Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales by Tamora Pierce

My journey through Tortall continues! For the uninitiated, Tortall is the fantasy kingdom created by Tamora Pierce and explored through her terrific series, all of which focus on strong, determined young women who find a way to make their own mark in the world. I’ve been reading my way through Pierce’s Tortall books since the middle of last year, and now find myself approaching the end. *sniff*

Continuing onward by publication date, I now come to Tortall and Other Lands, a collection of stories set in and around Tortall. Actually, most are “around” rather than “in”, but that’s okay. In this set of eleven stories, we explore different times and places related to the world Pierce created in the Tortall books — and also get to read two contemporary stories, which really surprised me. More on that later.

Most of the stories in this collection have been published in other anthologies, with publication dates from 1986 up to 2011. I ended up listening to the audiobook, which was fun. The audiobook has different narrators for each story, with the final story read by Tamora Pierce herself, always a treat.

So what’s inside? Here’s a little overview of the stories in Tortall and Other Lands:

Student of Ostriches: A girl from a desert tribe learns to become a warrior by observing the animals in the wilderness surrounding her village and emulating their fighting styles. While the characters and places in this story are new, there’s an appearance by a Shang warrior, which is a nice connection to the Song of the Lioness books.

Elder Brother: A strange but moving story that connects to the Immortals books. This story shows the aftermath of a particular spell cast in The Immortals, and what happens to the unintended victim of that spell — a tree who is forced to become human.

The Hidden Girl: The Hidden Girl connects with Elder Brother, following up on the events in that story by showing what happens next to a girl located in the same strictly religious community, as she and her father begin to work against the traditions that keep women apart and uneducated.

Nawat: Weirdly enough, I really liked this story, even though it relates to my least favorite books in the Tortall universe, Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen. In those, a human girl falls in love with a crow-turned-man (weird, I know). Here, we find out what happens after the HEA. Nawat is the crow/man, whose human wife has now given birth to triplets. Nawat has to figure out how to be a father, how to remain connected to his crow flock, and when he must go against the crow way for the sake of his wife and babies. I didn’t expect to care all that much — but I really, really did.

The Dragon’s Tale: Oh, I loved this story! The dragon in The Dragon’s Tale is Kitten, the baby dragon (now more like an adolescent dragon) adopted by Daine and Numair in the Immortals series. Here, Kitten has accompanied her humans to travel through the land of Carthak, visiting different towns and villages with the Carthaki emperor, getting to know the locals and studying the magic they encounter. Because Kitten is bored, she sets out on her own to explore, and ends up discovering a woman with secrets and much, much more. It’s so much fun to see the world through Kitten’s eyes, and extra enjoyable because Daine and Numair feature in the story.

Lost: In the Aly books (the Trickster books, mentioned earlier), the most unusual of Aly’s spies and helpers are the Darkings, small creatures who are more or less animated inkblots that can connect telepathically with each other, change shape, grow and shrink at will, and act as sources of information and assistance to the people they interact with. They’re also awfully darn cute, and their voices in the audiobooks are adorable. Lost, in this story, is a darking who befriends a lonely young woman, Adria. Adria has a brilliant mind for mathematics, but she’s bullied by her father and demeaned by a new teacher. When she meets Lost, new worlds open up to her, including the chance to meet and study with an unusual woman working as an engineer in her town.

Time of Proving: A relatively short work, Again, a young woman meets an unusual creature and finds the door opening on a fresh new adventure.

Plain Magic: A girl whose village is ready to sacrifice her to a dragon, and the outsider who provides a new way of thinking about both dragons and girls.

Mimic: Ah, another really fun one! A girl who guards the sheep flocks of her village finds a strange injured reptile and nurses it back to health, against her family’s wishes. As the creature — called Mimic — grows, it exhibits all sorts of talents and magical gifts, and turns into something very unexpected.

