Paperback, ISBN-13: 978-0578619552, Pages 381
January 3, 2020
What would a world be like where everything, from trees and water to swords and sentient beings, has a voice and only desires to be heard and respected? Welcome to Animonea in the Back of the Beyond.
“Everything looked normal enough.”
The Back of the Beyond by James Stoddard is the beginning of an epic fantasy series, Animonean Chronicles, that is elementally original but with an evident and reverent nod to a few classic poems and stories, such as The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. It also includes a courtly yet frightening salute to Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
In this quest narrative, seventeen-year-old Prince Gray Darien leads a party through the land of Faerie and into the Back of the Beyond to rescue Tanabel-Tunia, who has been abducted for unknown reasons. While Tana is the love of Gray’s life, she is pledged to wed Prince Fox Lodan, who is also part of this band of rescuers and who constantly derides the youthful and untested Gray at every step. The journey promises to be fraught with danger, adventure, and discovery, but will this eclectic band of travelers eventually find Tanabel-Tunia and bring her safely back home, or will their noble quest become altered and maybe even fractured along the way?
“Sometimes we have to accept it for what it is, not what we want it to be.”
James Stoddard lives in West Texas and is a seasoned fantasy and science fiction wordsmith. In The Back of the Beyond, the author has captured the very essence of such fantasy, rife with magic, quest archetypes, greed and treachery, panoramic battles, chivalric romance, megalomania, a touch of the bildungsroman narrative, and an endearing puppy named Blunder. During the expedition into Animonea, where every single thing has a voice and often clamors for attention, the sojourners discover many truths about themselves, their fellow travelers, and Animonea’s lifeblood that will either serve them well or effect their tragic downfall. While loyalty, friendship, and honor are major themes, betrayal, jealousy, and avarice provide the necessary balance in such an epic tale across a wondrous land filled with inhabitants and objects that have the power either to help you or hurt you, based on your intent and gratitude.
The characters are quite diverse, and their development is intense and fulfilling, allowing readers to root for their favorites and tolerate or even detest the others; however, be forewarned because a few characters reveal their unexpected true colors, both good and bad, later in the story. The overall plot and world-building are intricate, as is expected with fantasy, but the story and the characters easily draw readers into the Back of the Beyond and continue to delight and thrill them all the way to the bittersweet yet rewarding end of this heroic and perilous quest. But a true ending it is not because The Back of the Beyond is only book one of this fabulous and promising new fantasy series.
James Stoddard's short fiction has appeared in science fiction publications such as "Amazing Stories" and "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction." "The Battle of York" was included in Eos Books' Years Best SF 10, and "The First Editions" appeared in The Year's Best Fantasy 9 from Tor Books. His novel, "The High House" won the Compton Crook Award for best fantasy by a new novelist and was nominated for several other awards. He lives with his wife in a winding canyon in West Texas.