Once Upon a Time IX


A Discworld novel.
Publication year: 1991
Format: print
Page count: 374
Publisher: Gollanz

Desirata Hollow is a fairy godmother and pretty good at it, too. However, she’s never been good at planning ahead and even though she knows the moment she dies, she isn’t well prepared for it. She leaves her wand and vague instructions to Magrat Garlick in the hopes that the young witch will make a good fairy godmother to at least one young princess, Ella. Desirata also leaves strict instructions for Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax not to interfere, hoping that when they find out, they will help Magrat.

Of course, the three witches are soon riding their broomsticks to the distant Genua with the intension of preventing Ella from marrying the prince. On the way, they realize that someone is making fairy tales to come literally true which isn’t a good thing at all. And more horrifyingly, they encounter foreign foods and customs which infuriate Granny especially. Also, Magrat is able to use the wand to change anything into pumpkins.

Witches abroad focuses on the nature of stories and how they affect people and vice versa. Granny also encounters someone from her past. They also muse about happy endings and how they can’t be forced on people from outside. The story is woven around the Cinderella story but if not inverted, at least turned sideways. Lots of other fairy tales make an appearance, too.

About half of the book is the witches’ journey to Genua and it had some of the funniest scenes in any Discworld book I’ve yet read; Granny taking revenge on some card sharks and Greebo, Nanny’s cat, eating a vampire while the witches are oblivious to the whole thing.

Witches are my favorite Discworld characters and they’re in fine form in this book.

Quotes:
“Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.”

“The wages of sin is death but so is the salary of virtue, and at least the evil get to go home early on Fridays.”

“The Yen Buddhists are the richest religious sect in the universe. They hold that the accumulation of money is a great evil and a burden to the soul. They therefore, regardless of personal hazard, see it as their unpleasant duty to acquire as much as possible in order to reduce the risk to innocent people.”

“And the people from the city – not the ones who lived in the big white mansions and went to balls in fine coaches, but the other ones. They were the ones that stories are never about. Stories are not, on the whole, interested in swineherds who remain swineherds and poor and humble shoemakers whose destiny is to die slightly poorer and much humbler.

These people were the ones who made the magical kingdom work, who cooked its meals and swept its floors and carted its nightly soil and were its faces in the crowd and whose wishes and dreams, undemanding as they were, were of no consequence. The invisibles.”

Collects Elfquest 11-15


Writers: Wendy and Richard Pini
Artist: Wendy Pini
Publishing year: 1988
Publisher: Father Tree Press

The comic has a continuous storyline, so spoilers for the previous collections.

Cutter, the chief of Wolfriders, have been reunited with his family but most of his small tribe has been captured. They’re held inside the Blue Mountain where another tribe of strange, tall elves lives. All their lives the Wolfriders have fought against humans but now to their amazement they notice that the humans near Blue Mountain worship the elves inside. Cutter is determined to free his tribe, of course.

The new elves call themselves Gliders and they have gigantic bond birds. Strongbow shot one of them for food and that’s why they enslaved the tribe. The Wolfriders are given a way to make amends but can they trust the new elves? Because among them is Winnowill, the evil elf that Savah warned Cutter about. She and the other Gliders call themselves the High Ones, the ancestors of all elves but can that be true?

In this story we get to know more about the Wolfriders’ origins and about the mysterious High Ones.

These stories are darker than the previous ones. Characters are tortured and face the consequences of that. There’s more violence than in the previous collection. We also see the dark side of recognition. In the first collection Cutter recognized Leetah and she resisted him because he was a stranger and in her eyes a savage who brought to Leetah and her village permanent change which she didn’t want. But in time, she was able to overcome her objections and fell in love with him. But here we see the power of recognition as the purely biological drive that it is; a method to select a male and a female whose offspring would be the most talented and powerful among elves. That drive doesn’t care if the two are in any way compatible with each other or already in relationship with someone else, and it brings a lot of anguish in this case when one young Wolfrider recognizes a Glider. No romance is possible between them, just a biological need.

The collection also ends in a cliffhanger.

Elfquest is one of my favorite fantasy series and it’s a pleasure to reread it. It’s just as visceral and wonderful as I remembered.

The complete collection also includes art from the original issues and the bridge pages from Marvel reprints which are all done by Wendy Pini.

