Christopher Golden, The Myth Hunters (Bantam, 2006)
Now I'm pissed! No, not at Christopher Golden for The Myth Hunters, but rather because it will be many months before I see what happens! (According to him in an e-mail, The Borderkind which is the next novel, has just been finished.) Yes, it's that good. It was one of those novels that started off good and got even better as it went along. Much like Tim Pratt's The Strange Adventures of Ranger Girl, it was a fantasy that didn't feel it was merely reusing all of the existing cliches in the same old tired manner that has been done myriad times before by far too many authors, including some who should've known better. Rather it felt like Golden actually found something new to write about! If you've read my reviews before, you know that I find much of what's being written fantasy right now to be quite awful. Oh, there's some notable exceptions -- George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is very well-crafted, as is Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, not to mention Simon Green's just wrapped-up Nightside adventures. But for every good series out there, there are far more which are just plain awful. Or worse yet, just tedious and unoriginal.
Golden starts out with an all too common fantasy idea -- two worlds with one fey, the other ours -- kept apart by a border that keeps these two realties hidden away from each other. Like Lisa Tuttle's The Mysteries or James Hetley's The Winter Oak, both mortals and non-mortals can cross the border -- sometimes easily, more often not. Golden suggests that entire villages (say the Scottish village that might have been Brigadoon) , and even civilizations (Atlantis at its full glory) have been lost across the border from here to the other side, leaving only a story which becomes a myth behind as their legacy down the long years. Now consider that this veil hasn't always existed but was created to allow various folks, some good and some very decidedly not, to withdraw from our world.
So what if every mythical being that we think really doesn't exist does exist? What if Jack Frost was as real as you or me? What would an immortal storm deity be like? An immortal who could be killed? What if that being ended up injured in our world seeking help from a very bewildered mortal? How long would that mortal live if everyone including the Wild Hunt itself now wanted him dead? Oliver Bascombe, on the eve of his wedding in the ancestral Maine village where his family has been for generations beyond recall, will discover his worst nightmares are nothing compared to the reality of what really goes bump in the night! As Golden notes on his Web site, 'every captivating myth and fairy tale is true, the vanished exist -- and every fear is founded'. This premise, in the right hands, can be a lot of fun for writer and reader alike, and Golden certainly handles both dark fantasy and outright horror very well indeed. Just wait until you find out what he's done with the Sandman! Horrifying would be a mild description for his idea of what the original, fully terrifying Sandman was like.
So what Golden has created are fully-realized parallel realities where myths are as real as we are. Jack Frost is both an individual and a force of nature -- and an almost likable being. Oliver is human, but shows that he can stand alongside the Myths Themselves if need be. And the story here is fast-paced and allows time to develop the plot as it goes along. This is not the full-blown horror which Golden can write. For that experience, I recommend the forthcoming Bloodstained Oz from Earthling Publications that I'm reading in galley form right now. This is a ripping good dark fantasy akin to Mulengro, Charles de Lint's Rom mystery. I know it's but a matter of degrees separating dark fantasy from horror, but the blood splattering here is, errr, more tastefully done than it would be in a horror novel such as Bloodstained Oz.
The Myth Hunters is the first in a trilogy. If the other two novels are as good as this one is, we have a true classic on our hands! It certainly was one of the best reading experiences I've had recently, and is an early contender for my personal Best of 2006 Reading List.