Sunday, December 31, 2017

My father and I just finished Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

My father and I just finished Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip.

Once again McKillip proves that she ranks alongside J.K. Rowling and Diana Wynne Jones and even Tolkien himself. She has written Gilgameshian, Shakespearean, and Fairy Tale epics. This was Arthurian. 
A crazy and unprecedented blend of medieval and modernity very seldom do questing knights ride limos and text each other with a powerful splash of Celtic myth. Camelot is nice, but I'll take Severluna, capital of Wyvernhold and realm of King Arden Wyvernbourne, any day. Acknowledging that you never know when depraved chefs out of demented fairy tales might steal sacred artifacts and ruin your taste-buds.

Peace and tasteful dinners to Pierce Oliver & Val & Leith & Heloise, Carrie and that old wolf Merle, Prince Daimon and Dame Scotia Malory, Hal and Tye of Kingfisher, Princess Perdita, and the fay ones of Ravenhold.

New Year's Eve

As 2017 rolls away I think it is only fitting to look back on this year's accomplishments:

  • Dragonworld by Byron Preiss and Michael Reaves
  • The Opening of the World series by Harry Turtledove
  • Sherwood Smith's The Crown & Court Duet
  • The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
  • The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
  • The Battle of Hackham Heath by John Flanagan, book #2 of his Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years series
  • The Colors of Madeleine series by Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Goldenhand by Garth Nix, sequel and final book of the classic Abhorsen Series
  • The Taste of Lightning by Kate Constable, sequel-companion novel of her Chanters of Tremaris trilogy
  • The Elenium series by David Eddings
  • The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell
  • Tales of the Bard series by that master of myth named Michael Scott
  • Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip (I add this assuming that Dad and I will finish it tonight)
(Also and on a side note, I can finally say that I have been a Magic: The Gathering player for a full year)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Friday, December 22, 2017

Just started The Book of Dust

This is a Life Event. One I have been waiting for for approximately 10 years 馃槏

The Book of Dust was like a myth, like a fabled mist-shrouded castle one endless walks towards yet never reaches nor even sees clearly. For over a decade nearly all we heard was that Philip Pullman was "working on it," this message updated/rephrased every few years or so.

Only now it will be a series (Yay!!!), companion to His Dark Materials, and I can at long last say that I have started La Belle Sauvage, Volume #1 of The Book of Dust trilogy by Philip Pullman.

Lyra may be only a baby, but I am looking forward to seeing her and making a new friend in Malcolm with all my heart.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

For everyone and everything, there is a time to die.

"Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?" In this case a bit of both, and my deepest thanks to my friend Caleb for setting me on this path so long ago.

Just finished Goldenhand by Garth Nix, sequel and final book of the classic Abhorsen Series 馃敂
As always, the seriously long climax nearly gave me heart-failure, but I would been disappointed otherwise. And such a pleasure to see old friends again! Sabriel & Touchstone, Lirael & Nick, Sam and Ellimere...and new friends like Ferin of the Athask tribe.

If you want to read a truly unique and wondrous Fantasy of the first order, look no further than the Old Kingdom.

Thank you for everything Garth Nix, none the least for teaching me one of the basic principles of High Fantasy morality the sentiment of the Abhorsens: "For everyone and everything, there is a time to die."

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Dragonborn comes

Back in August I posted a music video of the Skyrim song The Dragonborn comes as an example of how music is one of great moral pillars of the High Fantasy. (It must be remembered, after all, that Fantasy games have no less story potential than Fantasy literature).
However, another moral pillar is the respect given to, and inspiration drawn from, the ancient world – and one of my favorite olden cultures that of the ancient Celtic peoples. After all, they were the original Druids and produced some of the finest Bards. So here is a Celtic-style version of The Dragonborn comes I found recently. Frankly, I think it is genius.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Small and simple lessons

One of the beauties of the High Fantasy is that it teaches critical real-world lessons in totally out of this world ways. For example, take the age old question of: What does one's race have to do with friendship?

