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I really didn’t need to be in yet another online platform, but couldn’t resist the idea of having my series organised. With FictFact I can track my progress and it warns me of new publications in all the series I follow.
I also like the quick overview of the books I have coming up in my profile page and to be able to nose around the series my friends are following (search sleeplessreader and feel free to add me).
Going through my stats is fun but it triggers the familiar “so many books, so little time” anxiety. I am currently following 61 series, but these include books on the TBR, so of those I haven’t even started 30. I’ve completed 50% or more of only 12 series and shamefully I’m only up to date on two (how is that possible?): the Wolf Hall Trilogy and Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing.
This is a list of the top 10 series I’m keener to start. Many have been on the shelf looking at me with big Puss in Boots eyes for a while. I’m thinking that the Long Awaited Reads might be a good opportunity to finally start a couple of them.
Go ahead and nudge me in the direction of your favorites
- Morland Dynasty by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
- Jackson Brodie by Kate Atkinson
- Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson
- Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, Ben
Rivers of London/Midnight Riot
- New Crobuzon by China Miéville
Perdido Street Station
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
- Eleanor of Aquitaine by Sharon Kay Penman
When Christ and His Saints Slept
- Welsh Princes by Sharon Kay Penman
Here Be Dragons
- Moosepath League by Van Reid
I don’t think it’ll be in mine, but it was still a very good read. Lots of other books and movies came to mind while reading it, from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Firebrand (my favorite book about the Trojan War), to Brad Pitt’s Troy.
It’s very cleverly told: the paragraphs were short, the writing beautiful without being whimsical or overly poetic (always a risk in stories about myths). There weren’t lots of lengthy descriptions or endless impossible-to-memorize names, but it didn’t feel dumbed-down at all, on the contrary, it was accessible and engaging.
I was expecting that, as usual, the fact it was about a gay relationship would be the driver of the plot, so it was refreshing to see it practically as a non-issue and that the demi-God and human factor created much more emotional tension. I wonder if it felt like that because the story is told in the first person, turning a him + him and into a more “generic” me + him.
Lots of other thoughts and wonderings. The biggest was about whether Achilles really did love Patroclus, which may be blasphemy for those of you who cried buckets at the end.
Patroclus is the real hero of the story. Unlike Achilles, he feels fear, but still rescues Briseis and the other women, and goes into battle to save Achilles’ honor. Achilles is the strongest, no one can beat him, and he knows it. His only fear is to be forgotten. He prefers to go into a sure death and win Eternal Glory than have a safe, ordinary life with Patroclus. What if the Gods had told him: you’ll only be famous if you leave – or worst, kill – Patroclus? Agamemnon killed his own daughter – would Achilles do the same?
Odysseus was great. A smartass, but great. Good to see someone using wits over brutal force. In a book where loving relationships are so underrated, his passion for Penelope was really touching and human. Of course there’ll be a certain Calypso in his future, but who’s counting?
In the end, I didn’t cry like everyone else. It’s strange, because I’m usually a literary cry-baby and at the moment that’s exacerbated by crazy hormones. My questioning about Achilles’ real feelings probably distanced me from the expected tragedy. It was still a good read (a first novel – respect!) with lots of food for thought, it just didn’t pull at my heart-strings as I was expecting.
Also, where’s the Horse?! I was looking forward to the Horse!
Other thoughts: Book Twirps, Fizzy Thoughts, Always Cooking Up Something, Rivers I Have Known, The Allure of Books, Eve’s Alexandria, What She Read, Lazy Gal Reads, 2606 Books, Fleur Fisher, Novel Insights, Devourer of Books, Nomad Reader, Vulpes Libris, Savidge Reads, Iris on Books, chasing bawa, Farm Lane Books (yours?)
“We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.“
(Cool quote, but doesn’t it sound a bit Lady Gagaish… or maybe Doctor Whoish?)
I don’t like talking animals. Don’t like them in books, movies and especially don’t like them in commercials. I’m ok with anthropomorphism is general – loved Tangled’s chameleon and Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon – I just don’t like it when they talk. It’s like it takes my suspension of disbelief too far.
