Creating Giant Thief: An Interview with David Tallerman

David Tallerman’s short fiction has appeared in dozens of professional magazines, and his story, “Bad Times to be in the Wrong Place”, is featured in this month’s issue of Urban Fantasy Magazine. But he is also a talented novelist. The Easie Damasco trilogy, which consists of Giant Thief, Crown Thief, and Prince Thief, was published by Angry Robot books in 2012/2013. We’re excited to hear his thoughts on the world and characters that he’s created.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: What is it about the fantasy thief trope that attracted you to write the Easie Damasco trilogy?

DAVID TALLERMAN: Partly distrust, I think. Thief and rogue are almost synonymous in fantasy, and we’ve seen an awful lot of thieving rogues and roguish thieves. But thieves aren’t quite so entertaining in real life, and the ones I’ve had personal experience with weren’t charming at all, so I thought it would be interesting to write about a fantasy thief who just plain wasn’t a nice person – as Easie Damasco most definitely isn’t, especially at the point when we first encounter him.

On the other hand, it was really appealing to have a character who could say or do the things that no one else would; as some reviewers have pointed out, Damasco really isn’t the protagonist of the books so much as a hanger-on who sometimes manages to nudge the plot one way or another and generally gets to comment on it from an outsider’s perspective. Having someone who’s a thief and a genuinely dishonest human being who has no place in the company of more traditional fantasy heroes, but who still basically thinks he knows better than they do, that was a lot of fun to write.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Is the door closed to any further Easie Damasco books?

DAVID TALLERMAN: The short answer is, yes. The slightly longer answer is that I did have the bare bones of a fourth Damasco novel in my head, and the keen-eyed will find the odd clue as to what it would have been about in Prince Thief. It’s a fun story, and one I’d have liked to have shared. But the truth is that I don’t own the universe or characters – the publisher, Angry Robot, does – and the response to the initial trilogy wasn’t strong enough for them to express interest in more books.

Truthfully, though, there are so many other things I want to do, and as far as Easie Damasco goes, I feel like I told the story I really wanted to tell. I was hugely lucky to get to do that. So while my thoughts sometimes drift back to Damasco and what the future might hold for him, it’s not an itch I’m desperate to scratch.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: The transition from amusing fantasy rogue to someone with a burgeoning conscience feels very natural. How hard was that to get right?

It was definitely tricky. I wanted any developments in Damasco’s character to feel genuinely hard-won. Here was a character with a clear philosophy of why it was basically okay for him to do the things he did, who was immensely good at justifying his own wrongdoing, and someone like that doesn’t just change overnight. So, yeah, a lot of work went into trying to make the character development convincing, to have Damasco sometimes backslide, to make it a conscious process rather than just him waking up one day with a fully-formed conscience. After all, even when you want to do the right thing, it’s not as though it’s easy to see what that is.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Was this always the planned character arc?

DAVID TALLERMAN: I always intended that Damasco would be a somewhat better person by the end of Giant Thief than he was at the start, even if that wasn’t entirely the same as him ending up as a “good” person. But until I sold the first book, I only had vague ideas of what a sequel or sequels would involve. Once I knew I had two more books to play with, it seemed sensible to continue with what I’d begun. On the other hand, like I said above, I was adamant that any kind of continuing moral development couldn’t be smooth sailing. So if Damasco’s conscience grows more involved as the story goes on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he makes better decisions on the back of it!

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Although the Tales of Easie Damasco are pretty light hearted there are some complex moral issues explored. Do you feel that fantasy is a good medium for exploring complex moral issues?

DAVID TALLERMAN: Absolutely. Fantasy lets you talk about huge issues in the abstract, without getting bogged down in the specifics that tend to derail real-life debates. A fantasy world can serve as a great Petri dish in which to fling ideas about and to set ideologies up against one another; in the real world we tend to moralise after the event, whereas in a fantasy novel you can present these difficult situations and face them head on, as they’re happening.

One of my goals with the Tales was that there would be no easy answers and no clear right and wrong: all the characters have good reasons for the things they do, and the ones with what may seem like the best intentions don’t necessarily achieve the most good. You know, it’s easy to pick on the fantasy warlord, to present that kind of character as being flat-out evil, but in real life they would have their motives, their people they’re trying to do right by. So I wanted to write characters, both good and bad, who genuinely believed that they were doing the right thing, even when it was obvious to the reader what the negative consequences of that were.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Your stories have appeared in a great many markets – is there a binding theme to them?

DAVID TALLERMAN: I hope there isn’t. I always try to fit the themes, and everything else, to the particularly story rather than the other way round. I find preaching boring, in or outside of fiction, so I try never to push a standpoint or an agenda. For me, the debate is more interesting than the conclusions, so often I’ll let characters voice opinions that run directly contrary to what I think, or use stories to challenge my own ideas; which means, I suppose, that any themes that do get through are ones that have escaped my self-vetting!

Urban Fantasy Magazine: What would you say your voice in short stories says about you as a writer?

Again, I write in so many different genres and sub-genres and styles that I hope there isn’t a characteristic voice; if there was then I suspect I’d be doing something badly wrong, because you can’t approach fantasy, science fiction, horror and crime all in the same way. The main thing I’d want a reader to take away from my short fiction is that they enjoy a given story and consider it well-written, and if that should make them seek out something else by me then that’s great.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: If you could travel inside the world of any fantasy novel, which world would you want to visit and why? Which one would you never want to visit?

DAVID TALLERMAN: I wouldn’t mind hanging out in Jack Vance’s Lyonesse books; they seem like a fun place, and it might even be possible to survive the experience. As for ones I’d avoid, I’d have to say absolutely everywhere else. Fantasy worlds tend to be pretty hideous places, especially for those of us who just want a quiet corner, a glass of wine and a good book. I mean, I can’t imagine that attitude going down too well in Westeros!

Urban Fantasy Magazine: What’s one question you think would be really fun to answer, but that will probably never come up in an interview?

DAVID TALLERMAN: That’s a tough one. I guess for me, since as many of my influences come from things like comics, video games, films and anime as they do from genre literature, I’d find it interesting to get to talk about how those other media have fed into my work. If only because I don’t get to geek about comics, video games, films and anime as much as I’d like to!

Dead Records Part 9

Part 1: http://urbanfantasymagazine.com/2015/03/dead-records-part-i-by-steven-savile-and-ryan-reid

Part 2: http://urbanfantasymagazine.com/2015/04/dead-records-part-2-by-steven-savile-and-ryan-reid

Part 3: http://urbanfantasymagazine.com/2015/05/dead-records-part-3

Part 4: http://urbanfantasymagazine.com/2015/06/dead-records-part-4-2

Part 5: http://urbanfantasymagazine.com/2015/07/dead-records-part-5/

Part 6: http://urbanfantasymagazine.com/2015/08/dead-records-part-6/

Part 7: http://urbanfantasymagazine.com/2015/09/dead-records-part-7

Part 8: http://urbanfantasymagazine.com/2015/10/dead-records-part-8

We stayed there for two weeks, never setting foot outside the church.

