There's so much going on in Hexwood that I don't even know how to begin reviewing it. It surprised me, several times, without making such leaps that IThere's so much going on in Hexwood that I don't even know how to begin reviewing it. It surprised me, several times, without making such leaps that I couldn't see how it got there. It's a complex book, jumping around in time a lot, and with lots of cases of mistaken identity (including people mistaking their own identities). It took me a while to put it all together, but despite that it was also an engaging read, and also not too much of a long one (according to my log, it took me three hours total, five reading sessions -- and two of those were at a concert where I was quite distracted). So it's impressive how much of it there is.
To my eyes, the main source is the Arthurian mythos: the court, the Grail quest, the Fisher King, Morgan Le Fay by any other name, Arthur, Merlin... There's other stuff too, including Beowulf, but it's fascinating what Diana Wynne Jones did with the material that's so familiar to me.
The basic story is that an old machine intended to select the right rulers of the universe, the Reigners, is turned on again. The current Reigner One cheated, and since then has wrongfully held power. The machine lures people into its field so it can finally fulfil its intended purpose, and continues to run scenarios until it has things the way it wants it.
I found the characters interesting, and guessing who they really were was also fun. I was wrong several times, and right once or twice, and totally missed one or two more. I got to love them quite a bit, especially Mordion, and I actually think they were probably better fleshed out and their connections better explored than, say, Howl and Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle. While I love that book, this satisfied more....more
Like the other books, The Candle in the Wind is a retelling of the story of King Arthur, largely drawn from sources like Malory (as opposed to earlierLike the other books, The Candle in the Wind is a retelling of the story of King Arthur, largely drawn from sources like Malory (as opposed to earlier ones). This book covers the period of Camelot's fall. I think the main thing that prompted me to give this (and the second and third books) four stars instead of five is that the first book was inventive and added things to the story -- the inclusion of Robin Hood, for example, and Arthur's childhood and adventures with Merlyn -- whereas these books retell the story quite closely.
Still, the retelling is fantastic and in many places, really touching -- for example, the scene from which the book draws its title, in which Arthur sends Tom of Warwick (who will become Sir Thomas Malory) away, or the scene in which Arthur and Gawaine watch the execution of Guenever. It's not quite as fun as the first book, but it's an extremely readable and loving rendition of the old story.
There is one chapter which really trips for me, in this book, and it's the one close to the beginning in which he goes on and on about the world Guenever and Lancelot can see from the window, and what exactly is happening, and how people live. That could be a nice touch, briefly, but a whole chapter of it?...more
The Ill Made Knight covers the story of Lancelot from his beginnings to near the end of the time in Camelot, and chronicles his love for Guinevere andThe Ill Made Knight covers the story of Lancelot from his beginnings to near the end of the time in Camelot, and chronicles his love for Guinevere and Elaine's love for him, and his struggles in the quest for the grail. I was quite amused by the references back to Malory, and found myself rather wanting to revisiting that book (in the original, of course: not an abridgement or a retelling).
T.H. White has a certain amount of tenderness for and an understanding of his characters that makes their stupidities endearing and understandable, but even he couldn't make me stop wanting to shake all three of them. I liked his interpretation of the triangle as a quadrangle including God, on Lancelot's part, and I felt that the last few pages were wonderful -- I love the story of Sir Urry for what it says about Lancelot, and for that surprisingly humbled pride of Lancelot's, when he cries at having performed a miracle.
Without Merlyn, the book is a lot less vibrant, and like many versions of the story, it becomes unstuck from Arthur as the centre and devolves to Lancelot. I always feel some disappointment about that....more
The Queen of Air and Darkness is shorter and less rich than the first book, I think. There's less of Arthur and Merlyn, and more interludes spent -- cThe Queen of Air and Darkness is shorter and less rich than the first book, I think. There's less of Arthur and Merlyn, and more interludes spent -- carrying most of the humour of the story -- with Pellinore and Sir Grummore, and the Questing Beast.
It does do several important jobs: introduce Gawaine and his brothers, foreshadow the birth of Mordred and the consequences of the incest, and begin to set Arthur up as a noble king, one who is doing things a little differently to the traditional ways kings are meant to behave.
