The good things about this book: I like the idea behind the Order of Deacons – an areligious order of monkish types (the only traditional vow I think...moreThe good things about this book: I like the idea behind the Order of Deacons – an areligious order of monkish types (the only traditional vow I think you could argue they take is the one of obedience; definitely not chastity) – sworn to keep the barrier between the living and the dead whole. I like the ontological underpinnings of the Otherside, though they’re only hinted at in this first novel of the series. I like the character of Sorcha Faris – mostly.
Why only two stars?: One of the novel’s blurbs says “[o]ne of the most vividly original books I’ve read this year.” But it isn’t ((view spoiler)[or, if it is, then the blurber must have had a sorely disappointing year (hide spoiler)]). There’s no story or character here that I haven’t encountered before: The oddball pair up of experienced partner and novice; the inevitable, passionate love affair between male and female protagonists; the family curse; the corrupted institution; the evil demon lord who wants to manifest in our world; the deus ex machina (or dea in this case); even the faithful gruff retainer.
Familiarity does not necessarily breed contempt, though. There’s nothing wrong with following the traditional fantasy formula if the storytelling works but – for me – it didn’t. Ballantine’s writing is annoying and intrusive and sometimes, simply bad, constantly throwing me out of the reading experience. For example, the setting is a world reminiscent of late 18th/early 19th century Europe (particularly Russia as there’s a definite Slavic flavor to many names – Kolya, Rossin, the Murashev – but not overly so) yet the characters speak in 21st century idioms. The writing itself is awkward and clumsy; she actually writes “incredibly seriously” at one point. And can we please ban the use of “wryly” to describe any action, at least more than once per novel?
Beyond that there’s no effort to establish character. We’re told that Sorcha’s marriage to Kolya is mostly dead but there’s no attempt to create the context that would give it emotional depth. Thus, when Sorcha – our heroine – falls for Raed Rossin – our hero – so passionately (as we’re told) it’s not believable that she’s starving for a lover. We’re faced with the same flatness in the relationship between Sorcha – the experienced Deacon – and Merrick – the novice. Almost immediately, they are working together like a well coordinated team and bantering like an old, married couple. ((view spoiler)[This despite the fact that Merrick’s father was brutally slain when Merrick was a child because of a mistake the young, inexperienced Deacon Sorcha Faris made. (hide spoiler)])
The story – the “mystery” – is a mystery only for about two chapters. If you can’t see who the bad guys are or who the abovementioned dea ex machina is then you’re a novice reader or you’re not paying attention.
Recommended?: No. I can’t recommend this book. It’s not such a horrible read that you want to gouge your eyes out but if you’re going to test the waters, check it out of the library or borrow it from a friend. If the writing weren’t so annoying and the story so mediocre or there’d been stronger character building, I would be more enthusiastic but the book didn’t quite measure up to what I had been hoping for.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
“You will not fail, however he may assail you. There is also love in the world.”
In hindsight one can see the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant building up...more“You will not fail, however he may assail you. There is also love in the world.”
In hindsight one can see the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant building up to the Götterdämmerung that is The Last Dark.† In the first Chronicle, Thomas Covenant, an outcast leper in our world, is translated to the Land. There one’s physical and mental health are tangible, and all is threatened by Lord Foul the Despiser, who desires to destroy the Arch of Time (and, thus, the Earth) and escape his prison. Covenant learns that he is the wielder of the wild magic of white gold, the paradox that both sustains Time and is the only thing capable of destroying it. Initially, Covenant resists belief in the Land (hence his sobriquet of “Unbeliever”) and refuses to actively help the many people who befriend him. But events in the course of the first three books contrive to force him into a confrontation with Lord Foul, where he laughs Despite into irrelevance. With Foul impotent, Covenant finds himself back in our world. In the second Chronicle, Covenant is again translated to the Land along with Linden Avery and finds that in saving it the first time, he unwittingly laid the seeds for Lord Foul’s corruption of the Council of Lords and the abomination of the Sunbane. In order to defeat Foul this time, Covenant and his friends seek the One Tree in order to recreate the Staff of Law (destroyed in the first Chronicle) and (hopefully) restore the Land to health.