of the cemetery.

What's that you ask? What residents? It's a graveyard, after all. Well, yes. And its inhabitants are mostly dead. But that doesn't make them incapable of wanting to defend their homes. Creepy though they are--including a werewolf in shades, a rather sex-crazed amphibian-woman, talking gargoyles, an animated skeleton, and oh yes, a really cute vampire named Abigail--Paris soon finds himself siding with them and that's when the trouble really begins.

Boneyard is only moderately creepy. What stands out more is the humor, the wonderful characterizations, and the art. Okay, I admit it. I cheated in not letting you know right from the start that this book collects the first four issues of Moore's ongoing black & white comic book, but I was hoping to pique the interest of those of you who might otherwise pass over the review without even noting what the book is about.

For lovers of oddities and fantasy, the black & white independent comic field offers a wealth of wonderful material--if you can get past the idea that good stories can also be told in an illustrated strip format. Try Boneyard. Or one of the many other high quality series also collected in books such as Charm School, Castle Perilous, Bone, Strangers in Paradise . . . I could go on for pages, there are so many good titles. Just try one. If you do, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

*     *     *

It's rarely easy to limit this column to three or four recommendations. This month I thought I'd forego a longer review so I can at least let you know about the existence of some of the wonderful material that has shown up recently:

*     *     *

Alex Irvine's Rosetti Song (Small Beer Press, 2002; $6.00) is a four-story chapbook that makes an excellent introduction to the extended stylistic and subject palette of Irvine, occasional contributor to this very magazine and the author of a deliriously good debut novel, A Scattering of Jades. Two of the stories, in fact, appeared in F&SF, including the title story, an enchanting combination time puzzle/ghost story. Of the other two pieces, one appeared in Starlight 3. The last, and only original piece to this mini collection, is "The Sands of Iwo Jima," a fascinating meditation on memory and how we fit into our environments.

While not a high-end production, Rosetti Song is certainly a handsome one with simple, effective graphics on the cover and a well-designed interior. And you can't beat the price: $6.00 for a signed chapbook? It's a steal.

*     *     *

Admirers of Brian Froud's fairy art will enjoy the latest installment of his Lady Cottington books: Lady Cottinton's Fairy Album (Abrams, 2002; $25.00). Yes, it's more paintings of squashed fairies (although, as usual, we're informed that no fairies were killed or harmed in the making of this book), but they're beautifully rendered and the accompanying text and photos are great fun.

A companion CD is also available separately. Faeries (Windham Hill, 2002; $18.98) is a collection of electronica/ambient instrumental and vocal tracks that's surprisingly good for a project such as this. No surprise, since it includes material by Michael Hedges, Cirque du Soleil, Nightnoise, Delerium, and other popular (I hate to say it, but I can't think of a better term) New Age artists. Stick it in your computer and you gain access to an art gallery, a video interview with Froud, and a short animated film. The 16 page CD booklet reproduces a number of paintings and includes text by Neil Gaiman.

*     *     *

And speaking of Gaiman, DC Comics continues to plunder the long-dead Sandman series, this time with The Sandman, King of Dreams (Chronicle Books, 2002; $15.95), a collection of forty postcards featuring art from the comics, trading cards and the like. Nothing particularly new here, but the art still stands the test of time and recipients of the cards you send out will undoubtedly enjoy them.

*     *     *

If you're a fan of Ray Bradbury's writing (and really, who among us isn't?), you'll have some fun with Bradbury: An Illustrated Life by Jerry Weist (William Morrow, 2002; $34.95). Consider it an illustrated biography with lavish reproductions of book covers, magazine illustrations, movie stills, letters, scripts, and so much more. It's one coffee table book that will stand up to multiple viewings.

*     *     *

Lovecraft at Last (Cooper Square Press, 2002; $28.95) is another oversized book, this one detailing the correspondence between H. P. Lovecraft and Willis Conover who began corresponding with Lovecraft when he was fifteen. If you're at all intrigued with Lovecraft's complicated mythos, you need this. The book includes facsimiles of the correspondence and some photos and illustrations, but the real attraction here is "listening in" on Lovecraft's informal observations on his work as he writes to the youthful Conover.

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Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

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