Monday, April 6, 2009

Shadow of the Antlered Bird by David Sklar

TITLE: Shadow of the Antlered Bird
AUTHOR: David Sklar
PUBLISHER: Drollerie Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 44k)
GENRE: Fantasy
COST: $3.95

As the son of a human father and a mother made of magic, Tam straddles worlds, even though his mother would wish him to leave humans alone. When he attempts to break free, the magic creates problems he never imagined, putting him on the run for his life…

I struggled writing a blurb for this short novella. At its core, the plot is a simple chase sequence – protagonist does something, ends up on the run for his life. But there are so many different layers on top of it that it morphs into something else, something brand new, something so unique from other stories I’ve read in recent months, that it takes upon a whole new life, and I’m left flummoxed how to adequately describe it.

The one element that elevates this above so much of what I’ve read in recent months is the author’s evocative use of language. The fantasy genre in general lends itself to more unusual imagery as the story wends around worlds unknown. Sklar exemplifies this tendency, then moves a step beyond by penning sometimes horrific, always vivid pictures with his words. The prose is densely packed, and yet, the dialogue between Tam and April, the young college girl who helps him run, reads naturally and realistically, creating an even starker distinction between the two worlds Tam straddles. Toss in the influences of various real world mythologies, and the result is something completely and utterly unique.

The prose also helps the plotting and pacing. It’s written in present tense which adds an immediacy to the already urgent fears propelling the story along. The flow of the words rolls more and more swiftly as the two lead characters are literally chased to the wall (in this case, the Pacific Ocean), and it’s impossible to stop – or often, just take a breath – until the characters themselves do.

All that being said, it’s not necessarily an easy story to read. Because of both the suspenseful nature of the plot and the creation of a world unknown to the reader, there are questions throughout the text of what exactly is going on, how exactly does this fit in, how on earth will this ever be resolved. Each question is its own strand, but the wonderful thing about this particular weaving, nothing is left to dangle. Questions are answered, often in ways completely unexpected but that make total sense. Resolution is found, again in corners I hadn’t anticipated. This marks the talent of not just a superb wordsmith but a master storyteller. It’s always a joy to find gems like this one.


8/10 – Dense, evocative prose that only gets slowed down by the lack of answers about what was going on


8/10 – Sharp and vivid for primary characters, lesser characters tend to blur


8/10 – Though it’s basically a simple chase story, the intricacy of the world and beauty of the prose don’t make this a simple story.

Entertainment value

8/10 – Intense and swift, with some of the most intriguing prose I’ve read in a while

World building

9/10 – Though there are questions galore as the story progresses, the beautiful detail and the way it all gets pulled together at the end make up for it



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