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The Overneath

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I’m far from an expert on the books of Peter S. Beagle. I’ve only read The Last Unicorn and A Fine and Private Place. The impression I’ve got from those two is that what he writes are not so much stories as tales. Even though they were created in the last few decades (and, like A Fine and Private Place, take place in a contemporary setting), they feel ancient, steeped in the old traditions of oral storytelling – so much so, that Polish SF writer Jacek Dukaj The Last Unicorn “the last fairy tale” in his review. In light of all this, I was very eager to read The Overneath so that I could see whether Beagle’s short stories – representing a more varied sample of his output – have the same quality.

The first four stories definitely fall into the category of “tales” – they take place long ago and far away (and, in the case of The Green-Eyed Boy, featuring Schmendrick the Magician, in the world of The Last Unicorn) and resemble folk stories the most. My favourite of the bunch is by far The Story of Kao Yu, which draws inspiration from Chinese folklore and follows a wandering judge, a wise, kind and honourable man, who becomes smitten with a beautiful thief. What in the hands of a less-skilled storyteller could become a cliché (and old man longing for a young woman), in Beagle’s telling becomes a slightly melancholic, humane tale where both characters are allowed to retain their agency.

The collection shifts somewhat after that and what follows are unmistakably stories. This in and of itself is not a judgment on their quality; Trinity County, CA, for example, is a humorous, inventive story that achieves a great effect through its juxtaposition of the mundane realities of being a ranger in remote woodland areas with the fact that the job of the main characters is tracking down people who keep contraband dragons. A similar effect is achieved is Kaskia, in which Beagle makes the realist story of a man in a disintegrating marriage who strikes up an online friendship fresh by the simple fact that his computer connects him with an alien being in a completely different part of the universe.

In fact, most of the pieces, regardless of whether they’re tales or stories, possess a mix of hope and melancholy that is, as far as I can tell, unique to Beagle alone. The characters often regard the world with a curious mixture of hope and cynicism: they are certain that nothing good can happen to them, and yet, despite that, they hope that it will – the same attitude is often displayed by the voice of the narrator as well. The best example of that may be The Green-Eyed Boy and Schmendrick Alone, because they utilise a character we already know very well from The Last Unicorn and create a powerful resonance with each other: in both Schmendrick experiences a tenuous connection with someone, a spark of warmth and companionship, but has to leave it behind when his magic gets wildly out of control. Because it happens twice, the effect compounds, making the reader acutely aware of the desperate loneliness that haunts the character.

This infusion of emotions elevates a lot of the stories in the collection, such as Music, When Soft Voices Die – Beagle’s attempt at steampunk – that reads a lot like a classic ghost story, until the poetic, achingly beautiful reveal of what it is exactly that haunts its protagonists. In fact, the collection seems to stumble precisely when the stories lack the warmth and wisdom – as in The Way It Works Out and All, which seems no more than a demonstration of a fantastical concept, or in Underbridge, which aims at a story of a man pushed to monstrosity by his obsession and alienations (it brought to my mind characters from Edgar Allan Poe’s stories), but feels mean-spirited in a way that struck me as wholly uncharacteristic of Beagle and in effect created a strong dissonance with the rest of the collection.

Unicorns are a recurring motif for Beagle (they feature, in very different versions, in three stories in this collection), so it seems fitting that one appears at the very end. Olfert Dapper’s Day starts as a story (a very good one, although a big part of that might be my predisposition to like stories about conmen) – and then, at some point, with the appearance of the unicorn, the story seems to transform into a tale of a man who, if not exactly bad, was never particularly good, and who suddenly has to use his one true talent – lying – not to serve himself but to save another person. In the end, he loses something, gains something, and I felt that he will never be the same again, although it would be hard to define how exactly was he changed.

This is one of the stories that demonstrate what I love about Beagle best: his characters are often weak and failing, yet all the more heroic when, through chance or grace, they manage to rise to the trials that stand before them. At his best, he opens your heart up and, through his writing, makes you want to speak in poetry. And that’s exactly what happens when you read The Overneath.

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Peter Beagle can write anything--literally anything. He's written novels, short stories, screenplays, and songs, all many-hued in style, theme, and subject. Over his career, he's written tales about ghost cats and teenage angst (Tamsin), restless spirits and larcenous ravens (A Fine and Private Place), cranky Italian farmers and mischievous goats (In Calabria), and of course, unicorns and love-lorn princes (The Last Unicorn).

