The Overneath is a new collection of short stories by Peter S. Beagle, the writer of The Last Unicorn (1968). I enjoyed all thirteen of these stories, and found it difficult to single out favourites. They are all of the highest quality and cry out to be read. These gems cover genres including fantasy, science fiction, supernatural horror, and steampunk. For fans of The Last Unicorn, there are two stories which feature one of Beagle’s most beloved characters, Schmendrick the magician.
“Speaking as a military man, I despise fighting against lunatics. I’ve done it once or twice, and it sets your teeth on edge. You can’t predict what they’ll do, …” (Loc 570)
Cover by Vincent Chong
When the Empress is your aunt, you’ve got to do what she says, even if you don’t like it. K.J. Parker’s latest novella pits an unnamed narrator against “the Land and Sea Raiders”, a group of mysterious pirates who have been attacking the land’s monasteries. We are told a brief history of encounters with the raiders, but until now, no-one has been able to discover exactly who they are or where they’re from.
“Our first experience of them was seventy long, high-castled warships suddenly appearing off Vica Bay. The governor […] sent a message to their leader inviting him to lunch. He came, and brought some friends; it was sixty years before Vica was rebuilt,” (Loc 129)
‘“Thems what go in there like this”—the woman held a hand up, fingers pointing at the sky— “come out like this”—she tipped her hand until the palm was horizontal.’ (Loc 316)
In an alternative London in 1850, the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts is recruiting raw, untrained magicians. And they are prepared to pay families handsomely for such talent. Benjamin Gunn and his sister Charlotte appear to have some magical capabilities and one of them is brought to the attention of the Society. This novella by Emma Newman tells the first part of their story, paving the way for more books in what is billed as “a new gaslamp fantasy series” by the author.
Brother’s Ruin is a short and entertaining novella which builds an interesting world around its characters. It’s Victorian England with magic, although Newman refrains from depicting magical battles in the vein of the Harry Potter books. The magic in this story is more restrained. Continue reading →
“Above the silent rooms on the third floor there is an attic. I know this because I have stood outside and studied the house, the way you study a person’s face to tell if they are telling the truth or a lie.” (Loc 696)
Northern Irish writer Paul Kearney has written a number of novels beginning with A Different Kingdom in 1993. He went on to write The Monarchies of God series (1995-2002), and The Macht trilogy (2008-2012), which are both rated highly on book review sites and blogs. The Wolf in the Attic was released in May, 2016.
England, 1929. Anna Francis, a 12-year-old refugee from Greece, lives with her father in a big, old house in Oxford. She is taught by a home tutor and confides in her doll Penelope. After witnessing a shocking event in the fields near her house, she becomes mixed up in a strange adventure involving her father, a couple of well-meaning Oxford professors, the Romany, and a mysterious group known only as “the Roadmen”. Continue reading →
“Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud. And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire”
Up until quite recently, I was only familiar with the word “genie” as a descriptor for supernatural beings that have a reputation for living in old lamps and granting wishes. The stories in this collection use either “djinn”, “jinn” or “genie” to represent these entities that are very different from the Robin Williams-voiced, cute, animated character seen in Disney’s Aladdin. So, what are these mysterious, misrepresented creatures? Here is what the website “islamreligion.com” says about them:
“The Jinn are beings created with free will, living on earth in a world parallel to mankind. The Arabic word Jinn is from the verb ‘Janna’ which means to hide or conceal. Thus, they are physically invisible from man as their description suggests.” (Source: islamreligion.com. Link here.)
In The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, editors Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin have compiled a wonderfully varied collection of 22 tales of “Djinn” from authors including Nnedi Okorafor, Sami Shah, Monica Byrne, Claire North, Kamila Shamsie, Kirsty Logan, K.J Parker, Saad Hossein, James Smythe and Neil Gaiman. It was nice to find a mixture of writers I knew as well as ones who were new to me; one of the great things about short story collections.
And what a collection this is. I haven’t enjoyed a short story collection as much as this in a long time. This is a wonderful book and a book full of wonders. Every tale is well told. It’s a cornucopia of enchanting tales that sheds light on the human condition as well as the supernatural Djinn. It was difficult to select a favorite so I’ll write a couple of lines about the stories that really stood out for me. Continue reading →
“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” – Terry Pratchett
Art by Josh Kirby
Terry Pratchett’s seventh Discworld novel Pyramids won the BSFA Best Novel award in 1989. I re-read it as part of my BSFA Reading Challenge. It is the first book in the Discworld series that can be read as a standalone story. That is, there aren’t any recurring characters in this book, but it is set in the Discword universe. (If you are new to the Discworld experience then here is a link to the Wikipedia page.)
Pyramids tells the story of Teppic, a young man who is heir to the throne of “Djelibaybi”, a kingdom which is a caricature of ancient Egypt. At the beginning of the story, we join Teppic as a trainee assassin attending the Assassin’s Guild in the city of Ankh-Morpork.
“All assassins had a full-length mirror in their rooms, because it would be a terrible insult to anyone to kill them when you were badly dressed.”