†† Ultimately, they succeed. Covenant gives Foul his white gold ring, and the Despiser unleashes the power of wild magic. The results are not what Foul desires, however. While Covenant’s physical body is destroyed, he becomes a part of the Arch (hence his other sobriquet of “Timewarden”) and again Foul’s desires are thwarted. The third Chronicle begins 10 years (in our world) after the events of the second. Linden is a doctor at the institution where Covenant’s first wife is immured, driven insane by Lord Foul. She has also adopted Jeremiah, a boy whom Covenant saved from sacrifice to the Despiser in the second Chronicle but who’s suffered such abuse that he’s retreated into his mind and appears unreachable. We also meet Roger Covenant, Thomas’ son by Joan, who’s also been touched by the Despiser and is under the control of a Raver. Eventually, all find themselves translated to the Land. Thousands of years have passed and the Land is ruled by the Masters, Haruchai who have determined that the only way to save it is to keep its inhabitants ignorant of Earthpower and the Lore of the old Lords. They’ve also developed an unhealthy fetish for Covenant that takes its most extreme form in the Humbled - Haruchai who have voluntarily emulated Covenant’s halfhand. In order to save her son, Linden selfishly breaks the Law and restores Covenant to life. In the process she awakens the Worm of the World’s End and grants Lord Foul’s greatest desire – an escape from the Earth.†††
The Last Dark opens in the last days of the Earth. The Sun no longer rises and the Worm is devouring all of the Elohim, causing the stars to fade from the sky. Though everything they know tells them that all their efforts will prove futile, Covenant and his companions set out to do several things. Jeremiah will build a fane that will protect the remaining Elohim; Linden will go back in time to gain the knowledge of forbidding from Caerroil Wildwood; and Covenant will journey to Mount Thunder to confront – once more – Lord Foul in his lair.
But there is “hope in contradiction,” as Donaldson observes several times in the novel; and means speak louder than ends. As the Giant Cirrus Kindwind explains to Jeremiah when Stave and Cabledarm are nearly killed finding the malachite the boy needs to build his fane:
Beckoning for Jeremiah to accompany her, Kindwind stepped away. When they had withdrawn a few paces, she said, “We must trust, Chosen-son, that his folk restore themselves in this manner. It appears that his spirit has turned inward. But I will believe that a man who has performed his feats must soon heal himself and return to us.”
Jeremiah swallowed against the dryness in his throat. “I hope so. He doesn’t deserve this.”
“Ah, deserve,” sighed Kindwind. “The notion of deserved and undeserved is a fancy. Knowing both life and death, we endeavor to impose worth and meaning upon our deeds, and thereby to comfort our fear of impermanence. We choose to imagine that our lives merit continuance. Mayhap all sentience shares a similar fancy. Mayhap the Earth itself, being sentient in its fashion, shares it. Nonetheless it is a fancy. A wider gaze does not regard us in that wise. The stars do not. Perhaps the Creator does not. The larger truth is merely that all things end. By that measure, our fancies cannot be distinguished from dust.
“For this reason, Giants love tales. Our iteration of past deeds and desires and discoveries provides the only form of permanence to which mortal life can aspire. That such permanence is a chimera does not lessen its power to console. Joy is in the ears that hear.”
Her assertion startled Jeremiah. It seemed to question his foundations. If he closed his eyes, he could still see the extremity of Stave’s fall. The hard throb of Cabledarm’s bleeding and the excruciation of her shoulder cried out to his senses. Awkwardly he reached for Kindwind’s last waterskin. When she released it, he drank as if his thirst – his dismay – had the force of a moral convulsion.
“So you’re saying,” he protested or pleaded, “what Stave did is worthless? What Cabledarm did is worthless? It’s all dust?”
“Aye,” Cirrus Kindwind assented, “if that is how you choose to hear the tale.” Her tone was mild. “For myself, I will honor the effort and the intent. Doing so, I will be comforted.”
Jeremiah wanted to shout. Instead he fumed, “You sound like the croyel.” Was joy in the ears that hear? Then so were agony and horror. So was despair. “It was forever telling me everything Mom did was useless. Nothing matters. It’s all dust. That’s why Lord Foul laughs – and Roger – and those Ravers. They agree with you. In the end, they’re the only ones who get what they want.”
Kindwind looked at him sharply. Like the flick of a blade, she retorted, “Then her me, Chosen-son. Hear me well. There is another truth which you must grasp.
“Mortal lives are not stones. They are not seas. For impermanence to judge itself by the standards of permanence is folly. Or is it arrogance? Life merely is what it is, neither more nor less. To deem it less because it is not more is to heed the counsels of the Despiser.
