Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Clever Jack, Heavy with Stories, by R.K. Duncan

★★★★★ An unexpected adventure in a beautiful, dangerous place.

(Portal Fairy Tale) Teenage Jack, the cook’s boy, and Roderick, Lord Robert’s son, are unlikely but unshakable friends, even when Roderick has to marry a grown woman. Even when Jack has to venture to elf-land to rescue them. (6,002 words; Time: 20m)

Recommended By: πŸ‘GTognetti+1 (Q&A)

"," by (edited by Scott H. Andrews), appeared in issue 304, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2020.297 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Jack is an awfully nice guy. He never shows any jealousy of Mary-Anne, for example, and his devotion to his friend is almost entirely selfless. We know this devotion is returned when Lord Robert says, “I think it will be easier to teach you manners, Boy, than to keep my son from your side.” Yet Jack is “more clever than brave.” He doesn’t run right after his lost friend; he collects supplies and gets advice from his mom and the town witch first.

Mary-Anne isn’t a cardboard villain, even though she’s the proximate cause of Roderick being lost. We know she’s in a bad situation, and it’s no surprise that she isn’t in a hurry to leave elf-land. She’s also quite competent in her own way: she’s a better rider than Roderick, and when Jack drops his iron knife, she picks it up and wields it effectively against the Kelpie. She’s also the one who knows that the way to get into the castle when the gates are closed is through the kitchen. (She even teases Jack, who should have known this better than her but for his fixation on magical means.)

I thought it particularly noteworthy that Mary-Anne understood (as Jack did not) that he stood higher in Lord Robert’s confidence than she herself did, and that were Jack to blame her for Rowland’s disappearance, she wouldn’t stand a chance with his father. It’s a part of Jack’s charm that he doesn’t realize how special he is, and it’s part of Mary-Anne’s charm that she doesn’t flinch from reality—including the reality that her husband loves another boy, not her.

Before the final challenge, there are plenty of hints that Jack and Rowland are more than just friends, but it’s still amusing how Rowland already knew (as Jack did not) when the Elf King told him “You’ve won your love and should be free to take him home with you.”

Mary-Anne never really wanted to rescue Rowland and never really wanted to be his wife. We knew that from the start, but it’s hinted at in the way that her feet (as Jack’s did not) kept wanting to stray from the path, and strongly implied when the one thing that scares her away is the image of the baby she might one day give Rowland.

Con: Two gay teen boys with that much time together wouldn’t be surprised to learn their feelings for each other; they’d have been “experimenting” for years.

The ending is a little too easy; no one pays much of a price for this. Mary-Anne (whose fault it mostly was) escapes a life she didn’t want. Rowland (whose fault it partly was) gets rid of a wife he didn’t want. Jack deserves a reward for his bravery, but I do wonder how he and Rowland are going to explain all of this.

Other Reviews: Search Web
R.K. Duncan Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

Follow RSR on Twitter, Facebook, RSS, or E-mail.

1 comment (may contain spoilers):

  1. I agree with the rating and the review.

    Well worth reading for award consideration.

    They went to elf-land. That in itself explains it all.