Edited by Dario Ciriello
“A Clash of Eagles” by Alan Smale
“To Love the Difficult” by Amy Sterling Casil
“Snow Comes To Hawk’s Folly” by J. Kathleen Cheney
“The Curious Adventures of the Jersey Devil” by Michael D. Winkle
“Dangerous Creatures” by J. Michael Shell
Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell
“A Clash of Eagles” by Alan Smale combines fantasy with history, to postulate what might have happened if the Roman Empire hadn’t fallen. It’s the 33rd Legion under the direction of Gaius Marcellinus, not the Spanish Conquistadors, who invade North America in pursuit of gold.
Marcellinus must deal with more than the usual problems of supplying an army. His tribunes see little reason to trust one another. Marcellinus must decide who among them has ulterior motives, and whether they’ll gain support from his men.
As his soldiers deal with the unknown, skirmishing with natives and challenged by the vagaries of terrain and weather, Marcellinus uses his wits and tenacity to hold them to Roman discipline. Despite his own misgivings, he keeps them going to the fabled city they’d heard so much about.
This is a well-structured story, with clean, sophisticated prose. Smale weaves fictional elements with historic detail to give his tale the air of realism. The timeline is left deliberately murky, and he’s upped the ante by giving the natives some new technology to use in challenging the Romans. That, too, is handled in a consistent and believable manner. The characters are well-formed, in an environment rich with detail. Although I’ll admit I found the pace slow and the ending weak, I’m neither a history buff nor fascinated by things military. That, however, is a matter of personal preference, and no reflection on the quality of this story. For the right reader, this tale will be a real treat.
“To Love the Difficult” by Amy Sterling Casil isn’t as polished. It’s the Rip-Van-Winkle tale of Terry Herle, poet and blogger extraordinaire.
As Herle explores his post-apocalyptic world, he discovers his fame is only fantasy, the concoction of his unconscious mind. He’d been comatose for five years, kept alive by government machines that, improbably, made their way into his isolated, rural home without his knowledge, and disappeared before he awoke. He resides in one of the few habitable spots left on the planet. Even these are failing. All this he learns from his neighbor, who takes him in, but shows no inclination to friendliness. She was a government agent, and she still labors to save what she can.
As they learn to live on their meager resources, they develop a relationship. It turns out, his neighbor is German, and he uses her library to explore poetry and his own Germanic roots.
This story feels patched together, its elements squeezed or stretched, but still a poor fit.
“Snow Comes To Hawk’s Folly” by J. Kathleen Cheney is a delight. It tells the tale of Imogene, the owner of a horseracing stable in New York State. She carries the blood of Faerie, as does her part-puca husband, Guaire. Soon after Imogene’s long-reviled father arrives in her life, her infant son is kidnapped. She and Guaire start a desperate search that carries them, along with Imogene’s father, to a cemetery, and a showdown with the kidnapper.
While bargaining for her son, Imogene learns more about herself and her family. She also comes to terms with her feelings about her father.
It’s a rare author who can hold my interest through several pages of setup and back story. J. Kathleen Cheney is one of those few. She creates for her protagonist a history so rich I wondered if I was reading the second story in a series, and was sorry to have missed the first. Her characters are a marvelous mix of the other-worldly and the everyday.
There are a few minor bobbles, but overall, it’s a good tale, well told.
“The Curious Adventures of the Jersey Devil” by Michael D. Winkle tells us how Charles Fort, loving husband, destitute journalist, ends up on the trail of a monster. The setting is New York in the early nineteen-hundreds. Fort seizes an opportunity offered by the impulsive newspaper tycoon, James Bennett. To earn his pay, he tracks a creature that’s part bird, part beast, with the aim of bagging it as well as the story.
Fort follows the improbable path of the creature, braving both a wormhole and a deluge of frogs. Bright and intuitive, he comes up with an hypothesis concerning the Jersey Devil. He puts the whole puzzle together, and develops his own thoughts about the intelligence of the creature. Fort decides to help it, and he knows what to do. When he returns to his job, he’s ready to accept the consequences, but there’s another surprise awaiting him.
Even when Winkle uses obvious stereotypes, as with his larger-than-life Bennett, he amuses. The story is absurd, but Winkle keeps Fort well-grounded and foreshadows his twists well, making it all seem possible. It’s an enjoyable romp.
“Dangerous Creatures” by J. Michael Shell is divided into two books. “Book One” is based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Fairies seek to lure humans into their forest for recreation. A firesprite named Maribeth does her best to limit the excesses of her peers, allowing their human playthings to return, relatively unscathed, to their homes. Eventually, she plays a trick on her sister and both become pregnant.
“Book Two” is unrelated to “Book One.” A young vampire falls in love, and calls in her older mentor, Dahlia, for advice on how to deal with the situation. Later, Joshua, another vampire, drops in on Megan, with carnal intent. When he discovers Dahlia with her, they discuss werewolves and whether they still exist. Joshua reveals that he drank the blood of one. As it turns out, it’s left him with a problem, and it affects Megan. When Dahlia discovers werewolves are still alive, all three go on the hunt. Things don’t go as well as expected and Dahlia sacrifices herself, and Megan and Joshua find themselves cursed.
“Book Two” has a weak plot, but unlike its predecessor, it has one. In both cases, sexual content can’t disguise the rambling, pointless scenes, the banal dialogue or the feeble characters.
Though the last tale pulled its average down, overall, Panverse Two exceeded my expectations.
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