“We do what we must so that we may find worth in ourselves. We do not hope vainly that we will put an end to pain, or to loss, or to death.”
Failure isn’t something you are. It’s something you do.
Without warning, Jeremiah found that he ached to share Kindwind’s beliefs, and Linden’s. Perhaps the monolith had never contained enough malachite. Perhaps the deposit had shattered. Perhaps Stave and even Cabledarm would die. Perhaps Mom would never come back. Perhaps futility was the only truth. Still Jeremiah would have to find a way to live with it.
To himself, he muttered, “It’s not that easy.”
Cirrus Kindwind had never been possessed.
Her response was a snort. “We were not promised ease. The purpose of life – if it may be said to have a purpose – is not ease. It is to choose, and to act upon the choice. In that task, we are not measured by outcomes. We are measured only by daring and effort and resolve.” [emphasis mine] (pp. 187-8)
The passage above also contains another important theme – the primacy of agency. The worst thing a person can do or suffer is possession, the loss of the ability to choose. There’s a later scene where Jeremiah has been possessed by moksha Raver, who tempts the boy with the seductiveness of submission:
Do you now discern truth? asked the Raver kindly, eagerly. Long have you striven to evade our intent, long and at great cost. Long have you concealed yourself from suffering, though your wounds festered with every avoided day. Do you now grasp that there can be no surcease or anodyne for an implement, except in its condign use? Do you comprehend that there is both freedom and exaltation in the acceptance of service?
This all true believers know. They submit every desire and gift to the will of beings greater than themselves, and by their surrender they gain redemption. Self-will accrues only fear. It achieves only pain. The highest glory is reached solely by the abdication of self.
Do you understand? Do you acknowledge at last that you are the Despiser’s beloved son, in whom he is well pleased? (p. 498)
Reading this passage, I was immediately struck by the parallel to Matthew 3:16-17:
Then Jesus, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.
And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (NKJV)
It’s too simplistic to say that Donaldson is anti-Christian. One could argue that his defense of unconditional love and nonviolence are Christian in the best sense of the word. But Christianity (and Islam and Judaism, for that matter) demands its adherents submit themselves entirely to the will of a god who will use their lives to further his purposes. And – to be honest – I’ve always found such abnegation of will distasteful; certainly a factor in my admiration for Donaldson. (There’s a thesis paper in here somewhere.)
Another parallel with a major literary work – and another thesis – that came to mind while reading The Last Dark is to the Lord of the Rings. Again, it would be simplistic to reduce the Chronicles to the anti-LotR. Tolkien did not glorify war or violence. He lost two of his closest friends to the First World War, and endured the trenches himself. He had few illusions but it’s unlikely that Gimli, storming an Orc stronghold, would have ever uttered these words: “Covenant wheeled on Branl. ‘We have to get out of here! These are their homes! We can’t start killing their children!’” (p. 461)
Or that Aragorn, in the midst of the Battle of the Pelennor, would have agonized:
With every slash and thrust, every frantic swing, he appalled himself. He had to goad himself with curses like groans in order to keep moving. Otherwise he would have plunged to his knees, crippled by abhorrence. The Cavewights were only simple in their thinking: they were not unintelligent. And they had a long history. On their own terms, they had a civilization. They had never deserved the use which Lord Foul had made of them. They did not deserve what Covenant did to them now.
He promised himself that the Despiser would pay for this; but no promise sufficed to condone such slaughter. (pp. 452-3)
I want to avoid spoilers in this review so I can’t go into any detail about the novel’s end, another example of the book’s “anti-LotRism." I will say, however, that Lord Foul’s fate is very different from either Morgoth’s or Sauron’s.
On the other hand, I would argue that Linden’s struggle with her own role mirrors Frodo’s:
But she could not keep meeting peril with violence, striving to out-do the savagery of Lord Foul’s servants and allies. She could not. She needed a different purpose, a better role in the Land’s fate. She had passed through the wrath of Gallows Howe to the gibbet’s deeper truths; to the vast bereavement which had inspired Garroting Deep’s thirst for blood. The time had come to heed the lessons which her whole life had tried to teach her.
