Token Tales and Fragments

Recalling a Time of Heroes and Sages

Fiction - Fantasy - Epic
460 Pages
Reviewed on 12/30/2021
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Author Biography

A lifelong explorer of life's experiences and unending surprises, Billy Ironcrane was raised in inner city Philadelphia during the 1950's and 60's. There he partook in the revolutionary currents of change, protest, activism, and idealism which characterized the era. While a teen, he spent summers on the Jersey coast hawking newspapers, tossing burgers and exploring places like Atlantic City where he encountered flea circuses, Gene Krupa hanging between sets at the Steel Pier, petrified mermaids and the fabulously wealthy promenading the boardwalk at night flashing mink stoles, diamonds, tuxes and studded canes. Atlantic City dubbed itself, “The World’s Playground.” All the stuff of dreams as he returned to Mrs. J’s boarding house where he slept for ten bucks a week, sharing space with his grandfather, Polish immigrants working the summer trade, and the ever present legion of cats.

He departed the inner city pushing blindly into the unknown never to return. To be static would have been terminal, as it proved to be for many of his mates. In the decades following, he pursued new awarenesses, trekked mountains, explored Zen, became a soldier, raised a family, bridged the corporate jungle, then lived on wits and ingenuity until the muse of the 60's again tapped his shoulder, ordering, "Time to shift gears, Billy."

His stories re-visit ancient times, extracting from their myths and legends new reckonings and insights into a modern world where many of the same challenges seem to have become our norm.

    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Token Tales and Fragments: Recalling a Time of Heroes and Sages is a work of fiction in the epic fantasy genre. It is suitable for the general reading audience and was penned by Billy Ironcrane. The book is a collection of stories based on the folklore and history of the Han dynasty, collected and retold in a format that allows for a deeper exploration of the culture and history of ancient China. Through the heroes of the age who blurred the line between mythology and fact, this book seeks to deepen understanding of the era and the people who lived through it.

History is a rich well from which to draw inspiration for stories, with cultures around the world each giving birth to myths and legends based on the truth of their cultural history. Billy Ironcrane demonstrates both a keen eye for the stories on the cusp of being lost to time and enormous skill in reconstructing those stories. The collection serves as something of a selection of parables, each telling the tale of a hero faced with some task or trial that, whilst fantastical in nature, serves as a metaphor for one of the tasks or trials in modern life. Perhaps that is what stands out most amongst these stories; that Token Tales and Fragments takes tales from ancient Chinese folklore and restores their timelessness, presenting them to a modern audience for the same reason that oral storytellers of the past shared such tales – to pass along the lessons learned by our predecessors so that we will never stop needing to learn even 2,000 years later.

Asher Syed

Token Tales and Fragments: Recalling a Time of Heroes and Sages by Billy Ironcrane is a compilation of stories from the Three Kingdoms era in Chinese history, a period that in recent years has become popular through its romanticization in my native Asia. Ironcrane has rewoven collated pieces based on ancient storytelling and provided them in this work for comfortable consumption by a modern Western audience. The writing is formatted for ease of reading and the works are broken down into nine distinct but unhindered, interconnected parts. These are Apprenticeship, A Celestial Bow, Favors Extended, Fortune's Gateway, A Ghost Legend, One Hundred and Eight, Learning To Not Choose Failure, A Somber Gathering, and Companions. Interspersed throughout is the original artwork of Renee Knarreborg, who illustrates in sketches to provide a visual of standout characters featured in Ironcrane's tales.

My approach to reading Billy Ironcrane's Token Tales and Fragments can be succinctly summed up in a line by Sao Wei in the chapter titled A Way Stop for Ghosts: “I am most interested in what you can tell us of events from the east.” Ironcrane does well with this anthology and the amount of time, energy, and research that went into its construction must have been exhaustive. Each piece encapsulates fantasy, lore, and mythology without the weight of a narrative bogged down by writing that tries too hard to sound aged. That is to say, the writing is clean and tight, and the restraint of the author in how each line is naturally worded is a credit to them, and to the stories themselves. I liked the short story feel wrapped up in a longer-running connective tissue, my favorite vignette being a light-hearted, witty exchange in What Do Birds Know? Coincidentally, the short closes with my favorite sketch in the book, one that offers a peek into the courtyard of Jin Wei's birds. A very good collection well worth a read. Recommended.