It’s probably because of this that some of the dragon books I’ve read before didn’t quite do it for me, including Eragon of His Majesty’s Dragon. So I had my expectations in check when I let myself succumb to the book blogosphere’s love of Seraphina.
A bit of plot: an unstable peace exists between humans and dragons in the medieval kingdom of Gorred, where dragons walk the streets in human bodies, so as not to frighten people. Outlawing dragons’ natural form is one of the cornerstones of the peace treaty signed 50 years ago between the two races. But when a royal family member is murdered in a suspiciously draconian way just days before the treaty’s 50th anniversary celebration, Seraphina, a talented Court musician, must be careful to hide the truth about herself.
The story, which basically a whodunit, develops somewhat slowly, but that’s not a problem when there are so many interesting details to discover about Seraphina’s world, her past, her profession and her fellow courtiers. Everything about the worldbuilding is interesting, from the descriptions of the cobblestone-covered Medieval city, to the pieces of the history between dragons and humans and the well-thought-of religious beliefs (comparable to the detail George R.R. Martin puts into his ’s Seven/Old Gods system). Lots of stuff to further develop in upcoming books.
Add finely nuanced characters (a shout out to Orma, dragon scholar and Seraphina’s teacher), shapeshifting dragons fascinated by human art and a society balancing mistrust and infatuation and you have a winning combination.
(Spoiler alert, although for something that’s revealed pretty early on) I know most posts about this book focus on Seraphina dealing with her half-breed status, and indeed it’s all done in a very subtle and engaging way, (/mild spoilers) but for me the best part of the book was the dragons vs. humans dynamic. It often brought to mind Star Trek and the relationships between the rational and logical Vulcans (and even droids like Data) and the more flawed (is that the word?) Humans. There’s tension, but also a mutual fascination and need to understand and be understood that can be applied about many inter-human conflicts around the world today. Fascinating stuff!
A short note on the romance bit just to say it was very satisfying without overpowering the book or creating the ANGST that’s ruined so many YAs for me.
One of the best of 2012 and I gladly add my voice to the rest of the enthusiastic choir.
Other thoughts: things mean a lot, Stella Matutina, Magnificent Octopus, The Book Smugglers, Steph Su Reads, Wear the Old Coat, Charlotte’s Library, intoyourlungs, Books Without Any Pictures, The Readventurer, Anna Reads, The Book Swarm, Good Books & Good Wine, Book Sake, Beyond Books, Iris on Books (yours?)
Yet another proof that this re-reading thing really pays off and the confirmation that Tigana is still my favorite stand-alone fantasy novel, 10 years after the first read. This time around the experience was further improved by Simon Vance‘s most excellent narration.
(By the way, to all fantasy authors who still write stand-alones: thank you!)
There’s a lot for the grateful reader to sink his teeth on in Tigana, but the central topic is the subjugation of a people. The Peninsula of the Palm was invaded at the same time by two tyrants and sorcerers. The lack of unity among the Palm’s provinces made them easy targets and all were soon conquered and their territory divided among the two invaders.
One province stood out – Tigana. They were the last to fight back and in a decisive battle the son of the most powerful of the two tyrants was killed. He promised and delivered a terrible revenge: first he crushed them in the final battle and then, using his magic, he ensured that only people who were born in the province before the invasion could remember Tigana, its name, culture or history. Buildings were destroyed, music forgotten, books burned. Proud Tigana was now Lower Corte, a poor and minor province in the shadow of its neighbor (and former rival) Corte.
Now, twenty years after the invasions, a group of rebels led by Tigana’s heir have a plan to bring down the tyrants and break the spell. It is the province’s last chance before its name is forever wiped from history.
I don’t know about you, but I think this is one hell of a premise. The use of language during dictatorships and invasions has always fascinated me. Its direct link to identity, culture and sense of belonging makes it an extremely effective tool of subjugation, humiliation and consolidation. As Gavriel Kay explains in the Afterword:
When you want to subjugate a people – to erase their sense of themselves as separate and distinctive – one place to start (and it is sometimes enough) is with their language and names. Names link to history, and we need a sense of our history to define ourselves.
