“First and Short” is a new Ecstatic Days feature that reviews first books that happen to be novellas. Since books fitting this definition are usually published by indie presses, this feature serves the dual purpose of highlighting new authors and unique publishers. It in effect replaces the “Conversations with the Bookless” interviews that have now migrated to BookSpotCentral. Please send materials for consideration to POB 4248, Tallahassee, FL 32315 USA, marked “for First and Short”. Thanks–and please feel to spread this link to those who might be interested.
HORN by Peter M. Ball
Twelfth Planet Press / Paperback â€¢ 96pp â€¢ RRP AUS$10
Recombinations of the mystery genre with fantasy have been getting stranger and stranger. In a way–inadvertently–the innocuous Harry Potter series started this trend, with the first three books fusing wizards with tea cosy plots, complete with lengthy explanations in the study to end it all. We’ve also seen the often cerebral and perhaps a spot too organized mix of fantasy and police procedural. But lately also a more dangerous and rowdy sort of hybrid has been making an appearance: fantasy mixed with hardboiled noir (undiluted by the romance of “urban fantasy”).
Peter M. Ball’s debut, Horn, takes elements of faery and places them within a hardboiled context, and by doing so renders the fantastical as sordid, tactile, and often gruesome. The story is relatively straightforward but contains rather delicious details: Miriam Aster is an ex-detective turned PI who still gets called in some cases, usually to the morgue, due to her past as both the lover of the exiled Queen of the Fairies and having once been brought back from the dead. In Horn, she’s brought in on a death related to a rampant unicorn.
At times, the effect of this fusion reminded me of Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, because Horn de-romanticizes and de-mystifies its fantasy element. In a sense, it makes faery mundane, but in interesting ways. A casual throw-away line like “Somewhere in the bowels of the building, he was feeding the corpse of Sally Crown into the morgue incinerator and hundreds of newborn fairies were dying” lends a kind of rough legitimacy to the milieu that’s lacking in more whimsical treatments.