Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Halloween Book of the Week: Dragonfly

Somehow, almost without my noticing it, summer has passed into autumn, my favourite time of year.  October is probably my very favourite month: I love the crispness in the morning air, the lingering warmth of sunny afternoons, the colour of the leaves as they wither and fall from the trees, and the sense of melancholy presaging the end of another year - all of which culminates in Halloween a magical night pregnant with half-dreaded possibilities that I have loved since childhood and that I've never really outgrown.

This time of year I always find myself yearning to read books that suit my mood and psych me up for Halloween, and I thought it might be fun to share some of my current favourite seasonal stories.

The first of these, Dragonfly, by Frederic S. Durbin has been one of my Halloween favourites for nearly a decade, and I still haven't found anything to knock it from the top spot.

"Dragonfly" copyright Frederic Durbin, 1999
published by Arkham House
Dragonfly is the story of a ten-year-old girl nicknamed "Dragonfly" who follows an enigmatic, priestly plumber named Mothkin through a secret door in her Uncle Henry's basement into the underground world of Harvest Moon.  Harvest Moon is ruled by the tyrannical despot Samuel Hain and his vile henchmen, Mr. Snicker and Eagerly Meagerly who have enslaved its inhabitants and who, over the course of centuries, have inflicted horror and suffering upon our world, including the Black Plague in the 13th century.

Dragonfly becomes separated from Mothkin and embarks upon a series of terrifying adventures as she struggles to elude Hain and his minions and find a way back to Uncle Henry's basement.  Upon her escape Dragonfly must face the greatest threat of all, Hain's invasion of the surface world.

I find that I can usually judge a book by its first paragraph.  A good writer should be able to capture my attention in that time and Durbin writes one of the most compelling introductory paragraphs I've ever read.  It overflows with rich, evocative imagery, and I would give my left hand to be able to write like this:

Bad things were starting to happen again in Uncle Henry's basement.  These were things that had happened before, when the wind swung round, when the trees all felt the blood rush to their leaves after the exertion of August and the idling of September; when the chuckle-dark harvest moon shaped pumpkins in its own image, brought its secret wine flush to the scarecrow's cheeks; when the rich bounties of the land lay plump for the taking and the light left them alone for longer and longer at a time.  But when the trouble started before, I was too young to remember.

Reading Dragonfly always makes me feel like a kid again; it evokes memories of being nine years old and reading books like Scott Corbett's Red Room Riddle, and Here Lies the Body.  But though Dragonfly has a childlike feel to it, it is no children's book.  It is a dark fantasy, quite frightening in places, and likely too intense for most children.  Frederic Durbin cites H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien as his earliest literary influences and elements of both can be seen in his work, but his writing is also reminiscent of Ray Bradbury particularly, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

As a fun, spooky Halloween read, Dragonfly gets five out of five pumpkins.

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