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Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the WindUnknown

by: Patrick Rothfuss

DAW Books New York, NY   2007

ISBN: 978-0-7564-0589-2

This is a beautiful book from a literary perspective.  It’s a bittersweet story told in an interesting format with flowing language and engaging characters.  I was enchanted.  Patrick Rothfuss has set this up as a trilogy.  A hero, mythic figure, and outlaw hiding from himself as much as he is hiding from the world tells the story of his life as he would like to be remembered.  It is a common literary device, but in this book it is handled with a grace, and elegance, that enhances the overall story telling.

The world of this novel is older than its history.  Pieces of the before times are left in fairy tales and children’s sing songs.  But the world that was before is not entirely gone.  That violent magic touches our hero when he is a youth and it gives his life purpose.  Magic, or rather Arcania, is present in this world and studied in all its forms at the University Arcanum.  This school has some of the charm of Hogwarts and some of the student body dynamic of Lord of the Flies.  Boys in competition are not always kind to each other and punishments for getting caught at misbehavior include taking lashes at the post.

This was not an easy life, and the story is told with an honesty that makes it all the more compelling.    As Kvothe, the storyteller, explores his own life he talks openly about the moments that were hints of who he would become.  Trained as an entertainer, he takes us to the crossroads of his life.  We, the readers, debate his choices and their consequences along with him.  In his telling it is clear that the man is reviewing his own culpability in becoming the legendary Kvothe.

Kvothe has said it will take him three days to tell the tale. This is the structure of the trilogy, and so this first book is the story of the hero’s childhood.  Set against the frame of a man who is apparently waiting to die the adventuresome spirit and insatiable curiosity of the boy is poignant.  The occasional breaks in the story where we return to the present are both a relief and an emphasis of how far this child has to travel.  They also give the characters hearing the story and the reader a chance to breathe and to sympathize with the little boy who was.

When I picked up this book I hoped that the trilogy was complete.  This book does stand alone, even as it makes the reader beg for more.  Sadly the author’s life intervened and the second book in the trilogy was just released last year.  The author’s web site is encouraging about his work on the third book and I can only hope he will finish it soon.  Although I suspect that even if quite a bit of time goes by a re-reading of this novel would not be diminished by the change of perspective that passing time inevitably produces.  Yet another underlining of one of the books themes.

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Posted by on April 20, 2013 in Fantasy

 

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The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel – the seriesimages

by Michael Scott

The Alchemyst, The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer, The Warlock and The Enchantress all refer to the group of immortals who are engaged in the battle between the Elder Powers who either want to allow humanity their independence or to return and rule the Earth.  It is an amalgam of mythology and history inter-dimensionally and across time.  At its core the series explores the good within evil and the evil within good.  It is a treatise on what it really means to be a member of the human race.

I reviewed the first book, The Alchemyst, and said that I hoped the teenage twins grew up soon.  The entire series takes place over just a few short weeks so aging, at least for the teens, is not an option.  Luckily they are given dramatic and life-shifting experiences.  As they develop new skills they leave behind the teenage angst for life and death problems.  The writing improves as Scott worries less and less about making them seem “typical” American teens.

The character development of the teens remains slightly awkward.  For instance Sophie acquires knowledge of a number of current and obscure languages in a short time.  In one scene she is translating and in the next she doesn’t seem to understand what is being said around her.  Their shifting alliances and questioning of authority is both their weakness and their strength.

As I said in an earlier review, Michael Scott knows his mythology.  He has chosen his Gods and Immortals well.  These characters are not dependent on a readers knowledge.  They are well fleshed out, each with their own personalities and agendas.  It was never clear what happens when one of the Elder Powers is killed, if they really die forever, but there are certainly repercussions across the dimensions.

Even the mythological beasts are carefully chosen, both for their violence and perhaps for their obscurity.  Scott has his own take on vampires and the were clans, which has a historical basis.  He writes a pre-historical Atlantis and admits to an authors indulgence when he credits the Tuatha De Danann their origin there.

As his characters and eventually the story runs back and forth in time, Scott never addresses directly the typical science fiction time line paradox.  Apparently in this world everyone, including the Gods, believes that going back in time you can change the future.

Each one of the books in the series explores a little of the background of one of the Immortals involved with the teens.  The titles do not explicitly identify which immortal they refer to, but the stories make strong suggestions.  It’s a clever contrivance and yet another way to keep the reader engaged in the series.

I remained throughout more interested in the other characters than I was in the twins.  By the end I did want to know what happened to them both in their future and throughout history.  I got the answer directly about one of them, but had to make some guesses about the other.  The Flamels question their own righteousness in the end but they believe they truly did their best and they did it together.