Despite the relatively smaller scope, it's still an enjoyable read. Funny in places, and easy to read, and well-written, with passages of surprising beauty given the general humorous tone. It's probably better to take it in context with the other books, rather than think of it separately....more
I read this when I was younger, but I don't remember loving it so much then. I didn't remember how the narrative voice blended humour and beautiful deI read this when I was younger, but I don't remember loving it so much then. I didn't remember how the narrative voice blended humour and beautiful descriptions, anachronisms and explanations of relatively historically accurate details. I forgot how intertextual it is -- Merlin putting his fingers together like Sherlock Holmes, and all the hints at Lancelot's doings and so on, and Robin Hood...
But it is all those things. There are parts of it that are beautiful, parts that are so wonderfully well described, like Wart's time with the geese, or when he's turned into a fish, and the narrative voice is so wonderfully understanding of what goes on inside people's minds. I like the way it treats Kay -- like he's good at heart, but he messes things up by trying too hard to be what he's not, the pride in him. And one of my favourite moments is when Ector says to him that he will always be proud of him, and Kay then decides to tell the truth...
So glad I came back to this book. I'm pretty sure I never really got beyond it, now that I'm looking at the opening of the next book, so I hope I do this time, and I hope all the books are as good....more
My girlfriend found this book much less compelling than the others, partially due to the relative lack of Eugenides. I have to agree to some extent, tMy girlfriend found this book much less compelling than the others, partially due to the relative lack of Eugenides. I have to agree to some extent, though I found it extremely easy compared to Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, which I was working on for pretty much a week. Megan Whalen Turner's writing is much easier to read, I found, if only in comparison.
I can see how this book drags, though. Sophos is not the most brilliant of narrators, and some parts seem glossed over and idealised -- his time in captivity, working as a slave, for example -- and other parts seem to be dragged out far too long, i.e. the negotiations in Attolia. Sophos' feelings didn't really come through to me with any urgency.
There were interesting parts, though -- the involvement of the gods, which expands the growing mythological background of this book, and struggle against the Medes. And somehow despite the faults I mentioned, it's still pretty easy to read and doesn't require mental acrobatics, without being dumbed down.
I definitely didn't like it as much as the second and third books in this series, those....more
This series seems to get a lot better as it goes along. In a way, I almost wish I hadn't read The Thief first, because if you've read that, EugenidesThis series seems to get a lot better as it goes along. In a way, I almost wish I hadn't read The Thief first, because if you've read that, Eugenides won't have you fooled at all in this book. Still, it probably helps to have the background information. At the end of the second book, I was unsure about the romance, and I'm not convinced that aspect was fully developed before it was introduced, but that doesn't matter as much in this book -- the characters are perfectly believable, now, as is their difficult relationship. The difficulties of it are never once forgotten, and the queen remains a strong character.
Costis, who is for the most part the POV character, is perhaps not that compelling in himself, but that doesn't matter so much -- for all that Costis is the eyes of the narration, Eugenides is the heart and soul of it. It's fantastic to watch his political hijinks, and the way he balances the right thing for Attolia, the right thing to do morally speaking, and what he wants to do. Even through Costis, we see Eugenides' emotional state when it's important, too, so I kind of felt there was nothing lacking here.
It was also funny, in that fantastic situational way where you can't explain it when someone asks. It's fantastic....more
I quite liked the first book, The Thief, but this was far better, for me. There were a couple of points I worried about, as I read -- how the author wI quite liked the first book, The Thief, but this was far better, for me. There were a couple of points I worried about, as I read -- how the author would deal with disability, and how the romance would turn out -- but as I got to the end, I felt entirely satisfied with both.
The attitude to disability is refreshing. It happens, and the character reacts realistically, but goes through a process of healing rather than either remaining sunk in despair or just suddenly getting better as if nothing has changed. The character changes because of what happens to them, and that change isn't wished away, even after the intercession of the gods. I was so happy with this aspect -- as compared to other narratives involving disability -- that I ended up buying a couple of my friends copies of the first and second books of these series, because this kind of thing needs to be supported.
Another aspect of this book that I loved was the development of the Queens. They were interesting characters, in the first book, but very background. In this book, they both get a chance to shine, and some of the narration is limited to their point of view -- although the narration of this book is third person, not first person.
