Tag: Arthurian

Review – The Wandering Fire

Posted August 7, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel KayThe Wandering Fire, Guy Gavriel Kay
Put together from reviews written in 2010 and 2012

By this point in reading the trilogy, you’ve probably decided whether you can bear with Guy Gavriel Kay’s style or not — whether you can be invested in his characters or not. If the answer is yes, then carry on: he won’t disappoint you. If not, then… I don’t think he will get your attention at all.

The second book of the Fionavar Tapestry feels by far the shortest, to me. That isn’t to say not much happens — a lot does happen, so much that it makes my head spin a little but it mostly seems to happen at the end: for the characters and for the plot, this is a time of waiting, of things coming together. If you’re invested in the characters, though, there’s plenty to worry about: Kim’s dilemmas, whether she has a right to do what she’s doing; Paul’s separation from humanity; and Kevin’s initial helplessness, and then his journey to the Goddess… And there’s Arthur, of course, and the Wild Hunt, and Darien…

The Wandering Fire really introduces the Arthurian thread, which is the newest thing. It’s been hinted at and set up already in The Summer Tree, but it’s in The Wandering Fire that that’s finally articulated. I’m interested as to how much Guy Gavriel Kay has drawn on existing Arthurian legend and how much he has built himself. I haven’t read anything about Arthur being punished over and over again — he’s generally portrayed as fairly virtuous — and I’ve never read anything about Lancelot raising the dead. I do like the way the legend is constructed here — differences to the usual main themes and stories, but using them and showing that the stories we have are supposed to be reflections and echoes of this ‘reality’.

I love the fact that the gods aren’t supposed to act and there are penalties for this… and actually more of the lore about the gods in this world, like Dana working in threes and her gifts being two-edged swords.

The death in this book makes me cry… not the actual death, at least not until the very last line of that section, but the reactions, and particularly Paul’s. This isn’t really surprising, but it highlights once again how much these books make me care.

It’s amazing to me how much I can love almost every word of this book and yet find a small scene was horribly jarring — it’s the same in The Summer Tree, just one scene sticks in my throat and won’t go down. It’s the scene with Kim and Loren, at Maidaladan. It just doesn’t make sense. There’s no build to it. I always thought she should go to Aileron instead… now there’s a build-up that makes at least some sense.

Nonetheless, wow. This book breaks me more every time.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Named of the Dragon

Posted August 5, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Named of the Dragon by Susanna KearsleyNamed of the Dragon, Susanna Kearsley

Silly story: when I finished The Winter Sea, I thought, darn, I really want a story by Kearsley that is set in Wales, in that landscape, which I love and feel part of. Because she does a great job with landscape, with the feelings it can invoke, but Scotland or Cornwall aren’t my landscapes.

Then I remembered I had already got a couple of chapters into Named of the Dragon. Suffice it to say that the landscape was satisfactory, and I would probably have felt homesick had I read this when not in Wales. Particularly at the bit with the lovely little chapel, St Govan’s — I’ve meant to go there for a while, because of the Gawain link, and this reminded me.

I’m not sure why I stopped at that point, before; while I adore the Welsh and Arthurian aspects of this book, it might have been the characters that didn’t work for me. Mostly the supporting characters: Elen, with her Arthurian fantasy; Bridget, with her flirtations and lack of remorse over basically planning to cheat on her partner; Christopher, with the general veneer of charm that lacked the warmth of (I couldn’t help but make the comparison) Stuart in The Winter Sea. I enjoy Kearsley’s books, but sometimes the supernatural links are too tenuous for me, or rather, too tenuously explained, too tangential to the actual emotional plot.

Because really, it doesn’t matter if Elen and her baby are really somehow related to Igraine and Arthur. What matters is the main character’s gradual acceptance of her own child’s death, her ability to finally put it aside and belong in the present, and help someone else. It doesn’t matter if Gareth and Lyn are somehow linked back to Gareth and Lynette, because their relationship is all their own anyway (and let’s face it, Lyn’s not half as nasty as Lynette, and this Gareth is at least twice as nasty as Fairhands).

