Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme is “Ten Characters You Just Didn’t Click With” and actually, I’m having a bit of trouble thinking of it. Okay, here goes…

  1. Jill Pole and Prince Rillian from The Silver ChairActually, most of the characters in the last two books. They just didn’t have the magic, somehow.
  2. Prince Sameth, Lirael AbhorsenCompared to their mother, both him and Ellimere are just weak tea. He spends so much time denying his responsibilities, where his mother just took it all on and never dreamed of saying no. In a way, it’s a more realistic characterisation, but gah, so much whining.
  3. Elvira, from Half a Crown. I love most of Jo Walton’s characters, but Elvira’s concerns seemed so far away from the concerns of the more mature characters we’ve already spent time with.
  4. Boromir, from The Lord of the Rings. I know he’s actually a good guy at heart, and we see the evil power of the Ring twisting him, but there was something so glory-seeking and self-centered about the guy, especially when compared to Faramir.
  5. Malta Vestrit, from The Liveship Traders trilogy. Ohh my god, so spoilt. And it doesn’t really get better even as she begins to grow up; I never liked her. Mind you, a lot of the characters in this trilogy were very dislikeable, to me.
  6. Miriamele, from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Speaking of spoilt characters…
  7. Jaelle, from The Summer Tree. I never felt like I really understood the character, and I wanted more out of her.
  8. Katsa, from GracelingI know! She’s pretty kickass, but I never really connected with the character. It’s why I didn’t like it that much the first time I tried it.
  9. Lancelot, in anything. Almost the sole exception is Heather Dale’s music and parts of Steinbeck’s retelling of Malory.
  10. Dorian Havilliard, Throne of Glass. Actually, I didn’t really ‘get’ either love interest in the first book, but Chaol is growing on me. Dorian… there are some aspects I’m liking, but in the first book, he really didn’t win me over.

I tried to pick books I liked, in general, and characters who are not meant to be villains. I’ll be interested to see what other takes people have on this theme!

Review – The Buried Giant

Cover of The Buried Giant by Kazuo IshiguroThe Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro

I was so eager to read this one, because I love Ishiguro’s writing and I love Sir Gawain, who I knew appears in this book. He’s not actually the main character (but then, he rarely is), but he is an essential part of the story, which unfolds steadily as you read. There’s a fog drifting across the memories of both Saxons and Britons, keeping them from remembering events both recent and further away; this same fog clouds the memories of an elderly man and his wife, who set out to find their son.

It’s quite a mysterious story, because of that fogginess; things get revealed slowly, things come together piece by piece. I think people who gave up on it, while justified if they weren’t enjoying it, can’t really grasp how this all comes together. There is a point to all of the little conflicts, all the repeated conversations, all the interactions. It ends as a meditation on death, memory, relationships… and to me, it was touching.

I enjoy Ishiguro’s style, and continued to do so here. I don’t really have a quibble with the pacing, because though it lost other people, it seems to work for me. But I can’t get behind this version of Sir Gawain… He’s not too bad in the end, and yet one or two things he does… nope. Not my Gawain.

Rating: 4/5

Review – The Darkest Road

Cover of The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel KayThe Darkest Road, Guy Gavriel Kay
Originally reviewed 26th January, 2012

No matter how many times I read them, these books still make me cry, and more, they still have me reading late into the night, breathless and stunned. I know what’s going to happen, but that doesn’t take any of the poignancy out of it. Of the three books, this is the strongest: the best prose, the best action, the best images, the best in all the characters. He draws everything together do well, and puts the readers’ hearts through a blender without caring how much they’re undoubtedly cursing him.

(I seem to recall calling him a ‘magnificent, glorious bastard’ the last time I read it, and my other half agrees. No one can accuse Kay of being too gentle with his characters. He’s one of the few writers who can be ruthless. Tolkien’s work, dark as it can be, holds back from killing off the characters we love, and thus makes them less mortal, less fragile, and less dear.)

I still think that Kay sucks at building romance stories up. I believe in the established love of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere — and fresh from reading The Mists of Avalon, I find myself thinking that Kay wasn’t simply talking of loyalty to a lord when he wrote of Lancelot’s love for Arthur — and in that of Sharra and Diarmuid. Kim and Dave, Jaelle and Paul, though…

I’m pretty sure I’ll return to these books again, and find the same shining delight again.