In terms of the romance, I thought it... rather sudden, at first, but as it developed a little I began to like it despite the suddenness. It isn't really surprising, given how much the narrative in the first book hides from the reader, that I didn't get any sense of foreshadowing of it.
Like the first book, this one contains a bit of a twist at the end -- perhaps a little more telegraphed than in the first book, and not quite as integral to the plot, maybe. Still, I thought it was a nice touch....more
When I first read Silver Phoenix, I didn't think at all about the lack of feminism discussed here. I still enjoyed the book, and even think it's reasoWhen I first read Silver Phoenix, I didn't think at all about the lack of feminism discussed here. I still enjoyed the book, and even think it's reasonably worth reading, but I do agree with quite a few of the points discussed at that link, on reflection. The thing is, it does lull you into a false sense of security, in a way: the protagonist, Ai Ling, is a young girl who travels alone, takes care of herself, fights for herself... But then you realise just how much she is motivated by her father and her love interest, and how badly that comes off. And if you look at the way other women are treated, and characterised -- eek.
Fury of the Phoenix doesn't really improve on that. I don't expect it improves much on the writing and plotting, either: I felt like significantly less happened. I found the structure awkward, shifting between the villain of the last book and Ai Ling, and telling the story of how He Totally Wasn't Evil Really.
There were aspects I liked: the fact that she loves food, and enjoys it so much, and how easy it was to read -- it was relaxing and pretty fun. But thinking about these two books in too much detail ruined them for me.
Up to a point, this review shouldn't be majorly spoilery about events (although it will be about themes). I'll let you know just before I do the spoilUp to a point, this review shouldn't be majorly spoilery about events (although it will be about themes). I'll let you know just before I do the spoilery part.
I had honestly never heard of Cindy Pon until the day before yesterday, and I might not have picked up her book to read even if I had. Mostly because I'm not supposed to be buying new books at the moment, admittedly. But inkstone's post about it, here, a post about the whitewashing of the covers for this book, caught my eye. You can find other links on the matter here, including a place to preview the first seventy pages of the novel.
The story in brief: Silver Phoenix is a book heavily based on Chinese myth and history. The original cover is striking and beautiful, to my mind: it has the protagonist, Ai Ling, front and centre, dressed in a Chinese style. But... the book wasn't selling. This was partly because mainstream bookstores didn't stock it, although I know that this isn't a surprise, at least in the case of Borders. In any case, the publisher, in making the paperback, decided to redo the cover. Now, according to Cindy Pon herself, she totally supports the decision of her publisher, and they are working to include Chinese elements and keep those elements strongly present in the covers. But looking at the covers, which you can see here, I don't see that. I see something that looks a lot more like urban fantasy. That looks like it might be the cover of any number of the YA books I've picked up (and usually, put straight back down again with a sigh). Her clothing, the little we can see of her face... she looks more like me than she looks like the original vision of Ai Ling.
In any case, in all this discussion, I got interested in the book and bought it -- the hardcover, with the original artwork. I'm told that this isn't going to help, but I wanted to read this book, and to be able to talk about it, and to have it with the original artwork.
I ordered it, it arrived today, and I finished it just before I started writing this. It's easy to read and very accessible, and the story surprised me in two very major ways and a couple of more minor ones. It really isn't anything like the Generic YA Book my brain conjured up on looking at the new covers. The mythology is somewhat new to me, and it's lovely to wander through a story in which what happens next isn't what I would expect from a typical Western fantasy novel. The plot is bold -- it doesn't shy away from rape and death, from men trying to force young girls to do what they want.
Parts of the plot felt a little thin to me, unfortunately. The sheer onslaught of the demons, and the way Ai Ling's powers quickly develop to handle any problem, are part of that, and also that I didn't feel that the problem, the climax, was quite worth the level of supernatural intervention we were seeing. I didn't feel major peril to the whole land of Xia, only to Ai Ling herself. That part is well written -- tense, a little difficult to read, in the way that it should be -- but it didn't quite seem to fit. And the freedom Ai Ling is given doesn't feel realistic -- although, granted, that's based partially on my own limited and Western understanding of the conditions in China for women in an equivalent sort of time period.
This next bit is spoilery, because I want to talk about the two big surprises and one of the minor ones.
