May 2015

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.
Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week we look at MOMS

Everyone has a mother. Including people in fantasyland. Just in time to be slightly early for Mother’s Day.

Fantasy (and SF) have a lot of absent or dead mothers. And even when they are alive mothers are rarely significant characters, because the main character is often young. But some are more prominent:

Nanny Ogg by Terry Pratchett
Nanny has a large family of children, children children, and their children (and in-laws). People go to her for advice all the time.

Briar Wilks from Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker
She’s the widow of one of the most hated men in this alternate world and had to raise a son alone. She’s very determined and resourceful.

Katriona from Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End
Katriona adopts baby princess Perciona (who will grow up to be the Sleeping Beauty) when she’s only 16. She and her Aunt do their best to raise the baby.

Jenny Waynest from Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane
She’s a mage and a healer. She also has two young sons.

Ista from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls
She’s actually under the influence of a curse while raising her kids. In the PoS she travels away from her family so we don’t see her much with her kids but her daughter is a queen by that time.

Joyce Summers from Buffy
I often think the she was underused in the show but that’s because Buffy was a teenager living with her mother and the show was focused on Buffy. But she did have some fun scenes.

Xena the Warrior Princess
People don’t often think of her as mother but she did have a son and a daughter. Granted, she leaves her son Solan to the centaurs who raise him and her daughter Eve is raised by Emperor Augustus.

Amandine from Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series
Amandine is perhaps one of the worst mothers in the fantasy genre. After October’s father dies, Amandine withdraws away from everyone, including her daughter and granddaughter.

October Daye by Seanan McGuire
Toby a changeling – her mother was a fae and her father a human. She fell in love with a human man and they have a daughter. Unfortunately, Toby is estranged from her ex and her daughter but she still loves her daughter very much.

Two of my favorite mothers come from science fiction:

Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold
She’s a formidable character and is the star of two books “Shards of Honor” and “Barrayar” (together in omnibus “Cordelia’s Honor”). In the rest of the series she’s minor character but she has a great influence on both her son Miles and the whole planet where she lives.

Sarah Connor from Terminator
She goes to great lengths to make sure to train her son John Connor to survive.

A stand-alone Robin Hood book.

Publication year: 1883
Format: ebook from Project Gutenberg

You who so plod amid serious things that you feel it shame to give yourself up even for a few short moments to mirth and joyousness in the land of Fancy; you who think that life hath nought to do with innocent laughter that can harm no one; these pages are not for you. Clap to the leaves and go no farther than this, for I tell you plainly that if you go farther you will be scandalized by seeing good, sober folks of real history so frisk and caper in gay colors and motley that you would not know them but for the names tagged to them.

So starts Pyle’s version of Robin Hood and it’s a good description. Merry Robin and his equally merry band of men have various adventures all in the spirit of good cheer.

Many of the starting stories unite Robin with some of his most famous men, such as Little John or Will Scarlet. Usually, they match quarterstaffs and wits before putting on clothes of Lincoln green. A little to my surprise most of their adventures don’t involve the Sheriff but instead other rascals who take heavy taxes from the poor or the good people. Sir Guy of Gisborne (who has been prominent in a couple of TV shows) appears in only one story. Many of the villains are bishops or nobility who misuse their position of authority and it’s up to Robin and his merry band to set things right. The stories are episodic although a couple of times a story has been split into two or three.

Sometimes the writing is unintentionally hilarious because of the drift in word meaning, such as gay, lusty, or marry. But most of the time the writing is understandable:

“Lo, here is my good staff, lusty and tough. Now wait my coming, an thou darest, and meet me an thou fearest not. Then we will fight until one or the other of us tumble into the stream by dint of blows.”

“Marry, that meeteth my whole heart!” cried the stranger, twirling his staff above his head, betwixt his fingers and thumb, until it whistled again.

Robin’s band has many familiar men such as Allan a Dale, Little John, and Will Scathelock but a few have not been used much in the recent retellings: David of Doncaster and the Tinker whose name isn’t given. David is constantly referred to as “young” and he seems to be a famous wrestler. Tinker appears only once after he joins the outlaws.

The stories don’t have much in the way of character development, being retellings of old ballads. There are also very few women characters and they don’t really do anything, except for Queen Eleanor. After Allan marries his sweetheart Ellen, they apparently live in Sherwood but she’s never mentioned again.

But these are little blemishes and overall I really enjoyed this book. The html version in Gutenberg has the illustrations but the other versions don’t.

