This read was for the 2012 Theme Park book club, July theme: Women Writing Fantasy in 2011-2012
Let's get one thing out of the way: I absolutely adoreThis read was for the 2012 Theme Park book club, July theme: Women Writing Fantasy in 2011-2012
Let's get one thing out of the way: I absolutely adore this book! So of course, it's going to be difficult to talk about it in any constructive and coherent way. However, despite my absolute endorsement of this book, I can see how it's not for everyone and there are some not so positive reviews out there. In most cases, I can understand the reviewer's points but they don't resonate with me, if that makes any sense. This book moved me in so many ways that even when its flaws are pointed out, I can see them, I won't deny them, but they don't change the way I feel about it. They can't change my reading experience. Is that clearer? It's a bit like loving someone I guess. No one's perfect and you love them, all of them, flaws and all.
There was something reassuring and comforting about Mori's narration and yet, the reader can't quite shake the feeling that she's also a very unreliable narrator. Any fan of the genre will easily relate to her because of her love of books and science fiction and fantasy specifically. Although I hadn't read a lot of the books she mentioned, it didn't hinder my reading in any way. In hindsight, I do wonder if perhaps having that foreknowledge would have shed some light on some of the novel's most obscure moments. I do think this is one that would benefit from a second read but perhaps that would be best kept for a time when I've read more of the classics mentioned in it. The author has compiled a list of works that are made reference to in the novel so that's a good place to start in case you're interested:http://papersky.livejournal.com/50927...
The novel is constructed as Mori's journal, which I find is often tricky, especially in terms of pacing as it makes it delicate to avoid repetitions and to sustain readers' interest - I must say though it wasn't the case here as I couldn't put the book down. The diary device also means that the reader is entirely dependent on what Mori wants to tell us, her interpretation and perception of events. And it's for all those reasons that this choice of narration works so well for this novel.
Let me explain. Magic is presented in a very interesting way: it's everywhere, there for the world to see but when given the choice, the world will always resort to rational explanations rather than recognizing that magic is at works. This ambivalence is at the novel's core. While Mori makes no attempt at hiding this - she believes in magic, she knows what it can do, she knows most don't believe - but can we believe her when all we have is her take on events? Is magic really responsible for what happened to her and her twin or is it simply a metaphor there for her to deal with her loss? Worse still, did she even have a twin?
At some point in the book, it becomes clear that Mori is not Morwenna but in fact Morganna. Morwenna is the one who died in the car accident and Morganna the one who survived and since no one could really tell them apart, no one has actually noticed the switch. Mori took on her sister's identity so that the latter could keep on living in some way through her but she soon realizes that this was naive as she can never live for two (this is part of the grieving process I suppose). As we only learn this half-way through the novel, it does make you question what else Mori has been keeping from us. She is so secretive and protective of her journal (she writes certain entries backwards in case it should fall into bad hands) that it does not seem entirely impossible for her not to be entirely honest with her readers.
Mother/daughter relationships are never easy, especially when you're growing up. It might be easier to think of your mother as an evil witch (this is in fact interesting because I'm currently watching the first season of Once Upon Time which is similar in that regard) then actually dealing with the reality of things.
The diary aspect lulls you into a false sense of security. After all the big battle has already taken place and the one who was to die is already dead, it's all about dealing with what comes afterwards, isn't it? Dealing with grief, loss and moving on. But what if there's more to it? Everyone deals with grief in different ways. What is Mori's? Wanting to believe in magic? Finding refuge in a world that's closer to the books she reads? Portraying her mother as an evil witch? Taking on her twin's identity? Imagining a twin and then her death to hide the truth?
With all this in mind, it's interesting to read Ursula le Guin's blurb:
'Funny, acute, and impassioned... Magic in Walton's novel functions magically, yet can always be seen and explained as nothing unusual. This is a large, interesting idea, well worked out. Walton's trying hard to do what I call moving the boundary: to alter, or make more permeable, the wall between the possible and the impossible. I think she almost succeeds.'
I think Walton is also blurring the boundaries between literary fiction and speculative fiction. Not that I've ever found that one excluded the other but I can see how this book could appeal to non genre readers, despite all the many references to SF&F books. This book is short and I devoured it but it's clear that there's a lot more to it then meets the eye and I'm sure that reading it again, I'll stumble upon things that I missed the first time around.
I must also mention that there are some amazing descriptions in there of nature and specifically fairies. There was also in interesting cast of characters that gave quite a bit of food for thought. Mori's relationship with her father is very strange and disturbing at one point. Her coming back to meet with her old school mates was also difficult but fascinating scene. There was something really disturbing about the aunts but again because all we have is Mori's point of view and she can't even tell them apart or cares much for them, the reader's perception is biased. Are they petty minor witches or bitter old ladies that never had much in their lives apart from each other or both? I also found it interesting that Mori couldn't tell them apart when no one could it seems tell her apart from her twin. Are the sisters a possible version of Mori and her twin sister had the latter lived?
