swan_tower: (Default)
A belated entry to this series, on account of it not being out yet when I finished my re-read of all of Diana Wynne Jones' books.

Reflections: On the Magic of Writing is a collection of various essays and lectures she gave, on various subjects related to writing (her own and that of others). A couple of these I had read before; "The Origins of Changeover" was the foreword to the edition I read, and I tracked down scans of "The Heroic Ideal: A Personal Odyssey" after seeing it referenced by [personal profile] rushthatspeaks. (Very glad to now have a proper reprint, as the essay does wonders for my ability to understand certain parts of Fire and Hemlock.) Most of this, though, was new.

It makes for interesting reading, though certainly a few details get repetitive -- these pieces span decades, and there are certain things, particularly biographical incidents, that she brought up more than once. The two things that fascinated me most were her knowledge of pre-modern English literature (much of which I haven't personally read), and her comments on her own books. The former made me feel in places like I was reading [personal profile] pameladean's Tam Lin, because it threatened to leave me with a reading list of rather obscure works. The latter . . . I don't know. Sometimes it strips the magic away to know how the magic got made, but I think that here it just turns into a different sort of magic for me, because I can think about her books as a writer as well as a fan. When she talks about similarities between her characters, I nod at some and blink at others, and wonder if she didn't see the similarities elsewhere, or simply didn't bring them up. (Upon reflection, I see what she means about the commonality of Torquil and Tacroy, and also, after much more reflection, Thomas Lynn and the Goon. But what about Tacroy and Thomas, and also Howl? Or for that matter, Mark and Herrel, who are a straight-up deployment of her habit of "splitting" a character type and using different facets?)

I wish we had more of that stuff. I would love to know what sparked the ideas for all of her books, because Diana Wynne Jones wrote books that are nothing like mine, and knowing where they came from helps me understand the result. I also, quite selfishly, want to read all the unrevised first drafts and unfinished beginnings she had stuffed into drawers, because I crave more, and I'm (probably) never going to get it. I know it wouldn't be the same, and it very well might not be good, but I crave it anyway. This book made me sad all over again that Diana Wynne Jones is dead, and that I never had the chance to meet her. I would have liked to thank her in person, and having read this book, I feel certain she would have understood.
swan_tower: (Howl)
With this, we reach the end.

Earwig and the Witch is an illustrated children's book (aimed at ages 8-12) published this year, though it was prepared before Jones passed away. It tells the story of a girl called Earwig, who lives quite happily at an orphanage, where she's able to make everyone do what she wants. But then a very peculiar couple comes along and adopts her, and for the first time in her life, Earwig finds herself facing a challenge.

It's a short book, of course, and (perhaps because of Paul O. Zelinsky's illustrations) has a distinctly Roald Dahl vibe about it. If I find myself wanting more -- more about Earwig's friend Custard, and more about the circumstances that led to her being left on the orphanage doorstep, years ago -- that's par for the course, rather than any particular flaw in the story itself.


And of course, I do want more. I saved reading this book until today, and knew that sitting down with it would make me sad, because it's the last one. There's a collection of Jones' essays underway, and I'm looking forward to that; there may be unpublished manuscripts or half-finished books that will yet find their way out into the world. If any such things appear, I'll read them, because I want to soak up any last drop that I can. But in essence, there will be no more fiction from Diana Wynne Jones.

She was, as I said before, the reason I became a writer. Her books have been with me for more than two-thirds of my life. I don't love all of them; this re-read has uncovered a number that don't click with me for some reason, and a few that aren't very good at all. But her body of work is amazing.

Requiescas in pace, Diana Wynne Jones. And thank you.
swan_tower: (Howl)
Today is the anniversary of Diana Wynne Jones' death. In memory of that, I bring you the final two posts of my re-read, which -- through design on my part -- will cover her first and last published novels.

This, of course, is the first one. It isn't fantasy (or science fiction), and it was written for adults; as such, it definitely feels different from the bulk of her work. (There are not usually any strip-teases in her books.) And yet -- as you would expect -- there are touches that come across as familiar, a voice that will show up again and again in later stories.

