Reviewed by Piet Bach
The Lord of Shalott – Imagine how different a tale could be told if Tennyson’s hapless Lady of Shalott were a Lord. And if the Lord were not the warlike roistering pattern of Arthurian sagas but a more thoughtful, less overt personality. Jay Mountney has re-cast the poem for a protagonist whose struggles are as much within and about himself as they are with the wider world. In doing that, she places the story on a vivid new plane, while keeping all the characters’ feet planted firmly on the ground. Add to that a plot twist or two that bring Mordred’s actions and motivations at Camelot into sharp focus and resolve, to my mind at any rate, the mystery of Merlin’s life after the dissolution of the Round Table Court. The result is a beautifully told story, richly detailed and far more satisfying than the drab flowered original. She has followed Emily Dickinson’s guidance to “tell all the truth but tell it slant”, and given us an entire world revealed by a lightning strike of character and circumstance.
Three Legends – The three stories told here – “Jingling Geordie”, “Hare’s Children”, and “The Time Thief” – have different origins and run at different angles, showing the varied facets of Mountney’s talents with humor and charm. “Geordie” retells a Northumbrian legend about lost treasure hidden in a seacliff cavern beset by dragons and were-creatures; “Hare’s Children” is a folk tale about the origins of both a place name and a colloquial reference to same-sex pairings; and “Thief” is a modern story about accomplishments and fulfillment. In each, the story twists just enough to keep the reader off balance until the end, with lively characters and sly humor. This small grouping alone should be enough to make any reader a fan of the author if they don’t already know her other work.
Silkskin and the Forest Dwellers – What if Snow White were actually an ebony-skinned prince with a vain and vengeful stepmother, living in a kingdom south of Lake Tanganyika? What if the dwarves were not seven isolated (and suspiciously clean, if Disney is your guide) miners but a nation of bush people who spoke a different language and had different customs from those of the prince? The most impressive aspect of Jay Mountney’s storytelling talents, to me, is her ability to create worlds that are so completely envisioned and internally so consistent that we enter them without question, hardly even noticing their fictive nature. At the same time, her stories pull us forward irresistibly, making us want to follow her heroes and find out what happens to them while we cheer them on. I don’t know of another speller of fables or fairy tales who can do what she does with a flick of her pen. Her language flows easily on the ear and creates delight for the mind’s eye. And, triumph of triumphs, her happy endings, when they occur, are never maudlin or trite. But if I go on, I’ll get carried away and the prose will be so purple none of our readers will believe me. Just, please, go to Smashwords and buy her books. You will thank me.
The Lord of Shalott, 30 pp., Smashwords, 2012, US$2.99, http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/258487
Three Legends, 13 pp., Smashwords, 2012, US$1.99, http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/258492
Silkskin and the Forest Dwellers, 34 pp., Smashwords, 2012, US$2.99, http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/170617