by Curtis Edmonds
Genre: NA Fantasy
Release Date: February 20th 2020
Scary Hippopotamus Books
On the battlefield of dreams, the strongest weapons are imagination–and love.
Ashlyn Revere is a bright, determined and resourceful college graduate trying to get a job in publishing. When Ashlyn and her sister Penny are left comatose after an automobile accident, they find themselves in Summervale, a beautiful and perilous realm straight from the pages of fantasy novels–which is ruled by a mysterious Dark Lord.
When Ashlyn discovers that Penny is being held captive, she enlists the help of a talking black rabbit and a scarlet knight to save her sister. She learns that Penny is deep within her own fantasy of Regency romance—and that she sees being in a coma as a way to escape from her daily struggles with cystic fibrosis. Ashlyn tries to rescue her anyway, but a fire-breathing dragon and a real-world seizure complicate her plans.
As Penny recovers from her injuries and leaves Summervale, Ashlyn is rescued by a servant of the Dark Lord who promises to show her just how precarious her own medical situation is. In the real world, Ashlyn’s medical condition has worsened, forcing her doctors to consider risky surgery. Ashlyn rejects an offer from the Dark Lord to remain in Summervale forever, and chooses to raise an army of knights to fight for her freedom and independence.
Penny must face a choice of her own. As Ashlyn hovers between life and death, Penny learns that Ashlyn would be a good match to provide the donor set of lungs that Penny needs to free her from the constraints of cystic fibrosis.
As doctors battle to save Ashlyn’s life, she leads her forces against the Dark Lord in a desperate conflict in the streets of an imaginary Manhattan—while Penny must find the answer to her own destiny in a dying circle of firelight. Can the sisters rescue themselves—and each other?
A CIRCLE OF FIRELIGHT blends postmodern fantasy and real-world emotional conflict in a daring tale that will delight adult and young adult readers alike.
What Edmonds does especially well is to sprinkle fantasy and pop-culture references throughout, making the volume accessible even to readers who aren’t genre fans. What results is a charming tale that allows every reader to smile knowingly. A sturdy, well-crafted, and vibrant fantasy. — Kirkus Reviews
The execution is for the most part charming and clever, with lively dialogue, easy pacing, and fleshed-out protagonists… Edmonds’s novel evokes the magic of portal fantasies while grounding it with emotionally resonant relationships.” — Booklife
Pain and Grief and Heartbreak
I wake up under the spreading ash tree. The rabbit is still asleep, and I do not have anyone to talk to or anything to do except think about my situation. It feels odd to fall asleep in the middle of a dream and then wake up again in the same dream. My guess is that I am not really waking up and going to sleep, but instead slipping in and out of REM sleep, which seems reasonable enough.
I decide to do a little exploring, just in the local area. There’s a wide, marshy pond, with a small white gazebo near the shore, and I watch the water lapping quietly against the bank. I kick off my sneakers to do a little wading, but the water is bone-cold. I jump back almost instinctively, but this is the first actual sensation I have felt since I arrived here. I put my feet back in the water, and the cold travels up my leg, as though my blood vessels are drinking in the chill. I check to see if my feet are turning blue, and that is when the skeletal hand reaches out of the water.
A wave of terror courses through my system. I try to move, but my feet are frozen in place. The bony hand grasps my left ankle and pulls me deeper.
This is just a dream, I tell myself. A scary dream, where I am being dragged into the depths by a skeleton. And I remember that I had this dream, just last night. I had been able to wake up from that one. Here, I am not so sure I can.
The skeleton grasps my ankle. I try to yank it back, but my legs are frozen, and I can’t get them to move at all. I lose my balance and fall, with my rear end bumping on the shoreline. The skeleton drags me closer to the water. I grab hold of one of the posts of the gazebo, and scramble, crab-like, out of the water. It is just enough to keep the skeleton from pulling me in the rest of the way. The skeleton keeps tugging at me, but after a couple of minutes of futility, it lets go. I scoot myself farther away and clutch my frozen legs to my chest.
The hand retreats into the tiny lake, and I breathe a strangled sigh of relief. The rabbit hops over to me, concern on his little furry face. “What is wrong?” he asks.
