Return to Labyrinth, vol. 1. No, no, no, no, no. This isn’t Labyrinth. The Labyrinth is there, and the fantastic creatures, but it has had its heart cut out. The movie had its flaws, but it was wonderful and powerful, and if the main character was spoiled she was also lively and active and if she made mistakes she also made progress and friends. Volume 1 of Return to Labyrinth had none of that. For a moment there was a glimpse of grown-up Sarah, which was like seeing a glimpse of an old friend – heartbreaking because her life now appears to revolve around Toby (who seems to have grown very much into Nick from Deep Secret, but without any of the charm). I enjoyed the creatures and places, some known, some new, some developed (the forest of hat-birds! loved it). But it is, so far, a story of a spoiled and discontented child being led (not enough emotion to be ‘dragged’) against his will into a life of fantasy and privilege, which isn’t the same thing as a spoiled and self-centred child on the point of making a terrible mistake and jumping in feet-first to fix it and travelling through dangers unnumbered and hardships uncounted and loyal friendships and seductive promises and finally growing up. I will read another volume if it comes my way, just to see if the story becomes a deeper story, but it left me cold and sad and wondering if anyone ever can return to Labyrinth. Someone once, long ago, began a fanfiction novel which I found and read unfinished, and it promised so much more than this. On the art: this was my first manga and I do not think, from art I have seen around, that I should judge all manga by the quality of the artwork in this which was sometimes inconsistent to the point of distraction.

The Orphan Tales: In the Night Garden – Catherynne Valente. Fabulous. A filigreed nesting-box of wonderful stories. A thousand-and-one stories each part of the other. A genealogy of delight. The assistant editor at Bantam Dell whose card you can’t quite see on this page of my journal recommended it to me at a function at the Australian Consulate in New York. I could not find it in the days left to us in New York. It subsequently won the World Fantasy award and when I came home I ordered it at Pulp Fiction and – eventually – it arrived. It deserved the award. Now, when I started the book I was not sure whether it would leave me cold, and the first story, the upper layer, the framing story is on its surface a small tale and unfolds only at great intervals across the book. But the tales the girl with all the stories written across her eyelids told were luminous and strange, rendolent of Arabian nights and Norse legends and European maerchen, yet never retellings or rephrasings – always fresh and new and surprising and lovely and shocking and heartbreaking. Lovely monsters and terrible fates, wars and treachery, ambition, love, gold and starlight and foxes and otters, bears and phoenixes and Beasts, creatures of the stars that burn the grass they tread on, creatures of the moon which inhabit and discard cratered bodies, cities of rose domes, of spice, of towers built of ships and bones. And gradually each story feeds into the others, loops back, is threaded through, brushes against the others and builds a world of beauty and dark secrets. And if there were no further book I would be happy in the story – but now I do know and care about the upper layers and am very glad there is a second half, which is on order and I will report back on as soon as possible.

The Fantasy Artist’s Reference File – Peter Evans. I said I might review this. It was – oh, it’s the illustrated version of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland without the self-awareness or deliberate humour. (I think. There were a couple sections where I thought the author must be having a dig at his audience). It is a volume of photo-references of figures poses and costumes, complete with CD of images. The production values are high, the models appear very healthy and there are some unexpected inclusions. And I can’t not laugh. On a pay-per-read it may be one of the cheapest books I’ve bought. It includes poses, costume details, figure reference, facial expressions, ‘classic poses’ and suggestions for illustrating the following: Barbarian Warrior, Warrior Woman, Elven Warrior, Elven Queen, Fairy, Princess, Wicked Sorceress, Warrior Prince, Wizard, Evil Sorcerer, Warrior Dwarf, Cleric, Peasant Boy, Peasant Girl, Norseman and Goblin. And oh the cliches, they burn! And the intricate back stories and descriptions for barely related photographs (did you know: “Elves’ eyesight is far better than that of humans. They have a greater color spectrum and can see in the near dark”)! And the sight of a bearded, wise wizard in his underwear! What is seen cannot be unseen… Some noteable pose titles include: Death to the Dragon! Come forth, my paladins. Get back hordes of chaos. Dragon bait. Midnight abduction (two of these). I will rend your soul. Aaarrghhhh! No, that is not the way to do it. I had it when we left. Notable costume elements: Baggy hose (seriously, if they had not pointed it out I would not have noticed and now I cannot look away!). Puffy gold-lame wristlets. Skullband (as in, a headband on a skull).

I also read several short stories including ‘Tongue before Sword’ which received a longer review here, and Matthew.