I am not sorry I worked my way through the whole series.  They were enjoyable rainy day books.  Scott does have an occasional “lost story” published about some of the immortals that were not as well developed in this series.  Maybe on another rainy day I’ll pick them up.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Fantasy, Teen Fiction

 

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The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

The Cats of Tanglewood ForestUnknown

by Charles DeLint

Illustrated by Charles Vess

Little, Brown and Company New York, NY    2013

ISBN:978-0-316-05357-0

This is a delightful tale that promises to be a new classic.  It is as likable as The Wind in the Willows or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and would appeal to the same age group.  Charles Vess’s watercolor illustrations have a dreamy quality reminiscent of the Beatrix Potter illustrations.

The setting deep in the hill country could be any remote country but my mind-set it in the Smokey Mountains. The animal population is rather varied including a black panther, a fox, a possum, bears and of course the wild cats.  The young heroine meets the animals in the forest who talk and have rich lives in what seems to be an entirely different reality than that of the “grown-ups.”

Our young heroine, Lillian, is a wild child and a dreamer.  She is an orphan being raised by her Aunt on hard work and old stories.  Lillian wanders freely in the woods once her chores and her home schooling work is finished for the day.  She keeps hoping to spy a fairy, but she can never seem to find one.  She’s warned, “When it comes to spirits, it’s best not to draw their attention.  Elsewise you never know what you might be calling down on yourself.”  But Lillian just want to say hello.

The dilemma of the story comes early as Lillian falls asleep under a tree and gets bit by a poisonous snake.  This happens to be the tree where all the forest cats congregate.  Lillian is friendly to everyone.  She leaves milk out for the wild cats, shares the chicken feed with the wild birds and always leaves a biscuit under the oldest apple tree for the Apple Tree Man.  The cats know she will die if they don’t do something so they work a large magic, and turn Lillian into a kitten.

From this point on in the story Lillian’s adventures take her into the world she always wished she could see.  She also learns that magic has consequences, and usually you don’t like them.  The story is about how hard she works to make everything in her world right again, even if it means she might end up a dead snake-bit girl.

This would be a great read aloud chapter book for young school age children.  It would be a charming tale for a young girl, especially a forest child and a dreamer.  Even as an adult I was delighted to be swept back into my own childhood dreams.

Charles DeLint is a master of modern fantasy and ‘real world’ magic.  Much of his material is geared to an older audience, and some of it can be very dark.  This is a simple tale told with great depth and mastery.  I highly recommend it.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Children, Fantasy

 

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Etruscans

EtruscansUnknown

by Morgan Llywelyn and Michael Scott

Tom Doherty Associates New York, NY  2000

Morgan Llwyelyn and Michael Scott are known for their historical fantasy.  They tend to explore places in history where there is a cultural shifting.  It is an anthropological principle that in this kind of shifting of cultures myths arise.  So the tales touch on the edges of myths that we still know today.

The Etruscans is not as successful an adventure as some of their other work.  This is a period where our archeology is limited and our understanding even more limited.  The story itself is a rambling tale that includes characters and myths from all across the Mediterranean.  There are scenes that suggest the possibility of small Neanderthal tribes still living in the Italian hills.  There is a secondary character who is an Egyptian priest of Anubis.  There are the new Roman tribes and the decadent Eutruscans who’s golden age is coming to an end.

As large as this tale may seem at face value, it is even larger in a mythic sense.  It would seem that rather than exploring the downfall of the Etruscans this is a tale exploring the multiple realms of the spiritual world of Etruscan (and Roman, and Egyptian, and Greek) belief.

The story starts with an interesting young female character.  She is adventurous and privileged.  Sadly she spends the rest of the story in a walking fugue state traumatized from being raped by a demon.  Then we are introduced to the girl’s mother and a Etruscan lord who in nobility of purpose defy Etruscan custom, a custom specifically revolving around having a good death.  We don’t get far before the lord dies, and in his death introduces us to the strength of ancestor worship common among the Etruscans.

The story continues like this moving from one point of view to the next through seemingly random (destined?) acts of violence.  The child of the rape Horatrim becomes the focal point for the story, but his point of view is never fully formed.  He grows up physically too quickly for his human mind to reach the maturity of his body.  He is propelled through life by his destiny and the gifts of his ancestors.  The clearest viewpoint is that of the demon, but he is never a sympathetic character even when we finally discover his origin story.  Apparently the demon originated as the spirit of the man who designed the hanging gardens of Babylon (I did mention the ENTIRE Mediterranean, didn’t I?)

The tale finally begins to coalesce when Horatrim (like Orpheus) travels to the underworld to rescue his mother.  Unfortunately at this stage of the story we have so many points of view that the scenes jump back and forth between events happening on different planes of existence simultaneously.  Even the happily ever after ending was rather unsatisfying.  In order to tie up all the loose ends there was a little too much convenience and not enough clear consequence.

This story really did nothing for me.  It wasn’t horrible, but I could have put it down and forgotten about it at any time.  Morgan Llywelyn and Michael Scott have done much better with other works.  Much of their focus is in the British Isles and Celtic history.  Unless you are a huge fan of this style, skip this one and check those out instead.

Link to my review of Michael Scott’s The Alchemyst

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Fantasy

 

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