The plot is (deliberately) farcical. The British government is preparing to hand over the reins of their soon-to-be-former colony, a fictional African country called Nmkwami. One of the governor's aides, reading out his notes about suggestions to "mark change-over" (that is, to commemorate the handover of power), is misheard; the governor thinks he's said something about a man named Mark Changeover. The "who's on first" conversation that ensues leaves the governor with the distinct impression that some kind of rabble-rouser or terrorist is on the loose in Nmkwami. And, because nobody in the bureaucracy wants to admit they haven't heard anything about such an important problem, the confusion snowballs, until all of Nmwkami, British and local alike, is turned out to hunt the Anarchist-Communist-Imperialist revolutionary Mark Changeover.

I'll go ahead and put the rest behind a cut, though given how difficult it is to find this book, you guys may or may not care about spoilers. (Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] katfeete for loaning me her copy, thus saving me about ninety dollars buying a used copy online.)

Read more... )

On the whole, this was a lot more fun than I expected, given that I don't read a lot of "realistic" fiction, nor a lot of farce. And while it doesn't have the richness and depth of her fantasy, it's pretty good for what it sets out to be. I'll be curious to see if anybody reprints it again, so that it will become easier to find.
swan_tower: (Howl)
Endless thanks to [livejournal.com profile] carbonel, who saved me from my own obsessive-compulsiveness and sent me the text of this poem in time for the grand finale of this project tomorrow.

. . . of course, there isn't a lot to say about it. "A Slice of Life" is a forty-line poem (forty-five if you count the days) from the viewpoint of a schoolchild who's convinced the headmaster has been killed and is being served up piecemeal for lunch throughout the week. It made me think of Shel Silverstein, and also of "Sideways Stories from Wayside School" -- does anybody else remember that series?

(Edited to add: I googled to find out why I had the name "Solomon Grundy" in my head -- the headmaster is Mr. Grundy -- and discovered the poem was clearly inspired by this nursery rhyme.)

It was published in the poetry anthology Now We Are Sick, edited by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones. I look forward to seeing what else is in there, once my copy arrives.
swan_tower: (Howl)
I noticed, when I made my post for Unexpected Magic, that there were (as near as I could tell) three short stories not collected elsewhere, plus a nonfiction humour book, and one poem. (Info taken from here.) That last will, dammit, not be arriving at my house in time to meet my self-imposed deadline of tomorrow -- which is the anniversary of her death -- but I've managed to get all the others.

(Confidential to the Internet: if you have a copy of Now We Are Sick, and the poem is short enough for you to type it up and send it to me, please do. Just so I can finish everything in time.)

The first short story, "Mela Worms," made me nervous. It's contained in Arrows of Eros, which is an anthology of erotic science fiction. When you have been reading a certain author since you were nine, and that author writes almost exclusively for children and young adults, it is kind of brain-breaking to contemplate her writing anything in that vein. Fortunately for my sanity, her story is much more on the "speculative" side rather than the "erotic" one, as the titular mela worms, which are necessary for the reproduction of an alien species, get loose on an overcrowded spaceship and wreak havoc. It isn't the most memorable story of hers ever, but it's also far from the worst.

The second (and I'm putting these in the order I read them) was "Samantha's Diary," in Stories: All New Tales (which may hold the record for most utterly bland anthology title ever). This one is definitely on the weak side; it's near-future science fiction in which somebody begins sending the narrator Samantha gifts, which the reader will quickly figure out are the gifts named in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Too much of the story, alas, is spent on Samantha being surprised by the day's deliveries, and trying to figure out where to put all the birds. It eventually diverges from that path, and gets better when it does, but on the whole, this one is skippable. (Unless you're being ridiculously completist. Not that we know anybody like that.)

The third story, "I'll Give You My Word," is probably the best of the lot. It takes place in a version of this world where magic is common, and concerns a pair of children, the younger of whom mostly speaks in nonsensical combinations of SAT-type words. Exactly how his ability ties in with a certain magical threat isn't as well-established as I'd like, but it's a very DWJ-ish story, and reasonably fun.

Finally, The Skiver's Guide is a humorous how-to book on the topic of skiving (or "slacking off," if you're not familiar with that word). It wasn't as funny as I'd been hoping, but that's largely because it's a very good anatomy of a personality type I kind of want to punch in the face. So, y'know, props to it for that.

