A realistic historical fiction which kind of glances at the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

Publication year: 1956
Format: print
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Finnish translator: Kirsi Nisula
Finnish publisher: Kirjapaja
Page count: 304 including two introductions to the book.

I’m familiar with the original myth but it’s been so long since I read it that it was great that one of the introductions has a brief recounting of it. It’s also fascinating to see the differences in the myth and Lewis’s version.

The story is told through the eyes of Orual, the eldest of Psyche’s sisters. If you’re expecting to see Cupid or much of the other gods, you’ll be disappointed. Also, Cupid is barely seen and Psyche is absent for most of the tale so I can’t really call this a retelling. Rather, a story inspired by the myth.

In this story, the Greek gods are very much out of the picture, rarely seen or heard, and not interacting with the humans. Even their famous tempers and desires are gone, apparently invented by humans. Although, some manner of jealousy might be seen near the end. Indeed, this reads like a historical fiction. The brief scenes where the deities are seen can be interpreted as dreams or visions.

Orual wrote this book when she is an old woman, as a memoir of what happened to her and her sister. She loved her sister very much and is bitter that the gods have twisted their story.

Orual is the eldest daughter of the king of Glome. Much to the king’s disappointment, she’s a girl and worse yet, ugly. Her sister Redival, however, is pretty. But the king’s wife died soon after Redival’s birth and he does his best to get another bride. The king is very temperamental and cruel. His kingdom is poor and he doesn’t have many allies. However, he manages to get another bride who dies giving birth to Psyche who even as a child is so beautiful that everything changes. Because Psyche’s mother is dead, Orual raises.

While Glome isn’t a real, it’s described as a realistic place. The people worship Ungit who requires sacrifices, mostly animals. Orual describes the scent of “holiness” as thick and pungent with blood.

The book has allusions to Christian thought, especially at the end. So, it can be read as a historical fiction, fantasy, or even Christian allegory. But it’s not too heavy handed, except at the end. But it has other themes as well, such as the difference between jealous, selfish love and selfless love which only wants the other’s happiness. Another is a the difference between “pagan” thought and Greek philosophy. Fox, Orual’s Greek tutor, teaches the “barbarians” Greek philosophy and tries to lift Orual and Psyche out of their barbarism.

The Finnish translation is excellent.

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Storybundle again has two very tempting bundles:
Time travel for 13 days and Sorcery and Steam for six days.

I’ve read and enjoyed Einstein’s Secret by Irving Belatche in the Time travel bundle.

The Fiction River presents issue, which is in the Sorcery and Steam bundle, has short stories from some previous Fiction River books. I’ve read some of them and really enjoyed Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “The Scottish Play”.

The first book in Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James mystery series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 28 minute
Narrator: Edward Petherbridge

This was a pretty enjoyable, fast-paced mystery if you can ignore the liberties taken with Holmes and Moriarty and their relationship.

It’s 1895, three years after Holmes supposedly died fighting Moriarty. However, he did survive and lives in secrecy. Some people do know that he survived. Mycroft, Holmes’ brother, has a very high-profile case for Holmes; a man has been murdered and a lot of highly placed men are concerned. The murdered man is in the employ of John D. Rockefeller so his position is more important than himself. It comes clear that a shadowy organization is targeting the men around Rockefeller.

But Holmes’ attention is captured by a young and beautiful American actress, Lucy James, who wants Holmes to find out who are her real parents.

The story has a lot of twists and turns. The writing style is quite faithful to Doyle’s style. Holmes is more emotional than in many other pastiches which didn’t bother me. We also get a lot of historical personages which was fun.

However, Veley adds a different wrinkle to Holmes’ and Moriarty’s backstory which I didn’t quite care for. Also, for a Holmes mystery this was somewhat predictable.

The narrator was great and spot on for this style of story.

A horror manga.

Writer and artist: Sui Ishida
Finnish translation: Suvi Mäkelä

Ken Kaneki is shy and a loner. His only friend is “Hide” Hideyoshi Nagachika. They’ve been friends since they were children and are now first year collage students. They live in a world where ghouls are real. The ghouls can pass as humans but since they can only eat human flesh, they attack and kill humans.

Ken has a crush on a beautiful, bookish girl who goes to the same coffee shop. He can hardly believe his luck when he gets a date with her, to talk about books. But during the date, she lures him to a secluded place and reveals that she’s actually a ghoul, only interested in him as dinner. However, when Ken tries to run, an accident happens which leaves her dead and him close to death. When Ken regains consciousness in a hospital, he realizes that the doctor has made an illegal operation and put some of the girl’s organs to Ken, to safe his life. Ken is now a half-ghoul who can’t stomach foods and only craves human flesh!

However, he doesn’t want to do that. He feels completely alone, craving for human company but afraid that his new condition will be found out.

Ken is a bookish main character and has ever fought in his life. The ghouls seem to fight for territory and he’s lost in this new culture. The ghouls seem animal-like to him and he’s clearly afraid of them. We’re introduced to three ghouls, in addition to the girl Ken went on a date. They all look like humans and Ken is surprised when he realizes how many people around him are actually ghouls. All of them despise Ken.