Jamie Michele

An isolated archer named Sying Hao is known to the hunters as Fenghua Yan—weathered rock, the man of Southern Mountain. Zhi Mei is a woman who has lost everything she cared for in the physical world. Bao Ling of Ling Village is a woodsman with the voice to manifest a dragon, a deep history and many, many stories to convey. These are all focus characters that Billy Ironcrane works with in Token Tales and Fragments: Recalling a Time of Heroes and Sages. Narrated in the first-person but with the omniscient vision of classic literature, Ironcrane is in a position to shift seamlessly between time and declutter stories coming out of character recollection and those told in the present; that is, as present as 220 AD onward can get. All are singular and all are connected in a dynastic collection of ancient Chinese literature.

My entire maternal family is Chinese-Filipino and I am uniquely familiar with superstition and lore, especially as a woman who grew up wondering why the buildings in San Francisco didn't have holes cut through them so the dragons of the mountain could pass through without disturbing all of us. Anyone who has spent a genuine amount of time in Hong Kong will know exactly what this means. This made me excited to read Token Tales and Fragments by Billy Ironcrane. These are the stories, albeit significantly modified but still close enough, that I feel like I've had whispered into an eager, childhood ear by my great-grandmother. I don't recall them but there is a familiarity and Ironcrane has resuscitated them for me, in his own way. And that's fine, because I'm a generation who would have otherwise lost this piece of history, unable to share it with the bedtime ears of my own young ones. The writing is good. Sometimes a little loquacious but it serves the stories well. So it is with hand on heart gratitude that I can comfortably recommended this book to readers with a passion for the past.

Vincent Dublado

Immerse yourself in oriental fiction in Billy Ironcrane’s Token Tales and Fragments: Recalling a Time of Heroes and Sages. This work is a collection of short tales based on the myths and folklore of the Han Dynasty following its collapse. This dynasty saw an era of cultural consolidation, political experimentation, economic maturity, and technological advances. The author has taken careful and meticulous steps in retelling the tales collected herein to allow readers to gain not only an entertaining experience but also a better understanding of the Chinese folk tale structure. These are stories of men and women that spring from people’s imaginations that carry historical truths, hold political undertones, and reveal social and cultural values not easily found in history books.

Expect Billy Ironcrane to take you back in time as his writing reflects a commitment to delivering common themes in Chinese folk tales. These reflect people’s desires to make themselves better in order to rise and defy the pervading system that they deem keeps them in place. These stories blur the line between fact and fiction, and that is part of the book's beauty, for it tries to provide a refuge in an imaginary world as a temporary respite from the harsh realities of the world. Moreover, it provides invaluable philosophical lessons without attempting to be profound. I really enjoyed the story called A Lesson in Quirks, where the narrator tells how he learns about compassion from a sophisticated man, and how this lesson opened new doors and new awareness for him. Filled with transformation, exposition, and Confucianism, Token Tales and Fragments is a powerful and entertaining collection that will appeal to lovers of folktales and those seeking a unique source of information for cultural studies.

Rabia Tanveer

Token Tales and Fragments: Recalling a Time of Heroes and Sages by Billy Ironcrane is a collection of short stories set in the Chinese Han dynasty. Through these stories, the author shows what really made the Han dynasty the golden era of Chinese history and how the nation lost that golden age. The fall of the Han dynasty wasn’t sudden; it was almost controlled and timed to perfection, enough to make the fall hurt but not cripple. With a mixture of reality and mythology together, the author creates compelling tales of heroism, hope, sacrifices, and loss. There are heroes and villains that turn the story around, and then there are mythological elements that will make you think.

Billy Ironcrane struck gold with Token Tales and Fragments. By keeping the balance between fiction and reality, the author created a complete narrative that is at once entertaining and thought-provoking. Usually, I breeze through collections like these because it has mythology and history all wrapped into one very attractive packaging. However, I took my time with this book and savored every little bit of each story. The author brought the Chinese culture of that time alive and gave readers enough to make them want to stay for more. I enjoyed how timeless each story was, and how the author took you on a journey that would always become clear in the end. The narrative is kept simple, the pace is fast, and the storytelling does justice to the historical facts of this collection. It will appeal to a specific audience that loves to read about history and mythology but is not limited to that.