Rating: 5/5

Review – The Wandering Fire

Cover of The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel KayThe Wandering Fire, Guy Gavriel Kay
Put together from reviews written in 2010 and 2012

By this point in reading the trilogy, you’ve probably decided whether you can bear with Guy Gavriel Kay’s style or not — whether you can be invested in his characters or not. If the answer is yes, then carry on: he won’t disappoint you. If not, then… I don’t think he will get your attention at all.

The second book of the Fionavar Tapestry feels by far the shortest, to me. That isn’t to say not much happens — a lot does happen, so much that it makes my head spin a little but it mostly seems to happen at the end: for the characters and for the plot, this is a time of waiting, of things coming together. If you’re invested in the characters, though, there’s plenty to worry about: Kim’s dilemmas, whether she has a right to do what she’s doing; Paul’s separation from humanity; and Kevin’s initial helplessness, and then his journey to the Goddess… And there’s Arthur, of course, and the Wild Hunt, and Darien…

The Wandering Fire really introduces the Arthurian thread, which is the newest thing. It’s been hinted at and set up already in The Summer Tree, but it’s in The Wandering Fire that that’s finally articulated. I’m interested as to how much Guy Gavriel Kay has drawn on existing Arthurian legend and how much he has built himself. I haven’t read anything about Arthur being punished over and over again — he’s generally portrayed as fairly virtuous — and I’ve never read anything about Lancelot raising the dead. I do like the way the legend is constructed here — differences to the usual main themes and stories, but using them and showing that the stories we have are supposed to be reflections and echoes of this ‘reality’.

I love the fact that the gods aren’t supposed to act and there are penalties for this… and actually more of the lore about the gods in this world, like Dana working in threes and her gifts being two-edged swords.

The death in this book makes me cry… not the actual death, at least not until the very last line of that section, but the reactions, and particularly Paul’s. This isn’t really surprising, but it highlights once again how much these books make me care.

It’s amazing to me how much I can love almost every word of this book and yet find a small scene was horribly jarring — it’s the same in The Summer Tree, just one scene sticks in my throat and won’t go down. It’s the scene with Kim and Loren, at Maidaladan. It just doesn’t make sense. There’s no build to it. I always thought she should go to Aileron instead… now there’s a build-up that makes at least some sense.

Nonetheless, wow. This book breaks me more every time.

Rating: 5/5

Review – Named of the Dragon

Cover of Named of the Dragon by Susanna KearsleyNamed of the Dragon, Susanna Kearsley

Silly story: when I finished The Winter Sea, I thought, darn, I really want a story by Kearsley that is set in Wales, in that landscape, which I love and feel part of. Because she does a great job with landscape, with the feelings it can invoke, but Scotland or Cornwall aren’t my landscapes.

Then I remembered I had already got a couple of chapters into Named of the Dragon. Suffice it to say that the landscape was satisfactory, and I would probably have felt homesick had I read this when not in Wales. Particularly at the bit with the lovely little chapel, St Govan’s — I’ve meant to go there for a while, because of the Gawain link, and this reminded me.

I’m not sure why I stopped at that point, before; while I adore the Welsh and Arthurian aspects of this book, it might have been the characters that didn’t work for me. Mostly the supporting characters: Elen, with her Arthurian fantasy; Bridget, with her flirtations and lack of remorse over basically planning to cheat on her partner; Christopher, with the general veneer of charm that lacked the warmth of (I couldn’t help but make the comparison) Stuart in The Winter Sea. I enjoy Kearsley’s books, but sometimes the supernatural links are too tenuous for me, or rather, too tenuously explained, too tangential to the actual emotional plot.

Because really, it doesn’t matter if Elen and her baby are really somehow related to Igraine and Arthur. What matters is the main character’s gradual acceptance of her own child’s death, her ability to finally put it aside and belong in the present, and help someone else. It doesn’t matter if Gareth and Lyn are somehow linked back to Gareth and Lynette, because their relationship is all their own anyway (and let’s face it, Lyn’s not half as nasty as Lynette, and this Gareth is at least twice as nasty as Fairhands).

I was glad that the romance wasn’t laid on too thick, here. There’s hope, potential, but nothing certain. If the book had been longer, more would have been okay, but for the length and where the story stopped, it was right to stop at that moment of potential.

Rating: 3/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m going to borrow an idea that came to me via Guy Gavriel Kay:

“My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ … the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.”

So here’s my ten… Consider this an order if I am ever found with amnesia!

