(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Memories (Somenone Will Never Know), composed by Clint Mansell for the soundtrack of Moon (Spotify, YouTube).
As I promised a few weeks, I am back with reviews of novellas. In this case, I want to talk about some books published by Tor.com which, in little more than a year, has become the imprint to follow in this format. My choices today are their three more recent releases: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson, Cold-Forged Flame, by Marie Brennan, and The Warren, by Brian Evenson.
I was really looking forward to The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, since Kij Johnson is the author of some of my favorite stories ever ("Twelve Monkeys, Also the Abyss", for instance). But, despite an interesting beginning, I couldn't help feeling a bit underwhelmed with this novella. This is (just another) response to the work of H.P. Lovecraft (in which I am not very interested, I must say) and it will probably appeal to many readers. However, I missed almost the references and found the central part of the story, a long trip in which the main protagonists visits different places and faces a number of monsters, a bit boring. I did like the ending and its original twist, but my overall opinion is that the story is just average and I did certainly expect much more from Johnson. Your mileage may vary, though.
Cold-Forged Flame, my first contact with Marie Brennan's writing, was considerably more satisfactory. It starts with a not very original situation (a character who doesn't remember anything about her past), but the tone and the atmosphere are almost perfect and the reader is intrigued by the mystery from the very first page. I did also like the worldbuilding very much, and one of the pleasures of reading this story is the opportunity to discover new things about the peculiar magical island in which it takes place. I found the ending to be a bit rushed, but all in all this a very good novella and I recommend it. Also, I am looking forward to the sequel, Lightning in the Blood, that will be published in April next year; the setting really has a lot of potential and I want to find out more about the world and the characters.
Finally, The Warren, by Brian Evenson, also starts with a protagonist with memory problems. But this novella is completely different from Cold-Forged Flame. To start with, The Warren is a very interesting mix of psychological thriller and science fiction, with a setting that reminded me of Wool, by Hugh Howey, and the movie Moon, directed by Duncan Jones. Also, the main character is a very particular case of a unreliable narrator, with a memory and identity that have been tinkered with, leading to a more than interesting effect:
At times, I become confused about the order in which things should be told. Parts of me know things that other parts do not, and sometimes I both know a thing and do not know it, or part of me knows something is true and another part knows it is not true, and there is nothing to allow me to negotiate between the two.
The Warren is not an easy read and it requires some effort and collaboration on the reader's part, but I think the final result is more than worth it even if no clean-cut explanations are given in each and every case. Also recommended.
All in all, three more books that show, once again, that Tor.com can satisfy all your SF&F novella needs with both quantity and quality. And next month they will publish four more, really appealing titles. Stay tuned, for I will bring you their reviews soon!