This was a fun listen: “Prophecies, Libels and Dreams” by Ysabeau S. Wilce, which I got in a giveaway from Small Beer Press (Thank you, Small Beer Press!).
I didn’t know what to expect, and so this was my introduction to the fictional world of Califa that Wilce has written about in previous books, where there’s magic, magic boots, thieves, soldiers, deceptions, betrayals, and arranged marriages.
The best part of these interconnected stories is Wilce’s exuberant facility with language. Here’s a long example from the story “Quartermaster Returns”:
He died a hero’s death, Lieutenant Rucker did, trying to save, not another comrade, but rather the hog ranch’s entire supply of beer. The story is short and tragic: the freight train dropped fifteen cases of beer at the hog ranch, before proceeding on to Rancho Kuchamonga; an inexperienced drover off-loaded the beer in the arroyo below the hog ranch; when the storm came up, Pow organized his fellow whist players into a bottle brigade and supervised the shifting of fourteen cases to higher ground; the water was already foaming when Pow went back for the last case—refusing to allow the others to join him in harm’s way; Pow heroically managed to shove that case up the bank, just as a wall of water twenty feet high came roaring down the ravine.
This minitale is a great example of the kind of tall tales that dominate the seven stories in this collection. And these stories are offset by short “corrections” in the guise of an academic critique, often decrying the inexactitude of the previous tale. It’s a nice movement to add this layer to deepen a sense of place and time.
An unfortunate aspect of this audiobook is that the first story, which may be the whimsical, elicits from the reader some of the most forced interpreations that make him sound actorly in a too-forced storybook way. The audiobook does get better though.