Amazing to think that Anthony Hope Hopkins was in his early twenties when he wrote this, and it was his first book.
Though it does show some roughness...moreAmazing to think that Anthony Hope Hopkins was in his early twenties when he wrote this, and it was his first book.
Though it does show some roughness in patches, and whew, it's very much of its period, the story of honor and hopeless love and sacrifice was maybe not new, but the wit and verve with which Hope told his story was refreshing.
For those who like the bromantic element, the duel of wit between Rudolph Rassendyl and Rupert of Hentzau is pretty snazzy--which carries over to the big screen with Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr in the leading roles. (and a fun young David Niven as well.)
The country of Ruritania also grabbed the imagination in a fast-changing, modernizing world, causing a century of spinoffs. (Including one of my own.)
However, don't read the sequel unless you are fond of 100% hopeless tragedy.(less)
Lush, lovely writing and I mostly liked the world building, but Phedre seemed such a Mary Sue (torture just makes her prettier!) solving all problems...moreLush, lovely writing and I mostly liked the world building, but Phedre seemed such a Mary Sue (torture just makes her prettier!) solving all problems with a bash on the beautyrest (emphasis on the bash) that I found myself skimming.
Readers kept saying it was daring, but long descriptions of kinky sex didn't seem daring to me. I was hoping for more interesting emotional consequences, I guess; down at keelson level it seemed to be saying that women must suffer for enjoying love.(less)
I have to admit my partisanship right up front. I am a dedicated fan of the Miles Vorkosigan books and I loved The Curse of Chalion, which serves as a...moreI have to admit my partisanship right up front. I am a dedicated fan of the Miles Vorkosigan books and I loved The Curse of Chalion, which serves as a prequel to this book. Though Paladin stands quite well on its own.
The plot is fairly easily summed up: the Royina Ista, a middle-aged widow, decides to go on pilgrimage through the land of Chalion, which feels a lot like a Renaissance alternate-Spain, one that is overseen from the other-worldly realm by five gods, so there are five religious traditions going on here.
On the way she and the divine leading her entourage discover that demons have been appearing in the world with disturbing frequency, having escaped from the fifth god’s hell. The pilgrimage is then waylaid by a lost contingent of Roknari warriors from the neighboring kingdom; she is rescued by a swashbuckling horseman who attacks a troop single-handedly. He is Arhys, march of Porifors, a border fortress that has seen far too much action of late.
Roknari, demons, and gods tangle up in fast action covering just a span of days, and Ista is squarely at the center.
What make the story so rich and readable are Bujold’s strengths as a storyteller, here on confident display. Ista is, like Cordelia Naismith, a grouchy, funny, smart middle-aged heroine, not beautiful, but eminently lovable, even when she is angry and soul-parched and must rediscover love.
Besides Ista there are a pair of heroes who ought to please anyone who likes swashbuckling men, and a cast of subsidiary characters none of whom are mere spear carriers or cardboard Greek chorus, all reacting the same way in order to signal the reader what emotional reaction is required.
Bujold is not just a master of plot, she is a master of emotion.
“I think you left some hard turns out of your tale, too.” But that last remark had the weight and density of a truth too large to be denied. How like a man, to change from mask to mask like a player, concealing all intention, yet leave his heart out on the table, carelessly, unregarded, for all to see.
The action is enriched, with grace and wit, by subtle characterization that suggests that middle-aged love can be sexy and romantic, can even be the more powerful because the attraction is backed by experience.
But the young characters are not overlooked. One of the most interesting and complex is Arhys’ young wife, who is gorgeous, obsessively in love, and very self-centered. However she too is no one-note character. As the story unfolds, she reveals layers that make her fate impossible to predict.
One of Bujold’s strengths is the generosity of spirit that gleams like a vein of gold through even the grimmest wars and immoral actions of the Vorkosigan saga. In the Chalion world, there is plenty of room for emotional conflict, and growth, for moral choice and its consequences.
What this fantasy series permits Bujold to explore, as the Barrayaran stories do in a very limited sense, is speculative religion. And she does it with verve and dash.
Ista swallowed, or tried to. And prayed, Ista-fashion: or made a prayer of rage, as some claimed to do of song or the work of their hands. So long as it was from the heart, the divines promised, the gods would hear. . .I am not a child, or virgin, or modest wife, fearing to offend. No one owns my eyes now but me. If I have not the stomach by now to look upon any sight in the world, good or evil, beautiful or vile, when shall I? It is far too late for innocence.
The gods are not one-dimensional, predictable human analogues. Rare is the light-shaft of numinosity in fantasy these days, despite (maybe because of) vast powers being splashed back and forth across the megaverse by Evial Mages and Goddess-blessed Sorceresses, but Bujold manages it in this novel.
