Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sleight Of Hand

Sleight of Hand
Written by: Peter S Beagle
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Language: English
March 2011, $14.99
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Fiction/Anthology
ARC from Tachyon Publishing

“Magic is back. Peter S Beagle returns with an inspired collection of new fantasy tales that showcases his incomparable mastery and range. In these tales – with settings as different as an impossible reconstruction of the Berlin Wall and the kitchen of Mrs. Eunice Giant (72 Fairweather Lane, East-of-the-Bean, Sussex Overhead) – warrior, monsters, and utterly ordinary people struggle with possession and forgiveness, life and love, hate and death…and the choices that come after everything else has been stripped away by Fate. Inside these pages:

The daughter of a Shark God leaves her Pacific island home, determined to find her mysterious father and hold him accountable for the curse of her own existence.

A dilapidated dragon, a frustrated cop, and an unapologetic author square off over a dangerously abandoned narrative.

An enchantress-to-be sings of power, desire, and the ultimate betrayal of her heart.

In a nothing diner, in a nowhere town, a woman lost in grief learns how to fool Death with one artful shuffle of the deck.

Featuring a brand new Schmendrick tale set before The Last Unicorn, plus twelve other wonderful stories, Sleight of Hand is suffused with a luminous misdirection that moves the soul as much as it fools the eye. Always ready to delight his readers, Beagle proves yet again he is a master magician.”


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Like most young girls, I was obsessed with unicorns when I was a kid. I had my unicorn sticker book, the stuffed unicorns (one that actually played a tune as well when you wound her up), I had figurines and posters, all of which went so well with the Who, and David Bowie posters and a variety of other things that seemed to go well in my oh so eclectic room. So of course when I saw The Last Unicorn movie I was smitten. As far as I was concerned it was up there with Unico and later Legend. How could I not love it? The animation was beautiful and in it a lovely tale a unicorn who learns to love and regret. It makes you smile and cry. Completely magical and still remains one of my favorite movies. It wasn’t until later in life that I actually picked up the novel that Peter S Beagle wrote. Again completely smitten.

I am not sure why I haven’t read any more of Beagle’s works as I really, really should have. When Tachyon Publishing let me know about few of their new anthologies, I shook my head and raised my hand screaming pick me, pick me. Because lets face it free book sis awesome. Seriously I should work in a bookstore then again I would never make any money. Anyway, glad they picked me. I am not sure what I was expecting though out of Mr. Beagle. I suppose I expected more Last Unicorn type fantasy. I certainly wasn’t expecting to love it so much. Each story just worked for me, even the ones you only like just a little. I found magic again in this set of short stories. That is a wonderful feeling to have.

Now I love urban fantasy. Anyone can tell that it is definitely my preferred genre, but it has been a very long time since I read something that made me want to believe in magic again. You know the feeling - that childlike innocence that anything is possible and that magic and faeries and the impossible do exist no matter how many times someone tells you that they do not. We all had that as kids. I had my insisting that unicorns did exist, but were invisible to anyone who didn’t truly believe they existed and I remember trying really hard to believe when I was a kind. There was something about this new anthology that brought back those feelings. It made me smile and in a way just a little bit sad. Sad, because I am an adult now and perhaps too rational and cynical despite my enthusiastic imagination to really be able to go back to that time.

As the summary says there are quite a few different stories, each with a small foreword letting the reader know a bit of history behind each short story.

Things I loved: My favorite stories were Sleight of Hand, The Children of the Shark God, Bridge Partner and The Woman Who Married the Man in The Moon which was a Schmendrick tale. The prose was great, the stories imaginative and as I said before, it really made me long to have that magic you believed in when you were a kid.

I always find it hard to briefly summarize short stories and tell you why I loved them so much without giving them away, but I will say the stories range from humorous to heart breaking, witty and magical and I really did enjoy the majority of them. I also went and picked up my Last Unicorn DVD and watched it. Even as I write this review I suddenly have America in my hand singing about our lovely last unicorn. It gets stuck in your head. It really does.

As I said I really do love the short story format, they is when they are done right. It helps when you have someone who can master them beautifully. I am not sure why I like them so much. Maybe because it is like an episode of the Twilight Zone, they are short (which is great when you are tired and know that about a chapter and a half is all that you will get before you pass out) with a usually solid beginning and ending. It takes a talented writer in my opinion to write just a few short pages, but in those pages have created solid characters, amazing worlds and a story you don’t really want to end. I wanted more from The Shark God. I loved each of the characters so much, but it was a lovely tale with a beginning and an end. It was enough and yet not. Beagle proved to me that he is one of those writers that can bewitch you in the first few paragraphs and immerse you in worlds you forgot to believe in.

Oh and I loved the cover. Not that this means a lot, but pretty covers are nice.

So I will give you a brief overview of some of the stories. “Children of the Shark God”: yes I loved it. It is a beautiful folkloric style tale of a Shark God who falls in love with a kind yet rather unremarkable young woman. She knows that he is not of her people and who he really is, and yet she loves him all the same with such a brutal sweetness it makes you all gooey inside. She does this despite only being able to see him once a year when he collects his yearly tribute from her people. Their children however want more than just a yearly visit from an absentee father. You could say they are none too pleased with the arrangement. And as they grow older they want to understand their father. The Shark God broke my heart just as his was broken. Beautiful story.

Another stand out was “ The Bridge Partner” which was both funny and creepy with a nice Hitchcockian flair to it. “Sleight of Hand” as I said was another of my favorites. It is about a young woman who has lost everything and in her grief, anger and sorrow strikes a bargain with a dinner theatre magician who is not at all what he seems to be. And it doesn’t turn out the way you expected or how she had planned. After all it is a sleight of hand. It is a heartbreaking magical tale and anyone who has lost something dear to them can relate to its themes.

Despite the serious tone of some of the stories there is some lighter fare which is nice. “The Best Worst Monster” was automatically an adorable animated Pixar like creation in my head as I read it. The giant’s wife from Jack in the Beanstalk recounts her side of the famous tale in “Up the Down Beanstalk. And in “Oakland Dragon Blues” a fictional dragon gets angry with his creator.

Things I didn't love so much: Admittedly there are a few stories I didn’t quite love, but that is going to happen whenever you read an anthology or collection. Of course, the stories I absolutely love might be stories that others didn’t care for as much and the ones I didn’t like they love. There is also part of me that would have loved a bit more explanation on some of the stories, but that is because I really wanted to more about Beagle himself. In all there wasn’t much that I didn’t like and I immediately gave it to my friend to read because I wanted to talk about the Sleight of Hand story.

Buy or Borrow: Buy if you like collections, Peter S Beagle or The Last Unicorn. It’s a worthy addition to any bookshelf. If anything please borrow and read some of these amazing stories, which might be in print elsewhere but I hadn’t read them until now.

Part of: Stand Alone

Also Recommended: For more Beagle I would of course recommend The Last Unicorn. Beagle has also written Tamsin, A Fine and Private Place and The Line Between among some of them. I would also recommend Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman which is a collection of his short stories.

4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

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