I can safely say that I’ve never met a Kelly Link story that I didn’t like, and, after re-reading her alchemical debut collection “Stranger Things Happen”, I’m just about ready to tell you why. First, a little recap…“Stranger Things…” burst onto the shorter fiction scene in 2001, published by Small Beer Press (who also put out my favourite ‘zine – “Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet” – and which Link co-founded). It was immediately seized upon by some big names, both in-genre and out of it. Andrew O’Hehir of The New York Times Book Review wrote that: “She embraces fantasy in its fullest sense and in doing so transcends all considerations of genre”, and Neil Gaiman called her “the best short story writer currently out there…” Ellen Datlow, John Clute and Sean Stewart all added their own respected voices in praise.
Let me begin candidly: “Lord of Emperors” only confirms the burgeoning suspicion I had at the end of “Sailing to Sarantium”. The “Sarantine Mosaic” is, for me, one of *the* superior works of prose, plot and imagination, not only in the fantasy genre, but in my reading experience in general. Highly subjective praise indeed you might object, but, from where I’m sitting, well deserved. As such I feel compelled to confess to the obvious: I’ve written a joyfully biased review (somewhat ironically given a recent discussion about a reviewer’s striving for objectivity over on the forums!).
Theodora Goss only began publishing her short fiction and poetry in 2002 but already her work has appeared in some of the genre’s most respected publications (including “Realms of Fantasy”, “Strange Horizons”, “Polyphony” and “Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet”). No less than 6 of her published stories, out of only 11 to date, have appeared in “best of” collections (along with a good deal of her poetry) and in 2004 Small Beer Press collected four of these, together with some unpublished material, into a perfectly formed collection – “The Rose in Twelve Petals and Other Stories” – as part of their occasional chapbook series. Those in the know have confidently proclaimed her One-To-Watch and linked her name with that of rising star Kelly Link (who, as you all well know, co-founded Small Beer). Such high praise warrants investigation, and thus…
I have a set of bright memories associated with various of Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels: Sitting, aged 13, grief-stricken and sobbing in a cold bath having finished “The Darkest Road”, the final weft in his Fionavar Tapestry; drooping in my early morning lectures five years later having welcomed in the dawn with the last page of his “Lions of Al-Rassan”; throwing myself down into my pillows and grinning, grinning, grinning at the promise of a second book in the Sarantine Mosaic duology. This last is hardly tinted with the same nostalgia, what with it only happening yesterday evening but you take my meaning.
Caitlin Sweet’s debut novel – A Telling of Stars– was nominated for the Locus Best First Novel of 2003 and the Crawford Award for the Best First Novel 2003, given a special mention by the Sunburst judges in 2004 and was heavily praised by certain friends and authors whose opinions I trust. So, as soon as a copy came my way, through the mysterious channels and numerous hands that constitute overseas shipping (the book has only been published in Canada thus far, making it slightly more difficult to obtain in other parts of the world), it leapt to the top of my reading pile. And it didn’t take long to devour. Partly because it is that most rare of things: a short(ish) stand-alone fantasy novel, weighing in at a svelte 373 pages and partly because it is written in a lyrical, sensual prose that delivered me quickly from chapter to chapter.
Innumerable commentators, critics, fans and, lately, even film-makers have suggested that Tolkien’s oeuvre was deeply affected by his experiences in the Great War (1914-18) and particularly at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 (when he served as a signals officer with the Lancashire Fusiliers). And now John Garth, a newspaper journalist and Tolkien fan determined to investigate the matter, has written a focused biographical studying of J.R.R’s wartime experiences. Drawing on Tolkien’s letters and papers, Garth has set about reconstructing his movements and the development of his writing during (and the years immediately before and after) the First World War. In doing so he also introduces the circle of close friends – the TCBS (or Tea Club and Barrovian Society), made up of Christopher Wiseman, G. B. Smith and Robert Gilson – with whom Tolkien shared many of his early writings and embryonic mythology. Indeed, the central narrative of the biography, and by far the most interesting aspect, is the interplay of this group (all friends since school), and the tragedies visited upon them by the war; it is, if you like, the tale of a strong and sincere “fellowship” broken by the horrors of circumstance.
Since publishing her debut novel A Telling of Stars (2003) with Penguin, Canadian Caitlin Sweet has joined the burgeoning ranks of young, innovative fantasy genre writers. She has since released a prequel to A Telling – The Silences of Home (2005). Both novels have received high praise for their lyrical prose and emotional potency, and have been likened to the work of her Canadian counterpart, Guy Gavriel Kay.