Mythic Transformations, by Kris Schnee – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Mythic Transformations, by Kris Schnee
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, December 2017, trade paperback, $7.99 (189 pages), Kindle $2.99.

This collection of fourteen short stories by Schnee is about transformations rather than anthropomorphic characters. “In this story collection, people not only encounter these beings but become them.” (blurb)

“Guardians of Mistcrown” is set in a traditional fantasy world. Darius, a young mapmaker, is looking for a new caravan route through the Mistcrown mountains. He finds a cave guarded by Zara, a griffin, who is compelled to kill anyone who comes too close to a hidden source of magical mana. Darius and Zara trade bodies, to Darius’ dismay. But he finds that there are advantages to being a powerful, flying, ageless griffin – if he can just break the wizard’s spell that binds him to the mountain cave with the mana.

“The Petlyakov-15 Amusement Engine” is for video-game geeks.

Devjn, a hard-core video-gamer, finds an old 1980s Eastern Bloc video game in a yard sale.

“He called the saleslady over from her busy work of rearranging battered stuffed animals. ‘Is this some kind of custom case on a Nintendo?’

She shrugged. ‘It was my cousin’s, but then he moved out all of the sudden. Wasted all of his time playing video games.’” (p. 27)

Devin is intrigued by the “PE-15” Cyrillic lettering, and amused by its apparent imitation of old American/Japanese video games.

“The next day he dug up a copy of ‘The Legend of Zelda’ and blew dust out of it. He smiled at the shine of the classic golden cartridge. The PE-15 came on and showed him … ‘The Legend of Svetlana’?” (p. 28)

Devin plays deeper and deeper into the PE-15. Since Mythic Transformations is a collection of stories of “people not only encounter[ing] these beings but become[ing] them”, the only question is what will Devin turn into? Hint: it isn’t a fairy-tale princess.

“Little Grey Dragons” takes place in a classic poor Russian village. Washerwoman Alexi’s brother Petrov, the blacksmith’s assistant, finds two strange warm eggs in the forest.

“They turned at a noise from the egg that Alexi had touched. It was cracking. Alexi stared as the cracks spread for several long minutes, and finally a creature’s head emerged. Grey flesh, a grey snout, and a grey eye watching her. She stood there frightened and confused. ‘Petrov,’ she whispered, ‘what is this?’

Petrov murmured, ‘Not Firebirds. Zmei.’ He stared at the other egg, obviously willing it to crack, and it began to do so.” (p. 37)

Petrov determines to use the dragons, Washer and Cinder, to make their fortunes. Alexi becomes more fearful that he is overreaching himself. Eventually Petrov becomes Cinder:

“Alexi froze. Petrov, or the dragon, or whatever they had become, reared up on powerful hindlegs and crushed a boulder. There was no Cinder, only one being that was as large as her old cottage. She stared up into a fanged muzzle that was like an echo of her brother’s face.” (p. 58)

In “Griffin Rider Venn”, Venn is a farm boy who is drafted into the town militia and ordered to guard – something. When the militia is defeated by Imperial soldiers riding dragons, Venn flees into the forest until he comes to an overgrown ziggurat.

“The light took him through twisting halls to a room so big its upper reaches were lost in the shadows, hinting at a tangle of metal cords up there. All along the walls stood glassy jars bigger than a wagon on end and covered with frost. Venn shivered. Whatever this stuff was, it came from ancient times and might do anything at all. No two legends agreed on what the ancient world had been like, except that it had ended in collapse and the forgetting of many wonders. Some of which were dangerous to learn.” (pgs. 62-63)

One of the glassy jars decants a griffin that Venn names Nev and learns to ride as an aerial battle charger. The reader won’t be surprised when Venn becomes Nev early in the story. It’s more about how he as a flying griffin combats the Imperial human-mounted dragons to save his people.

“Kentauroi” is obviously about centaurs, if you know your Greek. Cecrops and his tribe are building a new community in ancient Greece when Athena and Poseidon appear before him.

“Cecrops stood up, shaking, and dared to speak. ‘I don’t understand, glorious ones.’

Athena sighed hard enough to rustle the trees. ‘Don’t bother with flattery. You’ve already been marked by fate. You and your clan are destined to rule this land and build a mighty city. The great wet one over there, and myself, will offer you gifts. All we want is for you to choose one of us as your patron goddess.’

‘Or god,’ Poseidon rumbled.” (p. 78)

Whichever one Cecrops chooses, he is bound to offend the other one, and the Greek gods are notorious for punishing those who offend them. The title gives away what Cecrops and his tribe are turned into. But is being a powerful horse-man really such a curse?

“Ivan and the Black Riders” (reprinted from ROAR vol. 6) is a sequel to “Little Grey Dragons”. It’s also the first story in which the protagonist gets to choose what he becomes. Petrov, now the powerful Dragonlord, offers to recruit Ivan.

“The dragoness [Alexi] held the scroll up to Petrov’s left eye. The Dragonlord rumbled, ‘As I thought. My lieutenant says you’re a former mercenary with a good head on his shoulders. You wish to be young and healthy again? Then join my Black Riders.’

Ivan straightened, feeling the weight of years seem to lift from him already. He guessed: ‘The wolves outside?’

Petrov tapped dagger-length claws on the floor. ‘Exactly. You wouldn’t cross one of them, would you? You’ll have the brains of a man, and be healthier than you ever were while killing some tribe of goat-screwing bandits or bowing to your local Tsarevich bastard. You like hounds, yes? All I ask is that you become mine.’

Ivan stood in the hot cavern, staring at the dragon. He’d come this far; he’d made a sacrifice. If the Dragonlord wanted to change him, it was worth accepting. He lowered himself to his creaking knees and said, ‘Yes, my lord.’

Petrov smiled and shrank. Ivan startled. The Dragonlord had become human, a young man in flame-colored robes. He paced around Ivan, casting shifting shadows. ‘What shall I try? I’ve been experimenting with my powers. I could make you a nice stealthy black wolf, or white with powers of healing and inquisition, or red for battle. Maybe a she-wolf? They can fight. Or even a pup that I can put through a few extra years of training.’” (pgs. 88-89)

Ivan chooses a black wolf-man, to become one of the Dragonlord’s Black Riders. Later, he comes to regret his choice. What he does about it is the story.

The remaining eight stories are short, mostly under ten pages each except the last, “The Temple Beneath the Ashes”. A couple are not transformation tales, but all are fantasies. Mythic Transformations (cover by Fotokostic) is an enjoyable collection of imaginative fantasies, almost all about men (or women) transforming into something other than human.

Fred Patten

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