This book is a good argument against the nay-sayers convinced that fantasy books are detached from the real world. It’s impossible not to make parallels with past and present events.Lots of food for thought in
Tigana, but delivered in a way far from preachy or obvious. There’s lots of suspense, adventure, intrigue and romance. The characters, as I’ve come to expect from Gavriel Kay, are masterly built (he paid attention in the “show don’t tell” class), from the tyrants, to the rebel leader to the inn-keeper we meet only in one short scene.
It’s also very rewarding in its complexity: nothing is black-and-white, characters are never just the Heroes or the Villains and are often put in scenarios that seem like psychology case-studies where there’s never a clear win-win decision.
I plan to re-read The Fionavar Tapestry ( and maybe The Sarantine Mosaic) next year.
One of my favorite quotes:
He carried, like baggage, like a cart yoked to his shoulders, like a round stone in his heart, images of his people, their world destroyed, their name obliterated. Truly obliterated: a sound that was drifting, year by year, further away from the shores of the world of men, like some tide withdrawing in the grey hour of a winter dawn. Very like such a tide, but different as well, because tides came back.
Other thoughts: The Literay Omnivore, The Speculative Scotsman, just add books, Fantasy Cafe, Only the Best Fantasy & Sci-fi, Ela’s Book Blog, Speculative Book Review, The Readventurer, Necromancy Never Pays, Doing Dewey (yours?)
American Gods goes into my mental list of “it’s not you, it’s me” books. (I feel I’m loosing some imaginary “coolness factor” by not having loving it, like there’s social pressure involved. Some books have that aura.)
After all, it seemed to have all the ingredients necessary to win me over, including the epic scope and the appealing plot – old and new Gods fighting for the hearts and minds of Americans without them knowing? Sign me up! Also, I loved my two previous Gaimans (The Graveyard Book and Good Omens), always a good sign.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what didn’t do it for me, because the writing is clearly brilliant and none of the narrators in my audiobook was particularly annoying.
Although the plot sounded great, throughout the 20 hours of audiobook I had to tell myself to suspend my disbelief (unusual for me in fantasy novels) and stop over-analyzing, like:
- Why should I be on the side of Shadow and Odin and not with the new Gods of Television, Internet and Money? Didn’t Odin instigate wars, rape and murder? Why are we safer with the Old Gods? If I had a choice, I’d probably go with the new ones.
- Are we really more obsessed with money today than, say, 200 years ago?
- Isn’t there be a better way for Odin and his buddies to gain power? Maybe try to gather more human followers by doing a few tricks. Show off a bit. There are birds of thunder flying around and Shadow can control the weather, for crying out loud.
- Where are the current, strong Gods like Jesus Christ and Allah? Wasn’t it a cop-out not to include them?
There are a lot of contradictions in the plot line and in the end (because of it?) the story becomes very secular: Man has the power and (I ask myself) if Man has the power, why do we need Gods at all?
“Jesus does pretty good over here,” (…) “But I met a guy who said he saw him hitchhiking by the side of the road in Afghanistan and nobody was stopping to give him a ride. You know? It all depends on where you are.
Maybe Gaiman’s whole point is to make the reader think about this. Either way, all this questioning made me disconnected from the characters and it’s always more difficult to love a book with characters you don’t care about and whose deaths you’d be indifferent to.
I did enjoy it in general, especially the resolution of the missing girls’ mystery in the sleepy small town. The road-trip was a great opportunity for Gaiman to display his humor, clever writing and even cleverer observations of people and culture.
I just wish that Shadow felt more like someone with an actual will and opinion, that I cared 2-Euro-cents about his zombie wife, that all the build-up and premonitions had an explosive finale, that the Gods we get to know in the “interludes” (probably my favorite parts) made an appearance somewhere in the main story. Lots of things felt too… loose.