Collects Elfquest 5-10.

Writers: Wendy and Richard Pini
Artist: Wendy Pini
Publishing year: 1988
Publisher: Father Tree Press

Seven turns of seasons have gone by since the Wolfrider tribe’s holt was burned down. The elves and their wolf companions have found a new home at the Sorrow’s End with another elf tribe, the Sun folk. They are a peaceful people who had only one hunter among them until the Wolfriders came there. The leader of the small Wolfrider tribe, Cutter, has even found a family. But then the peace is shattered: humans have come!

The human group is small, but they still hate the elves. Cutter lets the three half-starved humans leave unharmed but he realizes that the Sorrow’s End isn’t safe anymore. There are more humans in the world that he realized before and it’s likely that the elves must defend themselves against the humans at some point. Cutter also starts to wonder if there are more elven tribes in the world. In the end, he decides to leave and look for any other elves. He tries to leave alone but his best friend Skywise and their wolves Nightrunner and Starjumper come with him.

First, they return to the troll caves which are deserted. They morn over their burned holt but they’re attacked and captured by two trolls who are after Cutter’s sword. They claim that the sword holds the key to finding a treasure. Apparently, another troll tribe attacked and killed the other trolls. Cutter is more convinced than ever that there are more elf tribes in the world. Meanwhile, back in the Sorrow’s End some strange and terrible power has taken over the tribe’s best magic user, Savah. That power threatens Cutter and Skywise, as well. So Cutter’s lifemate Leetah has to decide if she will follow Cutter and try to find him. She has lived her whole life in the peaceful village so the decision is hard, even when the Wolfriders will come with her.

Most of this collection focuses on Cutter and Skywise. While Skywise is often seen as the dreamer of the tribe, this time it’s Cutter who dreams so big that others doubt him. Still, Skywise has absolute faith in him and follows his friend pretty much everywhere he leads. Most of the Wolfriders follow their chief because they love him, not because they think that he’s infallible. Cutter is also one of the youngest of his tribe and he seems to the chief because his father Bearclaw was the chief before him. But the Wolfriders aren’t meek followers; they can and will challenge their chief if they think he’s in the wrong.

Not all humans we see in this story are a bad. The elf duo also has to examine their assumptions about humans; even though they’ve gotten their ideas from long and bitter experience, they have to confront the fact that not all humans are the same. Humans killed Skywise’s mother only hours after he was born, so he has very difficult time accepting that. We also get hints about what other elves might be like and the collection ends with a cliffhanger.

But other elves also get their moments in the sun. Leetah wrestles with her fears. She’s Cutter’s lifemate and the Sun Folk’s healer. She’s lived her whole life in the village and she’s secure and comfortable there. But when she’s confronted with the choice to leave and look for Cutter, it terrifies her which is, of course, understandable. Strongbow is the Wolfrider’s best archer who sends (uses telepathy) instead of speaking. He dislikes the Sun folk as soft and weak, and hates humans. He even challenges Cutter when the chief decides to spare the humans. Cutter and Leetah’s small cubs almost steal the show: Ember is already a tomboy and a Wolfrider through and through while her brother Suntop is a quieter boy whose magical powers are already budding. Ember’s wolfcub is adorable!

The plot doesn’t move in such a quick speed as in the first collection, which is good because we now have the chance to explore the world and the characters better.

What I really like in this story is that the time move forward and the people change with it. This is even clearer in the later stories where children grow up and humans form their communities. The Wolfriders are clearly not Tolkien elves: they’re smaller than humans and live with wolves, bonding with them. The wolves are animals and not supernaturally intelligent or anything else supernatural. The Wolfriders are very aware of the natural cycles of the year as well as life and death. They’re all hunters who eat their meat raw. At the same time, they love, respect, and cherish every member of their tribe. Not everyone is a warrior and thankfully not everyone has to be. The Sun folk as similarly small in stature but very gentle people. They are farmers who live in the same village pretty much their whole lives. Their dwellings are small and simple compared to the Middle-Earth elves. While the Wolfriders have had to live their lives quietly in the forest, the Sun folk haven’t had enemies to hide from. They are loud and party loudly, too.

Excellent collection of stories but the next two are my favorites!

The complete collection also includes art from the original issues and the bridge pages from Marvel reprints which are all done by Wendy Pini.

