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Harvest of Changelings
Warren Rochelle
Golden Gryphon, 313 pages

Harvest of Changelings
Warren Rochelle
Warren Gary Rochelle, Assistant Professor of English, Mary Washington College, Fredricksburg, VA, earned his Ph.D. in English and his MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, after receiving his M.S. (1978) in library service from Columbia University and his B.A (1977) in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Rochelle has had his scholarly work published in several journals including Foundation and Extrapolation. His critical work, Communities of the Heart: The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin, was published by Liverpool University Press in 2001. His short fiction and poetry have appeared in various journals such as Beyond the Third Planet, Forbidden Lines, Coraddi, Aboriginal Science Fiction, Colonnades, and Graffiti, as well as the Asheville Poetry Review, GW Magazine, Crucible, The Charlotte Poetry Review, and Romance and Beyond. Dr. Rochelle also is the author of The Wild Boy published by Golden Gryphon Press. Among his awards is the Fullerton Merit Award for Teaching (1999-2000) from Limestone College, Gaffney, S.C. In addition, he has received awards in various contests including a third prize in the Briada Press Short Story Contest (1999) and a second prize in the Coraddi fiction contest (1997). Dr. Rochelle is involved in the National Council of the Teachers of English, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the Science Fiction Research Association and the South Atlantic Modern Language Association. His "A Directory of North Carolina Science Fiction and fantasy Writers" and his story "Interviews in Cold Springs, North Carolina" appear in the latest (2001) North Carolina Literary Review.

SF Site Review: The Wild Boy
More Book Reviews:
The Wild Boy 1, 2, 3
Warren G. Rochelle, Assistant Professor of English, Mary Washington College, Fredricksburg, VA
Academic publications: 1
Publisher's pages for:
The Wild Boy
Communities of the Heart The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin
The Wild Boy
North Carolina Literary Review

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kilian Melloy

Let me say right off that I don't like fantasy, and never did. I was the kind of kid who yawned at The Lord of the Rings and thought that tales about fairies, elves, kings, and kingdoms couldn't hold a candle to even the lousiest pulp sci-fi story.

Over the years, however, the occasional fantasy story has gotten past my armor of prejudice and even staved off the boredom that I have always associated with fantasy. They tend to be works in which the fantastical elements work hand in hand with science as we know it, and that manage to combine the hallmarks of fantasy -- magical animals, gods and goddesses, wizards, spells -- with the contemporary world, the mundane world in which magic not only in regarded as nonexistent but as something radical and dangerous.

Warren Rochelle's novel Harvest of Changelings fits the bill handsomely. Mostly set in North Carolina in 1992, Harvest of Changelings features everything that makes fantasy a potentially great genre: epic struggles between good and evil; a blend of realism and magic; an enchanted view of the various fantastical species that dwell in realms other than our own, and sometimes trespass here softly or in malicious, murderous force.

The novel starts with widower Ben Tyson meeting a (literally) enchanting woman of great beauty and charm -- glamour, one might say -- named Valeria. After a period of courtship, Valeria proposes marriage to the thunderstruck Ben, who can't believe his good fortune. Marriage and parenthood bring with them a certain transparency, which means that Ben becomes privy to Valeria's secret: she is a leading figure among the Faerie, a human-like species from a parallel universe in which magic is not only possible, but is part and parcel of everyday life.

Valeria's magic also works here in our universe, which has its up-sides (she can place protective spells around the house and decorate using magical sparkles), but which entails certain dangers, too. More dangerous than anything else is the fact that if Faeries can cross into our world and still use their special abilities, so can their mortal enemies, the corrupted Fomorii, denizens of a recklessly polluted realm who have been at war with the Faeries for aeons.

Though a truce exists between the Faeries and the Fomorii, the evil aggressors have no scruples about cheating on the treaty and building up their armies; they also take Valeria's presence on Earth as an invitation to assassinate a crucial figure among the Faerie leadership. As it turns out, Valeria is the "Prime Mover" of the Faeries.

Valeria's death -- on the very eve of her return to her native realm -- leaves Ben in a difficult position. He is now the single father of a half-Faerie infant, whose magical powers are destined to manifest themselves in time -- and whose enemies will doubtless be back.

But neither Ben nor his son Malachi are alone in this world. Ben's best friend Jack has heard all about Valeria, and Faerie, and the dangers that young Malachi will face; and, when they need him most, Ben and Jack find an ally in a half-Faerie Catholic priest whose faith exists in powerful harmony with his magical ability.