Of all the magical creatures Beagle has written about, unicorns loom largest in the author's catalogue. The Last Unicorn is arguably one of his best-known works, thanks to the beloved animated film from the 1980s, to say nothing of the novel’s stunning prose and wonderfully well-drawn characters. In this book, Beagle captures all the magnificence of unicorns and spellbinds his audience to follow them wherever they may lead. I've often suspected he became ensnared in his own literary spell. Is it any wonder that he's often found himself writing about those mythical creatures? In Calabria involved unicorns at the heart of its plot, and Beagle's new short story collection, The Overneath, which will be published by Tachyon in November, features three very different stories about unicorns, and another two in the universe of The Last Unicorn. While there are storytellers who often retread the same subjects, Beagle is one who manages to make the experience feel new every single time.

The stories that takes place in the world of The Last Unicorn both feature the hapless magician, Schmendrick. In “The Green-Eyed Boy,” we learn how Schmendrick came to study with the great wizard Nikos and the cost of power. The narrative picks up in “Schmendrick Alone,” where we find Schmendrick on the road, using his wits and burgeoning power to fend off bandits. At their heart, these are character pieces that enrich their story universe, but Beagle infuses both stories with heart and sorrow. It's no wonder Schmendrick is one of Beagle’s most beloved characters: he's just like us as he wanders along, hoping he’s making the right choices and persevering even when he doesn't.

Beagle doesn't limit his examination of the unicorn myth to Europe. One of my favorite tales is “My Son Heydari and the Karkadann,” which features the karkadann, a Persian unicorn-like creature, in a story rich with voice and imagery. I also enjoyed “The Story of Kao Yu,” which takes place in China and follows a judge who meets his own judgment in the form of a unicorn. “Olfert Dapper’s Day,” is a sly nod to the inspiration for The Last Unicorn and features genuine romance and wonder within a buttoned-up Puritanical setting.

My absolute favorite story in the collection had nothing to do with unicorns, however. I adored “The Very Nasty Aquarium,” which incorporates Caribbean folklore and genuine chills in the form of an evil pirate turned aquarium ornament. I really wish this were a longer story because I didn't want to leave any of the characters, even the aquarium figurines. I also loved the plucky older ladies that took matters into their own hands, red underpants and all. I don't often come across stories that manage to be both heartwarming and terrifying, but this one does so quite successfully.

There's a story in this collection for everyone. Beagle may revisit similar subjects, but he never writes the same story twice. This many faceted-collection sparkles with gems old and new, all unique in their telling.

I highly recommend this collection to fans of fantastical tales. If you'd like to read more by Beagle, check out his catalogue at Tachyon.

The Overneath's table of contents is as follows:

The Green-Eyed Boy
The Story of Kao Yu - First time in print (2017 Locus Award finalist)
My Son Heydari and the Karkadann - First time in print (appeared in a Humble Bundle limited ebook edition)
The Queen Who Could Not Walk
Trinity County, CA: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See You!
The Way it Works Out and All
Schmendrick Alone - First publication
Great-Grandmother in the Cellar
The Very Nasty Aquarium - First publication
Music, When Soft Voices Die
Olfert Dapper’s Day

Thank you to NetGalley and Tachyon for providing an advance reading copy for review.

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[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

Peter Beagle has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Admittedly, I didn't know much about him outside of The Last Unicorn until I was in my late teens. Which is a very sad sad thing. I know I had several of his books hanging around my house, but can't remember if I read them or when. (Remind me to go find them and read them, just to be safe!)

The Overneath is a collection of short stories, some of which were published elsewhere, and some of which are new. I believe both Schmendrick (!!!) stories are new, and they both made my heart skip a few beats. Reading about his life before he met the unicorn was magical! It was like a completely new depth brought to a character I've loved for years. (Peter, please write more Schmendrick! And Molly Grue! And Lir, oh bring Lir back...Yes I know he's gone...but I always want more. The Last Unicorn is one of my absolute favorite books.)

The other stories were very different from the others of his that I've read (although I can't say I've read his other short stories, I am really just talking about his books). I enjoyed the title story very much, and the very last one based on the dedication to The Last Unicorn. Both were intriguing. I still want to know what happened to the narrator's friend in The Overneath, and more more more.

Peter Beagle has always had a way of making me just want more. Can you tell?

I highly recommend this collection. His short stories are just as magical as his novels and novellas. There is so much atmosphere, such great character development in such short spaces. The stories are interesting (except that troll one - that one kind of left a bad taste in my mouth). And the unicorns! Okay, I think there was only one unicorn. But that's all right. The fantasy was there, the mood, the magic and the wonder of it all. Read this if you are a fan. Even if you're not a fan, give it a shot. You never know what you might find...