Two more books and posts to go -- but if you can get me the poem in time, please do . . . .
swan_tower: (Howl)
From my edition's cover copy:
She doesn't know who she is or what she is, let alone why she finds herself flitting invisibly through the half-remembered halls and grounds of a boarding school. Can it have something to do with the ancient evil that four sisters unwittingly awoke?

I remember finding this one of the harder DWJ books to read when I picked it up; I think I'd only read it once. Not because it's impenetrable or anything (though the protagonist's confusion as to who she is and what's happened to her do make it harder for me to attach as a reader), but because of the subject matter.

And that was before I found out the horrible parents were based on Jones' own upbringing.

This book is, I think, the closest thing to horror Jones ever wrote. Apart from the supernatural aspect (the "ancient evil" mentioned in the cover copy), the daily existence of the sisters is far worse than any of them seem to consciously realize. Their neglectful parents are so busy running the boarding school, they can't be bothered to make sure their daughters get fed. The girls have to go beg dinner from the school cook, who then blames them for not being responsible enough to fend for themselves. I spend large amounts of the book wanting to scream at the top of my lungs at these people.

I appreciate the fact that the sisters are not, in the face of this treatment, perfectly supportive of and caring toward one another; it wouldn't be realistic if they were. But I kind of want to scream at them, too, and that's another thing that makes the book hard to read. The extent to which you like it, I suspect, correlates strongly with how able you are to like Cart, Imogen, and Fenella, despite their individual and collective weirdnesses.

And now for the spoilers.

Read more... )

Nearly done . . . three more posts to go.
swan_tower: (Howl)
Last of the collections, both in terms of my (totally random) reading order, and publication date. It's also the largest, and contains a number of stories not found in the others; on the other hand, it reprints a lot of the weakest stories from Warlock at the Wheel, and I have no idea why.

Things that are new:

"The Girl Jones" -- non-fantasy story about a girl who ends up looking after a bunch of younger children, and screws it up in a way that ensures nobody will ask her to do that again. Not much to this one, and I'm really not sure why it was chosen to open the collection.

"The Green Stone" -- sort of proto-Derkholm, from the perspective of the "recording cleric" for a Quest that's about to begin. Unfortunately, because the cleric doesn't know much about what's going on, the plot kind of comes out of nowhere, and doesn't get fleshed out very well.

"The Fat Wizard" -- an iteration of the "unpleasant person gets their just desserts" trope. Better-written than most of the iterations in Warlock at the Wheel or Stopping for a Spell, but still not all that great, and (as the title suggests) it's likely to bother people offended by her treatment of weight issues.

"Little Dot" -- this, however, is fabulous. (And I don't just say that because it involves cats.) I want, as I usually do, more background for the threat, but this story excellently displays one of Jones' great talents, which is characterization. Henry's six cats -- sorry, let me correct that; the six cats that own Henry -- all have highly vivid personalities, from the brave and resourceful Dot to the gorgeous and deeply stupid Madame Dalrymple. Watching them go to town on the woman who invades Henry's house is a thing of horrifying beauty. :-)

The main reason to own this book, though, is for Everard's Ride, which was published by NESFA Press in 1995, but is almost impossible to find for a reasonable price.

The thing that fascinates me about it that to the best of my knowledge, it's actually the earliest thing of Jones' that has been published. Changeover came out in 1970, but the publication notes at the end of this collection say that Everard's Ride was written in 1966. [livejournal.com profile] fjm said in the comments on Witch's Business that her first couple of novels were meddled with by editorial influence, and reading this makes that quite apparent. Granted, I don't know how much (if at all) Jones revised Everard's Ride before its publication, but this feels far more like her style than her first couple of published fantasy novels do.

And there's enough meat to it that I need a spoiler-cut.

