The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is one of the great classics of fantasy, though rarely shows up on lists of important books , perhaps because it is the stThe Forgotten Beasts of Eld is one of the great classics of fantasy, though rarely shows up on lists of important books , perhaps because it is the story of a powerful woman learning to be human.
Sybel is an extremely powerful mage, and has been raised on one side of a clear dichotomy between power/knowledge and love/hate/humanity. She is the first daughter in a line of mages who have devoted themselves to knowledge, who studied and gained the true names of the world's greatest creatures, and collected them like jewels. She wishes to add a white bird called the Liralen to the collection and (now orphaned at sixteen) has devoted herself to seeking it.
Into her isolation comes the schemes of men. Coren has been sent to her with a child that is related to Sybel's mother (a woman who was drawn to/controlled by Sybel's father in exactly the same manner as the beasts were drawn, and who died in childbirth). The child's mother also died in childbirth, and Sybel steps a little away from the arid intellectualism of being a great mage to raise the child, named Tam, and grows to love him.
She also learns that he is not, as she was told, the child of Coren's brother, but of the king Coren's family has been warring with, and thus Sybel is drawn further into the schemes of men, never quite doing what it is they want of her, but being changed by the interaction all the same (view spoiler)[falling a little for Coren, and then being very briefly enslaved by a mage hired by the king to turn her into a puppet wife.
And from here we move into a vengeance tale. Like most vengeance tales, the person seeking vengeance is depicted as doing the wrong thing because it is their own self they will inevitably destroy in gaining that vengeance. I'm 50/50 on how I feel about it in this context: one of the major reasons Sybel is to be destroyed by her vengeance is the impact on the two men she loves. Tam because the king is his father and he loves that father (with the kind of love that involves looking away and being kept ignorant of the whole enslaving-Sybel part of his personality). Coren because, substantially, of male pride: if Sybel tells him of the attempt enslavement, Coren will undoubtedly march off and get himself killed trying to kill the king himself personally because of "my woman" reasons. If Sybel doesn't tell him, she has to jump through all these hoops to keep from him all the things she is doing to gain her vengeance, and then cope with him being all betrayed and wounded because she hasn't been honest with him.
I found Coren a bit insufferable during parts of this, and while Sybel was undoubtably heading off for a tour of the Dark Side, a lot of the most problematic actions revolved around protecting Coren's view of her as 100% good and truthful (unlike him, who started their interaction off with a Big Lie). Of course, Sybel should have done "sensible vengeance", and immediately sent her swan to bring Tam back for explanations, and her dragon to bite the king's head off. But because Sybel wants to draw out the king's pain (because of how awful he made her feel) she is caught up trying to shield the feelings of the two people she's come to love.
[The story never punishes her father for essentially enslaving and raping her mother. But there's a lot of women passed around as chattel in this world.]
Sybel eventually substantially gives up her vengeance and a large portion of her power (by releasing the beasts). The story never makes entirely plain whether Sybel (as a woman) is only allowed good-feels and passivity and will be punished for any bad-feels and active decision-making, but on the whole I think she ends up retaining her strength as a mage.
[This is odd timing to re-read this book, because I've been working on The Sleeping Life, which involves a powerful female mage dealing with the aftermath of someone attempting to enslave her, of her dealing with lack of power, and yet still lots of power, and what she wants to do with her future. But Rennyn is a vastly different sort of person to Sybel.] (hide spoiler)]
At any rate, this is a short but very powerful story - and it did get nominated for a fair few awards in its day, but isn't so well known these days. It's probably one of the reasons I'm forever writing morality of mages stories, and it should pop up on lists of 'seminal fantasy' but that phrase itself perhaps explains why it does not. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
So nice to be able to buy this run in ebook version. Between near-death experiences, this is a quiet story of a boy estranged from people thanks to hiSo nice to be able to buy this run in ebook version. Between near-death experiences, this is a quiet story of a boy estranged from people thanks to his ability to see Japan's spirit population. Through a strange book left among his grandmother Reiko's belongings, he discovered she had the same abilities - and a similarly unhappy childhood. But Reiko was strong, and fierce - even if she too often had bruises on her face from neighbourhood children throwing rocks at her.
I really want to find out more about Reiko's life.
Natsume is not a great deal like Reiko - but also very like Reiko - and it's a pleasure to watch him progress from isolation to a camaraderie that relies not at all on the power gained by possessing a true name.
Set in New York, we meet D as he becomes adrift in the foster system, full of the pain of recent loss, his situation made doubly hard by his awarenessSet in New York, we meet D as he becomes adrift in the foster system, full of the pain of recent loss, his situation made doubly hard by his awareness that he has to be the best version of himself to avoid the possibility of being sent to a group home. Without the luxury of dealing with his pain, he has numbed himself, untrusting of connections, keeping his head down to survive. D's lack of ties to anyone means he's a suitable host to Nuru, a being from 'another world' who wishes to rescue trapped souls.
