I’ve always been interested in mythology, and it’s influenced a lot of my writing. When I was a kid, I devoured stories about the gods and their monsters–and even today, I love reading about the psychological explanations for such myths, the archetypes of our collective unconscious. This is probably a big part of why I enjoy J. M. Ney-Grimm’s work as much as I do.
I’ve reviewed a book of hers before, and I’ll come back to her books again on this blog. Today, I want to look at her latest release, which came out just as the holidays were starting: Perilous Chance.
This is a wonderful (longer) short story with Ney-Grimm’s characteristic voice. It flows like a fairy tale and has an airy, almost fanciful feel to it, without losing any of its importance. It’s a tale of mistakes and redemption, and the power to do the right thing now, even if you can’t change the past. This has all the hallmarks of the fairy tales that seem to have inspired it (and her other works), and makes for a quick and very satisfying read.
The story starts out with a sense of impending doom–a dangerous and magnificent creature is coming. You don’t know what it is or what’s at stake, and before you learn either answer the story is thrust into a quiet domestic setting set some time before. It’s a very effective beginning–tantalizing, intriguing, and mysterious. It drew me in right away, eager to figure out what was coming, and that tension stayed with me for the rest of the book.
As the narrative begins, we’re introduced to Clary, a young girl who’s stuck taking care of her entire family. Her father’s a drunkard, her mother is apathetic and listless, and her baby brother is colicky. Her younger sister wants to help out, but the two of them are young enough that they don’t know how to take care of a house, and have to figure it out as they go. This sets up the inciting incident really well, as it shows that Clary is a much stronger person than she thinks she is–this ends up being a nice reflection of another main character (I would argue the main character), Jennifry.
Jennifry is of indeterminate age, but much older than the girls. When she was younger, she experimented with patterning–Ney-Grimm’s system of magic–and went a bit too far. Now, she’s infected with Troll Magic, and is forced into a life of seclusion. Her story is slowly revealed through the book, using Clary’s story as a framing device–which, because of the comparison noted above, is very effective. One gets the impression that Clary is a reflection of who Jennifry was when she was young, before her unfortunate mistake. This gives some excellent pathos to Jennifry’s character, as well as a sort of urgency to Clary, who must make careful choices to avoid a similar fate.
Jennifry’s story occurs in flashback, so there is some jumping around in the book; this is the only real issue I had for the story, as it caused a bit of confusion for me. I can see why this choice was made—there are certain ‘secrets’ (another theme of the work) that can’t be revealed until later in the narrative. In this sense, the jumping around in time works; unfortunately, I found myself confused here and there as to why we were jumping, and parts of it felt disjointed. It was only after finishing the book entirely that everything fit together nicely; as I was reading, there were times I thought I had missed something. That said, everything does fit together in the end, so this really wasn’t an issue.
In fact, looking back on the story, it suits the tone well. Interjected throughout the story are short snippets from the creature’s POV; these are set apart from the rest of the story by using a distinctly different voice, which feels almost alien compared to the rest of the story–which is exactly the intent, I think. Because of the jumping around in the timeline, one isn’t always sure when these POV scenes take place, but that’s revealed gradually over the course of the story. As that plot line becomes clearer, it informs the rest of the plot, until everything comes together at the end, like ripples in a pond clearing away the silt at the bottom. I’m not sure if this technique was intentional, but it adds a unique flair to the story, and although I did find it confusing initially, it grows on me the more I think about it, and I wouldn’t want to do without it.
In my review of Ney-Grimm’s Star Drake, I mentioned that I couldn’t figure out how magic worked in her World. This story clears some of that up, and it was delightful to read about it. I suspect that her other work expounds on this even more. Since I’ve been following her writing, I’ve been reading mostly her more recent books and working backward; if I’d have started at the beginning, I think those questions–and other posed in my review above–would have been answered. At any rate, I found a certain clarity in Perilous Chance that I didn’t see in Star Drake, although I think the latter would be a bit clearer now if I were to revisit it (which I’m sure I will soon).
One thing I really liked about this book was the exploration of the creature. The revelation of just what the creature is, how it came to be, what it will do–and, importantly, what the other characters believe in regards to all of those questions–is spread nicely over the course of the book. It almost sets up a sort of sub-plot, though the creature’s actions directly affect the rest of the story. Because information is given in carefully doled out portions, the reader is left feeling that there’s something mysterious lurking beneath the whole story, something that has more significance than we’re originally led to believe. This further creates a wonderful release of tension at the end of the book, and a very satisfying ending. This thread is expertly written, and subtle enough that I found myself pleasantly surprised at the resolution of the plot.
And that leads me to something I find in all of J. M. Ney-Grimm’s work I’ve read so far. She has an ethereal sort of quality to her writing which is extremely effective–all the more so because I can’t pin down exactly why. It’s almost mystical. This ephemeral tone is what sets her work apart from anything else I’ve read–it’s absolutely unique, and absolutely engaging. Perilous Chance is no exception, and it’s my favourite story of Ney-Grimm’s so far.