I was glad that the romance wasn’t laid on too thick, here. There’s hope, potential, but nothing certain. If the book had been longer, more would have been okay, but for the length and where the story stopped, it was right to stop at that moment of potential.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted May 19, 2015 by in General / 10 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m going to borrow an idea that came to me via Guy Gavriel Kay:

“My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ … the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.”

So here’s my ten… Consider this an order if I am ever found with amnesia!

  1. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Well duh.
  2. The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. I’m curious as to how I’d feel about The Furthest Shore and Tehanu, reading them for the first time as an adult — originally I read them when I was quite young.
  3. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay. I was torn between this and Tigana, but this was my first experience of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, and I’d love to come to it fresh. Especially because it’s so influenced by prior fantasy.
  4. Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, all of the Peter Wimsey books really.
  5. Anything non-Arthurian by Mary Stewart. I’m not such a fan of her Arthurian books, but her other books are pure comfort to me. I might need that, if I’ve lost my memory!
  6. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Lord of the Rings, obviously.
  7. Among Others, Jo Walton. My first book by Walton was actually Farthing, but that’s less personal. It’d be interesting how much Among Others would resonate with me if I didn’t have the memories I do. (Mind you, neuroscience probably supports the idea that I’d still feel a sense of recognition, even without conscious memory.)
  8. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. An absolute must — I can’t go without knowing the opening and closing lines.
  9. Something by Patricia McKillip. Just don’t start me on Winter Rose unless you’re willing to take notes about my experience, compare them to my old reviews, and publish a study on unconscious memories of reading in amnesiacs.
  10. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Obviously a whole course of Arthurian literature would be essential — you could start by giving me my own essays on Guinevere and Gawain — including Steinbeck’s unfinished work. But this would make a good starting point, and you could check if I retained my knowledge of Middle English too.

Now I almost want that to happen, so I can study the neuroscience of reading and memory from within! It’d also be interesting to see how I reacted to the Harry Potter books if I couldn’t remember a) reading them as a child and b) the hype surrounding them. And —

Yeah, I’ll stop. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people have gone with this week!

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted February 10, 2015 by in General / 12 Comments

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is ‘Top Ten Things I Like/Dislike When It Comes To Romances In Books’.

Top Five I Like:

  1. Intensity. I like to see some give and take. The ability to say ‘you’re wrong’, yell at someone, and still have them respect you.
  2. Communication. Talk. To. Them. (The flipside, miscommunication, tends to really embarrass me — I’m easy to embarrass.)
  3. Forbidden love. Actually, this has to be done right, but I spent most of my academic study on Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde. Rosalind Miles’ take on both failed for me, but Steinbeck did Lancelot and Guinevere in a lovely way, and I’ve played with both stories in my own writing.
  4. “I see who you really are.” The classic is, of course, Beauty and the Beast.
  5. Equal partnership. Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle might not be the most popular couple in the Arthurian canon, but they’re my favourite by far. Challenged to tell another knight what women want most or be killed, Arthur flounders. A really ugly woman comes to court and says she will give the answer — if Sir Gawain marries her. He says yes, of course, and she gives the answer that saves Arthur’s life: “sovereignty”, the power to choose for oneself, is what women most want. So the wedding goes ahead, but on their wedding night, Ragnelle turns out to be a beautiful young maiden. She asks Gawain whether he would rather she be a beautiful woman in the daytime, when everyone can see her, or at night, when only he can. He lets her choose — which breaks the whole spell she’s under, because he has given her “sovereynté”. It’s maybe the most equal partnership in Arthurian literature, because it’s not from courtly literature where a knight is supposed to worship his lady, and yet it still gives power to the female partner, and shows him respecting her.

Top Five I Dislike: 

  1. “You are a precious little flower and I will protect you.” Enough said.
  2. Stalking = love. Just say no.
  3. Keeping secrets. I guess that’s often related to #1, but yeesh, come on, be honest. (Circumvented if this has consequences, though. Like in The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.)
  4. Insta-love. Still needs saying, apparently. Which is actually where people fall down for me even if the things I mentioned above are alright!
  5. “I’m too low/high in station to marry you.” This can be played well (come on, I like Jane Eyre), but after a certain era, the class implications become too awful.

