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Ilario: The Lion's Eye
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Ilario: The Lion's Eye (A Story of the First History #1)

3.46  ·  Rating Details ·  263 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
Born a true hermaphrodite, Ilario has lived as the king's freak in the Iberian kingdom of Tarraconensis. All Ilario wants is to be one of the first - and best - Renaissance painters. In order to do so, Ilario must embark on a quest to escape the wrath of the court.
Paperback, 663 pages
Published December 13th 2007 by Gollancz (first published June 26th 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Nov 05, 2015 Nicki rated it liked it
Set in the same world as Ash: A Secret History, a few decades earlier, Ilario follows the exploits of a young intersex painter as their voyage to learn from an artist pioneering the adoption of perspective to replace the old iconography is rapidly complicated by their family’s desire to eliminate the political complications they represent.

I was really looking forward to Ilario for a multitude of reasons. I loved the alternate history that Mary Gentle presented in Ash, and was excited to uncover
Sep 07, 2011 Zoe rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
In asking for books with gender variant main characters, I was told to look up this alternate history book about a "true hermaphrodite". Within the first five pages, the author established the character's genital status with a gay sex scene, with no lube, with a complete stranger. So right off the bat, we've established that the main character is slutty. Nice. Despite an abusive sex partner, Ilario is happy to be used...until they're tricked by their new lover's mother and sold into ...more
Jul 09, 2007 Wendy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
Set in the same universe as Mary Gentle's Ash novels. In this one, she continues her recent trend of writing about gender-ambiguous protagonists with a protagonist who is an out-an-out hermaphrodite: the eponymous Ilario.

Ilario's convincingly portrayed, seeming masculine at times and feminine at others without ever seeming inconsistently written. However, he/she is sometimes a difficult protagonist to like, being stubborn, impulsive, and more than a little self-centered. The secondary character
Jan 07, 2012 Alytha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finished Ilario by Mary Gentle a couple of days ago.

(Mary Gentle deserves much more love and internet presence, by the way, because she's a kickass writer)

The novel is set in the early 15th century in the same universe as Ash; A Secret History, which is almost like ours, except that magic exists, Carthage was captured by Visigoths at some point, and was later cursed by a Rabbi, so that a huge black cloud called the Penitence covers the land, and the Mediterranean up to Malta. Out of necessity, C
Feb 17, 2015 Alice rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ilario: The Lions' Eye takes place in an alternate world and draws from real people and places. The book begins with Ilario arriving in Carthage. Fresh off the boat, and freed from a childhood of slavery in a king’s court, Ilario is quickly targeted by a man who convinces Ilario to sleep with him. This interaction pricked at me because I still don’t understand it, besides it setting up something unnecessary later in the book. I think it was mostly used as a device to tell us Ilario is neither wh ...more
Sep 24, 2007 Alys rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Ok. So I started this book thinking interesting premise, but good grief, Ilario/Ilaria is a petulant child; which is saying something since he/she is like 25 at the writing of the story. And the he/she reference? The main character is a hermaphrodite. The term, comes from the tale by Ovid of the son of Hermes and Aprhodite who was so loved by the nymph Salmacis that that she prayed for a complete union with him. Be careful what you ask for, eh? They were united bodily with the resulting mess bei ...more
Bending The Bookshelf
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 27, 2007 Speedtribes rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
I suppose it's unfortunate that I picked this book up immediately after I finished reading Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette's "A Companion to Wolves" which covers the same territory of gender roles, sexual identity and culture clash and despite its faults, was much better in every way.

Ilario: The Lion's Eye -- It is not as well written. I had difficulty immersing myself in the setting what appears to be an alternate universe Renaissance era Carthage/Spain/Rome (unhelped by the strange travelogu
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
Oh how I love Mary Gentle's books. She takes me into a universe that never was yet is so familiar. The blurb on the back tells me that we are returning to the world of "Ash", but that understates the situation. In Ash's world there are only teasing hints at another dimension, at a parallel history. "Ilario" projects us into this world like a stuntman is shot out of a cannon! The darkness that permanently hangs over Visigoth Carthage, the cursed, empty chair of the Papacy, the outpost of the Egyp ...more
A standalone prequel to Ash: A Secret History, this doesn't really match up to its promise. This is more of a travelogue style of fantasy, with the main character visiting important places -- just because, really. In Ash, there always felt like there was a reason for the travelling. Here, it's to show off the world, but sadly it doesn't do it that well.

