01/09/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Stark House Press, Eureka, USA. 321 page enlarged paperback. Price: $19.95 (US). ISBN: 978-096678-484-8.
check out website: www.starkhousepress.com
It always seems a shame for an author to expend a great deal of time and energy in creating a world, either SF or fantasy, only to use it for a single story or novel. In some cases, it may be that it is the creating of a plausible, internally logical setting that is the pleasure the author gets from writing, but for most, a well-built world always has further corners to explore. The reader, too, often has a desire to explore.
This is why good creations are revisited. Iain M. Banks often returns to a future where the Culture dominates the known universe. He uses it as a framework within which to create his scenarios. Fantasy writers tend to produce trilogies or even, as in the case of Robin Hobb, trilogies of trilogies. Sometimes there is the feeling that the author ought to be moving on, other times it is a delight to return.
When Storm Constantine weaves worlds, she hints at times past and distant places, techniques which give the setting substance and a feeling that it has a place in space and time and does not exist in a vacuum. All the stories in this volume are set in the same world as her 'Magravandias Trilogy' ('Sea Dragon Heir', 'Crown Of Silence' and 'The Way Of Light'). The nine stories encompass several of the themes Constantine likes to explore, such as love and betrayal often in a fairy-tale setting.
The title story, 'The Thorn Boy', tells of a lesson learnt too well. The narrator, Darien, is the King of Cos' favourite boy. When the neighbouring country of Mewt is defeated, the Khan's boy becomes a spoil of war. At first, the King merely asks Darien to ease Akaten into the ways of Cos' court life, but when Akaten replaces him in the King's affection, he plots revenge. It is a tale of jealousy and betrayal and like many of these stories is homo-erotic.
A number of the stories are re-tellings of classic fairy tales. The plot and often the dénouement will be well known to the reader, but it is the way that they are adapted for the current setting that is a delight. 'Spinning For Gold' is the Rumpelstiltskin story. Here, though, it is a young boy, Jadrin, whose father's boast that he can spin straw into gold that gets him into trouble.
'The Nothing Child' is a sequel and uses a Scottish fairy tale as its base. Jadrin, now consort to the king, is lonely when his partner is away fighting wars, he wants the impossible, a child. When a dark angel offers him one in return for nothing, the naivety and desire of Jadrin does not alert him to the probability that this is a trap.
'Living With The Angel' is the third story in this sequence. Jadrin's son, Jadalan, has been brought up by the angel and falls in love with the angel's son, Variel. As a result, Jadalan is banished back into the world of men. Variel vows to follow him.
'The True Destiny Of The Heir to Emiraldra' re-shapes another Scottish fairy tale and adds elements of Cinderella. The Lord of Emiraldra's daughter falls in love with and gets pregnant by a wandering gypsy. When she dies giving birth to Brackeny, her father condemns the boy to be brought up in the obscurity of the kitchen. His fortunes change when Charlaise becomes the goose girl and teaches him the things he needs to know to fulfil his destiny.
'The Island Of Desire' is another adaptation of a traditional fairy story. In this case, the two princes are found each morning totally exhausted with their shoes worn through as if they have been dancing all night. In despair, their parents have asked for help, but the price of failure to solve the mystery is death. Despite the risks, Maris, a resourceful female warrior, agrees to try.
The remaining three stories are darker. 'My Lady Of The Hearth' tells of a lonely man who, having been forsaken by his fiancée, feels that his only friend is his cat. After painting a superb picture of the cat goddess, Purryah, favours him by changing his cat into a woman. All goes well until the wedding day.
'Night's Damozel' is another story of a lonely man. Samuel has devoted his time to collecting rare plants, especially those of a poisonous kind, The lady of the title is the prize of his collection. On one plant hunting expedition he meets and is captivated by Xanthe. He marries her and brings her home. Unfortunately, she is not what she seems.
Cats also feature in 'The Face Of Sekt'. The living representative of the lion-headed goddess, Sekt, always wears a mask and must not allow her real face to be seen. She is called to the king's palace when the prince falls ill. She is persuaded by a magician that the boy is possessed by a demon and only she can remove it by performing a ritual that he knows and the temple has forgotten. This is only a pretext to lure her out into the desert alone.
Most of these stories could have been set in any fantasy world and lost nothing as their power is in the telling rather than the setting. By the end of the volume, very little new is learned about the Magravandia but this does not matter. Good stories like these have a life of their own regardless of place and time.
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