Reviews - What do customers think about Black Orchids from Aum?
Different, compelling, and strangely beautiful Jun 9, 2007
A bleak city in a bleaker setting, Aum is known as the 'City of Gates'. Surrounded by perpetual mist and deprived a view of the sun and stars by a jealous, forgotten god, Aum is a threshold for travel between worlds, and perhaps eras. At any time of day metaphysical gates in the city are opening and closing, bringing strange travelers with desperate quests into a city where one can buy anything. The point to remember here is that nothing in Aum is freely given; even the smallest favors come with a price, usually paid in pain and suffering.
Throughout the excellent tales in this book, Aum is the constant and most compelling character. A city rendered in beautiful sepia writing, Aum is a place of shadow and desperation. The stories are best described as dark fantasy or horror, but the book conjours up movements of bleak beauty all the more delightful for their fragility.
Houarner writes with simplicity. His characters are very rarely nice people, but the reader understands the motives of each. It is the bleak settings and tangible sense of emptiness and loss throughout that makes this book soar. A decaying boatman riding a river of death and decay or a beautiful princess determined to usurp her father's throne at any cost might not strike the reader as original characters, but trust me, you don't know where these stories are headed.
Read this book. It certainly made a lasting impression on me. If you enjoy this sort of dark horror/fantasy sort of setting, where the city itself seems to be the most important character, also check out "The Trial of Flowers" by Jay Lake.
There's No Such Thing As A Free Orchid Sep 6, 2004
This was recommended to me as an introduction to Gerard Houarner's noir fantasy. I found it an extremely interesting example of of what I think of as 'city of adventure' fiction. This has been around for some time - the first use of the form that I encountered was Moorcock's Tanelorn, which weaves in and out of his stories. Other efforts in this sub-genre include Lynn Abbey and Mary Gentle. And, more recently, Mieville's New Crobuzon and Simon Green's Nightside have appeared. The themes are wide ranging, the only requirement being that the city and its culture be just as important as the story itself.
Aum is one of the bleaker metropolis's in in what is usually a dark landscape. Condemned for some unknown since to exist separate from everywhere else under permanently dark skies, Aum is a dangerous waystation for interdimensional trade and barter. Countless gates to elsewhere open in the city, watched over by the gate mothers and their attendants. Even to enter Aum requires bartering - the traveler must acquire a parasite that serves as a language translator. To be without language or livelihood in Aum is an invitation to disaster lost in a city where you can buy anything - if you have the price.
And the price in Aum is never something as simple as wealth. In this collection every story presents a grim sort of justice - those that abuse love have it torn from them, those that bargain for kingdoms skirt empty thrones, Gods die and leave two edged artifacts. Rarely is there even a glimmer of hope, and every tiny victory contains the seeds of its defeat. This is Aum's curse and the bane of those who chose to come to it.
Houarner's style is straightforward narrative with little embellishment. With the exception of the final tale, each story stands by itself with no shared cast. Whch is only to be expected from a collections drawn from a a number of trade publications and written over nearly a decade. I would have liked to see more details of Aum and its workings. Houarner, a minimalist, introduces only what he needs to further his story. This works well for each story, but leaves the reader feeling there is something lacking when trying to read the tales as a body of work. There is enough here to whet one's interest, but not enough to completely satisfy.
Through the misty Gates I come seeking my hazardous fortune May 13, 2004
I liked this book so much I even thought about starting out my review by saying a few trite and cliche phrases like, "Couldn't put it down!" and "Mind bogglingly intense!", but I...oh wait...I just did.
Seriously, if I could give this book 10 stars I would. Houarner has created one of the creepiest and most despairing worlds I have ever visited in my lifetime of perusing the written word.
Aum is a city banished into isolation even from its own world, as punishment for offending its Gods long ago. Surrounded by a high wall and covered by perpetual mists, those who dwell here never see sun or stars or moon. Only the swirling, cold mists.
Houarner's descriptions of Aum, with its polluted canals, continual gloom, dank temple cellars, tight and shady streets, and hopeless futility amongst both the locals and the traveler's is the centerpiece of this collection.
