May 2008

English translation by Sonia Soto.

This is a weird book. It pretends to be an old Greek manuscript written in the Ancient times. At the same time, we are introduced to the fictional translator who is apparently translating a modern version of the original Greek. This fictional translator also seems to be able to work without dictionaries or colleagues to seek advice from. *

The detective story is set into Ancient Athens during the time when Plato was teaching in his Academy. A young man, who was one of the students at the Academy, is found dead. It looks like he had been killed by wolfs who had eaten his heart. Heracles Pontor, the Decipherer of Enigmas, sees the body and apparently sees something strange in it. However, the readers aren’t told what that is until much later.

The young man, Tramachus, had been the only male in his immediate family and so his mother and sister have been left in a difficult position. Tramachus’ mother had been Heracles’ sweetheart in their youths but their families had arranged different marriages for them. So, the meeting between Heracles and Tramachus’ mother, Itys, is awkward.

Tramachus’ teacher at the Academy, Diagoras, asks Heracles to look into the youth’s death. Heracles is at first reluctant because he solves only written riddles. However, he agrees to look into the death but on his own terms. Diagoras wants to help Heracles and the Decipherer agrees.

They go together from person to person and place to place, and find out increasingly disturbing things about Tramachus who is supposed to have been a virtuous young man. It turns out that he has been seen a hetaera, a prostitute, and has been involved with an old sculptor who is known to be a hedonist and an unvirtuous person.

Then another young man dies. Euneos, who was Tramachus’ friend and also a well-liked and virtuous student at the Academy, seems to have drunk too much wine, put on a woman’s clothes and then stabbed himself repeatedly. However, Hercules notices almost immediately that the stab wounds on the body and in the cloths don’t match. He and Diagoras continue their investigation with renewed vigor.

Hercules is the main point-of-view character but the writing is omniscient rather than limited to the POV of the characters. However, that is probably because of the eidetic messages in the book. The pace seems quite slow at times but the mystery and the story lines are engaging the whole time. However, the eidetic images do distract from the story – just as they are supposed to do.

The second story line in the book is that of the fictional translator whose story is seen in the translator’s notes. He’s never named and the languages used aren’t named either except for the original language which is Greek. During the first chapter he notes that the book has eidetic images and symbols. He seems to be translating an earlier translation of the original text. He has never seen the original text. The earlier translator, Montalo, is a respected translator but seems to not have noticed the eidetic images even though he is reputed to be an expert in the field of eidetic texts. This book’s translator comments on the images he finds and tells about the conversations he has with other people about the translation. Then one night he is convinced that someone has broken into his house and changed the text. Yet, he continues the translation. He even starts to see himself in the text.

The eidetic images are a big part of the book especially in the end so anyone expecting a normal mystery story is probably going to be disappointed. Otherwise, it’s an excellent book.

*Just to be perfectly clear: the way that the fictional translator works in completely fictional: I don’t know any translator who would have started to translate a book without first reading it. Yet, this translator seems to be surprised by the events in the book and clearly has never read the end of the book. Now, a translator could work like that but I’m fairly certain that tactic would actually result in a lot of wasted effort. It’s really good to know what is and is not relevant. Not to mention that the translator would likely have to have read the book to know what to charge and how much time it would take.

Also, no translator’s notes could ever be like the ones in this book. No publisher would agree to leave in a lowly translator’s opinions of the philosophies in the book or the writing style; those are for the readers to figure out themselves. Details about the translator’s conversations (even if they are about the book s/he’s working on) or love life would certainly never be put into translator’s notes! And the traumatic events that the translator goes through later in the book would have been put into a separate book or more likely a newspaper article and not in the translated book.

Also, he doesn’t seem to have a publisher. When he starts to suspect that the text has been changed, he should have contacted the publisher. Or maybe this is his master’s degree translation or something. But even so, if the validity of the original text is in doubt that should be figured out first before continuing the translation! If you want to know how it ends, just read the rest. Then again, I suspect that the fictional translator doesn’t work in out world but in a parallel or alternate universe.

Booking Through Thursday

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be “reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

(Two weeks late for Reading is Fundamental week, but, well…)

I haven’t really thought about that before. But to me reading is reading written words no matter where they are: prose, poetry, subtitles, in a book, on a screen. Comics straddle the line between reading and looking at pictures and I tend to think that comics should have more pictures than words (otherwise, what’s the point?). Listening to an audiobook is just that: “listening”. I’ve noticed that I can’t concentrate all the time to listening as much as I have to concentrate on reading.

However, I don’t consider reading books to be “better” than looking at comics or reading subtitles.

In the fourth Amelia Peabody book Ramses in eight and the family returns again to Egypt. This time Emerson has managed to get at Dahshoor. However, shortly after coming to Cairo, the Emersons run into Kalenischeff who was a flunky of the chief villain in the previous book. Kalenischeff has attached himself to a wealthy heiress, Ms Debenham, and Amelia is convinced that he is running some sort of scam.