There isn't enough story for a book this length, which is a real shame. The main character's obsession with painting gets a bit wearying after a
Jan 26, 2011 Mely rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sff
Set in the "First History" of the Ash series.I knew this was half a book going in, so I won't dock it for that; less satisfying is the central character, Ilario, who is a hermaphrodite fleeing the murderous schemes of a politically ambitious mother. Many people seem attracted to and/or fond of the young person, and I haven't the faintest idea why. I like that Gentle makes Ilario believably young and impetuous, but Ilario is also self-centered and not particularly thoughtful. Gender is also treat ...more
Jan 11, 2011 Ithlilian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Ilario is a man-woman that fled from her old life and her mother to journey to a new land to be an apprentice painter. Along the way she meets some people that are friendly towards her and some that want to kill her. There is a tiny bit of political intrigue and a tiny bit of gender exploration, and that's about it. I was enjoying myself well enough but I got to a point where I realized nothing was going to happen, and there wasn't much of a plot. Ilario is not likable, he-she acts like a spoile ...more
Jan 16, 2012 CAW rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not for those easily annoyed by what should be third-person written as first and probably requiring the reading of other novels from this world prior to it (I didn't; I remained confused about several aspects of the alt-Earth in question), but an intelligent sliver of shiny nonetheless.

The hermaphrodite protagonist's refusal to be gendered one way or the other by his-her peers is refreshing, as is her-his character in general. S/he does have the Best Dad Ever in terms of abundant love, acceptanc
I wanted very much to like this novel. I root for authors that try to explore gender roles and sexuality, and those topics are front and center for Ilario, a true hermaphrodite. Gentle does some interesting things in trying to portray the different ways Ilario is treated when dressed as a man and when dressed as a woman, but she isn't entirely successful, and she makes it more difficult for herself by making Ilario annoying in this volume. He/she spends the entire novel running headlong into one ...more
Fantasy Literature
For pure storytelling, don’t-want-to-stop-reading-it fun, Mary Gentle’s two Ilario books, Ilario: The Lion's Eye: A Story of the First History, Book One and Ilario: The Stone Golem: A Story of the First History, Book Two, are among the best I’ve read. I lived in Gentle’s world even when I wasn’t actively reading the books. I dreamt of her Mediterranean Renaissance. I fretted about Ilario. I couldn’t wait to get back to the books when I’d set them down. Gentle’s worldbuilding is extraordinary, he ...more
More of a 1.5 of 5.0.

Completely a case of me missing the quote on the cover that mentions "[the] fair amount of polymorphous hot sexual action." Whoops. Not what I was expecting when I grabbed this at the library.

I think that I was supposed to empathize with Ilario's crappy situation/lot in life, but mostly I was annoyed with him. He's selfish, pouty, and irritatingly precocious. (I could have done without the first-person narrative, too. Whatever happened to good ol' fashioned third-person limi
Dec 18, 2009 Andy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Extremely well written and enjoyable book. Crazy plot, but well worth persevering with. The bottom line is that the book is about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman (or at least the roles that society gives to each). Mary Gentle usually includes at least one character who challenges gender roles in her books; in Ilario, the title character is a hermaphrodite (both male and female sexual organs). There are also eunuchs, good and bad parents and more, all set in an alternate ...more
Tama Wise
Looks like this book is getting a bad rap from Goodreaders ... I've liked Mary Gentle's previous stuff, so lets see if I can get through his hefty tome.

