Tad Williams writes doorstop-sized fantasy series where, in his world building, not everything is ever revealed to the reader. One of the great characteristics about series such as Otherland, Shadowmarch, and Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is that, when they are done, there are pieces and connections that your brain continues to try to figure out; it’s not that he leaves big gaping holes in the background of the world or characters, he provides just enough to allow his reader to think, and to imagine. (The other great characteristic is that he finishes these series with a frequency that doesn’t keep his readers waiting for several years; and he always provides a summary of what has gone before, something those of us with poor memories require.)
Thus, I expected this collection of short stories and novellas to be in that category: grandiose fantasies with lots behind the curtain. And some of these certainly fit in that bucket and could be extended into larger stories and worlds (specifically “And Ministers of Grace”, “The Storm Door”, “The Stranger’s Hand”, and “The Terrible Conflaguration at Quiller’s Mints”, which takes place in the Shadowmarch world). But there were other stories that were either completely out of the fantasy genre, or in someone else’s world, or were just standalone fantasy short stories. And unfortunately, there were a couple of screenplays thrown in. Unless it’s Shakespeare, the reading of a screenplay is difficult (unless maybe for actors?), and having one (or two) in a collection of short stories breaks up the rhythm. Structurally, they are quite a different read, and the two included here were a fragment and a horror story. “Black Sunshine”, the horror story, I actually enjoyed, but the reading of a story in screenplay format is not for me.
My favorites here were “And Ministers of Grace”, “The Stranger’s Hand”, “The Thursday Men” (Hellboy, yeah!) and “The Lamentable Comic Tragedy (or the Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Luxal Laqavee”. I could have done without “Bad Guy Factory” (the screenplay fragment) and “The Terrible Conflagration at the Quiller’s Mint”.
Individual reviews below:
“And Ministers of Grace” – Lamentation Kane is a holy assassin, a genetically modified soldier of the Covenant world. He is sent disguised to Archimedes, home of the unclean, non-worshippers to assassinate their prime minister. He has a “seed” in him, reminds me of a tracker/smartphone implant; his normal one on Covenant gives spiritual reminders, but the one he must wear on Archimedes spouts advertisements, news, babble. The world Williams creates here would make an interesting full length book, with some worlds fervently religious, some worlds fervently not. A different kind of holy war. This could easily become another Tad Williams world and series.
“A Stark and Wormy Knight” – mama dragon tells a bedtime story to her child dragon of their great grandpap, who was almost killed by Sir Libogran, who is a stark and wormy knight. Interesting turns of phrase:
“…when your Great-Grandpap happened to flap by overhead, on his way back from a failed attempt at tavernkeeper tartare in a nearby town.”
“So did your wisdominical Great-Grandpap confine himself to blowhards and peasant girls and the occasional parish priest tumbled down drunk in the Churchyard of a Sunday evening, shagged on from ‘cessive sermonizing.”
Clever writing, predictable story.
“The Storm Door” – paranormal investigator Nathan Nightingale has a zombie meets Tibetan Book of the Dead moment. Interesting characters, but somewhat pedantic outcome.
“The Stranger’s Hands” – the most evil wizard in the land, Elizar, has turned into a simpleton, cared for by his servant Feliks. He offers his hand to some, and in grasping it, they seem to be rewarded with their heart’s desire. The local priest Bannity believes it is a sign from God; but the wizard’s former adversaries are not so certain. Again, could be another intriguing world and series.
“Bad Guy Factory” (screenplay) – a small fragment of a Villain factory, and of a guy who infiltrates to look for his lost brother. Too short to get a read on (pun intended).
“The Thursday Men” – A “Hellboy” episode, where Hellboy travels to northern California to a supposedly haunted lighthouse, where things and dead people re-animate. Good Hellboy characterization, enjoyable story.
“The Tenth Muse” – a semi-space opera. A truce at a wormhole is interrupted by a alien space ship that emerges, shooting ships from all nations. A linguist/xenobiologist on one of the ships is able to translate some of their “speech” and develops a daring plan to get most through to home.
“The Lamentable Comic Tragedy (or the Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Luxal Laqavee” – Luxal Laqavee is an actor in a troupe, working to convince people he is a wizard. He blackmails a disgraced wizard into giving him spells, but the wizard booby traps one of the spells, locking Luxal to a murderous beast, just out of reach. Excellent characterizations of man and beast!
“The Terrible Conflagration at the Quiller’s Mint” – a short vignette from the world of ShadowMarch. I read the series, loved it, but I have no clue what this is trying to say. Maybe I should take some Black Sunshine and expand my mind?
“Black Sunshine” – a screenplay, so painful to read, but an excellent horror/retribution/grown-ups paying for what they did as kids story.
“Ants” – husband and wife fight over ants, husband murders his wife….ants help him, but isn’t he forgetting something? Short but good characterizations of the smug husband, enjoyable read.
Now that this reading is over with, it is certainly time for Tad to get back to writing large fantasies, and quit investing time in those Golden State Warriors.