None that I can see. And the above is just one example, the image (from MtG) so good as to be irresistible. Take Legolas and Gimli, Elf and Dwarf and about as different as different can be, as another and arguably the most famous instance. One loves gems and mountains, the other woodlands and flowers, and there is a long history of distrust, scorn, and even war between their races. Yet between them blossoms a friendship based on battle-born trust, a hugely funny love of slaying orcs, and a whole host of shared experiences coupled with being the sole representatives of their races in the War of the Ring as fought in Gondor and Rohan. Not enough? Well, who can explain why people become friends? Sometimes it just works and, in my experience, the strange friendships often turn out to be the best. The point though is that racial differences were overcome to the degree that, long after the Sauron's fall and the death of Aragorn, when they were last two living members of the Fellowship in Middle Earth, Legolas took Gimli to the Undying Lands with him.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Just for the record...

Just for the record, the following basically sums up my approach to life, explaining my dry sense of humor. As always, Diana Wynne Jones hits the nail on the head.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?

Dad is still reading The Book of Dust and it is, as of now, the Christmas Season. So why not read a book about bells?

The necromantic kind, of course. Hence I just started Goldenhand by Garth Nix, sequel and final book of the classic Abhorsen Series. This is literally the second full Fantasy series I read by myself (back in the 7th Grade), so Goldenhand is like a joyous reunion and journey continuation with old and dear friends! 

I swear the Old Kingdom never looked so good. And I am doubly excited because, if that expanded map is any indication, we will travel further North this time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Just finished The Battle of Hackham Heath

Just finished The Battle of Hackham Heath by John Flanagan, book #2 of his Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years series.
All I can say is that it was a pleasure to see how Halt earned his legend and helped send Morgarath, once Baron and now Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, packing. Interesting learning more about the Warguls as a race, too.
The epilogue was a killer, of course, but how much eye rolling laughter can a guy take.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Colors of Madeleine

My father and I just finished A Tangle of Gold, book #3 of The Colors of Madeleine series by Jaclyn Moriarty.
An utterly unique cousin of Pullman's His Dark Materials, this series is so unlike anything we have ever read that I am at a loss as to how to describe it.
But I can reaffirm that the end does not justify the means, that one should never believe another is dead until you see the body, and that love and the bonds of friendship can be found in the strangest and most unlikely of places. That and alchemy. And this book gives the terms strange and unlikely a new meaning.

May a Gold ever sprinkle upon you Elliot Baranski & Madeleine, Keira, Princess Ko, Corrie-Lynn Baranski, Sergio, Belle & Jack, King Cetus & Queen Lyra, Agents Tovey and Kim, Abel & Petra Baranski, and all else of the incurably odd and charming Kingdom of Cello.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Amazon announces Lord of the Rings TV adaptation

Yes indeed, and you doubtless did not hear it here first, Amazon has announced a TV adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Frankly, I am ambivalent 馃樁 as on the one hand I do not see how this could even begin to match the movies. Yet on the other, Amazon is working with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and New Line and it is hard to fathom that such a team could produce a poor imitation. Also, I think the movies are set in such a high place that this cannot touch them. After all, if it fails then the movies look doubly good, but if the t.v. series succeeds then we can cheer.

What I find hilarious is that, according to the Hollywood Reporter, the series is Amazons attempt to find a challenger to the success HBO’s Game of Thrones and establish a big-name franchise. (I suppose that is one good GRRM's work did: showing the world that fantasy book adaptations are quite viable in T.V. series format.)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Just started The Battle of Hackham Heath

So my Dad and I had a little race going...whoever finished their current book first earned the right to be the first to read The Book of Dust. I lost by barely an hour, but luckily good books are never lacking and this seems to be the season for old favorites. Sooo...