A stand-alone book set in the Promethean Age series.

Publication year: 2014
Format: print
Page count: 332
Publisher: Prime

One-Eyed Jack is the personification (Genus Loci) of Las Vegas, or rather one of the two personifications. The other one is his partner and lover Stewart, also known as the Suicide King. They’re in trouble because the personifications of Los Angeles (Goddess and Angel) are trying to kill them and to tie Las Vegas to L. A. Then Stewart vanishes and Jack panics. He conjures up the ghost of John Henry to help him. But two John Henrys show up.

In San Diego a vampire finds a way to get rid of his mistress and then he heads to Las Vegas as well. Why? He looks a lot like the King of Rock and Roll and Las Vegas is familiar ground to him. Meanwhile, back in 1964 two spies known as the American and the Russian are on the run from the Assassin. They’re somewhere in Manhattan when they hear that the Assassin has left for Las Vegas. Of course they follow him.

In this book, Bear plays around with media ghosts. They are characters familiar from various TV shows and movies (and books, I guess, too), and have become archtypes in the minds of (Western) people. The spies are from the year 1964 and they’re not named. They are all very recognizable and behave like their archtypes. While being media ghosts gives them some powers, on the other hand they’re also limited to what they can do; the genre powers and limits them. I’m fairly familiar with them and enjoyed them quite a lot. There are also some legendary ghosts from history. But the current day legends shape them, as well. On the other hand, the genus locii were real people before they died in the city they’re now tied to. Apparently, their lives somehow reflected the idea of the city and that’s why they’re now tied to it.

One-Eyed Jack is part spy story and part vampire story. It also has a smidgen of Western in it. It’s chock full of famous characters and I had a blast reading about them but I don’t think it’s fair to spoil them in a review.

The book has a lot of point-of-view characters, two of them in first person, the rest in third person. However, there’s low chance of getting confused because every (short) chapter has a heading which indicates the POV character. Jack and the undead, named Tribute, are the first person POV characters and they’re quite different from each other.

This is quite different from the other Promethean Age books. I think it’s readable without reading the other books, though, because the magical aspects as explained.

Collects Elfquest 1-5

Writers: Wendy and Richard Pini
Artist: Wendy Pini
Publishing year: 1993
Publisher: Father Tree Press

Elfquest is one of the first, if not the first, fantasy comic I ever read. Only this first collection was published in Finnish back then and I had to wait for many years until I found the next issues in English. Some years back a lot of the comic was published here in Finland in small, black and white issues. I still have the color printings but the soft covers are starting to fall apart. The Pinis have started to publish the Final Quest and I’m hoping that I’ll have enough money to get the collected editions as they come out. Also, an Elfquest adventure game was published this year. We’ve played it and it prompted a reread.

This first collection introduces us to the world of Two Moons and the small Wolfrider tribe of elves. In just a couple of pages, the Pinis show us how the elves literally fell from the sky to this world but were immediately attacked by the fearful humans. That hostility continues through the whole series. Fire and Flight starts with the humans who have captured one of the Wolfriders. The elves’ young chief Cutter and his friends rescue the prisoner and in retaliation the humans burn the forest where they all live. The tribe flees the flames to the troll’s underground home. But they aren’t welcome there and have to find a new home. The trolls trick them into a passageway which ends to a desert and the elves have no choice but to try to cross it. They’ve lived in a forest their whole lives so a desert is an alien environment to their and their wolves.

The Wolfrider tribe has only 17 members and all of them are individuals. That isn’t yet so clear in the first collection which is focused on the chief Cutter and his best friend Skywise (and later Leetah). In fact, in these first issues the tribe seems at first to have very clear gender lines: men hunt and protect, and women stay in their holt. However, this changes later and rather dramatically, and even in this first collection Woodlock is a male who stays back at Father Tree with the women of the tribe. I love pretty much all of the characters and they change and grow and the series continue. The next collections also bring a lot of new characters to the tale.

This is a great introduction to the story and the characters. It moves quickly and it’s easy for this reader at least to immerse herself into the story. Pini’s art isn’t yet as sophisticated as it will be but it’s already very detailed and unique in style. Each elf is easy to distinguish even in crowd scenes. The style difference is very easy to see in the reprints with pages that Pini has added later. Sadly, I don’t have them (yet).