Read more... )

Looking back over the collections, it turns out you can get almost all of her short fiction if you buy this and Mixed Magics. The stories in Stopping for a Spell aren't worth it, Warlock at the Wheel and Believing Is Seeing are all duplicated in one or the other of these two, and Minor Arcana has only The True State of Affairs that isn't included elsewhere. So if you want to be more efficient about this than I've been, that's how to do it. <g>

(Me, what I really want is a leaner, meaner version of this book to go with Mixed Magics: something with "Dragon Reserve, Home Eight," "Little Dot," "Enna Hittims," "What the Cat Told Me," "The Girl Who Loved the Sun," and then both Everard's Ride and The True State of Affairs, if you want to go ahead and have it be a big collection. Maybe a couple more, like "Nad and Dan adn Quaffy," that I'm not so fond of, but other readers are. Anyway, just her good work, and not the weaker stuff.)

Three books left: her first, her last, and the one that's half-autobiography. And -- crap, I meant to check this sooner -- a couple of short stories NOT in the collections I discussed above. Ack! Must get those, stat!
swan_tower: (Howl)
Okay, two things first.

1) Has anybody written the fanfic where the Pevensies get kidnapped away to Time City, and Vivian goes to Narnia? Because really.


Ahem. No, seriously though -- maybe lactose-intolerant people and such can read the description of a butter-pie and not want one, but my god they sound good. (The name, not so much. But the description . . . yes please.)

Anyway, as for the book itself:
Time City -- built eons from now on a patch of space outside time -- was designed especially to oversee history, but now its very foundations are crumbling from age. Two boys are convinced that Time City's impending doom can be averted by a Twenty Century girl named Vivian Smith. They also know that no one will take the wild schemes of children seriously, so they violate nearly every law in the book by traveling back in time to pluck her from a British railway station at the start of World War II in 1939. By the time the boys learn Vivian's just an ordinary girl, they realize it's too late to return her safely -- unless, with her help, they can somehow manage to get Time City's foundations back on the right track. It's either that or she'll be stuck in the far-distant future forever!

"Wild schemes" is right: Vivian realizes fairly quickly that Jonathan and Sam, the two boys who more or less kidnap her from the railway station, were -- well, they were acting like kids. Kids on an adventure, and they didn't really stop to think the whole thing through before it blew up in their faces. What's great about that is, Vivian catches herself acting that way a few times, and catches some (supposed) adults at it, too. I think I love that because, really, let's face it: a lot of us are readers, and if we suddenly found ourselves caught up in events that seemed more like a story than our daily lives . . . well, depending on the events, we'd either shriek and curl into a little ball -- or start thinking of ourselves as if we were the protagonists of a book. So that part rings really true to me.

I also love the cleverness of the entire Time City premise. The history of human beings is shaped like a great horseshoe, stretching from the Stone Age up to the Depopulation of Earth, and Time City -- perched not only on its own patch of space, but time (which makes it not so much "the far-distant future" as something else entirely) -- travels backward along that span, to keep it separate from history. Then there are the polarities, whose nature has been forgotten to the point of making them near-myth, and the stories of Faber John and the Time Lady, who founded the city, and even the political question of how Time City handles tourists from the Fixed Eras, and tries to keep the Unstable Eras from spinning out of control.

(There's also one other thing that amuses the hell out of me, from the scenes where Dr. Wilander sets Vivian at translation -- but that's a long enough story, and enough of a digression, that I'll have to do it in a separate post.)

Spoiler time!

Read more... )

And that's it for the last of the second-tier favorites. One more anthology to go -- I hope to post about that tonight -- and then we'll be into the final three books, all of which I have left until last for very specific reasons.
swan_tower: (Howl)
I'm way behind on posting, so expect a couple more of these soon.

This book, more than any other, illustrates how idiosyncratic my divide is between my first-tier favorites and the second tier. Power of Three is in the latter category, not because of any flaw in the story -- it's excellent, probably one of her best -- but simply because it never quite got into my imaginative foundations the way some of her others did. I don't know what made some books do that, and others not; all I know is that it isn't a question of quality. This is a wonderful book.

From the back cover copy, because my brain is too lazy to come up with its own plot summary:
Something is horribly wrong on the Moor. Gair and his people are surrounded by enemies -- the menacing Giants and the devious, cruel Dorig. For centuries the three races have lived side by side, but now suspicion and hatred have drawn them all into a spiral of destruction.

With the existence of his people threatened, Gair realizes that evil forces are at work. For the Moor is blighted by a curse of ancient and terrifying power . . .

