Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fictional Interlude: Heian Fairy Tale

Dalkey, Kara.  The Nightingale.  Fairy Tales.  ACE Books, NY.  Originally published in 1988.  Paperback edition in 1991.

This Tomeful Tuesday, I'm going to take a break from Gygax's RPM.  We'll be back on track with that read-through next week.  Today, I want to mention a very good read that I think might not be as widely known as it deserves to be -- especially now that it is over twenty years old.  I learned about Kara Dalkey from a recommendation in Datlow and Windling's now defunct Year's Best Fantasy & Horror.  For years, this collection was my go-to for getting exposed to good fantastical fiction that I likely otherwise would  not pick up on my own.  I added Dalkey to the list I take with me when used book trawling.  Asian fantasy has been on my mind lately thanks to Dave Gross' awesome latest Pathfinder Tales novel, so when I ran across The Nightingale at Paperbacks Plus, and saw Daleky's name, I nabbed it.  That Datlow-Windling crowd must have been thick: this book was published in their series of fantasy retellings of classic fairy tales.

Dalkey took Hans Christian Andersen's "The Nightingale" and reset it in a fantasy version of Heian Japan.  She evinces a good feel for the culture and religion of Heian and evokes it in a novel that holds the reader not only in the atmosphere, but with dramatic tension and psychological subtlety.   If you have no patience for a fantasy novel with only one big action scene -- and that almost at the end -- then this probably is not the novel for you (Katana and karate enthusiasts will have to get their needs met elsewhere).  Otherwise, it's got a strong sense of time and place, good characterization, revenge from beyond the grave, romance, and the gods in a story that cleverly builds on the fairy tale at its core.  A clear standout among the retellings I've read.  It makes me want to yell...


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