Every night, we ate dinner with the church staff, helped to wash up, and to do other chores to help to earn our keep. As much as we were made to feel welcome we both knew it wasn’t a permanent solution. When we looked out the window of the room in which we slept at night, we could see a man leaning on the hood of his car, reading a newspaper and smoking a cigarette. We knew he was with Dolgov, because the spot in which he parked was directly underneath a silver maple – and thus almost pitch black – and yet he seemed to have no problem at all with the newspaper.

We had access to the internet through a laptop I bought online and had delivered to the church, so we could download movies and music, but eventually we began to get a little stir crazy. It wasn’t like the church hosted AA meetings or fundraisers. The best we got was eaves dropping on Da Vinci Code fans sure that the holy grail was actually hidden under one of the tomb stones of the old knights upstairs. Even that started to wear thin.

On the second Friday of our stay, just as the man with the newspaper parked his car under the silver maple outside, I heard a familiar sound coming from the Rotunda. Chunky bass and screaming guitars. It was a cover of O Come O Come Emmanuel, and it wasn’t half bad. Curious, I made my way down there and stood in the back of the room.

The band was unlike any I imagined would play in a church – emo punks with dyed black hair and elaborate leather outfits. Their name was “Flock” and after a few songs, I realized they were a Christian rock band and not ironic about it at all. Not even the name was ironic.

And, would you believe it, they were pretty good.

The crowd was young, but I spotted a familiar head of blonde hair in one of the pews.

“I never suspected you were a religious man, Rick,” I said as I slipped into a pew next to him.

Casterly rolled his eyes. “I’m surprised you didn’t burst into flames on the threshold, Reardon.” He wore a loose Rolex on his left wrist, and he fiddled with it before speaking again. “Look, the whole Wembley thing. I’m sorry, man. It was uncool. I had no idea Martine was off her rocker. I feel badly that it killed your girl’s career. She was a phenom.”

I was stunned.

Casterly was apologizing to me? Of course! He had no idea that I was the one who’d set Martine up. From his point of view, he’d booked a troubled young act onto a bill that was doomed from the start. “Water under the bridge,” I said generously.

“That was quite the stunt you pulled, the suicide thing. Who knew the press would take it literally? How’s she doing, anyways, your girl?”

I looked towards our room. “Good. She’s found religion. Speaking of which, what are you doing here?”

He looked at Flock appraisingly. “There’s a market for this stuff. I could name several bands that had their start in Christian rock. Creed. Evanescence. Et cetera.” I’d never heard of Et cetera so they couldn’t have been that hot. He winced as the boy with the microphone slipped into a falsetto, and then stood to leave. “Their singer is shite though, so that’s it then.”

I walked him to the door.

“Look,” he said, “I owe you one. You have my number, ya?”

The business card with the palm tree clip art held pride-of-place in my wallet. Rick Casterly of Performance Edge owed me a favor.

And I knew just how I’d use it.

#

Two weeks later, on a Tuesday in May, London’s only true Caucasian entered the Broken Doll with several of his goons at his heels. Dressed in a black suit and tie with a red rose in a buttonhole, he looked dramatically out of place, but it didn’t seem to bother him. He walked over to my booth and sat down. One goon stood behind him, and the other beside me, blocking the booth’s exit.

“You killed Dimitri,” he said, folding his hand on the table. “Let us start there.”

“Technically, not my fault. I didn’t lay a hand on him. It was Aura,” I said calmly, laying the blame anywhere but at this particular table in this particular gin joint.

He inclined his head. “And where is young Aurelia? I expected a phone call, a letter …an e-mail,” he said this last with distaste. “I thought that after paying for your studio, all your expenses, that she would have at least said goodbye. Most disappointing.”

I knew then that Dolgov would never leave us alone. We had humiliated him publicly. This was personal for him.

Behind me, the band on the other side of the chicken-wire fence began to play.

A steady drumbeat was soon joined by the bass, and we had to lean closer to be heard.

“If you leave right now, we can both walk away from this like it never happened,” I said.

His red lips split open, revealing a mouthful of fangs and he laughed. It was not a nice laugh. “Is that supposed to be an offer I can’t refuse? You are a funny guy,” he said. He faked getting up and laughed again. “You know I nearly had one of my boys put a centaur’s head in your bed over at the church. But he pointed out that was just a human head. Called me a psycho. I didn’t appreciate that. I’m not like that. I’m just a business man. So I killed him.”

I remained stone faced.

My confidence wiped the smirk off his face, and his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What are you playing at?”

“The band you are now listening to is called Flock, and I think you’ll be interested to hear they’ve hired a new singer. You’ll recognize her. She’s a real nice girl.”

Behind me, Aura stepped onto the stage, dressed in tight leather pants and a white blouse, fitting the band’s emo image but somehow rising above it. She picked the microphone off the stand, found us in the audience, and nodded tightly at me. I nodded back.

My girl.

She began with a hum, a chaste, beautiful thing like a mother waking her sleeping infant. Her eyes closed and she swayed slightly, letting the music take her away.

Then she broke into song.

Dolgov lurched back in his seat and his goons fell to their knees. The Russian gangster clamped his hands to his ears as his bald scalp began to smoke.

“You really should have left when you had the chance, Yevgeny. Don’t you know how it works? No, of course not, you’re used to talking, not listening. Well let me explain what’s happening to you.” More smoke steamed off his head. For a minute there it actually looked like it was coming out of his ears. “Aura’s voice amplifies the power of the songs that she sings, so when she sings the Blues, well she’s suicidal, so all those guys out in the audience want to slash their wrists; when she’s poppy, she’s shiny happy people on acid, you get the idea?” I like to think Yevgeny nodded but he was long past nodding. “Flock are a Christian band. You know what that means?”

One of the goons stumbled backwards and fell across another patron’s table. Instead of smashing it, as a man his size should have, he collapsed and with a soft implosion powdered into a pile of dust and ash. The other goon broke for the door, but with every step he took, part of his leg turned to ash. Half a second later he was running on stumps and shrinking by the second. Unable to retain his balance, he too collapsed into a pile of dust.

“You should never have killed the Fortunate Fridays, Yevgeny,” I said. “Then maybe you wouldn’t be having a Terrible Tuesday.” The line sounded a bit corny when I said it out loud. It wasn’t exactly the most pithy of taunts.

