Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century has done for World War II what The Watchmen did for the Cold War (and should have done for the Vietnam War). I make that comparison not because both feature humans with superpowers, but because they offer an opportunity to look at real events through a hyperbolic layer. Tidhar, like Alan Moore, is interrogating real events with the speculative fiction toolkit, looking not at how it happened historically, but at what about the human condition allowed it. The result, in Violent Century’s case isn’t just a great piece of superhero fiction, but a beautiful novel of cultural and literary merit.
The jacket copy of the novel reads, “…Fogg and Oblivion must face up a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism to answer one last, impossible question: what makes a hero?” I’m loathe to sum it up so simply. While there are some notions of heroism throughout the novel, the quote describes what a fan reckons a superhero novel ought to be without a sense of the novel’s real themes. … Read the rest
Prior to reading D.B. Jackson’s (aka: David B. Coe) most recent novel, my only exposure to the idea of a thieftaker, or a private individual hired to capture criminals, was Julian Sandar from Robert Jordan’s iconic Wheel of Time. Interestingly, my only experience with pre-Revolution America in genre fiction also came by way of Robert Jordan in his Fallon Blood series written under the pseudonym Reagan O’Neal. Jackson’s Thieftaker lifts both limitations, deftly blending historical fiction and urban fantasy to create a who-dun-it dressed up with tricorn hats and blood magic.
Set in 1765 in Boston, Massachusetts, during The Stamp Act riots, Thieftaker follows the exploits of Ethan Kaille, Jackson’s protagonist and only point of view character. Making his living finding stolen goods, Ethan is also a speller, capable of turning organic material into magical energy. When he’s asked to recover a necklace worn by the murdered daughter of a prominent royalist, he finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy to upset the delicate balance between Britain and her colonies.… Read the rest
One Thousand and One Nights, or as it’s better known in the English speaking world, Arabian Nights, is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. The basic premise is that a Persian king discovers his wife’s infidelity and has her executed. Deciding all women are the same, the king marries a series of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to cuckold him. Eventually the vizier cannot find any more virgins until his daughter, Scheherazade, volunteers herself as the next bride. On the night of their marriage, she begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it, forcing the king to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins a new one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion, postpones her execution once again.… Read the rest
Before I became re-enamored with fantasy, I was an avid reader of historical fiction (or as I like to call it — fantasy for people who don’t want to be seen reading fantasy). I read Shogun (Clavell), Pride of Carthage (Durham), Musashi (Yoshikawa), Gates of Fire (Pressfield), and their ilk. It’s exciting to me now when I come across a fantasy concoction that blends that historical sensibility with the speculative. Anne Lyle’s debut novel is just that kind of brew. Set in historical Elizabethan England, Alchemist of Souls shows what might have happened if the Virgin Queen had children, secured her rule, and made an alliance with a heretofore undiscovered alien race from the New World.
Lyle’s protagonist is Mal Catlyn, a down on his luck swordsman with a checkered past and an unfortunate family connection to Catholicism. The skraylings, a new race from the New World, have been allied with England for a generation, but an ambassador had yet to treat with the Queen.… Read the rest