London, 1812 | Yount, Year of the Owl
What would you give to make good on the sins of your past? For merchant Barnabas McDoon, the answer is: everything.
When emissaries from a world called Yount offer Barnabas a chance to redeem himself, he accepts their price to voyage to Yount with the key that only he can use to unlock the door to their prison. But bleak forces seek to stop him: Yount's jailer, a once-human wizard who craves his own salvation, kidnaps Barnabas's nephew. A fallen angel, a monstrous owl with eyes of fire, will unleash Hell if Yount is freed. And, meanwhile, Barnabas's niece, Sally, and a mysterious pauper named Maggie seek with dream-songs to wake the sleeping goddess who may be the only hope for Yount and Earth alike.
About the Author
Daniel A. Rabuzzi studied folklore and mythology in college and graduate school, and keeps one foot firmly in the Other Realm. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Sybil’s Garage, Shimmer, ChiZine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Abyss&Apex, Goblin Fruit, Mannequin Envy and Scheherezade’s Bequest. He has also had twenty scholarly and professional articles published on subjects ranging from fairytale to finance. A former banker, Daniel earned his doctorate in 18th-century history, with a focus on issues of family, gender and commerce in northern Europe. He is now an executive at a global non-profit organization that provides educational materials to children from under-resourced and traditionally marginalized communities. Daniel lives in New York City with his wife and soul-mate, the artist Deborah A. Mills, along with the requisite two cats. Contact Daniel at www.DanielARabuzzi.com.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from The Choir Boats by Daniel A. Rabuzzi
Prologue: Two Streets in London
The young woman counted "Otu, abua, ato, ano, ise, isii, asaa" using what remained to her of the secret language her mother had learned from her father, the language they had used in the place across the ocean when they did not want the white men with whips to understand. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven ... we need seven to succeed, seven to open the way. Chi di, there is still daylight left, still time, but not much."
She stood near dusk in a blind alley in Whitechapel on the verge of the City of London. Distant notes drifted down from the sliver of sky far above, bells tolling the Feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday in 1812. The young woman (little more than a girl, perhaps sixteen years of age) pulled her worn-out sailor's coat around her and knotted her red kerchief against the cold. She scratched numbers on the brick wall in front of her, deepening the grooves made hundreds of times before. Staring at the numbers until the bricks faded, until she could see deep into herself and beyond, the girl hummed.
Rooks flew over rooftops but she did not heed their calls. She was on the marches of ala mmuo, the realm of the spirits. There she met the ancestors, the ndichie, who spoke of pride burnished under the sun, the heart of courageous healing, the brown eye of wisdom. Today she went farther than she ever had before, led on by the humming of a thousand bees at a thousand bee-ships, until she neared the border to another land. The moon in that place illuminated a row of pillars on a ridge in the distance, pillars topped with watching creatures.One shape lifteditself off a pillar, a white owl as large as a house, an owl with a swallow's tail streaming behind it as it flew towards her. The young woman fled the owl's reshing beak, escaped from the borderland, turned back to see the owl circling at an invisible threshold. Its cry pierced the humming, followed her as she tumbled away.
Falling, she caught a glimpse of a young white woman reading by candlelight in an attic. A golden cat sat in the white woman's lap. The walls of the attic leaned inward, the roof sagging like a thumb seeking an insect to squash. The white woman thrust the book up against the room's slow throttle; the cat arched its back and spat. The candle flame shrank. The white woman threw back her head and opened her mouth, trying to sing but only gasping. The candle went out.
The woman in the alley ceased humming, fell back into herself. Before she awoke fully to her body, she heard the beating of a great drum and the booming of a great bella drum with eyes and a bell rimmed by living fire, out of which came a voice soothing and powerful, neither male nor female yet both at the same time.
"Uche chukwu ga-eme, God's will shall be done," intoned the voice in the secret language and in English. "Seven singers for turning to the people a pure language. 'But who shall lead them? From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia and Cush, the daughter of the dispersed ...'"
A figure emerged in the mist on Mincing Lane. He wore a coat from the previous century, a reddish coat that seemed to shift with the vagaries of the fog. Porters, carriage-men and servants passed him by but would be hard-pressed to describe him in that instant and had forgotten him entirely by the time they reached their destinations. Only the rooks wheeling overhead in the late-afternoon sky might have known what the man was, but no one understands their calls. Unheeded, the rooks returned to their towers as the church bells ceased tolling for the Feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday of 1812.
The man in the crimson coat scanned Mincing Lane, a thoroughfare between Fenchurch Street and Great Tower Street not far from the Thames in the City of London. He found the three-story counting house of a merchant, unremarkable except for its dolphin shaped door knocker and pale blue window trim. Without removing his gaze from the house, he took from one pocket a shrivelled apple. Fastidiously, he ate. His eyes took in the house, knowing as they already did every angle and every surface. Keeping pace with his eyes, his tongue and teeth delicately destroyed the fruit.
He was down to the core when the first light came on in the house. One window glowed in the mist, flickered as someone inside crossed the candle. He stopped eating, apple core held like a halfmoon twixt finger and thumb. A candle was lighted in an attic room, illuminating a golden cat sitting on the window sill. The man's coat undulated, restless and ruddy. Night came. The cold increased but the coat-man disregarded it; he had been much colder before.
