April 2011

The first book, or branch, of the Mabinogion, a retelling of the old Welsh legends.

Publication year: 1974
Page count: 179
Format: print, paperback
Publisher: Del Ray

The short book is split into to two books which are almost individual stories. In the first one, Descent into the Abyss, our hero Pwyll King of Dyved, encounters Death and exchanges places with him. In the second one, Rhiannon of the Birds, Pwyll finds himself a bride.

In the first story Pwyll meets Arawn, the King of Abyss. Pwyll had been hunting and had taken as his the deer that Arawn’s dogs had killed. So, Arawn suggests that Pwyll should kill Arawn’s greatest enemy, the god Havgan who could threaten the world of men as well. Pwyll is doubtful but agrees. So, Arawn and Pwyll exchange places; Arawn makes them look like each other so that no-one should know. Pwyll rides to the Underworld on Arawn’s gray horse and encounters monsters whom he has to fight. He also encounters the Goddess whom the Old Tribes worship and falls in love with her. He also has to face the temptation of Arawn’s young queen before he can fight Havgan.

The second story starts six years after Pwyll has returned to Dyved. The country has had one bad year and the Druids are worried. Pwyll hadn’t done the ritual of marrying a White Mare, as a substitute for the Mother Goddess, and the Druids think that Pwyll has so brought the gods’ wrath on Dyved. Worse still, Pwyll is unmarried. Pwyll agrees to go to the dreaded mount Gosedd Arberth where only kings can go and return alive. Also, the king can only return alive if the gods have smiled on he and shown him a vision.

So, Pwyll and his ninety-nine True Companions go to the mountain. They are touched by a weird sleepiness and in his sleep Pwyll dreams of the Fairy woman Rhiannon who is a part of the Goddess. Pwyll falls in love with her on first sight and Rhiannon agrees to marry him if Pwyll can stop her father who wants her to marry a man she doesn’t like. After a year and a day, Pwyll and his Companions start a journey to the Fairy world to claim Rhiannon. However, all of this happens in a dream and the High Druid wants to kill Pwyll while he sleeps.

The stories are told very much in the myth/fairy tale way. Pwyll is the archetypal hero who embodies the male virtues of the time: brave, loyal, keeps his word, and thinks that women are beneath him. He’s also stubborn and it takes several tries until he learns a lesson. He keeps his word even when a saner man would not. In a way, Rhiannon or the Goddess is Pwyll’s counterpoint: she’s calm, clever, merciful. She’s also extremely beautiful in the way that women in fairy tales are.

One of the themes of the book is culture clash. One is, of course, between the Fairy folk and humans. The fairies make it clear that they don’t care for Pwyll as a suitor. But in the human world Dyved is just one kingdom among many and in the second story it’s mentioned that their closest neighbor has a warrior king who wouldn’t mind conquering Dyved if Dvyed’s king is seen as weak. Also, in Dyved there are the Old Tribes whose ways and power are going away, and the rising New Tribes. The spiritual leaders of the New Tribes are the all-male Druids who are trying to wrest power from the Goddess whom the Old Tribe still worships. In fact, the High Druid says this in the second story. Pwyll resents the Druids but has to deal with them.

The Old Tribes are said not to have the institution of marriage. Women would lay with the men they wanted and a man’s heir was his sister’s son. Yet, even Death is married, the Fairies have marriage and the bride has a to be a virgin (which might be seen a counterpoint to the Old Tribe ways), and there’s an ancient tradition where a king married a woman who represents the land. So, marriage doesn’t seem to be a really new idea. Linked to this is are the roles of women. The High Druid seems to think that women among Old Tribes have a lot of power and wants to stop that. Yet, the roles of men and women are very rigid in both tribes and the underworld: men are warriors and women are beautiful and kind. The New Tribes also seem to have casual domestic abuse.

Even though the book is short, there’s time for the characters to talk about philosophy. In the first book, Pwyll and Arawn talk about the gods. There’s apparently only one god and all the others are a reflection of that one being. Yet, the gods can and will do battle with each other because they also reflect what the humans (or men rather) think about them. In the second book, the Druids’ want to steal the power from the Goddess worship and the High Druid at least wants to lower all women to nothing more than walking wombs.

The role of women in the book is quite old-fashioned. While the Goddess and Rhiannon both seem to have great powers, they can’t use them to save themselves; they have to have a male agent to work on their behalf. This is, however, in the nature of fairy tales where the men are the heroes and women tempters or maidens to be rescued.

Edited to add: It’s also in the original tales from around 13th century and Walton kept those attitudes and values in her story.

30 Days of Genre

Day 12 – A genre novel everyone should read.

Tough one. People’s tastes are so different. Not just for sub-genres but for themes, characters, and pretty much everything. So, the book should have a message that appeals to a lot of people but on the other hand it shouldn’t be too heavy handed.

So, my choice would be Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

Day 13 – A genre novel you’ve read more than five times.

Easy question for once: none.