The prevailing ambivalence present in the story gives the novels a slippery feeling. Just like in life, there are no definitive answers, only multiple possibilities; many things will be left unanswered and in the end, it's up to you and what you choose to believe. I can understand that it can be frustrating for some readers but that's exactly the reason why I loved this book. I don't want to give off the impression that the story didn't feel grounded in reality or authentic. Quite the contrary, Mori's story, her loss, her pain, her difficulties in school, her falling in love, felt very real to me and that's why I was able to connect with her so easily. But there is a dream-like feel to this novel, something that you can't quite grasp, a magical feeling that makes you questions your own boundaries, that makes you want to believe that there's more out there, that this is just to tip of the iceberg.
I was familiar with Jo Walton only through her columns on tor.com but I'm really thrilled to have had the opportunity to read some of her fiction and I can 't wait to read more. Real or not, metaphorical or not, I loved Mori's world and I embraced it whole-heartedly. As with any diary, a lot is left hanging and unanswered. While I would've like to know more, I do see that the book is not about answers which would give an impression of closure when in fact as I finished the book, it felt like something else what opening up, like the magic in the book had somehow slipped through the pages and was pointing to new possibilities, new truths right here and now. So of course, I can only recommend Among Others, it's refreshing and original novel that will lead you into a dream-like world of possibilities and multiple truths.
ETD: I also completely forgot to say that this is one of the rare books that has a main protagonist with a disability that's portrayed in a believable manner and that's really worth pointing out!
ETD 2: I've just stumbled upon this conversation where Jo Walton discusses what would have happened to Mori ten years after the end of the book. She also mentions that she never meant for anything in the book to be ambiguous despite the fact that many people found it to be the case. This is interesting because I really thought it was intentional but clearly it's not. I guess that's just another magical side-effect of the book! http://io9.com/5922140/ask-jo-walton-......more
As always when continuing a series you particularly enjoyed, there's always a strange mix of excitement and apprehension. What if the sequels don't liAs always when continuing a series you particularly enjoyed, there's always a strange mix of excitement and apprehension. What if the sequels don't live up to the first book? Well, there's no point in maintaining any melodramatic suspens here, I loved the second book as much as I loved the first though these are two very different books.
In the Forest of the Night picks up right where we left Teagan, Aidan and Finn. It seems somewhat surreal that after journeying and surviving Mag Mell, Teagan and Aidan actually need to start their daily routines again (school, medical appointments, part-time jobs, etc.). Things are quite clear though, Tea has not given up on her dreams and ambitions despite her mother's death, the revelation that she is part goblin, her love for Finn and the diminution of her father. This is one strong and inspiring female character Kersten Hamilton has created and it's so good to see that her mind hasn't evaporated because 'Sexy Beast' (as he likes to be called) has come into the picture. Tea has her plan and she will try to fit Finn in it but they need to have their own lives and be able to stand on their own two feet before becoming an item.
This is how book 2 differs from Tyger, Tyger. We are familiar with the characters by now, we know the background, we know the stakes. This second book contains less action than the first but then action is not what the book is about. That doesn't mean that there's nothing going on, there's actually quite a bit going on but this time, it's all about discovering new facets of the main characters, especially Teagan.
There's of course her growing love for Finn but even that is broached in a way it hardly ever is in a lot of YA novels. Generally, parents are too quickly done away with because well, they're parents and we always think we're better off without them. Plus, their deaths or disappearances also serve as good plot devices to explain the main protagonist's vulnerability... Not here, Tea does miss her mother and her father has yet to fully recover from his visit to Mag Mell but he still maintains his role as a parent. It seems in a lot of YA novels, teens end up living under the same roof due to impossible circumstances. All those hormones, someone has too keep an eye over them. John Wyllston's character is endearing, charming and witty and he makes sure that both Finn and Tea keep a foot in the real world. Love is all nice and well, but there's a lot more to it than just love at first sight. John makes Finn and Tea wonder how well they actually know one another and the answer is of course, not very much. It's interesting to see such topics raised in a YA novel, especially in a fantasy one when more often than not the story stops when the main characters run off into the sunset and the reader can only assume that they'll live happily ever after. I really appreciate this level of reality being thrown into an epic fantasy story. It's unfortunately too much of a rarity.
This is what best describes the entire novel: in Tea's image, it finds its roots into two worlds, one is that of fantasy and Mag Mell and the other is the real world.