Technically, American Gods is grand but unfortunately I can’t really say that it won me over.
things mean a lot, The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Reviews, That’s What She Read, S. Krishna’s Books, Birdbrain(ed), Man of la Book, just add books, Entomology of a Bookworm, Life with Books, Melody & Words, Sophisticated Dorkiness, Reading with Tequila, a book a week, The Little Red Reviewer, ResoluteReader, A Lifetime of Books, The Labyrinth Library, Once Upon a Bookshelf, Amy’s Book Obsession, 50 Books Project, biblioathlas, Postcards from Asia, Becky’s Book Reviews, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On (yours?)
My commitment to re-reading has proven to be the best idea of the year. It’s been great to go back to favorites of 10 to 20 years ago, but most of all, it has given me the opportunity to re-evaluate my position on Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series.
They’re favorites of friends whose opinion I really respect, and after reading the first two the first time around I thought them ok, but failed to see what the fuss was about. This time around, I really liked The Thief, thoroughly enjoyed The Queen of Attolia, but The King of Attolia… well, this one entered the year’s top 5 and propelled them all to my group of favorites series of all time. Still have A Conspiracy of Kings in the TBR because I’m all about delayed gratification.
They’ve also entered my list of books I can wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, independently of age, sex or literary genre preferences. I can recommend them to people who read, who don’t read, who don’t read YA, and who don’t read fantasy. There is enough depth, character building, romance, power play and, ultimately, just good story-telling, to please everyone.
With The King of Attolia I gained for MWT the sort of awed respect that I reserve only for the likes of Dorothy Dunnett and Patrick O’Brian (and with a *gasp* YA book!). She was goooood and she never assumes the readers are slow-witted and need to be explained everything. My kinda writer.
Throughout the series we follow the main character – Gen – closely and by the third book we know just how clever and sneaky he is, so to keep us on our toes, MWT writes the story from the POV of someone who is oblivious to Gen’s skills. We know Gen’s up to something, but can make guessed from what the narrator tells us. I can only imagine how difficult this must be to pull off without frustrating the reader, but she did it perfectly, and the result is an intellectually stimulating and fun revelry.
And the romantic angle – oh my! The relationship between Gen and Irene is right up my alley because, again, I don’t need to be spelled out everything to understand it. In The King of Attolia we’re not privy to what’s going on between them, but there are scenes that, without being explicit, have the emotional impact of a Pride & Prejudice proposal. Anyone who’s not in love with Gen by this point must have a heart of stone.
I won’t go too deeply into the plot to avoid spoilers, just a little teaser: when the series starts we meet a young thief called Gen (short for Eugenides) who boasts he can steal anything. Ready to test these claims, a Magus challenges him to steal an object that can change the precarious balance of the region’s three kingdoms…
Oh, the feeling of discovering new favorites! Makes life worth while
Other thoughts on individual books: Dear Author on #1, #2 and #3, Chiachic’s Book Nook, Steph Su Reads #1 and #2, The Literate Mother, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castlell #1 and #2, It’s All About Books, Jacus’ Book Blog, bookshelves of doom, birdbrain(ed) book blog, let’s eat grandpa, Presenting Lenore, Literary Fangirl Book Reviews, Fyrefly (yours?)
Life has been happening like crazy on this side of the line. Add holidays and heat and pure, unadulterated laziness and you get a blogging slump. It would also be a reading slump if it wasn’t for YA audiobooks and daily newspapers (a holiday tradition and zen moment).
I need a bit of incentive because my spirit breaks just by looking at the two months backlog. Anyone interested in doing a buddy-read or something? Any easy read-alongs going around? Interesting projects?
Meanwhile, and while inspiration doesn’t strike, I’m doing a meme. They’re not usually my thing, but these are desperate times and maybe thinking about the books I’ve planned for the upcoming months will help.
Top Ten Books on my Fall TBR List
Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
Harris’ The Observations didn’t do much for me, but everyone seems to be raving about Gillespie and I so I’ve decided to give it a try.
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
My most anticipated re-read is Tigana, my favorite book by Guy Gavriel Kay. I’ve decided to tackle it in audio format this time around.
Chroniques de Jérusalem by Guy Delisle
All books by Guy Delisle are an instant best-seller here in Brussels, European capital of the graphic novel. I’ve never read anything by him but heard lots about this one, a birthday present from my co-workers.