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This is a collection of wonderful short stories, many of which deal with different interpretations of Unicorns which were the stories I liked the most. Not that I’m totally caught up in the pastel, iridescent unicorn trend, I like a unicorn that can do a bit of damage you know what I mean? That’s the kind of unicorn we have here.

I’ll confess I’ve never read any Peter S. Beagle before so some of the stories which link with his other work may have nuances that were lost on me, for the most part, however, you can understand what is going on.

What struck me about this collection is how Beagle can write different voices. Each story feels distinct and unique, you don’t descend into a monotonous drudge as some short story collections can do.

One of my favourite stories was that which gives the collection it’s name. The Overneath reminded me a little of the different Londons in V. A. Schwabb’s ADSOM series. I actually think you could conjure a whole novel out of the idea, but doubtless it would be phenomenally complicated so I understand why Beagle stuck to this format.

While some elements are reminiscent of classic folk tales, others smack of science fiction influences. The key element which unites these stories, for me, was the authors clear passion for them. Some ideas have been fermenting for many a year while others seem to have written themselves.

If this is an indication of the standard of Beagle’s work then sign me up to read some more! (Oh my poor TBR).

My rating: 4/5 stars

The Overneath publishes on the 7th of November so be sure to keep your eyes peeled!

By the way, I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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This anthology was amazing and well written. Although this is the first novel I have read but Peter S. Beagle it sure won't be my last. My favorite stories were Underbridge (amazing character development) and Trinity County CA: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Want to See you (a plot so good you won't be able to put the story down unfinished). I didn't hate any stories but my least favorite was Olfert Dapper's Day.

I would suggest this novel to all fantasy fans out there.

I got this story for free from the publisher.

The Green-Eyed Boy - 3.5/5 stars
This story is a prequel to The Last Unicorn. Although it can be read on its own (like I did) I feel like a lot is lost. Still a good story though.

The Story of Kao-Yo - 4/5 stars
The authors version of a unicorn story. It takes place in China with a judge as the main character. There was a complexity to the story I didn't, especially at the end regarding judge and the unicorn.

My Son Heydari and the Karkadann - 4.5/5 stars
This is another unicorn story, however instead of the unicorn being mysterious and powerful it is more territorial and maleficent. I really enjoyed this story as it gives a different twist to an old legend.

The Queen Who Could Not Walk - 4/5 stars
A princess loses her ability to walk on her wedding night. The prince still marries her where she remains Queen till she is old and forced out to be (due to God's wishes). While begging she learns the true price of greed, revenge and vanity.

Trinity County, CA: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See you! - 5/5 stars
One of my favorite stories in this analogy. Two deputies that are part of D Patrol, they investigate dragons being bred, raised or kept illegally. I loved the plot and the amount of detail Beagle put into the dragons.

They Way It Works Out and All - 4/5 stars
This story is the origin behind the title. There was tons of promise behind his story but the execution wasn't as well done as I was hoping. If the main character was braver the story would have gone so much farther. Still a great story though.

Kaskia - 3.5/5 stars
Martin buys a new computer with hidden features. One of those features allows him to communicate with an unknown entity. I feel there were numerous elements to this story but the only one I got was that people can and will disguise who they are online.

Schmendrick Alone - 4/5 stars
This story takes place in The Last Unicorn universe but it more of a standalone story then The Green-Eyed Boy. Schmendrick is finally out in the world after his 7-year apprenticeship but he has a lot to learn about life and magic.

Great-Grandmother In the Cellar - 4/5 stars
This story is written like a classic fairytale with an enchanted daughter, a powerful but evil wizard and a resurrected grandmother. I thought the ending was perfect in this story.

Underbridge - 5/5 stars
This story takes place in Seattle with a troll. The main character was really despicable and I was glad to see he got what he deserved.

The Very Nasty Aquarium - 3/5/5 stars
This story follows two retired school teachers as they try to rid an aquarium of a duppy. This story was incredibly unique, the beginning was a little slow but it quickly picked up.

Music, When Soft Voices Die - 4.5/5 stars
This is the only horror story in the novel. I wouldn't say it was scary but it was definitely unnerving. This story had me looking over my shoulder a few times before I feel asleep.

Olfert Dapper's Day - 3/5 stars
Dr. Olfert Dapper moves to the New World and befriends an aboriginal man named Rain Coming. Together they see a unicorn. Although the story was good I was confused why he was forced out of town yet Remorse Kirtley was accepted. I also didn't understand and hated that the Unicorn liked Remorse better because she was a virgin. This story was okay, I found the concept of virginity being an outdated concept.

