2020 wyrd and wonder

A stand-alone historical fantasy book set in 12th century Egypt.

Publication year: 1989
Format: print
Page count: 260
Publisher: Bantam

This is a book for horse lovers. It’s a fairy tale expanded to a fantasy.

Hasan is the pampered only son of a rich emir and a thoroughly self-centered, gambling, drunken womanizer. He also lives in Egypt in a time when all decent women live in harems. When he finally gambles away his father’s prized mares, his father has had enough and just tells Hasan that he’s going to be sent for a Beduin who will make a man out of Hasan. Hasan escapes. But instead of doing anything useful, he spends the night drinking, womanizing, and spending the last of his money. After he’s robbed and beaten, he staggers to the house of an old man who nurses him back to health. Recovering, Hasan meets the beautiful young woman who has been nursing him and rapes her. She’s the old man’s daughter. The old man turns out to be a magus and he transforms Hasan to a horse, a red stallion. The magus tells Hasan that he will be a slave to a woman and will die in the horse form.

Soon, a girl does buy Hasan the stallion. She’s Zamaniyah who is around 14 but already has a great eye for horses. She’s also the only daughter of Hasan’s father’s mortal enemy. She names Hasan Khamsin and starts to train him together with her father’s horsemaster, a Greek slave.

The POV characters are Hasan/Khamsin, Zamaniyah, and her eunuch slave Jaffar. Because all of Zamaniyah’s brothers have been slain (by Hasan’s father), her father had decided to raise her has a boy and his heir. She’s forbidden to enter harem, where all of her father’s women, including concubines, live and she’s forbidden to wear women’s clothing or makeup or anything that rich women of that time had. Instead, she’s taught to ride, fight, hunt, and care for horses.

The first half of the book is mostly about Zamaniyah training the horse Khamsin. The second half is set during the sultan Salah ad-Din Yusuf’s war campaign and is quite different from the first.

Zamaniyah is a great character. She always obeys her father, even though sometimes she wishes that she could be an ordinary girl. But on the other hand, she enjoys horse and knows that this is the only way she can train and ride them. But when she’s angry, she forgets to be obedient and quiet, so that nobody will notice how strange she is. She takes a liking to Khamsin and uses a gentle “Greek” way to train him as a warhorse. The women scorn her and the men can’t be friends with her, so her only friend is Jaffar, her eunuch slave who is devoted to her. She also befriends one of her father’s concubines who is a captured Frankish woman.

Tarr doesn’t shy away from showing us the Islamic world at the time, which includes (rich) women shut away to harems, slavery, eunuchs, and that woman are chattel to men. Most men don’t accept Zamaniyah but they must respect that it was her father’s choice to raise her as a boy. Also, the book dealt with surprising amount of rape, although not in any titillating way. So, despite Zamaniyah’s age, this is definitely not YA.

I thoroughly enjoyed Zamaniyah and Khamsin was mostly entertaining, too. I mostly enjoyed this story and except for the fantasy bits, I think it’s fairly accurate description of the times.

Bone is a black and white fantasy comic about three cousins called Bone. They all look rather strange, but humanoid, and they don’t wear much clothing. Fone only wears gloves, Phoney wears a shirt with a star, and Smiley wears a vest. Fone Bone is the main hero: a dependable and decent man. Phoncible “Phoney” is the opposite of Fone: a ruthless and opportunistic business man/cheater. Smiley is an easy-going man but thoughtless and Phoney can often drag him into helping in his newest scheme.

The three cousins are driven out of their home time Boneville when Phoney’s latest scheme goes wrong. They’re wandering in a desert and are separated when a huge cloud of locusts attack. After the attack, we follow Fone who is increasingly desperate to find water. Luckily, Fone finds the Valley. Two large rat creatures try to eat him but he manages to escape and he sees a red dragon. In the end, he make a few friends among the talking animals and must spend the winter. Then, he find a human looking girl Thorn and immediately falls in love with her. Thorn lives with her eccentric grandmother and cows in a small hut in the forest. She welcomes Fone and agrees to help him find his cousins. But the rat creatures and their leaders really want to get their hands on the Bone cousins.

Bone is a mixture of comic scenes and fantasy. The Valley seems to have medieval type (lack of) tech: the locals don’t use money but barter and they use horses and cows instead of motorized vehicles. Also, the Valley seems to be the only place which has the rat creatures and dragon. Fone’s favorite book is Moby Dick and he brought comics with him. But we don’t really know much about Boneville.

The fantasy parts in the book can be quite dark at times, which is a sharp contrast between the cute talking animals and the funny parts. However, for me, that’s part of the charm. But I still don’t really care for the romance.

