I stumbled upon the name of this novelette while reading Warriors 2, which features another short story written by Howard Waldrop. There, The Ugly Chi...moreI stumbled upon the name of this novelette while reading Warriors 2, which features another short story written by Howard Waldrop. There, The Ugly Chickens was mentioned in glowing terms, so of course, I had to temporarily set aside that book in order to find out why.
Through a lucky coincidence, a buss passenger recognizes in the depiction of the long-extinct dodo, the ugly chicken she grew up with. The main character, a Master's student in ornithology, embarks on a quest to unravel the mystery of the dodos and to unearth the history of the family linked to them.
The richness of this story, a Nebula and World Fantasy Award winner, comes from the attention to detail for (re)building the family's history. As I read it, I was under the impression that I watched a show on the History Channel. The fact that the ornithologist has always been obsessed with dodos—he used to have dreams involving royal families and dancing dodos—only adds to the illusion of reality. Here we have the (overly) passionate scientists, in search of academic glory, who forgoes sleep and food, in order to pursue the mystery of a (literally) stupid bird.
The best part—the ending, which had me laughing out loud. Brilliant!
The very short summary is this: cowardly, lying, and womaniser Prince Jal is forced to undertake a journey to the far North in order to break the spell that links him to a brave, honest, faithful, and, most important, desperate savage, named Snorri. Both of them are nothing but pawns in a war that they don't understand. As with any book of this kind, the journey is one of self-discovery, yet, this novel doesn't resemble any high-fantasy I have ever read. For one, the main character is exactly the opposite of what we would expect from a hero.
Strangely, I learned about this novel from ACE Books' campaign on Twitter. Everyone was tweeting how funny it was and, because at the time I was in a burned-out state, I considered it a suitable relief for stress and overwork. During the first day, I went to bed past 2 a.m. because I couldn't put it down. Yes, Prince of Fools is funny, no one argues against this statement, but what won me over was how judiciously Mark Lawrence employs the humor in order to build his character and to highlight the tension. Prince of Fools is not a comedy. The humor doesn't represent a purpose in itself, but a tool to consolidate an intrinsic feature of the main character, namely cowardice. Because of this, the flippancy is not consistently spread throughout the novel. The more Jal grows into a more valiant less cowardly individual, the less witty his outlook of life. The thinning of the humor not only marks Jal's progress towards (real) adulthood, but also augments the tension. Because, when your prospects of survival taper off, the penchant for joking tapers off as well.
What's more important than the humor is how Mark Lawrence contrives the inner tension that drives the characters. The spell that affects Snorri and Jal has a dual nature—good and bad, day and night, light ans shadow—and each of them is the recipient of only one aspect. Naturally, we would expect that the negative side of the magic is drawn to the depraved individual and the positive one, to the upright man. That would have been the easy way! But that is not Mark Lawrence's way. Instead, he devises a situation in which the darkness lodges into the righteous man and the light into the wicked one. Now, both of them are throw out of balance, because the spell conflicts with each of their natures. Would the shadows conquer the goodness and the light win against vice. While Prince of Fools is an action and adventure story, IMO, what makes it shine is this inner struggle of the two characters.
The second aspect that charmed me was the actual world. In the beginning, while Jal is interested only in getting into women's beds and paying his gambling debts, the scenery is only sketched. However, the more his journey transforms him, the more colorful and detailed the world becomes. Jal and Snorri live in a post-apocalyptic environment, in which the trains are only a legend, but the tracks still exist. For a night, they nest in what appears to be a skyscraper, while another they rest in a dried-up reservoir, which still shows the signs of a hydroelectric power plant. The quirkiest detail of all is the army of plasteek mannequins, which he misconstrues as warriors. Did I mention that they sail on a Viking ship called Ikea? The idea that a high-fantasy world could exist after the destruction of our present civilizations fascinated me!
At last, I'm only going to mentioned that Mark Lawrence's writing is well above the average. His choice of words is creative and the turn of phrase, sure-handed and elegant.