He growled and leapt for me. He caught me one good one, leaving a scar on my right cheek, before he too succumbed to the faith of Aura’s song burning up inside him and turned to ash. I think the scar makes me look pretty distinguished. I could have had plastic surgery but I’m not that vain. I stood and dusted myself off as the music stopped behind me. Aura left the stage and came running towards me.

I caught her up in a hug and planted my lips on hers.

She tasted like a peach. She still does.

As we were leaving the Broken Doll, the man who’d been sitting at the table where Dolgov’s goon had burst into ash stopped me. It was Polanski, formerly of Red Sky Entertainment and, at one time, proud owner of an Aston Martin DB9. The original Rainmaker. “Who was that girl?” he asked. “Seriously. I have to know.”

I smiled at him. A fish on the hook. Well, more of a man on the fishhook I suppose. Or the siren’s hook.

“Her name is Shepherd,” I said. “The band’s called Flock.”

“As in wallpaper?” He looked genuinely confused by the idea.

I decided to help him out. I handed him my card with Dead Records stamped in gold foil over a siren on the rocks. And no, that’s not a kind of drink.

“Nope, as in make like a shepherd and get the flock out of here. C’mon, babe,” I said to Aura, “Let’s go make some noise.”

THE END

Bad Times to be in the Wrong Place by David Tallerman

First published in Interzone #250.

Darlene had been shouting that morning, and I guess I’d been shouting back, both of us going at it pretty hard.

It was all about the pickup, who got to drive and when. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was about other things: money, and children, and forgiveness, and the way we didn’t seem to have much of any of those, even after five hard years. But neither of us was going to make the other see sense with all that language passing back and forth. I grabbed my coat, shouted something mean and easy that I knew I’d regret later, and got out.

The forest smelled fresh, like new snow. It wasn’t so far to the truck stop on the highway, not a bad hour’s hike. Fall had ignored the warning signs that hemmed the national park and set the trees on fire, and it felt good to be out there, too good for anger.

That didn’t mean I let it go. The best I could do was pack it deep down–something for later, for the next time. With Darlene and me there would always be a next time.

So I pocketed my anger like a dirty dollar bill and walked. The sun was bright but cold, as if it was dying but still trying its damndest. I kind of liked it that way. It made me think of hunting trips with my pa, before the cancer took him, when things were simple and decisions were something older people made. I walked, breathed deep, and didn’t think too much about Darlene, or the things she’d said that stung for being too near the truth.

When I got to the stop, it was all but empty. It was too late for breakfast, too early for the lunchtime trade, so there was just me and the sad-faced kid who serves when Judy’s busy. I was stuck with the same dilemma; I’d eaten breakfast two hours ago, wouldn’t want lunch any time soon. I settled on coffee, and picked a booth near the door. I sat staring into my cup, willing it to cool a little.

Both me and the kid looked round when a car pulled up. It had a well-maintained growl that told me it wasn’t from anywhere nearby. Sure enough, when I glanced out the window there was a sleek estate pulled up beside the pumps, some foreign make I didn’t recognise.

Two men stepped out on the near side. The driver was old, but well-preserved old, the only real telltale the grizzled beard lying past the collar of his white suit. The other wore a black shirt and silver-buckled black slacks that matched his goatee and slicked hair. Around the other side I thought I saw a little girl getting out, but when I looked again I realised it was a woman in her early twenties. Something in the way she moved made me think of a flamenco dancer–somehow awkward and elegant at the same time.

As the two men came in, the one with the Johnny Cash getup was saying, “Is this really necessary?”

“I’d like a coffee. Is that all right?” White-suit sounded English, I thought at first. Then I corrected myself, European. But that wasn’t really it either.

“You know what I mean.”

“I’ve got my duty, bro, like you’ve got yours. You’d think by now you’d have learned a little patience. Also, I seem to remember the coffee here is pretty good. Am I right?” he said, speaking now to the zit-pocked teenager hovering behind the counter. Not waiting for an answer, he went on, “Make mine black, kiddo.”

“White,” said Johnny, “two sugars.”

The woman, who’d just come in behind them, added, “Can I get the same to go?” To the men she said, “If you two are arguing again I’ll wait outside.”

She spun on a heel and marched back out, the door jangling hard behind her. They took it in their stride, as though this sort of thing happened enough for them to expect it. White-suit took his coffee to a booth at the far end and sat down. His companion trailed after. The next time they spoke, they’d dropped their voices too low for me to hear.

I looked around instead. Sure enough, the woman was waiting outside, slouched against the tail of the car. She’d lit a cigarette and was just blowing a first plume of grey towards the glassy sky. Again, there was something in her pose–the tilt of her head, the way her forearm rested on the trunk–that struck me as very refined somehow. When she exhaled again I thought of smoke signals. At the same time, I remembered the last thing Darlene had shouted, and how scrambled and ugly her face had been while she said it.

I got up and grabbed her drink in its takeaway cardboard cup from the counter, where the kid had left it while he hunted for something beneath the counter. Even as I shouldered through the double doors I had no clue what I meant to do, but there was a kind of relief in letting the impulse drag me. It felt like letting out a breath I’d been holding for too long.

She looked older close up; a well maintained mid thirties, probably a little past my own age. It didn’t make her any less attractive. I held out the cup and said, “Thought you’d want this.”

She didn’t look surprised, although I could tell she’d realised I wasn’t an employee at the ‘stop. She took the cup and sat it on the roof of the car, then pulled a battered cigarette packet from a pocket and offered it–some foreign brand I didn’t recognise. I hardly ever smoke these days, but I still had my old Zippo in a pocket of my jacket, so I took one and lit it, telling myself it was to be polite.

“Those friends of yours, are they always like that?”

“They’re family. And yes, when my father and uncle work together they tend to fight.” She let the shrivelled remnant of her own cigarette drop and ground it neatly into the tarmac. “I suppose when people do a job for a long time they get into habits.”

“You’re here on work?”

“I’m just along for the ride. So is uncle, I suppose; he argues about it, and then insists on coming anyway. Father is the only one actually working.”

“So what does the old man do?”

She looked at me properly for the first time. Until then she’d been concentrating on her cigarette, or staring towards her own outstretched foot. Her glance weighed me up. No, it did more than that. I felt like an open book, except it was as if she’d skipped through the contents and gone straight to the index. It took her barely an instant, and then she looked away again. “He’s making sure it’s all here,” she said.

Still taken aback by that look, I asked, “All what? The diner?”

“All everything.”

I was starting to regret this conversation, attempted seduction or whatever the hell it was. Her voice had that same not-quite-European twang as her father’s. Probably she thought it was funny to be out here in the boondocks, with some redneck thinking he had so much as a chance with her. Probably she did this all the time. I wanted to say something clever or funny, but all I came out with was, “Are you in property or something?”