If she did not give up, and did not fight, what remained? She thought that she knew, although she trembled to contemplate it; or she would have trembled had she been less weary. (p. 351)
And that both come to the same conclusion (cf., Frodo’s actions in “The Scouring of the Shire,” The Return of the King):
She understood that now. She recognized, if the bane did not, that healing was both more arduous and more worthy than retribution. And sometimes healing required measures as extreme as the patient’s plight. Surgeons amputated or extirpated. They performed sacrifices. They transplanted. They did not judge the cost. They only did what they could. [emphasis mine] (p. 488)
Another passage that recalls LotR takes place at the end. Actually, it reminds me more of passages from the History of Middle Earth, where Tolkien is discussing the nature of Morgoth’s evil:
Covenant grimaced. He almost smiled. “It’s easier than it looks. Or it’s harder. Or maybe it’s just worth the effort.” He ran his halfhand through his hair. “I don’t know how else to explain it. Lord Foul makes us strong.”
“Strong,” Jeremiah objected. “The Despiser? He would have slaughtered the whole world and laughed about it.”
“Well, sure,” Covenant shrugged. “But ask yourself why he’s like that. Berek said it. ‘Only the great of heart may despair greatly.’ All that malice and contempt is just love and hope and eagerness gone rancid. He’s the Creator’s curdled shadow. He –“ He grimaced again. “I’m not saying this right.
“He gives us the chance to do better.” (p. 527)
Compare the “Ainulindalë,” where Melkor/Morgoth is the mightiest of the Ainur and its his very love, hope and eagerness for Eru’s Creation that curdle into the despite that mars Arda.
I recommend The Last Dark, and the final Chronicle overall. Enough that I’m nudging my initial three stars to four; it inspired me and made me think so despite its manifest flaws (which I mentioned in my reviews of previous books), it’s become one of those books that will color everything else I read for years to come.
† Another reviewer commented that anyone reading this book has almost certainly read the preceding nine so the synopsis that follows is brief and written as if the reader will know of the places and people mentioned. (And that they'll forgive the spoilers from the first two series.)
†† I’m not going to touch on the theme of uncertainty that is a major element in all three Chronicles in this review. Not much, at any rate, except to mention that often (always?) the characters set off to accomplish things not knowing if it’s the correct thing to do or if it will help in the end.
††† There’s a parallel here between Elena’s breaking of the Law of Death to bring back Kevin Landwaster and Linden’s. Where Linden’s differed was that her motivation was unconditional love; Elena’s love was contaminated with her insanity.(less)
Ted Hughes’ The Crow was a mixed bag for me. Some poems went right over my head no matter how many times I would read them. Others read like pretentio...moreTed Hughes’ The Crow was a mixed bag for me. Some poems went right over my head no matter how many times I would read them. Others read like pretentious claptrap. But then there were a handful that I enjoyed reading, like “Crow Goes Hunting”:
Crow Decided to try words.
He imagined some words for the job, a lovely pack – Clear-eyed, resounding, well-trained, With strong teeth. You could not find a better bred lot.
He pointed out the hare and away went the words Resounding. Crow was Crow without fail, but what is a hare?
It converted itself to a concrete bunker. The words circled protesting, resounding.
Crow turned the words into bombs – they blasted the bunker. The bits of bunker flew up – a flock of starlings.
Crow turned the words into shotguns, they shot down the starlings. The falling starlings turned to a cloudburst.
Crow turned the words into a reservoir, collecting the water. The water turned into an earthquake, swallowing the reservoir.
The earthquake turned into a hare and leaped for the hill Having eaten Crow’s words.
Crow gazed after the bounding hare Speechless with admiration.
My other favorites were “Crow’s Playmates,” “Apple Tragedy,” “Fragment of an Ancient Tablet” and “Snake Hymn.”
If you’re a Hughes fan then you’ll probably like this collection well enough but I can’t competently say “yea” or “nay” for anyone else.(less)
I should begin by saying that I’m going to be grossly unfair and harsh in judging Ian Doescher’s efforts in this book. He comes – at times – to really...moreI should begin by saying that I’m going to be grossly unfair and harsh in judging Ian Doescher’s efforts in this book. He comes – at times – to really capturing a Shakespearean flavor and verve but too often appears to believe that he’s channeling the Bard by using “thou” and “prithee” and “anon,” putting verbs at the end of sentences, and stressing past-tense endings (e.g., “banishèd”). That said, this is an enjoyable – if frivolous – diversion, and I would recommend it to the probably-not-quite-as-rare-as-you-think Star Wars nerd/Shakespeare geek (or is that “Star Wars geek/Shakespeare nerd”?).