To wrap up, this is a very fresh take on high-fantasy, benefiting from unorthodox characters, good mastery of the tension, a strange world, and strong writing. If you want, you could call this a beach read for fantasy readers. * * * Also posted at Medley | Andreea Daia(less)
The second installment of the Lady Trent's Memoirs follows Isabella through her adventure on the continent of Eriga (a pseudo African continent), in p...moreThe second installment of the Lady Trent's Memoirs follows Isabella through her adventure on the continent of Eriga (a pseudo African continent), in pursuit of dragons and academic glory. As expected, after a short detour through the quagmire of the civilized society, the reader is dropped in the middle of local squeamishes, lavish forests that "eat" the intruders, and undignifying diseases.
What started as a young heroine, unsure about her place in the world and conflicted about her unbecoming desire for knowledge continues at full throttle. Isabella represents the epitome of a researcher, a woman who even today some would consider an unfit mother. She clearly favors dragons over her son and, by the end of the book, develops so much into a scientist that she ceases to feel guilty because of it. Moreover, her defying party of wannabe academicians is augmented by Natalie, the asexual friend who "elopes" with Isabella's scientific expedition. While Natalie's voice isn't as strong as the main character's, I found her sometimes even more enticing for her balance between levelheadedness and desire for experimentation.
In my opinion, it is this panoply of misfits that allures the reader. Between Tom, Natalie, and Isabella, the misfit in each of us is bound to identify with one of the characters (or perhaps with a combination of several characters).
I read this novel immediately after finishing A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent. Given this situation, the very similar structure of the two books was obvious. Both of them start very slow, by presenting interactions inside the Scriland good society. Both of them veer into Isabella's fight with her family (and other families) for her right to personal expression through study, research, and travel. The next third of the book(s) is dedicated to a sedate depiction of the "worlds" she visits, from the environmental conditions, to the social stratification, to random motley aspects. The tone in this section is always composed and the narrator's eye canvases its surrounding with a scientific aloofness. Even if drama and adventure make an appearance during this section (in both cases, we encounter friction due to lack of communication and cultural differences) the tone of the narration tempers the tension. It is in the last third of each book when the real "adventuring" occurs and when the reader scoots towards the edge of the chair. While I didn't mind a similar structure for the first two books, I hope that the third one in the series will introduce some variation and surprises.
As I mentioned in my review of "A Natural History of Dragons," what stands out in these books is the attention taken for building an alternate reality. Language, politics, society, zoology, ecosystems—no aspect is left unattended or undeveloped and the minute details pile up in conglomerates with perfect believability. And although, under regular conditions, some of these aspect would seem dry, the premise of the narrator being a scientist confers them authenticity, readability, and quirkiness. I maintain my opinion that a more detailed map is absolutely necessary for such a book. I have to admit that, without one, I was completely lost during the long stretch of politics presented during the agban episode. That the episode proved essential to understanding the later military machinations made the lack of a detailed map worse.
To wrap up, the engaging characters and the original setting render this reading a fascinating incursion into a world of (both human and draconic) discovery and adventure. * * * Also posted at Medley | Andreea Daia(less)
I received this book as an ARC/promotional copy. ~~~
The quality of this book is undeniable, from the actual content that takes the reader through every...moreI received this book as an ARC/promotional copy. ~~~
The quality of this book is undeniable, from the actual content that takes the reader through every step of the film-making process, to watermarks of the paper. The reading includes details about the entire creative process, which will keep even a non-fan intrigued and turning the page. Excellent fold-out with various abandoned versions of Godzilla.
A must have for the movie fans, you could probably leave around this gorgeous book for your next (too) quiet social gathering, in order to stir the conversation.(less)
While, as I write this review, one of the other books on my shelf is The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft by H.P. Lovecraft, I have to admit my ignorance when it comes to the Cthulhu Mythos and the Necronomicon (I didn't reach those stories yet). I mention this, because the premise of SUMMONED is that H.P. Lovecraft's account is based on real events and that one of his characters is Helen Arkwright's uncle. I see from another review that I have missed some references. Possible, but even reading this story without any prior knowledge, I had no problems grasping its context and content.
SUMMONED is the tale of a teenage wizard, Sean, trapped in a trial of sorcery and forced to defend himself and the ones he loves against the most puissant Master of Magic—Nyarlathotep or the Black Man. While his journey takes him through several action-packed adventures, the biggest test is one of discovery and knowledge. Sean is not just another Harry Potter, or even worse a blend of Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. He is an insecure teenager, tempted by the allure of power through knowledge. He finds the strength to fight the antagonist not due to mindless courage, but due to desperation to protect his family and friends. In the end it is this love for his family that yanks him away from Nyarlathotep's temptation. If there is a aspect that IMO could be improved in this story it is the protagonist's reaction—his behavior seems a bit immature for a sixteen-almost-seventeen-year-old near-adult.
