James Stoddard: The Evenmere novels

Reprinted from Green Man Review.

James Stoddard’s Evenmere novels, The High House and The False House, form one of the most original and best fantasy worlds ever created. Evenmere is a house that contains seemingly infinite space within itself, enfolding other lands and other nations, home to personified natural forces and clocks that apparently control time itself. Its endless variety of architectural detail is evoked by James Stoddard with great skill and creativeness: one can feel the wind blowing against the leaded glass windows, or smell the dust and cobwebs in the rooms that have been empty for centuries, or actually believe that there is a dragon, a very large dragon, in the attic. A nasty, very hungry dragon at that!

Despite the fantastical elements described above, the novels themselves have the look and feel of a 1930s English mystery novel in that the House itself and the characters therein could easily be pictured interacting with Lord Peter Whimsy or any of the other gentlemen detectives of those novels. Stoddard very obviously drew heavily on the work of English designer William Morris in developing what the House looks like, and the location of the House is the archetypal English countryside. Given the use of carriages instead of cars in an early seen, I assume the time is likely well before the 1930s, but there is no reference to when it is set.

I’m here to discuss the hardcover editions of Stoddard’s novels, published by SoulWave. Michael M. Jones’ superb review of them noted that, ‘The High House and The False House comprise one epic, fascinating story stretching across all that could be, and all that is. It’s new fantasy with a classic influence and a mythical resonance. While they won’t be to everyone’s tastes, I have to admit that James Stoddard has indeed produced something special. Evenmere stands a good chance of achieving a lasting status in the worlds of fantasy, and I really look forward to seeing more set in the same world. The possibilities for prequels, sequels, and other stories set in Evenmere are as endless as its corridors.’

I fell in love with the Evenmere novels when I first found the cheaply produced SFBC hardcover of The High House some years ago. And then I discovered that The False House only existed in a mass market paperback. Boo! Hiss! I hate mass market paperback editions with all my heart — still won’t read ’em if I can avoid them. So I didn’t read The False House, as I am still hoping that Hachette USA will see the error of its ways and at least do a decent omnibus trade edition of the novels. (Pigs wearing pink tutus will sing opera when that happens…) Ahhh, but all was not lost. Someone else liked these books as much as I did — SoulWave Publishing to be precise.

Each of the two volumes has been issued in just two hundred signed copies. Soulwave sent me #28 of The High House and #130 of The False House. I think that they cost somewhere around a hundred dollars each — expensive but hardly the most expensive or rare book ever sent to us here at GMR. We’ve had more expensive (Neil Gaiman’s Snow Glass Apples comes to mind) and rarer (chapbooks from Charles de Lint). Nor is it the best printing job that we’ve seen — Snow Glass Apples from Biting Dog Press takes that honor by far.

What makes these books unique is that they are simply far superior to the only other Evenmere editions done to date. (I’m still hoping that Time Warner Books will release both of them as a trade paper omnibus so that readers everywhere can savor the complete tale.) The High House saw editions in a crappy SFBC hardcover (with paper I will not discuss in a polite company) and a mass market paperback edition, whereas The False House had only the latter. Like Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, it’s apparent that some books go a long time before getting the proper treatment! Each of these volumes is about the same size as original Athenaeum publication of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series — compact but not too small. Perfect for holding in your hands. The paper inside is a crisp white with a highly readable font. Nice. And somehow the book reads better just because of this. Now, I’ve admitted that I hate mass market paperbacks with a passion, so I’m biased. But damn it, SoulWave did a brilliant job! Everything works here in a way that’s rare these days.

(SoulWave Publishers, Inc., was formed in 1997 by Tom McGee and Larry Woods; they are using the name SoulWave — a term from the Nebula Award winning novel, The Terminal Experiment — with Robert J. Sawyer’s permission.)

The pleasure of these books is so overwhelming that, despite having read The High House but a few weeks ago, I read it and The False House again over the span of a few nights. If you like High Fantasy that feels very English in tone in the tradition of Lin Carter, you’ll love these novels! If you appreciate fine craftsman in any form, you’ll want to own these books. Great novels, brilliant publishing — what more do you want?

You can hear Stoddard reading the first chapter of the first novel here.

(SoulWave Publishing, 1998)
(SoulWave Publishing, 2000))

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