A good summary, except that the final bit is quite wrong. I know it sounds more fantastical to talk about ancient curses, but one of the things I like about this novel is that the curse isn't ancient. It was placed within living memory -- it's the first thing that occurs in the book -- and is the simple, horrifying consequence of somebody being greedy and foolish and violent. And, as in The Magicians of Caprona, it's at least in part up to the younger generation to undo it. (Not entirely up to them, though. One of the other things I like is the role played by Gest and Adara, and Mr. Masterfield and Mr. Claybury, and at the center of it all, Hathil.)

There are lots of other things to like, too. The little grace notes in the worldbuilding, like the respect Gair's people pay to bees, and the customs of the Dorig. The perspective on what constitutes magic. The very believable relationships: not only are there lots of great sibling setups throughout this, but once again, as with Caprona, Dark Lord of Derkholm, and a few other books, we get imperfect-but-strong families, instead of abusive parents and neglected children. And the ending is a lovely balance of the mythic and the personal, which is one of the things I have always loved Jones for.

That's a lot of what I wanted to say, but a few more bits do involve spoilers.

Read more... )

I think I had a few other, smaller things to say, but I've forgotten them. That's what I get for not posting as soon as I finished reading the book, I suppose. :-P Anyway, look for more posts soon!
swan_tower: (Howl)
We're nearing the end of this project, and I've saved most of my second-tier favorites for next-to-last. These are the books I like quite a lot, but for whatever unknown reason didn't imprint on like I did my first-tier favorites.

The title of Archer's Goon refers to the Goon-like individual who shows up in the kitchen of the Sykes family, claiming that the father is overdue with his "two thousand." This turns out not to refer to money, but to words: Quentin, a writer, has for years now been writing and mailing off two thousand words of whatever crap comes into his head, four times a year. The most recent batch has gone astray. But it gets more complicated than that, because Archer is one of seven not-quite-human siblings who appear to rule the Sykes' hometown from behind the scenes, each one "farming" various aspects of society. Pretty soon they're all sticking their oars in, which makes life very difficult for the Sykes family, and it's up to Quentin's son Howard to sort it out.

One of the great appeals of this book is its quirky family dynamic. Howard's younger sister Awful is fabulous, and so are the occasions when her parents or brother use her as a weapon against outsiders. Quentin is sometimes deserving of a smack, but there's a point during the war with Archer and his siblings when you really understand the impulse to grin, dig your heels in, and see what they'll do next. Catriona, though less than tolerant of the crap produced by her husband's intransigence, has good reasons for objecting. And Howard himself protags very satisfyingly, following up on questions and looking for a way out. Together they're actually quite strong, which contrasts nicely with Archer's family: individually any one of them can outdo an ordinary person without trying, but their refusal to cooperate with each other undermines them.

Also, I love the Goon.


Read more... )

I've already finished reading Power of Three; just need to post about it. Six entries left, and five books . . . .
swan_tower: (Howl)
This, like Wild Robert, is a shorter piece published on its own; I'd guess it's a novella, in terms of length. Hayley, having disgraced herself to the grandparents who raised her, is sent to live with her numerous cousins, who play an unnamed and very odd game involving a realm known as the mythosphere.

. . . and I really can't say much more than that without giving spoilers, because the story itself is so short.

I like The Game; I just wish -- as I often do with DWJ's pieces in this range -- that it were longer. It doesn't partake of the flaws that tend to weaken her actual short stories, but it also doesn't have room to fully leverage the virtues of her novels. The concept of the mythosphere is nifty, but I want a whole novel exploring it; the brief glimpses we get here only make me wish for more.

And now, the spoilers!
Read more... )

Archer's Goon is next! (I've actually finished reading it already; I'm just behind on posting.)
swan_tower: (Howl)
When Andrew Hope's grandfather dies, he leaves Andrew in charge of his magical field-of-care -- with very little instruction as to what to do with it. And when a boy named Aidan Cain shows up on Andrew's doorstep, looking for safety from the inhuman things chasing him, the two of them have to work together to sort out just what is happening in the village of Melstone.