Ishida handles urban loneliness through supernatural lens. The tone it serious and focuses on horror.

It was interesting enough read but I don’t think I’ll continue with it.

A stand-alone fantasy/SF novella.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 6 hours 44 minute
Narrator: Nancy Wu

Yên has wanted to be a scholar but when she failed her university entrance exams, she lost her passion, even though she’s hoping to retake the exams in a couple of years. Now, she’s just helping her mother, the village healer. But they live in a village where only the most useful members are allowed to survive. Because this world was used and abused by beings called the Vanishers who have now gone. They left behind an planet filled with diseases and pollution. The healers, like Yên’s mother Kim Ngoc, are doing what they can but their magic is too weak heal everyone.

When Yên’s friend falls ill, the only way for Kim to heal her is to summon the local dragon. The dragon comes in the form of a noble but cold woman. She heals Yên’s friend but in return demands a life. She expects to get the girl she healed but the village elders consider Yên to be far more expendable. By threatening Yên’s mother, they get her to volunteer.

Yên expects the dragon to kill her. But to her amazement, the dragon has two children who require a tutor. Yên agrees. She fears the dragon but is also attracted to her. The children are unruly but polite to her. The palace exists in a spirit realm and is shifting around her. It has rooms where she shouldn’t go because she could die there. And the dragons themselves have many secrets.

This story has a very complex background and it allows de Bodard to explore not just the issues of colonization but also of consent, racism, and power. The dragon, Vu Côn, turns out to be rather ethical (perhaps not surprisingly) and she tries to teach the children about the ethics of consent between people who have very different levels of power. She’s also a healer and is combating the diseases (or viruses as she sees them). On the other hand, she has a lot of power and is used to wielding it without consulting anyone else. And yet, when the Vanishers were on this planet, Vu Côn and the other dragons were their servants. So, she has seen the power imbalance on both sides.

Again, the background is very complex and needs a careful reading to pick out just what’s happening. I’m hoping de Bodard will explore this fascinating world some more. Also, there are things that aren’t explained enough, such as the magic system.

This is often pitched as a Beauty and a Beast retelling which made me uncomfortable because that story always has too much Stockholm syndrome to me. Clearly, de Bodard knows that baggage and is circumventing it by talking carefully about consent. Excellent!

The second book in a trilogy of children’s fantasy books.

Publication year: 2003
Format: print
Publisher: Atom
Page count: 182

After the events of the previous book, the Troll King, every troll in Bonespittle wants to make Rollo the king. Even the comely troll maiden Ludicra finally notices Rollo and decides to become his queen. This is all a bit much to Rollo, who is only 14, and he flees the town. He tells everyone that he wants to keep a promise to a friend and to do that he needs to return to Bonny Woods where all the scary elves and pixies live. So, he runs.

Everyone celebrates their new-found freedom so much that nothing gets done. When two weeks have gone by, Ludicra finally decides to organized the trolls and ogres a little. But mostly, she’s worried about her own declining status and to keep it, she needs Rollo back. Together with a small group of trolls, ogres, and gnomes Ludicra and Rollo’s sister Crawfleece head to the scary woods. They also need to cross the Great Charm and they don’t know how.

Meanwhile, Rollo encounters some elves. For a short while, it looks like Rollo might make some new friends, despite an elven prince who is very suspicious of him. Unfortunately, things go wrong and the elves capture Rollo. He needs to be rescued.

This was a fun continuation to the Troll King with lots of adventure. Once again, we’re shown that things aren’t what they look at first glance. This time the POV shifts between Rollo and Ludicra who even grows a little during the dangerous journey. However, it does have a lot of violence and some unnamed characters die in battle scenes. Otherwise, it’s a great read for younger fantasy readers. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but most likely trouble awaites our intrepid band of unlikely heroes.

A one-shot.

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Steve Rude, Al Milgrom

This was a far more typical meeting of characters from different comic publishers, than Fantastic Four and Superman. It came out in 1999. The story starts with Clark quickly recapping the Hulk’s origin and comparing it with his own. The actual story is set in a modern world, mostly show with the use of cell phones because the aesthetics are reminiscent of 1950s, clearly wanting the reader to connect the story with the early careers of both characters. Also, Hulk and Superman just inhabit the same world, no explanations. Almost all of the story is a flash-back which Clark is telling Lois, even though she was there.

The story is set very early in Hulk’s time line when nobody yet knew that Banner was Hulk and General Ross had hired him to track down Hulk. Banner can’t control the change, either.

Clark is also quite young, competing as a reporter against Lois who doesn’t know who he is.

Hulk has been seen in New Mexico and Lois heads out, followed shortly by Clark. Banner turns to Hulk and clashes briefly with Superman. Luthor is also at Ross’ base; he wants to direct Hulk’s strength and fury against Superman.

I very much enjoyed Rude’s art and it’s very appropriate for the early versions of both characters. However, while the story fits well with both characters and their supporting cast at the time, it’s very basic.