Friday, November 28, 2014

"The Sylvan Elves' Honor" (Elves, Volume 2) by Nicolas Jarry (script), Ginaluca Maconi (artist) & Diogo Saïto (colors)

"The Sylvan Elves' Honor (Elves, Volume 2) / "L'Honneur des Elfes Sylvains"
by Nicolas Jarry (script), Ginaluca Maconi (artist) & Diogo Saïto (colors)
Publisher: Soleil Productions
The review is based on a bought copy of the book
Other titles in the series: "The Blue Elves' Crystal" / "Le Crystal des Elfes Bleus"

Elves receive a special treatment at Soleil Productions, the French publisher of comic books; an entire universe is dedicated to these legendary creatures with five different writers and five different artists to tell their stories. I’m not sure if with the five teams behind the tales the intention of the publisher was to have five albums in this series, I am only certain that number was surpassed and we are talking of an ongoing series of comic books. But without getting ahead of myself, after the first volume, “The Blue Elves’ Crystal”, written by Jean-Luc Istin and illustrated by Kyko Duarte, here is the second, “The Sylvan Elves’ Honor”, with a script by Nicolas Jarry and art by Gianluca Maconi.

A group of city-states driven only by mercantile intentions seek to seize the rights of customs held by the city of Eysine, but when they refuse to wield under their pressure an army of mercenary orcs hired by the group besieges the citadel. With no allies left to stand by the city of Eysine Llali, the king’s daughter, decides to seek help from the sylvan elves, retired within the forests. Hoping to awaken an ancient alliance between the humans and the sylvan elves Llali meets Yfass, an elven hunter, who leads her to his people.

The reader is thrown in the heart of the story from the first panels, with the entire plot revealed only several pages later and until the full scenario is grasped it takes a series of journeys back and forth in time. Due to this approach and the fact that healthy chunks of dialogue are necessary for the whole plot to be set into places makes the unraveling of the tale a slow process. The stage is occupied mainly by the game of politics, played by the involved parties until the extreme consequence of war is brought upon them. Economic interests, old treaties and internal affairs are all important pieces of this assembly. Assassins, magic and a couple of twists and turns are served on the side, adornments making the story more interesting.

However, as it was the case with the first volume of Soleil Productions’ Elves series the limited space accessible for these comics books (little over 50 pages) turns “The Sylvan Elves’ Honor” a story without depth. The mechanics behind the plot are restricted in order to be contained within the pages of the present volume. Even the small elements used in the support of the tale are barely scratched and every single aspect of the story is more left unexplored rather than surveyed to satisfactory needs. I could not shake the feeling that what could have been a captivating adventure becomes just a feeble endeavor because of the very tight space in which Nicolas Jarry has to develop a complete story.

Sadly, for me, neither the art of Gianluca Maconi works in favor of “The Sylvan Elves’ Honor”, most of the panels are unimpressive and there is little to be had out of the illustrations. Despite of a few of them being acceptable and showing promise, from my point of view most of them are rather schematically treated, with no panel being able to hold my gaze for longer than a couple of moments. I was left largely unimpressed by the final result, among the characters, settings and fighting scenes I could find only a few that I liked quite a bit, but I cannot honestly say that the art of “The Sylvan Elves’ Honor” is what I’d count among my preferences. Diogo Saïto’s coloring saves the situation a bit, it sets nicely the tone and atmosphere of the panels, but I am afraid it does too little to shake my general opinion of the comic book’s art.

