Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Book Review: 'The Downs' by Kim Fielding

California author Kim Fielding uses this nom de plume to separate her writing fantasies from her publications of textbooks and life as a university professor. Kim donates 100% of the royalties from her novels STASIS, FLUX, and EQUIPOSE and from her self-published stories and audiobooks (now numbering near 60) to Doctors Without Borders. Her stories are set in alternate worlds, in 15th century Bosnia, in modern-day Oregon. Her heroes are hipster architect werewolves, housekeepers, maimed giants, and conflicted graduate students. They’re usually flawed, they often encounter terrible obstacles, but they always find love.

The success or failure of a novella is usually determined by the immediacy of the story’s opening, and in Kim’s case she has mastered that craft. – ‘The anteroom was warm—much warmer than the cell where he’d been kept for the past several weeks. Enitan tried to concentrate on that small crumb of comfort instead of panicking over the complete darkness or giving in to the fear churning in his belly. He wouldn’t cry, he couldn’t run, and there was nobody to fight. Just him, naked, in a small bare room, the marble floor hot and smooth like skin. When the huge doors began to rumble open, he turned to face them but had to bow his head against the piercing light. Although his hands wanted to clench into fists, he kept them open at his sides. The tightness across his shoulders and down his back threatened to affect his lungs. Steady, he told himself. Your future is out of your hands now. Just accept. He’d never been the compliant kind. Finally the doors stopped their slow scrape. “Forward!” barked a female voice. Eyes squinted nearly shut, Enitan shuffled ahead. “Stop!” He couldn’t see the figure before him—the glare was much too bright—but he felt the weight of the Judge’s gaze. He wondered if she saw his physical self: a tall man, long-legged and muscular, with an angular face many men and women had called pleasing. Did she see the Enitan others saw now, a man accused and convicted of killing his father? Or did the Judge see his inner self, where the last bits of defiance lay smothered by terror, despair, and rage? For a very long time, he remained still, his eyes closed and his heartbeat thudding loudly in his ears. “This man is judged.”

The plot, well penned, is summarized - ‘As the son of a wealthy man, Enitan Javed has spent his life frivolously—drinking, fighting, and making love. But after his father dies, Enitan is unjustly accused of murdering him and is given the harshest sentence possible. Judged irredeemable, he is banished to the Downs. As even young children know, nothing lives in the Downs except demons who delight in torturing the condemned. Brutalized by the men who transport him to his fate, Enitan has nothing left but his thirst for vengeance. His plummet to the Downs nearly kills him, and Enitan finds himself battered and helpless in a frightening, mysterious land. But many surprises await him there, including a strange man named Rig. And the realization that the demons he must face aren’t at all the ones he expected.’

Solid craftsmanship and fine prose make this short adventure a most satisfying read. Grady Harp, August 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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