While on the surface this is a quest fantasy, already the first issues deal with such themes as trust, racism, and loss. Also, the theme of choice versus instinct is clear in the latter half of the issues.

Elfquest is one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read and it starts strongly.

The first book in the pulp adventure series set in Venus.


Publication year: 1932
Format: print
Page count: 183
Publisher: Del Ray (printed in 1991)

I’ve read more than a few Tarzan books, the first three Pellucidar books, and the Mars series in my youth, but this is the first time I read Burroughs’ Venus series. To my surprise, I found out that the first three Venus books have also been translated but in 1930s but there aren’t any reprints that I’m aware of. I’ve never seen the translations.

The book starts with Carson Napier contacting Burroughs himself. Carson is determined to travel to Mars in a rocket ship. In order to tell people on Earth about his adventures, Carson will keep in touch with his telepathic powers which he learned from a Hindu mystic. Carson also tells his life’s story to Burroughs. This ties the Venus series into the same world where the Tarzan and Pellucidar books happen.

Carson takes off in the rocket but the calculations were wrong and he ends up on Venus instead of Mars. There he encounters a human race which lives on gigantic trees. The humans call themselves Vepajans and they are a remnant of a once great race which invented immortality and made great technical strides. The men are armed at all times and seem to be fighting against the local animals. However, they also have human enemies and soon they capture Carson who has to find a way to escape.

The book contains many of Burroughs’ staples: a strange new world with humans who have different customs and cultures, strange beasts, and adventure. There is even a Princess whom Carson falls in love with and has to rescue. The story also contains political satire with the two human cultures: The Vepajan Empire had strict class distinctions (between merchants, wage earners, slaves, and brain workers) and even though the Vepajans claim that the classes didn’t interact at all, the empire was also so egalitarian that anyone (I presume anyone male) with sufficient skills and intelligence could rise to the thinking class of doctors and scientists. Yet, there were people who were unhappy with the empire and rose in rebellion. Their leader was Thor and so they’re called Thorans. The Vepajans are all beautiful or handsome and very courteous while the Thorans are often plain or ugly and insulting. The Thorans won and killed a lot of the Vepajans before the rest managed to escape.

The humans are now split into Vepajans and Thorans. The Vepajans still enjoy immortality and are almost free of disease but only half of the women are able to bear children. They don’t have slaves or servants; everyone is equal except for the king and his offspring who are almost revered. The Vepajans don’t have religion and when Carson tries to explain the concept to them, they find it ridiculous. In contrast, the current day Thorans are ignorant and weak willed people who are ruled by their former rebel leaders with an iron fist. The Thorans possess guns and ships which the Vepajans no longer have.

The locals again have just one language which, we are told, is a lot easier to learn than English. For example it doesn’t have irregular verbs. Therefore Carson is able to learn it in just three weeks.

Venus, or Amtor as the locals call it, has heavy cloud cover and the locals have never seen the sun, moon, or stars. The vegetation is gigantic and the climate is so warm that the locals need very little clothing.

Carson is an athlete but he isn’t a soldier and while he can fence he’s a novice and not the overwhelmingly skilled swordsman that John Carter is. But he’s a courageous, friendly man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, as is usual for a Burroughs hero. His fair hair, blue eyes, and light skin marks him as different from the Venusian people.

The beginning of the story is a bit slow when Carson is told a lot about Amtor but after that the pace picks up. It’s the first book in the series and ends in a cliffhanger.

A historical retelling of the Robin Hood and Maid Marion story. I’m counting it as part of the Once Upon a Time read.

Publication year: 1992
Format: Audio
Running time: 30 hours, 47 minutes including an excerpt from the next book Lady of Sherwood
Narrator: Roger Davis

This isn’t a fantasy book but rather historical romance. The book has lots and lots of point-of-view characters. One of them is Maid Marion FitzWalter, the heir to Ravenskeep lands near Nottingham. Her father was a crusader knight and died in the Holy Land about a year ago. Her mother and brother are also dead so she holds the lands, for now. But she wants to know how her father died. Robert of Loxley was also a knight on the Crusade. He was thought to be dead, too, but he returned somewhat unexpectedly, and his father gathers all the nobles near and far to celebrate his return. Marion goes to the party as well, to get any information about her father.