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This is an incredibly varied book of short stories that live up to the usual high quality of Beagle's work. It has something for everyone from lovers of The Last Unicorn (Hello, Schmendrick!) to steampunk fans. There were stories that I enjoyed more than others, for sure but that is par for the course with short story collections. If you are a fan of Peter S. Beagle you should definitely pick this one up.
I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Short stories by the author of <i>The Last Unicorn</i>, several of which revisit that most evocative of creatures (albeit not always in the familiar Western version - and one of the variants is a far less noble creature), and a couple more of which fill out the earlier life of that book’s erratic mage Schmendrick. The rest of the pieces tends towards urban fantasy, in its non-formulaic sense – because even when I love something like the Peter Grant books, it’s inevitable that the smart narrator and the codification of his world do gradually familiarise you with what should be marvels. Whereas in these brief glimpses, a piece of sculpture with ideas above its station, or a haunted aquarium, or a computer with a very unusual key remain as utterly strange and fabulous as they really would be. The wonderful title story is a piece in memory of Beagle’s late friend Avram Davidson which, while rather different from your standard memorial, fits the man far better - really giving a sense of his personality and his qualities, and definitely doing him due honour. The collection includes a brief note with each story, which I always appreciate – and Beagle’s notes are more honest than some writers about not loving all these children equally. For one of the longest (and for me, weakest) pieces here, for instance – a story whose alternate history setting doesn’t seem to contribute much to its core – it definitely helps to have Beagle admit that it was written for a steampunk anthology, despite his not really knowing what steampunk is.

(Netgalley ARC)

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The Overneath is Peter S. Beagle's latest offering of short stories. There is definitely something for everyone in here. Do you love Schmendrick? He is in two stories! Do you love urban fantasy? What about stories set in exotic locales or times? This anthology has you covered! Each story is rich in character, action, and detail. I liked all the stories, but the real stand outs for me were "The Green-Eyed Boy," "The Queen Who Could Not Walk," and "Trinity County, CA: You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See You." If you already love Peter S. Beagle, you need to run to get a copy of this book. If you have never read his work, it is an excellent introduction, which will leave you longing to dig into his catalog.

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I loved this book. I had never read anything by Peter Beagle before, but I will definitely look into his books now. I had heard of him, but had never sought him out before this. This was an excellent collection of stories, and a really good primer on his writing style. I found his stories to be extremely engaging, even when I was wary at first. My personal favorites were the stories involving Schmendrick, the various unicorn stories, and the story with the dragons at drug dens. Overall, a fantastic read, and one that I am glad I found!

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This is an outstanding collection of fantasy author Peter S. Beagle's short stories, from those set in the Land of Far Away and Long Ago to those with a contemporary fantasy setting. Beagle, whose best-loved novel is The Last Unicorn, excels in the several unicorn tales here. I also loved his stories with a strong or brave heroine. His engaging writing leaves me with a warm feeling, even when a story is scary or sad. Beagle's writing has heart, and his characters shine.

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The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So far, I've been enjoying Beagle's works and this is my first real taste of his short fiction. I'm sure that there will be a ton of fans going ga-ga over the fact that there are two Schmendrick shorts here!

Even so, I think I enjoyed a number of the other stories a bit more. I'm particularly fond of his Steampunk story: Music, When Soft Voices Die which had a particularly awesome horror feel. Indeed, I think I prefer all the stories that had that taste, such as these three: The Very Nasty Aquarium, Great Grandmother in the Cellar, and Underbridge.

Even better are timeless stories like: The Queen Who Could Not Walk. There was something about this one that really got to me.

Even so, there's a little something for everyone in this collection, especially if you like unicorn tales that don't fit in Beagle's Last Unicorn universe. There's even a delightful SF about a lonely guy with an awesome computer who has a penpal across the universe. :)

I admit to liking but not loving most of these, but I can't complain about the quality of any of it! I am quite pleased with the quality of the research and the depth of the myths inside some of the tales. Magic is everywhere. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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So, the first and most important thing that lead me right into being like "YES, NETGALLEY, I WOULD LOVE TO READ THIS BOOK" is that the green-eyed boy featured in the first story "The Green-Eyed Boy" is in fact, Schmendrick the Magician, last of the red hot swamis. A young Schmendrick, who has just started his apprenticeship with Nikos, a master wizard. We see Schmendrick's clumsy attempts to work the powerful magic that he has right from the beginning. I loved it. Getting his origin story, so to speak, an outcast boy from a family that cares not a whit for him... even his name, from a Yiddish word that means something along the lines of "somebody out of his depth" as Beagle once put it, is a source of shame for him. Poor Schmendrick. I feel for him. What an amazing opener for this book of stories!

