#SpooktasticReads Book Review | “Shifty: Tales from the world of SAGE” (anthology) by Marian Allen

Posted Sunday, 21 October, 2018 by jorielov , , 0 Comments

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The following selection is part of the stories I am reading for #SpooktasticReads – which are curated to route me through the following genres of interest: Dark Fantasy, Cosy Horror, Paranormally inclined stories inasmuch as stories of Suspense, Thriller and Cosy Mysteries. 13 days to read the spooktacular stories we’re drawn inside leading into Halloween!

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Acquired Book By: One thing I love about being active in the bookish side of the twitterverse is being able to interact with authors. Ms Allen is one of the authors I first crossed paths with when I first started to interact with the authors and friends of Seventh Star Press back in Autumn of 2013 and the first six months of 2014 – when I was a 1st Year Book Blogger. Over the years, I have happily been following her writerly career, however it wasn’t until I accepted for review an anthology called: Gifts of the Magi from an author who I also knew of via Seventh Star Press (RJ Sullivan*) gave me the chance to become properly introduced to the collection of stories and the writers who wrote them a few years ago. I wasn’t able to review the anthology until January 2017 – giving my first introduction to the world of SAGE writ by Ms Allen.

(*) On my connection to Mr Sullivan and Ms Allen: 

I have reviewed stories by Mr Sullivan whilst hosting for Seventh Star Press via Tomorrow Comes Media or directly for the author himself. His writing style is one of the ones I happen to love reading and without being able to host blog tours for Seventh Star Press, I am unsure if I would have discovered his writings, Ms Chris (Garrison), AshleyRose Sullivan or Stephen Zimmer’s as well. They are one of my favourite Speculative Fiction publishers in the Indie market.

My path in the twitterverse crossed a few times with Ms Allen, especially in regards to events attached to Seventh Star Press, The Star Chamber Show or the Imaginarium (an annual writer’s convention); however, despite our paths crossing over the past five years since I first went on Twitter, I sadly haven’t had the chance to seek out one of her stories to read. Reading her short story “The Warmth of Midwinter” from the anthology ‘Gifts of the Magi’ was my first introduction to her craft of writing Fantasy fiction and from there, a conversation emerged between us how I could re-enter the world of SAGE.

I am disclosing this, to assure you that I can formulate an honest opinion, even though I have interacted with Ms Allen or Mr Sullivan during bookish events online or in convos via Twitter. I treat each book as a ‘new experience’, whether I personally know the author, whether I am reading a book by them for the first time or continuing to read their series in sequence of publication.

Closer to the time I released  my review for ‘Gifts of the Magi’, Ms Allen and I were in communication and she offered for me to receive ‘Shifty’ the anthology of stories which also takes place in her world of SAGE. This anthology was released in print and thereby was a good option for me to continue reading her stories. I had fully intended to read this close to the time she sent it to me, however, for most of 2017 I was still adjusting to the first year of healing my father was undergoing after his stroke and for most of 2018 I was transitioning through my own set of health afflictions and issues. Autumn 2018 became the first time I could honestly focus on reading the stories within this anthology and I am so very thankful I could feature them during my co-hosted event called #SpooktasticReads which is an extension of my co-hosted event #WyrdAndWonder (@WyrdAndWonder) which celebrates the world of Fantasy.

I received a complimentary copy of “Shifty” by the author Marian Allen in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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Re-Visiting my Introduction to the world of SAGE:

I liked how Ms Allen pre-empted her story by asking the question ‘does time truly matter when it comes to stories that encircle your mind?’ to which I would aptly reply: not really!

What was quite stirring about this short, is how wicked interesting the world was where Ms Allen set her tale! To have food magically appearing in cookpots and having a hen produce eggs which whip up the delights of your foodie senses upon cracking them? Or rather, upon first crack of an egg – what you truly need might not even be food? It could be something dearly necessary (i.e. clothes) by which somehow your thoughts of willing an object or item to be ‘hatched’ is stirred inside the egg and thus, the egg produces what is needed. Who wouldn’t want to live there!? It would be a foodie’s dream or a baker’s delight – imagine if you could cull the magic to help you bake everything ‘right’ the first time you attempted a new recipe!? How fetching the aromas would be in that kitchen! Not to even mention how all the rudimentary necessary items would no longer be a worry because you’d always have exactly what you need!? I am sure there is more to this kind of magic, but on the onset of learning about it, how lovely it would be to know by cracking an egg, at least one immediate worry is dissolved?