The first surprise: we get to know and like a character who ultimately dies. I was so sure Ai Ling would go through with her plan to bring him back, but she doesn't. I think that's great. A touch of realism. Acceptance that you have to let someone go -- no matter how much you like them.
The second surprise: the potential love interests do not fall into each other's arms at the end. I expected it all along and was glad when it didn't happen. It's different.
The minor surprise of most note: Ai Ling loves to eat. Here is a girl who thinks food is important, who enjoys eating. I don't know to what extent the attitude is reflected in YA, but the girls I knew at the age of seventeen were all about being thin. Open enjoyment of food... well. Not really the done thing. But here is Ai Ling, enjoying food! It made me smile so much.
Overall, it was a story I enjoyed. I enjoyed the characters, the plot, the mythology, the clear and easy prose style. It isn't my top recommendation of this year, or anything like that, but it's a solid and entertaining story, and if this review has intrigued you in any way, I hope you'll pick it up.
Huntress is a sort of prequel to Ash, but it is set a long time before it. If I remember rightly, this story is mentioned in Ash. Anyway, this story iHuntress is a sort of prequel to Ash, but it is set a long time before it. If I remember rightly, this story is mentioned in Ash. Anyway, this story is about the journey of six people: Con, the son of the king; Taisin, a young woman who wants to be a celibate sage; Kaede, a classmate of Taisin's with no talent for the magic; and Shae, Pol and Tali, their guards. They have to see the Fairy Queen, during a period when nature has gone out of balance.
The story of the journey itself isn't really unique, but the love between Kaede and Taisin is. I loved the fact that the book treats them in pretty much the same way as a male-female couple is usually treated in fantasy stories -- I mean, that it seems natural and inevitable that they should be drawn together, and that their desire for each other is palpable and not treated euphemistically. Okay, there's nothing explicit, but the physicality of their relationship is there.
It's also easy to read, a quick read, and the situations and emotions ring reasonably true. The emotional involvement that was lacking in Ash was definitely there, for me, which made it that much more enjoyable.
I really wish books like this had existed when I was younger. I hope the arrival on the market of books like Ash and Huntress isn't just a one off....more
I didn't like this book nearly as much as I hoped to. I'm not sure whether to give it two or three stars, because once I got to the last hundred pagesI didn't like this book nearly as much as I hoped to. I'm not sure whether to give it two or three stars, because once I got to the last hundred pages, it did pick up, and I loved the last few pages. But it took so much to get there, and I honestly nearly put the book down for good halfway through. All that kept me going was the knowledge that people whose taste I'd tend to trust did really love it -- but, on reflection, I'm not sure I would go back in time two hours to when I made the decision to finish it and say yes, go for it, you'll regret it if you don't. I've already decided, for example, that I won't read the sequel, based on the reviews of it. It just doesn't sound that interesting to me.
Part of the problem was that it felt like I'd read it already. The relationship between Nick and Alan reminded me of a certain other pair of brothers who get involved in deals with demons... In fact, it didn't remind me of Sam and Dean Winchester in themselves, as shown on TV, as much as it reminded me of fanfic of the series. I did believe in the bond between Nick and Alan -- I'm not saying that was badly done -- but I just felt like I'd been there before. That feeling did abate a bit in the last fifty pages or so, though.
I can't say I liked Nick as Nick. It's hard to relate to him -- throughout, I was thinking about the choice of him as the character the narration stuck to (it's third person limited). I couldn't fathom it, since surely Alan would be much easier to sympathise with, and through his love for Nick, we might understand Nick better... But having read the end, of course I understand that decision. It's just difficult to have to wait so long for payoff. In any case, I did find Nick fascinating, and I was sure that there was some plot reason for him being the way he is. A small part of me is a little disappointed it wasn't due to PTSD all along, though.
It's worth noting that Alan is a disabled character, but he's still capable in his own ways and there isn't massive dollops of angst and manpain about what he can't do.
Jamie and Mae... I just didn't really care about them, or the love triangle thing that was going on. Another reason why I will probably not go for the sequel.