I point towards the water. “There was a…”
The water of the pond ripples and a fully-formed skeleton arises from the lake. There is a crown of magnolia flowers on its head, pale against the whiteness of the skull. The skeleton holds out its bony arm, beckoning me back into the water.
“I see,” the rabbit says.
“That’s all you can say? I almost drowned.”
“You would not have drowned,” the rabbit says. “You would have just died. If that is any consolation.”
The skeleton is still beseeching me to come into the water.
“So that thing out there just literally tried to kill me?”
“Not in the way you mean that, no. She is not a murderer, or even malevolent. But if you seek her out, you will die.”
I scuttle backward, trying to keep as much distance between myself and the skeleton as possible. My legs are still ice-cold, and I would run out of the meadow if I could move them.
“Okay, wait. I almost drowned in another dream, last night, and I didn’t die. If it gets me now, that doesn’t mean I am going to die in real life, right?”
“Last night, you were in perfect health, lying on your own bed,” the rabbit explains. “Right now, you have been injured in an accident. A symbolic death could become real enough.”
I was surprised by the skeleton grasping my ankle, and then frightened when it came out of the water. Now I am absolutely afraid. Did the surgery go wrong? Is this how I die? Here, in my dreams, with a skeleton carrying me to the bottom of a pond? I hug my icy legs closer to my body.
“I don’t want to die,” I tell the rabbit.
“Please do not be frightened,” the rabbit says. “It is all right, whatever happens. If it is your time to go, I will go with you, and comfort you as best I can in your journey. And of course, you can always choose to go, if you want.”
My teeth are chattering, and not with the cold. “Why would I choose to die?”
The rabbit looks at me, kindness in his round eyes. “Because there are worse things.”
I remember my friend Mark from high school, who walked in front of a train two weeks before graduation. I remember my Grandma Ruth in her nursing home bed, staring at things that just weren’t there. I remember my roommate Laura from college, whose mother had breast cancer and fought hard through chemotherapy, just so she could see Laura graduate. And I remember the long passage from the emergency room to the operating room, the bright lights in my face, the strained tones of the doctors, trying to reassure me, although what they were trying to reassure me about I do not know.
Am I going to be okay when I wake up? Am I going to be paralyzed, or worse?
The skeleton stares at me with its unseeing eyes, beckoning me onward. It takes a step closer, out of the water, and it is wearing the exact same pair of shoes on its bony feet as I had been wearing. Not just the same model, but the same scuffs and wear. I swallow hard and turn toward the rabbit.
“I don’t want to go with her,” I say.
“Then do not. It is your choice. But consider that even if you leave here, and go back to your own place, you will be facing a great deal of pain and grief and heartbreak. There is one way to avoid all of that.”
The skeleton takes another step closer. I feel the pain and fear of the accident all over again. I struggle to breathe. I feel the fierce fiery bloom of pain in the middle of my chest. I know l will bear the scars of the accident for the rest of my life, however long that is. I have no idea whether I will pick up a real book again, or work for a living, or walk.
The skeleton reaches down and touches my face, its bony hands gentle against my cheek. The pain recedes, vanishes. If I go with the skeleton, I will not have to worry about any of that, or anything else, ever again, because it would all be over.
And I don’t want it to be over. I don’t know how badly injured I am, or how much pain I am going to have to endure once I wake up. It doesn’t matter. I am not going to willingly choose to end my life here and now. There’s a big wide world out there full of college basketball games and strawberry milkshakes and high fantasy novels, and I’m not going to turn my back on all of that just yet. Not while there’s hope.
“No,” I tell the skeleton. “No way. Not today.”
I pull back from the skeleton’s touch and heave my body backward. Life and heat return to my legs. The skeleton turns its eye sockets on me, something close to a sorrowful expression in its manner. It sinks soundlessly back into the water of the pond, without as much as a ripple.
Curtis Edmonds is a writer and attorney living in central New Jersey. He is the author of two novels, WREATHED, a humorous contemporary romance set in the beach resort of Cape May, New Jersey, and RAIN ON YOUR WEDDING DAY, a literary romance set in the mountains north of Atlanta.
His work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Untoward Magazine, Liberty Island, The Big Jewel, Yankee Pot Roast, and National Review Online. His book reviews appear on the Bookreporter website.
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