There are two rather eccentric characters at the heart of this story – an elder man of unknown years and his equally elder grandmother; she is a bit more interesting because she’s attending the scene peripherally rather than centre-focused. You gather this man wouldn’t be housed in this particular part of his realm if circumstances hadn’t exiled him. From his grandmother, you sense he should be thankful for what he has now and not bitter about what he has lost in the past. They have an interesting duality to them.

The beauty of the tale is one of finding the moral ground to walk in a life of duty and honour, where the fine line between what is right or wrong might not be as clearly visible. It’s a good story to read at the holidays because of the truthfulness in being humble and forgiving; to err your wrongs and to find ways to affect other people’s lives for the good. You get so caught up in this short piece of literature, the ending comes far too soon!

I’d love to find out if this was a one-off or a connected story to one of Ms Allen’s series. I’m thinking it’s a one-off addition as per each story in the anthology, there is a footmark of where to ‘read’ next if you wanted to continue your appreciation of the author’s collective works you’ve been treated to viewing. This is how I knew about the series attached to the other authors and why I think this might be a gem of an extra rather than an inclusive piece to a series. Knowing that – the other question that sparked to mind, is which series should I seek out first after having appreciated this short!?

-quoted from my review of Gifts of the Magi (anthology)

As you can see I felt immediately connected to this world and how crafty Ms Allen was with the fantastical bits which were so dearly stitched into the heart of the story! You almost felt this short was fuller in scope than its short delivery allowed it to feel as there was a lot of world-building happening in the background! As this short is included in Shifty I won’t be re-reviewing it but I will be re-reading it as I move through the collection! I happily wanted to re-share my thoughts as a precursor to explain why I was so dearly excited about receiving Shifty and why Ms Allen’s fantastical style appealed to me in the first place!

This is why I will always contend the best way to feel introduced to a new writer is to seek out anthologies as the shorts and novellas contained within them have a depth of joy awaiting you! I realise not everyone feels this way, as over the years of declaring this joy of my own, other readers have found this to be a bit hit/miss for their own reading tastes. All I can say is that you just never know when you’ll find an anthology which will speak to you and within it, there is a chance a writer will capture your heart and your imagination. I hope we all get to continue reading those writers who ignite a joy of happiness through their shorts with longer works of fiction as they are developed and released! I know I have a long #mustread list myself now as a fifth year book blogger!

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Subtitle: Tales from the world of Sage
by Marian Allen
Source: Direct from Author

Whether you've read Marian Allen's SAGE trilogy (The Fall of Onagros, Bargain with Fate, Silver and Iron) or not, you can dive right into these stories set in the same world. Some feature settings and characters from the trilogy, some explore lands and people only hinted at in the novels, but all are filled with strong characters and Fantasy.

Genres: Dark Fantasy, Fantasy Fiction

Places to find the book:

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 978-1942166207

Published by Per Bastet Publications

on 25th November, 2016

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 131

Published by: Per Bastet Publications (@PerBastetBooks)

Converse via: #DarkFantasy, #Fantasy and #HighFantasy

About Marian Allen

Marian Allen

Marian Allen was born in Louisville, Kentucky and now lives in rural Indiana. For as long as she can remember, she has loved telling and being told stories. She writes science fiction, fantasy, mystery, humor, horror, mainstream, and anything else she can wrestle into fixed form.

Allen has had stories in on-line and print publications, including multiple appearances in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s SWORD AND SORCERESS anthologies. Her latest books are the SAGE fantasy trilogy, her science fiction comedy of bad manners SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING, her YA/NA paranormal suspense A DEAD GUY AT THE SUMMERHOUSE, her collection of science fiction stories OTHER EARTH, OTHER STARS, and SHIFTY, her collection of fantasy stories set in the world of SAGE, and LONNIE, ME, AND…. her collection of humor, all from Per Bastet Publications.

