Not gonna lie; we've been the bemused and bedazzled fans of Ysabeau Wilce since waaaaaay back in the day and the advent of her first book of Western fantasy, packed with rangers, skirted men, hummingbird gods, and plain craziness. We invited her by for the Blog Blast Tour, plied her with lies and libations, and asked her all manner of questions. A Good Time Was Had. We haunted her blog until news of her next jaunt to Califa emerged, and happily read of the derring-do of Flora, faced with Tiny Doom, a fittingly post-apocalyptic name for surely the most disastrous and ambitious chit of all time - next to Flora Segunda herself, of course. Our third outing with Flora was rich and thick with Huitzil magic and a new nemesis. Flora's secrets spilled would spell her doom, and now older, and (somewhat) wiser, Flora strove to secure her future.
Finding that there was a book of short stories under the name of the author's old blog which included "Metal More Attractive," published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in February, 2004;" "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire," which was included in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, 2007 and "The Biography of a Bouncing Boy Terror," the short story about Springheel Jack previously published online in the Bibliotheca of Crackpot Hall (another of Ysabeau's blogs) was good to see -- people who didn't know about the author's blog shouldn't miss those tales. However, finding new shorts I hadn't yet read was icing on the cake. Published by Small Beer press and passed along to me by our bud Colleen, who knew how much we'd loved the strange land of Califa from the first, made this collection twice the treat. Fans of her work will be so glad to see more of Califa; those who've never encountered that place on any map will be intrigued and hopefully look around for more. This is a lot of fun.
Summary & Review:Here's the thing: Califa is odd. Rich and strange, as the saying goes, filled to the brim with realistic detail, and a sort of steampunk sensibility which includes amazingly specific clothing and ritual courtesies, akin to 19th century, Gold Rush-era West Coast America in "real life," native peoples who Will Not Be Subdued, family histories which have their own power and magic and -- oh, yes. Power. And magic. The 19th century, according to the author, is the most durable mythic era of the Western, so exploiting - poking it, adding to it, and seeing how far it will stretch and what it will embrace, makes perfect sense. Part of Califa's charm is that its roots are so familiar to us, so when we come across the inevitable sideways leap off the well-trodden path, we leap down the rabbit hole after Alice, as it were. The historical notes which follow are amusing - and as always contain that little pinch of historical fact to leaven the load of hooey.
The anthology begins with "The Biography of a Bouncing Boy Terror," the simple tale of the Sparkly-Red Boots of Doom, and reminds us how Springhill Jack, the first of Flora's toughest nemeses, came to have the boots and wreak his reign of terror upon the innocent citizens of fair Califa. It's a good story to open with, my dovetails, since we've not had a Flora tale for awhile, and puts us back into the rhythm and lingo of the city.
Before we delve deeper here, a caveat -- the Flora novels are published as young adult/middle grade and marketed as such, these shorts - and this anthology - are not YA. These are about the world in which the Flora tales are set, and the boot-wearin, mescal-drinkin' in-the-eye-spittin' riotous, rambunctious frontiersfolk show their stripes. If you imagine a Venn diagram, the only overlap between the Flora books and this collection is setting -- but what a gloriously chaotic and fun setting.
"Quartermaster Returns" is like a Western yarn that is three parts a joke with a great punchline, and one part again that tantalizing mix of "Huh? That might have some basis in the truth..." which comes from great details about how the Frontier Army operated in the West. I enjoyed it because it included female soldiers -- with no apologies or expectations. That's one of the gifts of Califa - that the author dreamed up this place entirely, and managed to include the idea of equality in the fantasy, as so many others seem categorically unable to do.
"Metal More Attractive," is a Hardhands story - a tale of the famously villainous, punk-rocking wizardly type, and his niece, his leman, and the hoped-for lover he almost chose over everyone. That all characters in the novel are male except for the Hardhands' saccharine sweet Grandmama and the toddler Tiny Doom is completely irrelevant - just another important taste of that diversity in fantasy.
If you've ever wondered how the ginormous pink pig which Tiny Terror totes around became so... er, unique, "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire" will help you out there. And leave you worried about the slightly vacuous smiles and possibly hungry inner lives of your stuffed animals.
A little older - and a little wiser? - Tiny Doom runs against the Will of Hardhands and her own determination to Do Things. Stymied by his influence, Tiny Doom decides to go glamored and anonymous to Wreak Havoc with a Black Deed in order to find admittance into a secret regiment. After cutting a swath through a party, stealing innocuous things, Tiny Doom thinks she's done enough. Unfortunately, the dollymop she uses to gain admittance to a soiree is accused after she's gone. Well, there's no honor in letting the innocent suffer, right? In "Lovelocks," our cadet sets everything right. Mostly.
"Hand in Glove" also deals with innocents going to be punished for the Dark Deeds of Others. The golden boy of the Califa Police Department, being plied with beer and praise in the saloon, doesn't want to hear that the suspect he's caught, bang to rights, is the wrong guy entirely. What are facts, against the adulation of the crowd? Fortunately, Constable Etryo - and she'll be fiked if she quits this job she hates - isn't just there to be a stone in Detective Watkins' shoe. She's there to dispense justice... any way she can.
"Scaring the Shavetail" is a good old-fashioned tale of a "rupert," a "jonah" - a fresh-out-of-school officer put in charge of soldiers who actually know what they're doing - which is never a good match, ever. It Never Ends Well. This story is another old soldier's joke, and indeed, it has a great punchline, and ties up the novel with just slightly creepy overtones. Nice.
This book was a well-appreciated gift! After October 14th, 2014, you can find PROPHECIES, LIBEL & DREAMS by Ysabeau S. Wilce online, or at an independent bookstore near you!