Not too long ago, I reviewed a book called Down the Dragon Hole by author Morgon Newquist. In that review, I discussed the way Mrs. Newquist both embraces and plays with traditional swords and sorcery conventions:
It sounds basic, but the set-up works for such a short story. And while there are plenty of genre tropes to satisfy your fantasy itch–mystical creatures, magical spells, swordfights, and magic battles–it’s the non-genre elements that give Down the Dragon Hole it’s heft. There are bigger themes at play than dragon-hunting, themes like expanding one’s moral and intellectual horizons, fighting off extinction, and what is lawful versus what is right.
Ms. Newquist also twists some genre conventions in the forms of Alis and Cahan themselves. They embody the stereotypes of their roles while at the same time breaking free of them, making both Alis and Cahan fun characters I’d like to read more about.
Well here we are, and I’m finally getting around to exploring the world of Alis and Cahan more.
A Midsummer’s Party is the second book in Mrs. Newquist’s School of Spells & War series, and while this is a short work focused on one night at the titular university, it serves as an interstitial character piece leading into the next volume, The Cinder Witch. The set-up is as simple as it gets: The warrior Cahan and the wizerd Alis have been adventuring partners since their adventure in the first book. During Midsummer break, when most students are partying outside, Alis is in the library studying. It isn’t until two of Cahan’s warrior friends, Saer and Elyas, and her own wizard friend Brien interrupt her that she learns it’s Cahan’s birthday. And she hasn’t gotten him a gift.
I won’t get into the plot much further, since A Midsummer’s Party is short enough that any spoiler would be too much, but Mrs. Newquist does a great job of developing the characters, connecting the admittedly slight story to plot points first brought up in Down the Dragon Hole, and setting up further adventures of Alis and Cahan.
I particularly like the romance aspect of it. Call me corny, but there it is. I always find it a bit disappointing when a story doesn’t have any romance.
Like the first book, the “will they or won’t they?” aspect is there. Because the story really isn’t about the birthday gift itself. It’s about Alis coming out of her shell, letting her hair down and engaging in a bit of mischief, and allowing her highly introverted self to become more of an adventurer. Setting A Midsummer’s Party in the school gives it a bit of an 80s college movie vibe, complete with tweaking the uptight dean’s nose and breaking a few rules.
My only gripe is that Cahan seems a little too perfect, but I’m sure we’ll learn more about his story as time unfolds. And he also provides a good foil to the far more fallible Alis.
But let me tell you what I appreciate about these stories more than anything: their sincerity. It’s not a “deconstruction” of fantasy tropes for the purpose of laughing at the works of the past. It’s a loving homage to those traditions in episodic form, with each self-contained story acting as a piece of a larger tale. Pulp speed ahead!