REVIEW SUMMARY: Two short tales from Tor.com touched with a seasonal chill.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: A deeper imagining of a familiar heroic tale and a glimpse of psychological interrogation in an alternate, magical-filled Europe make up the latest free fiction offerings on the Tor.com website.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Lyrical prose; storytelling that evokes the mood of Autumn-Winter transition; tight narrative structure.
CONS: I tried folks, I really did…nothing leaps to mind.
BOTTOM LINE: Fantasy with a hint of folklore, when done well, can create a rich sense of history, a texture that makes a story more than the sum of its parts.  Both of the recent selections from Tor.com showcase talented writers mining familiar territory to craft memorable stories.

In the Greenwood” by Mari Ness

A new take on an old story of romantic love, a heroic band of merry men and a sheriff living near the woods.  The beginning of Ness’ story captivates with its conflicting account of how the two met, instantly drawing the reader into the enchantment of her prose. Despite Allen Williams’ accompanying art, it took me a moment to realize who these characters were, and when I did, the whole story opened up before me.  What makes a story like “In the Greenwood” so successful is that fact that the reader comes in with an understanding of the world-building, the characters, the general idea of the story culled from its very familiarity.  Ness then takes it to a different place, allowing for a deeper reflection on this well known story, a reflection that allows the reader to see these characters from multiple angles, to realize that, like real people, they are far more complicated and multifaceted than the archetypes they have become.  “In the Greenwood” has a strong emotional resonance, this is re-imagination of a familiar story  done right.

The accompany image for this story is by artist Allen Williams. Williams won the Gold Award in the Concept Art category earlier this year at the Spectrum 20 Awards ceremony at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live.

House of Dreams” by Michael Swanwick

As two vagrants travel across the frozen German countryside conversing about death, it becomes apparent to the one that the other is not the person he seems.  When the first vagrant, Ritter, awakens he finds himself in a bed being watched over by an old woman and a man with a benevolent smile.  These prove to be mere facades as Ritter discovers that he is undergoing a very particular kind of psychological interrogation by two proclaimed experts determined to not only find out his mission but also the identity of his mysterious companion.

“House of Dreams” is the fourth in a series of short stories Swanwick has written in his “Mongolian Wizard” series.  The setting of this tale feels like a WWII era tale set in a cold, forbidding place both familiar and strange.  Having not read any of the other stories in this series I can testify to the ease with which I was drawn into the story.  Ritter is an engaging character and the way in which Swanwick paints his captors as kind and confident gives the reader chills while sparking a desire to see Ritter triumph.  “House of Dreams” conjures up great visual imagery as the story unfolds.  The story satisfies while making the reader wish to read more stories set in Swanwick’s alternate history.

The art to accompany this story is by multiple award winning artist Gregory Manchess.  Manchess was recently honored with a show at the Society of Illustrators.

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