One of the things I love most about Guy Gavriel Kay is that the fantasy he writes, while being unambiguously categorizable as such, deals with themesOne of the things I love most about Guy Gavriel Kay is that the fantasy he writes, while being unambiguously categorizable as such, deals with themes that are not fantastical at all; in fact, the thematics of his novels are as human, bare-bones and philosophically and morally important as they get. In the case of Under Heaven, noticeable themes are the rippling effect that deeds can have, the makeability of history (and with that, the concept that history is written by victors), and the notion that all lives branch off in diffuse, unpredicted ways while simultaneously all being interconnected. There is also some exploration of the nature of power (as there tends to be in GGK's novels), the foundations upon which power is built and how those can crumble, the justification behind the acts of the powerful, and crucially the precarious position of women behind men in power (in a very male-dominated fantasy world), and how they wield what measure of power they can obtain.
Another thing I like is that while this is historical fantasy, it leans more towards the first than the latter in that the fantastical elements are not as overt as wand-waving and spell-casting, apart from a few nomadic rituals, but are rather found in the ideas and religion and superstitions of the people of this fantasy world, more covert than is usually the case in fantasy. So while there are a few supernatural events in the novel, for the most part it is simply about people and their actions and those actions' (largely unforseeable and uncontrollable) consequences.
The story in terms of plot is about Shen Tai, a general's son from the empire of Kitai, burdoned by the moral burdens his father shouldered after a disastrous military campaign, which leads him to do penance in his father's memory by attempting to bury what bodies he can during his two-year mourning period at the site of said campaign, Kuala Nor. As a reward, the emperor and Kitai-born empress of the enemy nation they fought at Kuala Nor decide to gift him 250 of their country's legendary, coveted horses - a prize any man in Kitai would die - or kill - for, putting Shen Tai in the most dangerous predicament of his life. As the nation and Shen Tai's whole world fall into chaos shortly after, he has to make sense of and navigate the treacherous and continuously changing waters of a corrupt and frightened court in need of just those remarkable horses to control a massive empire in the face of rebellion, while knowing that at least one of the courtiers there has made multiple attempts on his life already. The court also contains his estranged brother, who sold their sister into what amounts to little short of slavery during Tai's absence, and the woman he once loved but will never be his....more
In some ways Tigana reminds me of the Lord of the Rings, in some of the themes, the struggle against aOne of the best books I've read in a long time.
In some ways Tigana reminds me of the Lord of the Rings, in some of the themes, the struggle against a foreign, magic power with horrible deads to its name, and mostly in the shape of a young, lost, wandering prince on a quest to return to a fallen home - Alessar reminds me so of Aragorn, sometimes. There is something in his quest to set things right that is like him. But in other ways, Tigana does a lot of things better than the Lord of the Rings - and coming from a massive Tolkien fan such as myself, that's saying something.
In the world of Tigana, nothing is black and white. The evil man loves, perhaps more truly than any other character in the book; in fact, his love and his pain after loss are what lead him to his evil, and even after all he's done, he never reads as irredeemable. There are many, many moments in this novel where, while reading, you know which course would be the best one for the whole of the realm, for the millions of innocent people affected by these events, and yet, in spite of all that, you wish it could be different. And knowing there is incredible, terrible goodness in this man, makes one feel all the more ambivalent about the hero's quest.
And this hero is not a fairytale prince either. He is a hero who forces his will onto those around him more than once, and who learns the hard way what a terrible price he asks his companions to pay. He does inspire an unfailing brand of loyalty, but Kay never lets the reader think for a second that this man is anything more than very, very fallible - and better yet, Alessar himself knows it too. The characters in this novel, all of them, are heartbreakingly real; they are so very fierce in their emotions, their affections, their vengeance...
So many times in this novel I found myself nearly weeping as young Devin (the main point of view character, though far from the only one) grew up some more, was brought face to face with the ugliest, most beautiful, and most inexplicable aspects of life, and I felt every realisation, every development, with him - with all of the characters. Because what Kay does, better than almost any fantasy author I know, is make you feel like you know these people, and he makes you love all of them, at least a little bit, each and every one, and some of them so much that whenever something terrible or wonderful happened to them, my heart could have burst.
