December 2007


Booking Through Thursday

Do you use any of the online book-cataloguing sites, like Library Thing or Shelfari? Why or why not? (Or . . . do you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking to?? (grin))

If not an online catalog, do you use any other method to catalog your book collection? Excel spreadsheets, index cards, a notebook, anything?

Yes, I have a Shelfari and a LibraryThing account and a couple of others as well. I haven’t paid for the LT so I have just the couple of hundred books listed there. I haven’t listed everything in Shelfari, either. I haven’t had the time.

Last year I started a list of all the books I’ve bought, gotten from BookMooch, borrowed from library, and read. It’s been pretty handy and I’ve continued to list my books that way.

My Shelfari page: http://www.shelfari.com/Mervi/shelf

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The third part of the Song and Swords series focuses on Arilyn’s mission which happens at the same time as Danilo’s in Elfsong. 

Arilyn Moonblade has been undercover as an assassin in Zazesspur and protecting the country’s ruler against plotting guildmasters. Now Harpers’ leader Khelben Blackstaff gives Arilyn a new mission: she’s is to go to the feral forest elves posing as a full blooded elf and to protect them against the plotting of greedy humans who are trying to incite a war between the forest elves and the local humans. At the same time Arilyn finds out more about her mysterious Moonblade’s powers.

Arilyn is a half-elf and her mother was a Royal Princess of the moon elves. However, her mother was exiled because of the relationship with a human and later she died leaving behind Arilyn who had never known her father and was shunned by her elven kin. Now, Arilyn is supposed to act as an envoy to the elven Queen who can barely even look at her. Arilyn herself is understandably resentful of the elves. However, she grows to respect the forest elves and even grows very close with the leader of the tribe. 

Silver Shadows has far more somber tone than the previous exuberant book which reflects nicely the differences between the personalities of Danilo and Arilyn. Cunningham has an excellent ear for elves and that side of her writing really shines here. The forest elves are very sympathetic and understandable, and the bad guys are loathsome.

I’m a long-time fan of Elaine Cunningham’s writing. Most of her Forgotten Realms books have been translated in Finnish so I’ve often read both the original and the translation. I’ve also reviewed the translated books for a Finnish fanzine. Those reviews are not on-line so I decided to rewrite them in English. Originally, I read the Song and Swords books when they were part of the multipart Harpers-books. 

Elfsong is the second book in the Song and Swords series and my favorite of the five books. While the first book, Elfshadow, introduced Arilyn Moonblade and Danilo Thann and explored the start of their friendship and possible romance, this book doesn’t have Arilyn but concentrates on Danilo and the rouge elf Elaith Craulnober.

Danilo Thann is one of Harpers’ most secret agents. While most of their agents seem to be either openly Harper-agents or a public secret rather than an actual secret agent, Danilo has a cover role as an absentminded and foolish bard. In reality, he’s a sharp student of people and a capable mage. The Harpers are a semi-secret society which has dedicated their lives to stopping evil people from harming others. 

The story starts with a bitter half-elf bard who has a long-standing grudge against the Harpers. She gets a powerful magical harp and uses its power to change the old songs and to lure young Harpers to their deaths. Danilo takes it upon himself to right things. On the way he bumps into Elaith and his band of mercenaries who are after the magical harp. Danilo and Elaith decide to work together for the time being but can they really trust each other…?

The secondary characters are just as delightful and interesting as the main characters. Danilo’s uncle Kelben Blackstaff runs things in his aloof way and matches Danilo with Morgalla the Mirthful a female dwarf who really wants to become a bard and an gold elf minstrel Wyn Ashwood.

Elfsong combines humor, magic and music in a way that uses the Forgotten Realms setting very well. There are also plenty of mysteries and riddles, furious rivalry, ribald songs, witty discussion, and mayhem of all kind. The pace is very fast and enjoyable.

Tooth and Claw was described as dragons in Victorian romance and it’s exactly that. Alas, I have only read one Victorian book and wasn’t terribly impressed with it; it’s just not my genre. I found myself bored to tears halfway through.

However, the fantasy aspects of this book kept me wide awake and interested. The dragon society has plenty of ridiculous aspects which mirror our own societies, past and present. There are also nice small touches here and there.

I would say that this book is better than Novik’s simply because Temeraire is all fluff and this one has nice, chewy insides. I’m willing to bet that anyone who loves the Victorian setting and fantasy is going to love this book and get a lot more out of it than I did.

You can read the first chapter here:
http://www.zorinth.net/bluejo/books/dragon/dragon1.htm

I understand that the basic plot of the book is pretty standard for Victorian romances: noble born sisters with little dowry and therefore little hope of marrying well are looking for a way to survive in a society where it isn’t appropriate for noble women to support themselves. There are lots of twists and some of them are rather convenient ones but that seems to be in keeping with the genre. Since I don’t know much about the conventions of the genre, I don’t feel qualified to judge the plot.

The dragon society is interesting and well done. While I was somewhat annoyed by the sexist elements they had to be there to make the point. The way that the dragons were a lot more aggressive, bloodthirsty, and violent than humans is also very well done and makes the book more interesting to me. On the other hand, you could look at these aspects, such as the dragons eating their relatives after their death and the way that the weaker hatchlings are culled, as just alternative and more straightforward violence from the way human societies often work.

The religions in the book are also interesting but their differences point a little too much to the differences between Catholics and Protestants.

I had quite a hard time buying to the whole “dragon maidens are delicate” thing but I guess that’s just because I’m a human and can’t quite wrap my mind around an even half-grown dragon being delicate and in need of protection. 🙂 Now, the way that the maidens changed colour permanently to reflect their feelings and the proximity to a male dragon was a very interesting idea. In that light it did make sense that maidens weren’t left alone with males. One question that wasn’t answered was can a married male make a maiden change colour? Since there seems to be strict heterosexual monogamy in the society, that doesn’t seem possible. It also seems that the dragons aren’t capable of cheating their spouses since wives and widows aren’t watched nearly as closely as maidens.

There are a lot of delightful little details in the book such as the clothes worn by the dragons. I’m really surprised that no-one has yet drawn a dragon wearing a hat or at least I wasn’t able to find even one such picture on-line. The first time this image cropped up in the book I laughed out loud (alas, I was in the university cafeteria…). If I knew what the hats looked like, I might try drawing some hat wearing dragon maidens.

The other detail that I really liked was the way that the court of justice is decorated with hearts and flowers and so those have a completely different associations to the dragons: from p.213 “…another threatening carving of hearts surrounded by flowers and coils of fleece…” Too bad that they came up in the text only a couple of times.

I really liked this book and should read it again to get more out of it.

Booking Through Thursday:

This week’s question is suggested by Island Editions:

Do you have a favourite book, now out of print, that you would like to see become available again? (I have several…)

Even though usually when I already own a book, I’m not likely to check if it’s still in print, there is still one series which I’d like to see back in print: Burrough’s Barsoom. Oh, the English originals are probably in print but I’d like to see the Finnish translations back.

My review of Clayton L. McNally, Jr’s
Galactic StarForce BattleFleet: To the Stars

Robert W. Walker’s Shadows in the White City: An Inspector Alastair Ransom Mystery

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