D.P. Woolliscroft continues his Wildfire Cycle with Tales of Kingshold, a collection of short stories and novelettes adding depth and detail to the adventure begun with Kingshold. These quick forays back into the world Woolliscroft created offer stories that are a mixture of amusement, insight, and narrative advancement integral to the continuing plot line.
I should confess at the outset that I’m really hard to please when it comes to short stories. I usually struggle with short stories and short story collections. For me they can be very hit and miss. This is largely because of how much has to be done in such a short space of words. The author must tell a story with beginning, middle, and end; a narrative hook that pulls me in, characters I care about, a conflict I’m drawn into, and a resolution that feels satisfying in some way. With a full length novel the author can take time to develop all of the above. With short stories the time and space isn’t there. For this reason I don’t often read them because I’m often let down. I admit this probably says more about me as a reader than it does about short stories and their authors, but it’s what’s true for me.
Where collections like Tales of Kingshold have an advantage is in the fact I’ve already become invested in the larger story and it’s characters. What remains to be seen is whether I’m drawn into the individual stories enough to stick with them and not set the book down and walk away. Ultimately the question is whether the stories in the collection expand enough upon what’s come before with new and exciting elements to keep me turning the pages.
Tales of Kingshold succeeded in doing that.
Mind you…I didn’t love every bit of it — That would be an impossibility for me and perhaps many readers. I did however find a lot to enjoy. Tales Of Kingshold is written with Woolliscroft’s usual style mix of humor and serious action with a sprinkling of pathos here and there at just the right moments. In it you’ll find old characters you love, new characters you’ll want to read more about, and additional world-building details you won’t want to miss.
The remainder of this review assumes you’ve read Kingshold already. If you haven’t there may be minor spoilers. I’ll try to keep them to a bare minimum.
“Introduction” – I was immediately struck by the “Introduction” penned by from the perspective of Mareth who is in many ways now alone in his role as Lord Protector and looking back upon events that led to his present situation. It is he who has collected this set of stories which he reminisces over stating, “these memories are my only joy” setting a somewhat sad and heavy tone for what’s to come. For a quick and simple introduction I thought this was really well done.
“From Father To Daughter” – A quick story mostly in the form of a letter from Jyuth to Neenahwi explaining his decision to abandon Kingshold (and her). This offering is less of a story and more of an info-dump, but it’s executed well through the guise of the letter format. What makes this an important part of the collection is the background it provides on Jyuth’s past, his mysterious mentor, and on Llewdon their nemesis across the sea.
“Twin Lies” – I’ll admit “Twin Lies” was not one of my favorite of the lot. It provides a bit of background on Florian prior to the events of Kingshold. I won’t give too much away, but it tells of how he left home and became a mercenary. It’s a sad tale of memory in many ways and I wanted to really enjoy it but I felt the narrative was a little forced and the dialogue stilted.
“Jyuth On Magic” – This isn’t really a story but a series of interludes throughout the book in the form of a treatise written by the mage Jyuth on the topic of magic in the world. He covers the individual topics of “Sources of Magical Power”, “Inanimate Sources of Magical Power”, “Magic Weaving”, “Applications of Magic”, and “Necromancy.” These topics on a theme offer insight and depth to the world-building of the Wildfire Cycle in general and the magic system in particular in a way that is interesting and avoids that info-dump feel given the chosen format.
“All That Shimmers” – This was a story that adds a little depth to the world-building background surrounding the magical stones like the one Neenahwi found in Kingshold. It also delves deeper into the story of the Deep People, mining methods, and magic. Centered on a new character Kyle The Chiseler, it explores themes of friendship between races and creatures while adding to the overall world-building and magic system. While this didn’t make my list of favorite Tales, it did hit me in the feels a bit with emotions of love and loss.
“Narrowing It Down” – This was a story centered on the sisters Alana and Petra. In it, the sisters attempt to get to the source of the animosity between Dyer and Lud, two ward leaders in Kingshold who were once friends but after some incident in their past are now always in opposition to each other. The sisters must work to discover the truth without getting into a fight between themselves. Kind of sad and a little sappy, this may have been my least favorite of the bunch. It wasn’t a bad story, it just didn’t do much for me. It did add a little to the world-building for the city of Kingshold but not really to the overall narrative.
“The Working Dead” – This was a fun little Tale about the undead. The mercenary trio Tripp, Florian, and Motega are hired to help a town investigate whether a mage who once took over their community with an undead army has returned. While not doing much for the overall world-building of the Wildfire Cycle (at least as far as I know at the moment), this story was fun and amusing with an ending that wasn’t expected.
“From The Desk Of Lord Marchial Eden” – This one almost made it to my list of top favs from the collection, but I wanted to keep that to three. Told in the guise of a series of letters that Eden is writing to various confidants after fleeing Kingshold upon the election of Mareth, this epistolary narrative is a somewhat forlorn Tale exploring the loss of the Marchial’s influence as his support among peers and friends ebbs away. What I really liked about this story was the way I could feel the losses Eden suffers through the letters he pens. It also seems to set up the potential for problems in Kingshold’s future. For both story and world-building this was a good addition.
Now the picks for my top three favs of the collection…
“Of Buccaneers And Bards” – Here we get a little insight into Mareth’s past when he is swept up among a pirate crew. It helps to explain Mareth’s melancholy and drunkenness at the outset of Kingshold and this adds to his character development. But this story isn’t really about Mareth, he’s just a side character. It’s really the story of Kolsen, the down on his luck corsair who goes from prisoner, to galley slave, to pirate captain. Some important world-building and a couple narrative twists that I wasn’t expecting made earned this one a slot in the top three.
“Hollow Inside” – First let me say I’m a sucker for fantasy school narratives. Second, let me say that one of the elements I loved most about Kingshold that I felt needed more attention but that didn’t get it was the assassins guild The Hollow Syndicate. Well in this Tale I got both! This story is set within the walls of The Hollow Syndicate. Upon the death of one of its members the top students within the school are offered a slot among the full members of the guild. But first they must pass a test that could mean their death…at each other’s hands. Mystery, tension, and high-stakes made this a favorite of the set in addition to the overall world-building it provided. I’m really hoping for more of the Syndicate in future books.
“Circles” – The final installment of this collection is the one that provides the most to the overall world-building and narrative of the Wildfire Cycle. In it Neenahwi finally goes to fulfill her tribal duty to explore her calling. Here we get character development situated in the pain of memories past, and the determination of whether to do something about it. I don’t want to give away anything important to the larger story so I’ll just say it adds a LOT to the Neenahwi’s background and the overall history of the world in the proceeding decades/centuries. It also seems to potentially set up future books in the series. It has a depth that goes beyond any of the other stories in the collection.
My trepidation about reading a short story collection was unfounded in this case. I enjoyed this read and the manner in which Woolliscroft expanded upon his world and the characters who inhabit it. While not every Tale was great in my opinion the majority kept me interested and turning pages. My top three favs made me want to recommend Tales Of Kingshold to anyone who read and enjoyed Kingshold. You should definitely read that book before this one however.
Author: D.P. Woolliscroft
Series: Wildfire Cycle 1.5
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars