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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pegasus by Robin McKinley ‘…and they were haloed in all thee colours of thee rainbow.’


A McKinley fan from way back, I’m unsure as to whether I enjoyed Pegasus because I’m a fan or for the story. It could simply be that I realize that I have to wait for the next book to be published and I am in no mood to leave this place.
All the right ingredients are here but things seemed a little wordy to begin.
We have a story filled with feisty and believable heroes, a Magician’s Guild with dastardly mages like Fthoom, ‘whose eyes glittered-like jewels in sunlight, not like human eyes at all’, pegi shamans; indeed a myriad of aspects colliding in the mystery of time and happenstance, of tradition and what is and what could be. Towards the end of the book I had more questions than at the beginning. I found myself fearful of what the future holds for this amazing world—what wicked plots. It seems an unnamed dread overshadows the pegi-human alliance, possibly its very survival. Overtones point to Fthoom as a key player here.
The cross cultural relationships between Pegasus and human, between Princess Sylviianel and Ebon are the stuff of fabulous fantasy whilst reflecting very human interactions. I was always sure Sylvi and Ebon were going to be caught practicing their flying. This would have been a major incident and breach of Alliance protocol.
The story brings into focus many questions. Why can Sylvi and Ebon communicate more than others with Pegasus-human bindings? What is it about the magic of the human magicians? The mystical caves where the pegi sculpt their story appear to be at the heart of the of the pegi culture and hold importance for the world in general. The caves impact leaves the reader as confused and overwhelmed as Sylvi.
Again I admit to being a tad disgruntled about Pegasus and I can’t clarify why. Maybe because it didn’t end with one book, maybe I just don’t like having to wait to continue the adventure.
(Should I be like one acquaintance who doesn’t start to read a series until the whole series has been published—in the case of Jordan’s, Wheel’s of Time series that would have been a very long wait! I first started reading the Eye of the World in 1990. I finally gave up because I couldn’t take it anymore. Interestingly I don’t feel like that about Steven Erikson’s Malazan’s series).
McKinley has created a vivid world. I enjoyed my time here even though this is not the best McKinley novel I’ve ever read (certainly Deerskin and Sunshine are up there at the top of that list). The words Sylvie read about the pegi from the first contact group give voice to their beauty and presence, imparted to us as reader.
They are a little like horses, but yet far more fine than any horse, even a queen’s palfrey: they are a little like deer, except deer are rough and clumsy beside them; and their wings are huge, huger than an eagles’, and when thee lowering sunne struck through their primaries, for as they cantered towards us they left their wings unfurled, thee light was broken as if by prisms, and they were haloed in all thee colours of thee rainbow.’

Monday, March 21, 2011

Serpent in the Thorns by Jeri Westerson

'announce me to you master...the name is Crispin Guest'

Murder and courtly intrigue recalling the people involved in the Tracker’s fall from grace are woven into Book 2 of the Crispin Guest novels including Lancaster, the Abbot of Westminster Abbey, and of course Richard.
As a character, Guest has developed further in Westerson’s second novel. He’s rounding out, has substance and feels like an old friend. He’s still being beaten up by the Sheriff, still stiff with pride about being a knight and the inherent differences in class in 14th Century England, and still quoting Socrates.


We glimpse his unbroken ideals when he talks about his philosophy about life to Liveth. She asks him,
‘Why not become an outlaw on the highways? Other knights struck by poverty take to it readily enough.’
Eventually Crispin replies that life is more than climbing out of poverty,
‘…men need a challenge. They need to feel useful, that they fill an important place in the world.’  (p.108)
The Tracker’s London is as ever, a dangerous sewer pit-–the reeking streets, the polluted Thames, the ragged beggars, occasionally overlaid by descriptions of early morning crispness. All leap off the page and assault the reader’s senses.

Once again there’s a religious relic involved. Once again Crispin is determined such things are nonsense. But...!
Jack’s encounter with the relic and reaction to it is a gem of delight. Here again a character under growth in situ and I am becoming more attached to him–-as is Guest (behind the grumpy exterior)

The tracker’s confrontation with the King Richard is reminiscent of Matthew Shardlake’s with King Henry VIII in C.J.Sansom’s novel Sovereign.
Again honor over expediency. But we love him for it. The Tracker reminds me of the Clint Eastwood anti-heroes. But then Westerson says that Guest is based on Sam Spade a definitive anti-hero!
I am certainly well pleased with the Serpent. The novel is rollicking good fun and Crispin Guest is a hero to enjoy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

ramblings across readings of renown

So I've just reread Veil of Lies (thank you local library) by Jeri Westerson as a prelude to reading her latest novelThe Demon's Parchment. This has been burning a hole in my Kindle pocket since I bought it before Christmas - as a re a couple of titles. Now to reread Serpent in the Thorns and then start on my Westerson's latest title! Yay!