The motivations behind the actions in this book are so true, so believable, simply because they are small, centre, core-like things at the heart of the fabric of the world; the grief of a father for a lost son, the terrible duality of goals at the heart of the evil man's lover - her affections for him on the one hand, her loyalty and grief for her country on the other... The hurt of a people adrift, torn from their home... And all of these little rituals too, these little acts of courage; these signs between friends, these little tokens of bonds underlying everything, Alessar's third glass of blue wine, Erlein's voluntary, selfless act in Senzio, such humanity.
I love how Kay takes many of the themes of a traditional epic fantasy novel, of loss, of hope, of a people scattered and leaderless, of great men burdened by the heavy weights of their positions... He takes the fabric of an amazing story, and yet never lets himself fall into tropes, into predictability, into what has been done and over-done before. For example, there is magic in the world of Tigana, several different yet related types of it, in fact, and it plays a massive part in the final throes of the plot, but it never overtakes the sense that this story is ultimately, first and foremost, about people, real and raw, and their actions and consequences.
Another thing Kay does very well is link everyone up; he never forgets about the people he's killed, or the people his characters have left behind. As you are reading, even though you don't see the full tapestry yet, you feel a sense of something larger, a certain measure of fate or providence guiding events in the novel in heartbreaking ways, people meeting and parting and remembering, most of all remembering, as we all do. Lord of the Rings has true evil, black as night; Tigana has humane evil, real evil, and is all the more compelling and heartwrenching for it. But also real love, real loyalty, real beauty and hope so fierce.
So, in the end, I suppose it would be wrong to compare them; Lord of the Rings reads like a fantasy, an incredible, astonishing fantasy, but Tigana reads as something real. I loved this book, so much.
(After everything, I must also mention Kay's prose; it is lyrical to an astonishing degree, but not too much so; in its rhythm, its descriptive power, it retains all throughout a measure of truth, a clarity and an insight and a clear-cut way of feeding the reader just enough for them to feel exactly what Kay wants you to feel; excited, enthralled, light at heart, emboldened, powerfully proud to be human, torturingly melancholy too many times to count. He stays within the bounds of how much the progression of his plot allows him to lyricise and elaborate, but contained within those bounds, there are such glorious peals of observations about everything, about what it means to be human, about this horrible, inevitable, beautiful life. He can create mystery and wonder with words that are blade sharp; with sentences that are full of sad and terrible honesty. Brilliant.)...more
I read the original Sevenwaters Trilogy (#1 Daughter of the Forest, #2 Son of the Shadows, #3 Child of the Prophecy) when I was around fourteen, and II read the original Sevenwaters Trilogy (#1 Daughter of the Forest, #2 Son of the Shadows, #3 Child of the Prophecy) when I was around fourteen, and I remember loving all of the books - especially the first two, and number two was my absolute favourite. I then proceeded to read and love everything Ms. Marillier has ever written (WIldwood Dancing, especially, took a place in my heart). And then I found out, end of last year, she'd written more.
Naturally, I went out and bought Heir and Seer as well. I read this 4th book in the trilogy in two days, catching a few pages here and there whenever I had a moment of free time, and staying up at night because I couldn't put it down. The story is about Clodagh, one of the daughters of Sean, Lord of Sevenwaters (whom readers of the original trilogy will remember as Liadan's brother). She is one of six sisters, and when her mother finally gives birth to a son, an heir, he gets taken by the faery realm and replaced with a changeling - one whom only Clodagh can see.
