REVIEW: The Long Past and Other Stories by Ginn Hale
The Long Past and Other Stories
1858 – Warring mages open up a vast inland sea that splits the United States in two. With the floodwaters come creatures from a long distant past. What seems like the End Times forges a new era of heroes and heroines who challenge tradition, law, and even death as they transform the Old West into a new world. –In the heart of dinosaur country, a laconic trapper and a veteran mage risk treason to undertake a secret mission. –A brilliant magician and her beautiful assistant light up stages with the latest automaton, but the secrets both of them are hiding test their trust in each other and pit them against one of the most powerful men in the world. –At the wild edge of the Inland Sea, amidst crocodiles and triceratops, an impoverished young man and a Pinkerton Detective must join forces to outmaneuver a corrupt judge and his gunmen.
Dear Ginn Hale,
Your publicist sent an ARC copy of this book to DA, which ended up in my email box, but I did not started reading the book until it was out on Amazon and I purchased it.
Usually I have no will power when it comes to your books, but I think that I just could not bring myself to get too excited about the dinosaurs. I don’t hate the creatures, but I was never inspired to learn more about them behind school history lessons.
There is a warning in the beginning of the book, but there is nothing on Amazon. So, be aware that the second and third story in this book were previously published in different anthologies. The second one “The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus” was in “Magic & Mayhem” from GRNW Press 2016, and the third one “Get Lucky” was in the “Once Upon a Time in the Weird West” anthology from Dreamspinner Press. I also know that “Get Lucky” was expanded but I am not sure how significantly because I haven’t reread the original.
I didn’t think I had previously read “The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus” but, now that I’ve finished, I know that I at least started it before and that anthology is somewhere on my Kindle. Sadly, my impression remains the same. I found the second story to be least impressive of the three and I am pretty sure that I DNFed (did not finish) it the first time around. The time frame of these stories is from 1858 to 1900.
My indifference towards the dinosaurs notwithstanding, the author created a fascinating world in these stories. It reflected some dark events in the real American history, but influenced by magic. The way Ginn Hale shows how magic works in her fictional worlds is one of my favorite things about her stories. Dinosaurs of all kinds come back from from the long forgotten past due to the stupidity, arrogance, and carelessness of mages.
“The Long Past”
The first story takes place in the Colorado territory in the year 1864. This was my favorite and the longest story occupying roughly half of the book. I suspect because it was a longer novella the writer had more pages to flesh out the characters and plot.
The three stories feature different characters but, since they span over forty years, the most significant events that changed the timeline of this world are mentioned briefly in all three stories. “The Long Past” starts six years after the mages opened the rifts that caused various natural disasters, killed many people, split America in two, and brought the dinosaurs back to this world. The POV character in “The Long Past” is Grover who is a trapper and who also happens to be a black man. In the very beginning of the story Grover is watching the airship landing in the place he calls home.
“Theurgist professors, soldiers and maybe even a mage floated up there. All of them coming here to investigate the big blue sea that had flooded the states and territories from Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico. The High Plains had transformed into a seabed. The foothills of the Rocky Mountains had become a chain of islands dotting the blue water, while high peaks now stood like a vast, great levee. As the waters had spread, so had lush fern jungles and the strange, old creatures that inhabited both. Land and lives had been lost, and Fort Arvada had been inundated with refugees.
And yet after six years, this single airship was all the aid the federal government sent. Grover just hoped they’d brought plenty of powdered alchemic stone. The city’s fortifications had been uprooted and stretched thin as paper to enclose as much farmland as possible, but the spells were old and growing weaker with every season. Soon nothing would stand between the farmers of Fort Arvada and the old creatures.”
The mages that arrived on the airship are not very forthcoming with the local population about their plans but one of the mages on the ship is former town resident, Lawrence Wilder. Lawrence left the town eight years prior to join the war in China and six years ago the town received notice of his death.
Lawrence and Grover were a couple for several years, before Lawrence became briefly engaged to their mutual friend (who is now happily married to another wonderful man in town) and then went on to fight a war in a country “half way across the globe”. Grover mourned his lost love for a long time so, of course, now he is confused and conflicted.
I really like when a novella with a romantic relationship portrays an established couple. For me it makes a happy ending more believable because when an author crams an entire love story into a novella, it most often feels rushed. I did buy that these two men were still in love with each other, even if they had to clear a lot of air between them. I absolutely believed in their happy ending because they earned it in such a dangerous adventure. Since the blurb does mention it, I will talk a little more about it.