But the reviews here were right when they mentioned this book in the same breath as 'travel writing fiction', because it did feel a little like that. Having said that though, I was rather drawn into the world (if not a little bewildered, but this is Mary Gentle) and the characters, as well as their lives. Pity that I didn't get past the first few
Jul 28, 2010 Fence rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sff, historical
This is a return to the world of Mary Gentle’s alternate world of mercenary captain Ash[1:] although this book is set in a different part of the world and 50 years earlier, there is no need to have read one to read the other. I’m a big fan of Ash, and this is very similar in feel, although it doesn’t have the alternate narrators or indeed the flashing between the past and the present. But the idea of a central character who doesn’t fit in their society, who is trying to be themselves even if the ...more
Feb 17, 2014 Capella rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not as good as Ash: A Secret History or The Black Opera, mostly because the detail was confusing at times and the story moved slowly because of the amount of detail involved. That said, as with all Mary Gentle books, it was thoroughly researched, beautifully rendered, and incredibly intricate. I especially liked that the main character was transgendered and was a strong lead who acted on the world instead of being acted upon. Mary Gentle's characters are always unique and this was no exception.
Surly hermaphrodite painter grows up in alt-15th century. A study of gender and ownership, but i'm not convinced of its success--Ilario comes across as much more male than female in subtle ways, more of a 70/30 than a 50/50, despite a [spoiler] plot event which one would think would rise femininity ascendant. Still, I enjoyed the tale. This is the first book I've read by this author so not sure if the quirks are part of her voice or if smoother editing could be applied. Warning: Extreme cliffhan ...more
Jan 18, 2012 Nathan rated it liked it
Based in the same environment as Ash, here Gentle takes us on what is really a grand family story. It's about mums and dads and children, even though there are mercenaries, golems, Cheng Ho and Renaissance painting. A fairly big plot hole in the middle of it all (why is that prime minister so important?) but there are some nice characters and interesting diversions. A bit long, perhaps, for the content. Rated M for adult themes, frequent coarse language and some violence. 3/5
Mar 01, 2008 Danielle rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi-fantasy
I'd like to see more books with main characters who don't follow the hard-core male/female gender rules. This story is from the perspective of a hermaphrodite, a perspective I'd love to read more often. However, the writing made it difficult to retain my interest. Despite the cliffhanger ending, I don't think I'll read the next installment. It just didn't capture my imagination.
An interesting tale that explores the ideas of masculinity and femininity and the ways in which they blend and clash within the lead characters, an Iberian hermaphrodite and an Egyptian eunuch. Not the highest quality of writing, but still an enjoyable read.
Jun 04, 2007 In_interval is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Well, I am reading this without having read Ash first because I am pretty new to Mary Gentle. I loved 1610 and grabbed this when it came out. Not going to rate it until I finish which at the rate I read could be a really long while.
Jun 07, 2009 Lindig rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Gentle does her usual intricate world-building, this world but not exactly. I think more could have been made of Ilario's "special" situation (trying not to spoil it). If you enjoy Renaissance history, you'll like this. I'm interested to see how it all ties up in Book Two.
Susan Carlson
Aug 29, 2007 Susan Carlson rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
A book that thinks it's more trangressive than it really is, and has a core of good feeling that outweighs all the tragic or comic elements. I enjoyed it, but it definitely felt like one of Gentle's lighter books (nothing wrong with that either. :) ).
Catherine Siemann
I really loved ASH, and this was in the same universe, and thoroughly intriguing . . . and something of a letdown.
Christopher Hough
Great book. It is a little slow getting started, but if you stick with it it gets much better. I got to the point I could not put it down.
Tom rated it liked it
Aug 08, 2011
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Excerpted from Wikipedia:
Mary Gentle's first published novel was Hawk in Silver (1977), a young-adult fantasy. She came to prominence with the Orthe duology, which consists of Golden Witchbreed (1983) and Ancient Light (1987).

The novels Rats and Gargoyles (1990), The Architecture of Desire (1991), and Left to His Own Devices (1994), together with several short stories, form a loosely linked series
More about Mary Gentle...

Other Books in the Series

A Story of the First History (2 books)
  • Ilario: The Stone Golem: A Story of the First History, Book Two (Ilario, A Story of the First History)

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