Doescher is at his best when he gives the “rude mechanicals” voice like the stormtroopers who are searching Mos Eisley for the droids or – my favorite – an extended conversation between the two soldiers guarding the Millennium Falcon after it's captured by the Death Star.
In the first place, you’ll remember that Imperial troops are combing Mos Eisley for C-3PO and R2-D2 and one comes to a locked door, saying “It’s locked. Let’s move on.” (or words to that effect) That scene has always bothered me – why are these thugs letting a locked door deter them? It’s not as if Palpatine’s New Order includes a Bill of Rights. Doescher, however, provides some context when the trooper justifies his action with logic worthy of Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing”:
This door is lock’d. And as my father oft / Hath said, a lockèd door no mischief makes. / So sure am I that, thus, behind this door / Cannot be found the droids for which we search. / And thus may we move on with conscience clear. (III.3, p. 79)
In the second place, the tongueless guards from the movie get a chance to voice their thoughts:
GUARD 1: Oi! Didst thou hear that sound? GUARD 2: – Pray, hear a sound? GUARD 1: Aye, truly – I quite clearly heard a sound. GUARD 2: Think ears, mayhap, play tricks on thee, my friend. GUARD 1: Nay,nay. Dost thou not think this strange? GUARD 2: – What strange? GUARD 1: The droids did flee the ship we have attack’d, / And unto Tatooine have gone by pod. / ‘Tis true, thus far? GUARD 2: – I cannot claim ‘tis false. GUARD 1: On Tatooine they have been tracèd first / To Jawas vile and then to humans – GUARD 2: – Dead. GUARD 1: Aye, dead they are – our men did see to it. / But follow on: the boy who with them liv’d / Hath fled, we knew not where, till he was seen / At yon Mos Eisley with the pair of droids. GUARD 2: Aye, aye, ‘twas all in last week’s briefing. Pray, / What more of this? Hast thou aught new to say? GUARD 1: That boy and droids together disappear’d / The very hour the ship – this ship – did fly. / And now, the ship is here, though empty seems. GUARD 2: Nay, empty ‘tis! The scanning crew doth work / E’en now. GUARD 1: – Which bringeth me full circle to / The sound I just have heard. Is’t possible, / My friend, that boy and droids and revels all / Have flown within this ship unto this base / And yet – e’en now – whilst thou and I do speak, / Still hide within the ship? GUARD 2: – I am amaz’d! GUARD 1: Aye, verily? Think’st thou I may be right? GUARD 2: I said thou hast amaz’d me, and ‘tis true. / But never did I say I think thee right – / Thou dost amaze by thy o’eractive thoughts! / A hidden boy! The droids within! A fig! / Avaunt, thou silly guard, be not so thick. / They great imagination hath o’erwrought / They better senses. Thinkest thou thy pow’rs / Of judgment far exceed our Masters true? / May’st thou outwit the great Darth Vader or / The cunning of our Gov’nor Tarkin? Nay! / We are but simple guards, our purpose here / Is plain and to the point: we have been task’d / To watch the ship and follow all commands, / And not to prattle on with airy thoughts. GUARD 1: Aye, thou hast spoke a well-consider’d word. / Thou are a friend, as I have e’er maintain’d, / And thou hast spoken truth and calm’d me quite. / The rebels hide herein! What vain conceit! / That e’er they should the Death Star enter – ha! GUARD 2: It warms my heart to see thee so restor’d / And back to thine own merry, native self. HAN: [within] Pray, my we have thy good assistance here? GUARD 1: [to Guard 2:] So, let us go together, friend. Good / cheer! [Guards 1 and 2 enter ship and are killed. Exeunt others.] (IV.1, pp. 102-4)
I also like the fact that Doescher gives the story’s characters moments of introspection that are absent from the movie. Another thing that’s always bothered me about A New Hope is Leia’s lack of reaction to Alderaan’s destruction. In William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Doescher remedies that with an internal monolog the princess has when she and Luke are sitting despondent in the Falcon after their escape from the Death Star:
His heart breaks for a person, Obi-Wan – / My heart breaks for a people, Alderaan. / My ship crush’d first, and now my planet too: / Did e’er a person know such grief as ours? ….
My Alderaan I’ve known all my life, / And hold it in my heart in high’st esteem. / So had I hop’d to one day make it home, / When this rebellion all is pass’d away. ….