The King of Attolia (The Queen’s Thief, #3) by Megan Whalen Turner
I’ve recently re-read the first two in the series just so that when I’d pick this one up for the first time everything was fresh. I hear it’s the best one of the series so far?
The Unicorn Hunt (The House of Niccolo, #5) by Dorothy Dunnett
I’m trying to go through The House of Niccolo series reeeeeeally slowly because you only read Dunnet for the first time once. It was a Herculean effort not to lunge for this one right after Scales of Gold and its extraordinary ending. I’ve waited long enough.
Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry
Whenever I don’t have a formed opinion on a certain topic, I Google Fry’s thoughts on it and always find myself nodding in agreement. Moab is My Washpot is an autobiography covering his first 20 years of life. The Fry Chronicles is already in the TBR waiting its turn.
The Mauritius Command(Aubrey/Maturin Book 4) by Patrick O’Brian
Another series I want to make last, although its 21 volumes-long… The previous book, HMS Surprise, is set to become one of the best of 2012.
Mayombe by Pepetela
For Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge, this will be my first by one of Angola’s most famous writers. Everyone I know who reads in Portuguese seems to have read at least one of his books.
She’s Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff by Annalee Newitz & Charlie Anders (Eds.)
To celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, on 16 October.
Un día de cólera by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
At the beginning of the year one of my goals was to read more books in their original languages. I’ve done well in Portuguese and French but haven’t picked up anything in Spanish yet. This hour by hour description of 1808′s Dos de Mayo Uprising in Madrid will put me back on track.
Look at me, being all good about my New Year Literary Resolutions! We’re only half-way through the year and I’ve already re-read more books than in 2011. I decided to try The Mists of Avalon in audiobook format because it’s narrated by the divine Davina Porter, who in my humble opinion can do no wrong.
I won’t do a full review of the book, but will just record for posterity the major differences between my two reading experiences. I think they says a lot about my 17- and 32-year-old selves.
The biggest change was how I felt towards Morgaine. She’s still awesome, a perfectly fleshed-out character that you really get to know and admire for her courage and self-reliance. But while at 17 I completely identified with her – I wanted to be her – now I often wished she would just lighten up a bit.
Look, I get it, she’s in love with someone who’ll never love her back, and her way of life is dying before her helpless eyes, I see how that makes a person cranky. But at the same time I wish she would, just once in while, let go of the aura of pathos she carries around all the time and laugh like she means it. I think my reaction to Morgaine is part of my growing intolerance of depressing books and movies I mentioned here before.
On the other hand, my feelings towards Guinevere haven’t changed. She’s the same little angry ball of resentment and unhappiness. But despite this, Marion Zimmer Bradley still made me understand her motivations, even when I resisted it and was determined to completely hate the annoying hypocrite.
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, July 2011. In The Mists of Avalon, this is where Morgaine is born.
Arthur jumped out of the pages this time. We only follow the story thought the eyes of the female characters, but still get more insight into the mind of Lancelot or Uther than that of Arthur, who’s the story’s whole reason of existence. Still, what we do get to know about him is surprising.
In a book famous for having no black or white characters, Arthur is, amazingly, a Good Man. He’s honorable, faithful, fair, he understands the complex world he lives in and the impossibility to please all, but he still tries. He always seems to see the glass half-full, unlike most of the other characters in the book. But despite all this and the freaky “love-square” with Guinevere, Lancelot and Morgaine, there’s never one person who thinks of him as The One, and that’s terribly sad.
Other things I noticed now and I didn’t before: the patterns, balance and irony. For instance, Morgause and Vivienne want daughters and only have sons, Guinevere longs in vain for an heir to Camelot, Morgaine doesn’t want a child and has one. Guinevere, the greatest catholic Queen, is in love with a pagan. In her later days she envies Morgaine’s knowledge and freedom but is on a quest to destroy the traditions that allow them. The search for the Holy Grail is what speeds the fall of Camelot and its (Christian) ideals. It was Avalon’s tolerance of the early Priests that kick-started their towards the Mists. Everyone loves Arthur, but no one is ever truly in love with him.
