This is definitely not my favorite Willis, but it's a fun, fast, fluffy read about a couple of researchers on fads and chaos theory whose projects intThis is definitely not my favorite Willis, but it's a fun, fast, fluffy read about a couple of researchers on fads and chaos theory whose projects intersect in surprising ways....more
Possession is a many-layered story, cutting back and forth between the past and the present, of two modern scholars who find a set of lost letters betPossession is a many-layered story, cutting back and forth between the past and the present, of two modern scholars who find a set of lost letters between two Victorian poets and go on a quest to discover the truth of their affair. I love its richness of voice: the modern-day narrative focusing on the two scholars, Roland and Maud; the poetry and letters of the poets; diaries, biographies, letters, journals of many other characters. On my latest readthrough, I found myself thinking a lot about the levels of meaning of the title, of how many things "possession" can mean; Roland and Maud are possessed by Ash and LaMotte and their search for them, while themselves seeking to possess their secrets; each pair of lovers negotiates their terms of possession of each other; and there's a very pragmatic question of who is the true possessor of the letters. It's a marvelous mix of academia, mystery, romance, and fantasy, written in lovely, rich prose....more
This is a fascinating combination of dark fantasy, Victorian novel, and boarding school story. Gemma Doyle is sixteen and living in India with her parThis is a fascinating combination of dark fantasy, Victorian novel, and boarding school story. Gemma Doyle is sixteen and living in India with her parents when her mother dies mysteriously, a terrifying event which Gemma witnesses in a disturbing vision. She is sent back to England to Spence, a girls' boarding school, where she finds her way into an influential clique and learns more about her mother's and her own connections with a mystical group called the Order. I must admit that I wasn't convinced by the Victorian setting, as Gemma's attitudes and speech patterns were on the modern side, but the story is powerful and the writing compelling; so much so that I was disappointed at the ending's lack of resolution to the book's major storyline. However, I find that this is the first of a planned trilogy, so I'm hopeful that the sequels will provide a better payoff. (ETA: they did, but at the cost of being overly long and drawn out.)...more
I remain unconvinced by the setting of these books; the language isn't quite right, and the tone seems often a little modern. (Possibly reading theseI remain unconvinced by the setting of these books; the language isn't quite right, and the tone seems often a little modern. (Possibly reading these after Possession, which does the Victorian period gorgeously, did them a disservice.) I also wonder whether Bray worked out the entire plot before writing the books, because it doesn't always hang together well, and the pacing of the beginning of the books is on the slow side before they each speed up and gain intensity. However, I can forgive these faults for the sake of Bray's engagement with issues around female power and sexuality, class, and race, her variety of characters (especially Gemma), and the marvelous, dark, magical atmosphere she creates. I like that the magic has a price, and Bray isn't afraid to sacrifice her characters when the story demands it. I'm very interested to see what she comes up with next....more
Phaedra, the beautiful daughter of the Warden of Trant, knows that she must marry, but none of her suitors can live up to the mysterious man she has mPhaedra, the beautiful daughter of the Warden of Trant, knows that she must marry, but none of her suitors can live up to the mysterious man she has met for years in her dreams. When she chooses to elope with him, she finds that he is a sorcerer and the son of a feared noble family, and their marriage sets off an explosive chain of events, which continues on into the sequel, The Widow and the King.
I found the two books slow to start, but eventually absorbing. The style is terse and elegant, and the atmosphere is unsettlingly creepy, particularly in the first book, as Phaedra learns more and more about her husband and his powers....more
This didn't quite live up to the first book (The Cup of the World, I thought; the pacing was a little too slow, and the alternating POVs didn't hold mThis didn't quite live up to the first book (The Cup of the World, I thought; the pacing was a little too slow, and the alternating POVs didn't hold me as well as Phaedra's sole POV, but the worldbuilding and atmosphere remained excellent....more
This is the first (and best)in a series of books which follow the adventures of Kate and Cecelia, cousins who live in an alternate Regency England inThis is the first (and best)in a series of books which follow the adventures of Kate and Cecelia, cousins who live in an alternate Regency England in which magic works; Wrede writes one cousin and Stevermer the other.