But now I must some other course adopt / And write my life’s own story without them. / My dreams shall not be realiz’d as I wish’d, / Yet may I dream to see some other Fate. ….
Thus shall I strive to hold my hands outstretch’d / And be a calming presence to this man. / So I’ll in his deep mourning act my role / And show him what a comfort friends may be. (V.1, pp. 136-7)
Elsewhere, Doescher is not quite as successful. I’ll give here but one example – a pastiche of Antony’s funeral speech in Julius Caesar and Henry V’s rallying cry in Henry V – that suffers in comparison with the originals:
Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears. / Wish not we had a single fighter more, / If we are mark’d to die, we are enough / To make our planets proud. But should we win, / We fewer rebels share the greater fame. / We have all sacrific’d unto this cause. / Ye know well the fam’ly I have lost – / My uncle dear and aunt belov’d, aye both, / And then a mentor great, a pow’rful friend. / As massive is the grief I feel for them, / I know full well they’d not have me back down. / The princess hath a planet lost, with friends / And family alike – how great her pain! / And yet as grave as that emotion is, / She knoweth they would have her lead us still. / And ye, ye goodly men and women too, / Ye have all liv’d and lov’d and lost as well, / Your stories are with mine one and the same. / For all of us have known of grief and joy, / And every one has come unto this day / Not so that we may turn our backs and flee, / But that we may a greater courage show, / Both for ourselves and those we left behind. / So let us not wish further ships were here, / And let us not of tiny holes be fear’d – / Why, I have with a T-16 back home / Gone hunting womp rats scarcely larger than / The target we are call’d upon to strike. / And ye, ye brave souls, have your memories / Of your great exploits in your own homelands, / So think on them and let your valor rise, / For with the Force and bravery we win. / O! Great shall be the triumph of that hour / When Empire haughty, vast and powerful / Is fell’d by simple hands of rebels base, / Is shown the might of our good company! / And citizens in Bespin now abed, / Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here. / For never shall rebellion see a time / More glori’us then our strong attack today! (V.4, pp. 144-5)
Alas and alack, if only I had had this 30 years ago when I was in drama club – I would have loved to have performed some of the scenes found herein!
In the end, I enjoyed reading this book more than I disenjoyed reading it, and come down from the fence on the side of recommending it.(less)
In Defense of Anarchism is an extended essay that is not so much the titular defense of anarchism as it is an offensive against the moral authority of...moreIn Defense of Anarchism is an extended essay that is not so much the titular defense of anarchism as it is an offensive against the moral authority of the state, i.e., that there is a case where the state can command an individual even against that person’s moral beliefs. Since Wolff insists on the total autonomy of the individual, it’s not surprising that he can’t find any polity that can claim the de iure right to compel obedience, with one exception. That exception is the case of a unanimous universal democracy. A condition found only in small groups, and – even there – one that breaks down in a short time.
I’m catching up on a depressingly large backlog of reviews and I don’t want to devote a lot of time to this so I offer up the notes I took while reading, which may interest readers sufficiently that they will read the book themselves:
• [author] can find no de iure justification for “the state”
• i.e., there exists no form of government that in some manner doesn’t deny individual autonomy, even democracies
• all states rest on violence (cf. Jensen), economic coercion and the myth of legitimacy
• a state can be de facto legitimate in the sense that the majority of its citizens accept its prescriptions but there is no moral imperative to obey, esp. since most citizens forfeit autonomy when accepting state authority
• [author] holds out possibility of such a state because social and political conventions are manmade, not natural, and some genius could someday create the conditions where individual and state were reconciled
• I think the issue is unresolvable. We can aim for an ideal – the least amount of coercive authority and the greatest amount of individual autonomy* – but we must recognize that we’ll only achieve an approximation. We should strive for a society that can best handle that constantly moving target.
• Whatever legitimacy a state possesses comes from its ability to promote the welfare of all its citizens and provide opportunity for them to influence its policies. If power is concentrated in the few or the one, then a state has little or no legitimate authority.