And if you’re really curious, you can read ‘The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle’ for yourselves here; someday I will both translate the original into modern English, and write my own novel based on it, if I get all my dreams.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted October 14, 2014 by in General / 16 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want To Visit (whether fictional or real)”. I suspect we’re going to see a fair amount of agreement on this one? I’m betting there’ll be plenty of “Hogwarts”, “Middle-earth”, etc.

  1. Middle-earth (The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien) — imaginary. I didn’t say I was exempt from that.
  2. Tywyn (The Grey King, by Susan Cooper) — real. And Cadair Idris, and… everywhere else that Will and Bran visit.
  3. The Lost Land (ditto) — imaginary. It sounds so amazing, and I want to look in their library.
  4. Fionavar (The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavriel Kay) — imaginary. Okay, it’d be a little bit like Middle-earth, really. But still.
  5. Camelot (Arthuriana) — somewhere in between. Possibly even both the imaginary courtly version to see the knights of legend, and the nearest real equivalent to see what it was really like.
  6. Scotland (Five Red Herrings, by Dorothy L. Sayers) — real. My mother has actually traced the whole route of solving that mystery. I wanna.
  7. Everywhere (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor) — real. All the travelling Karou does…
  8. London (Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman) — real and imaginary. Okay, London Below sounds pretty dangerous, but also really cool.
  9. Wherever Moomins live (The Moomin comics/books, by Tove Jansson) — imaginary. Because Moomins are cool.
  10. The Clangers’ moon (Clangers, by Oliver Postgate) — imaginary. Because I can totally communicate in whistles and I wanna know what blue string pudding tastes like.

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Thursday Thoughts: Bookish Fandoms

Posted October 2, 2014 by in General / 2 Comments

This week’s prompt from Ok, Let’s Read is about bookish fandoms…

Do you have any experience with fandoms in the bookish world? What fandoms do you consider yourself to be a part of? Have you ever created something pertaining to your favorite books as a part of the fandom (i.e. artwork, music, fanfic, cosplay)? Can you share your creation with us?

I’m less into bookish fandoms than I am into stuff like the MCU, the Young Avengers comics, Captain Marvel, etc. I can’t think of any strictly bookish t-shirts I have, for example — I’ve got two Captain Marvel shirts, some Avengers and Captain America ones, etc, but it’s mostly comics and games. I do like getting involved in events, like The Dark is Rising readathon that happened last year, and I’d have loved to go to the recent anniversary celebration of The Fionavar Tapestry and so on.

If you count Arthuriana as one big fandom, well, I know all the Arthurian songs of Heather Dale off by heart, and have written a bunch of stories and poetry based on the Arthurian legends (usually taking them and skewing it, so I’ve written about Tristan and Isolde from Mark’s point of view, etc).

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted September 9, 2014 by in General / 8 Comments

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is top ten underrated authors/books from [X] genre. I’m going to go with what I know and the really specialised topic of Arthurian fiction. You may choose to view this as an offshoot of fantasy…