Sorcery and Cecelia consists of a series of letters between Kate, who's having her first London season, and Cecelia, who's stuck at home. The letters are deliciously crafted; the first, from Cecy to Kate, traverses territory from tantalizing backstory hints ("the incident with the goat") and humor ("I am determined to have the headache Thursday, if I have to hit myself with a rock to do it") to the real zinger, which hooked me into the story for good: "Sir Hilary Bedrick has just been named to the Royal College of Wizards; the whole village is buzzing with the news." And it just gets better, as Kate and Cecy delve deeper and deeper into linked mysteries, finding witty romance and adventure along the way. ...more
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is set in a painstakingly detailed alternate Regency England, in which magic once existed but is now only studied byJonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is set in a painstakingly detailed alternate Regency England, in which magic once existed but is now only studied by scholars, called theoretical magicians. When Mr. Norrell of Yorkshire reveals that he is a practicing magician and raises a young woman from the dead, he becomes famed all over England, works for the Government in the war against Napoleon, and takes an apprentice, Jonathan Strange. However, Strange and Norrell hold widely differing viewpoints about the practice of magic and about the mysterious Raven King, who was once magician-king of Northern England, and they become mortal enemies as Strange delves deeper into the mysteries of the Raven King and of the faery realm from which he came.
Clarke's world is utterly believable; I normally object to footnotes in fiction, but those she inserts as background information on the magic and history of her alternate England actually enhance the credibility of the world. It's like reading a critical edition of a 19th-century novel, so that I could almost have been convinced that there really was a tradition of magic in 19th-century England, and I just hadn't happened to run across it before. The historical details are wholly convincing, with appearances by personages from the Duke of Wellington to Lord Byron (of whom Strange comments, "No Englishman alive can equal his lordship for an insult"). Perhaps my favorite of these was the suggestion that the Government "should commission Mr Beckford, Mr Lewis and Mrs Radcliffe [all authors of well-known Gothic novels:] to create dreams of vivid horror that Mr Norrell could then pop into Buonaparte's head" (since the bad dreams Mr Norrell was creating for Napoleon proved to be inadequately frightening).
I keep seeing reviews referring to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as "Harry Potter meets Jane Austen", but it's not really much like either; although the period is right for Austen, the voice is far more like Anthony Trollope, and the magic is nothing at all like J.K. Rowling's. If I had to categorize it, I'd call it "Anthony Trollope meets Lord Dunsany", but even that doesn't do it justice. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is something so rich and strange that as soon as I'd finished it late at night, I had to resist the urge to sit down and read it right over again. ...more
Fudoki is an entrancing fantasy set in medieval Japan. Johnson skillfully interweaves the reminiscences of an aging princess with the tale the princesFudoki is an entrancing fantasy set in medieval Japan. Johnson skillfully interweaves the reminiscences of an aging princess with the tale the princess is writing of a woman turned into a cat, who may or may not exist outside the princess's imagination. The language is exquisitely precise, with never a wasted word, and the portrayal of medieval Japan brilliantly vivid....more
In McHugh's vision of the future, China is the dominant power on Earth, there are communes on Mars, and Rafael Zhang ("China Mountain" is a translatioIn McHugh's vision of the future, China is the dominant power on Earth, there are communes on Mars, and Rafael Zhang ("China Mountain" is a translation of his Chinese name) is an American-born Chinese who has to hide his half-Hispanic heritage and his sexual orientation. The story is mostly Zhang's, though McHugh also weaves in pieces of other narratives, by people whose lives touch Zhang's: a Martian settler whom Zhang tutors in engineering, the daughter of Zhang's construction crew foreman, a human-powered kite flyer.
The worldbuilding is especially strong; I thought McHugh did a brilliant job of layering in bits and pieces of information about the world, building up a complex picture without resorting to infodumps. This is a very thoughtful and rewarding novel....more
Okay, or maybe it's that I still hate Turin. Sorry, I know there's the whole tragic hero thing going on, but he's so much his own enemy that I can never really come up with any sympathy for him (though I love Beleg Strongbow and Nienor).
