Okay, this series can be a hard sell: the language is deliberately (and beautifully) flowery, the setting is antiquated and almost story-book, and theOkay, this series can be a hard sell: the language is deliberately (and beautifully) flowery, the setting is antiquated and almost story-book, and the ethos requires admiring evil men for their honor and purity of purpose while accepting that good men will fight one another for the same reason. Plus, it wasn't finished when the author died and some of the chapters in the middle are replaced by notes describing what would happen in them. The cheesy frame story doesn't help.
But it's well worth it. It redeems itself with its ontology and with why its characters act the way they do.
In Mistress of Mistresses we are introduced to Zimiamvia, a fantasy land of dukes, princesses, and armies. There is one magician, described as a philosopher, who works his wonders in the garden instead of the battle-field. Our first hero is Lessingham, the perfect specimen of the fighter: a daring general, a dashing leader, and known kingdom-wide for his honor and his mercy. Our second hero is Duke Barganax, the perfect specimen of the lover: painter, devoted to his lover Fiorinda, and known for ruling his prosperous dukedom with kindness and generosity.
If they merged into one protagonist, you would have a book by Heinlein. Instead, the prince's death, an uncertain primogeniture, an unmarried princess, and Lessingham's sense of duty to his evil cousin puts them at the head of opposite armies in a succession war.
The military story is fine: Lessingham and his cousin, the Vicar Horius Parry, versus the combined might of the country's admiral, the duke's own soldiers, and the armies of his allies. In between engagements they and their agents engage in politics, betrayal, and persuasion among the nobility and among criminals.
And of course, whenever they encounter one another--as on the night before hostilities break out, when everyone knows tomorrow will be war so they hold a garden party--they treat one another with civility, leading to some wonderful court insults, lies, and honesty.
A Fish Dinner in Memison drives us deeper into the philosophical side of the story. It takes place during the third book, shortly before a pivotal battle, when the principals come together for an evening and discuss the meaning of life. Trust me, it isn't as boring as it sounds; this isn't My Dinner With Andre, it's a chance for gods and goddesses to make themselves known and for the world's mage to explain why the battle makes sense and what the purpose of their sacrifice is. This is an idealist's version of the Bhagadvagita and it explains many of the stranger moments in the first book.
The Mezantian Gate brings the story to a close by going back to before the first book. We see the politics and relationships that led to the war and in many ways resolve the political story that actually hasn't begun yet. This is the most political and "courtly" of the books and it's a wonderful chance for great character interactions.
Some people will try to tell you to read the books backwards, so you get the story in "chronological" order.
Nonsense and heresy.
The events of The Mezentian Gate don't work as well if you haven't yet read A Fish Dinner in Memison, A Fish Dinner... doesn't work as well if you don't know the characters as antagonists from Mistress of Mistresses, and A Fish Dinner... spoils too much of the character development in Mistress... by telling you why the universe needs the characters to develop as they do.
These aren't light fantasy, but they aren't nearly as heavy as some other, more popular, books. Give them a try. Read some of the text out loud to get a sense of the beauty of the language. Skip the framing chapters at the beginning of Mistress if they bother you (but go back and read them later; they will make sense then).
Get this omnibus edition with the forewards by Thomas and Winter if you can. They make the series a much more rewarding read....more
**spoiler alert** This review includes some spoilers.
Hawkes Harbor is in the "redemption tale" subgenre of vampire stories; unlike most, though, we ha**spoiler alert** This review includes some spoilers.
Hawkes Harbor is in the "redemption tale" subgenre of vampire stories; unlike most, though, we have multiple characters needing different kinds of redemption.
We follow our protagonist, Jamie Sommers, from age six to the grave. The book is structured in 4 intercut timeframes:
1. Jamie in his late 30s during a stay in an insane asylum. Narrated by his psychiatrist.
2. Jamie as a young man working his way around the world as a sailor, smuggler, and general adventurer in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s. Told to the psychiatrist in Jamie's more lucid moments.
3. Jamie living at Hawkes Harbor, a remote old mansion in a remote New England town. It is here, while hiding out from the results of his last sea adventure--one both profitable and tragic--that Jamie experiences the shock and subsequent decline that leads to his placement in the asylem. Told to the psychiatrist.
4. Jamie's life after he is discharged from the asylum and returns to Hawkes Harbor--back to the mansion and employer which caused his breakdown.
Events in any one timeframe are not presented in chronological order, so it can be a bit dizzying to read at first. Second readings are rewarding.
The action concerns Jamie coming to terms with his morality and his concept of human versus supernatural. Raised in a Catholic orphanage from age 6, he clearly remembers the priest confiscating an expensive crucifix his mother had given him--his "promise of heaven"--as donations to the church. After this, his faith in spiritual redemption is weak.
As a young man, Jamie travels the world in the company of an unscrupulous, but steadfast, friend; throughout the book he slowly reveals to his therapist how severe some of his crimes (and their punishments) were.
When Jamie finally breaks with his friend's ways (but not with their friendship) and goes to hide in Hawkes Harbor he accidentally awakens Mr Hawkes, the vampire who founded the town two hundred years before. Hawkes takes control of Jamie and sets about returning to his mansion and integrating himself into modern life. As his servant, Jamie is forced to help Hawkes commit atrocities and to protect a monster from discovery.