Although part of a larger series and universe Nicolas Jarry and Gianluca Marconi’s comic book is independent from the first volume, “The Blue Elves’ Crystal”, as each new album of the Soleil ProductionsElves series is, but in comparison with that first entry I felt “The Sylvan Elves’ Honor” took a tumble for the worse. It is not a bad comic book, it provided me with a quick and fun reading, but no more than that and certainly without demanding another one.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Table of contents - "European Monsters" edited by Jo Thomas & Margrét Helgadóttir

I was thrilled by the concept behind the “Terror Tales” series of anthologies edited by Paul Finch and published by Gray Friar Press from the first volume released and six collections later I still cannot suppress my delight with all these books traveling across England’s provinces to highlight local legends and myths and dress them in new clothes. I also stated several times my dream of seeing such anthologies journeying across the globe in order to explore the rich vein of world’s folklore and myths and to shine a light on more such stories. You can imagine my joy when I discovered a new collection of short stories following my line of thought. “European Monsters” is one answer to my dream, an anthology dedicated to the frightening creatures at the heart of local folklore, myths and legends. And it gets even better, “European Monsters” is just the first of a new series of anthologies with this concept at its base, Fox Spirit Books, the publisher of this collection, announces that the next volumes have already booked tickets to further destinations, with the first of them being Africa in 2015. It is almost as much as I hoped for. I say almost because there is nothing to go by from here, I mean the concept is very clear and I have no complains about it. As a matter of fact, I have no complains what so ever about what keeps my delight in check either, but it still needs to be said, the table of contents assembled by the editors Jo Thomas and Margrét Helgadóttir features only a couple of familiar names. Nothing worrisome, on the contrary, as much as “European Monsters” is similar to the chance of discovering legends and myths unfamiliar to me so far, it is also an opportunity for finding new writers. It will certainly not be the first time when such a things happen, but until I read the collection I have no possibility to opinion on the matter. Another interesting fact regarding “European Monsters” edited by Jo Thomas and Margrét Helgadóttir is that we are talking about a coffee table book and this is one of my first experiences with such volumes. I’ve seen a couple, I don’t own any and yet, I am more than willing to put “European Monsters” on my coffee table. After all, I cannot say that monsters aren’t among the most interesting guests to have for a cup of coffee.

Here be Monsters!
They lurk and crawl and fly in the shadows of our mind. We know them from ancient legends and tales whispered by the  campfire. They hide under the dark bridge, in the deep woods or out on the great plains, in the drizzling rain forest or out on the foggy moor, beneath the surface, under your bed. They don’t sparkle or have any interest in us except to tear us apart. They are the monsters! Forgotten, unknown,  misunderstood, overused, watered down. We adore them still. We want to give them a renaissance, to reestablish their dark reputation, to give them a comeback, let the world know of their real terror.
Welcome to  ‘The Fox Spirit Books of Monsters’. A book series with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world, starting with Europe, continuing with Africa in 2015 before the travel continues. Fox Spirit Books will take you from continent to continent, bringing you art and dark fiction about monsters based on local folklore, myths and legends from around the world.

“Herne” by Jonathan Grimwood
“Vijka” by Anne Michaud
“Broken Bridges” by James Bennett
“Upon The Wash of the Fjord” by Byron Black
“Nimby” by Hannah Kate
“Serpent Dawn” by Adrian Tchaikovsky & Eugene Smith (artist)
“Black Shuck” by Joan De La Haye
“A Very Modern Monster” by Aliya Whiteley
“Fly, My Dear, Fly” by Nerine Dorman
“Mélanie” by Aliette de Bodard
“Moments” by Krista Walsh
“Hafgufa Rising” by Chris Galvin
“Old Bones” by Peter Damien
“The Cursed One” by Icy Sedgwick
Mother Knows Worst” by Jasper Bark & Soussherpa (artist)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cover art - "Rolling in the Deep" by Mira Grant