The comic has several endearing and eccentric characters. Thorn’s grandmother is one: she runs fo 20 kilometers a day for fun and competes in the cow races. She clearly knows more than she’s telling to Thorn and Fone. There are also the two rat creatures. While the rest of their species are clearly a Horde of Evil, the two we keep meeting are the bumbling fools of the pack.

I read this comic when it was first released here in Finland in the 1990s. The reread is proving to be just as enjoyable as the first read.

Part of the Wyrd and Wonder month.

I’m a reader and I love books about books. Not just Giles and the gang reading books to find out how to defeat the big bad or Morpheus talking with Lucien in Dream’s library (as delightful as those scenes are) but books playing a bigger part in the story. So far, I’ve found three such fantasy series:

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman
This series has many, many parallel worlds. They’re all joined by the Library and the Librarians can travel from one world to the next… by using mortal libraries! The Librarians also steal, ahem, acquire certain books.

The worlds influence and are influenced by two powerful groups: the dragons, representing order, and the fae who are chaos. The worlds themselves run from steampunk worlds to medieval worlds to our current technology, and more. The more chaotic a world is, the more likely it is that it has magic. This is a series with both dragons and fae and lots of books!

Irene Adler is the main character and POV character. She starts as a junior Librarian who is assigned her first trainee, Kai. Irene is used to working alone and she doesn’t want a trainee tagging at her heels. Irene’s main duty is the acquire books.

Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
This is an alternative universe where the people are very enthusiastic about art, especially literature, to the point that people change their names to classical poets and instead of door-to-door missionaries, they have the Baconists who go door-to-door and try to convince people that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Thursday herself is a literature detective; she goes after stolen books.

She’s sent to Swindon where the SO-5 office has two officers who specialize on Shakespeare related crimes: “They keep an eye on forgery, illegal dealing and overtly free thespian interpretations. The actor with them was Graham Huxtable. He was putting on a felonious one-man performance of Twelfth Night.”

Thursday’s uncle has invented the Prose Portal through which a real person is able to actually enter in books. In this case, Jane Eyre.

Magic Ex Libris series by Jim C. Hines
This series is set in modern times but it has wizards who can pull objects out of books. The main character Isaac Vainio is such a libriomancer. However, the wizards can only pull out objects which are small enough to come out of a book, so no X-Wings or Enterprise but Excalibur and fasta-penta qualify! The books also need enough readers before magic happens, so the wizards can’t just write their own books. And ebooks don’t count.

The wizards are an organization which has been secretly protecting humans from vampires and other baddies for centuries. Johannes Gutenberg founded them and he is still alive and running them. Isaac himself works as a librarian in small town library. He’s also an SFF fan and wears a long brown coat because of Captain Mal Reynolds! And he has a pet fire spider Smudge.

I know that Rachel Caine has the Great Library series but I haven’t started it yet.
Any other similar series?

A fantasy book centering on horses. It was part of the Weird Western Storybundle I bought in 2016.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 160
Publisher: Book View Cafe

Claire Bernardi calls herself a “failed academic”; she has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies but hasn’t gotten an academic job nor been able to write anything for a while. Instead, she lives on her friend Dorrie’s half-abandoned horse farm in Arizona with two horses, a mule, and cats. She uses her psychic ability to communicate with animals to get a small amount of money. However, even that is dwindling because the owners’ of the animals aren’t happy when she honestly tells them what their animals feel. Claire can also sense all sorts of spirits and can’t live long-term in a town.

But everything changes when Dorrie sends two clients to the ranch. They want Claire to look after their herd of six mares and a stallion. Claire is suspicious because they offer her more money for a month than she should get in a year. But she agrees. Of course, things aren’t as they seem.

This is a lovely story about horses and nature spirits with some mythology thrown in. Claire can sense spirits in the earth, water, and air, all around her. She’s a middle-aged woman which was great. She considers herself a loner but she gets along well with her best friend Dorrie (who is a TV-series writer/creator) and Emma who helps her around the ranch. Claire doesn’t have much confidence in herself or her abilities.

The horses are the stars of the book. Claire has an ancient mare Aziza and a spirited gelding Ricky but the new horses steal the show. Tarr has horses and understands them very well, which shows in the writing. Also, the gorgeous Arizonan desert is very much part of the book.

This isn’t an adventure book. The plot doesn’t really kick in until near the end.

A six issue limited series.

Publication year: 1985
Publisher: Epic Comics, reprinted as a collection by Dark Horse

This is a very interesting mix of English myths, fairy tales, and history.

