Sunday, April 21, 2019

My father and I just started Something Rich and Strange by Patricia A. McKillip

My father and I just started Something Rich and Strange by Patricia A. McKillip.

We always knew that McKillip was a master at invoking the ineffable power of the sea, and thought her book The Changeling Sea was her great work dedicated to it. We were wrong, for once again the author whose voice reaches her readers from across a mist-shrouded ocean pulls us into a myth on the shores of the sea, where creatures crawl into drawings of tide pools and old things promise to reach out from the depths.

"Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange."

- Shakespeare's The Tempest

Friday, April 19, 2019

My father and I just finished Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

My father and I just finished Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman, sequel-companion novel of her Seraphina Series and, judging by the end, the beginning of a new series all together.

A typically atypical Fantasy, Hartman writes a Quest not to slay evil nor save the world but to a guide an angry young woman back from grief and choking self-despair. Fighting against religious-based oppression of women and mental manipulation, Tess sought not only the World Serpent of legend but also, without knowing it, a way to face her demons and love herself again while being herself - and meeting friends both old and wise and odd (and any combination of these) along the way.
"The Road goes ever on and on", as Tolkien says, and Tess of the Road supports that idiom from Tess' motto of "Walk on" to thinking of the Road with the R capitalized. But this road was a deeply strange one even by my standards. Strange yet rooted in the ordinary and full of deep, heartfelt meaning.

Bon voyage, Tess, Pathka, Kikiu, and Jacomo. The great sea awaits!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

The banner of Brynden Tully the Blackfish
Castle Black and the Wall by Ted Nasmith ©
Given my penchant for (justly) lambasting George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, I think it only fair to tell the other side of story, harking back as to why I was once one of GRRM's most avid fans, calling him – as many did and do – the American Tolkien. I have already told this tale in part, mostly about 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 – George R.R. Martin could have created one of the finest ever of the High Fantasies just as J.K. Rowling was writing Harry Potter. As I have said in the past, I have infinite respect for George R.R. Martin’s skill as a storyteller and worldbuilder; he is truly among the best, comparable to that of Rowling and even Tolkien himself. It is no accident that I quit the series only in the middle of book #5, A Dance with Dragons.

Yet, much as I would wish it otherwise, several of the hooks the series placed in my heart remain. I cannot help but still think about the my friends the Starks of Winterfell, Dany (Daenerys), Brynden the Blackfish, Jon Snow and the men of the Night's Watch, Ser Davos Seaworth, Meera and Jojen Reed, Doran Martell and his family, and many others (yes, even Tyrion Lannister). This is a tribute to them, an acknowledgment of the wise and good characters who kept me hooked until I found myself wading through blood:

"If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you can not do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die." - Ned Stark

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one." - Jojen Reed 

"It seems to me that a queen who trusts no one is as foolish as a queen who trusts everyone." - Dany Targaryen

"Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you." - Tyrion Lannister

"Old stories are like old friends. You have to visit them from time to time." - Bran Stark

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." - the oath of the Night's Watch 

"Words are like arrows, Arianne. Once loosed, you cannot call them back." - Doran Martell

"Fear cuts deeper than swords." - Syrio Forel

"A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge." - Tyrion Lannister

"Why do the gods make kings and queens, if not to protect the ones who can't protect themselves?" - Dany Targaryen

Serve. Obey. Protect. Simple vows for a simple man. - Areo Hotah

"A book can be as dangerous as a sword in the right hands." - Haldon Halfmaester 

"When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives." - Ned Stark  

"In the end a gentle heart may be worth more than pride or valor." - Doran Martell

If this does not seem like much out of five books, then know that it was no small job finding quotes which were wise, spoken by friends, and not related to war and shortening foes by a head. Rather telling, eh? As I recall, a certain Sansa Stark once said "There are no heroes ... In life, the monsters win." Which is exactly why I quit. Because I could not bear to see these dear friends put through endless torment, nor judge any possible ending for them happy if it required wading through blood, gore, and porn.

Monday, April 1, 2019


The Redwall series by Brian Jacques: one of the most notable Fantasies in the genre not just for its length of 22 books, but also for its animal cast of characters centered around the peaceful sanctuary that is Redwall Abbey. Well, ideally peaceful were it not for its turbulent history both past and present in an Epic Fantasy world that fills the mundane with wonder.

Redwall has long held a special place it my heart not because I read it but, ironically, because I watched it – the first, third, and sixth books forming the Redwall animated series that, as subsequent research revealed, is a more than worthy adaptation.

So worthy that, having watched it as a small child, what scattered memories I had of it stuck out and year after year returned to me until, finally, I sought out and found it again online. A touching tale, perhaps, but now that personal history it out of the way one can delve into what makes Brian Jacque's work (both in ink and on screen) so evocative. Three elements that build upon and support one another: rhyming riddles, a true warrior code of peace, and limited magic of the subtlest kind.

The Tapestry of Martin the Warrior
Tomb of Abbess Germaine
Beginning with the first – and I am going to try my level best to avoid spoilers here – are the rhyming riddles left by long dead creatures to guide their decedents and/or spiritual heirs. Martin the Warrior for example, Redwall's greatest hero, is only slight less mighty in death as he was in life as his spirit often acts as a guide to creatures of the Abbey, usually its future Warriors, Abbots, and Abbesses. Generally, he appears in dreams and will present the young creature with a riddle or puzzle of some sort that they must solve in order to survive or save a friend. The quote I will note, however, is from Abbess Germaine, one of Redwall's founders and formerly the last Abbess of Loamhedge Abbey. As aforesaid, I am trying to avoid spoilers, so suffice to say that the ancient mouse left this to held future generations find the exact location of Loamhedge Abbey should they need it (which they did):

"Those who wish to challenge fate,
to a jumbled shout walk strait.
Sunset fires in dexteree,
Find where Loamhedge used to be.
At the high place near the skies,
Look for other watchful eyes.
Sleep not ‘neath the darkpine trees,
Be on your guard, take not your ease.
Voyage when the daylight dims,
Danger in the water swims.
Make no sound with spear or sword,
Lest you wake the Longtail Horde
Shades of creatures who have died,
Bones of warriors who have tried.
Shrink not from the barren land,
Look below from where you stand.
This is where a stone may fall and make no sound at all.
Those who cross and live to tell,
See the badger and the bell.
Face the lord who points the way,
After noon on summers day,
Death will open up its grave.

This may sound convoluted but, believe me that it outlines the dangers of a certain rescue mission fairly well. Read (or watch) Mattimeo to learn more.

Moving right along, here one of the best quotes I have heard in a long time. Simple yet deep and wise on multiple levels, epitomizing the morally of the High Fantasy as well as Redwall's true warrior code of peace:
"Always use the sword to stand for good and right, never do a thing you would be ashamed of, but never let your heart rule your mind." - Brian Jacques

Finally, the use of magic in the series at large is quite limited. Recall how in The Lord of the Rings one does not see Gandalf casting a lot of spells or throwing fireballs; rather, when danger comes Gandalf draws Glamdring (his sword). Yet there is still a steady presence of magic in Middle-earth, subtle yet bright, clear, and elegant. Much the same in true in the Redwall series, mostly in the form of Martin's spirit, though there are other examples such as the crow Mangiz being a successful seer. Granted that this magic is technically even more limited than that which Tolkien employs, yet its presence, elegance, and potent role in the story is no less.