* And this point is not universally accepted. A Neo-Confucian, for example, would be appalled at the idea of individual autonomy (at least as conceived by myself or Wolff). And even in the Western democracies there are far too many (IMO) who would grant the state enormous coercive and intrusive powers.(less)
Last Christmas (2012), I purchased seven of the first eight Witch World novels (at my local, still-in-business-as-of-August-2013 used book store) and...moreLast Christmas (2012), I purchased seven of the first eight Witch World novels (at my local, still-in-business-as-of-August-2013 used book store) and have endeavored to read them in the subsequent months. I finished the final four in the last month and have been offering brief reviews anent what I enjoyed about them (with the mild criticism lodged here and there). Zarsthor’s Bane was the last book in the pile and – for my money – the weakest, which is why I only gave it two stars. In comparison to Year of the Unicorn and its companion volumes it was colorless – Norton-by-the-numbers.
Perhaps, though, I was burned out on the author by this point. Were I to come to Bane fresh, after a hiatus, I could be more positive.
So, in light of that, I’m going to recommend the novel to Norton fans, if not to the general public. For the Norton tyro, this is not the book to start with. That would remain – in my opinion – the original Witch World (still the best of the series) or, if you prefer SF, one of the Solar Queen books. (And here’s a nostalgic shout out to older D&D’ers for Quag Keep. Its sequel, by Jean Rabe, is awful but Norton’s original vision is still interesting and still cries out for a well-written continuation – if I had the guts, the willpower and the patience, maybe I’d try my hand at it. But I don’t so this is a plea for someone, anyone to bring closure to Milo’s, Naile's, Yevele's and the others' story.)(less)
Trey of Swords returns to the original setting of the series: Estcarp and Escore. Prior to the events in this novel, the children of Jaelithe and Simo...moreTrey of Swords returns to the original setting of the series: Estcarp and Escore. Prior to the events in this novel, the children of Jaelithe and Simon Tregarth broke the geas which had blinded the Old Race to the existence of their homeland Escore to the East. With the geas broken, however, the Old Race has begun to return. Yonan and Crytha are members of one of these households. The first two sections of this book (“Sword of Ice” and “Sword of Lost Battles”) deal with Yonan’s struggle to control the Sword of Ice and alter the past so that an ancient battle would end in victory for the Light. The third section, “Sword of Shadow” recounts Crytha’s battle against Laidan, a witch who attempts to thwart Yonan.
This is another decent entry in the Witch World saga (see my reviews of Year of the Unicorn and Spell of the Witch World), though it still doesn’t recapture the “coolness” of the first book. The first two sections are standard Norton, which – for those who haven’t read my other reviews – feature alienated youths, life quests, and both physical and mental struggles against the Dark. Yonan is a perfectly adequate hero but hardly distinguishable from many of Norton’s other protagonists (especially if you’ve been reading a string of the author’s novels, as I have). What set this particular entry in the series apart from the rest is the resolution of Crytha’s story. Avoiding spoilers, I’ll say that it’s a twist on the traditional Norton ending that I found refreshing.
The cover blurb of my copy of Spell of the Witch World is deceptive. After three paragraphs of effusive – but general – praise and comparison to Tolki...moreThe cover blurb of my copy of Spell of the Witch World is deceptive. After three paragraphs of effusive – but general – praise and comparison to Tolkien, the final one explains “[h]ere you will meet the twins, Elys, the witch-sister, and Elyn, the warrior-brother – and the pact that drew both into perils beyond the laws of our everyday stars.” Leaving aside the over-the-top rhetoric, the deception lies in the fact that Spell comprises three novellas – “Dragon Scale Silver” (where we meet the twins), “Dream Smith” and “Amber out of Quayth” – connected only by their Witch World setting.
Elys and Elyn of “Dragon Scale Silver” are the children of Estcarp refugees who washed up on the shores of High Hallack and found refuge in a fishing village. When Alizon invades some years later (after the twins’ parents have died), Elyn goes off to fight them, and Elys flees with the other villagers to hoped-for havens inland. Through her witching abilities and aided by the village’s wise-woman and Jervon, a wounded soldier who’s sought succor with the refugees, Elys learns that her brother has been ensnared by an ancient curse and she’s the only one who can rescue him. It’s a well told if formulaic entry in the Witch World oeuvre. What puts it a bit above average is the ending, (view spoiler)[where Elys learns what her brother really thinks of her. (hide spoiler)]
“Dream Smith” is a departure from other works of the author that I’ve read. I would describe Norton’s typical prose as “concrete” but here it reads closer to a traditional fairy tale. It’s the tale of Collard, a young smith horribly disfigured in an accident, and Jacinda, a young girl equally marred. (view spoiler)[They find the usual happy ending in a dream world he creates. (hide spoiler)] Again, well told but not overly memorable.
