Recent Reads: The Dragon, the Witch & the Railroad

I have loads of personal history with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s Seashell Archives series, which she wrote in the early eighties, and which I discovered, uh, probably in the early 80s, although possibly in the mid-80s :), and quite adored. They were light funny epic fantasy with cursed or bewitched heroines, and I’d never read anything quite like them.

I met Annie in Ireland in the early 90s, and she was very supportive of me being a writer. I sent her a copy of URBAN SHAMAN when it was published. We stayed in sporadic contact until Facebook happened, and now we’re in quite regular contact, so I was thrilled when she ran a Kickstarter for a new Seashell Archives book–thirty years after the last one! (Dear God.)

I’ve just read THE DRAGON, THE WITCH & THE RAILROAD, which is a charming addition to the series. It continues with the tradition of a cursed heroine, and has a wonderful light steampunk vibe that I don’t remember from the earlier books (and indeed which may not have been in them, but it’s been a *long* time since I’ve read them, so I could be wrong). Our heroine, Verity, is a Modern Girl who believes, as is popular, that the witchy and magical antics of the past are out-dated and old-fashioned…despite the fact that she’s cursed to not only always tell the truth but also can’t let other people tell lies around her without correcting them.

Dragons, once mighty and majestic beasts, have been tamed and now run the railroads, but all is not as it seems…and Verity has a splendid adventure learning the truth while turning some of fairy tale and fantasy’s favourite tropes on their heads while heartily featuring others–like an older female protagonist/wise woman/guide whose story is just a little bit heartwrenching.

There are aspects of the world that haven’t aged well, primarily the wild wandering Gypsy persona/Gypsy magic, which thirty years ago wasn’t (widely) considered problematic, but which now kind of makes me wince. None of it is meant harmfully or cruelly; it’s just that our cultural expectations have shifted, and I couldn’t help noticing that something that didn’t even register when I was a kid is now something that makes my eyebrows lift.

*laughs* What HAS aged well, though, is–in perhaps the first of the Seashell Archives books, the story goes from Chapter 12 to Chapter 14, with a note saying “Our heroes are in enough trouble without this being Chapter 13!” I thought that was wonderful, and told Annie so when I met her in Ireland. She was grateful and said her editor had said, direly, “NEVER. AGAIN!” and she’d felt like she was in so much trouble that maybe it had been a bad idea after all. So I’m totally delighted that with DRAGON, she has revived the tradition of no Chapter Thirteen. #beams

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