  1. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Well duh.
  2. The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. I’m curious as to how I’d feel about The Furthest Shore and Tehanu, reading them for the first time as an adult — originally I read them when I was quite young.
  3. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay. I was torn between this and Tigana, but this was my first experience of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, and I’d love to come to it fresh. Especially because it’s so influenced by prior fantasy.
  4. Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, all of the Peter Wimsey books really.
  5. Anything non-Arthurian by Mary Stewart. I’m not such a fan of her Arthurian books, but her other books are pure comfort to me. I might need that, if I’ve lost my memory!
  6. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Lord of the Rings, obviously.
  7. Among Others, Jo Walton. My first book by Walton was actually Farthing, but that’s less personal. It’d be interesting how much Among Others would resonate with me if I didn’t have the memories I do. (Mind you, neuroscience probably supports the idea that I’d still feel a sense of recognition, even without conscious memory.)
  8. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. An absolute must — I can’t go without knowing the opening and closing lines.
  9. Something by Patricia McKillip. Just don’t start me on Winter Rose unless you’re willing to take notes about my experience, compare them to my old reviews, and publish a study on unconscious memories of reading in amnesiacs.
  10. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Obviously a whole course of Arthurian literature would be essential — you could start by giving me my own essays on Guinevere and Gawain — including Steinbeck’s unfinished work. But this would make a good starting point, and you could check if I retained my knowledge of Middle English too.

Now I almost want that to happen, so I can study the neuroscience of reading and memory from within! It’d also be interesting to see how I reacted to the Harry Potter books if I couldn’t remember a) reading them as a child and b) the hype surrounding them. And —

Yeah, I’ll stop. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people have gone with this week!

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is ‘Top Ten Things I Like/Dislike When It Comes To Romances In Books’.

Top Five I Like:

  1. Intensity. I like to see some give and take. The ability to say ‘you’re wrong’, yell at someone, and still have them respect you.
  2. Communication. Talk. To. Them. (The flipside, miscommunication, tends to really embarrass me — I’m easy to embarrass.)
  3. Forbidden love. Actually, this has to be done right, but I spent most of my academic study on Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde. Rosalind Miles’ take on both failed for me, but Steinbeck did Lancelot and Guinevere in a lovely way, and I’ve played with both stories in my own writing.
  4. “I see who you really are.” The classic is, of course, Beauty and the Beast.
  5. Equal partnership. Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle might not be the most popular couple in the Arthurian canon, but they’re my favourite by far. Challenged to tell another knight what women want most or be killed, Arthur flounders. A really ugly woman comes to court and says she will give the answer — if Sir Gawain marries her. He says yes, of course, and she gives the answer that saves Arthur’s life: “sovereignty”, the power to choose for oneself, is what women most want. So the wedding goes ahead, but on their wedding night, Ragnelle turns out to be a beautiful young maiden. She asks Gawain whether he would rather she be a beautiful woman in the daytime, when everyone can see her, or at night, when only he can. He lets her choose — which breaks the whole spell she’s under, because he has given her “sovereynté”. It’s maybe the most equal partnership in Arthurian literature, because it’s not from courtly literature where a knight is supposed to worship his lady, and yet it still gives power to the female partner, and shows him respecting her.

Top Five I Dislike: 

  1. “You are a precious little flower and I will protect you.” Enough said.
  2. Stalking = love. Just say no.
  3. Keeping secrets. I guess that’s often related to #1, but yeesh, come on, be honest. (Circumvented if this has consequences, though. Like in The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.)
  4. Insta-love. Still needs saying, apparently. Which is actually where people fall down for me even if the things I mentioned above are alright!
  5. “I’m too low/high in station to marry you.” This can be played well (come on, I like Jane Eyre), but after a certain era, the class implications become too awful.

And if you’re really curious, you can read ‘The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle’ for yourselves here; someday I will both translate the original into modern English, and write my own novel based on it, if I get all my dreams.

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want To Visit (whether fictional or real)”. I suspect we’re going to see a fair amount of agreement on this one? I’m betting there’ll be plenty of “Hogwarts”, “Middle-earth”, etc.

  1. Middle-earth (The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien) — imaginary. I didn’t say I was exempt from that.
  2. Tywyn (The Grey King, by Susan Cooper) — real. And Cadair Idris, and… everywhere else that Will and Bran visit.
  3. The Lost Land (ditto) — imaginary. It sounds so amazing, and I want to look in their library.
  4. Fionavar (The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavriel Kay) — imaginary. Okay, it’d be a little bit like Middle-earth, really. But still.
  5. Camelot (Arthuriana) — somewhere in between. Possibly even both the imaginary courtly version to see the knights of legend, and the nearest real equivalent to see what it was really like.
  6. Scotland (Five Red Herrings, by Dorothy L. Sayers) — real. My mother has actually traced the whole route of solving that mystery. I wanna.
  7. Everywhere (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor) — real. All the travelling Karou does…
  8. London (Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman) — real and imaginary. Okay, London Below sounds pretty dangerous, but also really cool.
  9. Wherever Moomins live (The Moomin comics/books, by Tove Jansson) — imaginary. Because Moomins are cool.
  10. The Clangers’ moon (Clangers, by Oliver Postgate) — imaginary. Because I can totally communicate in whistles and I wanna know what blue string pudding tastes like.