There are a few stories about unicorns in this anthology (surprise!), but they are all different kinds of unicorns.

For example, The Story of Kao Yu tells the story of a travelling judge who is occasionally helped out by a chi-lin, a Chinese unicorn. My Son Heydari and the Karkadann is a story about a wounded Persian unicorn, a karkadann - somewhat like a rhinoceros - being nursed back to health by a local boy. 

It also has a bunch of fantastic stories in it that aren't about unicorns, like The Queen Who Could Not Walk, which had a really fantastic reveal, and Trinity County, CA : You'll Want to Come Again and We'll Be Glad to See You! which is about a group of people that go in and rescue illegal exotic animals in Trinity County... only the exotic animals in this case, are dragons. Kaskia is a story about a middle aged man with a failing marriage who buys a strange laptop from his cousin and ends up instant messaging an alien with it. Music, When Soft Voices Die is a really cool story about a medical student in Victorian England who builds a machine that starts to pick up random voices, and it's a bit of a mystery finding out what they are and where they come from. Really surreal and wonderfully written stories of all different kinds.

It was awesome from start to finish. Never samey, never boring. I loved the entire collection, and I'll be honest here, I can only say that about 3 short story anthologies that I've ever read (including this one). So, there you go. :)

Many thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for the advance reader copy of this book.

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This being my 400th book to review in 2017 I felt it called for something special and since the 50th anniversary of one of the most enduring classics that has impacted an untold number of children is coming up next year I knew the perfect author to choose.

Peter S. Beagle gave us The Last Unicorn in 1968 which was then made into a movie in 1982 which is currently playing on Netflix if you need a reminder. His talent to create vivid settings, enchanting characters and worlds that came straight out of our dreams and nightmares taught us about the world in a refreshingly honest way
Even 60 years after he started putting pen to page what made Beagle so uplifting, fresh and enduring has not lost its luster with his latest collection of short stories.

We have over ten tales to take us away including the chance to relive that childhood magic from long ago by meeting Schmendrick once again. Diving into his illustrious work you get to walk down memory lane when life could just be full of mythic beings, hauntings to give you goosebumps and people you wish were real so they could make this world just a little easier to live in.

You will travel to China and immerse yourself in beautiful Asian folklore, to the Middle East where the sands of time are wiped away to tickle your imagination, or maybe very close to your own backyard where Dragons might just exist..

What is truly beautiful about this book is that Beagle’s writing lets you believe, if only for a little while, that magic, mythos and wonder are real. As you enter his world you become part of it and for that time the impossible is achievable.

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I am not a huge fan of short stories, but when I saw this collection by Beagle, who I have loved ever since childhood, I couldn't resist. And these stories are just as charming as The Last Unicorn. Yes, there are fantastical beasts (three unicorns?!) and magic from other lands. There is the title story, about a world passageway that is just outside of sight, but has its perils. But my favorite was the story of a very uncanny aquarium and it's inhabitants, and their retired elementary school teacher owner.

I enjoyed all of the stories, and liked the bonus of two stories about our man Shmendrick. But mostly I was entranced by the style of the writing, and the ease with which Beagle makes the fantastical real. I would love to live in his world, even when it's a bit scary and off-putting.

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Beagle fans, rejoice! He's back and so are some of our favorites... and new favorites. Once again, he mastered the short story collection like no one else. I adore this man.

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Yet another incredible collection of short stories from world renowned Fantasy Author Peter S Beagle. I was extra excited for The Overneath because I'd heard it featured a story about our very own Schmendrick the Magician. But imagine my delight when I discovered not one but two Schmendrick stories!!

In addition, there is of course plenty of other stories in here which deserve praise of their own. From stories about the Fremont Bridge Troll (of which I had never previously heard of but am now fascinated by) to stories of otherworlds where our world lays in the shadows.

I particularly liked the story about a group of men living together and one of them creates an electronic device which without giving spoilers has a spooky purpose. Another favourite has to be the one about a haunted aquarium and it's retired teachers for heroines.

Peter S Beagle just has an incredible skill for putting together both short and full length stories. I have been in love with The Last Unicorn my whole life and I continue to adore every single thing Peter writes. The Overneath is no different. A fantasy lover's heaven from start to finish.

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