It’s strange to see a large publisher chopping up a book and publishing as a serialisation in ebook but having read Ghosts of the Citadel it works. Mostly as Jen Williams has written the novel in parts and this bit definitely tells complete incident but not the whole story.
Ghosts of the Citadel grabbed me with the opening chapters due to its playful Sword and Sorcery setting. After you get past the first chapter’s torture scene you are in classic territory of hired swords, leather, magic and mysterious places to explore.
We join hired-swords Wydrin of Crossheaven and her business partner Sir Sebastian Caverson who are accompanied (and paid for) by Lord Firth as they explore the magically-protected Citadel and try to access its secrets. What makes it feel alive isn’t the setting, as it’s nothing that new, but the characters of Wydrin and Sebastian, who feel like people that you’d enjoy going on an adventure with.
Williams has a knack for the playful and the banter between them keep the whole thing moving along with an enjoyable tone. There are some nice moments of revelations about the characters pasts. And Lord Firth has an unshared agenda, which has unforeseen consequences, and is the reason to read the next bit (Children of the Fog). But even as mysterious as he is definitely going to play a central role in what’s the come as he gets moment in the spotlight.
That’s not to say it’s all light as Williams doesn’t pull her punches either and she’s a tricksy writer. Something happens and I had to check in my proof of the whole book if a character did actually die as I was that concerned about them.
This part is only short, 87 pages perhaps, but for 99p gives you a mini-adventure, lets you know Williams’ style and, I think, makes you want to read what happens next.
Title: “Notes from the House Spirits”
Author: Lucy Wood
Source: Diving Belles by Lucy Wood
One Word Review: Perceptive
One Line Review: Lucy Wood asks what if you could hear about a house’s life via its occupants and answers that with snatches and impressions.
One Paragraph Review: It’s voyeuristic this one but at the same time invokes feelings of sympathy for an inanimate object. And to install such feelings is a skill. I ended up feeling sorry for the house as a series of occupants came and went. Wood injects enough of their lives to leave you curious though not enough that you want to know more about them. You still want to go back to the house and its feelings. It’s not a haunted house story but it is a haunting one.
Title: ‘Amethyst, Shadow, and Light’
Author: Saladin Ahmed
Source: Fearsome Journeys edited by Jonathan Strahan
One Word Review: Subversive.
One Line Review: Zok Ironeyes and his partner Hai Hai plan on looting a mansion, instead this Conan-pastiche turns into a quest that could save the world, and Ahmed then plays and pokes fun at the idea.
One Paragraph Review: I’ve not read a lot of Conan but I was wondering if it was supposed to subvert this brand of heroic fantasy and I found another story (set in the same world) and an article confirming that feeling. Over 20-pages, we get a crash-course in world-building and go this mission but it’s a all a little too compressed to enjoy properly. I’m sure it echoes the source material as it does feel pulpy (eg loosing subtleness for instant explanation) but the moments of info-dumping distract from a fun partnership with a big human and a soulless human-rabbit (what I can tell that’s what Hai Hai is). I hope I get to read more of their ‘adventures’ as it’s an interesting idea but hopefully it’ll be a little less packed next time.
Title: Ripple in the Dirac Sea (1988)
Author: Geoffrey Landis
Source: The Time Traveller’s Almanac edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
One Word Review: Clever
One Line Review: Asks, what are the consequences of time travel?, and illustrates those in a twisty three-thread narrative.
One Paragraph Review: As a second story of the almanac it throws you in the deep-end of the theories in time travel but it also gives you lots of buoyancy aids. It teases you with ‘Notes for Lecture on Time Travel’, with the author’s most revisited moment in history and time spent in the ‘present’. It’s one of those stories that becomes clearer and clearer the more pieces that are set down before you see the inevitable. Even if some of the ‘science’ gets confusing the consequences are plain.
Title: Mono no Aware (2012)
Author: Ken Lui
Source: The Future is Japanese
One Word Review: Sweet
One Line Review: A threat to Earth sends of 1000 people from Earth and Lui deftly navigates the present and the past to give us someone to care about.