This is one of Jones' newest books, surpassed only by Earwig and the Witch, which is one of the only things of hers I haven't read at all. It's a splendid example of two of the things Jones did beautifully well, which are vivid characterization coupled with a dry wit. The opening pages, which describe Andrew trying to cope with the housekeeper and gardener for Melstone House, are just hilarious: slightly larger-than-life (quite literally, in the case of the vegetables Mr. Stock keeps dumping in the kitchen as punishment), but still grounded in something very real. And both of the protagonists, Andrew and Aidan, are the kind of sensible people I have always loved in her books. (It makes me wonder, in fact, how much of my preference for sensible characters stems from reading her work. Not all of it -- Cimorene from Dealing with Dragons deserves some credit, too -- but I suspect quite a bit.) First reading this book when I was thirty instead of thirteen means those characters will never occupy the deep place in my heart some of her others have, but I have very little to quibble with, where they're concerned.

My quibbles have to do with the world, which hints at all kinds of fascinating things, but never goes into enough detail to satisfy me. For an explanation of that, follow me behind the cut.

Read more... )

The Game is up next (which, like this book, I first read in January 2011), and I may or may not finish off Unexpected Magic before the month's end. Then I get to read the rest of my second tier of favorites: Archer's Goon, Power of Three, and A Tale of Time City. I'm looking forward to them!
swan_tower: (Howl)
There's only one story in this collection I haven't read already, but I still feel justified in counting it as a book read, because the story in question is The True State of Affairs, which eats up about half of the pages. I don't have a word count for it, but it is probably squarely in novella territory, if not edging toward short novel. Either way, it's certainly longer than some of the DWJ stories that have been published independently (like Wild Robert).

It's fortuitous timing that I chose to read it now. I started it months ago, but kept not getting into it; now, reading it through, I realize it is apparently a verrrrrrry peripheral Dalemark story. (As in, it had sort of a Dalemark-ish feel early on, and then there's one place where it uses that name directly.) It's hard to tell where it's supposed to fit into Dalemark chronology, though. They have steam engines, though not for practical use, which suggests it can't be too long before the "present" day of that series (i.e. Mitt and Moril's time), because that's when Alk is about to set off an industrial revolution. Also, there is no king, which means it has to be before Amil the Great, because Dalemark is a monarchy from his time up through Maewen's, where everything is modern. But I don't recall hearing any of these people referenced in the novels -- or even the places, though there I may just be overlooking things -- so it's hard to slot into position.

Look away if you don't want spoilers.

Read more... )
swan_tower: (Howl)
Conclusion of the Dalemark Quartet. Here we jump all around the Dalemark timeline, dwelling mostly in the "present day" of Moril and Mitt, but spending part of the narrative about two hundred years later, and drawing in components from the more distant past of The Spellcoats.

As a series conclusion goes, it's . . . odd. For one thing, as I mentioned in the post on The Spellcoats, this book came out fourteen years after its predecessor. That's quite a long time to wait for a finale, and I'm not sure why the pause happened -- especially given the way things were left hanging in some of the previous books. Cart and Cwidder ends on a mostly-resolved note (sorry, pun not intended); there's clearly room for more to be told, but if that was the last of it, we'd be okay. Drowned Ammet more obviously leaves things hanging, with Mitt making promises for the future that don't get addressed in his book. The Spellcoats is the most open-ended of the lot, but I'll leave the statement at that, to avoid spoilers.

This isn't your usual sort of last book; the stories it draws together are quite widely scattered. Even Moril and Mitt, who at least exist in the same century, hail from opposite ends of Dalemark, and have never met each other before this story begins. We also get a new character in the form of Maewen, a girl from the future of Dalemark, and quite a bit of the history being addressed is hers -- but although she's a central character, the book doesn't belong wholly to her. It's as much Mitt's book, or possibly more. This leads to some weird structural elements. To say more about those, though, I'll have to get into spoilers.

Cut time! )

Aaaaand that's it for Dalemark, and for this month of the project. Presuming I manage to stick to my schedule, only three more months and less than a dozen books to go!

. . . yeah, it still sounds like a lot, when I put it that way. Still, weighed against what I've gotten through already, I really am nearly done.
swan_tower: (Howl)
Third book in the Dalemark Quartet, which steps way back in history for the founding of the kingdom, when an invading army and an evil mage threaten the land.