She is a member of the Southern Indiana Writers Group.

Allen is married, with three step/adopted daughters and one birth daughter.

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As per my usual disclosure – when it comes to anthologies – I never know which of the shorts or novellas are going to whisk out a fanciful attachment on my behalf, which is why I may or may not mention each story inclusive to the anthology but rather focus on the stories which moved me most or which gave me something to chew on even if it wasn’t one of my favourites.

Fun Stuff for Your Blog via pureimaginationblog.com| The Mountain Who Loved the Moon |

This felt more like a flash fiction piece than a short story – as we are only briefly caught in the story-tellers orbit of giving us a particularly sorrowful story about how a fiery mountain (presumed by myself to be a volcano) fell passionately in love with the Moon! What was quite clever about this particular tale is how it played off on the belief that love is both blind and binding. How once true love is felt and received; the receiver strives to succeed in keeping love in its life. In this case what felt sorrowful about it is how the mountain overshot his love for the moon but how the moon reciprocated the love given and provided a lasting memory to those who peopled this setting where the whole love affair took place!

The ending was rather cheeky as well – how if you were to give enough coin or compensation you’d get another tale, as if the story-teller had better things to do than stand round telling tales! It felt like a short respite in a market square or a tucked in corner of SAGE where you get just a small piece of the characters you’ll encounter and the kind of lore they love to share!

| Engagement |

Marriages of conveniences and arranged marriages are generally rather common-place when you read as much Historical Fiction and/or Western dramas as I do, however, they are also attributed to certain works of Speculative Lit such as High Fantasy, which is where I almost would feel this story leans itself in regards to style of narrative. There is a hierarchy in this story – of where those who rebuke the rules are not treated as fairly as those who abide by them. This is where we met Salali who had her own mind in regards to how she felt towards marriage and the obligations of family. She comes from a society which felt like it had certain customs and traditions in place for young women and if you happened to disagree with those rituals of passage as you rose in age to meet them – it would appear your own recourse would be to take the actions Salali took herself!

Cleverly, I loved what she packed with her as she made haste to get away from her father – this is where Ms Allen shines for giving you interesting flavours of being inside her world – of the foods her characters consume and of the everyday objects they carry with them or use regularly. There is a sense portions of this world are stemming out of a world not too far afield from our own but then, there are starker contrasts against this world from ours which makes a clean break from our world altogether. The beautiful bit is seeing the familiar aspects against the fantastical and peering into this world through snippets of dialogue and narrative as revealled throughout Shifty – almost as the name implies: we are shifting in and out of SAGE.

This tale is one of my favourites – its a re-spun tale of sorts and it has such a delish ending! What was beautiful about it though is how empowered our heroine felt when she first realised she is not without her own benefits of cleverness! She became entrapped by a witch – who only wanted the best for her son but he was not an honourable man nor was his mother ethically motivated! No, they only wanted what they could take from her and how they could bind her will to theirs but what they hadn’t realised is another woman (presumed by myself to be another kind of witch) had already given Salali a better gift than their proposed life of servitude!

I loved how the magic felt homespun, how the elements of nature took a keen role and how in the end, you had to wonder – what brought about the changes in her fate? Was it a belief in her own right to be free or was it something more – something a bit more magical about how you can tap into a gift you never realised you had but which empowered you all the same?

| how tortoise got his shell |

This was another interlude piece – similar in vein to The Mountain Who Loved the Moon – as we encounter a story-teller who makes his living entertaining those who will hear his tales. In this particular one what was intriguing and fascinating was the concept of how a tortoise came to have his shell and why this shell was important to him to keep even after the moment arrived where it seemed like he might have to ‘let it go’!! It is humourous as it is serious and the ending definitely leaves you thinking – the best kind of short story is the one which has an ambiguous ending and lets the reader fill in the spaces between what was revealled and what is presumed to be the conclusion!

