Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hammer and Air by Amy Lane

Hammer & Air

There will always be a Hammer and an Air...

 Graeme and Eirn have no words for what they are to each other. Children, clinging together in a crowded orphanage; friends, battling back to back in a school yard; and bedmates, finally bridging the gap between sleeping next to a body and allowing it to touch you in the night—all of these roles are summed up by just their names: Hammer and Air.

The innocent exploration of their newest roles is brutally marred when a violent, ill-tempered master threatens Eirn, and Eirn's "Hammer" kills the man in a fair fight. The two run off into the wide world with only each other for safety. It's difficult to forge a good life with only a blacksmith's hammer and a printer's cleverness, but together, Hammer and Eirn will learn to negotiate the dangers of magic and motion, of sex, obsession, and tenderness, and of the word that can make sense of it all—one word they must earn for themselves.

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I didn't need to know exactly which fairy tale this story is based on to be sucked completely into the world. Starting from the very first scene, I knew I was going to be in a very "Brothers Grimm" situation, no Disney swans or anything floofy. This is the harsh, gritty, fairy tale world, where evil is real and not just marked with an unfortunate growth on a nose.

Eirn tells the story in a mild dialect, nothing intrusive, but it sets the tone for the story, which sometimes is very immediate -- this is happening now! -- and sometimes is a reflection on the long ago from the perspective of a much older man. This added to the fairy tale feeling, and I kept turning the pages for what happened next (I read this in one sitting and stayed up way too late.)

I loved the way the two boys grew up together and the way their relationship changed -- they were each other's protectors in a hard world, and when Hammer kills the abusive master and they go on the run, they almost don't know what to do when they find a safe haven -- they've never seen such a thing. It was both cute to watch them meet comfort and safety, and still desperate, as Hammer might well not have survived.

But be careful what you wish for -- it doesn't always take the form you expect -- and they encounter a bear with IDEAS. This worried me a bit at first, but the author handled this with skill and cleverness, and had I recalled the original story (turned out to be Snow White and Rose Red, and I need to find the original, version now) I might have worried less. Hammer's still worried, though, no matter what Eirn tells him, and here we come to one aspect of the story that bothered me.

At no time did Eirn wavered in his stated intentions, but Hammer can't seem to accept what he's told and shown, and from that comes a bit of dub-con, a situation I feel really uncomfortable with. It does at least get a couple of very important concepts through a couple of very thick skulls.

The story resolves in proper fairy tale style, although the resolution depends very much on a sudden illumination of thought, which happens really abruptly and has a certain element of personality transplant. (Normally this would send me into a frenzy but there's a reason for it.) Everyone is happy, including the reader.

The persistent feeling that Hammer's holding to his notions way past the point of reason, which directly led to the dub-con, and the initial encounter with the bear's ideas went way too smoothly, even after rereading and finding the death threat -- there's still this lingering thought of "ask first" or "Back off and wait to be invited." Maybe that's where Hammer got his death-grip on a wrong notion.

Disclaimer: I won this story on the Desert Island Keeper site, but I'm agreeing with them only cause they're right.


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