She laughed. It wasn’t a mean laugh, at least. “You wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me.”

“You know what? Fine. It’s not as if it’s a secret.” Still, she only seemed half decided. She brushed a strand of dark hair out of her eyes, pulled out another cigarette and lit it. Even then, she took a couple of draws before she began again. “Have you ever worked around computers? Do you know what a backup is?”

“Sure.” Darlene’s father works for some blue-chip IT outfit down near California, and every Christmas–mainly to screw with the rube that wasn’t good enough for his little princess–he’d bore me to tears with talk he knew I couldn’t understand. I’ve a good memory, though; after the third time I started to keep up, and even join in a little, which wound him up no end.

With a sweep of her arm that took in the diner, the pumps, the highway curling towards the mountains one way and the city the other, the glossy crests of the pines beyond, even the crystal sky sharp above us, she said, “This is a backup.”

I echoed her laugh with a nervous one of my own. “Right. Gotcha.”

“A copy,” she said. “For if the real one ever goes wrong. Father makes them. He makes sure they’re all there. And, when they’re finished with, uncle erases them.”

“I don’t get it.” Truth was, I understood perfectly, but I didn’t know what else to say. Was she joking? It didn’t seem too funny. The worst part was, as soon as she’d said it I had this sense, like the things around me had grown suddenly thinner, like if I pushed too hard at the car door or the rusting phone booth or the sign by the slip road my fingers might just pass on through. Any other day I’d probably have just shrugged it off, but on this one, her words dug in like fishhooks.

“Well maybe you don’t need to.” She glanced over my shoulder, and added, “Hey, don’t worry about it. You should just go back to your girlfriend and get on with your life.”

So that was it, she was some crazy friend of Darlene’s I’d never met. I almost sighed with relief. Instead, I laughed another awkward laugh, and said, “Maybe you’re right. Thanks for the smoke.”

“Don’t thank me. Those things will kill you.” She didn’t sound like she believed it.

I nodded, started back toward the diner. Half way there, I hesitated. I didn’t want to ask, but I couldn’t help it. “So how long do we get?”

She didn’t even pause to consider. “A while,” she said, “Not too long.”

I passed the two men on the way in. They didn’t look like guys who could make or break whole realities, but there did seem to be something about them–like they were a little clearer than everything around them. We exchanged a nod, and the one in the suit–who I figured, somehow, was her father–tipped an imaginary hat and said, “Time waits for no man.”

When I sat back in my place I had just time enough to watch them climbing into the car. The woman getting in on the other side looked far too old to be the one I’d spoken to, older than either of the men, but by the time I’d seen her she was gone.

My coffee was lukewarm. I carried the cup to the counter, gave the kid a nod, and went out. I glanced both ways up the highway, but the car was nowhere to be seen.

#

I was half way back to the house when the jumble in my head, the anxious confused mood I’d been carrying around since that conversation, turned into something else. It was as if I’d climbed higher and suddenly I could see how all the things around me were really just one thing, one single scene.

It was a good feeling, and a little scary. It began with a single thought, as clear and bright as winter’s first frost, and afterwards that thought kept batting back and forth, too big to shake itself loose.

Back home, the first thing I noticed was the pickup gone. Darlene would have gone to see one of her girlfriends in town. That would lead to drinking, and maybe she’d call to make up and see if I wanted to join her, but more likely she’d stumble in long after dark, set on finishing what we’d started that morning.

I went straight to find a piece of paper, as though the thought, so solid a moment ago, was now something that might vanish if I didn’t get it down. At the top, in big shaky letters, I wrote,

Darlene.

Then, like a gasp, came the thought:

Life is short.

I hoped there was something more behind this than what the crazy truck-stop woman had said–that it was an understanding I’d come to over years, a glacier of truth that had finally worked itself free of my ice-locked thoughts. That was how I felt. But in the end, did it matter much? I knew it was true. It didn’t make any difference if the world was about to blink out, not really. Life was too short for two people to make each other miserable.

I wrote a little more, not much. I said I was going away for a while. I’d take what I needed and some money, and everything else was hers as far as I was concerned. I’d ring Jack sometime about quitting at the mill; if she saw him, she was welcome to tell him, and if he coughed up my back pay she could have that too.

I didn’t say where I was going. I don’t think I knew.

And I didn’t write ‘I love you’. It was a lie, and I was done with those.

#

So how long is a while?

I’ve been walking for about a month, I think–I haven’t been bothering much with dates. If I had to say where I was going I’d mention my brother’s down in Denver, but there’s a long way between here and there, and I’m not hurrying. Sometimes I stop in a cheap motel. Sometimes I sleep rough. Sooner or later my money will run out, and maybe then I’ll have to get some work, at least for a while. Not yet though, not right now. And who knows what tomorrow will bring?

One time I thought I saw that car go by. The side window was down, and her face was just visible, hair all tousled with the breeze. She didn’t so much as look at me, and afterwards I wasn’t sure. Still, I whispered a ‘thank you’ under my breath.

Thanks for the warning. Thanks for the second chance.

How long is a while? Damned if I know.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s enough.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway Reviewed by Sara Patterson

Review2-CoverArt

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

Reviewed by Sara Patterson

ISBN: 0099519976 (Paperback)

Windmill Books — 592 pages. Audiobook/Hardcover/Ebook also available.

The Book:

Imagine a technology that can erase the molecular building blocks, the information, of matter itself— making it simply “go away.” What would humanity do with such an amazing accomplishment? Why, turn it into a weapon, of course. A weapon capable of winning wars… and ultimately changing the face of the world forever.

It is in the aftermath of the terrible “Go-Away War,” that we meet the main character along with his childhood best friend and fellow ex-special forces solider Gonzo Lubitsch and their compatriots—members of the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company. The team is recruited by Jorgmund, a mysterious and powerful corporation with seemingly endless influence, to protect the world’s greatest asset.

The war and its “Go Away bombs” had an unexpected side effect: Wisps of code-less matter, dubbed “stuff”, sweep across the world and, when it comes in contact with human dreams—or nightmares—, it solidifies and becomes reality. But Jorgmand had found a solution to this problem in the form of FOX, a chemical that neutralizes the effects of “stuff” and makes the surrounding areas familiar and safe. The Jorgmund Pipe, a pipeline network which loops the entire world like a belt, distributes the FOX, thus keeping a small population of humanity able to live relatively normal lives—until now. Someone has set fire to the Jorgmund pipe, and it is up to the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company to find out who and stop them.