She takes it upon herself to care for him, travel to the Other World and change the two babies back, with the most unlikely of companions; Cathal, the incredibly uncanny warrior come to Sevenwaters with her nephew, whom she can sense has so much more hiding beneath the surface which he won't show. He both unnerves her and frustrates her, annoys her and gives her courage. They're an unlikely couple - but then aren't we all. ;)
I loved the story to a crazy extent - I think it's taking up third place in my mental ranking of the Sevenwaters books, after Daughter and Son, but before Child. Clodagh is a remarkable heroine, with no great skills other than her knack for compassion and understanding - but perhaps that's just what is needed the most on a quest such as hers. Cathal grabbed hold of me from the get-go, and I was rooting for the two of them all along - let me just say Ms. Marillier does not disappoint on that front. All in all, this is an extremely worthy addition to the series. ...more
Sometimes you have these books which are firmly established in the Fantasy Hall of Fame and when you read them, you don'So good. So good. So, so good.
Sometimes you have these books which are firmly established in the Fantasy Hall of Fame and when you read them, you don't get why they're there? This is not one of those books. This is one of those books where, when you finally read it, you wonder why you didn't do it sooner because my god, it is good. The writing sucks you in like nothing else; it's not a long book, granted, but I ripped through its 300 pages in roughly five hours of continuous reading.
Ender's Game, essentially, for those living under a fantasy-novel-less rock, is about a kid, Ender, who is brilliant and is trained and pushed to his very limits by the army to prepare him for a coming alien war. So essentially, it's a book about smart, lonely, pressurized kids - which is the kind of book I love, because I used to be one of those for a great portion of my childhood. Not to the extent of Ender, of course, but still; I really appreciate books which feature smart children and which don't dismiss children's thoughts or emotions or mental capacities as somehow insufficiently meaningful.
To reveal more about the plot would be to do anyone who hasn't read the book a disservice, so I won't; all I'll say is that it's absolutely brilliant. It's one of those books where, when you finish it, you remain frozen in your chair for a couple of minutes, thoughts running rampant through your head, just awestruck at the brilliance of it. Those of you who have read it know what I'm talking about. I'm not usually a science fiction person (I prefer fantasy), but I loved-capital-L-loved this book and I'd recommend it to everyone who wants to be drawn in to a tale both sad and hopeful, thoughtful and brilliant.
So. Being an avid reader, one of the first things I did upon visiting a new friend of mine at her house for the first time, was spy through her bookcaSo. Being an avid reader, one of the first things I did upon visiting a new friend of mine at her house for the first time, was spy through her bookcase. I saw some Jim Butcher, recalled that Patrick Rothfuss (author of The Name of the Wind and one of my favourites) recommends him a lot on his blog, asked my friend if I could borrow those Butcher books...
And before I knew it I'd torn through the first one in literally two days. And then the second, third... As a rule, in fantasy, when a story makes you want to willingly put everything aside and rip through literally thousands of pages in a mere week or so, you know it's good. And because it's so good, this review will have no spoilers. Because I'm not here to tell you what happens in the story - I'm here to make you want to read it yourself.
In a nutshell, we are in a fantasy realm called Alera, modelled (in terms of politics and military matters, for the most part) quite strongly on the Roman Empire, which is populated by elemental spirits called furies (among other things, such as a savage dog-breed perhaps most easily imagined by thinking of Anubis, soul-eating spiders, and what have you). Typically, these furies connect with a human at a certain age, allowing people to perform a type of magic. Our protagonist, Tavi, has no such connections.
This casts him as the underdog of the story. However, he more than makes up for the disadvantage with intelligence, tenacity, undeniable courage and a good heart. In this first part of the series, Tavi, his uncle, and his aunt present one side of the main cast. Another is Amara, a young girl working in the ranks of an order of exclusive royal spies, fighting to prevent her King from being overthrown, an event which would cast the whole of the realm into civil war.
That's all I'll say as to the plot. The characters are amazingly well-crafted, well-rounded with proper motivations and an individuality which can be rare to find, even the bad guys. Jim Butcher is a master at plot twists, but perhaps more importantly, at plot inklings - those little glimpses of an overarching structure and mystery that a truly masterful storyteller will show you along the way, which turn into suspicions in your head and keep you so freaking hooked that you simply can't tear yourself away from what he's saying.
If you want to read some proper fantasy, pick this up. You'll never regret it....more