A lot of people have cited this as their favorite book of the series, and I can see why. Tanaqui and her siblings are a great DWJ family; they don't all get along, but they're deeply loyal to one another, and all contribute in their individual ways. And the worldbuilding for this novel is especially rich: the Undying, the weaving of the rugcoats, the mages binding their spirits with their gowns, and all the rest of it. The setting we see is very plausibly an earlier society than the Dalemark of the "present-day" books (the ones with Moril and Mitt), and yet some of the things that happen along the way aren't the obvious -- because Jones is good at making things more complex than you expect at first glance.

Everything else is spoilers. )

Well, I've got <checks watch> about twenty-six hours to make that last post, to finish out this series before the end of the year. Expect that later tonight!
swan_tower: (Howl)
If I didn't have Christmas carols stuck in my head, I would have been singing Les Mis to myself for half this book. :-)

The Dalemark Quartet continues, with a book that takes on more directly the issue of oppression in the South Dales. Mitt's family is driven from their farm to the city of Holand by oppressive rents, and his father gets involved with a revolutionary society called the Free Holanders, which in turn ends up recruiting Mitt and his mother Milda, too. But when the Free Holanders decide to finally do something other than sit around and talk, things start to go very wrong very quickly.

That's half the story; the other half belongs to Hildy and Ynen, the grandchildren of the Earl of Holand. (70% of the names in this book begin with H. Hildrida and Hadd and Harl and Harchad and Holand and Hobin and hell if I can remember the rest.) As much as it sucks to be a commoner outside the palace, it isn't all sunshine and roses being a noble inside it, either; you never wonder where your next meal is coming from, but you do get sold off into political marriages and watch as your grandfather hangs Northerners whose only real crime was to be driven into harbor by a storm.

This book is stronger on both of the fronts that I felt were lacking in Cart and Cwidder; the plot has a lot more momentum, and the emotions are much more strongly laid out. Sure, I wanted to kick the Free Holanders in the teeth for being so blind they couldn't stage a revolution with both hands and a map -- and sometimes I wanted to kick Hobin, too, for failing to more effectively point out why joining them was a bad idea -- but it's entirely realistic stupidity, which means it frustrates me, but doesn't make for a bad story.

Other things I liked, before we LJ-cut for spoilers: Poor Old Ammet and Libby Beer. Which is to say, the tradition of making those two figures and throwing them in the harbor is fabulous. Like the word "cwidder," it feels very plausibly real, and ends up (as the title suggests) being very relevant to the story. I also liked the largely Ruritanian feel of the story; what with the revolutionaries and all, I half-believe that if you set sail across that ocean, you'll wash up in Westmark. :-)

The rest goes behind the cut.

Motifs I like, done right. )

I think that's most of my thoughts. Drowned Ammet is nearly half again as long as Cart and Cwidder, but I read it more rapidly, because I found it more compelling. I'm looking forward to The Spellcoats, which I ever-so-vaguely recall might have been my favorite, back in the day.
swan_tower: (Howl)
This is the first book of the Dalemark Quartet, which I know I read many years ago, but out of order and sufficiently spaced out that I don't think I realized at the time the books made up a set.

In part, this is because -- although I've afterwards thought of them as a Proper Series -- these books are no more closely linked than, say, Howl's Moving Castle and Castle in the Air. They take place in the same setting, and maybe once I get further on (I'm in the process of re-reading Drowned Ammet right now) there will be more immediate linkages, but so far there's no sense in which any of these books is a direct sequel to one before. (The exception may come in The Crown of Dalemark, which I want to say builds on all three of its predecessors. Then again, I haven't read the thing in probably twenty years, so my instinct is not what you'd call reliable.)

The other reason I didn't notice, the first (and I think only) time I read these books, that they belonged together, was because . . . they never really made an impression on me. I know some people love the Dalemark series; there are a number of Yuletide requests for it this year. Glancing at them, though, they all seem to be for later books: I didn't see a single one for Cart and Cwidder, though I might have overlooked it. I think it's entirely possible I'll like the later ones better -- Drowned Ammet is already off to a better start -- but yeah, this one didn't do a lot for me. It's one of the earlier books, published in 1975, and it feels like it never quite hit its stride.