King Henry II has died recently. His country is divided and his heir Richard the Lionheart is away at war. James Dunreith, Duke of Ca’rynth, has been in exile for 25 years but because of Henry’s death, he thinks it’s safe to return. He’s wrong. He has barely stepped to England’s shore when knights capture him and bring him to a monastery as a prisoner. There, he’s tortured because the Church thinks that he’s a heretic and a sorcerer. However, a group of mysterious knights rescue him, but none too gently.

It turns out, that Queen Eleanor knows that James is back and needs his services. James’ childhood friend, a powerful Earl, is suspected not just of treason but of black magic. Eleanor sends James to find out what’s going on. James is reluctant but feels duty-bound to obey. On the way, James is reunited with his old friend Brian Griffin and they rescue a young lady from outlaws.

James has traveled a lot, all the way to Cathay. He’s a man of reason and doesn’t even believe in magic, even though the Church claims he uses it. However, he’s not aged while away from England and right in the first issue, he sees a dream (or is it a dream) of a huge black dragon who heals James’ tortured body. So, it’s clear that something supernatural is going on.

The story uses a lot of English myths. Robin Hood is a major secondary character, which was a pleasant surprise to me. Various fairies also appear.

Bolton’s art fits the story well. The English countryside looks gorgeous. The art reminds me of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant.

However, this is a very dark tale, full of betrayal, blood, and dark magic. It’s very different in tone from his X-Men work.

The first book in the fantasy series Long Price Quartet.

Publication year: 2006
Format: Print
Page count: 331
Publisher: TOR

This is book is centered on political scheming. It doesn’t have adventure or fight scenes. Instead, it focuses on characters.

The story starts with a prologue which is set in a cold and cruel school for young boys. It’s also very necessary in order to understand some of the characters and the magic system.

Amat Kyaan is the senior overseer, an accountant of sorts, for one of the large trading houses in the city of Saraykeht. She’s an elderly woman who has dedicated her whole life to her career. When she realizes that her employer is going behind her back with one deal, she makes sure she knows what’s going on. That turns her life upside down.

Liat is Amat’s young apprentice. She’s just seventeen but has ambitions of rising to Amat’s position. Her lover Itani is a common laborer and Liat is worried that his low station will reflect poorly on her. So, when Amat gives Itani a chance to do a small favor for her (and Liat’s) employer, Liat makes sure Itani takes it.

Itani is, indeed, a laborer. He has also a secret and isn’t interested in rising to higher position in life, but wants to please Liat whom he loves.

Maati is a young man who has just come to the city. He’s the apprentice of the poet (the equivalent of magician in this world) and he has spent most of his life in a male-only school learning as much as he can. The court and the politics are all new to him.

Eventually, we also get the POV of Amat’s employer, Marchat Wilsin. Marchat isn’t a native of Saraykeht but a barbarian from the North. His superiors are forcing him to a scheme that makes him loose sleep at night.

All the characters are very deep and I found them interesting, especially Amat because there aren’t many older women in fantasy books and even fewer as POV characters. The culture where the story is set has been inspired by Asian cultures rather than the usual Western Middle-Ages. It’s also a culture based on indentured servitude and downright slavery.

The magic system is unique and can’t really be summed up quickly. Briefly, a poet (the magician) forces an artistic idea to a human form. Then the poet controls the resulting creature and does magic through it. This isn’t easy and many prospective poets fail (and die). The creature, called an andat, develops human feelings and thoughts.

The writing is beautiful, full of great images. It also explores ideas. However, the pacing is pretty slow at times.

The world-building was very interesting and I didn’t mind the slow plot too badly. But I really didn’t care for the love triangle or some of the other stuff that happened later. I guess it’s just too depressing to read right now.

Abraham is half of the writing team of James S. A. Corey who write the Expanse SF series. However, that style is a very different from this book.

The first book in a YA fantasy trilogy, Abhorsen.

Publication year: 1995
Finnish publication year: 2004
Format: Print
Translator: Kaisa Kattelus
Page count: 389
Finnish publisher: WSOY

Sabriel is the only child of Abhorsen, the necromancer whose mission is to put the dead to rest. Because in the Old Kingdom, the dead can’t rest unless someone performs the necessary rites for them. Otherwise, they threaten the living.

But Sabriel has grown up on Anceltierre, on the other side of the Wall. Magic starts to fade the further away you go from the Wall and most people don’t who don’t live near the Wall don’t even believe in magic. Instead, they have technology which in turn doesn’t work in the Old Kingdom. Sabriel has grown in a boarding school. Her father comes to see her a couple of times a year in person; also during full moons he can send his spirit self (dunno what that was in English).

Sabriel is now eighteen and thinking of going to university. She has powers that allows her to sense the dead and see dead spirits. She can also cross over to Death and return. She thinks that going further away from the Wall would make her powers disappear. She’s the only one in her school who has such powers, so she thinks it would be a good thing. The boarding school does teach a little bit of magic, though, but not necromancy.

