Sunday, 14 July 2013

‘The Coral Heart’ – Jeffrey Ford

I love it when I post my thoughts on a book and the author pops a comment next to the post (or emails) a few days later. It’s like another little window into the world I’ve just been reading about and a far cry from the days when it was just me and the book. No blogs, no comments, no forums; the world seemed quite a lonely place when I was growing up…

With this in mind then, I’m going to add a little extra paragraph here before I get going with the review itself…

Dear Jeffrey,

Please write more stories about Ismet Toler; write a whole novel if you have the time. I’d read them and I’d tell everyone else to do the same.



Sorry about that, everyone else, but I really enjoyed reading ‘The Coral Heart’ and ‘Spirits of Salt’ (in ‘Fearsome Journeys’, review to come once I’ve finished reading the rest of the book). Hang around a little while and I’ll tell you why. Before we get started though, I read ‘The Coral Heart’ in Tachyon’s ‘The Sword and Sorcery Anthology’ but you can also find it in ‘Eclipse Three’ (edited by Jonathan Strahan). Either is good :o)

Ismet Toler is very much the 21st century of Elric, a wandering swordsman with a powerful sword (the slightest cut will turn a person into coral) and no real moral compass guiding him in its use. ‘The Coral Heart’ sees Toler stay in a palace where he will fall in love and confront the repercussions of a chance swing of his own blade…

I’ve read a few ‘Sword and Sorcery’ tales, in my time, and ‘The Coral Heart’ is one of the more thoughtful ones that I have come across; preferring to take the focus away from the ‘Tribulation and certain death’ of the left hand path and place it on the right hand path where love awaits. It's like Ford is deliberately steering us away from typical 'Sword and Sorcery Tropes' (although he doesn't ignore them entirely) and onto something a little different instead.That’s not to say that nothing happens at all, there is plenty going on here with a neat little twist coupled with a tense stand off between Toler and… that would be telling. It’s ‘Sword and Sorcery’ that we’re looking at here, no doubt about it. I really appreciated the slight change in focus though which makes ‘The Coral Heart’ stand out from the rest of the pack. Toler is a man clearly used to having whatever he wants and long past caring about the fate of the people that he has cut with his blade. The machinations of the Lady Maltomass rob Toler of all his power and it’s fascinating to see him suddenly full of indecision, wanting to leave but kept in thrall by the promise of… Well, you know what ‘Sword and Sorcery’ heroes are after once they have filled their pockets with treasure.

It wouldn’t be a ‘Sword and Sorcery’ tale without a little ‘Sword’ and ‘Sorcery’ though and Ford delivers this at just the right moment in the tale. While the result is inevitable, Ford injects the fight scene with just enough uncertainty to have us appreciating Toler’s quick thinking in the heat of battle.
Toler then takes his revenge (never kill a hero’s horse…) and heads off into lands unknowm. There is the promise of his return though and I for one hope that it is sooner rather than later.

At the beginning of ‘The Coral Heart’, Ford appeals to our sensibilities (and perhaps our vanity as well) by saying,

‘Your average citizen enjoys a tale of slaughter. You, though, if I’m not mistaken, understand as well the deadly nature of the human heart and would rather decipher the swordsman’s dreams than the magic spell engraved upon his blade.’

I’d say that Jeffrey Ford certainly delivers on his side of the bargain and ‘The Coral Heart’ is a tale that I think will see me search out more of his books (not just the ‘Sword and Sorcery’ tales either). Well worth a look if you ever come across it.

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