Otherwise, the other characters are nicely rounded for a YA story—the father is overly protective, due to being the only parent, the best friend is brave and wise, though overly critical, Helen—his sister is learning—is as wobbly on her path to discovery as Sean. By the end of the story everyone gains not only more understanding about the essence of magic, but also about their loved ones. Everyone is more tempered in their reactions and criticism and more willing to admit their own errors and lack of knowledge.
The author crafts some imaginative settings, as for instance Geldman’s Pharmacy in Arkham. The idea of a dual place, which is perceived differently based on the magical-ability of the viewer, might not be new. Nonetheless I found its descriptions fresh and captivating due to the minute details, like the old-fashioned soda fountain.
With an almighty god hungering for Sean's magical ability and a secret society advocating a formal wizard education, the ending indicates that Sean's adventures have just began. Adventure, mystery, magic, evil gods who pose as benevolent, and heartwarming family and friendship links—this book includes something for everyone young at heart. I really liked the first encounter with the world of SUMMONED and I would definitively continue to read about it.(less)
I read the first fifteen chapters on Authonomy and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had a good laugh reading about the main character's unusual trials and the...moreI read the first fifteen chapters on Authonomy and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had a good laugh reading about the main character's unusual trials and the way she coped with them. There is the premise of a love triangle though I yet have to learn how that story ends.
A pleasant read for anyone who loves this genre.(less)
This book discusses the same ideas and theories as The Fourth Way but structured as a memoir not in a the logical and lectured order of the latter. So...moreThis book discusses the same ideas and theories as The Fourth Way but structured as a memoir not in a the logical and lectured order of the latter. Some ideas are better exposed here as for instance the separation between personality and essence, while others are much murkier. Finally, there is a plethora of "esoteric" ideas (which are never touched in the collection of lectures mentioned above) though many times these theories are left only partially explained.
I would recommend to start reading The Fourth Way and if those theories are down your alley, continue with this book.
P.S. The view of the bolshevik revolution from "inside," that is from the point of view of the Russian intellectualia, is quite eye-opening, even for one like me, who lived through a very real revolution. (less)
I don't think one can review this book. My suggestion is to read its first chapter: if one is "ready" for it, it will blow her/his mind. (There is one...moreI don't think one can review this book. My suggestion is to read its first chapter: if one is "ready" for it, it will blow her/his mind. (There is one particular idea that is shocking and scary in its truthfulness, but everyone has to discover this for herself/himself.) If not stupefied, one might still find the ideas interesting enough and decide to continue.
In a few words, the first 3/4 of the collection of lectures is a psychology treaty of a very peculiar and non-traditional kind centered around one idea (the one mentioned right in the first chapter, namely, the lack of self-remembering). The last 1/4 of the book is of a more "esoteric" nature (i.e, the most motley amalgam of what is considered the traditional religions, and the antique religions, plus myths, legends, etc.) Some of these latter ideas are to say at least weird, but the authenticity and value of the psychological section is unquestionable (I should know, since I'm the poster child for exemplifying everything that is written in there.)
It is stated several times that one could understand this system of thought (or better said its value) only if one has made a terrible mistake, and I couldn't agree more.
"We can understand what mechanicalness is and all the horror of mechanicalness only when we do something horrible and fully realize that it was mechanicalness in us that made us do it."
Anyways, I intended to review this book is detail, but it won't do justice to its ideas.
"We think we are what we are. Unfortunately we are not what we are but what we have become; we are not natural beings. We are too asleep, we lie too much, we live too much in imagination, we identify too much. We think we have to do with real beings, but in reality we have to do with imaginary beings. Almost all we know about ourselves is imaginary. Beneath all this agglomeration man is quite different. We have many imaginary things we must throw off before we can come to real things. So long as we live in imaginary things, we cannot see the value of the real; and only when we come to real things in ourselves can we see what is real outside us. We have too much accidental growth in us."
P.S. You can find the whole book for free in PDF format online since it's public domain.(less)