The Review:

When I started The Gone-Away World, I can say that it was not the sort of book I usually read. For starters, I had trouble bonding with the nameless (and for the most part unremarkable) main character despite the fact that the novel follows him as he recounts nearly his entire life and then some. There were also various tangents throughout the novel—mostly political and theological themed but also one very long backstory for a very minor side-character—that were, quite literally, sleep-inducing.

That said, the world that Harkaway built, destroyed, and built again was fascinating. The complex network of events and characters raised some very intriguing questions. Some seemed unimportant and others downright ridiculous given the state of the world, but I was eager to see how all the threads would finally come together. Which brings me to my final praise for The Gone-Away World. Though the epic moment of clarity is a long time coming, Harkness more than delivers in the end—and with a kick-ass fight scene to boot.

In short, The Gone-Away World is an investment, in both time and thought. But, in this reader’s opinion, it was a challenge well worth it.

Carniepunk: an anthology by Gallery Books Reviewed by Kristin Luna

Review1-CoverArt

Carniepunk: an anthology by Gallery Books

Reviewed by Kristin Luna

ISBN: 1476714150 (Paperback)

Gallery Books — 440 pages. Ebook also available.

Are you into some weird stuff? Good, because Carniepunk is into you.

The Book

In this anthology of carnies, horror, and big tents, various urban fantasy authors join together to tell you all about the creepy things that happen within the traveling entertainment world. Here are four stories featured that give future readers a good taste of the tales they can expect:

“Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lovely Sea” by Seanan McGuire. In this well-written backwoods carnival folk story, Ada and Duncan try to convince the townies of Huntsville to visit the Miller Family Carnival, which boasts of having the Alabama Mermaid, Ada’s mother. Little do they know, Ada’s mother has history in Huntsville. Will Ada inherit her mother’s fate?

“A Chance in Hell” by Jackie Kessler. Wherein an incubus tries to trick ex-demon Jezzy into giving up her soul while it gives her oral pleasure. Naturally (and frankly, who doesn’t) Jezzy goes to a traveling show afterwards to sulk, but ends up having to kill a demon and save her friend instead.

“The Sweeter the Juice” by Mark Henry. A transitioning male to female transsexual can only continue her process if she brings her doctor a new street drug, Zed, so he can study it. Problem is, there’s a world full of zombies out there and people willing to do just about anything for a high.

“Werewife” by Jaye Wells. This story is just as it sounds, but with the inclusion of the husband’s point of view as well. There’s just enough marital believability that I wondered if my husband would bury my half-eaten kills should I turn into a werewife at some point.

Some of the best stories in this anthology have a flavor akin to Geek Love, Kathrine Dunn’s tale of a side-show family, in that they show an in depth view of the camaraderie of a unknown world within our own. However, some of the other stories share some qualities of C-horror films that are released straight to video. It should be noted many of these short stories are continuations, stories between books, or parts of a particular series written by the authors.

The Authors

Authors featured in this anthology are Rachel Caine, Delilah S. Dawson, Jennifer Estep, Kelly Gay, Kevin Hearne, Mark Henry, Hillary Jacques, Jackie Kessler, Seanan McGuire, Kelly Meding, Allison Pang, Nicohol D. Peeler, Rob Thurman, and Jaye Wells.

The Rating

On a scale of all of your niece’s activities you’re obligated to go to, best being her Quinceañera (there was alcohol there) and worst being a babysitting session when she was three and had explosive diarrhea, I give Carniepunk an elementary school holiday play. The one girl in your niece’s class who sings like Christina Aguilera knocks it out of the park, as expected. That one smelly kid forgot his lines, as expected. Overall, an okay and acceptable way to spend one’s time when there was nothing better to do on a Thursday night.

Interesting Quote

From Jaye Wells’ “The Werewife”: “So instead of telling her husband she’d rather brush her teeth with barbed wire than go stare at the ridiculous freaks in the red-and-black tent, she pasted on a smile and let him lead the way. Just like when we have sex, she thought – another observation she wisely kept to herself.”

Gawania and the Banner Man by Daniel J. Davis

Gawania, Knight of the Rose, raised a clenched fist behind her. “Hold!”

Tom Bannerman cut the engine. The small motorboat slowed. He glanced over the side, looking for movement or dark shapes in the water. He didn’t see anything.

“What is it?”

Gawania shushed him. She slowly rose to her feet, holding the pole of the red battle standard that was fixed to the bow.

“Listen, it isn’t safe to stand up in a boat. You should really sit back down.”

“Be silent, banner man!”

Stupid kid, Tom thought. Didn’t know the first thing about boating. She didn’t want to learn, either. At least she wasn’t wearing the plate armor anymore. He’d convinced her to leave it back at the campsite before setting out.

The boat drifted forward. Gawania kept her attention focused ahead, at a cluster of partially submerged logs near the shore. She took up her spear as they drifted closer, balancing it in her right hand.

Tom scanned the logs. The dragon couldn’t possibly be hiding in them. He hadn’t seen it in years, not since he was a teenager, but he still remembered the sheer size of it.

What the hell could she be aiming–

With frightening speed, Gawania threw the spear. It lanced through a tiny opening between the logs, one no larger than a softball. Small splashes and frantic noises followed. A half-dozen shapes darted through the water, quickly scattering in different directions.

“Congratulations,” Tom said. “You just scared a family of beavers.”

Gawania shot him an icy glare. “Bring the boat around, banner man. I need to recover my spear.”

Tom grumbled, but he fired up the engine again. As he steered the boat closer to shore, he found himself wondering how someone Gawania’s age got into dragon slaying. She wasn’t much more than a kid, couldn’t be more than two or three years out of high school.

Maybe the ancient orders recruited like colleges nowadays. Maybe they sent out scouts, looking for the best and brightest talents they could find.

Tom guided the boat around the cluster of logs. The butt end of the spear stuck from the tangle on the other side. Gawania crouched down, reaching for it.

At that moment, Tom looked to the north. He saw it then: a large, scaly head on a serpentine neck. It rose out of the water beyond the shallows. It coiled backwards to look at them, pausing for a moment, before slowly sinking down again.

Tom held his breath. It was as majestic and as beautiful as he remembered. Please, dear God. Please don’t let her see it.

“Banner man! To the north!”

“It’s nothing,” Tom lied. “Just one of those beavers you scared.”

“Take me there,” she ordered. “Now!”

Tom brought them around, silently cursing.

“Faster!” Gawania climbed to her feet again. She hooked her left arm around the pole of the battle standard, using the free hand to shade her eyes against the sun. She raised he spear in her right.

Less than fifty yards ahead, the water rippled. The rolls of the dragon’s neck broke the surface, followed by the swell of its body. It ignored them as it swam peacefully along.