Very faint, the man heard a hum in the back of his mind. Eyes still on the house, he sought inward and outward and round-ward, chasing the source of the sound. No good. The ghost whisper of a hum faded, eluding him as it had for a long age of this earth. Somewhere above the fog the moon rose. The housemoored and complacentwas unaware of him, or aware only as a sleeper is, in some deep recess of thought beyond waking.
The man in the coat swallowed the core in one bite. "Soon," he said to the house. The next moment, he was gone.
What People are Saying About This
"(A) tale, a yarn, an event of storytelling rather than a straight adventure or fantasy, its pace and characters are those of the best fireside story tellers rather than of a modern fantasy."--(Hagelrat, UN:BOUND)
"With full flanks ahead, The Choir Boats charts a magical course of verve and wit through a richly detailed nineteenth-century world, spinning off little arabesques of wonderment with every turn of the page."--(Matt Kressel, author & founder of Five Senses Press)
"The Choir Boats mixes all the best elements of folklore, Georgian romance, and fantasy to produce an eloquently crafted tale . . . The tale is a significant contribution to the field of fantasy . . . The Choir Boats is Gulliver's Travels crossed with The Golden Compass and a dollop of Pride and Prejudice. Rabuzzi has a true sense of wonder . . . I cannot praise Daniel Rabuzzi or The Choir Boats enough. This story is unique (and) an instant classic of fantasy, and perhaps even the co-progenitor (with Novik, Clarke, and a few others) of a new subgenre in speculative fiction."--(John Ottinger, author of Grasping for the Wind)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In an age dominated by mass-market fiction, writing of this caliber rarely makes it into print, which makes The Choir Boats an especially delightful discovery. I've never really been a fan of the fantasy genre (Lord of the Rings excepted), but The Choir Boats may bring me around. Dickensian in its colorful characters and in its wit and charm, this book is a feast for any reader who enjoys first-rate writing, whatever the genre. The novel is grandly symbolic (good versus evil) without falling into pedantry or ever allowing its deeper significance to spoil a good tale. And if you enjoy a treasure chest of historical and literary allusions, The Choir Boats is definitely for you. Erudite, sophisticated, restrained.Rabuzzi is an exciting new talent. I look forward to the rest of the series.
If you're an impatient person, don't read this book. If you don't love literature, especially classical literature, don't read this book. If you don't have a sense of humour, most definitely do not read this book.If, however, like me you enjoy a brain-teaser, a poke at literary figures, a story that is complex, and a writer who is not afraid to cross boundaries and genres, then by all means treat yourself and cuddle up with The Choir Boats by Daniel A. Rabuzzi. This story is set in a quasi-Napoleonic War Era, part steam-punk, part Victorian gothic literature, part homage to Jules Verne. Throughout the novel there are allusions to literary characters from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Melville, and more I've now forgotten. The concept (an alternate reality marooned and its people given punishment of Biblical proportions)is a deliciously unique twist on a known trope, and the characters Rabuzzi sculpts, like Pygmalion's creations, are infused with life. The narrative voice rings with period authenticity without being cumbersome, and the tension, for the most part, is kept taught despite a complex plot.I will most definitely seek out more by Rabuzzi. And I exhort you to go and find your own copy of The Choir Boats.
With a mixture of epic fantasy and steampunk, this story is unique and enjoyable. There are prophecies, quests, adventures, along with magic that is run by mathematical equations and science. This is exactly the sort of story I love. The world Rabuzzi creates in The Choir Boats is fascinating. I love Yount, its customs, and its history. My only complaint is that I didn't see enough of this new world.There are definitely a lot of twists and turns throughout this story, which I greatly enjoyed. The lines are blurred between who is "good" and who is "bad," which always makes for a fun read. There are references to quite a few literary works, which amused me. (For example, at one point, it is mentioned a Miss Bennett is staying with her Uncle Gardiner.) There is also a lot of history, folklore, and descriptions of different countries. Rabuzzi really tries to pack everything in, and does so fairly successfully, I think.While the story is engaging, the writing held me back from enjoying this as much as I could have. Because most of the plot points, descriptions, and explanations are revealed through dialogue, I felt that this story was shallow. Not enough detail is given and not enough time is spent on the important things. Also, I wasn't able to form a connection with the characters, because all I get from them is dialogue. I was never able to observe them, judge their actions, and relate to their emotions.Another thing that bothered me was the advanced vocabulary. This is supposed to be a children's book, and while I don't usually complain about giving children a challenge, there are a lot of difficult, advanced words thrown in. I think this was an attempt to provide some vocabulary words for children, but there were far too many and it affected the smoothness of the story.I do think that the writing gets significantly better at the end. Sally, who felt more like a nine-year-old at the beginning rather than a girl in her late teens, grows up and I start to like her quite a bit more. The story starts coming together and things finally start happening. Unfortunately, the book ends before we can get any more good stuff, and we have to wait for the sequel to get more.This is a story that children can really dive into and love. While I do think The Choir Boats had the potential to be better, it is still a fun, worthwhile read and I am definitely planning to read the sequel.