Sunday, January 23, 2005

BOOK OF BALLADS by Charles Vess

This was a pleasant surprise to see, as I somehow missed any announcement or solicitation. Tor Books recently published a hardcover volume collecting the "ballads" portion of Charles Vess' self-published BALLADS AND SAGAS series of the mid-1990s, with the nine ballad adaptations (as scripted by various fantasy authors) from the original series, plus four done since then (two published in other anthologies, two new here). Missing is the unfinished "saga" part of the series, the "Skade" story. Vess' art is always a pleasure to look at, no matter what the subject (I even got his Spider-Man book), and I tend to like his black and white line art even more than his painting, which is mostly what I've seen in his projects in the interim (in STARDUST with Neil Gaiman and ROSE with Jeff Smith). It's great to see it getting reproduced in such a nicely designed package.

Of the four new stories, I liked "The Great Selchie of Sule Skerry" (with Jane Yolen) best. The story moves well, and the moody art is just insanely well rendered. "The Three Lovers" (with Lee Smith) is also really nice, using a more open art style and an interesting stage play layout. "Alison Gross", which Vess soloed on, is an interesting piece, with some nice bits of horror-based fantasy. "The Black Fox" (with Emma Bull) is interesting for being based on a contemporary ballad-like songs rather than a traditional ballad, and doesn't appear to have any fantasy elements for the first two-thirds of the story. It's very pretty, but I get a feeling I'm missing a joke at the end.

Of the reprints, they were all a pleasure to see again, but I especially liked Jane Yolen's adaptation of "King Henry" and Delia Sherman's "The Daemon Lover" (which is one of the few I actually know the tune to, which helps a lot).

Quite a bit of supporting material on the background of the ballad form, lyrics to each song adapted and a detailed discography section about some of the available modern interpretations.

The hardcover is available now, there'll apparently be a softcover in the fall.

ISBN: 076531214X

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