Tanith Lee surprised me. I did the prototypical dumb thing and judged the book by it cover (a barbarian type holding a babe in pasties in one hand and...moreTanith Lee surprised me. I did the prototypical dumb thing and judged the book by it cover (a barbarian type holding a babe in pasties in one hand and a bloodied sword in the other) and assumed this would be another power fantasy/boy's adventure. But while Robert E. Howard's Conan series (which I haven't read since I was a pimply adolescent) was more of a symptom of a male author's fraught relationship between violence and sexuality (ubber Conan cutting his enemies down and bedding the babes) Vazkor, Son of Vazkor is about a Conan type having to confront his mother issues, the fall of civilization and the nature of destiny (both biological and historical). Lee sees the thwarted male power image in the barbarian fantasy and explores how this really relates to the feminine.
(Ooops: I read Vazkor thinking it was the first in a series, but of course if I had done a little web-search I would have discovered that Birthgrave was the first in the Birthgrave trilogy. [I just looked at the back of the couple of Lee's I had and picked one.:] That said, hey, it is like coming in on a movie a third of the way through: your brain gets more exercise trying to figure out what happened before. Lee does a good job of filling the reader in. I just thought she'd done a good back-story.)
It took me a little while to warm up to Vazkor, the novel and the character. The story is all grim barbarian 1st-person, especially at first and it took me a while to settle down and stop hoping for Terry Pratchett's Cohen the Barbarian to hobble out from behind a rock and kick Vazkor in the nuts. That and I find a lot of Lee's names to be too much of the 'STEVE-AAR' variety. Or maybe her foreign names are too foreign for me. There is a fine line between the odd and abstruse in naming characters in fantasy. But all this passed and the book went places your average barbarian fantasy book would never have the imagination to go.
For a book about a big bad warrior the novel is actually organized around the hubs of various female characters starting with Tathra (Vaz's adopted mother), Demizdor (a city woman), Hwenit (the black witch) and finally, above all Uastis (his white haired witch mother), who betrayed his father before he was born.
Such is the intensity of Vazkor's passion (a hatred) for Uastis that it's not surprising that a incestuous brother/sister relationship shows up – a signal of the damaging primal currents running underneath the story. There are other places in the story, such as Vazkor's unusual closeness to his adopted mother where one wonders if Vazkor is straying into Oedipal territory. Again, not stuff that your average barbarian writer would want to touch with a ten-foot phallic stick. I guess there would be a lot of barbarian readers out there that wouldn't want to go there either, but I found this stuff is what saved the novel for me – sick bastard.
One of the other striking places in the book comes near the end. Vazkor has passed through a symbolic underground (tunnels under the city of Eshkiri) and comes to a village by the sea. There is a great mood of serenity and peace embodied especially in Hwenit's father, Peyuan, chief of the village. It is all very good for a book to pull off bloodshed, but even more impressive when the peace and centeredness of a character comes off as grounded and profound, not just – airy and new age. This section takes places at the meeting of water and land, very fitting, and makes the ending all the more surprising for me.
Vazkor struggles to emerge as an individual amongst all the hero-destiny palaver. This is both a function of the novel where the character tries to break free of the history his father and mother have laid for him and also as someone who possibly isn't a Conan knock-off. The females in this book do a good job of standing out as individuals and trying to coax something more out of the brooding barbarian. Yet, in the end the book is about archetypes and the places these paths take a hero. Poor Vazkor, he doesn't even have his own name. Maybe he'll get one in the next book. (less)
You hold those books you discovered for yourself close. I found Not Me in City Lights Bookstore and read it on the train. The hushed intimate line of...moreYou hold those books you discovered for yourself close. I found Not Me in City Lights Bookstore and read it on the train. The hushed intimate line of Myles poetry, the fragility and strength caught me at just the right time.(less)