Tom’s mind raced. He couldn’t just slow down. That would be obvious. Maybe he could cut the engine; say it happened all by itself. No, she wasn’t stupid. She’d never believe it. His attention flicked up at her left arm, the one wrapped around the pole. He remembered the way she threw the spear. It was a long shot, but…

They were less than twenty yards away. Gawania widened her stance. She’ll let go with her left, Tom thought. Just before she throws.

Less than fifteen yards away, now.

Less than ten.

Gawania loosened her grip on the pole. Tom seized the opportunity and violently threw his weight to the starboard side. The boat pitched. Gawania dropped the spear and both hands fumbled to grab the pole of the battle standard. Then the pole-mount snapped and Gawania dropped over the side, taking the standard with her.

Tom cut the engine. Ahead, the dragon dipped below the surface. Tom glanced back. Gawania thrashed and struggled in the water.

She wouldn’t try to kill a dragon in a lake, he thought. Not if she couldn’t swim. She’s young, not stupid.

Tom watched, horrified, as Gawania started to sink.

“Damn it!” He fired up the engine and spun the boat around.

#

It was almost evening by the time they got back to Tom’s campsite. Gawania sat next to the fire, wrapped in Tom’s spare sleeping bag. Her leathers and gambeson hung nearby, drying on a line tied between two trees. Next to them hung the red battle standard. She had refused to abandon it when Tom pulled her out of the lake, nearly drowning both of them in the process.

Tom, now in his own dry set of clothes, handed her a steaming mug. “Drink this. It’ll keep the chills away.”

“What is it?”

“Mostly coffee.”

Gawania sipped. She immediately made a face. “Ugh! What’s the rest of it?”

“Mostly whiskey.” He fixed one for himself and sat across the fire from her.

The young warrior was quiet for a time. When she finally spoke, it was in a careful, measured voice. “You are sworn to help me in my quest, banner man. Are you not?”

“I guess so.”

“You are bound by family oath.”

No guessing about that one. The Bannerman family had served the Knights of the Rose since the Dark Ages. They swore similar oaths to the Brothers of Saint George, the Sons of Sigurd, and over a dozen other ancient orders. Tom had memorized each of them by the time he was twelve. The wording was different, but substance of them was always the same: If a hero rode out to face the monsters, a Bannerman carried the battle standard.

That was the tradition. That was the promise.

“Yes,” he said.

“And you know the punishment for breaking that oath.”

He did, all too well. A secretive order of knights could do a lot of damage if they put their minds to it. They could ensure that businesses failed, finances disappeared, and personal reputations were ruined. There was no need to get violent; they could destroy somebody without ever getting their weapons bloody.

Cross the ancient orders,” dad had warned him, “and you can kiss your life goodbye. ” That warning had only taken on more weight over the years. First with Marybeth. Then later, with the kids. Life started to look a lot more fragile when you had other people to feed.

“Yes, I know the punishment.”

“Then do not do what you did earlier. Ever again.”

“I saw something in the water. I swerved to avoid hitting it.”

“I know you’re lying, banner man. And I will forgive it. Once.” She fixed him with a hard stare.

Tom avoided her gaze. He swirled his coffee around in his mug. He drained the rest of it in a two swallows.

“Why do you want to kill a dragon?” he asked.

Gawania’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean they don’t bother anybody. What good does it do to chase one all the way up to the middle of nowhere? Especially when it’s just minding its business.”

She set down her mug before she answered. “Do you know where dragons come from, banner man?”

“I’ve heard stories.”

“So have I. Draconolgy was one of the subjects I studied at the Abbey of the Rose. They’re born from the unholy union of a demon and an earthly serpent. They have devils’ blood. They are monsters, banner man. They do not ‘just mind their business.'”

Tom didn’t buy it. He’d lived near the lake his entire life. His father and grandfather had lived here before him. The lake dragon was peaceful. So was the other one, for that matter, until one of these overzealous thugs killed it off.

“I’ve never heard of one attacking anybody.”

Gawania let out a short, harsh laugh. “There are thousands of recorded attacks against humans.”

Tom jabbed a stick into the fire, stirring the embers. “Legends, you mean.”

“Most people think they’re only legends. But they’re mistaken. The archives at the Abbey hold accounts of entire cities being wiped out.” Tom noted the lecturing, holier-than-thou tone she adopted.

“So? When was the last one?”

Gawania didn’t answer right away. From the way she fumed, Tom was sure he’d offended her. He wasn’t at all sure he cared.

“The dates are vague,” she admitted at last.

“Have you seen any of these archives yourself?”

Her voice took on a hard edge. “The Knights of the Rose would not keep false records, banner man.”

Tom decided to let the issue drop. You couldn’t argue with a true believer.

Gawania abruptly stood up, keeping the sleeping bag wrapped around her. “I’ll need to borrow a set of your clothes until morning. I’ll return at sunrise. Have my battle standard and my armor prepared.”

Tom sighed. He could say no. But then what? The Knights of the Rose could take a lot of things away from him. Away from Marybeth. Away from the kids. He jabbed the fire again.

“Whatever you say.”

#

When Gawania returned the next day, she was carrying a large poleaxe over one shoulder. She had a green duffel bag slung over the other, the kind you could buy at any surplus store. She still wore Tom’s borrowed clothes. Except for the poleaxe, Tom thought, she could be a college kid out for a day hike.

He let her use the tent to change back into her leathers and gambeson. Then he helped her into the plate armor she’d abandoned before yesterday’s boat ride. He started to protest, to remind her how close she’d come to drowning even without the extra weight.

She only gave him a stern look. “Remember your vows, banner man.”

Tom nodded. So it was going to be that kind of day. He helped her finish tightening down the straps.

“Where are we going?” he asked without enthusiasm.

“Nowhere. Fetch my battle standard from the boat.”

Tom disconnected the pole, grumbling. He’d just reattached it last night. At the same time, Gawania produced a large horn from the duffel bag. It was bigger than a steer’s horn, but it wasn’t smooth-sided. It was knotted and textured, more like a goat’s horn. Tom couldn’t readily tell what kind of animal it came from.

Gawania stood on the bank. “Take a your position seven paces behind me. Do not allow the battle standard to touch the ground. Only lower it if I fall. Understood?”

Tom nodded. He stood where he was told and held the standard high overhead. Then, as he watched Gawania raise the horn to her lips, he realized exactly what it was. Of course he hadn’t recognized it. He’d never seen one before.

After all, the dragon in the lake didn’t have horns. She was female.

Gawania blew the horn. It made a sound like a conch shell, only deeper. Not deeper in octave, deeper in memory, deeper in time. More primal. Yes, that was it. The sound called up images of things that used to prey on the hairless apes, back when fire was an uneasy ally. He heard the sound and understood their fears. He understood why they huddled together on the grass plains, watching the skies with wide, terrified eyes…

Gawania lowered the horn. “I stand ready, hell-spawn! Come for me! Come for one who will stand and fight!” She raised the horn and blew it again.