  1. The Table of Less Valued Knights, by Marie Phillips. I actually read this recently, and it’s pretty new, but still, I think it deserves some attention. It’s a bit Gerald Morris-ish in tone, I think, but more mature.
  2. Idylls of the Queen, by Phyllis Ann Karr. I loved this. It gives pride of place to a more minor character (Sir Kay), and gave me a whole ton of evidence for my dissertation topic. It’s a fun read, and I think it adapts Malory really, really well.
  3. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, by John Steinbeck. I should repost some of my reviews of this here sometime. He’s one of the very, very few writers that can make me sympathetic to Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere, all at once. Possibly the only one who really made me feel that love triangle. He never completed his work on this, and it shows in the early parts, but some of the writing is amazing and breathtaking.
  4. The Killing Way, by Tony Hays. A solid murder mystery using an Arthurian setting, trying to be authentically historical rather than fantastical in this case. If you liked Bernard Cornwell’s Arthurian trilogy, this is definitely worth a go. Plus, I’ve had some good conversations with Tony Hays, and he’s sent me some signed copies of his books — I really, really need to get round to catching up with reading them.
  5. Camelot’s Honour, by Sarah Zettel. There’s actually a whole quartet of these, and it does make more sense to read them together, but I loved this book for going to the Welsh roots of the tales to pick out some less used elements. The books are very much romances, in both the medieval and the modern sense. They also have strong female protagonists.
  6. Under in the Mere, by Catherynne M. Valente. Another one which pulls a lot from Welsh sources, particularly in the portrayal of Kay/Cei. It’s very distinctively Valente’s work, and if you know what I mean by that, you’ll know whether you’re going to like it in advance, I suspect.
  7. Exiled from Camelot, by Cherith Baldry. Okay, I had some problems with this one where it came to the portrayal of women, and it’s definitely not culturally accurate to just about any pre-modern stage of Arthurian literature, but it’s fun, and if you read for characters and relationships, it’s all about the strong bonds there. Kay is a key figure, again.
  8. Hawk of May, by Gillian Bradshaw. I’ve enjoyed most of Bradshaw’s work, so I guess this recommendation is no surprise. It’s Gawain-centric, with pretty human characters all round — very few complete villains, and fewer complete heroes.
  9. Child of the Northern Spring, by Persia Woolley. Sort of in the Mists of Avalon tradition as regards portraying women’s lives and Celtic culture, but much less awful and more readable. Guinevere is central.
  10. The King’s Peace, by Jo Walton. Sort of alternate Arthuriana, focusing on a female warrior in Arthur’s band. Looking for the correspondences is interesting, though it can get in the way of the story.

So! Link me yours, especially if they’re on fantasy or SF. I’m waiting!

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Review – The Table of Less Valued Knights

Posted July 20, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie PhillipsThe Table of Less Valued Knights, Marie Phillips

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this one when I requested it. On the one hand, I love Arthuriana and I have enjoyed several loose interpretations of it, even humorous/light-hearted ones. On the other hand, I’m not very good at humour myself, and can be a bit snooty about anything that messes too much with my views on Arthuriana.

It turns out, I really enjoyed it, and read it in pretty much one go. I love that while there is humour, it’s pretty gentle: it doesn’t single out any character as a laughing stock, and the characters aren’t there just to be laughed at. They’re still people, with goals of their own, and they’re likeable people at that. I somewhat feared Sir Humphrey would just be a laughable oaf, but he turns out to be a good guy even if he doesn’t subscribe to the kind of honour culture the Round Table stands for.

It is all very modern and anachronistic: there’s customs officials between the kingdoms, for example, for the sake of absurdity. There’s also pretty liberal views on LGBT people, including a knight who prefers to be called Gwendoline, and a gay relationship driving part of the plot.

All in all, it’s fun, and I’m really glad I read it. The tone is maybe reminiscent of Gerald Morris, albeit for adults, but otherwise it’s quite a fresh take on the idea of Camelot.

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday Thoughts: Spoilers

Posted July 18, 2014 by Nicky in General / 1 Comment

This week’s Thursday Thoughts topic is spoilers. Now, I am weird about spoilers. I tend to want to know everything’s going to turn out okay, so I like spoilers in that sense, but… then there’s the problem I have with Supernatural, where things don’t turn out okay, or don’t stay okay for very long. I haven’t watched past early season five because of this, because just — my precious babies. So I’m somewhat the same with books. If it’s triggering my anxiety at all, I definitely look up spoilers (and find myself wishing book bloggers would just spill the beans, sometimes).

There are various studies actually showing that knowing spoilers doesn’t spoil a story for most people, which is interesting. For me, well, my academic focus was Arthuriana. I think everyone knows what happens there, the star-crossed lovers, etc, etc. I this for me that’s a lovely example of the way spoilers can’t spoil a story. You know what’s going to happen, you just don’t know exactly how, and you don’t know how the characters will react minute by minute. Some versions of the Arthurian story move me to tears (John Steinbeck, I’m looking at you), while some make me wish I believed in burning books (Marion Zimmer Bradley). And yet, it’s basically the same story; it has the same bones.