I had the pleasure to interview Julie Dillon back in 2009 and since then, if not earlier, I watched her artist career with great interest. Not only I welcomed with delight each of her new artworks, but I also was thrilled to see Julie Dillon gathering appreciation and recognition in forms of nominations for World Fantasy Award (2012) and Hugo Award (2013) and winnings of two Chesley Awards (2010, 2011) and a Hugo Award (2014). I’ll add to these a successful crowd-funding campaign for an art book, “Imagined Realms: Book 1”, signaling that Julie Dillon does an excellent job with her art. The lively colors and vivid creativeness of each of her new art pieces open a door to other worlds, every single one of them allows me to explore infinite possibilities, depending on the subject and the confines of my own imagination. I can return easily to Julie Dillon’s art pieces and imagine something different based on them, I can take each time another route, uncharted before. In this sense I believe her artworks have no limits. It happened to me again with Julie Dillon’s book cover for Mira Grant’s novella, “Rolling in the Deep”, due to be released by Subterranean Press. I have discovered another wonderful composition, complex and delightful. It is true that my first viewing of the cover artwork is influenced by the connection with the synopsis of the novella as well, but I consider that only the starting point. Because commencing from here this beautiful art piece allows countless possibilities, with all the whys, whats, wheres and ifs left on the hands of our imagination.

When the Imagine Network commissioned a documentary on mermaids, to be filmed from the cruise ship Atargatis, they expected what they had always received before: an assortment of eyewitness reports that proved nothing, some footage that proved even less, and the kind of ratings that only came from peddling imaginary creatures to the masses.
They didn't expect actual mermaids.  They certainly didn't expect those mermaids to have teeth.
This is the story of the Atargatis, lost at sea with all hands.  Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.  Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the bathypelagic zone in the Mariana Trench…and the depths are very good at keeping secrets.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shimmer Magazine, Issue 22, November 2014

Issue 22, November 2014
The review is based on a bought copy of the magazine

“A Whisper in the Weld” by Alix E. Harrow – Isa Bell dies in an accident at the steel mill she is working, but her ghost lingers near her working place and her nearby home, waiting to meet with the ghost of her husband, supposedly recently killed in action, while keeping an eye of her daughters. In the simplest approach I could put Alix E. Harrow’s story in a line of other ghost stories, after all familiar elements of such tales make their presence felt, a cat is the only being capable of seeing Isa after her death and the connection her ghost has with Isa’s places of living and work, but “A Whisper in the Weld” is anything but a conventional ghost story. A story of love, loss and hope, with social implications heightened by the difficult times of war in which it is set. No statements of after life are made, there is no better place relieving the dead of the burdens carried in life, only a certain peacefulness and the characteristic course of nature.
“After death, ghosts are sculpted like cold clay into the shapes they wore when they were most alive. Some people are taken by surprise. Women whose lives were about their husbands and homes are, without warning, precisely as they were when they met a stranger’s eyes on a crowded streetcar. Men who had the kinds of careers that involved velvet-lined train cars and cigar smoke are suddenly nine years old, running their spectral fingers through the tall grasses and thinking of nothing at all.”
I am not trying to claim knowledge of the author’s intentions, I am not attempting to proclaim hindsight, but the names of Isa’s daughters, Vesta (from the Roman goddess of family, home and hearth) and Persephone (from the Greek queen of the underworld and goddess of vegetation), could be seen as a from of reflection of the bridge Isa Bell crosses from life to death.
Social issues are extensively treated, with all the unpleasant results emerging out of a society profiting to the maximum of dire times. The characters are handled broadly as well, even with the limited space offered by the short forms of fiction Alix E. Harrow creates strong protagonists, all of them, even if they have a more or less presence within the story, send waves of deep emotions across the pages. As it is the case with the language of “A Whisper in the Weld”, rich, beautiful prose enhances the reading experience of this wonderful story. Alix E. Harrow’s “A Whisper in the Weld” is one of those stories holding countless rewards with its lines, as precious as a rare gem.

“Caretaker” by Carlie St. George – The main character mysteriously receives the dead bodies of suicides and takes upon herself (the gender of the character isn’t stated but somehow I felt it is a woman) the mission of burying and offering them the final rest. It is a very short story and yet with such a great depth. Guided by the dream of the catcher in the rye of saving people before they fall from the cliff the main character feels pressured by the task she takes on herself, difficult and lonely most of the times, but committing to it with full responsibility. It is a world full of ghosts that surrounds her, be them stars, dead astral bodies in the sky, people walking in life as if they are ghosts or the specters of the departure ones who come to her in their final hour.