I felt this was another folk story knitted into the world-building which bespoke of the beliefs of the people who live in this world of SAGE as much as it was a bit of insight into their dimensions of magic and how their world was created overall.

| At the Turning of the Year |

I almost felt this story was too aggrieved to be righted; the sorrow seeping out of this tale was deepened by the burden on Frayce’s conscience, soul and heart. It is a difficult story to read – a darker tale of Fantasy than I normally read but the uplifting turn of events at the conclusion had me re-thinking everything that happened leading up to that pivotal moment where the ending gave way to a new impression of what the story was about overall! This is within the world of Nishi the same world I found Salali. It is a story wrought out of the seasons – where a new found legacy of what each season brings re-aligns the lore behind how each season has its own unique voice and purpose.

There is a subtle magic within this short story – subtle because you are reading a magical story without realising how magical the story actually is until it concludes and for me that felt fitting! You feel heart-pulled into Frayce’s strife and adverse journey – of finding yourself wondering why she had such a cruel hand of fate bestowed upon her and how she would come out right on the other end of it. Then, as you oversee how her fate slowly starts to change, your curiosity deepens as there is so much within this world that is still left unknown. The perimeters of the world are elusive, the rules of the world are lingering out of sight and the ways in which the world is ordered is still largely unknown. You continue to shift and see more of the world through the eyes and experiences of the inhabitants who live here but do you really understand the world itself?

Definitely a story to read during October – during any spooky reading celebration because you almost have goosebumps reading this one! A darker tale with a lightness at the end which will transfix your own imagination to re-play the tragedy at the beginning and the restitution at the end and see everything in a new ray of light!

| After the Bear |

This story felt like the kind of cautionary tale you might tell young children about not being overly curious about things which could do them more harm than good. There is a balance to curiosity and there is an order to things in life. This tale is rather particularly peculiar in how it builds on the arc of mystery, legendary tales and the extraordinary experience of one boy who finds that his childhood was full of caution but he was not smart enough to heed it!

The lore behind the legends he was privy too grow even more grander after his journey into the forest – as the forests in SAGE take central stage – of being forbidden and dangerously adventurous depending on where you are and what is happening directly to the character your reading about! In this instance, the forest provided a respite from what was known in exchange for what was only imagined – the truth of what was found in the forest left an imprint on the young man and it was his coming of truth moment where he determined who he wanted to be in his community. For others? I am unsure if they could forestall their own curiosities as that is partially the point behind this tale – how does experience decrease curiosity if each new generation does not heed the experience of the former?

| A New Name for Reticence |

All worlds of Fantasy have their own associations with life, death and the cycles of how we pass from one state of being into the other – when it comes to SAGE, there are different passages of this sacred cycle throughout the different sections of the world. Some are honour-bound, others are spiritually mystical and still others are in a category of their own for how impressively involved they are to be rooted in mystical lore or Earthen spirituality. When it came time to read this story, I wasn’t sure what to expect as it begins by placing us in the death room of a monk whose lived his life at a monastery.

Each name in this story was a reflection of the character’s trait in both countenance and personality – a humbling way to name people is to have a name bespeak of their type of character ahead of people getting to know them as a person. Almost as if the name is their reputation and their warning to those who wish to make their acquaintance. It is also a kind way of keeping humbled – knowing either your strengths or your weaknesses depending on how you were granted your namesake!

The beauty for me in this short story is how evolving it becomes – we find the title story for the anthology itself within this chapter and that in of itself was illuminating as it strikes to cast a different definition for why this is called ‘Shifty’ than the one I felt I had stumbled across as I was reading the stories!

We begin on a such a keenly duty bound premise of where a monk has certain duties to attend otherwise he will become shunned and left for dead. For the way of this world is maintaining a level of honour to such a high degree there is no room for errors, mistakes or a different understanding of the rules. This particular monk led with his heart not with his duty and thus he is cast down a different path but it is due to his compassionate nature he is both redeemed and set free twicefold within the expanse of the story!