From out over the water, a sound rolled back to them, a sound very much like the one made by the horn. Then a dark silhouette appeared out beyond the shallows. Tom strained to see. It drifted slowly, the long neck and the large body making Tom think of a distant Viking ship.

He felt a sense of dread, then. He’d seen the dragon nearly a dozen times in his youth. It was always a quick, fleeting glimpse: the hump of its back, the coil of its neck. Each time it quickly dove or rolled back down into the water. But now it glided openly across the surface.

“What is that horn?” he asked. “What’s it doing?”

“Not now, banner man.”

The dragon got closer. Soon it was in the shallows, pulling itself along on its legs rather than swimming. Its movements seemed lethargic, slow, and almost trancelike. Tom saw details now that he’d never seen before. The body was longer than he’d imagined, and the end of the tail was slightly forked. The scales were two-tone, beginning as an emerald green on its back, gradually darkening to brown on its underside. The front legs were longer than the rear ones. There were two leathery flaps near the shoulders, and Tom at first mistook them for gills.

Wings, he thought. Those are old, atrophied wings.

Gawania threw the horn aside and took up her poleaxe. “Remember, banner man. Only lower the standard if I fall.”

“Please don’t do this.”

Gawania ignored him. She let out a battle cry and charged into the shallows, quickly sinking to her knees. She sloshed forward, still shouting, until she was within swinging distance. She raised her axe and–

The dragon struck like a cobra, its massive head moving almost too quickly for Tom to follow. It clamped its teeth around Gawania’s shoulder and upper arm, and reared up on its hind legs. It violently jerked its head from side to side, shaking her the way a dog would shake a chew toy.

Tom dropped the battle standard. He sprinted for the horn, reaching it in four long strides. Before he could think or talk himself out of it, he raised the horn to his lips and blew.

The sound was nothing like the conch-shell note that came before. It carried none of the weight and stirred none of the buried, ancestral memories. The noise had more in common with a trumpet, blown by a man who’d never seen one before.

Whatever it was, it was enough to get the dragon’s attention. It opened its jaws and let Gawania fall. As she collapsed into the knee-deep water and began scrambling backwards towards the shore, the dragon swung its head around to face Tom. He blew the horn again, and the dragon took a step in his direction.

Tom wound up and threw the horn side arm, pitching it as far out into the water as he could. The dragon’s gaze followed as it dropped into the lake. It started after it. Then the dragon shook its head. It almost seemed to snap out of something. The dragon blinked twice, and looked around as if confused. Then it plodded towards the deeper part of the lake, where it disappeared below the surface.

#

Gawania came around again, and she immediately hissed in pain. “What happened?”

“Lie still,” Tom said. “I’m going to bring the jeep over. Then I’m going to take you to a hospital.”

Gawania had managed to pull herself out of the lake before passing out. Tom had gotten her armor off and splinted her arm. He’d also used most of the gauze in his first aid kit to stop the bleeding. The dragon’s teeth hadn’t punched through the armor in many places, but where they had they’d bitten deep. Fortunately they’d missed the brachial artery.

“No hospital.”

“You’ve got a broken clavicle, some deep punctures, and a broken arm. And probably some other injuries I don’t know about. You need a doctor, Gawania.”

“No doctors.” Her voice sounded weak, but her eyes held a fire. “I’m going to rest here. Then I’m going to fight the dragon. Where is the Horn of Ragnar Lodbrok?”

“I threw it in the lake.”

“You need to recover it, banner man.”

“No.”

A flash of anger crossed her face. “Remember your vows.”

“Screw my vows. You’re lucky to be alive right now. I’ve never seen a dragon attack anyone before today. But whatever you did you with that horn drove her nuts. I’m not bringing it back.”

“I’ve been lenient with you until now, banner man. If the Knights of the Rose hear that you’ve disobeyed my orders, they’ll–”

Tom cut her off. “I don’t care what they’ll do.”

The muscles around Gawania’s jaw tightened. Her eyes were like daggers. “You should choose your next words carefully. I am not making idle threats.”

Tom thought of the haunted look in Dad’s eyes. He remembered how much it used to kill him to see it there. Do I want to see it look in the mirror, too? Do I want Marybeth and the kids to see it?

“Tell the Knights to take whatever the hell they want to. I won’t be a part of this anymore.”

“Coward,” she said. “Coward on the field of battle.”

“What battle?” Tom was on his feet and yelling before he knew it. “What is it you think you’re saving people from? Some secret club keeps an archive full of fairy tales. And you think that’s cause enough to throw your life away? To go stirring up trouble?”

“The dragons have attacked people for centuries. You saw how dangerous they are.”

“I saw you provoke her. And if you do it again tomorrow, she’s going to kill you.”

“At least I’ll die fighting.” Gawania tried to prop herself up on her good arm. She grimaced in pain and fell back down.

“No you won’t. You can’t fight. You can’t even stand up. Please, Gawania. Just let it go. Let me get you to a hospital.”

“Bring me my battle standard. I will not have a coward for a banner man.”

Tom shook his head. Kids. These knights and dragon slayers were nothing but kids. The ancient orders promised them secrets, gave them vows and traditions. But in the end, they were kids dressed in armor, fighting battles no one needed fought. He brought the standard over and propped against a tree.

#

It was night. Gawania slept soundly by the fire. Tom crept to her side and gently shook her uninjured shoulder. She startled awake and grunted in pain.

“Come with me,” Tom said. “I want you to see something.”

“What is it?”

Tom held up a finger, signaling quiet. Soon the sound, long and low, rolled over the water. It was almost like a whale’s song. Or a foghorn.

“Just come with me,” he said.

“Why should I follow a coward, banner man?”

Tom grimaced. He almost told her to forget it. But letting a stupid kid die for no reason would be just as bad as helping her kill a dragon.

“I’m not asking you to follow me. Hell, I’m not even asking you to trust me. I’m just asking you to get in the boat and take a ride. There’s something you need to see before you throw your life away tomorrow.”

Again the long, low sound rolled over the water. Gawania climbed to her feet, refusing Tom’s help. She reached for her poleaxe.

“Leave the weapon. You won’t need it.”

Gawania ignored him. She tried to lift the axe in her good hand, but it was to heavy and awkward for her to maneuver one-handed. She fumbled with it for a little while, trying more than once to use her splinted arm for leverage. Each time she hissed in pain and dropped it.

Frustrated, she whirled on Tom with an angry look. “If this is some trick, banner man…”

“It’s no trick.”