Before I get to unpacking that, though, a plot summary. The title refers to the fact that the protagonist, Moril, belongs to a family of traveling singers; they travel in a cart, and he and his father both play the cwidder, which is (as near as I can tell) a made-up stringed instrument, or maybe just a made-up name for a stringed instrument. ("Cwidder" is a reasonably plausible morph of "guitar," to my eye, though the image on my book cover looks more like a lute.) They're traveling in the South Dales, which suffer under a repressive set of earls, and trying to make their way to the North Dales, where Moril and the other children were born, and people can live free.

Now we can move on to the spoilers.

And the LJ-cut to hide them. )

. . . I can tell I'm starting to tire out on this project; it's been eight months and thirty-one books, and I still have a little way to go. But I'm near enough to the end that I want to finish by the anniversary of her death. I'll do the rest of Dalemark this month, and then there will be only ten more books left (eight novels and the remainder of two short story collections). And I've saved a few of my second-tier favorites for nearly last. :-)
swan_tower: (Howl)
This is the third book in the "Fantasyland" set, following on Dark Lord of Derkholm, about eight years after the end of that book. It is less closely linked to Tough Guide to Fantasyland, though; the tours are done, and the world is sorting itself back into some kind of order, when Derk's youngest griffin daughter Elda goes off to wizard college.

As I said before, I'm a sucker for the younger generation finding out just what they're capable of. As a result, I really like Year of the Griffin, just for watching the protagonists deal with each other's problems -- Claudia's jinx, the assassins after Felim, the dwarven rebellion that sent Ruskin, and so on. It's amazing what you can do with a card catalogue and a bit of intellectual curiosity . . . .

I kind of want to kick Corkoran in the head for being so obsessed with his moonshot, even if I totally believe in that dynamic, academically speaking -- the professor who's more concerned with his pet project than with teaching. Wehrmacht I want to kick even more, for sheer incompetence. But they aren't generally malevolent (not like Mr. Chesney in Dark Lord), and I'm not expected to sympathize with them as protagonists, so I can deal with that impulse. I quite Elda and Lukin and Olga and Claudia and Felim and Ruskin, and that's the part that matters.
swan_tower: (Howl)
I've fallen behind on these, I'm afraid -- the posting more than the reading. So, without further ado:

Dark Lord of Derkholm is the playing-out of the ideas treated encyclopedically in Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Derk and his family live in a fantasy world that has, for the last forty years or so, been playing host to Tours from another dimension, sending them hither and yon across the landscape in quest of clues to overthrow the Dark Lord. But the Tours are bankrupting their world; they're sacking cities, trampling crops, laying waste to the countryside, and forcing everybody to fulfill the expectations (read: conform to the stereotypes) of these otherworldly visitors. The people in charge of setting things up for the Tours want to bring them to an end once and for all, so they appoint a wizard named Derk to play the role of this year's Dark Lord, and his untrained, fourteen-year-old son Blade to be the Wizard Guide for the final Tour.

This is a fairly sprawling book. At 517 pages in my (mass-market) edition, it may well be her longest; I think only A Sudden Wild Magic comes close to challenging that. Dark Lord reminds me of that one a bit, just in terms of narrative scope. There's a lot of stuff going on in here, as Querida, the High Chancellor of the wizard's college, tries to manipulate things into going badly enough to end the Tours, and Derk and Blade (along with the rest of their family) run themselves to the point of ragged and beyond trying to do their jobs right.

I think my favorite stuff in here involves Derk's family. There are so many neglected and abused children in her books, it's refreshing to get something like this or the Montanas in The Magicians of Caprona, where there are a lot of people who may squabble, but ultimately love each other quite a lot. I did want to smack Derk sometimes; his tendency to retreat from unpleasant things into fantasies of new creatures reminded me a bit of Erg in "Four Grannies," though he had much better reason for it. But I like his kids a lot, both the human ones and the griffins.

I suppose I should put the rest of this behind a cut.

Read more... )

On the whole, while I enjoy this one, I like Year of the Griffin a bit more. Look for that post soon.


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