Tea is also face with another dilemma. She has mixed heritage and her actions will decide which part will overcome the other. Ideally, we wouldn't want it to be the goblin part, but what Tea did to make sure Aidan, Finn and herself escaped Mag Mell in book 1 has somehow tipped the balance. And her dear goblin cousins intend to make it tip yet further. This inner struggle which also has physical consequences is very interesting to withhold, especially if you analyse it through the angle of cultural diversity. Tea is convinced that she will become evil as the goblin side of her grows and matures but as Finn remarks, her new powers have not changed who she is at the core and it's really about hanging to your beliefs and staying true to yourself no matter how original and mismatched that self might be. Your identity needn't be black or white (pun not intended) but generally comes in all shades of gray and in fact, in all shapes and sizes as it shouldn't be a homogeneous whole.
In that way, despite their differences, the first two books in this series share a similar strength: excellent characterization.... okay and let's not forget witty dialogs... and references to very cool songs (I think this series should come with a soundtrack).
Some say that the second book in a series is often the calm before the storm, that it builds up for the final chapter (the third might not be the final). The ending of book 2 will certainly makes you feel this way. There's a reason why the series is called The Goblin War, a war is coming. And it's hard to think you'll have to wait a year to know what's coming next.
I feel like there was so much in this book that I haven't touched upon (I haven't even mentioned Aidan... how I love Aidan... and the Turtles... well, they're not real turtles... and some many more). I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Not only is it original and fun, it's also clever and unputdownable. If you haven't had a taste of it yet, now's your chance to read Tyger, Tyger before In the Forests of the Night comes out this November!...more
Meji is a book belonging to the sword-and-soul genre, a fantasy subgenre.
So what exactly is sword-and-soul? Charles R. Saunders who needs no introducMeji is a book belonging to the sword-and-soul genre, a fantasy subgenre.
So what exactly is sword-and-soul? Charles R. Saunders who needs no introduction, explains this in his introduction to the second edition of Meji, Book One. As the great man himself says:
"... The potential existed for the conception of many other variations on classic African themes. A limitless number of stories were waiting to be written by other authors. Consider the dozens, if not hundreds, of ways the legend of King Arthur has been retold. That's just one story, from one culture. African, with its hundred of cultures stretching back to the beginning of humanity, offers infinite opportunities for stories of fantasy and sword-and-sorcery - or, as I prefer to call it, sword-and-soul."
Sword-and-soul is similar to the sword-and-sorcery genre in the epic sense, but as opposed to classic tales of sword-and-sorcery, it draws its inspiration from African mythology and history. Most readers of the fantasy genre will appreciate this the same way they will appreciate other fantasy works that don't systematically features elements from Celtic mythology (i.e. elves, dwarfs, etc.).
Truth be told, I've never been much of a fan of the sword-and-sorcery genre classic tales, be it Moorcock's Elric series or Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, both series I've started, struggled through the first books and never found to courage to finish. I never seem to connect with the characters and the lack of interesting and strong female characters doesn't help, but then neither did the plots that I always found too simplistic and made me feel like nothing was ever really at stake. I know these series have quite a huge number of fans out there, so I'm not trying to drag them down, but merely to explain why they didn't work for me and why Milton's Meji did.
The African setting is one thing, but you can't build a series on setting alone, no matter how well you've done your research. And Milton obviously knows his subject and I'm glad he places bits and pieces of his knowledge throughout the story and not in huge info dumps.
As you may have guessed from the blurb, the story involves several different tribes, each has its own language and customs depending on its particular history and the geography of its settlement. This is one of the things I enjoyed the most in this first book; being introduced to all these different people, their folklore and religions, and seeing them interact and clash at times. These political and economical elements are ever present in the story, making for some nice political intrigues and games of power.
Another point that distinguishes Meji from a lot of works of epic fantasy is its characters. There are the twins, yes, but they were not the most interesting characters in my mind (it's probably because book one mostly describes their upbringing and serves as a set up for what's to come in book two). I especially appreciated the character of Inaamdura, who reminded be of a more sympathetic version of G.R.R. Martin's Cersei. In Martin's books, you hate Cersei, you hate her children, you simply want them out of the picture and know that nothing good could ever come from them. In Meji, you understand why Inaamdura does what she does and truth is, you can hardly blame her because in her position, you'd probably do the same to protect your own, even if it means hurting one of the main characters. She's an ambitious, beautiful woman, an expert manipulator who's not afraid to take what she wants. So few ambitious female characters are portrayed in a positive light that it's worth mentioning.
I'm also a fan of the twin's father Dingane, who's not the cliché savage you may initially think him to be. The Sesu people have grown under his rule and there's a good reason for that. Another one that I'd wished we'd seen a bit more is the ruler of the Mawena, the twin's grandfather, who's bound by protocol and tradition and not really free to do as he pleases or allow his grandson to do as much.
Meji is a complex and rich tale of which I've only read one installment! I can't imagine what's to come, but I'm eager to discover. I found it to be a much more enjoyable read them most of the sword-and-sorcery I've read over the years because, despite taking place in a fantasy world, it takes into account questions of race, gender and politics that are part of human behavior and society. That, to me, is the book's real asset.