Parts of this story are downright creepy, and others - particularly D's fear of the foster system and his need to be constantly on his best behaviour - resonate with hurt. And the two other main children of the story, Nyla and Keem, are rich and interesting characters. I am a little sorry we never got to know what the deal was with D's father, and it does feel like some aspects of the story were sketched in rather than fully detailed, but this is a short, touching story that makes for a very different sort of urban fantasy than what usually comes out of that genre....more
The second of McKinley's Beauty and the Beast retellings.
B&tB is a problematic story - arguably a Stockholm Syndrome romance - but there are otherThe second of McKinley's Beauty and the Beast retellings.
B&tB is a problematic story - arguably a Stockholm Syndrome romance - but there are other aspects of the story that also interest me, which are brought to the forefront when reading two retellings of the story by the same author. The similarities and differences, and the message we're supposed to take from the story.
(view spoiler)[ Love as a curse-breaker is the first core of this story, and for that you really have to sell the reasons this girl falls for the monstrous creature that threatened her father's life, and then every night asks her to marry him, but cannot explain why. I think Rose Daughter is weaker on this aspect: Beauty has only seven days to get to know the Beast, and spends only a very little time with him and he barely speaks during the climax of the story. Although his roof painting is a wonderful character moment, a lot of the romance appears to revolve around feeling very sorry for a very sad person. In the Beauty version of the story, we are given more interaction, and a shared interest in their love of reading that makes the romance more convincing.
Family is the second major theme. Beauty in both stories is torn between love of her family and (eventually) her time with the Beast. The two sets of sisters are very different - both very loveable, though who can resist the set that includes Braveheart, roaring about, and getting a job as a stablehand. It's easy to read this dilemma as as straightforward allusion to any marriage, separating a girl from her family to go to her husband's house. That's a separation that happens often enough, without any intervention from curses or Beasts.
One major different between McKinley's two retellings is the conclusion. In both stories we have the classic rich merchant falls on hard times, travels to country, encounter with Beast, sacrifice of Beauty, romance, separation, and reunion bringing the breaking of the curse. But Rose Daughter's curse-breaking leaves the Beast in the form of a Beast, and instead of Beauty and her family being brought to the now unenchanted palace, the Beast moves in to Beauty's cottage. This fits in with the difference in the sisters: wealth and the city were bad for the family at the heart of the tale. Beauty was retiring. Jewel-Tongue's words were viciously edged. Lionheart's courage edged into violence. The two elder sisters weren't nice people, and a plunge into desperate poverty is seen as the making of them. At the conclusion of the story Beauty is directly given a choice between wealth, power and a beautiful husband or a simple village life with a man still trapped in the form of the beast. [That last opens up whole reams of questions about their sex life and species of children and so forth...]
It's a very very very common theme that wealth ruins people, but it never quite rings wholly true for me. 'Wealth' is freedom from drudgery and meaningless labour, is a chance to pursue matters artistic and intellectual - and it is tremendously convenient in Rose Daughter that Jewel-Tongue discovers a love and talent for sewing, and Lionheart becomes less of an ass when her pride has been knocked down - and Beauty's love of roses just happens in this world to be a highly profitable concern, rather than an indulgence in a garden that could be more usefully given over to vegetables.
Of course, perhaps my view of power and wealth has been tempered by growing up without it.
Even ignoring the choice between corrupting power and a "wholesome" country life, Rose Daughter is by far the more scattered of McKinley's two versions of B&tB. It interestingly includes its own "two versions of the same story", with the Squire's son producing a dismissive and misogynistic version of the history of the curse - this whole episode provides the reason for Beauty's urgent return and falls flat, feeling artificial as a means of bringing the plot to crisis point.
There are some particularly delightful parts, however. McKinley builds a fascinating world thoroughly soaked in magic. I loved the frog tide, and really enjoyed Beauty's father bringing his horse into the palace with him for company. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm an increasingly hard sell on this style of cozy mystery. As a genre, I like their "small town" details, and usually they'll tell me interesting stI'm an increasingly hard sell on this style of cozy mystery. As a genre, I like their "small town" details, and usually they'll tell me interesting stuff about making quilts or home repair or dog walking or whatever. They do, however, have a preponderance of clutzes and ditzes as main characters, and about 50% do a "woman with no love life for years suddenly has two or more extremely eligible bachelors vying for her attention". I tend to steer clear of love triangle things like this because they either drag out forever, or she picks the option I find boring.
The main character of High-End Finish is neither a clutz nor a ditz, and has a solid cadre of friends, but she's also magnificently lacking in a useful level of caution or suspicion and I found I just didn't care enough to follow this story closely. I also found that people just didn't seem to react like real people (especially the audience to that opening thing on the beach).
