Tuesday, May 07, 2013

What We're Reading: Speculative Fantasy

“Once in every century, for three days only, the market comes.” The flyers appear with the announcement only a few days before, and then The Market appears. It is wondrous. It is magical. But there are also dangers--dangers that are concealed cleverly behind beautiful facades. In The Seven Markets, David Hoffman explores the mystical Market and the costs that can be exacted from unwary visitors.

For as long as she can remember, Ellie MacReady has loved her father’s stories about the Market, and she has always hoped for a chance to visit. But even she is caught off guard when she sees the flyer announcing its arrival. It will be in her hometown of Overton in three days! Now the whole village is buzzing in anticipation, with Ellie one of the chief among them. While her parents attempt to warn her against some of the potential dangers of the Market, Ellie remains undaunted in her eagerness to go. Even her boyfriend Joshua’s expected proposal pales in comparison to the coming of the Market.

Shortly after arriving, Ellie finds herself alone, the subject of intense scrutiny by the mysterious Prince, and soon Ellie finds herself in thrall to the Prince, answering any question he asks, even giving him her true name, which she has been cautioned never to reveal. She fails to recognize Joshua when he comes to propose and then attempts to intervene. Ellie MacReady, a simple farm-girl from Overton, will live a life of dream and nightmare, joy and despair, full of things that will both amaze and horrify her, as her very existence becomes tied inextricably to the Market.

A traveling group disguised in the flamboyance of commerce and/or performance that preys upon unwary locals is certainly not a new idea. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard, and The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern are a few of the books that have employed this plot, and David Hoffman adds another notable instance to the list with the creation of the Market. In The Seven Markets, he creates a moveable world filled with wonder. Vendors--some human and some decidedly not--sell all sorts of wares (including food, drink and technology that may or may not match the era in which the Market is being held!) in a small city that appears overnight. Hoffman describes the Market well enough for the reader to get a true sense of it but without ever really understanding it, enhancing the sense of mystery and potential danger. While the story seems in the beginning to be a familiar fantasy tale with well known rules, Hoffman throws in some truly unexpected plot developments as the narrative diverges from traditional fantasy into an interesting crossover with science fiction. While it is true that fantasy and science fiction do not always “play well” together, in The Seven Markets Hoffman has skillfully woven the disparate elements together. Furthermore, the characters and settings created by Hoffman are so enjoyable that the reader cannot help but want to see how things will turn out!

The Seven Markets is the first of a planned series, with The King’s Glamour coming out later in 2013.

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