A review by Paul Westermeyer
One of the more unique aspects of the fantasy and science fiction literature genres is the strong attachment of the fans. A large percentage of the fans do not merely read and enjoy the stories but do their best to live them, the genres become a lifestyle. Along with that strong attachment is a great desire to write themselves. Few people sit down to write their own The Great Gatsby or The Old Man and the Sea, but almost all fantasy fans at least imagine that they can write an epic in the mode of The Lord of the Rings, and even more try at least once to come out with their own versions of Howard’s Conan stories.
On the one hand, this sparks the vast quantities of fan fiction out there which is sometimes horrifically bad, sometimes surprisingly good, but always intellectually compromised. On the other hand, it leads to new writers, a surprisingly high number of fantasy authors started as fantasy literature fans. I have learned to be leery of such authors, I get sent many requests and often they are just not quite there. I hate telling such folks I find their writing subpar, however, since I prefer to be encouraging. After all, like all the other fantasy fans out there, I have two unfinished novels sitting on my hard drive. I am acutely aware where I fall in the fantasy fan writing spectrum!
Noah Chinn has lived the dream, however. Noah is familiar to Knights of the Dinner Table readers as the creator and author of Fuzzy Knights, one of the magazines’ longest running side strips. That in itself gives him great fan credit, but now he has gone beyond that level of fandom and written a fantasy novel.
Bleeding Heart Yard slips back and forth between Canada and London as it tells the story of a young man afflicted with a course. Peter is the cursed young man; Red is the son of the guilty witch and Peter’s friend. There are two female characters, Eve and Amy, one a cop, one a writer. The characters are at heart all typical young hipsters that many readers will recognize as themselves or their friends. The geographic center of the tale is Bleeding Heart Yard, a famous courtyard in London’s Farringdon area that is rife with legends. The different plot threads lead, as the reader quickly realizes they must, to a climactic confrontation in the Yard.
The novel is firmly in the modern ‘urban fantasy’ subgenre which has grown so popular of late, but thankfully it is neither as gory nor a raunchy as one typically finds in this genre. In other words, it is not cleverly disguised soft-core erotica. At heart, it is a tale of love and friendship, but a very self-aware sort of romance. Chinn has a talent for realistic modern dialogue and believable reactions from modern young folks fully aware of current pop culture faced with extraordinary events.
A wry, under-stated humor permeates the writing, if you enjoy Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels, you will almost certainly enjoy this novel. Though the magic is far less over the top and the tone generally is a muted compared to Butcher’s work.
For gamemasters, this novel is yet another excellent example for those running modern games, whether World of Darkness, The Dresden Files, or even the Buffy the Vampire Slayer role-playing game. It provides, especially, an excellent example for building an intriguing scenario around a real, legendary location. It might work best as an example of how not to handle law enforcement in such games, however, since this is one of the novel’s few weaknesses – the law enforcement characters aside from Eve are a touch unrealistic and clichéd. The “World on the Left” is a nice, bare-bones example of the effects of myriad shape-changers on a society.
Bleeding Heart Yard grabbed me right away, I looked forward to reading it, and was sad when it ended (though happily, it is well set up for sequels). Chinn’s style is engaging, the world is fun, and the characters are sympathetic. He handles technology deftly, present but not overwhelming the story.
Don’t read this because Chinn wrote for Knights of the Dinner Table or to support a fellow fan’s writing aspirations. Read it because you want a fun, engaging, clever novel.
Paul Westermeyer is a professional military historian for the United States Marine Corps. He’s read fantasy and science fiction voraciously since the mid-Seventies, and reviews books for Knights of the Dinner Table magazine in a column called Off The Shelf.