Ever since I was old enough to go to the library, I’ve known that there are far more books than I could ever read. And those are the ones in Finnish. I’ve never been much of a rereader; I enjoy new to me books a lot more. Still, if you ask the same question in a couple of years, I might have reread (or rather relistened) Bujold’s Vorkosigan series five times. I tend to relisten most of the series when I relisten one of them.

Day 14 – Favourite book trailer from a genre novel

I don’t have one. I haven’t seen many of them although I’ve pretty intrigued by the concept. I think that all book trailers I’ve seen have been for romance and paranormal romance so far. If you know a good trailer, please send me the link.

Booking Through Thursday

If you could see one book turned into the perfect movie–one that would capture everything you love, the characters, the look, the feel, the story–what book would you choose?

There are lots of books I’d love to see on the silver screen if they are done correctly. Perhaps Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar is the one I’d very much like to be done well. It’s a science fiction book with a married couple as the main characters. Lots of sneaking around and fighting.

Of course, it’s a sequel to Shards of Honor, so that would have to be filmed first. 😉

As I understand it, this book was originally a stand-alone but then Priest was contracted to write two independent sequels. Not surprisingly, it works as a stand-alone. It’s the April book in the Women of Fantasy book club.

Publication year: 2005
Page count: 285
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor

Eden Moore is an orphan. Her mother died in childbirth and she never knew her father. Her mother’s sister Lulu took her in and is raising her. However, Lulu doesn’t talk about the past which is frustrating to Eden. You see, Eden can see ghosts. She sees the ghosts of three women who claim to be her ancestors. But the only thing Eden knows about them is that they were murdered. She doesn’t see them all the time, just when things are stressful or dangerous. However, the three women also protect her. When Eden is eight years old, a crazy gunman comes after her and the ghosts warn about him.

However, when Eden grows older, she wants to know more about her family and past.

The book starts when Eden is very young and in a couple of chapters we follow her into adulthood where the main story takes place.

This is a very atmospheric book about the US South. Eden and Lulu are mixed race women which brings difficulties. I found some people around them unforgivably rude for asking about their race but apparently that’s how some people behave. This has made them both strong women who don’t take crap from anyone. That is good because Eden encounters some hair raising things in the story and her extended family aren’t pleasant people, either. Eden is feisty and sharp tongued; she likes or dislikes people quickly.

The characters feel life-like to me, except perhaps the main villain. Eden’s aunt wants to leave her painful past behind her and so doesn’t talk about it. Lulu and her mother are estranged for fifteen years because they can’t talk to each other. Eden’s grandaunt is white and doesn’t even want to acknowledge her mix raced relatives. The grandaunt is apparently mean to everyone around her. The gunman Malachi thinks that he has a mission from God and kills people for Him. Sadly, all of these people are very plausible.

The horror aspects of the book are probably mild for horror fans but I’m not a horror reader. For me, they were enough as a spice in the book. There wasn’t much gore which was good because I dislike it.

One episode felt a bit disconnected to me: when Eden is 13 she’s sent to a summer camp where she meets another girl who can see ghosts. Then, this girl is never seen again. It establishes that other people can see ghosts, too, but otherwise it was pretty pointless although horrific. The added horror was, of course, that the girls are children and the adults wouldn’t have believed them if the girls had told them about the ghost. However, even at such a young age, they have already learned not talk about it.

The main villain feels a bit cartoon-like to me but he fits well into the atmosphere of the book and the sense of history that surrounds most of the latter half of the book.

It’s a short book and the story is a quick read, especially after the half-way point when the plot picks up. The start of the book is mostly setting up the characters and the atmosphere. I felt that the first half of the book also had more horror elements although maybe they just stood out more to me at the start.

I’ve been intrigued by Priest’s steampunk books and after this one I’m likely to try them when my TBR pile gets smaller.

30 Days of Genre

Day 11 – Favourite genre series

I’m afraid I’m going to have to be a bit rude. The only way to answer this question is with: “You don’t read much, do you?” You see, it’s been my impression that most avid readers have more than one of anything: favorite characters, series, settings, books, etc. And these change through out the years.

Out of my current favorite series two have been my favorites for a long time and I don’t expect that to change any time soon: Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos fantasy series and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan space opera series.

I’ve also long liked Anne Logston’s trilogy about the elf thief Shadow. Roger Zelazny’s Amber was a long-time favorite despite the painfully obvious sexism.

New favorites are Liz Williams’ Detective Inspector Chen series (and it seems that I’m going to have to give in and buy Iron Khan to Kindle (for PC)) and Elizabeth Bear’s fantasy in various historical settings: the Promethean Age books. And of course C. J. Cherryh’s space opera Chanur series.

From the mystery side, I really like Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series and Lynda Robinson’s Lord Meren series which is set in Ancient Egypt.

30 Days of Genre

Day 10 – Best writing style, or the style that resonates most with you

I can’t say what would be the best writing style ever, so I’ll talk about the style that works for me currently.

I started reading fantasy with big fat epic fantasy books. They tend to have a style that is, if not flowery, at least verbose. Lots and lots of descriptions for places, people, animals, the scenery, battles, etc. Usually they also have lots of history too, no matter if it’s actually relevant or not. I really liked that. Obviously, since I read them for over a decade.