Lawrence came back because he wanted to see Grover and his loved ones and friends, but his most urgent goal was to close the rifts. As it turned out he was part of the reason why the rifts opened in the first place (not because he wanted it, but basically because he was a soldier). Lawrence eventually asked Grover to help him, after it was clear that Grover actually wanted anything to do with Lawrence. I won’t tell you the details of their journey to close the rifts, but I enjoyed it very much and want to share with you some comic relief of this story.
Grover is this world equivalent of the cowboy, only his “horse” is a riding bird (dinosaur, specifically an avemosaur) called Betty. As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, I am indifferent to dinosaurs but the author won me over and on the way to the place where the rift was opened Betty acquired a suitor. Grover initially was reluctant to allow the courtship since he was very protective of Betty… but true love won.
“Lawrence’s expression turned to confusion. “Is that thing yours?” He didn’t drop his hand but nodded in Betty’s direction. “Betty? Sure. She carries me all around. She’s quicker than any horse and don’t need shoeing.”
“As he spoke Grover realized why Lawrence had appeared so shocked. Though now his expression melted into something more like amusement. “You domesticated an avemosaur?” The hint of an English accent lent Lawrence a disconcertingly foreign tone. He dropped his left hand to his side and peered at Betty, who paid him little mind as she pecked a plump spider from the trunk of an apple tree.”
“In response Lawrence shed enough of his self-consciousness to allow Grover to see him without his shirt in the morning sunlight. Grover suspected they might have laid in late and indulged in some fun if it hadn’t been for Romeo attempting to sneak into their camp and causing a wild commotion when he stepped on a hot coal in the fire”
“That evening, Grover hiked a little distance to refill their canteens from a fresh water spring. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a form burst through the underbrush. Grover whipped up his rifle only to find Romeo gawking at him with disappointment. Clearly, he’d picked up Betty’s scent off of Grover’s leathers and gotten his plumage all glossy and proud for their assignation. “I’m already spoken for,” Grover muttered. Romeo quickly scuttled away, and Grover won a good laugh out of Lawrence when he related the story over dinner that night.”
“The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus”
This story takes place almost thirty years later after the first story. We meet two remarkable women who have a lot of secrets lurking in their past but, after helping to save someone from terrible danger, they eventually deal with the secrets head on in hopes of a safer future.
The blurb does not really mention any important plot points and as I said before I was the least impressed by this story because of the romance. I think it needed to be fleshed out way more than it was. After I finished I still wasn’t sure why Geula and Abril fell in love with each other. I honestly believe it was mostly because this was the shortest story in the anthology (roughly twenty percent of the book) and there simply weren’t enough pages to adequately tell the whole story.
I think what hit me the hardest in this story was Abril’s comment that under law any free mage who wasn’t a Theurgist (a religious designation) could become a slave if they registered their status. The first story gave me hope that the horrors of slavery in real American history could eventually be dealt with in a better way and this was a sharp reminder that same as in the real world nothing was easy in this fictional world either.
This shows that the world-building in these stories affected me a lot, but it also shows that I found throwaway comment to be more powerful than the plight of two heroines. This is not an entirely good thing to me.
The story starts in Riverain Country, Illinois in the year 1896. Dalfon Ellias is pursuing an outlaw who recently committed murder and, on his way to arresting the outlaw, meets a young man named Lucky and falls in love.
A few pages after the beginning of the story it moves up in time to three years later – 1899. This did not work for me. The author attempts to present Lucky and Dafton as established, but I just did not buy. Once again not enough time and pages were spent to show them falling in love and, contrary to the first story where Grover’s longing and remembering his time together with Lawrence convinced me that they were already in love, here it didn’t feel realistic. We only see their first meeting and then three years later we meet Lucky again, who is still angry that his lover left him after several months. And Dalfon is back under very dramatic circumstances, and he and Lucky pretty much have to run for their lives and neutralize some bad people in the process.
The good thing was that, contrary to the second story, I did see the couple in love. But it felt to me that it was in their second meeting that they actually started falling in love for the first time. This may have not been the author’s intention, but this is when I felt their chemistry. I did enjoy the plot and the adventure, and appreciated that some positive societal changes happened in the world of this story.