Today I’m giving my thoughts on Aidan Moher’s TIDE OF SHADOWS AND OTHER STORIES. For those of you unaware, Aidan hosts an excellent blog called A Dribble of Ink that is all things new in the literary world—a sort of mini-IGN for words and authors and such. TIDE OF SHADOWS AND OTHER STORIES is a compilation of varied short stories in—gasp! —multiple genres!
That right there is the first salute I send Moher’s way. I wish we’d see more of this. Many times I read anthologies and collections of short stories I get so burned out on the genre I’m reading and put the book down to go and get a taste of something else. This book offers that taste with the very next story!
For the purposes of this review I’ll be individually offering my thoughts on the varied stories in chronological order, as opposed to a review of the entire book, which might come off as somewhat more difficult—or at least cumbersome—than individually unwrapping each story. Per usual, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS, OH MAN!
Let’s go to it!
A NIGHT FOR SPIRITS AND SNOWFLAKES
The first tale in TIDE OF SHADOWS is A NIGHT FOR SPIRITS AND SNOWFLAKES. This is a (high?) fantasy tale set in the frigid north. The beginning of the tale grabs you, with a character burying some fallen comrades—not with a shovel, but his only his sword—in the aftermath of some terrible battle. This work employs some excellent worldbuilding, mentioning gods of the Northmen, a faraway and more civilized south, from where I assume several of the protagonists come from.
The story itself pieces together what happened before, during and after the battle through the eyes of the various characters. The timeline isn’t so simply chronological, and each character’s details are varied and different. My personal favorite character was the falsely brave sellsword Tahir, who meets a peculiar fate in his own arc. I’ll offer my first critique of Moher here, in that in his writing he uses rhetorical questioning very often. The characters think, plodding questions to themselves, but I felt Tahir would have come off a stronger character if Moher would’ve abolished this tact in Tahir’s arc. Not every character—Tahir in this instance—needed to question the decisions they were making.
Moher’s writing and ability to keep a very twisted series of events straight with nearly a half-dozen characters shines bright here. He left me wanting to know more about the Northmen and their land, as well as the company of sellswords that invaded. The story itself is fashioned on the events of a battle—called the Massacre—that we actually see very little of. I think this is something super stellar, as there’s still plenty of axe swinging and sword’s whooshing throughout the short story.
Very excellent introductory story from Moher.
THE GIRL WITH WINGS OF IRON AND DOWN
We turn now to a story of beleaguered science fiction. I’d like to comment here that at the end of every one of these stories, Moher offers some introspection into how—and sometimes why—he wrote the story that you just finished reading. This one is perfectly summed up in his story notes as a collaboration of two ideas—Astro Boy and the Truman Show. I didn’t realize it until AFTER the story how precise of a molding this story was.
I enjoy this story because it begins—and ends—at precisely the best points. The story begins at a time when we don’t really know about the character before the events that are happening to her and also ends at a junction where we’re not entirely certain of her fate. The story is a strange form of science fiction however. Everything appears sleek and futuristic at first glance—but then there’s a key (an old kinda skeleton key, y’anno?) and her wings aren’t powered by repulsorlift or anti-gravity, they seem more combustion engine almost atompunk (I freakin’ love atompunk, man).
We don’t know why they’re doing this to her, though it’s alluded she might have been the scientist’s daughter. We don’t know what this “space station” is that she’s stuck in, yet we get a sense of this false world within the real world that I think Moher paints very beautifully. This story was ultimately my favorite in TIDE OF SHADOWS.
OF PARNASSUS AND PRINCES, DAMSELS AND DRAGONS
Moher takes on traditional high fantasy tropes in this tale and flips them over and over again. At first, he embraces these tropes and you’re not certain which direction the story goes. The story is exposition heavy in its introduction, but in a way that rightfully sets the story up. The world is comedic in its execution, written intentionally so.
The second act seems these tropes thrown to the wind when the traditional damsel in distress turns into a real bitch. Why don’t these things happen more often? The dragon that abduct her and the prince that comes to rescue her both find themselves equally distraught by her rather snobbish nature. I easily envisioned the Dragon killing the Prince and setting fire to the world but they actually befriend each other.. and become lovers? This is an even more interesting take on the traditionally heterosexual heavy tropes of European-esque fantasy worlds.
The ending theme is ubiquitous, if not easily discerned. Love finds a way.
THE COLOUR OF THE SKY THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED
This is a dreadfully short story. The premise is exciting, but so little is revealed—thus leaving you wanting more. To be honest, there’s not much to say here. The story depicts a seemingly post-apocalyptic world, though one where people have apparently survived.
It’s flash fiction though and just as you start figuring things out. It ends! I wish Moher would’ve added a little bit more here—given us a little bit extra to run with.
TIDE OF SHADOWS
I loved it. I’m partial to military science fiction. I’m super partial to historical fiction and felt I could readily relate to this.
The main character—Sligh—is the orphan of an unnamed war between humanity (or at least his own little sect of it) and some monstrous, shadowborne assembly of creatures who emerged in what is referred to as the Tide of Shadows. Sligh and a pseudo-lover/friend of his named Rummage share their thoughts on the impending battle, marked by timestamps throughout the story.
There were a few things I’ll be critical of Moher on here, but only because I’m such a fan of military sci-fi. The setting is spectacular, and even in this last story Moher shows he’s capable of building unique universes. I wish there would have been more of a military feel, a distinctly military commander—a sergeant, a colonel, someone to make it feel more like a military operation. Could have been a speech before they dropped. I kept waiting for Sligh to load his rifle or go over his combat gear just once to really give it that military sci-fi feel. I won’t complain too much however, because Moher explains in the Story Notes that military sci-fi isn’t necessary his forte. Understandable, sir!
Overall, this is a strong debut piece for Aidan Moher. My principal complaint is that his flash fiction would have been minutely longer. Paired with his exceptional blogging capabilities, I fully expect to see Aidan’s name appear even more often in the literary world! That’s all for now.
Bonne journée, mes amis.