This time around I could also appreciate much more the religious discussions. Before I just though of how cool Wicca must be, now I look at the story as a cycle. Just as Avalon supplanted the Old Ones, so did Christianity supplant Avalon and so will something else supplant Christianity.
The general feeling I’ll take from this re-reading is of a story about the rise and fall of Camelot. The Utopian Kingdom is destroyed by intolerance, giving way to the Dark Ages and its impact on knowledge, equality (especially gender equality) and freedom. It’s a much more melancholic story than I remembered.
Still, I look forward to a re-read in another 15 years – who knows what I’ll discover then?
Third week of the Red Seas Under Red Skies Read-along.
1. Locke and Jean’s ability to find themselves at the center of a serious mess seems unparalleled. At this point, do you think that Stragos will get the return he expects on his investment in them?
During these chapters Locke and Jean completely lose control over their lives, nearly die, are saved, begin to enjoy that lack of control and then, as said in the last question, the Thorn of Camorr is back. I was ready to believe that from that point on they’d start planning how to con the Priory and the Spire. But then they have the argument.
I’m hoping Locke will find a way to get revenge with the help of the Poison Orchid, not over their dead bodies.
2. Merrain’s activities after our boys leave Windward Rock are interesting. What do you think her plans are?
Sneaky, sneaky! It’s still possible that she’s doing it at the command of the Priory. It might be all part of the Archon’s plan to hit the magi and get rid of evidence (i.e. Locke and Jean).
3. Does anyone know why having cats aboard the ship is so important?
The Ship’s Cat tradition/superstition goes way back, so in that, Lynch mirrored our world. Where he twisted the rules was in the one about women. Many seamen even today believe that having a woman on board the ship makes the seas angry and is an omen of bad luck for everyone aboard.
4. The word “mutiny” creates a lot of mental pictures. Were you surprised? Why or why not?
I have to admit I was surprised. Even after Caldris’ death, I thought Locke would be able to talk his way out of everything. I guess no women and no cats onboard really is bad luck!
5. Ah, the Poison Orchid. So many surprises there, not the least of which were the captain’s children. Did you find the young children a natural part of the story?
I figured that as of the moment women are accepted and even required to be at sea, the rules of life on board need to be adjusted to accomodate them, including the presence of children. I’m sure there’s even some sort of day-care system in bigger boats.
I was more surprised about not seeing more children aboard the Poison Orchid.
6. Jean is developing more and more as a character as we get further in to the book. Ezri makes the comment to him that “Out here, the past is a currency, Jerome. Sometimes it’s the only one we have.” I think several interesting possibilities are coming into play regarding Jean and Ezri. What about you?
Last week I was asking for a romantic interest for Jean and voilá! It’s great they started bonding over books and fighting techniques. She’s a way for Jean to come into his own and for that he needed a bit of perspective away from Locke. No matter how great their friendship is, Jean has always been the “shadow”. A good example is how, because of his knowledge, he should have been the Captain of the Red Messenger (imho) – as far as we know, no one even considered that option.
I’ll do them both good.
I think that, even without Ezri, Jean would have rebelled against Locke’s willingness to sacrifice the crew for his revenge.
7. As we close down this week’s reading, the Thorn of Camorr is back! I love it, even with all the conflict. Several things from their Camorri background have come back up. Do you think we will see more Camorri characters?
I’d say no. They’re being saved for the third book.
- My favorite chapters so far. Maybe because of female characters that aren’t brilliant-but-evil?
- I’m hoping that part of the next books will be set in the Captain’s home-land. It sounded interesting!
I’m ever so glad to see that Guy Gavriel Kay (GGK) is back on track! Before reading Ysabel I truly believed he could do no wrong. Even his less-good books were still good, and his good books were amazing, but Ysabel made me fear he’d lost his mojo, especially because it followed The Last Light of the Sun, which was in the “less-good” category. It was with a sigh of relive that I finished Under Heaven and could confidently still say he’s one of my favorite fantasy authors.