The author endears herself to me by saying in the (rather skimpy) interview section that she loves Dar Williams' music (though I wouldn't call it country music). You know how people talk about how whatever music they listen to was life-changing? Dar Williams was that, for me, at the tender age of fourteen, and still is now. But that's neither here nor there....more
Nesbit's tone is often preachy, and the narrative voice is a little patronising and didactic, but if you can ignore that, I think these stories are deNesbit's tone is often preachy, and the narrative voice is a little patronising and didactic, but if you can ignore that, I think these stories are delightful. I liked Prince Tiresome's pack of hippos, and also, perhaps especially, all the reversals in the land of Rotundia: the buns growing on trees, the tiny elephants... Fido the tiny elephant is completely adorable.
Quick to read, and enjoyable. Relatively typical fantasy -- nothing particularly new, in my experience -- and kind of fails to get me totally absorbedQuick to read, and enjoyable. Relatively typical fantasy -- nothing particularly new, in my experience -- and kind of fails to get me totally absorbed. The background world of the story is interesting and I was glad to learn about that, but I didn't feel an urgent need to keep reading it for the sake of the characters. I did like Pol and Sophos, but wasn't overly concerned about them, either.
I shouldn't have been surprised that a thief would be an unreliable narrator. It's interesting to think back and see the clues embedded in the narrative.
I wished there'd been more of the part in Eddis, really. That all felt like winding-down-the-story, not an interesting part in its own right, which was disappointing.
Will probably read the other books: they're nice relaxing brain candy, if they're like this one....more
The Squire's Tale is quite a light treatment of the Arthurian legend, suitable for young readers and an enjoyable -- but very quick -- read for adultsThe Squire's Tale is quite a light treatment of the Arthurian legend, suitable for young readers and an enjoyable -- but very quick -- read for adults too. I've had it on my list for a long time, but I only actually eventually bought it because supposedly the series has a sympathetic Kai, and my dissertation is on the various permutations of Sir Kay.
This one, however, would've been more useful for my Gawain essay. It turns a lot of the stories, even Malory's, to Gawain's advantage, and plays up the idea of him being the Maidens' Knight, and so on. Terence is, as far as I know, a completely invented character, but he's likeable enough for me, particularly because of his devotion to Gawain, which I entirely approve of. I wish there'd been a longer treatment of the story of Ragnelle (though here she is conflated with Lady Florie and called Lady Lorie), but I appreciate Morris' feeling that Malory was rather too hard on Gawain, and his comments on Gawain's earlier character.
There's very little about Kai, but he is at least a character you can sympathise with in his concern for Arthur, with nods back to his literary ancestry in the way he clings to traditions like squires not sitting in their knights' presence.
Overall, it's a very simple story, but that didn't make it unenjoyable....more
I remember rereading some of Michael Scott's earlier novels last summer and feeling disappointed. They just didn't hold the magic I'd seen in them wheI remember rereading some of Michael Scott's earlier novels last summer and feeling disappointed. They just didn't hold the magic I'd seen in them when I was younger. I don't know if these books would or not, if I was younger, but my first comment on The Alchemyst was "I'm so far unimpressed", and I could close the book with the same feeling, too. I don't really care enough to hunt down the next book, not while I have so much else to read.
It could be interesting. I quite like mash-ups of tonnes of different mythology. This just left me cold, though. The Morrigan likes ebay and is addicted to online strategy games. Hecate lives in a copy of Yggdrasil. Scathach is a vampire (of sorts) and prefers to be called Scatty. Etc. I don't mind mythology meeting modern technology, either, but this... Every couple of paragraphs it had to mention laptops or email or ipods.
You could sort of call this book "fast-paced", if by that you mean "one never-ending fight scene, with lots of special effects".
It completely lacks subtlety. Exposition is ladled on thickly, and not a chapter can go by without a reference to how much the twins love each other. The kids aren't just the son and daughter of an archaeologist, no, they know loads of stuff about mythology and the names of craters of the moon (and yet still don't know what Yggdrasil or Hecate or anything is). They're not just special, they're super special, with solid gold and silver auras. Etc.
Dawn Wind isn't my favourite of the series so far, but it is a lovely read, even though the British people that Sutcliff has written about up to thisDawn Wind isn't my favourite of the series so far, but it is a lovely read, even though the British people that Sutcliff has written about up to this point in the series are dying out, even though the light that Artos and his men tried to protect is going out. It still focuses on British people, but more and more now the Saxon people are important, and given lives and feelings. I always half-expect Aquila's sister's son's family, from The Lantern Bearers, to somehow show up, with some story to hold onto about a dolphin ring... But not so far, at least. Still, a member of the family still carries the ring, for most of the story.
