Reviews for Prodigies

I was travelling last fall when the first review came in for Prodigies and somehow I never got around to posting it here. Bad author! Go back to Self Promotion 101.

Anyway, here it is, from the Winnipeg Free Press: Teenage Trio Terrific in Wild Western Yarn. It’s paywalled, but here are some highlights:

“In the late 1870s, three formidably talented kids converge on Deadwood, S.D. in this exciting, episodic tale from Winnipeg writer, actor and park naturalist (and Winnipeg Free Press reviewer) Bob Armstrong.

“The prodigies at the heart of this story make their circuitous ways to the law-challenged setting of the novel’s last half in a series of vignettes that also work as shorter narratives, engaging the reader with vivid description, historical detail and American culture and folklore.”

Most recently, Prodigies picked up another review, this one in a journal aimed at the school and library market, called CM: Canadian Review of Materials.

The reviewer particularly appreciated the two strong female characters and the way the novel blends themes from late 19th century history with the action, so that a reader doesn’t need to know the history coming in but learns a lot after reading it. Here are some highlights.

“Armstrong blends together the three adolescents’ stories expertly and seamlessly. The book features spunky, determined teenagers who stand up for what is right, and they share many laughs along the way. Armstrong has created several strong, independent young female characters, including Lily, and Vera, the daughter of the editor-in-chief of the Black Hills newspaper, who defies her father, and, despite the danger this may pose to her, she embarks on her own to research and write stories about Daniel, the legendary sharpshooter known as the Bulldog Kid, someone whom everyone has been talking about. As a female reviewer, these aspects stood out to me, and I believe other readers will certainly observe and appreciate the inclusion of these feminist aspects. This is an especially appreciated detail as women’s suffrage was just in its infancy in the 1870’s, with women’s right to vote, for example, being still nearly 50 years in the future in both the United States and Canada. It was refreshing to see women framed in such a positive and empowering light and to read about characters who are fighting for their independence despite the upward battle at the time.

Prodigies is a unique text that expertly blends humour with serious topics and historical and social themes. The fact that each of the teen protagonists has an exceptional gift or skill adds a supernatural element to the text that is bound to make the reader root for each of them as they use these skills to fight against the antagonists they encounter. One of the best parts of the novel is that one can enter the text with minimal background knowledge of the Gold Rush-era, the American settings, or the social and historical elements present at the time, and become thoroughly engaged in the storyline, exiting the text having learned historical details along the way. This book would certainly be a text that is like no other on any library or classroom bookshelf.”



Getting weird in Canada’s prairie provinces

The good people at Enfield & Wizenty and Great Plains Publications published my short story Frank 2.0 last fall in the anthology  Alternate Plains: Stories of Prairie Speculative Fiction. It’s the follow-up to their 2018 anthology Parallel Prairies. Frank 2.0 is an alternative worlds story that also serves as a kind of autobiography of my fantasy life.

Frank 2.0 was actually my second story with a science fiction or speculative fiction angle to it to be published in 2021. Earlier in the year FreeFall Magazine ran my short story The Going and the Gone, which I’ve described as a kind of magical realism take on the pandemic.

I stayed on a bit of fantasy/speculative run in the fall with a new short story, titled The Symbolic Cemetery, which will be published in the spring of 2022 in the “Uncharted Territory” themed issue of Prairie Fire Magazine. While many of my stories come together slowly from an initial idea, I thought through The Symbolic Cemetery in two or three hours while hiking alone through the North Shore Mountains overlooking Lake Superior near Thunder Bay, Ontario. That night I wrote out the story longhand in a travel journal and when I got home I finished the story, gave it an edit and submitted it. Shortest path ever from idea to acceptance.

All three stories feature in the manuscript I’m sending around to publishers at the moment, a short story collection I’m currently calling A Time and A Place.