But then her father sends a dead spirit to her as a messenger. It brings Sabriel a sword and the nine bells which are her father’s tools. She knows that he’s in terrible trouble, maybe even dead. She packs what she can and heads to the Old Kingdom where the dead roam. However, a terrible enemy stalks her.

This was surprisingly intense and fun read. Sabriel is a smart and determined main character. She quickly realizes that there are a lot of things she doesn’t know and she does her best to learn. She’s also compassionate and does her best to help people. We explore the Old Kingdom along with her. There wasn’t much character developed, though.

The magic in this world is pretty complex. There’s Charter magic which is “good” or at least something that respectable people use and then there’s wild magic which includes necromancy. Only Abhorsen and Sabriel use both.

However, I didn’t care for the romance which seems obligatory, at best, and I also don’t care for plots where the people close to the MC simply don’t tell her stuff. Abhorsen wasn’t just careless, he was stupid to keep his daughter in the dark. The POV jumps were distracting, at times. Sabriel was the main POV character but sometimes we got small passages from other characters’ POV.

Overall, I liked this and will get the next one when the libraries open.

The Wyrd and Wonder event has Get to Know the Fantasy Reader Tag as one of the quests. It’s a fun way to get to know each other a bit more. The tag was originally created for romance readers.

1. What is your fantasy origin story? (How you came to read your first fantasy novel)

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t reading fantasy. In comics, I read Tintin, Asterix, and Donald Duck from a very early age. All of them could be considered fantasy (they’re certainly not realistic fiction).

I think my first fantasy book was either the Hobbit or Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising. They’re both certainly shelved in children’s section of the library where I got my books.

2. If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Hmm. This is a hard question because most fantasy main characters suffer a lot. But I’d go for Lois McMaster Bujold in her more recent Penric -type tale. I love many fantasy tropes, so it’s hard to choose just one. But I’ll go with “here comes the cavalry” type last minute rescue.

3. What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

I haven’t actually read many fantasy books yet this year, but P. Djèlí Clark’s The Haunting of Tram Car 015 was an awesome book set in 1912 Cairo. Also, Trevol Swift’s Justicar Jhee and the Cursed Abbey is a fantasy cozy murder mystery set in an alternate world where humans aren’t the POV characters.

4. What is your favorite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?

I’m not a romance reader, so paranormal romance doesn’t interest me. I also don’t care for grimdark.

It’s very difficult to pin down a favorite subgenre. It depends so much on the author. I love a good urban fantasy just as much as historical or fairy tales or high fantasy or steampunk. I also love a mix of science fiction and fantasy.

5. Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

I have such a huge TBR pile that I have only one: Lois McMaster Bujold.

6. How do you typically find fantasy recommendations?

Through blogs and GoodReads. And events like Wyrd and Wonder!

7. What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

Next Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye book!

8. What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

Just because the writer is a woman, the book isn’t romance. Nor YA.

9. If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

I would first have to know much more about what they like to read. Have they watched fantasy movies or tv-shows?
For people who usually read detective stories I’d recommend urban fantasy such as Gaiman’s Neverwhere.
For people who usually read historical fiction , I’d recommend historical fantasy, such as Judith Tarr’s Lord of Two Lands.
For people who like superhero movies, I’d recommend Trish Heinrich’s Serpent’s Sacrifice.
For people who like fairy tales, (or Once Upon a Time) I’d recommend Jim Hines’ The Stepsister scheme.
For people who like Fringe or Star Trek type alternate realities I’d recommend V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic.

10. Who is the most recent fantasy reading content creator you came across that you’d like to shoutout?

I haven’t come across anyone recently, but no doubt I’ll find many from this event.

The Wyrd and Wonder month has started!

I’m a bit late (again) but I’m really looking forward to reading fantasy and of course reading the wonderful posts about all things fantasy for this month.

I’m currently reading:
Garth Nix’s Sabriel. This is a YA fantasy which came out in 1990s and has been in my TBR for many years. So far, it’s been great.
Chris Claremont is my favorite X-Men writer but he also wrote other comics (and books). This month, I’m reading Black Dragon which is a historical fantasy comic set in England in 1100s.

I haven’t yet decided on what else to read but I’m considering books which have been took long in my TBR pile:
Goblin Mirror from C. J. Cherryh, the Compass Rose from Ursula le Guin, A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham (one half of James S. A. Corey), and The Element of Fire by Martha Wells. Or maybe I’ll dig into The Princess Bride by Goldman. But I also really want to read Anno Dracula by Newman.

Happy reading to everyone!