I offered to review an upcoming ebook titled Trials of Teeth and Fire for the wondrous Amanda C. Davis and just got a chance to read the title story. The ebook consists of two stories, "Trials of Teeth and Fire," which first appeared as "Rites of Justice in Civilized Societies" in The Beast Within 3: Oceans Unleashed, and "Lure," first published in Wolves and Witches. This week I shall be reviewing the former, much longer story.
I really wanted to love "Trials of Teeth and Fire." Davis is an incredible writer with crisp, effortless prose I could read all day. I think the fact that "Trials of Teeth and Fire" was written before (I believe) all of Davis' stories that I have read should explain the lower degree of mastery I noticed while reading. It's a great tale, I don't mean to imply otherwise, it's just worth mentioning that if you're knew to Davis' work you will find that she's been getting even better as her writing career has progressed.
My main problem with this story is the voice, both the character's voice and the writer's voice (the distinction is tough to explain). It's not as flowing as I'm used to in fantasy short stories. A good many sentences start with the same word, for example. The fundamentals that take writers the longest to hone are not as honed here as in more recent stories. I wouldn't say this is a crippling problem. Some people may not even notice it. To me it read more like YA than adult, and maybe that's how it was intended, despite the 3rd-limited viewpoint character's age.
Voice aside, this story's characters are solid. Their "sympathy," "proactivity," and "competency" sliders are all in near-constant motion. The arcs and learning curve are both steep, but not so steep as to make me question this story's word count. If you're into strong female characters, you'll find at least one here. There's still a lot of mystery surrounding the characters even at the end, which may annoy some people, but which I didn't find disappointing.
This story has a fairly basic setting, yet it oozes originality. There are were-eels, that's all I really have to say. There's some politics involved and speculative diplomacy. Those are always nice elements in fantasy stories. I think a great majority of fantasy fans will be satisfied.
There's a layering to the plot of "Trials of Teeth and Fire" that seems unnatural for a story that's only around 5,000 words long. Ever scene has conflict and most paragraphs change the conflict in at least a slight manner. The plot involves the unfolding of information about the characters and setting to the reader, which I always appreciate. If you get bored at any point in this story, I must say, you have a pretty exciting life.
Bottom line: I recommend the ebook this story is being reprinted in to all lovers of fantasy short stories (available for pre-order here). It's definitely not the best story by Amanda C. Davis, but even so it holds up compared to the many stories I've read at this length, in this genre.