Sorrowful and Sorrowless Fear neither Moon nor Sun,
Side by side, we flip the stones…
…Until both can claim we’ve won.
Last October, Black Gate alerted folks to the Turn Over the Moon’s Kickstarter campaign which brought Ryan Harvey’s world of Ahn-Tarqa into novel form (with Dream Tower Media). That journey began a decade prior and we’ll cover the ancillary tales leading up to that. Although a prequel and side stories exist, be assured that the novel feels designed to be the gateway into this Sorrow-laden world. Have no fear (or Sorrow) and enter here (with Turn Over the Moon).
The subtitle “Saga of the Sorrowless Book #1” had me gearing up for an epic fantasy in which (a) most mysteries would resolve in subsequent books and (b) the pace may be slower than the short stories I typically read. That would have been fine, of course, but Harvey (who already has proven himself a master of the short form) pleasantly delivers a cross-breed of short-story style with typical novel form: there are mysteries, but you get to learn them speedily, and the pace is super-charged. The opening chapters will have you wondering (no worries, no spoilers here): (1) who are the Shapers, (2) how the heck does the prevailing Sorrow connect to the heroine, world, and conflict, and (3) who is the mystery woman? I won’t tell you here but rejoice in knowing that the revelations are engaging and explained satisfyingly within the covers.
“The Shapers can reach me in my dreams. I escaped their clutches once, but in the blackness of sleep they tear open the walls of my head and slither inside. In each nightmare they glare down on me as they once glared down on all the land, from the edge of the eastern desert to the dwindling tip of the western peninsula. As they once glared down on my father, bound across his own workbench for their tortures. Even though their eyes are drowned within the dark slits of their masks, I can feel their stares. The robes hiding their bodies flutter around me in a barrier. There is nothing beyond.” — the teenage heroine Belde
Abandon all Sorrow, all ye who enter here!
This book will appeal to just about any fantasy enthusiast, from Epic Fantasy to Sword & Planet to Sci-Fi Opera fans. Given the primary protagonist is the teenaged girl Belde, this leans toward being a young-adult dystopian adventure; however, any stereotypical dystopian romance is minimized, the violence is beautifully brutal, and the pace advances like an action flick. Belde manages to escape predicaments no one should ‘realistically’ overcome, but this is all forgivable when the world and story are so engaging (like James Bond or Indiana Jones, it’s okay for them to succeed… cripes we have dinosaurs to ride, colossi to battle, and tubes to remove from our heads!).
Here’s Ryan Harvey’s recipe for entertaining adventure:
- Endearing heroines and heroes
- A land saturated with steampunk technology… and dinosaurs!
- A magic Art tied to an melancholic element called “Sorrow” that is as ever-present as the weather
- Tortured, fascinating villains
- Action that won’t quit
- Deep mysteries revealed pleasantly and frequently
I’m a big fan of books that provide titles and covers that set up correct expectations. This one works well. The title explicitly refers to a board game which is like Reversi (aka Othello) with a purpose mirroring our protagonist’s journey to change the world, i.e.., by turning away the Sorrow. At the center of the cover is Belde and her dinosaur-pet Rint, who are appropriately the focus. The background speaks to the conflict in the book: there is a war brewing between the nature-loving, oppressed folk (Sorrowless, represented by the mountains on the left) and the steampunk, mind-controlling elders (Sorrowful Shapers of the Black Spires on the right).
The Sorrow and the Sorrowless
Having a magic system rooted in emotion is outstanding. Yet the Sorrow is more than part of the Art. Its existence emerges from the world’s history, inspires the Shaper’s technology and goals, and (most importantly) informs all the conflict and heroine’s plight. The best way to describe it is to share the author’s own summary of the Sorrow’s creation, echoed below from the Kickstarter campaign:
“At the heart of Turn Over the Moon and the other stories set on the otherworldly continent of Ahn-Tarqa is “The Sorrow,” a mental burden almost all people suffer from. When I first hatched the idea of Ahn-Tarqa, it was as a playground where I could mix dinosaurs, ancient civilizations, and weird science. A place where I could write scenes of a Tyrannosaurus fighting a metal automaton made from archaic technology.
But the world was missing something that would make it more than a fun sandbox. I started to think of authors who have influenced me; the tone of melancholy lurking under the works Raymond Chandler, Leigh Brackett, Clark Ashton Smith, and Cornell Woolrich made me wonder what would a world where melancholy was the basis of existence might be like. A world where what we today call “depression” is as regular as breathing. I came up with “The Sorrow,” and then my fictional world was no longer a backdrop but something alive and rich.
