“Steeped in Debt to the Chimney-pots,” by Steve Berman from Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers (Lethe Press, 2014). Originally published in Willful Impropriety (Running Press Kids).
This is another installment of a series I first encountered in the author’s second collection, Second Thoughts: More Queer and Weird Stories. I actually tried to pass up “The Price of Glamour” (First published in The Faery Reel by Viking Press) because at that time I still believed I did not like the fantasy genre. Thankfully, skipping a story in the collection bugged me. A little voice inside my head urged me to go back and give it a try. It promised I wouldn’t regret it, and it was right. I do like fantasy. What I don’t like is badly written fantasy.
In my opinion, you should read that story before you read this one. Would you have to in order to enjoy this? No. Absolutely not. But do yourself a favor and read them that way.
Warning: in the interim I read an interview with the author in which he said what I suspected was so, namely that these are pieces of a novel that never gelled. That being the case, it’s hard to know when or even if there will be more installments. It’s similar to the situation with his Fallen Area stories. While it’s true I have a lifelong habit of starting books and wandering off when they don’t sufficiently catch my imagination (there isn’t enough time in the world to read everything I love, let alone what I don’t), these stories do. I can’t think of a more frustrating situation than being introduced to a great story and then having it simply stop. Still, I would be the poorer for having not read these.
There’s a lot to absorb here, especially if it’s been decades since you’ve read anything containing the words “troll”, “the Folk”, “fey” and the like. (Unless, that is, you count having read two and a half installments of the Harry Potter series in advance of seeing the movies with your family.) What it boils down to is this: in “The Price of Glamour” a thieving sprite named Tupp Smatterpit, for all intents and purposes indentured to the spriggan Bluebottle, finds himself the victim of theft. It’s disastrous because he’s been saving up—at great personal peril—to buy his freedom from servitude. He sets out to get his valuables back and discovers that he was robbed by a clever human boy named Lind. Tupp is very taken with Lind, but isn’t entirely sure what to make of that and feels he could never risk letting the other know his true feelings. The unfolding adventure solves his initial dilemma while believably setting up that Lind needs his assistance going forward. The boy hasn’t just stolen from Tupp; he’s robbed many of the Folk, and he’ll need protection and help in making amends.
Fast forward to this story. Again, you don’t have to read the other story first. They’ve been together for an indeterminate length of time and almost all of Lind’s debts have been paid. I suspect this is the final scene of the unfinished novel, and that the middle comprised the re-payment of the other debts. I want to read them all. The tension in this installment derives from how fond of the young man Tupp has grown and how much he dreads losing his company, even though that company can be maddening. Lind seems addicted to risk. His need to chase his next adrenaline rush makes their already difficult existence much harder. And yet…
This is great conflict. Living with Lind is difficult, but life without him would be hollow. His life is in danger until his debts are paid, but until they are he’s guaranteed to stay. And through it all there’s Tupp’s inability to articulate his true feelings for fear of being rejected. It’s good, addicting stuff. As noted above, both of these stories were published before. I don’t know how many more Tupp and Lind stories are out there, but I aim to find out and read every one.