Oh! I did divert by way of Robin McKinley's new title Pegasus, and then of course had to reread The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.

And somewhere in between all that I reread Georgette Heyer's, Devil's Cub (I cut my reading teeth on Georgette Heyer, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Mills & Boon, Barbara Cartland and my mother's True Romance comics, or rather in today speak, 'graphic' novels')

Oops! I did digress to Never After that contains 4 short stories by Lauell K. Hamilton, Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie M. Liu and Sharon Shinn. I had this title on hold at the library as I can't afford to be buying books for my kindle as much as I want to-although I am tempted to 1-click all over the place.

Yes, as a child I lived opposite a library. Wow! Was that ever a major happen stance that pointed me towards a lifelong love dedication for the worlds and realms that could be discovered, entered into, even fled to, as I grew up. That love of reading, couple with the fact that my Great Aunt was the Teacher Librarian (one of the first such in the State of Victoria, Australia) probably led me towards my career as a Teacher Librarian and various off shoots from that profession.

But I haven't mentioned that my great love for the past 40 years has been Science Fiction & Fantasy. Ever since a college assignment during my librarianship training, which was to compile a bibliography for primary (elementary) and secondary school students on a subject of our choice.
I chose Science Fiction & Fantasy and used Space Age Books - early 70's, in Swanston Street, Melbourne, Australia (of Lee Harding fame) to source my list - not much available in the Primary area then-but I met (on paper) Robert A. Heinlein & Andre Norton.
After that I followed women writers in this area ('cause it was the days of Women's Electoral Lobby--WEL, Germaine Greer etc.) like Ursula LeGuin, Vonda N. McIntyre, C.J. Cherryh, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Sherri Tepper, Elizabeth Moon, Janny Wurts, Tanya Huff, Mercedes Lackey and Lois McMaster Bujold. Mind you I have my favorite titles from these authors. For example, I do love Raymond Feist & Janny Wurts', Empire Trilogy.
Women striding out in a male dominated domain. Yes, when I close my eyes I am 6 feet tall, athletic and able to bound across mountain tops in a single stride. In reality I am 5'2" and tending towards a well rounded figure that takes small steps due to ice and snow found in the North American landscape.

Really as a fairly eclectic reader I am open to many genres.

Although I must say that my discovery of Steven Erikson a few years ago when I was working as a buyer for a major wholesale book company was another of those heart stopping moments. What a writer! I felt like I was embarking on an epic journey of Iliad & Odyssey proportions when I fell into his Garden of the Moons (paperback) and the Malazan Empire. The breadth, richness and complexity of this world he has birthed is truly amazing. Mind you, I took one look at his background in archaeology and anthropology, coupled with years in the UK and went Ah Ha!! ...coupled with his enormous vision and talent! Wow!
I have lately purchased the Kindle edition of Moons (it was on sale) and have been following the discussion at tor.com ... and now they have started a reread of Memories of Ice! Yikes!

Meanwhile, back at Jeri Westerson and Crispin Guest....The Tracker. I do love Crispin's soliloquies as he back and forths between now being one of the common people and in his heart of hearts holding to the fact that he is a Knight. Albeit a knight stripped of title, lands, and betrothed due to treason. He ill advisedly joined a movement to place his mentor and Lord, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, on the throne rather than the boy king Richard, in 14th Century England.
Now he frequents thieves dens and dubious ale houses in the underbelly of a truly dank and dreadful London, with his trusty but unwanted servant boy Jack who sticks to Crispin like a burr. Here he barely makes a living, pitting his wit and knife (no sword now) in such endeavors that may earn a very minimal living as 'The Tracker'-- investigator for hire.
Westerson likens Crispin Guest and her Medieval Noir to the Sam Spade of medieval London at ' a period rife with intrigue, codes of honor, mysterious doings and dim, shadowy light.' (Veil of Lies- Afterwards)
... and Crispin does have that hard boiled honourable edge, coating the occasional softness inside. In this chapter of his life he is hired to track the wherefores of a young wife (Philippa Walcote), has to solve two murders, gets caught up in courtly and international intrigue, physically beaten by the Sheriff at almost every encounter, pursued by foreign thugs (of the Mafia disposition) with a Saracen thrown in for good measure, and falls in love, all the while tracking an obscure, mystical and dangerous religious artifact. The Mandyllon, the face cloth of Christ that in Westerson's fiction forces those in it's presence to only ever tell the truth, to reveal their 'true image' their 'true self.'
A fascinating and fulfilling contribution to the Medieval Mystery genre. I am looking forward to my reread of Serpent in the Thorns.