Gawania climbed into the boat, leaving the rest of her threat unspoken. She lowered herself gingerly, hissing and wincing, until she finally settled onto the forward bench. Tom pushed off from the shore and climbed in after her. But instead of using the motor, he locked a set of oars into place. He sat on the bench and began to row. Once again, the sound rolled towards them.

“What is that sound, banner man? Is it the dragon? Did I wound it?”

“No talking,” Tom said. “If she hears us coming, she’ll swim away.”

“This could be our chance! We need to go back. I need my weapons. You have to fix the standard to the bow.”

Tom held a finger to his lips, shushing her. He rowed, following the sound and occasionally stopping to check his position. His father had showed him the spot once. It was in that tiny inlet, past the mid-point on the north side of the lake.

This is where she goes when she remembers, ” his father had told him. “When you hear her out there, stay clear. She deserves her mourning, same as anyone.

They were close now. The sound was much louder. Gawania sat anxiously in the front of the boat. She was plainly nervous at being unarmed, constantly fidgeting with her uninjured hand. Tom considered handing her his pocketknife just to get her to stop.

He brought the boat into the small inlet. There was a rock in the middle of it, a glacial boulder that was mostly submerged. Only the top part rested above the water. The dragon sat perched on it.

At the sight, Gawania sat stock-still. The dragon arched her neck, raising her head to the sky. She opened her mouth and once again let out the long, low cry. It was a mournful sound, filled with sorrow, longing, and loneliness. They sat in the boat, watching as the dragon called over and over again into the night.

It was the sound of the lost.

It was the sound of the frightened.

It was the sound of a creature that knew it was alone, but didn’t understand why.

Slowly, Tom lowered the oars into the water. He pulled as quietly as he could, moving the boat away from the tiny inlet. The dragon’s cries followed them, rolling over the water, echoing between the pines. They were nearly halfway back to the campsite when Tom finally spoke.

“There used to be two of them,” he said quietly. “Back when my dad was a kid. He told me you could always see them swimming in the lake, rolling and playing like dolphins. In all those years they never hurt anybody. He didn’t know if they were mates, or if they were the last survivors of a herd, or what. He only knew they seemed happy. And why not? They had each other.

“Until one summer, when someone like you showed up.”

“Please, don’t–” Gawania began.

“Dad never forgot them hauling the body out of the lake” Tom continued. “He told me the dragon slayer was a proud, smug son of a bitch. He said the man’s armor never even got a scratch on it. The dragon didn’t fight him. It probably didn’t even know what he was there for.”

“Please–”

“That inlet was where it happened.” Tom unlocked the oars. He put them in the bottom of the boat and started to prime the outboard motor. “You’d hear her on that rock after that. Not always. Usually it was after a thunderstorm. Sometimes it was when a train rolled by, and they hit the air horn. She’d crawl up on that rock where he died, and she’d cry for him until morning.”

The motor puttered to life. Tom steered them back towards the campsite. “The other one’s been gone for more than sixty years,” he said. “And she still cries every time something reminds her of him.”

“Why did you show me that, banner man?” Tom couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like she might have been crying.

“I just wanted you to have a better look at your monster, Gawania.”

#

In the morning, Tom woke to find her standing on the shore, staring out over the water. Even with the broken arm and collarbone, she’d partly dressed herself in her armor. Tom couldn’t even imagine the pain that must have caused her. He stayed quiet, stoking the fire, boiling the water, and getting ready to make coffee. He watched Gawania.

Slowly, she removed her helmet. She held it up with her good hand, looking at it, twisting it, as if she were trying to see herself there. Then, with very little ceremony, she threw it into the lake. Next she awkwardly wrestled the poleaxe into an upright position, butt resting on the ground. She looked up at the blade, perhaps seeing it for the ugly thing it was. She let it fall in after the helmet. The armor was last. She struggled with it, making several pained sounds and uttering some curses. Tom stood back, knowing she wouldn’t want any help from him. Soon the armor joined the helmet and the poleaxe.

After a time, she came and joined Tom by the fire. Without a word, she took the red battle standard off of its pole and dropped it into the flames. Tom offered her a steaming mug.

She took it without smiling. “Mostly coffee?”

“No. Mostly whiskey.” He sipped his own, letting her enjoy it for a bit. “What will you do now?”

“That hospital doesn’t sound like a bad idea.”

Tom nodded. “And after that?”

“I don’t know. I might have to go into hiding for a while. The Knights of the Rose are pretty harsh on disloyalty.” She looked up at Tom. “What about you?”

“I’ll make it. We’ll probably have it rough for a while. We’ll have to start over. But Marybeth will understand. So will the kids, when they’re old enough.” Even so, he wasn’t looking forward to breaking the news when he got home.

“I’m sorry I got you involved in this, Tom.”

“Listen, Gawania, I–”

“Trish,” she said.

“Excuse me?”

“My name’s Trish. If I’m giving up the knight business, then I’m giving up the name.”

“Alright, Trish. I’ve got a sister-in-law with a guest room. I can call her up if you need someplace to hide for a while.”

“Thanks.” Trish polished off the rest of her mug. She smiled ruefully. “So, do you know any good employment opportunities for ex-knights in shining armor?”

Tom looked out over the water. He thought he saw the surface ripple in the distance, but he couldn’t be sure. “How would you feel about wildlife conservation?”

“Maybe. Let’s talk about it on the way to the hospital.”

Tom quenched the fire, and helped her into the jeep.

Welcome to the November Issue of Urban Fantasy Magazine

Well, we’ve made it. Urban Fantasy Magazine is officially in its second year. It’s been a crazy ride with so many amazing stories along the way. For those who haven’t seen it on our website already, due to gaps in our staff, we will be going on hiatus in January. We will keep the website updated with any new developments.

If I had to pick a theme to our stories this month, it would be “changing rituals.” It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the things we do every day, the way we’ve always done things. It often takes something extreme to alter our views, and even then, we can be pretty stubborn. In our first story, “Gawania and the Banner Man” by Daniel J. Davis, a creature’s fate is wrapped up in an old tradition. In “Bad Times to be in the Wrong Place” by David Tallerman, a man looks at everyday rituals in a unique way when he learns the world may not be around much longer. “Bad Times to be in the Wrong Place” is our first reprinted story, and David Tallerman is also our interviewee for November.

We’ve got a guest reviewer this month, Sara Patterson, who shares her opinions on Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World, while Kristin Luna reviews a creepily fun anthology, Carniepunk. And, of course, we have the grand finale to our serialized story, Dead Records by Ryan Reid and Steven Savile.

Thanks for reading, and for all of you joining in the craziness that is NaNoWriMo, happy writing!

-Katrina S. Forest