Just started The Battle of Hackham Heath by John Flanagan, book #2 of his Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years series. Time to return for a blast from the past and delight in tactical genius and and cheerfully insults of Halt and Crowley and all the rest. Morgarath beware.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Just finished the Tales of the Bard

"Bard, come forth; face me."

I just finished reading Death's Law - book #3 of the Tales of the Bard series by that master of myth named Michael Scott.A splendid little tale whose epic language and lore belies its size, Scott has again proven his unquestionable skill within the Fantastic.
Long roads and fair destinations to Champion of the Old Faith Paedur the Bard Shannaqui, to white-haired Katani of the Katan Warriors, to Owen the Weapon Master and Tien'Zo, to Kutor once of the Wastelands, to Fodla of the Legion, to the victorious Pantheon.
Remember the Magician's Law; the Force of Equals. (Which seems to take prescience over the Death's Law)
Remember the Dove's Cry; the Lament of Lugas.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

It looms over the horizon...silent and dark as a grave

Whoever says that Fantasy literature and real-world History are unrelated has clearly never read the genre's best. Just as with world mythology, the finest Fantasy authors draw on real-world events for inspiration, making the genre a kind of mirroring allegory of humanity as it was and is.

As it is what gave me the idea for this post, that would be most recent and most fitting Fantasy-History simile I am aware of. In the card game Magic: The Gathering, the latest set Ixalan – is based off mesoamerican lore and history with a slight touch of Indiana Jones; hence filled with treasure-seeking pirates, people riding dinosaur, a lost city of gold, and a general sense of braving the unknown and uncharted jungles and seas. All very well, and an excellent idea, for it draws upon some of I hold what be Fantasy's greatest quality: the sense that one is exploring unknown lands.

Conqueror's Galleon
However, in this set, MtG also decided to add real-world conquistadors and colonizers to the various factions of Ixalan. Are they Humans? Close. In a a brutally apt analogy, they are Vampires. And why not? To quote the MtG developers, "Think intrepid Spanish sailors searching for spices from the New World, but instead Vampires searching for fresh blood. They discover an indigenous tribe inspired by Mayans, Incans, and Aztecs. Peace? War? Who knows—culture clashes always create conflict, and conflict is necessary for a compelling story." Naturally the picture of the Vampire Conquistadors' arriving vessel looks dark and menacing, which makes sense as Vampires are not known for their sense of cheer in both mood and decorative inclinations. 
But is it really so far off from how the European colonizers arrived in the Americas? Sure their ships did not look Vampiric nor carried a sense of dread, arriving in bright daylight upon picturesque beeches and whatnot. Yet is the above picture truly so inaccurate? Did the Europeans not truly bring greed and death the Native Americans, seeking gold and spices as Vampire seeks blood? Per my own lessons, for I love History no less than Fantasy, the analogy fits hand in glove. Not literally, but spiritually, making the ship picture an excellent foreshadowing of the eventual fate of many Native American cultures: a mighty ship comes from lands unknown beyond the horizon, the dark clouds marshaling behind it blotting out the sun.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Winter was coming

It seems only fair that, after all I have said about him, to let George R.R. Martin speak. As you listen, please recall the words of House Stark: Winter is coming.

He sounds wise here, but really there is a appreciable level of hypocrisy. The Others are beyond question an I-am-going-to-cover-the-world-with-darkness kind of evil race, and in a very literal fashion if the Long Night and their necromancy is any indication.
The cold winds are rising, and men go out from their fires
and never come back ...
or if they do, they're not men no more,
but only wights, with blue eyes and cold black hands.
Furthermore, and again, his books espouse the philosophy that one must needs be a hardhearted killer to survive per the fact that most everybody who does otherwise is either dead or in exile. And let us again recall that this is the man who wrote "love is the bane of honor, the death of duty." Anyway, and returning to the current point, GRRM can talk about not liking fell and inhuman races covering the the world in shadow, but in fact he did a better job of it than most fantasy authors creating chill horrors of ice and darkness that make Tolkien's orcs seem tame by comparison.