Huntress: A mystical story set in contemporary New York — what a change of pace for a Tamora Pierce tale! In Huntress, a girl descended from a family of goddess-worshipping women gets the opportunity to attend a prestigious private school on scholarship. What she thinks is acceptance into an elite group of athletes becomes an initiation rite where she ends up at the mercy of a pack intent on hunting her. The story is entertaining, although it feels like it could be something out of Buffy or Charmed or any of a handful of other teen-centric supernatural tales. Still, a good listen/read.

Testing: The only non-fantasy story in the collection, Testing is the story of girls living in a group home, who manage to scare away every new housemother assigned to them — until finally one comes along who seems to be able to withstand the girls’ need to test her. On the audiobook, this story is read by Tamora Pierce, and there’s an introduction in which she talks about her own time working as a housemother in a group home. Really interesting — this is a good story, although it’s weird to read a Pierce story without the slightest shred of magic in it!

Tortall and Other Lands is a great read for fans of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall works. I think many of these stories would work on their own as well, for readers who aren’t familiar with Tortall… but if you want a taste of Tamora Pierce, I’d strongly suggest starting with the Song of the Lioness books. And if those grab you, keep going!

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The details:

Title: Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales
Author: Tamora Pierce
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: February 22, 2011
Length: 369 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant

Rise is a collection of eight novellas and short stories that are set within the world of the Newsflesh trilogy. (See my wrap-up post about Newsflesh here. Short version: Amazing.)

So what’s inside Rise? And should you read it? Read on for mini-reviews of each story… and as for whether you should read it, my answer is an unqualified YES… but only after you read the complete trilogy, or at least, enough to appreciate the context of these stories.

Onward…

The first few stories in the Rise collection are set at the very beginning of the Rising – and this is something we never see in the main books of the Newsflesh trilogy. Newsflesh is set decades after the onset of the initial Kellis-Amberlee outbreak, and while we learn through the characters’ conversations and memories what happened at that time, it’s something quite different to read the author’s stories set during the Rising. These stories are awful in their inevitability – we know what’s coming, and we know that nothing will stop it.

Countdown

It began nowhere. It began everywhere. It began without warning; it began with all the warning in the world. It could have been prevented a thousand times over. There was nothing that anyone could have done.

A chilling timeline of the end of the world, showing the last of the pre-Rising days and how the disaster came on step by step. In the Newsflesh novels, the events of 2014 are almost 30 years in the past. Here, in Countdown, we see first-hand what actually happened that awful summer, from the optimism of a potential cancer cure to an irreversible act of ecoterrorism, all leading to the mutation and spread of a pandemic that changed the world forever. We meet some familiar characters, and also see the people who are basically the founding fathers of the Kellis-Amberlee virus – the creators of the Kellis cure, meant to cure the common cold, and Marburg Amberlee, an engineered virus that can defeat even the most dire of terminal cancer cases. Countdown is scary and dramatic and gave me the biggest case of dread. We know what’s going to happen, but watching it unfold and knowing there’s no chance that it won’t end the way that it does is still somehow crazily fascinating and terrible.

Everglades 

The shortest piece in the collection, Everglades is a view of campus life in the first days after the reality of the zombie apocalypse has hit home, as seen through the eyes of a young grad student who recognizes the cruelty of the natural world. It’s a short, sad, and even beautiful story.

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats

As Mira Grant points out in her introduction to this story, San Diego Comic Con is almost a perfect place to stage an outbreak. You have thousands of people crammed into a confined space, many costumed or so heavily made-up that it’s impossible to gauge their actual condition. There’s little to no cell reception inside the convention hall, so once disaster strikes, communication between those trapped and the outside world effectively ceases. And as we know from countless zombie TV shows and movies, all it takes is one infected person locked inside with everyone else to start a chain reaction. This story shows how the very last Comic Con turned from geeky delight to bloody mayhem, and the bravery of the assorted fanboys and fangirls who made a last stand.