Collects Excalibur #21-28

Writer: Chris Claremont, Michael Higgins, Terry Austin
Artists: Alan Davis, Paul Neary, Chris Wozniak, Allen Milgrom, Ron Lim, Ron Rubenstein, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bill Sienkiwicz, Colleen Doran

Even I have to admit that the quality goes down in this collection, sadly. This collection has a lot of one-shots with different artists and writers.

The collection starts strongly with the Crusader X two-parter. This is an alternate dimension where America is still part of Britain. Crusader X is the equivalent of Brian in this timeline but in addition to flight and strength he has the ability to lock on to someone’s aura and track them. Also, Prussia is this Britain’s greatest enemy which leaves Kurt in danger. Meanwhile, this universe’s Jean Grey is in danger and Rachel is trying to protect her. This was a very interesting dimension and I’d love to get more adventures in it.

The next two issues are the only ones with Davis as the artist. Excalibur comes to a dimension where the world’s greatest criminal empire is run by Kitty Pryde and her chief sorceress Illyana Rasputin. Meanwhile the Justiciers are doing their best to uphold the law, which includes a swift arrest and trial of every mutant. Excalibur crashes into Kitty’s tower, Justiciers hot on their tail and wanting to arrest them immediately.

The next issue brings an end to the caper: Opal Luna Saturnine herself brings our team to the omniversal hub where she expects to get to the bottom of things… and capture Phoenix. Rachel disguises herself as Kitty and the team tries to sort things out. Meanwhile, Courtney Ross becomes Kitty’s “fairy godmother” and helps her celebrate her 15th birthday. Kitty still thinks that she’s lost another team and is very depressed about it but cheers up a lot. It seems that Courtney wants to teach Kitty that sometimes she has to break the rules instead of following them. However, the caper ends very neatly and Rachel even manages to keep her disguise.

And then: Galactus! The team has returned to their lighthouse home but Galactus has decided that Phoenix is too great a danger and has to be separated from the host. The team tries to defend her and even the Watcher shows up to, er, watch.

Next issue is a one-shot from before the Caper which explores Rachel’s sad past. This had some promise but unfortunately, relies on deceiving the team telepath.

Next is one of the strangest issues ever: Excalibur versus the Nth man. The characters from both comics switch places with Kurt and Rachel facing the only superbeing in the Nth man’s world and John Doe and the Russian assassin Novikova battling Brian and Meggan. The point of the story seems to be to give clues to Excalibur about Jamie Braddock’s powers.

The last issue is another one shot: Meggan and Brian adventure. It was nice seeing them happy and together for a change but otherwise this is a forgettable story.

This is a fun little collection but not as good as the previous ones.

A stand-alone (urban) fantasy set in Russia.

Publication year: 2007
Format: ebook
Publisher: Prime Books
Pages: 303

Galina is a young woman and she lives in Moscow with her sister and mother. She also suffers from schizophrenia and so her mother doesn’t like her much. They eke out an existence near poverty. Galina works as a translator for a local newspaper. Galina’s sister Masha is pregnant and at the start of the book she gives birth in their bathroom. Afterward, she’s mysteriously gone even though the only way out is a small window high up. A crow sits in the windowsill and Galina tries very hard not to think that it is her sister. But Masha is gone and Galina is afraid to report it. However, when Fyodor, street artist, tells her that he has seen people turning into birds, Galina realizes that it might have happened for real and persuades the artist to help her.

Yakov is a police officer, but he works at a desk and not as a hotshot detective. He lives with his mother who tends the graves of her parents. One day, he sees a man turn into a bird right in front of him. At first he thinks that he’s going crazy but then he’s assigned to investigate disappearances; all over Moscow poor people are vanishing.

Fyodor is a poor, alcoholic, homeless artist who is afraid of gypsies because his mother used to frighten him about them. He knows that reflections of doors can lead to real places. He, Galina, and Yakov step into a door’s reflection and end up in another world. In that world Russian fairy tale characters and real people who have turned into myths come to life. Also, a few disappeared people live there but to her disappointment, Galina doesn’t find her sister. However, she continues the search.

“The Golem and the Jinni” is somewhat similar in structure to this book because they both spend time telling the backstories of new characters shortly after they arrive into the story. However, because “the Secret History of Moscow” is a much shorter book, the stories feel like they take up quite a lot of space in the middle section of the book. I found them fascinating but someone looking for epic fantasy type action would probably be disappointed. The pace of the book changes to quite slow in the middle of the story.

All of the main and the secondary characters feel three dimensional to me; knowing their backstories certainly helped with that. I’m not familiar with the fairy characters but they seemed very interesting.

All of the main characters come from poor backgrounds; they all come from broken homes and are afraid of the gangs. None of them seem to have many friends; Galina especially seems a really lonely character. The book left a very melancholy feel.

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