Robert doesn’t want a party. He has gone through horrible stuff and has even been a prisoner of the Turks for over a year. If Richard the Lionheart hadn’t paid for his release, he would still be a prisoner. He has deep scars, both mental and physical. But his father the Earl of Huntingdon has his own plans and the Earl also expects his son to carry them out, no matter what Robert might want. King Richard is now in prison in Germany and Robert wants to buy him out of there. But the Earl thinks that Prince John will be the next king and he wants to prevent that. Robert’s mother called him Robin and that’s a nickname that Robert eventually adapts as his name.

The main antagonists are the Earl of Huntingdon, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Prince John. The sheriff, William the DeLacey, is a master manipulator. He’s unhappy with his station of life and wants to rise higher. All his children are women and, except for the youngest Eleanor, already married. He has some faint hope of marrying Eleanor to Huntingdon’s heir. He’s a widow but at the start of the book he isn’t yet looking for another wife, until he realizes that he might be able to get Marion’s lands and the girl herself. Then he’s fixated in his obsession. He’s also in league with Prince John. The Earl is another cold man. While the sheriff is prepared to manipulate everyone, the earl expects everyone to obey him because of his rank. He still treats Robert like a boy and doesn’t want to see how he has changed. As usual for Robin Hood tales, Prince John is portrayed as highly corrupt, gathering extravagant taxes from peasants and the Jewish people claiming that the money will be used to buy Richard free, but actually he keep the money for himself. He’s an arrogant and selfish man and at the start of the book he attempts to rape Marion. They are all POV characters.

Among the many POV characters is also Sir Guy of Guisbourne who has bought his knighthood and is the sheriff’s seneschal; essentially a glorified paper pusher. He wants to do great deeds but don’t have the skills or the courage for it. Marion treats him with kindness and he realizes that he could get her and her lands.

Adam Bell and his group are one of the outlaw groups in Sherwood. They rob pretty much everyone they meet and even blackmail people into their group.

Many familiar characters, such as Little John, Much the Miller’s son, and Will Scarlett are also POV characters.

Among the many male POV characters, there are also two women: Marion and Eleanor, the Sheriff’s youngest daughter. At least in the beginning, they are almost polar opposites of each other. Marion has been reared in Ravenskeep, surrounded by loving parents and familiar servants. She’s been alone a lot and she’s pretty innocent about her way the world works. She’s also a kind and gentle spirit, willing to believe the best of everyone. She pleads with the sheriff for the lives of peasants who have wronged him. But she’s also practical, the way that many women have to be in a world where they don’t have much say in their own lives. In contrast, Eleanor has lived her life in the Sheriff’s household watching her father, the master manipulator. He’s been quite cold towards both of his wives whom he married for practical and political reasons. Both are dead now and he has only daughters; Eleanor’s older sisters are all married respectably but not in higher stations, as the sheriff would have preferred. Eleanor is a plain girl (as is repeatedly told to her) but also independent and stubborn; she loves sex and chooses the men she sleeps with. However, she’s not very discreet and that costs her. A lot. She wants to be free to make her own choices at a time when women don’t have that luxury.

The characters are well developed and, as far as I know, typical of the era. There’s a deep gulf between the well-off and the poor, between men and women. The people are divided into the Norman overlords who disdain the conquered Saxons who in turn hate the Normans.

At times, the pace is very slow. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of repetition; the same characters thinking the same things over and over. One scene which could have been an action scene was seen from at least five different POVs which managed to suck out any excitement from it and I was very impatient to get to know what happens next. Then again, the part of Robin Hood legend I’m most interested in is the part where they live in the forest and rob rich people. There was very little of that in this book so I ended up wondering when the “real” story would begin. This is not that story.

I’ve read the Cheysuli series from Roberson before and liked that more. Her writing style here is very flowery and descriptive but sometimes the descriptions just don’t make sense. For example: “Better to itch than to die for want of a scratch.” “The earl held himself very erect, superficially a younger man, until one looked farther and saw that he was old.”

The reader made various accents to the characters; the Normans have slight French accents and the Saxons English ones. They were just strong enough to spice the story but not too strong. In fact, the voice and accent he gave to Little John brought to my mind Clive Mantle (who was Little John in BBC’s Robin of Sherwood). His reading was clear and I enjoyed it a lot.

The book has a sequel, Lady of Sherwood, but it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger.

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