“Your Father calls you to his Court. You need not pack; you go garbed in glory as you stand.”
The books is generous with action, character, humor, terror, moral as well as physical conflict, emotional complexity, religious questing in the realm of the spirit-—and redemption. (less)
I waited a year because someone had warned me that The Sharing Knife: Beguilement was actually the first half of a book summarily chopped in half. So...moreI waited a year because someone had warned me that The Sharing Knife: Beguilement was actually the first half of a book summarily chopped in half. So I waited until the second came out.
The story appears to be a fantasy set in some pastoral world near water (I later found out the setting was a parallel world Great Lakes region, an area I'd never seen, and so did not recognize), where we are introduced to two cultures living in uneasy coexistence: the Farmers and the Lakewakers, who patrol everywhere looking for malices (bogles to the Farm people) that suck all the life and energy out of people, animals, land. The resultant blight can last a century or more, and affected are not just the living, but the environment such as rocks and soil. The Lakewalkers aren't particularly trusted by the Farm folk, who own and farm land, but are protected by them: the Farm folk are unable to fight the bogles.
The story begins when a Farm girl--Fawn, just barely eighteen--runs away from home, gets grabbed by a malice, is rescued by a Lakewalker, and ends up spending enough time with the man (for reasons having to do with the eponymous Sharing Knives) that she begins to fall for him. Even though she's eighteen and he's fifty-five.
Bujold has given us middle-aged, battle-weary heroes before, in Aral of the Miles books, and Caz of the Chalion books, and she makes them fascinating and distinct. Dag is tired, and missing a hand, though anyone who assumes he can't hold his own in battle is in for a nasty surprise. He's grief-driven, so tight-wired that he's got no emotional edge on an eighteen year old--one could say that he's emotionally retarded by his long, shock-filled life.
Everyone in both cultures disapproves of these two as a pair; she, a blithe spirit, becomes stubborn, and he, sheepish, begins to wake up to the possibilities of life again, instead of the close focus on methods of delivering efficient death. Together they are an anomaly, and not just because of the age and cultural divide, but because something happened when they killed that malice together to make it clear that there's a lot of mystery still buried in their history.
This is a new world, at least initially quieter in tone and drive than the Miles books. Many fans have grumped about anything Bujold does that is not-Miles. But the over-arcing Miles story itself has become not-Miles, at least, the powerful emotional overdrive and desperate-death threatening political situation (all fuel-injected by Mile's high octane personal problems) are not the same rocket, or rather, that rocket has achieved high orbit. Very much present in these two books are the signature Bujoldian gracenotes: everyday humor thoroughly grounding flights of heroism, angst that never whines, grief that does not overwhelm the story with scenes meant to drench the reader in pity.
What Bujold does in the first book as she carefully develops every character (never settling for stereotypes or single-motive actions) is remind the reader that outside the firelight and the merry dancing, dark things do prowl. (less)
The Sharing Knife: Legacy is the second half of the story that begins with Beguilement. It begins with a leisurely honeymoon scene before Fawn and Dag...moreThe Sharing Knife: Legacy is the second half of the story that begins with Beguilement. It begins with a leisurely honeymoon scene before Fawn and Dag, who had spent most of the last book with her family, go to meet his--while the problems with malices continue to get more sinister as well as mysterious.
Fawn, the young heroine, is smart, capable, full of energy, and knows her own mind. She's emotionally balanced--probably more than Dag is. She is possessed of a generous spirit, and an equally vast curiosity about how the world works: she would never have been happy settling down to wifedom on the farm, though she would have done her duty without martyrdom, because she also finds satisfaction in the work of her hands, no matter how humble, and in her interest in and sympathy with the people around her. But she's capable of more, and Dag seems the one to give her the world.
In this book, Bujold widens the lens on how this fascinating world works. She does not just give us terrifying monsters in order to keep the plot zippy, she hints at layers and depths below, or behind, those monsters, raising more and more questions about the development of history and culture, about how its magic works. About everything.
And because it's Bujold, we know that future stories will depend on all these tantalizing hints; we do learn that there was an apocalypse, after the people's ancestors gained far too much power. The Lakewalkers, with their grubby existences, actually have a surprising history.
As the stakes build, the questions become more important--and it's clear that these two books are the opening of a larger story. Meanwhile the characterization is complex and involving, and overall there is that nifty, hard-to-define humor that I believe springs from a sense of grace.
Terrible things can, and do, happen in Bujold's books, but they are never mean books. Compassion, sorrow, hard-won wisdom, infuse the humor with a lingering depth so that I spend days after I finish one of her books thinking it over, then retrieving it to reread passages. (less)