Demons made of snow and ice and cold.
The ancient enemy. The only enemy that matters.
"The night is dark and full of terrors" as I recall, and I definitely did not imagine the Night's Watch nor the various undead wights that Jon Snow and the rest of them are forced to deal with both at and Beyond the Wall. GRRM may claim his world to be something governed by the whims and social complexities of humanity, but throughout his entire work, from the prologue of book #1 and through all the black intrigue of the rest, he slowly but inextricably builds up the threat of winter and the Others. A trend confirmed not only by the trials of Jon Snow, but also by those of Bran Stark. Lord Commander Jeor Mormont once Samwell Tarly, "The Night's Watch has forgotten its true purpose, Tarly. You don't build a wall seven hundred feet high to keep savages in skins from stealing women. The Wall was made to guard the realms of men ... and not against other men, which is all the wildlings are when you come right down to it. Too many years, Tarly, too many hundreds and thousands of years. We lost sight of the true enemy." Per the above video, it seems to me that GRRM may have forgotten as well, which strikes me as passing odd seeing as they are his most notable and unique creations. Why, he is even utilizing the classic ancient-prophecy-which-foretells-the-coming-of-a-hero-to-deliver the-world-from-darkness trick in the form of the legend/prophecy of Azor Ahai, the prince that was promised: "When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone." A hero who is supposedly destined to fight and forever drive back the Others and the night they bring using the blade unimaginatively named Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes. The issue of course being that his ingenious usage of this old trick coupled with the even older Flaming Sword archetype is marginalized by his ruthless High Lords playing their game of thrones.

The night is dark and full of terrors

I will not lie. When I first began George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire I was utterly hooked. How could I not be? The Prologue beyond the Wall, in the dark and cold of Haunted Forest alongside the members of the Night's Watch, was like nothing I had ever read before. Indeed, I believe that GRRM's great mistake was not putting the Others – the power of ice and cold and night – to proper and epic use; having his series revolve around the words of House Targaryen, Fire and Blood, as opposed to House Stark, Winter is coming. The power of the North, and such terms as King of the North, were and are not uncommon in Fantasy, but GRRM took it to the next and many levels higher. Recall the oath of the Night's Watch:"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."
In short, if he had stuck with the Others as his tale's principle foe a opposed to the Lannisters then, instead of birthing the Grimdark which amounts to a blood and porn with a nihilism overlay approach to Tolkien-style epic Fantasy GRRM could created one of the finest ever of the High Fantasies just as J.K. Rowling was writing Harry Potter.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Book of Dust Vol 1: La Belle Sauvage


The Book of Dust was like a myth, like a fabled mist-shrouded castle one endless walks towards yet never reaches nor even sees clearly. For over a decade nearly all we heard was that Philip Pullman was "working on it," this message updated/rephrased every few years or so. We heard that he hoped for it to come out in 2016, yet the year passed without a word.
That it is here, much less in trilogy form, is truly surreal.

Oh, to see Lyra and Pantalaimon again!!

Friday, October 13, 2017

My father and I just finished The Cracks in the Kingdom

My father and I just finished The Cracks in the Kingdom, book #2 of The Colors of Madeleine series by Jaclyn Moriarty.

I hate memory magic. I hate malcontent anti-royal kidnappers and murders. I hate nonsensical similes. Still, despite having to deal with all three relative abundance with the odd color attack thrown in, I am ready and waiting and eager to start book #3 tomorrow.
Just a half-completed rescue mission relating to inter-dimensional rifts to finish. Oh, and a strange romance complicated by that aforementioned memory magic.

Friday, October 6, 2017

How many miles to Babylon?