I’m a big fan of fairytales, too, and that’s the same sort of deal. You know that Sleeping Beauty’s going to prick her finger on a spindle, whether real or metaphorical, and fall into an enchanted sleep. It’s how exactly it’s going to come about that you read for.

On the other hand, I’m dodging Age of Ultron spoilers right and left while still trying to gawp at the pictures of the Avengers’ new outfits, so I guess it depends on the media. Knowing spoilers for some things will stop me from watching, not only because I’m nervous for the characters, but also if I know I’m going to be embarrassed for them. Early season three of NCIS, I’mma looking at you.

No Throwback Thursday this week because I was working too hard today to have time to set it up. (Aka, now you know my secret — I throw most of my posts together last minute.)

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Nothing says I love you like a book

Posted November 22, 2013 by Nicky in General / 10 Comments

No matter what the occasion, I try to buy people a book. It means some adaptation, and buying books I don’t normally buy — paranormal romance for my sister, certain types of non-fiction for my dad, violent crime fiction for one of my ex-housemates — but I do like to think about it, to pick out something that just fits. (I have one major failure: my best friend since childhood, Laura. Craft books, yes, but anything you could settle down and read… she doesn’t have the time/patience for it unless she’s on holiday, and then her taste is for chick lit type stuff. Hm, an idea strikes…) Luckily, a lot of people around me share my taste: Amy, my partner, my mum, to a great extent my sister.

So yeah, you know I love you when I come home from the charity shop glowing with glee and a stack of books carefully picked out just to suit your taste. My former housemates should be pretty familiar with this situation.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a couple of my happily united book couple successes — and then, if you like, you can comment with a book and some facts about someone, and see whether I can think of something.

For Dad: You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney. Because whether he likes it or not, some of it is very relevant to things he believes about himself. Granted, he probably didn’t see it that way, but he did carry the book around with him from Christmas to the New Year. He’s a non-fiction reader, gave up on fiction a long time ago, but his knowledge tends to be widespread and general, so I always try to aim for something like this, rather than something super-technical.

For Mum: The Lions of Al-Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay. The Fionavar Tapestry and Tigana came first, I think, but it was Lions that had her texting me at three in the morning from Italy or Spain or whatever fancy conference she was at. (This is reciprocal more than any other book-giving relationship I have: she introduced me to Isaac Asimov, Robin Hobb and Dorothy L. Sayers, among others.)

For Squirt (my sister): The most memorable occasion was when I handed over her first Alastair Reynolds book, Century Rain. She’s been a fan ever since, and it actually kickstarted her into doing a lot more reading. I think her trust for my taste began at that moment. We actually went to a reading/signing by Alastair Reynolds, and her knees were practically knocking with nerves — my fierce little sister’s knees were knocking!

For the girlfriend: Occasionally I try and break her heart with stuff like Civil War: Iron Man, but mostly I’m nice and push books like The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) and A Face Like Glass (Frances Hardinge) her way. One of our oldest literary successes was The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper). There was also Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry, and more recently Jo Walton’s work you can see we share very similar taste in books. On the other hand, Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent bored her to death, where I love love love loved them, so it’s not all perfect.

For Amy (former housemate): The biggest hit was Garth Nix’s work. It’s now become a yearly Christmas tradition: a Garth Nix book or series, every year. He’ll need to write more, soon, or I’m doomed. Given that Amy’s dyslexic, Spellwright by Blake Charlton could’ve gone either way, but she ended up liking it.

For Ruth (former housemate): This was a lucky one. She mentioned being interested in the Tudors and particularly Lady Jane Grey. I found Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor a couple of days later in a charity shop.

For Lynn E. O’Connacht: I can’t actually remember anything specific here, but we’ve traded books fairly frequently, starting with her sending me King Arthur’s Death (trans. Brian Stone), which contains the alliterative and stanzaic Morte Arthure poems. Anna Elliott’s Twilight of Avalon is another Lynn sent me.

So… yeah. If I love you, expect a book this Christmas (if I can get you anything at all, which is a different matter).

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