Monday, March 21, 2011

Brambling On

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed a pair of novellas from Subterranean Press.  Written by Tobias S. Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi, these tales revolve around a world in which the use of magic results in the growth of a plant called bramble.  Bramble, for those of you who haven't read my review or the novellas, is something like evil kudzu.  I'm sorry; that was redundant.  Anyone who's ever had to deal with kudzu knows it's evil.  Bramble is like kudzu on steroids.  With thorns.  It takes over everything (just like kudzu), and the thorns can send a person into a permanent sleep.

When I wrote the review I expressed a desire to see more of this world.  My wish has been granted.  If I can figure out how I caused that to happen....well, never mind.

Now, Buckell has written a sequel which went up on the spring 2011 issue of Subterranean Magazine a day or so before I started my traveling.  I tried to read it before I left, but I didn't quite get to it.  Last night, I finally managed to read it.  It was worth the wait.

This particular installment concerns one young man by the name of Mynza, who happens to be a thief.  The story opens with him climbing the wall of the keep of the Mayor of Alacan.  He brushes against a spot of bramble growing in a crack in the wall and just manages to make it to a balcony before losing consciousness.  Turns out this is the balcony of the Mayor's daughter, who in a twist on classic fairy tales motifs, awakens him with a kiss.  While there, Mynza takes several things, some freely given (the girl's virtue) and some not so freely given (jewels and a signet ring).  Because his burglary wasn't sanctioned by the head of the family that adopted him as a young orphan, they end up parting ways. 

At least for a few days.  Bramble has encroached to the point that the town has to be abandoned.  Instead of aiding the citizens in their escape, the Mayor and the merchants charge a toll to be taken out.  Most of the population can't pay the price, and bramble has spread to the point that even the only road out, controlled by the Mayor, is closing.  Mynza has spent most of his coin from the jewels he fenced.  It's at this point that responsibility finds him, and although he's fully grown physically, he finds himself forced to grow up.

I'll not say more about the details of the plot or the other characters.  This in many ways was the best of the three stories, although all of them are essentially stories of hope, despite their dark settings and events.  My reasons for saying that have to do with the changes Mynza undergoes, as well as those of one of the other characters.  To say more would be to spoil the story for you. 

I'm beginning to see a theme in the tales of this world.  A theme of how we, as people, as individuals, need each other.  Of how strong love is, propelling us to greatness and bringing forgiveness and hope where none appears to be.  I find these themes refreshing.  If this series takes off, and I hope it will, I'm sure either Buckell or Bacigalupi or both (either separately or collaboratively - that's a hint guys) will end up writing novels set in this world.  While I will certainly rejoice over them and read them, I hope the authors never leave the novella form behind when writing in this world.  It's the personal stories of the ordinary people, people trying to make a difference, however small, in a world that's getting darker that gives these tales their power.  In this day of fat fantasy and never ending series, it's nice to step back from the epic and focus on the personal.

There's been a lot of blogging in the last month or so about whether fantasy is too dark.  If you feel that way, then you need to read these works.  They're a breath of fresh air.

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