“Cantor’s Dragon” by Craig DeLancey – Georg Cantor, the renowned mathematician, is admitted into a clinic after the tragic death of his son and here he confronts a dragon that seems to be one of the keepers of after life. A touching, sensible story and another one of this issue that offers a certain image of what awaits beyond the threshold of death without the smugness of the beholders of universal truth. Georg Cantor work was on the theory of infinity and that is reflected in the image of “Cantor’s Dragon”. Heaven and hell is a matter of choice here instead of a reward or a threat and the possibilities are, well, infinite. The latter can be a matter of personal delusion and mental torment, since the dragon Cantor sees could well be the creation of his own mind. Reaching the former becomes a problem of mathematics and a contest of logics between Cantor and the dragon a form of gaining access to it. Yet, for me, Cantor’s clever solution doesn’t seem to bring relief, it only appears to highlight the tragedy at the core of this story.

“The One They Took Before” by Kelly Sandoval – Kayla, returned from the land of the fairies, where she was abducted, finds herself torn between their world and ours. “The One They Took Before” holds perfectly the feeling of main character’s anxiety, the craving for something she cannot reach, be that from our modern world or that of the fairies. Her inefficiency of readapting, her constant search for signs of the fairies, sometimes with hope, sometimes full of fear, back the credibility of Kayla’s situation throughout the entire story. As in the case of the first tale of this issue Kelly Sandoval’s “The One They Took Before” is also topped with beautiful, poetic prose.
“Witnesses report Aarons was seen outside the venue with a woman described as having skin the color of a summer moon and eyes as deep as madness.”

Shimmer’s 22nd issue comes with an assortment of stories full of loss, longing and despair, however not of the darkest, bleakest kind, but as melancholic as an early autumn rain. With this intricate issue Shimmer does once again what it does best, it presents stories that leave a mark on the reader and brings forth strong voices, talented writers to watch in the future.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Release day - "Exorcizat" (Exorcized) by Radu Găvan

The latest information states that book industry in Romania hit a new low since 1990, it seems that 2/3 of the publishers closed doors, while other signs of health from the book market are not encouraging. In this light, my constant bickering and raised questions about the horror genre in Romania, a niche with a tiny span, seems pointless. I repeat, the Romanian folklore, legends and traditions, plus nearly 50 years of an oppressive regime and 25 years more of an unstable society offer a fertile ground for genre fiction and yet it remains mostly unsown. Even so, I do believe that there is hope and a better future can be built, in the end we do have young writers and bold publishers to prove that. Without them we cannot talk of any kind of future. It is tough, from my experience the school programs force only the classics on the students and every other book outside that is labeled as unimportant, therefore plenty of teachers chase away pupils from reading in the process. It is just one part of a wider picture, but I prefer not going into detail, I wish to keep a more optimistic tone here. Because in the end change starts with each of us and efforts are made to turn things around. Keeping it to the Romanian horror genre I am happy I can point out a couple of examples, Mircea Pricăjan does one hell of a job with his editing, writing and running of the Suspense Magazine, a genre periodical, Herg Benet is a new publishing house with strong attitude, welcoming and publishing new and interesting Romanian writers. There are several more and that is the reason for me believing that our genre fiction can become memorable. For instance, Radu Găvan, who launches today his debut novel, “Exorcizat” (Exorcized), through the already mentioned Herg Benet. I had the chance to read a couple of Radu Găvan’s short stories and those made an impact, thus I am quite curious about his novel. I have a little restrain towards it, I understand “Exorcizat” (Exorcized) contains sex and violence and these two in the same sentence are not a point of attraction, but there are other things that make me give this novel a chance. A young writer, a daring publisher, an intriguing concept, a hope for the future of the genre. Oh, and more thing, we can promote such novels with the help of a book trailer too, despite me not finding those extremely efficient it is a step forward.

