(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Macaw, by The Planet Forest Champions (Spotify, YouTube).
Note: I have the pleasure of publishing this review at the same time that my good friend Leticia Lara publishes hers, in Spanish, at Fantástica Ficción.
The story of the publication of the different novelettes in Christopher Kastensmidt's The Elephant and Macaw Banner is quite unusual. The first one, The Fortuitous Meeting was published (in English) in Realms of Fantasy in April 2010 and got a well-deserved Nebula nomination. The second and third in the series, A Parlous Battle and The Discommodious Wedding, however, were first published in Portuguese (A Parlous Battle has also been translated into Romanian and Czech) and are only now (as of this week) available in English. Excellent news, because the stories are just superb and deserve a readership as wide as possible.
The Fortuitous Meeting has been compared to the work of Fritz Leiber and, in fact, there are some obvious similarities to the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, from the homage in the title to the extremely charming characters. But Kastensmidt's The Elephant and Macaw Banner is much more than just another addition to the sword and sorcery genre.
First of all, these stories have an outstanding and unique setting. The author takes elements from the Brazilian (and African) mythology and folklore and makes his heroes meet and fight amazing monsters and gods, such as Sacy-Perey, Kalobo or the Botat. I just love how Kastensmidt manages to immerse the reader in his exotic world from the very first paragraph of the first story:
High atop the Church of the Immaculate Conception, in contrast to the subdued hues of the building's unpainted mortar and stone, a scarlet macaw perched upon a wooden cross. The macaw cocked its head from side to side, watching people pass through Salvador's principal plaza. After a few minutes, it paused to stretch out its wings, presenting its full array of colors - ruby, amber, emerald, sapphire, chalk, and coal - a combination found nowhere else in nature.
The writing is just excellent, with witty dialog and a lot of sense of humor, that perfectly match the amazing and extremely fun adventures of Gerard van Oost and Oludara. The plots get more interesting with each new story (I love them all, but my favorite is, hands down, The Discommodious Wedding), especially because new wonderful characters are introduced with each new novelette. These characters are, in fact, the soul of the stories in The Elephant and Macaw Banner. They are all very different, but also very easy to love and to relate to, and their interactions are just one of the best parts of the stories.
What is more, the universe of The Elephant and Macaw Banner is not restricted to these three novelettes, but has been growing up to encompass comics and board and video games. All this has obviously enriched the world of the stories, as well as produced some beautiful artwork, including those wonderful cover illustrations of the English edition of the novelettes.
All in all, it's been a huge pleasure to have the chance of discovering this amazing new world, and I highly recommend reading the three stories. I also hope that this is only the beginning and that many new adventures of Gerard, Oludara and all their friends will be written and published very soon.