Royal Dilemma

Once upon a time there was a rich and powerful kingdom which no one remembers.

One might ask “If they’re totally forgotten, how can you tell us a story about them?” Simple—the kingdom may be forgotten but its stories are not. Kingdoms eventually fall, cultures collapse, but all stories need to continue is someone to tell them, and someone to hear. That’s me and you.

Now the monarch of this kingdom had a dilemma. His ancestors had long since realized automatically handing the crown to their eldest child made no sense. Maybe one accident of birth made those children royalty, but it was asking far too much of providence to grant that any one of them could be suited for the crown.

No, anyone wishing to inherit the throne had to show they had the right qualities. In a family with a lot of offspring, this was no easy feat, and often involved poison, sharp implements, and long falls from high towers. The current monarch had been relatively lucky; he only had one sister and had tricked her into joining a convent. Now he could feel his time growing short and he needed to choose an heir.

He didn’t have one.

Oh, he’d had children, right enough. His late Queen had been safely delivered of five of them: two girls, three boys. The girls were too much alike and thus managed to poison each other at the same tea party. One truly promising lad eliminated both of his older brothers in one epic but completely fake hunting accident, only to die himself one year later in a real one.

His Majesty was certainly not oblivious to the irony of the situation, but the problem remained.

“The system usually works but does not take the whims of fate into account.”

His Majesty’s only option was to send out a call to the other kingdoms in the realm, offering the throne to second and third sons and daughters of their ruling houses, since most royalty of the area was either closely or distantly related. Unfortunately, the other kingdoms were quite aware of the conditions in place to win that particular throne, and on the day set for the arrival of the candidates, only one young man appeared.

He was hardy-looking fellow dressed in forest green and carried a longbow in his hand and arrows in his belt. The king looked him up and down and pointed out the obvious.

“You do not look like a prince,” he said.

“I am the only son of a princess, and thus a prince,” the young man said.

“Who then is your mother? Do I know her?”

“You should. You once tricked her into a nunnery. She escaped. You won’t.”

With that the young man drew his bow and loosed an arrow so quickly that no guard had time to react. Even after the arrow struck him, the king could not stop smiling.

“My heir,” he said, as the light faded, “The system still works.”

©2021 Richard Parks

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow, Hachette Book Group, 2019.

January Scaller is a young girl living in the mansion of the insanely wealthy William Cornelius Locke, a mansion packed with valuable collectables from all over the world…and some that apparently don’t belong in this one.  Her father, Julian, is an employee of Mr. Locke charged with traveling the world in search of said wondrous objects, so he isn’t home very much. Sometimes Mr. Locke has to travel himself, and sometimes he takes January with him as a treat or distraction.

On one such trip, January finds a doorway between worlds. So much for plot summary, because what happens doesn’t actually tell you what’s happening. That’s a separate issue altogether. Suffice to say there are more doors where that one came from and January’s discovery of them leads into all kinds of trouble, and not just for her.

I picked this one up on the recommendation of people whose taste and judgment I trust. I’m also a sucker for portal fantasies, probably ever since I came across George R.R. Martin’s “The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr” in Fantastic Stories years ago. This is one of the best ones I’ve ever read. From the first page I knew I was in for a treat, for it was clear the author was a person in love with language, specifically language in the service of story. A sentence might be as long as it needs to be, and sometimes it may be convoluted, but it’s never clumsy. A sort of wordy precision which is almost but not quite a contradiction in terms, and so rare to find.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away to note that January isn’t quite what she seems, but then neither are most of the rest of Harrow’s cast. Of course their secrets are tied to the existence of the doors and the astute reader will winkle most of it out before book’s end, and that’s half the fun. There are elements that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror novel, but this isn’t one. There’s contemplation of the nature of story itself and its role in the world. Not to mention one adventure after another, which are all part of the same adventure: growing up, and self discovery.

Recommended. Heartily.

Quick Alert

Not that I need a Lert. (Sorry, old fannish joke).

Ahem.