However, Emerson insists that they continue quickly to the excavation site. Before they have time to do so, however, Ramses is kidnapped and is saved by a mysterious man. He turns out to be an English drug addict so naturally the tender hearted Emersons hire him to watch Ramses. Also, Kalenischeff is murdered into Ms Debenham’s bed and the girl is missing. Amelia is convinced that the Master Criminal from the previous book is behind both of these events.

The Emersons leave for Dahshoor but they aren’t left alone for long. Among their baggage they find, to their astonishment, the sacramental vessels which were stolen from a Coptic Church nearby in the previous year. Also, soon they find a fainting girl on the desert. Emerson believes that she is one of Petrie’s assistants but Amelia suspects that she is actually the missing Ms Debenham.

I liked this book more than the previous ones (or maybe Emerson is finally growing on me!). It’s very humorous, especially the absurd ending.

Another of my reviews: Diana Pharaoh Francis’ the Cipher.

Four and a half starts from five.

Booking Through Thursday

Books and films both tell stories, but what we want from a book can be different from what we want from a movie. Is this true for you? If so, what’s the difference between a book and a movie?

Yes, of course books and movies are different. Movies concentrate on the visual and are usually far more fast paced. Books can delve into a character’s inner thoughts and character development. Of course, not all books do that, either. But books lack the visual aspect completely. A writer can describe places and characters and a character’s movement or clothing but the impact isn’t the same. And as many others have pointed out in this respect reading a book is more intimate and leaves more to the imagination of the reader.

This is the second book of the adventures of Lord Meren and his adopted son Kysen set in the reign of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Unas, a humble priest of Amun is late one evening and he overhears two men plotting terrible things in the temple. Frightened, he tries to hide in a storage room but manages to find bowls which frighten him even more. In his fear, he breaks one of the bowls and takes the shards with him. In his house he burns the shards much to his wife’s consternation. He tries to talk with Lord Meren who is the Eyes and Ears of Pharaoh but his courage fails and he flees. Then he is pushed down from the high, new statue of Pharaoh.

Unas’ supervisor priest wants to just keep the matter quiet but the head carpenter takes the matter forward and it reaches Lord Meren. Because Pharaoh’s new statue is also a political statement against the growing power of the priests, Meren sends his son to investigate.

Kysen finds out that the priest had been behaving a bit oddly a few days before his death but can’t find any evidence that it’s a murder. But when a scribe is killed by no fewer than five cobras which have been left in his satchel, Kysen and Meren have to investigate. This angers the high priests of Amun who have just started to recover from the reign of the infamous Pharaoh Akhenaten who had displaced all of Egypt’s traditional gods in favor of the sun god Aten. Meren must proceed with caution so that he wouldn’t tip the precarious balance of power between the 14-year old Pharaoh and the priests. The matter isn’t made easier by Meren’s cousin Ebana who blames Meren for the death of his family at the hands of Akhenaten. Ebana is one of the high priests of Amun.

Meanwhile a group of Tutankhamun’s oldest friends returns to the palace from a diplomatic mission. They seem to be content and happy men but under the surface many of them bear a grudge towards someone in the royal family. Some of them are Tutankhamun’s half brothers and soon there are rumors that the boy is too young to rule.

I liked Robinson’s second book even more than the first. This book has more characters but they are also more entertaining. I enjoyed especially the easy camaraderie between the group of young men and the both sides of Tutankhamun: the teenager and the ruler.

This book had more political elements than the previous one, too.

Booking Through Thursday

Scenario: You’ve just bought some complicated gadget home . . . do you read the accompanying documentation? Or not?

Do you ever read manuals?

How-to books?

Self-help guides?

Anything at all?

I usually at least skim a manual and read the points which are relevant right now. If I can’t make it work, I might even return to the manual later.

I’ve read some gardening books if those count as as how-to books? But now I don’t have a garden and I so I don’t read them. I read the occasional book about writing or teaching dogs but not much else in this category. I don’t think I’ve ever read a self-help book. I didn’t even read any of the recommended books on how to write an MA dissertation.

This is the second book from McKillip which has been translated into Finnish. The previous one, Ombria in Shadow, was translated over two years ago and I had already thought that Ombria would be the only translation we’d get. I’m happy see I was wrong.

Song for the Basilisk is set in a world were magic is subtle and only used by a few people. Otherwise is seems to be quite near to a pseudo-Medieval world with kings, princesses, and peasants.

A young boy is the only one to survive a fire and his great uncle and some other men take him away to an island called Luly where bards live and teach. The boy has forgotten his name in the horrors of the fire and he’s renamed Caladrius. When he comes to Luly, he’s named again as Rook Caladrius.

Years go by. Rook learns to play many instruments except the harp. The harp makes his memories of fire and ash to come to the surface and so he can’t play it. Unfortunately, many nobles expect that a bard should play the harp and so it’s unlikely that Rook will become a wandering bard. However, this is fine with him because he has no desire to leave the rocky island. While at the school, he falls in love with a baron’s daughter Sirina. When Rook leaves for the provinces to find his past, Sirina promises to wait for him.