One Paragraph Review: Until I got to the end I was hoping that this would be an episodic piece as we’re transported to a ship that is traveling near the speed of light to a destination outside our solar system (61 Virgins) and it makes a good setting to dip into to see how they are getting on. But Lui is focusing on the child of Hiroto as he ends up on this ship and the part he plays when he gets there. I’m a little sad it was so short as I’d liked to have seen what Lui would do with the other people on the ship though the relationship element sadly does boarder on saccharine.
Title: The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria
Author: John R. Fultz
Source: Other Worlds Than These ed. John Joseph Adams
One Word Review: Compact
One Line Review: Finding the first book leads Jeremy to complete a quest across worlds in amazingly short 18 pages.
One Paragraph Review: I’m impressed with the scale of what Fultz attempted with this short story and how he pulled it off. The main character reads a series of volumes in The One True World, but as he reads each one things change around him change and he goes further and further away from our world, pealing back layers, showing us different worlds. And for such a brief story it’s a testament how much is world is built and quest is achieved. It’s a slightly cliché in terms of hero-meets-queen-while-on-quest but enjoyable and different nonetheless.
Title: Adam Robots
Author: Adam Roberts
Source: Adam Robots: Short Stories by Adam Roberts
One Word Review: Soulful
One Line Review: Roberts cleverly asks a ‘What if?’ by putting a robot in a garden then having him be told that the only thing he can’t do is touch a jewel, which then becomes the Robot’s obsession until the test ends.
One Paragraph Review: At one point one of the robots says of the test, ‘But forbidden by words. Not by our programming.’ And Roberts uses this story to make observations on the nature of obedience, what we won’t get from a certain religion, and what happens if we let robots do everything for us.
Title: Precious Artefact (1964)
Author: Philip K. Dick
Source: Total Recall/We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick
One Word Review: Twisty.
One Line Review: A Martian Engineer visits Earth to check out a suspicion and P.K. uses this to look at illusions and what we consider precious.
One Paragraph Review: This is my first Philip K. Dick short story and my expectations where dry and obscure and I was pleasantly surprised that I got the opposite. I was engaged with the main character’s dilemma though he makes curious decisions which boil down to ‘do you want to live?’ I liked the twist as he’s not as deluded as I thought he was going to be at the beginning. I’ll definitely be reading some more of his shorts.
Title: ‘Ozioma the Wicked’
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Source: Unnatural Creatures: stories chosen by Neil Gaiman with Maria Dahvana Headley
One Word Review: Telling.
One Line Review: People ostracise what they fear, and Ozioma can talk to snakes, so they fear Ozioma, only call for her help when they are threatened and Nnedi shows how perspectives can change with one act only to be altered again by another.
One Paragraph Review: It’s nice to see a real a tale of a young girl who doesn’t fear what everyone else does even if that means they leave her alone. What made this tale more surprising is how far the ‘fantasy’ of a girl talking to snakes turns into a ‘reality’. The gold raindrops were a little bit too fantastical for me but a fine folk tale all the same.
Title: Do As Thou Wilt…
Author: Storm Constantine
Source: Magic: An Anthology of Esoteric and Arcane edited by Jonathan Oliver
One Word Review: Hopeful.
One Line Review: When an old regret comes back to the fore Leah Metcalfe has to face an old love and the magic she abandoned and Storm comments on relationships, magic, and business.
One Paragraph Review: If you didn’t think that people in the ‘real’ world practice magic the opening few paragraphs set you straight. Two old friends meet for a chat before getting on to the subject of Leah’s affair and how that has (or hasn’t depending on their view) eaten away at her. It’s a commentary on taking the good and the bad of life – and abandoning things doesn’t mean you escape from them. Conversely, even if you know things are bad for you why do you stay? Storm gives a glimmer of ‘real’ magic. It may not contain the smoothest transitions as characters are maybe a little too accommodating but as a commentary it’s got a worthy and non-preaching message.