But during the last few decades, something new has emerged. Across Ahn-Tarqa are a few who need no cure for the Sorrow. These “Sorrowless” are blessed with the vitality of life, but they can still know terror and sadness, and their condition sets them apart from others. Worse, they are the target of the Shapers, who want them as either slaves for their tests or dead. The Sorrowless won’t accept either
The Sorrow is a chronic depression that makes the world seem a terrifying place simply because it exists. For the people of Ahn-Tarqa, this futility has strangled the development of civilization. Humans live terrified in a strange world of great beasts and mysterious technology that burns their minds to even touch. Only the morbid, cruel race known as the Shapers, who cover their deformed faces behind masks even amongst themselves, have sought to find a cure for the Sorrow. But they seek the cure for their benefit only. All other people are disposable tools in their quest.” —Ryan Harvey
Past & Future Sorrowless
2011: “An Acolyte of Black Spires” short story by Ryan Harvey wins the Writers of the Future Contest. That work is available via Amazon and Dream Tower Media. Here’s the story summary:
In oppressive towers of walled cities, the scholars of a decrepit race search for answers to the mysterious ailment that has oppressed the land for ages: the disease known as “The Sorrow” that crushes the spirit with hopelessness.
In a room in one of these towers, the lonely historian Quarl sees his whole world challenged when he takes on a younger assistant: a woman who hides a secret that can shatter the world. But first it may have to shatter Quarl.
2013: “Sorrowless Thief” story: Ryan Harvey shared this on Black Gate (still available via this link,)!
Dyzan Ludd was the Sorrowless Thief, and the prize he had in mind proved he was insane — or a thief like none other in Ahn-Tarqa.
2020: Farewell to Tyrn, a prequel tale for Turn Over the Moon.
On the continent of Ahn-Tarqa, where science and magic are one, and humans share the land with great saurians, all races have in common a dreadful ailment: the disease known as “The Sorrow.” A lingering hopelessness with no cure. A fear of life itself. But for twelve-year-old Belde, her days in the city of Tyrn, playing in the streets with her whip-smart dinosaur pet Rint, seem far removed from the Sorrow she sees in others. Then, one burning summer day, cruel sorcerers from the masked race known as “The Shapers” slither from their black towers into Tyrn and knock on the door of the workshop of Belde’s father. Belde is about to drop into a nightmare that will carry her and Rint across the city, fleeing from the Shapers’ twisted killers, and into the glaring light of the truth about her life—a truth that echoes over all Ahn-Tarqa with the sound of the word “Sorrowless.”
2020: Turn Over the Moon, novel: this is where I entered the fray, and it works as a fine starting point. It’s the longest of the works so far, the first novel of several promised of the Saga of the Sorrowless. In short, it follows Belde from her escape from Tyrn to her charging full-throttle into a war of epic proportions. Blurb:
In a world of prehistoric savagery where barbarism and dark science sorcery vie for power over decadent cities, a brave young orphaned woman, Belde, and her miniature pet dinosaur, Rint, may hold the key to freeing a world oppressed by a psychic burden called the Sorrow and saving humanity from ultimate self-destruction!
2022: Look out for Novel #2 Saga of the Sorrowless (as per Ryan Harvey’s author’s blog).
Ryan Harvey is a science fiction and fantasy author who lives in Costa Mesa, California. He’s a recipient of the Writers of the Future Award, and his fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Stupefying Stories, Beyond Centauri, Plasma Frequency, Tales From the Magician’s Skull, and the anthology Candle in the Attic Window. He has written extensive nonfiction articles for Black Gate and other magazines. Ryan graduated from Carleton College in Minnesota with a BA in history. He worked as a Hollywood story editor, speed-reading instructor, and copyeditor before becoming a professional writer. He writes marketing content by day, and during the nights and weekends creates works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. His ongoing science-fantasy series on the continent of Ahn-Tarqa explores the many different nooks of genre in a gumbo of dinosaurs, weird tech, and fantastic adventure. His influences include Leigh Brackett, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ian Fleming, Algernon Blackwood, and Michael Moorcock. He is a leading authority on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and loves movies, history, and numerous oddball topics. In the world outside his apartment fortress, he’s an improv comedian who performs as part of the Improv Collective in Costa Mesa. He lives with a sinister black cat, and his spirit animal is Godzilla.
Dream Tower Media
Dream Tower Media is dedicated to producing and supporting only the finest media in the speculative field, such as science fiction and fantasy, in the form of books, narrated audiobooks, audiobook dramatizations, magazines, illustrations, music, and other related media.
S.E. Lindberg resides near Cincinnati, Ohio working as a microscopist by day. Two decades of practicing chemistry, combined with a passion for the Sword & Sorcery genre, spurs him to write adventure fictionalizing the alchemical humors (under the banner Dyscrasia Fiction). With Perseid Press, he writes weird tales in the same bloody vein (Heroika and Heroes in Hell series). He co-moderates the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads, and invites all to participate. He enjoys studying Aikido and creates all sorts of fine art in the family workshop.