Nursery rhymes. The first tidbits of old lore and Fairyland we learn as children, often from Mother Goose. Everything from "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep", "Doctor Foster", "Humpty Dumpty", "Jack and Jill", "Little Boy Blue", "London Bridge Is Falling Down", "Mary Had a Little Lamb ", "Old King Cole", "Ring a Ring o' Roses", "Rock-a-bye Baby", "There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe", and "Three Blind Mice".
Yet there are some nursery rhymes filled with a more primal, deep power, invoking a sense of mystery. Including one that appears in the novel Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones (who of course uses it in an unforgettable scene that sticks out even by her top-tier standards) as well as in Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Indeed, while my father and I have read countless books together, from the best of Fantasy to other such masterworks as Tolstoy's War and Peace and Shakespeare's Hamlet, we still remember that night from Deep Secret. We still judge the time Jones took us to Babylon as one of our collective literary high points. If I ever write a Tale of Faerie, I swear that I shall use them myself.

How many miles to Babylon?
Three score miles and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again.
If you feet are speedy and light
You can get there by candlelight.

Where is the road to Babylon?
Right beside your door.
Can I walk that way whenever I want?
No, three times and no more.
If you mark the road and measure it right
You can go there by candlelight.

What shall I take to Babylon?
A handful of salt and grain,
Water, some wool for warmth on the way,
And a candle to make the road plain.
If you carry these things and use them right
You can be there by candlelight.

How do I go to Babylon?
Outside of here and there.
Am I crossing a bridge or climbing a hill?
Yes, both before you're there.
If you follow outside of day and night
You can be there by candlelight.

How hard is the road to Babylon?
As hard as grief or greed.
What do I ask for when I get there?
Only for what you need.
If you travel in need and travel light,
you can get there by candlelight.

How long is the way to Babylon?
Three score years and ten.
Many have gone to Babylon
But few come back again.
If your feet are nimble and light,
You can be back by candlelight.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Many Worlds of Diana Wynne Jones

 Truth is the fire that fetches thunder - Diana Wynne Jones

Mistress of the Multiverse and Lady of Endless Surprises – whom I put second only to J.R.R. Tolkien himself. I know this sounds absurd, but the wit, skill, and pure genius of Jones can even go beyond Tolkien and J.K. Rowling at times. She has written countless books, mostly one-volume works which I believes accounts for her lack of fame in this Golden Age of Fantasy Series, and each one is literally and totally different from anything else you will ever read – including other Jones books! The ability to surprise is her signature and she will tear down literary arrogance like hurricane winds will leaves. I once judged myself wise enough in the ways of Fantasy to be able to see through basically any trick. Well, Jones first shredded the banner of my pride, then reduced it to mere threads, then a thread, then just a banner-less pole, and now (after reading her Dalemark Quartet) nothing! The pole is gone, leaving just an empty field where my pride once stood! Believe me, read all her books and by the end you will be able to pick up on other Fantasy author's tricks and subterfuges via instinct alone. 

Diana Wynne Jones and Neil Gaiman
Take Patricia A. McKillip, for instance. She plays many plot-tricks and had my father and I read she before Jones she would have gotten us every time. As it stood though, with our Jones-training we anticipated her several times; her along with Jones' dear friend and quasi-prot茅g茅 Neil Gaiman. Ever read the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling? Well, Diana Wynne Jones came first and much of Rowling's writing style and plot-tricks bears an uncanny similarity to Jones' work. Frankly, I have always deemed it criminal that Rowling not acknowledge Jones' influence on her. Believe me, journey through the Many Worlds of Diana Wynne Jones and you will see and meet things you never even dreamed of. I still cannot fathom how any one mind can not only think outside the box but, by all appearances, exist beyond it as well. Well, this has certainly morphed into a long rant...I guess I had better get back on task. Again, I recommend Jones in general and as a matter of course, but her very best (more or less) are: Hexwood, Deep Secret, the Dalemark Quartet, Archer’s Goon, The Time of the Ghost, Fire and Hemlock, A Tale of Time City, and The Homeward Bounders. (See my Bookshelf for the rest, or check here)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Just started reading Death's Law

"Bard, come forth; face me."