There will be a price promotion on my novella , Hereafter, and After, starting tomorrow at 8 A.M. PST, and lasting…well, not that long before the price starts going back up. This novella was originally published as a limited hardback from PS Publishing. Here’s what Charles de Lint had to say about it in Fantasy and Science Fiction:

” (It) allows Parks to poke gentle fun and make some serious commentary on our belief systems, and it gives us a terrific read. Hereafter, and After is a story that would have made Robert Nathan or James Branch Cabell proud — and probably would James Morrow, too, who’s still alive and could read it. And it certainly shows that Parks has the chops to work at a longer length.”

Been a while, but I’m still blushing.

Lady Kuzunoha’s Daughter

I’m pleased to say I’ve just sold a new Yamada story to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, “The Fox’s Daughter.” It mostly concerns what happens when circumstances force Lady Kuzunoha to entrust her daughter Kimiko to Yamada’s family temporarily. Yamada has quite a bit of experience with kitsune, but less so with the sullen teenager equivalent. Fortunately, Tagako-hime is there to pick up the slack. All that said, Yamada will still have his hands full sorting out one Kimiko-induced crisis after another.

This makes the third new Yamada story following the events of The Emperor in Shadow, after “Uzumaki of the Lake” in BCS #300 and “A Minor Exorcism,” the latter of which should be out from BCS in the next few months. There’s actually a fourth already written, a flash piece I plan to expand and include as an original in the eventual new Yamada collection. After that, who knows. I’ll be sure to post when “The Fox’s Daughter” is scheduled.

It’s easy to tell that the first book in the series, Demon Hunter, is out of print now in pb, considering that the only sources listing it are selling it for $47 and “new” copies for $128. Well, they can list it for whatever they want, I suppose, but I can’t imagine they’re selling very many.

And before anyone asks, yes, I’m still working on the concluding volume of The Laws of Power series. It’s just not the only thing I’m working on.

Confession Time

I am a writer, so it should go without saying that I’m a reader. Show me a writer who didn’t start as a reader and I’ll show you someone painting by numbers and connecting the dots.

On the other hand, or foot, or whatever—there’s more than one kind of reader. Most true readers start as the voracious sort, and I certainly did. Once I learned that those black ink spots meant something, there was no stopping me. Storybooks, philosophy, cereal boxes, whatever. Put it in front of me and I’d read it. I wouldn’t always understand it, mind, but at the time this hardly mattered.

That’s fairly common among readers. Later, after that initial insane rush, we start to specialize…or drift, depending on your point of view. We start to recognize that certain forms “speak” to us more. It may be a phase, it may be lifelong. I started with books and later moved to an intense affair with comics when I had a bit more discretionary income and could, you know, acquire things that weren’t already in the family library. I came into that about the time Jack Kirby moved to DC and started the New Gods series. But all good and bad things come to an end, and if you’re lucky, new good things appear (and bad, whether  you’re lucky or not) and by college I was back to books. LOTR and The Earthsea (at the time) Trilogy. Fritz Leiber, Clark Ashton Smith and those echoes of the pulp era. HPL, REH.

And then…well, my true bent manifested. Turns out I am a butterfly. I go to whatever catches my attention. I am not focused. Some readers make it a point to, say, read the Romantics and ignore everything else until they’re done, then move on. I can’t do that. I go back, I go forward. I read collections and novels by current writers. I go back to things I’ve missed. Bear in mind, this is for pleasure. There’s also writerly research, which is another subject entirely. It can be and often is pleasurable, but that’s not the reason you go there. You need to know about something and try to find out what you don’t know. You go where you think that information is.

Just another way of saying I am haphazard in the extreme. For instance, I’ve managed to read ULYSSES, but not FINNEGAN’S WAKE. I’ve read Eddison’s THE WORM OUROBOROS but not Morris’ THE WELL AT WORLD’S END. You get the idea.

So the confession part. I, a fantasist, have never read George Macdonald. At all. This is something I feel a sharp need to address. So I’ve acquired copies of THE GOLDEN KEY and PHANTASTES.

Which, at the very minimum, will tell me what, if anything I’ve missed. Other than, you know, almost everything.