Rook travels far but even in a couple of years he can’t find anything about his past. Finally he comes back to Luly where Sirina and their son Hollis wait for him. More than ten years pass. Sirina leaves Rook who doesn’t want to leave the rocky island. Hollis stays in the school and learns to be a bard.

One night a young man calling himself Griffin Tormalyne comes to Luly searching for great power. He wants to avenge the destruction of his family who used to rule the city of Berylon. But the arm of the destroyer, the Basilisk, is long and the school is burned and many of the bards killed. Rook realizes that he must find out his past and leaves for Berylon. He sends his son to Sirina’s castle.

In the city of Berylon, Giulia Dulcet is a magister in the Tormalyne music school. She is hired to conduct the annual opera in the honor of the city’s tyrant, Arioso Pellior whose symbol is the Basilisk. She also has to teach Pellior’s second daughter, Damiet, to sing. Unfortunately, Damiet’s only interests are colors and clothes, and she has no musical talent at all. Reluctantly, Giulia starts the job. She is also the muse of the man who’s writing the opera.

On her free time Giulia plays in taverns a one-stringed instrument, a pichocet which is considered a farmer’s instrument and scorned by many. She plays in a small group which includes her lover Justin Tabor. Justin doesn’t approve of her new job but Giulia knows that she doesn’t have a choice; if she refuses Pellior might destroy the music school which is the last remnant of the old ruling family the Tormalynes. Unknown to her, however, Justin is a part of rebellious group which is plotting the downfall of the Basilisk.

One night a strange man comes to the tavern and asks to play her pichocet. She agrees and notices that some soldier come to the tavern and are looking for someone. After the soldiers leave, the stranger leaves, too. Soon, Pellior’s castle gets a new librarian who looks quite familiar.

Arioso Pellior’s older daughter Lady Luna is a sorceress. Her father taught her many things, among them magic, poisons, and ruthlessness. Even though Pellior has a son, Taur, the ruler loathes him and intends to make Luna the real power behind the throne. Luna has grown in the atmosphere of secrecy and hatred, and under the thumb of her father.

One night Pellior finds out that someone has been smuggling weapons to the city. An ox wagon had a load of swords, and one man set the wagon on fire and escaped. Pellior charges Luna to find the stranger.

Justin Tabor is a conspirator in a secret group which is trying to kill Arioso Pellior. The leader of the group is his cousin Nicol who is constantly pushing everyone else to do what they can. Justin hates that Giulia has to bow and scrape to a murderer in order to keep her job and the music school alive.

The book can seem somewhat slow but the language is wonderful, the magic is mysterious, and the atmosphere is dream-like and fantastic. The ending is also quite different from many other fantasy books. The magic is lot explained and the reader is sometimes left to wonder what was symbolic and what happened only in the characters mind and what happened in the real world.

McKillip’s characters are also somewhat dream-like. We aren’t treated to their every thought or action. This is especially clear in the first few chapters when years go by and we are only given some information about them but definitely not everything. However, to me the feelings, motives, and the personalities of the characters were clear, and I wasn’t left wanting to know more.

The main themes of the book are music, magic, and forgiveness. How violence isn’t a solution to everything but can instead do irreparable harm. That’s very refreshing for a genre where the characters’ response to violence is closer to a computer characters’ than a real persons’.

Here’s another of my reviews: Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come

I gave the book full 5 stars and I really liked this one. It’s set at the time of Elizabeth I with spying and scary faeries.

Last in the Shadow series. It’s a very fitting ending, really, but I’d like to read more about her some day. Well, I’ll just have to see how the other books hold up to these ones.

This time the pace is noticeable slower than in the previous books and the atmosphere is also somewhat more sombre. Of course, Shadow and her friends have quite a difficult foe this time, too: a plague. In the best fantasy tradition, they go on a quest to find a mythical cure for the disease. Of course, the quest only takes a few days and clearly wetter than is the norm.

The book start slower than the previous ones but (at least to me) it’s okay because we get to see some fine character interaction and elvan, er, traditions. 😉 Donya is looking for a husband to rule the city with her and the elves get to be shocked about the human arranged marriage thing. This makes sense, of course. If you live for hundreds of years, marriage to a person you don’t even like would seem truly fate worse than death. Shadow herself is over 500 years old and Aspen is around 1200.

I really liked Mist and I can only hope that he get to make appearances in the further books. There was some interesting contrasts between what different characters thought be honourable. At first I thought that Farryn was being more than a little dense but it seems that it’s likely that his village didn’t have trading or merchants at all. So, in a culture where there is no need to produce extra items, thieves are literally taking food out of somebody else’s mouth and possibly leaving a good hunter or farmer to die. No wonder he was so cranky to Shadow!

I’m far from convinced that thieves actually work for their money, no matter how much Shadow tried to explain it to Mist. I was a bit surprised that Mist didn’t have counterexamples of someone stealing his catch and leaving him hungry.

I’m still going to miss Shadow and likely I’ll read the series again sometime.

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