Not a title to induce confidence, much less in the final book of a series, but I just started reading Death's Law - book #3 of the Tales of the Bard series by that master of myth named Michael Scott.
It is time for Paedur the Bard, Champion of the Old Faith, to return to the icy and savage Northlands. It is time to end the New Religion.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Just finished reading Demon's Law

"Bard, come forth; face me.

Just finished reading Demon's Law, book #2 of the Tales of the Bard series by that master of myth named Michael Scott. 
One God of Death replaced and another killed is definitely not something one expects to read about, only slightly below the margin of predicting the resurrection of a fabled warrior dressed in ice-serpent armor. On that note, it was a pleasure meeting you Katani of the Katan.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

My father and I just finished A Corner of White

My father and I just finished A Corner of White, book #1 of The Colors of Madeleine series by Jaclyn Moriarty.

How can one describe a book unlike anything one has ever read? Like this, I suppose... In a Kingdom where seasons cycle daily or weekly depending, where Colors (like the normal kind but renegade) attack or enliven people depending on where it is in the spectrum, and where Butterfly Children help crops grow if you let them out on time, dark secrets are hidden behind wondrous yet seemingly simple and grounded eccentricity.

You saw the truth, Madeleine of the World, and I hope you are willing to help the Kingdom of Cello. Elliot Baranski and a certain royal need help. Ah, the joy and danger of rescue missions!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Knights in Shinning Armor

Knights in Shinning Armor. Warriors of Light. True Heroes. Defenders of Truth and Protectors of the Innocent.

We have all heard this before. Indeed, any person with even the barest familiarity with the High Fantasy, be they readers or gamers, will be aware of these concepts. The paragon warrior who is duty and honor up to his or her boots, girded with an almost childlike virtue and an implacable resolve to rid the land of all things evil. In short, the ultimate stereotype of Chivalry, pure and ultimate good versus utter evil. 
"Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil." Think King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table.

"To be a knight is to be the shield
for the meek against the cruel."
Indeed, the stereotype is so old as to be almost cloying, with such depicted knights/warriors described as everything from naive to goody-goodies...because the world and people do not exist in such shades of absolute black and white. And many of the best Fantasy authors, such as Mercedes Lackey, make an almost brutal point of it. GRRM, though I am loathe to use his name, takes it a step further and fills his work with false knights.

I agree with this, and yet the pure core here is one of the fundamental components of the High Fantasy. Why? Because the best Warriors of Light employed by the genre have seen the darkness. They defend the weak and meek not out of any sense of chivalry but because they have seen loved ones die because they, then, had not the power to defend them. What is wrong with honor? Nothing, so long as it does not interfere to the point that one is unduly hamstrung by them past the point of sense. I just feel that the term goody-goody is too often used to describe those filled with true compassion. And I say this as one who has been called a goody-goody more than thrice.
It may seem clich茅 and even naive, but anyone with a strong moral compass and unrelenting inner strength can be a Hero of Light. The key is being optimistic regarding humanity and believing that a better future truly is possible. Some mistake cynicism for wisdom, yet it is, per my judgement, merely a form of sophisticated surrender.

"It doesn't matter how strong we are. We have something to defend, and that's why we fight." - Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light

Friday, September 1, 2017

"All was well"

These are one of those rare, truly historical days in Fantasy literature.
The day when the children of some very old and unutterably dear friends boarded the Hogwarts express. When, 19 years on, questions were answered, loose ends tied up, and a joyous life went on without lethal flashes of green light butting into the picture. This is the new standard for happy endings, showing their validity, and is easily one of the most treasured scenes in the entire genre.

"All was well"

Luck and joy to you, Rose Granger-Weasley and James & Albus Potter. May you live long and more peaceful lives than your sires.