Aum is also known as the "City of Gates", for Aum is the center nexus of many portals to uncountable universes. When a world "aligns" with Aum, a gate will open and you may pass in or out of the city. Many different worlds align each day at every Gate in the city, and only the Gate Mothers and the GateKeepers know their schedules. The Gate Mother's are needed to sell you "Aum's Tongue", a parasite that is swallowed and lodged into your throat in order that you can speak the language of Aum. Without it, you cannot bargain. Without bargaining, you cannot live.
Aum the city is the constant here, with just the characters changing from chapter to chapter and adventure to adventure; a city painted in such marvelously vivid shades of pale that when Houarner writes of his mists, you can actually feel the sting on your flesh and taste the vaporous tendrils as they float by. The greed and the despair of its visitors and citizens is so palpable that you can feel your teeth sinking into their very flesh.
In the stories we will see a Collector of Delinquent Accounts who must pay the price of her own transgressions, a plague ridden girl bargain for the life of her homeworld with a discontented God, a homeless member of the Bridge-Folk despairingly cast himself at the feet of Gohul The Gondolier, a King from another world finding that his greed will make him powerless, a father suffer from the consequences of abusing his daughter, watch ambition destroy a predatory race, visit a whorehouse, see a tragic play, and most of all...strike a bargain.
For in Aum, anything can be bought; love, power, dreams, revenge, or even hope. But be ready to pay the price, for once your bargain is struck, you are bound to honor it; and the price must always be paid.
My favorites of the chapters are the title chapter, Black Orchids From Aum, Shing Of The Bridge Folk, Cure For The Plague, The Collector of Delinquent Accounts, and The Face Of The Messenger.
This is truly one of the most chillingly eerie books I have ever come across; not the grossest or the strangest, but one that left an aftertaste in my mouth both delicious and disturbing. If your taste buds are craving a sample of something creepy and slimy-cold, pick this book up and read. Enjoy!
Fair Apr 12, 2004
Mr. Houarner can write fairly well, but I didn't enjoy this book as much as I expected to enjoy it. I expected a 4-star book.
The last two stories about Jeloc were fine and I might have given the book that rating if all were like them. However, the rest of the book just seemed to incarnate "life sucks and then you die." Some books are grim but the power of the writing keeps you enthralled. Some are grim but you have a sense of moral satisfaction or completeness. Some are grim in part, but are relieved by the other side of the coin in places. This was just grim.
Timeless Tales review Sep 16, 2002
by TT reviewer Anita Jo Stafford [full review on our website]
The Black Orchid from Aum is an anthology of stories by Gerard Houarner. "In the City of Aum anything can be bought. But you must always pay the price." All of the stories focus on the inhabitants and travelers through Aum, the reason they have journeyed to Aum and the price they pay for their desires.
All travelers must pay for Aum's tongue, a parasitic bug that works as a universal translator. Without the translator the travelers to Aum cannot communicate and are destined to become less than the human population. People can only travel to Aum when their planets are aligned. When the convergence occurs, travelers can leave Aum for the planet that is aligned with the gateway. The city is dark, violent, decadent and in many ways beautiful. It is a multifaceted world in which danger lurks on every corner.
The first story involving the debt collector draws the reader into the heart of Aum. It is an excellent way to introduce the reader to the realities of Aum. Cray's story shows the reader the first of several stories that provide the reader an excellent view of life in Aum. As collector, Cray settles unpaid debts. After suffering through an abusive marriage, she no longer desires love. While she collects debts for others she is accruing one of her own. As the debt collected from Cray is revealed, the reader is drawn deeper into the book just as travelers are drawn to Aum. Kings, Princesses, rulers of all shapes and form pay for their desires in Aum. The title story, Black Orchids from Aum is riveting. Like the rest of the stories the Princess gets what she desires most. However, the price that Aum takes as payment again has a profound impact.
The Black Orchid from Aum is an excellent anthology and an insightful look into the human condition. The stories are well written with excellent imagery and plotting. This book is a good one to start with as a sampling of the work of Gerard Houarner. It catches the reader's attention. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Aum is a place where anything within the imagination is possible for a price. The price that the inhabitants pay is often everything. This book is unique and ingenious. Depending on what the reader wants to take from the stories, they can be anything from dark fantasies to warnings of what could be in a world with too much excess. This book is highly recommended.