Bards and Scribes: The Druid – Guest Blog from Jesse Teller

Bards and Scribes: The Druid

Guest Blog from Jesse Teller

The Worth of Hair by A. A. Freeman

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Seven Deaths of an Empire by G. R. Matthews – Cover Reveal + Excerpt

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The Fair Folk edited by Marvin Kaye

The Fair Folk edited by Marvin Kaye
Book Name: The Fair Folk
Author: edited by Marvin Kaye
Publisher(s): Ace
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback
Genre(s): Fantasy / Short Stories
Release Date: February 6, 2007

I have no doubt that those of you reading this have a fair sized book collection and can admit to owning at least a few novels on your shelves that, perhaps, are coated in a thick layer of dust. These poor little guys have generally been purchased on a whim while just “taking a look” at the bookstore, but then become promptly forgotten about when that book you were really hoping for comes out. I myself have had The Fair Folk – a six story anthology focused around the fey from 2005 – waiting patiently on my bookshelf for a few years after picking it up randomly at my local literature dispensary. When I needed a new book to review that hadn’t already gotten such treatment from others here at FF, I decided that there was no time like the present to finally sit down and give this one a go. I was, quite frankly, pleasantly surprised.

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When I first purchased The Fair Folk, I thought it was going to contain stories focused primarily around elves. I quickly learned this was not the case. While my favorite, pointy-eared fey do take the spotlight in three out of the six stories within, we also get interactions with a brownie, a kelpie, and something quite more sinister. I had hoped that each story would take a different look at elves and showcase them in a unique way per short, but I walked away happy in what I sat down to read. So, what were these fey-focused stories all about?

“UOUS” by Tanith Lee is the opening tale of this anthology and it was enough of an intriguing story to keep me moving forward through the book. It takes the structure of Cinderella by following the teenage Lois as she is worked to the bone for her stepmother and two stepsisters (who are lacking in the pre-requisite amount of ugliness) in an old, run-down house in woods that feel altogether ancient. With her father dead and her life seeming like it will never get any better, she ends up shouting for help the only way she can think of at the time: by screaming for three wishes while enraptured by the overwhelming power of such an old, powerful wood. Soon after, a stranger named Finn shows up and it is quickly revealed that sometimes you must be careful what you wish for.

It’s always a toss-up for me whether or not I’ll like a teenage protagonist. I hated teenagers when I was a teenager and, to be honest, the older I get the more irritating they become. I was, however, relieved by how much I connected with Lois and understood her frustrations. You really get a clear picture of her and how she feels and the story really comes across as this weird whirlwind that just sort of sweeps her up, like a true fairy tale; except in a contemporary setting and with a darker twist than your average kid’s movie. This isn’t a Grimm tale by any means but things don’t end up going exactly the way our protagonist hoped for either. It’s a wonderful read and a great start to a collection of fey-centric stories.

Next up is “Grace Notes” by Megan Lindholm. Her story focuses on a bachelor named Jeffrey who starts noticing some odd happenings around his apartment and soon finds out that the food in his fridge and the cleanliness of his homestead are not the result of his worrisome mother or a unique style of criminal. No, it turns out a brownie has taken up residence and is doing her utmost to transform Jeffrey’s sty from shabby to chic. Everything seems like a match made in heaven at first, but how is his new roommate paying for all these things? Well…

Honestly, this was my least favorite story of the lot. The author focuses so heavily on the changes that the brownie has made to the apartment that I felt like I was reading the short story version of Home and Garden. Add to that how bland Jeffrey is as a character and the lack of anything truly exciting happening and your left with a supernatural slice of life that tries to come off more engaging than it is. If you do ever find yourself picking this anthology up, skip “Grace Notes”. You won’t miss much.

The third of our fey-focused tales is “The Gypsies in the Wood” by Kim Newman. In it we follow Charles Beauregard, a member of a secret organization known as the Diogenes Club who takes on cases of a rather…peculiar nature. He has been sent to the small, two-pronged community of Eye to investigate Davey Harvill, a child who went missing some time ago but has now returned thirty years older, or so he claims (though he definitely looks the part).

Maeve, Davey’s sister, is still missing as well and Charles hopes to find her during his investigation. He accomplishes this quite quickly and everyone rejoices, but it is plain to see there is something off about the little girl Mr. Beauregard brings back from the snow covered woods where she and Davey went missing. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence to suggest anything is truly off about Maeve and the case is closed…until eight years later when happenings in London force Charles to reconsider that perhaps everything is not as open and shut as his superiors had believed.

