by Alan Loewen
A Review by
Colleen R. Cahill
In fantasy, some readers are searching something with unicorns and fairies that is different, not just the same old tropes. That is because they, like me, realize these themes are not bad, they just require some new inspiration and this is what Alan Loewen brings in his anthology Opal Wine. This collection of thirteen tales explores some archetype fantasy elements and takes them to places they have not been before, bringing a fresh wind to some classic themes.
The book starts with a unicorn story in “The Substance of Things Hoped For”, but this unicorn is different, with form of a lovely woman who has “cloven hoofs” for feet and a spiral horn on her forehead. We discover she was created with a purpose, but like many intelligent creations, she does not always do what is expected. Surprises abound in these stories, such as in “Lair of the White Rabbit”, a Alice in Wonderland pastiche that includes a white rabbit who appears in an” ankle-length dress” and carrying “a cigarette holder”. Some of these surprises come with a dark edge, as in “My Pretty Pony”, which looks at what would happen if one had to love a pet pony and love it more than anything else in life. In another story with “otherworldly ponies”, an old woman relates the true tale of how her orphaned cousin disappeared in “Night Mares”: don’t let the title mislead you, as this is more a tale of the heart than of horror.
Loewen can also tickle your funny bone, as in “Sawyer”, which is a series of emails from a wanna-be mad scientist bent on creating a “sentient, anthropomorphic feline as a secretary”. Along the way there are exploding chickens, just to give you a bit of the flavor of this tale. I also enjoyed the humor in “A Fairy Tale” which involves two private eyes and one “little naked Barbie doll that could fly”, also known as a sprite. Since the fairy world re-emerged, their cases have become more interesting, so when a well-built babe with hoofs and a horn on her head steps in the office, it is just another client, although a really good looking one.
The collection ends with the novella “Coventry House” and like the other stories, it has its twists. A young woman scarred both physically and emotionally by a bomb takes a job as caretaker for Coventry House, a property under the care of the British Department of Antiquities. In that remote country estate, Molly expects to find solitude, but she is surprised to learn the house has guests, and they very different, such as the woman who has the head of cat, like the Egyptian goddess Bast. It turns out Coventry House is the home for Nephilim, offspring of the fallen angels and humans. This group includes supposedly mythical creatures from various cultures, many of whom are familiar to Molly, as she is researching the pre-Celtic world. While at first disturbed by unusual beings, Molly does come to find she can relate to many of the guests, although she is given a turn she discovers Father Crane, an Anglican priest, visits regular and is a guests spiritual adviser. Things are somewhat serene, if a bit surreal until the return of Loki, who lives up to his reputation for spreading chaos. Molly finds she is going to have to join forces with Father Crane or the world might just come to an end.
This is just some of the stories in this collection, but all are definitely not the same old thing. So to get a dose of unicorns and fairies in new and unexpected tales, I recommend you try a taste of Opal Wine.