The stories from this point forward take place after the events in the Newsflesh trilogy, or at least, close enough to them that a knowledge of those events is needed – and people who haven’t read the trilogy will end up with massive spoilers. That said, the next batch of stories are:

How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea

Before the Rising, guns were verboten on airplanes, carried only by government agents and representatives of local law enforcement. Now most passengers flew armed, and the flight attendants carried more weapons than your average Irwin. It’s funny how the world can change when no one’s looking.

In which our beloved head Newsie Mahir heads off to Australia to get a first-hand view of how that country and continent made it through the Rising. Australia is still Australia, meaning that it’s a country full of people who are used to living alongside deadly wildlife, and their approach to security in the post-Rising world is vastly different from the paranoid, fear-based approach adopted everywhere else.

“Why would someone who didn’t like the law live out here?” I asked. “Wouldn’t it be easier to move into the city, where there’s less risk of surprise zombie kangaroos?”

The story is entertaining and presents a view of a very different mentality, in a land where animal conservation still matters, even when those animals may amplify, turn into zombies, and eat you. A story that includes zombie kangaroos and wombats can’t help being a blast to read.

The Day the Dead Came To Show and Tell

It was a small, claustrophobic space. The shelves were packed with basic school supplies: paper, crayons, extra ammunition, formalin, bleach.

This story was the hardest to read in the collection. It just hits way too close to home right now. This story is about an outbreak in an elementary school, and unfolds moment by moment as the infection spreads, the school goes into lockdown, and one first-grade teacher faces the unthinkable as she tries to save her children. It’s awful. Fascinating and so well written, but awful just the same. With the seemingly never-ending wave of school shootings in this country, reading this story is just heart-breaking and way too relevant.

Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus

Dr. Shannon Abbey is one of the many great side characters in the Newsflesh trilogy, and in this story, we get to spend a little more time with her in her secret mad scientist lair. Dr. Abbey is smart, a little crazy, and lots of fun, and her story here collides with another character seen in an earlier piece in Rise. Plus, we get to see Joe the massive mastiff and Barney the octopus – two big plusses.

“I’m a mad scientist, aren’t I? We all have master plans. Without them, we’d just be faintly disgruntled scientists who think we really ought to form a committee to discuss our grievances.”

The next two (and final two) stories in Rise are new to this collection, the only two not to have been previously published either in anthologies or stand-alone versions.

All the Pretty Little Horses

All the Pretty Little Horses takes us back once again to the early days of the Rising. The year is 2018, and we’re back with Michael and Stacy Mason, who’ve become famous for their radio broadcasts giving survival tips and offering encouragement during the really bad years. Now that the world is starting to find a new normal, Stacy is plunged into depression, desperately mourning the young son lost  in the early days of the Rising. This story shows how the Masons became the people we meet in the Newsflesh trilogy, hardened stars of the blogosphere who’ll do anything for ratings. And while this story didn’t truly make me like them, at least it shows a bit more of the desperation that turned them into the people they became.

 

And finally…

Coming To You Live

This is it. The story we’ve all been waiting for. It’s about Shaun and Georgia, and… well, I’m just not going to say a word about it. No matter what I say, it’ll be spoilery. Let’s just say that it was a perfect end piece for the collection, and it left me just as in love with the characters and the overarching world of Newsflesh as before, or may just a smidge more.

And that’s all, folks!

Rise is essential reading for fans of Newsflesh – and if you’ve made it this far in my lengthy post, I’m assuming you’re a fan too! I’m a little bit heartbroken to have reached the end. Yes, I know there’s still the 2016 novel Feedback to read, but it’s not about the characters I know and love, and I’m just not ready to go there yet. I’ll read it eventually (or maybe even later this week), but for now I just want to bask in the glory of all things Newsflesh, and the amazing stories in Rise, just a little bit longer.

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The details:

Title: Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: June 21, 2016
Length: 816 pages (mass market paperback)
Genre: Horror/science fiction
Source: Purchased