I especially loved how this also involved family – how we become the caretakers and caregivers of those whose health declines and how sometimes the best compassion is how we choose to spend the hours whilst the ones who need our attention most depend on our company, alertness and companionship. It is a tender story with a keenly uplifting ending – where a man who felt he was lost is actually found and where purpose and worth are not as far off as you think they are to secure inside your life.

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The very first story was entitled The Gleaming Ones, which definitely is befitting to be read during the weeks leading into Halloween, as this has a certain layer of Horror inside it. I can’t say it was one of my favourites of the collection – however, keeping in step with #WyrdAndWonder and #SpooktasticReads I can’t think of a better cross of influence than a story which steps between the living and the dead – where even you are not entirely certain about which aspects of the story were influenced by the dead and which were strictly of the living! It is one of those stories which feels like atmospheric folklore cast against a horrific premise where where someone needs to be rescued but only a duel can settle the binding power over them.

Yet, within this short there was also a measure of hopefulness and resolution – not quite the kind I was expecting to read about as you have to suspend yourself within the concept of the story – it is also partially within the realms of Sword and Sorcery as well – as this is a crucial story about how a warrior who was enroute to meet with his caravan of comrades fell into the forest and it is within this forest where the lines blurred between the veils. The interesting bit is – did he imagine it or did he live it? And, if he lived it how did he survive?

Conceptionally it held everything you would expect out of a Dark Fantasy short and a rather creepily spooky story to hold it all together! This is definitely one you might not want to read in the early bits of morning or the darker hours of night!!

on the fantastical writing styling of ms allen:

One thing is for sure, Ms Allen has mastered the art between Dark Fantasy, Cosy Horror and the realms slightly between the two – where you are both horrified and yet cautiously curious to read the outcomes of her tales! These are not the stories for the faint-hearted either – as she dips into the fantastical world she’s created within SAGE where there are evils lurking in hidden forests and there are cautionary warnings for her characters round every bend or turn! It is interesting how she has her characters take-on certain quests which both enlarge our understanding of her world but also, highlight how sometimes not even a warrior can realise how dangerous his connection is to a certain species of this world – of how close he comes to the end of his own life and how dire the whole situation is for his people.

As I was reading the stories within this anthology – my mind wondered about which of the novels each of these stories fit inside – as they were taken from a trilogy and some of them were inspired-by the original canon rather than extending further the stories or character lives already known! For instance, where does ‘Engagement’ belong?! Is Salali’s world touched upon in length or was this the expansion bit to that niche of her world?

There were three stories involving the Festival Players I could not grow attached too – thereby I simply skipped forward until I found another story which perked an interest to read. Sometimes this happens as I’m reading an anthology – a sequence of stories or individual stories do not readily gain my attention and I simply move forward. Similarly, I found The Sweetest Dish and How Nerissa Kept Her Head to be a bit difficult to soak inside as well.

Even when I think I have sorted out another layer of the world-building Ms Allen has stitched into SAGE, I find myself remarkably transfixed by how deeply layered she’s constructed this world and has given us such a high level of curiosity to understand more of it!

Fantastical elements:

→ Earthen Magic and the Art of Healing

→ World-specific folklore and legend

→ Almost all the stories take place or have a crucial attachment to the ‘forest’

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!
Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it.
I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst
readers who gravitate towards the same stories to read.
Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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{SOURCES: Book covers for the SAGE series (all three) and for “Shifty”, book synopsis, author biography and author photograph of Marian Allen were all provided by the author Marian Allen and are used with permission. Post dividers badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. #SpooktasticReads banner created by Imyril (@imyril) Photo Credit: Unsplash Photographer Mark Tegethoff. (Creative Commons Zero) Used with permission. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: the Comment Box Banner}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2018.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Sunday, 21 October, 2018 by jorielov in Anthology Collection of Stories, Blog Tour Host, Dark Fantasy, Earthen Magic, Earthen Spirituality, Fantasy Fiction, Folklore, Folklore and Mythology, Good vs. Evil, Haunting & Ethereal, High Fantasy, Indie Author, Short Stories or Essays, Supernatural Creatures & Beings, Sword & Scorcery

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