It's a story about keeping faith, really, even between Britons and Saxons, but at the end, between Briton and Briton. It isn't exactly heart-warming -- separation by slavery isn't the stuff of Hallmark cards -- but it's touching, and effectively written....more
Beowulf: Dragonslayer is a simple retelling, aimed at children, of the Beowulf story. I love the way Rosemary Sutcliff keeps it close to the events ofBeowulf: Dragonslayer is a simple retelling, aimed at children, of the Beowulf story. I love the way Rosemary Sutcliff keeps it close to the events of the original poem, but with little humanising touches (like Hrothgar putting back the hair of his dead friend wordlessly). She doesn't add anything that can't be substantiated in the poem, but she makes the mud and blood of it feel real, instead of legendary.
It's a very short and quick read, but I enjoyed it. It's illustrated by Charles Keeping, who must've illustrated other books by Sutcliff -- or someone who draws in much the same style did, anyway. It suits it....more
It looks like Frontier Wolf has been reprinted -- which is very good, as I never knew it existed when I was younger. Rosemary Sutcliff's work is wondeIt looks like Frontier Wolf has been reprinted -- which is very good, as I never knew it existed when I was younger. Rosemary Sutcliff's work is wonderful, and Frontier Wolf is no exception: it feels real, rich with historical details and also with touches of character and interaction that ring extremely true. The small jerk of Alexios' shoulders, for example, and calm Lucius -- calm even to the last -- and the last conversation with Hilarion.
I didn't expect to love this as much -- it felt familiar, with the retreat of the Frontier Wolves echoing the stories of Marcus' father's legion's retreat back in The Eagle of the Ninth, and the odd relationship between Alexios and the tribesmen -- friendly and yet ready to burst into flame... But somewhere in there, as he won his troops' hearts and came to love them, so I came to love Alexios and love his men.
Very enjoyable, and beautifully written. Not a sour note in it, for me....more
I much prefer the books set in Roman Britain, of this series, than this Norse turn that it's taking. Possibly because Roman Britain is an interest ofI much prefer the books set in Roman Britain, of this series, than this Norse turn that it's taking. Possibly because Roman Britain is an interest of mine, but not one I know in any sort of depth, whereas I do Norse myth and saga, and can translate parts of sagas... Stories about, rather than from, the Norse countries tend to fall flat with me now. They don't capture the spirit of the real Norse stories, which I know quite well by now.
It doesn't help that the bearer of the dolphin ring isn't a character until the very last section of this story. Which is a shame, because she has an interesting one, and I can't actually think of a story by Rosemary Sutcliff with a female protagonist that privileges the female account of the world over the male one. I didn't get on so well with the male protagonist -- I just didn't sympathise with him so much. I did enjoy the glimpses we got of the idea of a female world, but I wish there was more of it....more
I liked The Shield Ring rather more than Sword Song, perhaps because it's back in the realms of history I'm not so familiar with. This one deals withI liked The Shield Ring rather more than Sword Song, perhaps because it's back in the realms of history I'm not so familiar with. This one deals with the Norse facing off against the Normans -- which I wasn't aware of as an event, much less familiar with. It is funny to read stuff like this and read references to the battle of Clontarf, and suchlike, but it's not like reading something I'm too familiar with.
And strangely, just after I said about not seeing much of the female side of things, in Sword Song, The Shield Ring is at least mostly from the female point of view, with a female protagonist, albeit with parts of it given from the male point of view and from the enemy's point of view, and given that Frytha doesn't stick to the female world -- the two blend a bit more, here, in the desperation of a last stand.
Almost, at the end, I was afraid that the whole line of those carrying the dolphin ring would end with Bjorn. That the world they were fighting for would go up in flames. But the end does have something of hope in it, still....more
This didn't pull together the way I expected at all. I expected Lucilla to have a bigger part to play, and for Beric to find out about his real parentThis didn't pull together the way I expected at all. I expected Lucilla to have a bigger part to play, and for Beric to find out about his real parents somehow, and... just for him to find a neat space just made for him where he would belong. But it's better the way Sutcliff wrote it, of course, with Beric struggling so much and eventually, and with difficulty, finding a place to belong. Not a place that's been waiting for him, but a place he's made for himself.