One of the best things about his books is that each is set in a place very similar to our own world: Tigana could be medieval Italy, The Lions of Al-Rassan Moorish Spain, The Sarantine Mosaic Constantinople, etc. In Under Heaven, the country of Kitai was inspired by China’s 8th century Tang Dynasty and the events leading to the An Shi Rebellion.
For the first time GGK moves outside “Europe” and away from the world of all his earlier novels. In Under Heaven there’s only one moon (instead of the usually two), and there’s no reference to the mythical Fionavar, a legend common to all his previous societies and where The Fionavar Tapestry is actually set. I felt sorry for the break in tradition, but I’m also looking forward to see what he’ll do with his next books.
The story starts with Shen Tai, who’s honoring the death of his father, a great General of the Kitai Empire, by burying the dead of an old battle between Kitai and their arch-enemies, the Taguran. No one dares living in that place because the spirits of the dead roam in the night, so for his extraordinary courage, the Taguran Empress offers Shen Tai 250 prized Sardian horses.
This is such an amazing gift that Shen Tai’s life is immediately in danger. The gift forces him out his self-imposed exile to join the highest rank of Kitai’s society their complex political and dynastic power-struggles.
Kitai is an intricate society with strict rules that dominate every aspect of life and a lot of importance is given to pleasures such as music and poetry. For instance, young men who want to entre civil service have to go through several tough exams that involve history, law and philosophy, but they also have to write several styles of poetry. GGK published a poetry book in 2003, and you can tell that in Under Heaven he expanded on what’s clearly one of his passions.
I heart fictional maps…
Two things that make GGK’s books right up my alley: the characterization and his tangent ways of telling a story.
Under Heaven is filled with fascinating characters, like “The Banished Immortal”, the greatest poet of his age, who’s constantly drunk but never the less has great discussions with Shen Tai about everything. Although in Katai society women don’t have any official power, we see that many (most?) of the major events in the book are set in motion by women. From the Emperor’s Favorite Concubine to Shen Tai’s sister or his kick-ass body-guard, there’s enough female presence and variety to enrich a story that at first sight seems about a strictly-patriarchal society.
If you’ve read any of GGK’s books you’ll probably know what I mean about a tangent way to tell the story. Not only it’s not linear in time and place, but it also jumps between points of view and shifts between macro and micro events. For instance, he might be telling you about an impending major battle, the way the troops are moving and the Emperor’s intentions, and then shift to the thoughts of an obscure guard in an obscure fortress. A few pages are dedicated to this character, even though he’ll be of no importance to the story. You’ll find out about his hopes and fears, something about his past, and quickly you’ll become emotionally invested in him. Because of him you’ll realize the human impact of the battles recently described in only a strategic way.
Often, many chapters later (and probably by something a main character says in passing) you’ll find out that the guard died or was rewarded and, incredibly, it makes you strangely sad or happy. In Under Heaven, Shen Tai’s horse keeper is a good example of this, as is the head of the mountain fortress, or the beggar outside the closed garden. GGK is a master of this gimmick – I wonder if it has a name? May I propose “GGK 360o”?
I didn’t connect with Under Heaven as much as I did with some of his other books. The pace at certain points was too slow and the story of Shen Tai’s sister, given as a bride to the leader of a savage Mongol-like tribe, was more interesting than his own. I felt a bit frustrated whenever the story moved away from her. The same happened later on with Shen Tai’s former lover (her final chapters were actually my favorite of the whole book).
Although GGK does a great job with his characters, I have the feeling they weren’t the most important part of the book. They’re just instruments to illustrate the decline and fall of a dynasty that seemed immortal. There’s something very nostalgic about Under Heaven, like it’s an ode to a long-lost art form or beautiful language. This is something common to the best of his earlier books and it never fails to get a tear or twenty out of me.
Other thoughts: BookLust, Fantasy Book Critic, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, Sci-Fi Fan Letter, Speculative Book Review, Fyrefly’s Book Blog, Rachel Cotterill’s Book Reviews, Val’s Random Comments, The Wertzone, Torque Control, The Speculative Scotsman, The King of Elfland’s Second Cousin, The Literary Omnivore, Between Two Books, Stella Matutina, My Ever Expanding Library, the word zombie (yours?)