The Alan Lee illustrations are beautiful, though. ...more
This is typically beautifully written, so let's just take that as a given. When the prince of Ombria dies, he leaves behind his small son Kyel and hisThis is typically beautifully written, so let's just take that as a given. When the prince of Ombria dies, he leaves behind his small son Kyel and his mistress Lydea, who are at the mercy of Domina Pearl, the prince's powerful great-aunt. The struggle over who will rule Ombria pulls in not only them, but also the prince's mysterious relative Ducon Greve, the sorceress Faey, and her odd apprentice Mag.
I very much liked the relationships in this one; Ducon and Lydea love little Kyel and are willing to risk much to protect him from Domina Pearl. I didn't enormously like the ending, though. ...more
Patricia A. McKillip's writing is always gorgeous and full of wonderful images, and Song for the Basilisk is no exception. Sometimes, though, the plotPatricia A. McKillip's writing is always gorgeous and full of wonderful images, and Song for the Basilisk is no exception. Sometimes, though, the plots of her books take a back seat to the imagery, and I have a hard time following what's going on; here, happily, that isn't true.
Rook Caladrius was brought to the bards' island of Luly as a child, after escaping a fiery death with his parents and siblings; given a new name by those who discovered him, he has no memory of his childhood or real name but faint nightmares of fire. After traveling to the hinterlands in search of his past, he returns to the island and has a family, but years later, a mysterious student calling himself Griffin Tormalyne sets off a chain of events which cause Rook to return to the city where he was born, there to face Arioso Pellior, the enemy who destroyed his childhood house and family.
I often describe McKillip's work as a tapestry, a weaving together of images; Song for the Basilisk could just as well be described as a musical composition, with different themes, images, and characters entwined together to make a harmonious whole. Though Rook's story is the main theme, McKillip also follows the stories of others: the rebels who plan to overthrow Arioso; Rook's son, Hollis, who wants to join in his father's revenge; and Luna Pellior, mysterious daughter of Arioso, who is perhaps the most intriguing character in a book full of wonderful characters.
This is one of McKillip's best -- if you like her, don't miss it, and if you've never read her, this would be a good place to start. ...more
O I forbid you, maidens a', That wear gowd on your hair, To come or gae by Carterhaugh, For young Tam Lin is there.
These are the first lines of the besO I forbid you, maidens a', That wear gowd on your hair, To come or gae by Carterhaugh, For young Tam Lin is there.
These are the first lines of the best-known version of the Scottish ballad Tam Lin, about a young man doomed to be given to hell by the faerie queen, and the young woman who saves him. It's a ballad whose fascination is enduring and which has inspired a number of retellings, of which Pamela Dean's is my favorite (followed closely by Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock).
Dean's version of the story is set in the Midwestern college of Blackstock (based on Dean's alma mater, Carleton). When Janet Carter enters college, she and her roommates, Molly and Tina, fall in with a small group of charismatic students, who are all closely connected with the Classics department and its Professor Medeous, an enigmatic but fascinating woman. As Janet wends her way through her four years at college, she learns more and more about Medeous and her followers and eventually finds herself entangled in their intrigues.
Dean spins Janet's story into the tale of Tam Lin in a slow, subtle, and gorgeous way. Hints of the unearthly begin early, from the ghost who throws books from the windows of Janet's dorm, to the mysterious horse riders she encounters on Hallowe'en. Yet much of the book's charm lies in its exploration of college life. It makes me nostalgic, even though I didn't go to a small college and my experiences were nothing like Janet's. The excitement of learning, the thrills of first love, the sheer difference of living on your own, away from your parents; these are all there.
I think I'm particularly drawn to the book because of its interest in literature and in the Classics. I love the bit where Janet and her friends are going through the steam tunnels below campus and come upon some graffiti on the walls: the opening lines of Homer's Iliad, in Greek, whereupon the Classics majors read it aloud and offer a couple of translations (one of which is Chapman's Homer, immortalized in the Keats sonnet). ...more