Review: Realms of Fantasy, August 2009

Realms of Fantasy, August 2009

Review by Paula R. Stiles

Realms of Fantasy, vol. 15, no 5, Aug 2009. Blacksburg, VA: Tir Na Nog, Press, Inc., 2009. 83pp. $6.99 USD; $7.99 CAN.

Realms of Fantasy went on hiatus last year, but has got a second life with a new publisher and starts up again with this latest issue. As part of their promotion, they offered a free copy to the first 200 people who answered their announcement on their blog and agreed to blog/review it. Naturally, I signed up. About three weeks ago, lo and behold, said issue arrived.

It’s a different set-up from that of the Fantasy and Science Fiction issue I reviewed last month. Realms of Fantasy is still a full-sized magazine (rather than F&SF’s digest size), and also much shorter in page length. The magazine publishesaugust bimonthly and has less fiction. There are only four stories in the issue, one of them a single page. On the other hand, the first tale is by Tanith Lee, which makes it worth the price of admission. But perhaps I’m biased. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as a bad Tanith Lee story.

This one’s a doozy. “Our Lady of Scarlet” is a dark tale set during the London plague of 1665. This final major convulsion of the Black Death in Europe raged the year before the Great Fire of London in 1666 brutally cleansed the pandemic from that city once and for all. I was especially intrigued to see that the protagonist was an alchemist, having recently finished reading a book that had focused heavily on English astrologers and alchemists from this period: The Fated Sky: Astrology in History by Benson Bobrick.

Lee’s protagonist, Andelm, is a young, proud atheist who thinks he’s seen it all and fears nothing–until he runs across the sinister cult of the Red Virgin in the inn where he rents lodging. If Lovecraft had taken a hand to adapting Shakespeare or Samuel Pepys, this story might be a result. Especially striking is Lee’s beautiful and intensely disturbing description of the bodies in a plague cart that Andelm examines out of scientific curiosity. The ending is an excellent example of a deus ex machina that works.

This was not the best of months for me to read “Healing Benjamin” by Dennis Danvers. It involves the death (and resurrection) of a cat and I just lost one of mine a few weeks ago after 14 years. That said, it’s still a good story about a boy who unexpectedly discovers a gift for healing when he revives his dying cat Benjamin, who now becomes ageless. This seems like a great thing at first, but as the years pass, the boy discovers that he’s developed an aversion to the natural process of growing old and dying, himself. It’s up to Benjamin to help him let go.

“Digging for Paradise” by Ian Creasey starts off with an intriguing blend of science (archaeology), space opera and sorcery, but gets a little too wrapped up in the sorcery. There’s also a lost love plot that feels a lot like Solaris, but doesn’t quite grab. Then again, despite admiring Solaris, I never felt much connection to it.

“Well and Truly Broken” by Bruce Holland Rogers is cute but very short and based on a fairly trite play of words. “One summer day,” a trio of sisters invades a fairy ring, mid-fairy-dance, and gets the secret of living like fairies. The results of their decision to pay the price, however, are a bit unclear, making the ending a letdown.

The fiction is centered within an outer shell of non-fiction and ads for fantasy novels and conventions like GenCon and FaerieWorlds. The ads are interesting, but I find myself wondering why publishers don’t offer more enticement in the form of the books themselves. Kensington Publishing did offer a free book giveaway for a week of the latest from a Richelle Mead series, Thorn Queen, but only in Kindle format, which is expensive and difficult to get. I understand that publishers don’t want to lose money on pirating, but a little more aggressive offering of limited supplies of review copies (as with Realms of Fantasy and Fantasy and Science Fiction‘s August issues) couldn’t hurt.

The non-fiction could have been better arranged. Why start a tale by someone as famous as Tanith Lee on page 34? I can understand putting the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince film article early on, but the gaming review could have come later. Not that a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons isn’t news, but the author, Matt Stagg, doesn’t bother to introduce any potential new readers to the D&D universe, thus limiting the review’s appeal to those who’ve played D&D or D&D-inspired RPGs online, and Pitch Black fans who actually care that a new Chronicles of Riddick Atari video game is out (which is a lot of people, but hardly every fantasy fan out there). I also found the Folkroots section by SatyrPhil Brucato, “Mystic Rhythms”, dull and wordy, which surprised me. I’m into both rockn’roll and shamanism, so the mix should have worked for me. Instead, the article wandered, namedropped and dug up a lot of less-than-deep insights into the connections between music and folklore.

Conversely, the Books section and Gallery seemed buried in the back of the ‘zine and could have been better switched with the Games and Folklore reviews. But really, I would have preferred to get the fiction right off the bat. If you tell me you’ve got new Tanith Lee, and I’m not reviewing the whole ‘zine, I’m going to skip right over everything else and go straight for the Tanith Lee story. Sorry. I’m mercenary with my time and attention that way.

If you’re interested in the changeover to the new publisher, check out the last page. There are two editorials about it. Long-time Fiction Editor Shawna McCarthy uses a zombie metaphor to discuss the new direction of Realms of Fantasy in “A Time of Rebirth, or, Mmmmmm, Brains!” Meanwhile, new publisher Warren Lapine discusses his reasons for saving the magazine. Some of you former subscribers to DNA Publications who are a little leery of Lapine after the Absolute Magnitude crash-and-burn may be cheered by his decision to honor any unfulfilled subscriptions with copies of Realms of Fantasy.

Final note: the artwork is absolutely beautiful, including a cute cover with a Mohawk-sporting mermaid who likes starfish shoulder decorations by Dominic Harman and a goofy battle between cat and plucked chicken by Eric Westbrook for “Healing Benjamin”. Especially gorgeous is the occult-crimson cross-and-heart symbology for “Our Lady of Scarlet” on page 34. Strangely enough, though, it’s also the only one that has no credit to the illustrator on the story’s title page.

Realms of Fantasy has been available since June 30 at your local bookbarn or you can get a subscription from their site:

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IFPReview: Realms of Fantasy, August 2009