CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 3 . . . . September 30, 2005
Julie E. Czerneda, ed.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2005.
406 pp., pbk., $19.95.
Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.
Review by Ronald J. Hore.
From the high white cliffs of Spine Mountain, Norrie could see the entire kingdom. As always, the Blight covered the eastern horizon like a thunderstorm caught in a glass.
"It's hard to tell, everything is so far away," Norrie told the toad, Phred, sitting on the boulder beside her. "I think the Blight has gotten closer - don't you think?'
"Yyyyyyup," Phred croaked, and she pretended that he agreed with her. He was good company, for all of being a toad. There had been a horde of toads around the wizard's tower, but Phred stood out for his size, mobility, and sheer noise. While the other toads seemed happy to lurk in dark corners of the basement laundry room, croaking only when no one was about, Phred had sat in plain sight and puffed out his throat in running commentary.
Fantastic Companions is an anthology of 19 fantasy stories for young adults. The theme of the original tales in Fantastic Companions revolves around the use of various creatures that inhabit these not-always fantastic settings. The wide variety of such companions includes the more familiar, such as cats, coyotes, crows, dogs, goats, otters, rats, salmon, toads and wolves, to such exotics as dragons, griffins and kites. At 406 pages, the book offers a collection of stories that are as short as 10 pages and as long as 48 pages. The majority are in the 16-24 page range, and so they are not a lengthy read for those with shorter attention spans.
The book is divided into five sections: Companions Familiar, Companions Disguised, Companions of Power, Companions Unexpected, and Companions Beyond. The Editor, Judy Czerneda, an experienced writer of the fantasy genre, has chosen a vide variety of stories that range in scope from today in the here-and-now, to distant and imaginary places. In "House of Cats," we see today's world from a cat's point of view. In "Dances with Coyotes," we meet a teenage girl and her date at the High School prom, and we run up against an ancient Native American trickster. "Blood Ties" has a 14- year-old girl living in a castle far away being faced with a choice that may estrange her from her family. "Uncle Ernie was a Goat" takes a youth, who just happens to be a shapeshifter, and puts him in a perilous situation. "The Power of Eight" brings a young man face-to-face with some godlike beings who disappeared from memory centuries ago.
Each story revolves around a young person, and the characters are fairly evenly divided between seven male protagonists and twelve female protagonists. Interestingly, the writers of these tales are similarly divided, with contributions from seven men and twelve women authors.
Because the book covers such a broad variety of settings and situations, it should appeal to a wide range of young adult readers, and adults who enjoy fantasy may find something in here that appeals to them as well. The anthropomorphism in the stories differs widely, from the traditional talking animals to the personification of constellations. The 19 authors also represent a wide variety, from a first fiction sale, to authors of bestselling fantasy novels. These authors come to us from across Canada and the USA and live in locations as different as the big city and the back woods. The writing styles, therefore, are varied, from complex to straightforward.
While you may not enjoy every tale, there is sure to be something in here that will appeal to the fantasy reader of almost any age.
Ronald J. Hore, involved with the Canadian Authors Association and writer's workshops for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.
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