I found it a difficult read, at first, I think because I have had a lot of trouble with being the one that the rest of the pack turns on. That was a reality of my life for quite a long while, so no wonder it made me uncomfortable to read about Beric. And it is a very sad story, with the way hope is slowly crushed out of Beric... The happiness that he wins comes very late in the story.
Once I did get reading it, though, it was quietly compelling. Not comfortable or comforting -- not like The Eagle of the Ninth is for me -- but good....more
Rosemary Sutcliff's retelling of the Odyssey is, like her retelling of the Iliad, illustrated by Alan Lee. It's gorgeous, just like the first book --Rosemary Sutcliff's retelling of the Odyssey is, like her retelling of the Iliad, illustrated by Alan Lee. It's gorgeous, just like the first book -- I love the illustration of the Sirens, and Calypso comforting Odysseus, and Ino saving him from the storm... It's lovely.
The story itself is very simple, given that it's aimed at children. It's quite lovely in its simplicity, though; it works very well alongside Alan Lee's illustrations....more
I didn't think I was going to like Sword at Sunset as much as I typically like Rosemary Sutcliff's books, even though it was surely combining two of mI didn't think I was going to like Sword at Sunset as much as I typically like Rosemary Sutcliff's books, even though it was surely combining two of my favourite things -- Sutcliff's writing and realism, and Arthurian myth. It began slowly, I think, and it was a surprising change of tone for Sutcliff -- her books are mainly written for children (of any age!), but this book had decidedly adult themes, with the incest and more explicit references to sexuality than I'd expected. It's also unusual for her in that it's written in first person, and narrated by Arthur himself.
It also, to my surprise, had a couple of LGBT themes -- a gay couple among Arthur's men, to begin with, and then the relationship between himself and Bedwyr. There's no Lancelot here, and Bedwyr takes that place in many ways, but with more of a shown relationship than I've ever found typical between Arthur and Lancelot. It brought tears to my eyes several times, especially this moment: "I could have cried out to him, as Jonathan to David, by the forbidden love names that are not used between men; I could have flung my arms around his shoulders."
There's nothing explicit about them, at all, but their bond has a profoundness about it, even after hurt and betrayal, that defies easy categorisation.
The relationship between Arthur and Guinevere is also an interesting one, and again one that makes no shortcuts using the existing myth, but builds up something believable alone. His relationship with her, the odd barriers between them, and the attempts to reach each other, and their love that isn't quite enough to bridge that gap... It's all believable.
The whole book takes some pains to be believable, emotionally, and historically. The themes, characters, etc, all seem to have some explanations for how the story could develop later... Bedwyr somewhat in the place that Lancelot takes later, Medraut almost exactly as he will be later, the moment in which Arthur realises how the badge he chooses for battle will be translated into that text which talks about him carrying the image of the Virgin Mary... And they're all aware of how the stories will be magnified, too. It's an interesting way to put it.
Oh, and I forgot to mention it when I first wrote this review, but I was fascinated by Gwalchmai, despite his relatively minor role. It's odd: he isn't related to Arthur (one of the constants of the Arthurian tradition more generally), and though he is a fighter, his main role is that of surgeon. He's also disabled. I don't think I've seen a portrayal of Gawain/Gwalchmai quite like this anywhere else.
It took me a while to get into Sword at Sunset, but it was worth trusting Rosemary Sutcliff and going with it....more
This is shocking for me with a Rosemary Sutcliff book, especially one a lot of other people loved, but I didn't really like this. I somehow didn't reaThis is shocking for me with a Rosemary Sutcliff book, especially one a lot of other people loved, but I didn't really like this. I somehow didn't really care. I didn't much like Phaedrus, which helped, but I'm sure I would've got to like him in the normal way of things with one of Sutcliff's books, but nope. Maybe it's the fact that I've been working on Sword at Sunset for my dissertation for months and either I'm burnt out on Sutcliff or this just doesn't compare, or even a bit of both.
Plus, the central theme being Bad Woman Needs Putting Down and Matriarchal Rule Is Inferior To Patriarchal Rule Because The Menz Say So is a bit... off putting. Sutcliff's never that wonderful with female characters, really, but that aspect really took the cake....more