“… we are the hyenas that chase away the lion from the prey, the cockroaches that invade your home, the rats that put you on the run. We are fighting for food, so we are prepared…”

In the middle of a strangled city, a young real estate agent, alone and penniless, fights with desperation for survival.  Born from the darkness of his mind, as well as from the moral filth of the corrupt society that surrounds him, the demons of the past meet those of the present. Thus, the battle for keeping his own humanity can begin. Alive and brutal, overwhelming from the psychological point of view, Exorcized is a rollercoaster that strolls mercilessly the shadows of the human mind.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In the news - Two novels by Aliette de Bodard published by Gollancz

The good news about some of my favorite writers and their future books seem to be piling in, but you’ll not see any trace of me complaining about it, on the contrary. The latest such piece of news comes from Aliette de Bodard, one of the most talented and exciting voices of modern speculative fiction, and Gollancz, one of the major UK publishers of genre fiction. Following four years of publishing short fiction (I would not even attempt to say that each new one was better than the last considering that all of them are excellent stories) since the release of her last novel, “Master of the House of Darts”, the third entry in the “Obsidian and Blood” trilogy after “Servant of the Underworld” and “Harbinger of the Storm”, on 20th August 2015 Gollancz will release Aliette de Bodard’s new novel, “House of Shattered Wings”. Plus a sequel of “House of Shattered Wings”, yet untitled, since Gollancz acquired the rights for two novels written by this amazing writer. “House of Shattered Wings” is set in Paris and promises plenty of excellent things, beside the guarantee offered by Aliette de Bodard’s talent.

In “House of Shattered Wings”, Paris’s streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell and the Seine runs black with ashes and rubble. De Bodard’s rich storytelling brings three different voices together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel, an alchemist with a self-destructive addition, and a young man wielding spells from the Far East.

It seems next year I’ll have my hands full of promising books, but this perspective is nothing but delightful.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Title spotlight - "Dark Tales of Sorrow and Despair" by Ciprian Mitoceanu

I am not overly familiar with the works of the Romanian writer Ciprian Mitoceanu. As a matter of fact, I cannot cast a legitimate opinion on any of his writings, as personal and subjective as those are I read only a couple of his short stories and therefore I am unable to offer a full point of view on his works, in spite having two of his novels on my library shelves, “The Dawson Amendment” (Amendamentul Dawson) and “In the Blood of the Father” (În sângele tatălui). Ciprian Mitoceanu also published another novel, “Fangs” (Colţii), but that one is as distant as any of my thoughts on his works. Still, in the light of what I said on Monday about the state of our speculative fiction and the steps we need to take in order to move forward and to build a strong community of genre writers, editors and readers I am delighted to see a collection of Ciprian Mitoceanu’s short stories available in English. Self-published (we are still working and struggling to bring our writers on the English market through traditional publishing, be that through a small, independent press or a more established publishing house), available in electronic format on Amazon and translated by an admirable and talented Romanian translator, writer and editor, Mircea Pricăjan, “Dark Tales of Sorrow and Despair” gathers Ciprian Mitoceanu’s five short stories and novellas exploring the Romanian horror. I would definitely give Ciprian Mitoceanu’s “Dark Tales of Sorrow and Despair” a chance, even if it’s just a small taste of the Romanian genre literature. Because I keep saying, the Romanian folklore, legends and traditions offer a very fertile ground for the horror and dark fantasy genres, unfortunately little explored at the moment but with so much potential. And future, as I’ve started to notice these days.

Mitoceanu's writing is woven to the effect of inspiring horror, both mental and physical, his stories are plot-centered, and his characters, most of the times easily recognizable as Romanians, are deftly drawn to extract the dark side of human nature. 
Mitoceanu's biggest accomplishment is his showing the world that Romania has a lot of frightful stories to tell. And Romania's lucky to have him for that task, as his writing abilities in a very difficult genre are indeed worthy of praise.
Step into Ciprian Mitoceanu's horrific worlds, where sorrow and despair shake hands with (the illusion of) hope, and you will surely be getting a taste of what the young Romanian horror has best to offer.