“Amber out of Quayth” is the best story of the three. Ysmay is the sister of Gyrerd, who returns from the Alizon wars with a new wife, who displaces Ysmay as lady of the hold. Faced with a lifetime of drudgery under her brother’s wife or retiring to an abbey, Ysmay fair leaps at the chance to marry Hylle, a stranger from the North. I could draw a parallel with “Bluebeard,” though the specific danger to Ysmay was not the same. Regardless, Ysmay soon learns that it’s not a “good thing” to be Hylle’s wife when she finds herself in a battle for body and soul. I enjoyed this one the most because of Ysmay’s character. She was more fully developed than Elys in “Dragon Scale Silver,” who is one of Norton’s stock characters, hardly distinguishable from a large cast of alienated youths searching for their lives’ meanings. Granted, Ysmay too is part of that company but her personality and trials stood out for me. I had a greater affinity with her particular plight than Elys’.
Recommendation? As with my review of Year of the Unicorn, this is a “read” for Norton fans, a credible addition to Witch World lore. For the general SF audience – if you’re in the library or at a bargain-book table and you’re looking for something comfortable and untaxing to distract you from global climate change, you could do worse.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Year of the Unicorn is a typical Norton set up: An outsider is forced to make a journey where she discovers hidden abilities, overcomes threats to lif...moreYear of the Unicorn is a typical Norton set up: An outsider is forced to make a journey where she discovers hidden abilities, overcomes threats to life and personal integrity, and ends up with the promise of a new life.
Unicorn takes us from the Witch World’s original setting in Estcarp/Escore across the seas to High Hallack, inhabited by a fair-haired race of humans who deeply mistrust witchcraft and studiously avoid the sites of magic scattered across their dales. Our hero is Gillan, a young woman who survived shipwreck as an infant and now endures a life immured in Abbey Norstead (it’s not a bad life, but it’s a very limited one). From her physical description – dark haired, fair skinned and thin – readers of Norton’s other Witch World novels will immediately recognize her as one of the Old Race. This means, of course, that she has some measure of Talent and sensitivity to uses of Power.
High Hallack has just thrown back an invasion from Alizon, the kingdom that lies north of Estcarp. But the country suffered greatly and the only way the Dalesmen could defeat their enemies was by allying with the Were Riders of the Wastes. The price was 13 maidens who would become the Riders’ brides. The bridal party passes through Abbey Norstead on its way to the Riders, and though Gillan is not one of the maidens she contrives to take one’s place (with the tacit approval of the nuns, who do not trust her foreignness) and sets out with the party to meet their new husbands.
The Riders have set up a glamor where the girls are attracted to the cloaks of the men best suited to them. Gillian’s senses let her see through the illusion but she’s nevertheless drawn to one particular mantle and so meets Herrel. Like her, Herrel is an outsider amongst the Riders as his mother was a fully human woman and Hyron, his father and leader of the pack, barely acknowledges him. Worse, if anyone else realizes who and what Gillan is, she may very well be killed; the Riders what brides and mothers of future sons, not woman who might rival them in Power.
Gillan’s identity is uncovered eventually; and Halse, the novel’s chief villain and a thoroughly unlikable and vindictive one, puts her soul at risk in an effort to eliminate her threat. (With the willing connivance of the other Riders. While the Riders aren’t corrupted by the Shadow, they are not exemplars of virtue. A fact that makes them one of the more interesting antagonists from a Norton story.)
This is one of the better Witch World novels. For one thing, Gillan is an interesting protagonist and engages the reader’s sympathy. She’s intelligent, resourceful and strong willed. This latter trait is important in Norton’s work. The author always challenges her heroes with threats to their personal integrity – their souls. And the worst thing that anyone in Norton’s moral universe can do is invade someone’s mind and force her to do things against her will. Another plus is that the author manages to create real tension. You know Gillan and Herrel will prevail in the end but you don’t know how far Norton will let Halse go before they do. She can be pretty brutal to her heroes. A third thing I liked about the novel were the Were Riders. As I mentioned above, they’re not evil men but their goals are so far removed from Gillan’s that the two can’t help but clash. Their deceptions anent the brides is inexcusable but they don’t intend to harm the women; they want to keep them pacified and unthreatening.
I’ll wrap up with a recommendation to “read” if Andre Norton is your cup of tea.(less)