Baba Yaga’s Daughter And Other Tales Of The Old Races by C.E. Murphy (book review).

October 26, 2020 | By | Reply More

It pays to read the back cover of ‘Baba Yaga’s Daughter And Other Tales Of The Old Races’ before delving into the book. The information there about dragonlord Janx and master vampire Eliseo Daisani as ‘ancient rivals, best of friends, best of enemies’ is most helpful. They are two members of the Old Races who have been around since before humankind. Mankind’s prolific breeding and expansion mean that they and the other Old Races, gargoyles, djinn, selkies, etc, find it wiser to stay hidden now for they are not numerous and would be in danger if we became aware of them. They prefer to be thought of as myths and legends of bygone days.

‘From Russia With Love’ is about a daughter of Baba-Yaga, an ancient and powerful witch. Dragonlord Janx and Eliseo Daisani compete for her favours. They do the same for another daughter in ‘Baba Yaga’s Daughter’ later in the book. This lady is one of the Romanovs, her family slain by Bolsheviks. Both these tales are written in the first person by the women and, although they give the book its title, I didn’t enjoy them as much as the other tales. ‘Baba Yaga’s Daughter’ is the better of the two because of the historical connection and neither is terrible but something about the narrative style put me off. ‘When in Rome’ takes place after ‘Baba Yaga’s Daughter’ but comes before it in the book, which is confusing. It’s another about the witch and her increasing power. I was hoping for vampires among the Caesars. Oh well.

Happily, the other tales, more about Janx and Daisani, are terrific. Janx is a tall, bronze-skinned, red-haired, charming and charismatic dandy in human form. Eliseo is smaller, darker, not as handsome, quieter and more subtle. They both chase human ladies but the vampire Daisani caught the best one, Vanessa Grey. Despite being a mere mortal, she’s smart enough to match wits with the Old Races and even dares to gamble with them in ‘Five Card Draw.’ This takes place in a Chicago speakeasy in the roaring twenties and serves mostly as a showcase for the personalities. The conclusion is brilliant.

‘A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight’ also takes place in Chicago but at an earlier time, 1871, when it was the crossroads of the nation, prosperous and full of wealth, poverty, cheats, killers and…vampires. Usually, the bloodsuckers are circumspect but the anonymity of a big town with so many people pouring through, anonymous strangers that no one cares about, makes for the perfect feeding ground and they are getting careless. Our heroine is Susannah, an unmarried woman with an independent streak who works as a secretary at the Pinkerton Agency with the mad dream of being a real detective one day. Her chance comes when she is recruited by Serafina Durke, Chicago’s dark lady. Serafina runs brothels and protection rackets. Susannah’s new job involves dressing up as a wealthy lady and frequenting low dives in the Hairtrigger Block district of the city. She’s bait to lure vampires. Her employer is a dragon. Janx and Daisani get involved. It’s a satisfying adventure that reveals something of the politics and power balance among the Old Races and how it’s carefully maintained. I liked the Joseph Conrad-style framing of the story, too, with Janx and Daisani telling it to Vanessa Grey one quiet night in the speakeasy.

The third windy city story, ‘Chicago Bang Bang’ happens sixty years later, the classic gangster era and starts with Boss Daisani gunned down in a restaurant where he’s dining with Vanessa Grey. He’s not killed but has to fake serious injury to maintain his cover. Vanessa hires a private detective to find out who’s behind the attack.

‘The Age Of Aquarius’ shows Baba Yaga’s daughter, her daughters, Elisio Daisani and dragonlord Janx meeting up at a 1960s pop festival where thousands gather. Things happen but spoilers spoil it, so I will say nothing about the last few stories in which early developments are brought to fruition, sometimes sadly. The fate of one character left a sour taste.

I find in life and fiction that slyness, subtlety and sophistication often mask evil. Janx, Daisani, Baba-Yaga and other characters in this mythology are entertaining but best avoided by humans. Author C.E. Murphy writes well and, at the risk of being sexist, like a lady. The male point of view is slightly different: Joe Lansdale, for example. Bear in mind that these are episodes in the larger legend of her fantasy trilogy ‘The Negotiator’, so if you like the book, there’s plenty more. I liked it but trilogies aren’t my thing.

My copy of ‘Baba Yaga’s Daughter And Other Tales Of The Old Races’ is a 2012 paperback ARC (advanced review copy) of an expensive hardback edition from Subterranean Press. It’s out of print now. You can get it second hand for £35 but the book has since been released in a Kindle edition by another publisher and is therefore available to read cheaply. Worth a look.

Eamonn Murphy

October 2020

(pub: Subterranean Press, 2012. 257 page deluxe hardback. Price: $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-382-2)

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Category: Books, Fantasy

About the Author ()

Eamonn Murphy is a science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novel reviewer who writes a bit too.

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