Saturday, January 21, 2017

REVIEW: Tales from Outer Lands (e-book) by Shira Glassman

Tales from Outer Lands is fantasy.


My edition of Tales from Outer Lands was published by Torquere Press. The author has since rereleased it as part of Tales from Perach.

This collection contains two stories, which I’ll write about separately.

“Rivka in Port Saltspray”

This takes place a year and a half after Rivka left her home, so I think it’s maybe a year and a half prior to the events in The Second Mango. Rivka is stuck in Port Saltspray with no way to get her dragon-horse to Zembluss, where she’d been hoping to fight in a civil war and earn a much-needed paycheck. A man named Waterweed seems to be the answer to her problems: he wants to hire her to fight in a competition for him. The prize, he says, is his beloved’s hand in marriage - because he’s missing an arm, he’d never stand a chance on his own.

This was a bit predictable, but still enjoyable. Rivka was my favorite character in The Second Mango, so it was nice to see her again. She hadn’t managed to make a name for herself yet and was in dire straits - nearly broke, stuck in a corrupt town, and in danger of losing Dragon, her loyal companion, if she couldn’t earn some money fast.

I loved that Rivka spent so much of the story basically looking out for others, both unconsciously or on purpose. She’s very much a “protector” sort of character. Not even her terrible financial situation could get her to compromise her morals, and I was really glad that she asked the questions I felt she needed to ask - I had suspicions about one particular character and was worried that this would be one of those “the main character doesn’t see the trap coming until it’s too late” stories.

Rivka’s analyses of the various fights were interesting, although I found myself wishing that the fights had been more vividly described. The absolute best part of the story, though, was probably when Rivka and Stella had some time alone together and, even though they didn’t speak the same language, figured out how to communicate via their shared religion.

All in all, this was pretty good. If I remember right, this story was what prompted me to buy a couple of Glassman’s works in the first place. I had heard that it contained an asexual character. If I interpreted things correctly, that character was probably Stella. The way her aunt described her made me think she was probably aromantic:
“‘No, she really doesn’t ever want to get married!’ said the aunt. ‘I even thought, you know, maybe she doesn’t like a man, then she can have a female companion. I had someone like that once. But no, not even that… she says she’s complete with family and friends.’”(28)
It was a nice little detail, although I had sort of been hoping for a bit more from the story. Ah well, at least I enjoyed getting to see more of Rivka.

“Aviva and the Aliens”

This takes place about 7 months after the end of The Second Mango. The people of Perach are preparing for Passover. Aviva is getting ready for the royal seder, putting away ingredients in her kitchen, when she and her entire kitchen are abducted by aliens. They’re tired of their flavorless ship food, and they want Aviva to cook them a good meal. However, if Aviva isn’t careful, she might end up being forced to cook for them forever.

The first story was about 30 pages long, whereas this one was about 15 - very short. It was bizarre and silly, too much so for my tastes. If the Mangoverse is going to be odd, I’d much prefer it to stick to fantasy oddness. Locust-like aliens abducting a random human in order to make her their new cook just didn’t seem to fit. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if the story had ended with “it was all a dream,” but no, as far as I could tell it was all supposed to be real.

It also didn’t help that the story’s logic didn’t hold up very well. The aliens’ reasons for abducting Aviva didn’t make much sense. What if the random person they chose had been a terrible cook? How did they know that Aviva’s definition of tasty food would fit their definition? What had they planned on doing after Aviva ran out of ingredients? The aliens’ reason for letting Aviva go again wasn’t much better.

Of the two stories, I only really liked “Rivka in Port Saltspray.” It’s probably for the best that Glassman’s newly released collection contains more stories, since I don’t think I’d recommend this two-story collection on its own to anyone except big Rivka fans and Mangoverse completists.

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