However, these days I often find myself being impatient with text like that, skipping the prologue and the scenery descriptions in favor of dialog. So, these days I like writing that has a lot of dialog and not so much back story and descriptions in general. I also like a bit of humor every now and then. The books doesn’t have to be all giggles all the time, although I do like Pratchett quite a lot, but humorous phrase on occasion goes a long way. Lois McMaster Bujold is very good at this. Steven Brust has an even sparser style; he’s even stopped describing things that happen during a conversation if the characters comment on it. However, I have to admit that sparse style works best when I know the setting, either from previous books in the series or if it’s set in the standard pseudo-Middle Ages setting which doesn’t require much explanation. I rather enjoy the descriptions of Chinese Hell and demons in Liz Williams’ Detective Inspector Chen series.

30 Days of Genre

Day 9 – Saddest scene in a genre novel

There are lots of sad scenes. I’m not just talking about character deaths, although those can be sad, too, especially when the character isn’t resurrected. Bad decisions can have tragic consequences.

The latest saddest scene I’ve read would be a huge spoiler so I’m going to tell the previous one: the end of Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik where Captain Laurence does what his sense of honor is telling him. His actions are noble but he and his dragon become traitors to his country and their former lives are over forever. In the later book, it’s revealed that his actions were, in fact, not necessary so they sacrificed their lives for nothing.

Publication year: 2009
Page count: 877
Format: print, paperback
Publisher: Tor

The third book in the Crossroads series which concludes the first trilogy. The next book in the series will apparently be a stand-alone.

The series continues from where the Shadow Gate ended. Most of the POV characters are seen again and we get a few new POV characters as well. The Hundred are under an attack by a brutal army from the north. The army is led by legendary Guardians who can see into the hearts and mind of people. They can’t be killed. They used to administer justice on city or town councils but most of them seem to be corrupted now.

The Reeve Joss is trying his best to unite the Reeves against the invaders. However, one Reeve hall wants to return to their past role which is as police, and not as soldiers. Some, especially young, Reeves are eager to help the milia fight the invaders, but they aren’t trained as soldiers and their eagles are predators which can’t be trained to co-operate as well as horses. He’s also concerned about how much power the Quin Captain Anji is getting. If Anji defeats the invaders, his army will be the only on in the Hundred…

Joss’ love Reeve Marit was killed twenty years ago and Joss can’t get over her. Marit was raised from the dead by one of the Guardian cloaks and she’s now a Guardian. She was amazed that some of the other Guardians have been corrupted but she’s also trying to find a way to fight the corrupted ones.

Mai is the clever and beautiful merchant’s wife whom Anji bought as his wife. Mai has turned out to be a huge asset to his military husband; she has focused on trade and finding local wives to the Quin soldiers whom Anji leads. The Quin are exiled from their homeland so they have to settle in the Hundred. Their customs are different from the Hundred folk but Mai has done her best to settle things. She is well-respected in the town of Olossi where the Quin fought a branch of the invading army and won. Now the Quin are preparing to march against overwhelming odds in order to defeat the invaders.

The former slave Keshad and a Ri Amarath man Eliar are in the Sirniakan Empire, which in upheaval because their Emperor has been murdered. The repercussions might reach the Hundred.

We also get two new POVs. One of them is a religious figure in an occupied city and through him we get to see how people survive when the occupying army starves, rapes, and abuses them after theft. The conquered people are treated brutally. Another new character is a strange counterpoint to the atrocities that we the invaders doing; he’s a commander in the invading army. He employs women, doesn’t allow his troops to abuse prisoners, and resents the commanding Guardians for their ineptitude. This is the first time that we see a decent (if you can call a man who kills other humans for living a decent man) man in the Star of Life army.

Despite the multiple POV characters, there are two major characters whose POV we don’t see: Anji and the hierodule/assassin Zubaidit. So, we don’t really know intimately their motivations and plans. One of them did surprise me a lot.

The plot moves along quicker than in the previous books. There are some surprising twists in it, too. One of the main themes is still culture clash. The Quin have different outlook in life and they’re showing any sign of changing to blend into the local culture. Most of the difference are in sexual practices and gender roles; Quin don’t approve women soldiers, or even female Reeves, or homosexuality or anything else than monogamy for women. On the other hand, mothers have lots of influence over their sons and daughters, but in the Hundred the clans, the family, have also a lot of power over individuals. If anything, it seems that the Quin are changing the young Hundred men to be like the Quin. I’m certainly interested to see how things will progress in the future.

The end ties up most of the plot threads but leaves the future (culture blending) wide open.

Day 8 – Best fan soundtrack

Another one I don’t have an answer for. I’m afraid I’ve never even heard of these.

Day 7 – Favorite couple in a genre novel

I think this is pretty obvious to anyone who’s read my blog before. I adore Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan. They were great as an older, understated romantic couple in Cordelia’ Honor and later as the supportive secondary characters. I just want more of them!

Next Page »