“Book Review: A Slow Parade in Penderyn”
Reviewed by Kathy L Brown
A finely drawn world of both deep magic and gritty human struggle
A Slow Parade unfolds in an “open content” fantasy world called Efre Ousel. In the slice-of-life port town of Penderyn, a genuine story of human frailty and regret plays out on a solid bedrock of fantasy worldbuilding.
A Slow Parade is Silbrey’s story. Her past is more mysterious than that of most orphans—her origin is the stuff of fairytales, and she has played many roles and gone by many names to survive to adulthood. Valued enforcer for Penderyn’s ruthless guildmaster, Silbrey longs for sincere human connection and a peaceful life.
When she finds love, Silbrey seeks refuge in the country but learns that, sooner or later, every choice has its consequence. Her new world shattered, Silbrey makes her way through Penderyn to confront her former master.
The novella’s point-of-view is omniscient with a slightly detached storyteller tone especially suited to such a tale. This voice is most pronounced in the prologue, which is pure fairytale. Yet as the adventure unfolds, the book subtly modulates that tone to step back and let the events show us the action.
While always serving the narrative first, the prose is often lyrical and evocative. For example, a description of Silbrey’s place in the natural world as she trains with her unique staff tells us about her fighting style, her personality, and hints at her past. “The secret of her skill went much deeper than any training. Silbrey did not just feel the wood in her palm. She held the whole tree. The whole tree held her. She sensed the deep roots digging into rich soil . . .”
Much of the novella is set in flashback as Silbrey makes her slow parade through town, as locations and people she encounters spark recollections. The resulting tapestry of thoughts, feelings, and experiences is immersive.
Silbrey is a fascinating character, a woman who’s made herself powerful through deadly choices. Above all, she is a survivor. But she has secrets, some unknown even to herself, which influence her wants and needs. The novella successfully weaves its non-linear narrative into a cohesive whole.
The fantasy world, Efre Ousel, is intricate, but the story avoids a sightseeing tour of extraneous information. Hewing to effective storytelling’s essential elements, Slow Parade presents a real person with a real problem overcoming real obstacles to reach a plausible resolution. The world is grounded in a rough realism that might seem incongruent to fantasy but works.
The language throughout is skillful and imaginative. For example, Silbrey breaks into her former master’s house to confront her. “The house was silent. Every echoing step upon the stone floor felt like a public greeting: presenting Silbrey of Penderyn . . .” The fishy smell of Penderyn’s docks is a familiar one to most readers and certainly evocative, but A Slow Parade takes that sense detail a step further to comment on society. “To the nobles, it’s unbearable. To the residents, it’s familiar. But to the fisherman, it’s the smell of a good haul and honest work.”
Delightful woodcut-style illustrations and maps enhance the feeling of having uncovered a book of old lore. This reader was happy to find pronunciation guidance in the introduction and intrigued by the open content concept.
Most of the novella is exposition, which is a reasonable choice given the retrospective narrative style and storyteller tone. However, this reader became more engaged in the story once Silbrey confronts her former master and events begin to be presented primarily in scene.
I’d recommend A Slow Parade in Penderyn for young adult and adult secondary-world fantasy fans who appreciate empowered female characters, meticulous worldbuilding, and the promise of more tales to come. Polyamory and bisexuality are also briefly mentioned. For writers, artists, and game designers, the invitation to come play in the Efre Ousel sandbox will be hard to resist!
Length: 87 pages
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