Title: A Biography of a Chance Miracle
Author: Tanja Maljartschuk
Publisher: Cadmus Press
I’m not sure how to categorize this book. It seems to stretch languidly across many genres, like one of those paintings where a lady in a rowboat reclines and dangles her pale fingers in the pond amid lily pads and flowers.
There are paranormal elements – searching for the truth behind tales of a mysterious flying woman who may or may not be an angel. There are political elements – it’s set in Ukraine, beginning during the turbulent post-war years, with indoctrination and rebellion and clashes with a deeply flawed system. There are psychological elements – the main character, Lena, is a difficult misfit even as a child, and grows into a troubled would-be activist and crusader, seeking to do something meaningful with her life.
The entire experience of reading it was both enthralling and somehow distressing. Lena’s difficulties in school and with her family, the dysfunctional friendship with a girl she calls Dog, relationships with roommates and boyfriends, her efforts to seek change, her inner issues … compelling but uncomfortable … it’s hard to like her, and hard not to. A complex challenge.
Bureaucracy is the main evil, an all-too-familiar one cast here into an unflinching spotlight. Anyone who’s felt like they were getting a runaround from government agencies will be readily able to relate to the sheer frustration of an obstructed, broken system. It’s well-written, a fascinating peek into history and a part of the world many might not be aware of. Weird and surreal, yet subtle.
Title: Borderline: a Cloud Lands story
Author: Hannah Steenbock
Publisher: Buhsteppe Verlag / Frauke Mobius
I was unfamiliar with this writer and this world, but after reading this short story / prequel to the longer works, I’d be interested in learning more. It’s fantasy on the face of it, a fantasy world with warring kingdoms and dragon riders, but this particular tale is on the small-scale personal level.
Ylanda and her dragon Rakild are doing a routine solo patrol of the mountains that form a natural barrier between the Western Kingdom and their sworn enemies, the Carmine Empire. It’s a brisk, cold, clear, winter’s day. But some hunch prompts Ylanda to have Rakild go hunting for game, and the hunch soon proves valid – a sudden bad storm sets in, forcing them to seek refuge in a cave before the punishing weather kills them.
Nor are they alone for long … another patrolling dragon rider gets caught in the same plight. Problem is, this other rider turns out to be a Carmine. With each team stricken by various injuries, with no firewood and little in the way of food and water, an unlikely truce has to form if any of them are going to survive. They’ll have to work together, help each other. They might even have to question the propaganda of their respective nations, and figure out where true loyalties should lie.
I had no trouble grasping the concept of the setting, the bonds between dragons and their riders, and the political situation. I liked all the characters and want to find out what happens after. This didn’t feel like one of those fantasy novels bogged down with excessive info dumps; the writing style is clean and smooth and brings the pertinent details in naturally. It’s been a while since I’ve read within this genre, but I found this a refreshing and fun change from my more usual gory fare … and I’d expect more dedicated fantasy readers would have no complaints.