I thought this story was going to be my favorite of the six, I enjoyed it that much. Another story ended up taking that honor, but “The Gypsies in the Wood” is a close second. The pacing and tone are near perfect, Charles and his journalist/friend/partner-by-necessity, Kate Hammond, have a great relationship that feels quite concrete and familiar in such a short narrative. The entirety of the setting from London to the tertiary characters feels incredibly well-constructed. I have not looked up any novels by Kim Newman yet but I hope there’s at least one that involves Charles Beauregard, Kate Hammond, and their investigations into supernatural mystery.

In “The Kelpie” by Patricia A. McKilliip, we are introduced to two painters, Edward Bonham and Emma Slade, who fall in love at first sight during a bohemian get-together at her brother Adrian’s new home. Ned is not the only one to notice Emma, however, as the prolific and rather imposing painter Mr. Wilding is also in attendance. Though she tries to rebuff his advances to have her sit for him, Mr. Wilding ends up getting his way the following day causing Emma to be run ragged as she paints during the earlier morning, sits for Mr. Wilding most of the afternoon, and tries to spend as much time with Ned in the evening as she can. Finally it becomes too much for Ms. Slade (or, truthfully, she has tired of Mr. Wilding’s condescension) and a trip is planned in the country for Ned, Emma, Adrian, their friends, really all but Mr. Wilding. On this trip is where the fey come into the story and it is rather touching, if not completely unexpected, as to what transpires.

I’m a sucker for a bit of romance. You’d think the two of them falling in love at first glance would be too much but they both reference how silly it is earlier, yet they don’t care. The atmosphere of the short is also to be applauded. It’s not set in any real place but its renaissance trappings and European-artist feel are so deeply embedded in the story that you’re transported into the world immediately. And, as much as I enjoyed Ned, Emma really becomes the stand out character by the end of the story. You see how she is trying to be tamed by those around her but, like the titular kelpie, that is impossible. You can only watch and wait, loving her for who and what she is, not what you want her to be.

I was not aware of the magic-allergic wizard Ebenzum, created by Craig Shaw Gardner, until reading “An Embarrassment of Elves” but there’s apparently a series about him that’s six books strong. Who knew? However, this story does not revolve around him but his apprentice Wuntvor. He and his companions, from a vaudeville Dragon to a cloak covered demon unable to lie, start off the story capturing a dark rider – a black armored man who stands about looking imposing to let those around know that the Ultimate Evil is on its way – until they are invited to an elf party which are, to be noted, incredibly magnificent. What ensues is magical fuelled shenanigans, personality swapping, and the slight possibility of absolute destruction. Good times!

I don’t really have much experience with humour-based fantasy stories so there’s not much I can say about this one. I definitely had fun reading it, but I have no interest in picking up any more of the Ebenuzum series (who does make an appearance, if there are any fans out there). It seemed as though I should have known these characters from earlier stories because I felt like I was playing catch-up. The story does stand on its own and it’s an entertaining read, but, truth be told, not really for me.

“Except the Queen” by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder was my absolute favorite story in this anthology, hands down. The premise, simply enough, is that two elves, Meteora and Serana, have been exiled from their world and are now living in our world as old women. They write back and forth to each other regarding their current situations and soon begin to realize that a young man and young woman that they have each been assisting are far more than simple wayward youths in need. As the story unravels you are sucked into an amazing urban fantasy that you can’t help but enjoy.

I was ready to hate this story. Two people sending letters back and forth to each other? Really, that’s how you’re going to tell this? But it works! You learn so much about these characters from what they have to say about each other, what they miss, what they love and hate about the human world, everything just by interacting with each other. There’s a lot of heart in this story and it’s filled with moment after moment, whether it be heartfelt or action or sweet, and it makes it a complete joy to read. Out of all the stories in this anthology, “Except the Queen” has the most soul and I would urge anyone to pick up this collection for this story alone.

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Any collection you read can be hit or miss. There’s always stories that might not speak to you or simply won’t manage to capture your attention. As long as you manage to find a few stories in an anthology that give you that sense of awe or satisfaction that you were hoping for, it’s worth the price tag. I’m glad I finally took The Fair Folk off the shelf and ventured into worlds filled with fashionable brownies, exiled elves, and a kelpie that didn’t need to be tamed. It definitely put some much needed fey back in my day.


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