The Storyteller and Other Tales, by K. V. Johansen
Canadian/Late YA and Adult/short story collection/historic fantasy
The Storyteller and Other Tales is a collection of four beautifully told tales, in the truest sense of storytelling. That is, while reading them, I felt transported. I might have been experiencing them as told by a true teller of tales, round a fire, or sitting on a hearth. In a way I suppose I was. K.V. Johansen is, most definitely, a teller of tales.
The first story is titled "The Storyteller". The setting is a northern world, peopled by humans, gods, and demons who take animal form. In a kingdom ruled by queens protected by warrior princesses, a storyteller arrives at the great hall one evening and her tale has the power to change that world forever. An intriguing story, beautifully written, left me wanting to know more of the storyteller, Moth, and to read further into her adventures. Or, perhaps, simply to hear another of her tales.
Next comes "he-Redeems". Set in a Bronze Age Mesopotamian like kingdom, this is the tale of three slaves whose love for each other forces one of the three, he-Redeems, to question his world when the other two are ripped from him for their beliefs. This is a powerful story, with moments that remain with you long after you have finished reading.
Third is "The Inexorable Tide". This is an Arthurian legend, told in first person by Nimiane, daughter of Merlin. It takes place in the decline of Camelot, when Arthur has abandoned his kingdom to fight wars far away. Left in charge is Mordred, with Guenevere, and Amhar (Arthur's bastard son) to assist. This is a much more sympathetic Mordred than is generally seen in popular Arthur stories. The tale feels real. It offers a glimpse into a more gritty, sorrowful fall of the kingdom than I've ever experienced. It was fresh, and in no way a retread of tired territory. I would like to read more of this too.
The fourth, and final, tale is "Anno Domini Nine Hundred and Ninety-One: two voices". This read almost like a play. Taking place at the battle of Maldon, where the English fought against Norse raiders in 991. The voices of the common men who fought this battle are interlaced with a recounting of the battle in the form of heroic poetry. What results is a gripping, and indeed, highly moving, experience of the battle and the men's struggles.
The four tales take place in wildly differing worlds, and are told in distinct voices, each completely entwined within the world of its story. Reading up on K. V. Johansen I discovered that she is a scholer of both English and Medieval Studies. Her experience shows here in the richness of the texts. I've been a fan of her writing for younger readers. Now, I am very much looking forward to future publishing for a slightly older audience as well.