Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: The Lost Legends: Tales of Myth and Magic

So, Lost Legends is an anthology put together by a Facebook friend of mine, Adam Jones. He asked if I had a story he could use and I said sure, as long as he was okay with a story that I’d previously published myself (in Beyond the Dreams We Know). He said that would be fine, so I sent him “Lila.” I don’t know which story in that collection is my favorite – I honestly think they all turned out well – but I like that one quite a bit, plus of course I didn’t want to send him a story connected to one of my novels. So, “Lila” it was.

Now Lost Legends is out!

A long show weekend in Hot Springs gave me a chance to read all the stories.I don’t want to go through all the stories in detail, but let’s take a look at the first lines of each story and along the way I will tell you which ones I liked the best.

“The Luck Stone” by Kristen Bickerstaff.

Aoife hated these stupid boots.

She cracked an eyelid open and dragged one ponderous shoe up into the air. She held the boot up until her leg trembled from the weight, then let it fall to the ground with a loud thunk. The iron sole clanged against the loose white rocks scattered around the quarry mainway, shocking Bran into jumping off his perch on the bolder next to her. He shot her a baleful look, his dark eyebrows cranked down low.

This was a pretty good story, about family – birth family and found family. Like so many short stories, it seems to want to fit into a larger novel. I liked it.

“The Problem with Elves” by Ryan Swindoll

Grandmother once said, “Never toss out a rotten egg. I never did.” She had one slipper in the grave when she told me that, and had I been a mite older, I would have asked her to clarify her meaning.

Plenty of charm, as you can see. This story was meant to be light, and it is. There is some crudity to the humor, which basically never works well for me, but in this story it almost does because of the style. Unlike the story above, this is intrinsically a short story – it really could not be a tidbit from a longer work.

“Lila.” Yep, I still like this story a lot.

“Death of a Young Mage” by A E McAuley.

Zavin never expected his clan to be targeted by humans. He wasn’t old enough to wrap his head around the idea that the tall horsemen who terrorized other elves near the cities could reach his desert oasis.

This story’s arc goes like this: tragedy → grimmer → grimmer → completely unredeemed tragic ending. That will never, ever work for me. If this were a novel, it could open this way, followed by personal growth → resolve → dedication to ending this injustice → triumphant or at worst ambiguous ending.  As it is, there’s nothing whatsoever to relieve the tragedy. Obviously this story was not remotely to my taste.

“The Sacred Coal of Zattfu Mountain” by Abigail Pickle

The firepot wrapped its small, pottery shelter around a single coal, the seed of last evening’s fire. In vain, the darkness pressed all its black weight over the closed round form, straining to invade through the two tiny holes in the lid. But the nested coal breathed on in silence, speared the cloud of darkness with two silver-splinters of light.

As you can see, this story is told in a rather ornate style. As well as personifying all sorts of things – the fireport, the darkness – the author makes some unusual word choices that almost, but perhaps not quite, work. “The silent solemn light of the coal waded into his eyes and cast out the tyrant dark,” for example, where wading involves water and this is a coal, so this metaphor seems a little questionable. But in context it works – or almost works – and I wound up liking this story quite a bit. It’s a fairy tale quest.

“Sonata for Snails” by Michael Hustead

Teppo sat on his front porch in the grey predawn light, eyes fixed on the eastern horizon. His eyes burned from lack of sleep and his shoulders and back ached from the hard wood of the porch, but he refused to go inside. He had not missed a sunrise since his beloved Kirsi died, and he wasn’t about to miss it now. Kirsi loved the sunrise. Somehow, in the morning sun, Teppo could almost feel her with him again.

I liked this story, though the bad guy seems kind of over-the-top given the situation. I could not really believe in the explosion of that much violence unleashed by that small a trigger. I still liked the story, though.

“The Vampire” by Madelin Pickett

“From what I could tell, he was a vampire. The way he hated being in the sun, his pale skin, even is incisor teeth were really pointy. I’m not sure where I went wrong.”

As you probably all know, I have trouble with impulsively stupid protagonists. This protagonist fits that description, despite the twist at the end.

“An Inconsequential Miscalculation” by ES Murillo

No one was certain where the Seers had come from, or why they has chosen these four cities to cheerfully lay to waste over the years. They claimed there was a girl (as these things go), that she was missing, and that they wanted her. What they wanted her for they were never clear on, but after the first city unceremoniously blew up, the last three took notice.

This was a really fun story, my favorite in the collection (other than mine). Clever use of parenthetical notes all the way through, as in “A few of the more cautious families (actuaries, morticians).” These made me smile and fit with the overall style, which I enjoyed. But that’s not why I liked the story. I liked the characters and the tone and the whole story worked well for me, even though I didn’t really believe in the bad guy motivation. I’d be happy to read more by Murillo.

“Thundermoon Bride” by Sarah Bale.

The door groans as I open it. I scrape my skin on the rough wood. I’m not supposed to be here. No, I should be locked away in the tallest tower of this castle, where dragons keep watch over every move I make. If caught, I face death. Or worse, and believe me, I know what that means. But I can’t help myself. I have to see him.

Oh, I just can’t help myself. Uh huh. My tolerance for overwrought infatuation is very close to nonexistent. A very short story, with a clever mythological twist.

“Tavernfall” by Ryan Swindoll.

Dear Reverend Scholar Godfrey, Dean of Oxford,

I shall come straight to the point, which is a challenge for me, as I am prone to endless elaboration through the conjunction of a great many thoughts that swirl about my head at all hours of the day and night, probably induced by the unfortunate choices of my youth, for which I live in a state of considerable regret, and from which I hope also for salvation: I need a job.

Okay, that’s funny. A terrible opening for a letter for a job application, in so many ways, but funny. The story itself is an odd melding of ornate history with farce. I didn’t exactly like it, but I can see this story appealing to someone whose taste runs more to slapstick than mine does.

 “The Door” by Michael Hustead

No one ever mentioned the afterlife was so much work.

A clever story involving mysterious thefts. The reader, unlike the characters, is in a position to appreciate the twist.

“The Candlemaker” by Adam Jones

Dorian hefted the pitcher and poured beeswax into the narrow clay vase, keeping his hands steady so the wax fell past the upheld wick without disturbing it. Each layer smothered the next until beeswax filled the vase nearly to its rounded brim. Dorian unwound the wick from the stick that kept it in place, cut it to a fingerwidth’s height, and nodded in satisfaction as it stayed upright, tilting only a little as it towered over the hardening wax.

This candle would be completely ordinary, giving light and slowly burning down to a nub like any other. As far as anyone in Ostwik knew, all of Dorian’s candles were ordinary.

A simple story with considerable charm, “The Candlemaker” is another that feels like it is an incident in a longer book – probably the incident that precipitates the central story arc – though the world and characters would need added depth to hold up through a novel, of course.

Short stories are not a natural length for me as either a writer or a reader, as you all probably know. Nevertheless, I enjoyed many of these. If you like short stories, then by all means pick up this collection and see what you think!

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