Thursday Thoughts: Bookish Fandoms

This week’s prompt from Ok, Let’s Read is about bookish fandoms…

Do you have any experience with fandoms in the bookish world? What fandoms do you consider yourself to be a part of? Have you ever created something pertaining to your favorite books as a part of the fandom (i.e. artwork, music, fanfic, cosplay)? Can you share your creation with us?

I’m less into bookish fandoms than I am into stuff like the MCU, the Young Avengers comics, Captain Marvel, etc. I can’t think of any strictly bookish t-shirts I have, for example — I’ve got two Captain Marvel shirts, some Avengers and Captain America ones, etc, but it’s mostly comics and games. I do like getting involved in events, like The Dark is Rising readathon that happened last year, and I’d have loved to go to the recent anniversary celebration of The Fionavar Tapestry and so on.

If you count Arthuriana as one big fandom, well, I know all the Arthurian songs of Heather Dale off by heart, and have written a bunch of stories and poetry based on the Arthurian legends (usually taking them and skewing it, so I’ve written about Tristan and Isolde from Mark’s point of view, etc).

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is top ten underrated authors/books from [X] genre. I’m going to go with what I know and the really specialised topic of Arthurian fiction. You may choose to view this as an offshoot of fantasy…

  1. The Table of Less Valued Knights, by Marie Phillips. I actually read this recently, and it’s pretty new, but still, I think it deserves some attention. It’s a bit Gerald Morris-ish in tone, I think, but more mature.
  2. Idylls of the Queen, by Phyllis Ann Karr. I loved this. It gives pride of place to a more minor character (Sir Kay), and gave me a whole ton of evidence for my dissertation topic. It’s a fun read, and I think it adapts Malory really, really well.
  3. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, by John Steinbeck. I should repost some of my reviews of this here sometime. He’s one of the very, very few writers that can make me sympathetic to Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere, all at once. Possibly the only one who really made me feel that love triangle. He never completed his work on this, and it shows in the early parts, but some of the writing is amazing and breathtaking.
  4. The Killing Way, by Tony Hays. A solid murder mystery using an Arthurian setting, trying to be authentically historical rather than fantastical in this case. If you liked Bernard Cornwell’s Arthurian trilogy, this is definitely worth a go. Plus, I’ve had some good conversations with Tony Hays, and he’s sent me some signed copies of his books — I really, really need to get round to catching up with reading them.
  5. Camelot’s Honour, by Sarah Zettel. There’s actually a whole quartet of these, and it does make more sense to read them together, but I loved this book for going to the Welsh roots of the tales to pick out some less used elements. The books are very much romances, in both the medieval and the modern sense. They also have strong female protagonists.
  6. Under in the Mere, by Catherynne M. Valente. Another one which pulls a lot from Welsh sources, particularly in the portrayal of Kay/Cei. It’s very distinctively Valente’s work, and if you know what I mean by that, you’ll know whether you’re going to like it in advance, I suspect.
  7. Exiled from Camelot, by Cherith Baldry. Okay, I had some problems with this one where it came to the portrayal of women, and it’s definitely not culturally accurate to just about any pre-modern stage of Arthurian literature, but it’s fun, and if you read for characters and relationships, it’s all about the strong bonds there. Kay is a key figure, again.
  8. Hawk of May, by Gillian Bradshaw. I’ve enjoyed most of Bradshaw’s work, so I guess this recommendation is no surprise. It’s Gawain-centric, with pretty human characters all round — very few complete villains, and fewer complete heroes.
  9. Child of the Northern Spring, by Persia Woolley. Sort of in the Mists of Avalon tradition as regards portraying women’s lives and Celtic culture, but much less awful and more readable. Guinevere is central.
  10. The King’s Peace, by Jo Walton. Sort of alternate Arthuriana, focusing on a female warrior in Arthur’s band. Looking for the correspondences is interesting, though it can get in the way of the story.

So! Link me yours, especially if they’re on fantasy or SF. I’m waiting!