(view spoiler)[The killer's motive (not wanting people to find out she's a lesbian) reads rather off - both because the town itself doesn't seem to be small-minded and because evilgaysevil isn't what I'd expect in a modern novel. (hide spoiler)]
Not continuing with series.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A lot of urban fantasy covers some pretty similar beats. Dangerous person working for/against/around a powerful paranormal organisation, wandering aroA lot of urban fantasy covers some pretty similar beats. Dangerous person working for/against/around a powerful paranormal organisation, wandering around fixing this week's intra-dimensional threat. And Half-Resurrection Blues doesn't go anywhere particularly new on this point. Carlos is a man without memory or a pulse, not quite dead and not quite alive, working for an organisation that sends not-alive people (mostly ghosts) to fix paranormal/supernatural issues. The current problem is imp-things called ngks infesting New York - which are quite deadly to the spiritual agents of the Council of the Dead.
The book steps away from the standard grizzled white guy, for Carlos is Puerto Rican and politically aware, and so the world has layers - but at the start the plot held no particular surprises. Not fantastic with the female characters since none of them seemed to be power players in the story, and ranged through mother figure/healer, lust object, sassy daughter figure, and failed drunken hookup.
Then I hit a plot development that noped me right out of reading any further.
(view spoiler)[The book started out with Carlos on a job for the Council - to kill a guy that was taking some frat boys, basically, to a door to hell. The guy turns out to be the same kind of undead as Carlos, a sort of non-decaying zombie person (no pursuit of brains involved) - which Carlos finds very interesting because he's never met anyone like him before. But he still kills the guy - that's his job after all.
But the guy had a similarly undead sister, Sasha. Who is hot. Ostensibly, Carlos seeks out Sasha because Trevor - the guy he just killed - (incomprehensibly) asked him to protect her and because she may be a little connected with ongoing cases. But mainly Carlos seeks her out because he has a massive boner for her. It felt like at least 20% of the portion of the book I read/heard was devoted to Carlos' boner for Sasha.
And they have a meet cute and Carlos really likes her, and she likes him quite a bit, but she's for taking it slow until he turns up on her doorstep looking for comfort sex and sex happens.
And that's where I stopped, because the one thing that was missing from all this was a thing called "informed consent".
Carlos has not told Sasha that he killed her brother (or that he even knows she has a brother, or purposefully sought her out). She knows that he works for the Council (I think), but otherwise he's a well-dressed guy that she met in a bar and chose to take to bed.
This falls into the same territory, for me, as using disguise magic to pretend to be the person your lover really wants to sleep with, or not mentioning critical issues such as being HIV-positive. I imagine - presume! hope! - that Sasha will eventually discover the truth and Carlos will be plot-punished for failing to mention before sleeping with a woman that he killed her brother. But I ceased to have any interest in following Carlos' story. (hide spoiler)]
Other readers might have different reactions to this development, but it's a deal-breaker for me. Usually, when I stop reading a book, I flip to the end to find out how the plot resolved, but for this story, my nope was strong enough to create myself a DNF shelf.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Somewhat unusual mystery with touches of horror, as passengers from a snowbound train head to a nearby house and find a puzzle. This is the style of mSomewhat unusual mystery with touches of horror, as passengers from a snowbound train head to a nearby house and find a puzzle. This is the style of mystery where people wander around being confused and then the detective-figure explains it all - the reader is not given enough information to solve it.
Amusing to have one female character griping about the tendency to keep her out of things to protect her (though also some predictable class divisions being drawn among the passengers)....more
A thorough wrap-up of the four characters - though they're still young enough to be beginning as much as ending stories. I feel tremendously sorry forA thorough wrap-up of the four characters - though they're still young enough to be beginning as much as ending stories. I feel tremendously sorry for Teressa - being queen definitely doesn't seem much fun! Especially when you're trying to grow up at the same time. But she reaches a settled place.
Wren is as ever an absolute pleasure. There are few characters who are so resolutely fun....more
It's not unknown for a children's book to ruthlessly kill off a few parents at the beginning of a story, but when it's book 3 of a series it has a bigIt's not unknown for a children's book to ruthlessly kill off a few parents at the beginning of a story, but when it's book 3 of a series it has a big impact. I was sad to see the King and Queen's fate (in the first chapter - not a big spoiler). But this definitely gave Teressa a chance to step up to her future.
(view spoiler)[I must admit to being confused about how Teressa and Connor are related, given that they at least consider each other as romantic partners. Even if there's no blood link, they are still uncle-niece? (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>...more
One thing I particularly like about this series is the sheer enjoyment Wren wrings out of most of the adventures she tumbles into. I also appreciate aOne thing I particularly like about this series is the sheer enjoyment Wren wrings out of most of the adventures she tumbles into. I also appreciate all the family complications. So many relatives, so little chance to get away with strangling them....more
Re-reading this series as a kind of palate cleanser - so wonderful to have scads of female characters - especially ones who aren't aliens from PlanetRe-reading this series as a kind of palate cleanser - so wonderful to have scads of female characters - especially ones who aren't aliens from Planet Women-Are-Inscrutable-Vixens.
Wren is indefatigable - but my fave is Idres, a powerful mage with a bad reputation....more