In a straightforward horror story, the climax of the book would come when Mr Hawkes, begins work on a ritual of some unknown purpose while Jamie becomes caught up in the kidnapping of a young girl from town. Her boyfriend, the son of the sherrif, is convinced Jamie has taken her. These events are destined, in any horror story, to clash in some way disasterous to the hero.
But the book is interested in what follows, Jamie's slow and painful recovery from the physical and psychological trauma that results, Mr Hawkes' and his doctor-accomplice's reactions to Jamie's return. Jamie and the doctor work to redeem Hawkes, Hawkes and the doctor have very different ideas on how to take care of Jamie, and the doctor's own villany slowly dawns on her.
The real climax of the book occurs when Jamie, Hawkes, and the doctor finally bring their tensions to a head.
The book returns to Jamie's lost promise of heaven and the fate of his sailor friend. The real story is the redemption--or lack of it--that Jamie, Hawkes, and the doctor can find for themselves and one another.
It's also a great read. Well worth re-reading, too. Five stars for the subtle and believable changes in the relationship between Jamie and Hawkes and how their individual morals change. The last bit of the last star is for not everyone getting everything they want and not everyone growing the same amount. Redemption isn't the same to all people. ...more
By far one of the best in the (25+ book) series. It's not the funniest and it isn't the zaniest, but it shows Discworld and Pratchett mixing humor andBy far one of the best in the (25+ book) series. It's not the funniest and it isn't the zaniest, but it shows Discworld and Pratchett mixing humor and insight in beautiful ways.
The book cam be summed-up in its four most powerful words: "Old gods, new jobs."
We've heard about the Hogfather throughout the series--he's a Santa-like character who comes and visits during midwinter for children to appreciate. Someone wants him dead and Death gets involved trying to keep things together.
Along the way we get the expected Death behavior--equal parts sardonic observation and broad slapstick--and the wonderful interactions of our Usual Gang of Suspects, but the story builds to a reminder that our civilised rituals come from somewhere. And that the figures we see today used to be very different. Anyone messing with the happy, present-bringing Hogfather should remember the dark midwinter rituals that created him.
Death has been around a while. He knows what's happening. As always in Discworld, watch Death. He isn't the fool he pretends to be.
Discworld always has a lot to say about human nature. Hogfather is one of the few that focus on the "what we believe" aspect, as opposed to "what we do" Small Gods and the less-effective Pyramids are the other two in the "gods trilogy"; Night Watch joins their company now. ...more
This series is somewhat infamous: it's widely regarded as brilliant (which it is), it's widely considered depressing (which it can be), the hero is ofThis series is somewhat infamous: it's widely regarded as brilliant (which it is), it's widely considered depressing (which it can be), the hero is often unappealing (which is the point), and many find the trilogy at least 25% too long (which is true). Plus, the follow-on trilogy tells almost the same story with almost the same point to it.
So, what's the fuss about?
Covenant isn't "Tolkien with the serial numbers filed off." That it holds together with a complete fantasy story in a clear, magical fantasy world and you never once want to compare it to Middle Earth is a good enough start to recommend reading it. Covenant is a fantasy The Stranger, taking a disaffected character who denies all responsibility in his life and feels completely disconnected from the world around him and giving him the power of life and death.
The character Thomas Covenant is definitely unappealing. I put the book down and had to restart it 3 times after a scene in the first book where he--refusing to believe that the woman he was with was anything other than a dream--committed a rape. The morality of how you treat not-real people is a regular theme of Donaldson's and this is his first and harshest demonstration of the subject. It's not easy to read and it's not easy to go on with a protagonist like that.
Watching him slowly learn guilt, remorse, and repentence takes the next two-and-a-half books. As many people comment, that portion of the story is a downer.
Alongside the moral tale we have the fantasy epic: a modern American man returning to a fantasy world (The Land) several times seeing the consequences of his involvement in their epic battle against their own satan-figure: Lord Foul, who wants to break the Arch of the World and release himself into our universes.
Everyone in The Land believes that Covenant is the "White Gold Wielder" who carries power strong enough to break the arch or to stop Foul. This sets up the fantasy/action story, where the people of The Land try to convince Covenant to learn to use his powers and to use them for the greater good and Foul tries to get the power.
Since Covenant only visits The Land when he's suffered a head injury or some other strange type of sleep, he believes The Land is a fantasy of his own imagination.
The people in The Land don't understand why he doesn't believe in them, but they do see how broken he himself is and realize that he won't be able to help them unless he heals from his personal traumas and builds some positive self-concept.
It's a strange twist on the "apprentice who just needs confidence" trope and his mistakes during the early period are all the more appalling because he doesn't feel guilty.
Throughout the book, there is not one scene in The Land that doesn't include Covenant. At the end, we are left with no proof one way or another that The Land is a real alternate world where Covenant travelled. Perhaps his Unbelief at the beginning was correct. The existential element of the story asks why we care which is real; he does what he does and the morality comes from his making the choices.
That's heady stuff for a lightning-bolt-slinging fantasy series and it's not for everyone. It isn't modern "dark fantasy" with supposed anti-heroes who are just ashamed of being good at heart, it's real fantasy where the character development is on as epic a scale as the good-vs-evil plot.
This isn't bus reading and no book is right for everyone, but it's an audacious and brilliant series that flexes fantasy's power to drive character. It's also a fun read with the single scariest magical nasties in the genre (the Reavers).
The second series? It's different on the moral tale while following the same general plot arc, showing how the character involved changes the story. Not worth reading for everyone, but worth a shot if you like the first or if you are interested in the structure of fiction....more