Category Archives: Chris Willrich

A Review of The Scroll of Years

ScrollofYearsThe Scroll of Years
Chris Willrich
Pyr Books
Trade paper $15.95 US $17.00 Canada
Ebook $11.99
Amazon  B&N Indie Bound

A Scroll of Years is the first novel about thief Imago Bone and poet Persimmon Gaunt. The pair have appeared in 5 short stories to date, and the first is included in this volume. Somehow this series has managed to fly under my radar. That’s something I’m going to need to fix. Looking at Willrich’s website, I may have read one or two but didn’t realize they were part of a series.

Anyway, Bone and a pregnant Gaunt are fleeing from Night’s Auditors. They are a pair of hit men who don’t merely kill their victims. In essence they steal their victims’ souls. They’re a pair of nasty dudes, and they have a dragon working for them. One of them controls a fire spirit. The other has a mirror embedded in his forehead which shows all possible things his victim might do. These guys are hard to kill, and they don’t give up easily.

Gaunt and Bone flee across the ocean to a land much like Imperial China. Gaunt has a mark forming on her belly that resembles two dragons. It’s a sign that the child she carries is someone a lot of powerful people want to get their hands on. Gaunt and Bone are going to need all the allies they can get.

The writing is rich and subtle, and Gaunt and Bone are foremost of a cast of delightfully flawed characters. Some fantasy novels are like a tankard of ale, intended to be slammed back. The Scroll of Years is of a more refined vintage, one in which you savor the writing as well as the story and characters.  The story takes place over both months and years simultaneously.  (That statement will make sense if you read the book, trust me.)

Gaunt and Bone have been compared to Fafhred and the Grey Mouser. I can see the resemblance, and I’d bet money that Fritz Leiber was one of Willrich’s influences. But that comparison runs the risk of limiting the characters or skewing a potential reader’s expectations. I see echoes of an earlier generation of writers in this book. Writers such as Ernest Bramah with perhaps a dash of Dunsany and maybe a pinch of Clark Ashton Smith. Plus a nod to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Leiber’s heroes were clearly cut from the same general cloth as Conan, inhabiting a milieu rooted in Western tradition where any portrayal of Eastern cultures were filtered to a greater or lesser degree through the West’s perceptions of the East. As Willrich notes in the Acknowledgements, this particular work is firmly planted in Chinese soil. The titular Scroll of Years is a concept I’ve not come across in much European based fantasy.  And rather that detracting, the Chinese folk tales Willrich interjects into the story give it added depth and resonance.

The Scroll of Years is not like anything I’ve seen recently. Willrich has a fresh voice, and with this novel (I can’t speak for the short stories, not being familiar with them yet) he expands the boundaries of sword and sorcery.

The events in this book grow out of the short stories, and there are one or two passing reference to previous events that seem to refer back to them. Don’t let that stop you from picking this one up. You can enjoy The Scroll of Years on its own merits. The ARC I have says today is the release date (which is why I wrote the review today), but the author’s website says the 24th.  Either way, look for a copy if this sounds like it might be your cup of tea. And if Pyr want to publish the short stories (with one or two new ones included, hint, hint), well, that would be fine with me.

I’d like to thank Lisa Michalski at Pyr Books for the review copy.

Science Fantasy Emphasis at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

If you check out the current issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies and happen to be paying attention, you might notice references being made to Science-Fantasy Month.  This in my opinion is a good thing since science-fantasy is one of the subgenres we don’t see much of these days.  And since BCS is published every two weeks, and this is the first issue of March, there should be another issue with this emphasis next week.  So how does this issue hold up?

The first story is “The Mote-Dancer and the Firelife” by Chris Willrich.  It’s the story of I-Chen, a widow who has journeyed to the homeworld of the aliens who killed her husband on what appears to be a mission of revenge.  Of course it’s much more than that.  Willrich comes up with an interesting alien culture, and while we don’t get a great deal of detail about how that culture works (this is short fiction, after all), what he does show us is original and intriguing.  For instance, in order to determine who picks up the check in a restaurant, patrons solve a puzzle of dried noodles, and the one who makes it collapse buys. 

I’m not sure I would have labeled this one as science-fantasy if the story didn’t involve an application of Clarke’s Law.  There are remnants of alien technology, and one of these is dust that creates a telepathy like state.  It’s common affect in the Spinies, the aliens in the story, but rare in humans.  I-Chen is one of the rare cases of the dust having this effect in humans.  It’s the reason why she can still see and talk to her dead husband.  And that’s the driving element in the story.

Willrich is a writer whose name I’ve seen, but I don’t recall having read anything by him.  I may have, but nothing comes to mind at this point.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for his work in the future.  Hopefully we’ll see more of this universe.  The Glyph Lords, the aliens who’ve left the relics and vanished are intriguing.  And the division among the Spinies between the Sanchos and the Quioxites is clever and original.  And totally believable the way it’s presented.  There’s also a podcast version of the story available.

The second story is “Scry” by a collaborative sister team writing as Anne Ivy.  This is the tale of Eyre Isri Esthe, a woman with the ability to see the future who is abandoned by her husband when he flees with the prince from an invading warlord.  He leaves her in the house thinking he has provided her with a way out.  Instead, he leaves her a vial of poison while takes off with the prince and his mistress. 

Esthe decides that just because she is going to die doesn’t mean her death can’t be on her own terms.  What follows is a dark and surprisingly moving story of a strong but damaged woman making the most of a difficult situation.  There are multiple layers to what one sees in the future, as well as what one doesn’t see.  This is one of the more powerful stories I’ve read in quite a while.  The authors are working on a novel featuring the warlord, Karnon Dae.  He’s not human, but what exactly he is, well, we’re given hints but never enough to make an exact conclusion about him.  I’m looking forward to the novel.

This story clearly falls into the science-fantasy camp, what with the scrying, even if it does seem to have a scientific basis of some sort..  It’s never stated upon what world the story takes place.  It could be a future earth, but I don’t think so.  Some of the hints about Karnon Dae make me think this is a far future tale.  Whichever, it’s still a top-notch piece of short fiction.

Also included in this issue are interviews with the authors of both of the stories.  The interview with Chris Willrich is only available in the subscription edition.  Speaking of which, although the stories are available for free, you can subscribe to Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  It’s available in both epub and Kindle formats.  The convenience of having it on your ereader more than makes up for the cost.  If you like what BCS publishes, then consider supporting them so they can continue to do what they do.  I consider Beneath Ceaseless Skies to be one of the top fantasy publications, print or electronic, currently in existence.  Subscription information is here