Friday, July 23, 2010

Janni Lee Simner

Janni Lee Simner's first novel for teens, Bones of Faerie, is a post-apocalyptic fairy tale, set after the war with Faerie has destroyed much of the world. Her second, Thief Eyes, is a contemporary fantasy based on the Icelandic sagas, Njal's Saga in particular. She is also working on Faerie Winter, a sequel to Bones of Faerie.

She has also written three books for younger kids-most recently Secret of the Three Treasures, which is about a kid who's determined to live a life of adventure from the start, and who isn't about to let small things like still being in elementary school, too young to book passage to anywhere (these days even caravans require major credit cards) get in her way.

Simner has published more than 30 short stories for kids, teens, and adults, including appearances in Cricket magazine, Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales, and Moving Targets and Other Tales of Valdemar.

Recently I asked her what her what she was reading. Her reply:
As a lifelong fantasy reader, one of the things I love most is when a story manages to spin mythology that feels so real that some part of me feels it surely can't be new, but that the author must instead be tapping into something that's always been true.

Given that, two recent reads made me very happy.

Laini Taylor's Blackbringer--with its miniature winged fairies and talking crows--is steeped in a sort of whimsy that doesn't always work for me, but in this case, that whimsy was bound up in worldbuilding that was so original and dark and textured that it won me over.

In Blackbringer world is a tapestry woven by the dreams of djinns. Only the tapestry is fraying--as tapestries do over time--letting in darkness and an ancient enemy who seeks the unmaking of all things. Worse, the memory that the tapestry is even real has slipped from the world--as such memories do--leaving most creatures unaware their existence is imperiled. So it falls to the (miniature, winged) fairy Magpie Windwitch--the first non-djinn with the ability to reweave the tattered threads--to set things right. And she does, and if as readers we never doubted it, that doesn't change the fact that the tapestry feels so real that it's hard not to look for its hidden threads behind the workings of our own world when the story is through.

Bruce Coville's The Last Hunt, the fourth book of the Unicorn Chronicles series, completes a story begun fifteen years ago. I love how this entire series takes the sorts of unicorn stories so many of us grew up on--stories of gentle creatures stripped of their historical fierceness--and, instead of undercutting it, uses it to create something new. In earlier books we get the story of Beloved, a human maiden who is forever being both wounded and healed by the shard of unicorn horn lodged in her heart, and who has become the deadly enemy of the unicorns as a result of that pain, forever training hunters to seek their lives. Had the mythmaking ended here, I wouldn't have been disappointed.

But in the last two books, we get something more: the story of the Whisperer, a dark seducer created by the unicorns themselves--when they chose to purge themselves of the darkness all creatures have to become, well, the all-good, all-light creatures I grew up with. That creating such one-dimensional goodness comes with a price, for the unicorns and for all of us, feels true to me, too--true enough that it makes not only this story but other unicorn stories as well feel more real and more true. There's a lot more going on in these books--especially in The Last Hunt, which also has things to say about the relationship between creators and their creations--but it's the lore of how the unicorns came to be the creatures I've known them as much of my life that stayed with me when I finished reading.
Visit Janni Lee Simner's website and blog/journal.

--Marshal Zeringue