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Curses of Scale
by S.D. Reeves
Riversong Books, 2017
⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆
The verdict: A well-paced, mystical epic packed full of surprises—something different in all the right ways.
Just from the author’s quirky sense of humor on the acknowledgments page, I had a feeling I’d like this book. Curses of Scale will by no means be every reader’s cup of tea. It’s mysterious and odd, full of surreal sequences and shifting points of view. Yet it’s also original and well written, featuring clever dialogue and immersive imagery without breaking the pace. From the action-packed opening to the gradual unfolding of the narrative, Reeves achieves what he sets out to accomplish. I tip my hat whenever an ambitious fantasy writer actually pulls it off, and Reeves delivers a mystical tale about finding purpose, forging one’s path, and time’s relentless pursuit of us all.
The story opens with the druid Calem racing to uphold a bargain with the wisecracking fairy Oberon. Calem’s wife, Niena, is cursed to become a dragon, and only the fairy’s ritual can reverse her fate. Meanwhile, the aspiring musician known as Squirrel wants nothing more than to attend bardic college but must contend with her militant, overprotective grandfather, Marny. Squirrel plots to run away until a surreal experience in a tavern one night transports her off course. When a fire-breathing dragon threatens Marny’s post, he barely escapes with his life. Across the wide path of destruction that follows, Marny seeks his granddaughter just as she discovers her true identity. With fairy magic at hand and a terrifying dragon on the move, Niena must race against time to escape her destiny and break the cycle of the curse.
“They who taught us the three chords.”
The quartermaster clutches his chest. Light begins to creep back into their ruin. But it is queer and evil; flames spread over the great sprawl of Kimbesh in the distance, rolling across the rooftops of the urban menagerie and setting upon them as fast as sunlight in the quiet of the dawn.
“They who gave us music to keep back the silence of the night.”
The first few pages feel a bit like an out-of-body experience, but the story untangles as it goes. Calem’s internal conflict pairs well with the fairy’s cynical quips, although Calem’s magical abilities remain somewhat undefined. He has healing spells, can transform into animals, and sometimes his magic fails due to his own dwindling energy. Niena’s own musical spellcasting feels similarly opaque, which might bother some fantasy aficionados in it mostly for the world building. At points I felt disoriented with the timelines, wondering if a subsequent chapter happened before or after the one before it, but Reeves eventually pieces it all together once all his cards are on the table. In fact, there’s a certain elegance to the disorder, like a song with strikingly different verses that come back to the same refrain. Reeves brings twists and duplicity; he unfolds the story in discrete moments instead of blurring his characters across the years. One must read this novel with eyes open and brain turned on. Curses of Scale works for me, but I can see others not fitting this niche. Recommended as an intelligent, engaging read for those looking for something fresh in fantasy.
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