As for Malachi, as he enters puberty -- early for a human, at age ten -- his special powers begin to emerge. But the eldritch powers of the Faerie back in their own native universe exert a pull on event and circumstance here: Malachi's unknown lifemates -- the other three destined to form his "tetrad," a four-way marriage -- are drawn together in Malachi's home town. Like Malachi, they come from broken human families, but dream of their true home in another reality.

Russell is the fiery one, the son of an abusive man whose wife has fled him. Scarred by beatings and fighting off a human-inflicted shame regarding his sexual orientation, Russell is on the verge of sliding into the darkness of his own nature and embracing evil.

Jeffrey, slightly younger than the others, has endured heartbreaking abuse at the hands of his own father. Like Russell, Jeffrey has lost his mother, and seen his father sink into a savagery born of despair; and like Russell, Jeffrey bears the scars, physical and emotional, of searing abuse. But Jeffrey also possesses a certain resilience, perhaps partly because of his elemental association with water.

Hazel rounds out the quartet. She's an orphan being raised by her neglectful grandparents, who seeks escape into a computer game that becomes, thanks to her magic, all too real, serving as a portal into the magical land that Russell and Jeffrey can enter only through dreams.

But even as the children find one another and establish their interpersonal bond, the Fomorii have targeted them for subornment and destruction. Their human ally, a black witch named Thomas -- who happens to be Jack's son -- is their instrument on Earth, and as he lays his plans to discredit Ben and steal Malachi and the other children, Thomas thinks only of the reward he seeks: to be an evil, all-devouring King over the remnants of civilization once the Fomorii have overrun and conquered Earth.

Rochelle constructs his story along logical lines as well as narrative ley-lines of myth and psychological necessity. In his telling, the approach of Samhain -- a powerful time when the doors between worlds can be opened and crossings made -- brings madness to Earth: dragons and other flying creatures of legend, werewolves, supernal events, mystical forces unleashed that wreak havoc. The world is in a panic (and President George Bush blames sunspots for it all).

Ben, Jack, and the young half-Faerie children progress toward their confrontation with Thomas and his assembled forces of evil with a grim narrative deliberation: Rochelle has plotted it all out so meticulously that as events unfold, they seem inevitable and correct.

They also seem terrifying, whether Rochelle is describing a character's inner struggles or the predators that overrun the earth by air, sea, and land: monsters swarming from a swamp, for example, a detail we hear about from a newscast but don't witness. Such global chaos makes the attacks that Rochelle's protagonists survive seem proper and contextualized, rather than out of place and absurd.

The only critical nitpicks to be offered here arise from the book's style of presentation, which is part third-person objective, part first-person journal entry, and part documentary (news clips and the like). The story seems pieced together from fragments that sometimes do not quite join up; events that seem too major to leave out of the narrative flow are thus rendered down to passing references or left for the reader to surmise.

The most pressing of the unanswered questions is where, exactly, Russell, Jeffrey, and Hazel came from. Malachi is not a "changeling" in the classical sense of the word, not having been left by his faerie parents in a secret exchange for a stolen human baby. So what about the others? How did they come to live with human parents -- or are they, like Malachi, half-human offspring of their earthly fathers?

We aren't told. We do hear a few intriguing things that might work to tease us in case a sequel is on the way; perhaps more in-depth exploration of the characters' origins is meant to be part of some follow-up volume, but that seems like an unnecessary goad to entice us. The quality of the writing is quite enough to convince readers of Harvest of Changelings to pick up any sequels that might come along later.

These minor flaws are compensated for richly by the book's compassionate understanding of what it is that makes fantasy -- and fairy tales -- so compelling. In this story, as in others of its ilk, it's the outcast or the stranger who is the hero. Whether it's because of a sensitive temperament, or a different sexuality, or an outstanding talent, the best fantasy books address human diversity and human potential as part of the central metaphor.

Rochelle understands this instinctively, and his book is vibrantly constructed along exactly those lines, which makes this novel about flying children, otherworldly realms, and magical chaos seem, despite it all, relevant and down to earth.

Copyright © 2007 Kilian Melloy

Kilian Melloy serves as Assistant Arts Editor for EDGE Publications, reviewing film and books and interviewing fascinating artistic people. He also occasionally contributes to this and other online publications.

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