Tag: Sarah Zettel


Review – Camelot’s Honour

Posted 11 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Honour by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Honour, Sarah Zettel

Camelot’s Honour might be my favourite of the quartet, now that I think about it. Okay, Camelot’s Shadow has Gawain, and the clever weaving together of the story of the Green Knight and the story of the Loathly Lady… but this is the most Welsh-inspired book of the quartet, including characters from the Mabinogion and weaving together various strands of mythology which aren’t necessarily Arthurian. I’m not a purist about that; I loved it.

It might not be the most stirring of the love stories, but the quiet strength Elen and Geraint have together is great. He’s the strong and silent type, less susceptible to a pretty face, and a bit less lionised as completely amazing by Zettel, which makes him more interesting.

Maybe I could wish for a few more of the themes of this book, not to mention the characters, to carry through into others of the series. But it’s still great fun.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 14 February, 2017 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

Repost! Since for some reason, WordPress ate the first version.

It’s February 14th, which means it’s Valentine’s Day. Which means that the TTT topic for today is, unsurprisingly, about romance. I’m going to talk about couples-that-might-have-been, and couples-which-aren’t-yet, in books that I love.

  1. Csethiro and Maia, from The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison). Okay, they’re getting married, so the chances are good. But we only just glimpsed the two of them beginning to really come together as a couple. I long to see more of Csethiro protecting him, and Maia respecting her and giving her power and influence in his kingdom, and how that unfolds.
  2. Kim and Aileron, from The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay). Come onnnn, I can’t be the only one who saw that. Kim should’ve stayed in Fionavar; marrying Dave makes no sense at all. But then, Kay is kind of prone to that.
  3. Arthur and Guinevere, from Paths to Camelot (Sarah Zettel). I just love seeing them have a functional, central, mutual relationship without betrayal. We get glimpses of them throughout the four books, but… I want more.
  4. Eowyn and Faramir, from The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). They make sense as a couple, but they have so little time and development. Gimme more!
  5. Alcuin and Anafiel, from Kushiel’s Dart (Jacqueline Carey). It’s not faaaaair.
  6. Phèdre and Nicola, from Kushiel’s Chosen (Jaqueline Carey). I really liked their relationship and wished we saw a bit more of it.
  7. Alan and Matthias, from Blood and Circuses (Kerry Greenwood). Their scenes together with Phryne made me laugh, and I kind of hope that they at least kept up the relationship.
  8. Lin Chung and his wife, from Murder in Montparnasse (Kerry Greenwood). I feel like Lin Chung’s wife deserved a bit more ‘screen time’, so to speak — she and Phryne could have a fascinating relationship, and she seemed pretty interesting as a character.
  9. Rupert and Bryan, from Season of Storms (Susanna Kearsley). Okay, I kind of want them to be my dads, but. The book ends tragically and it’s not fair.
  10. Celia and Marco, from The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). Or maybe I just never wanted that book to end…

And now I kind of want to go and reread all these books.

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Review – Camelot’s Shadow

Posted 16 January, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Shadow by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Shadow, Sarah Zettel

I’ve read this several times now, and I always go back and forth on it a little. Initially, I think I was a teeeeeny bit ashamed to be caught reading something that is a romance in both the modern and the medieval senses of the word. Then I included it in my dissertation and had to think about it critically. And now… now I get to read it just for pure fun. Which is great: it makes me realise how much this version of Gawain is exactly what made me love the character in the first place, and that this retelling of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle’s story was what guided me toward reading and loving the Gawain ballads.

It’s fun, with and without the romance; I love this version of Camelot, which is practical at the same time as romantic. There’s the knights, but there are also Saxon boys staying at the court as hostages. Guinevere is a queen and a figure of romance, but she’s also Arthur’s other half, managing Camelot alongside Kay, maintaining a whole set of duties belonging to queenship. There’s no polite ignorance of the need for an heir: Gawain is openly Arthur’s heir. (And definitely worthy of it; this version of Gawain doesn’t kill women or go on mad rampages yelling for blood. He’s courtly, though human — somewhere between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Le Morte Darthur‘s least flattering sections.)

And Rhian is a great character too: determined, but not foolhardy; clever, but not infallible; cautious, but not immune to Gawain’s pretty face. Brave, but not insensible.

The two make a great pairing, and it’s a joy to read — as it’s also a joy to read of Arthur and Guinevere’s genuine love.

There are some frustrating aspects to this, like a certain judgemental quality around women who have sex (but not men), and an unfortunate editing slip-up where even when “father” is being used as a name, it isn’t capitalised… but it’s still fun, and I’m glad I got the chance to read it in a relaxed way like this.

Sidenote: I don’t understand why the US version has changed Rhian’s name to Risa. Well, probably to avoid people thinking it’s pronounced “Ryan”, but that doesn’t mean I like the decision — Rhian is a pretty and Welsh name, and it fits much better in the context than “Risa”.

Rating: 4/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 7 December, 2016 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

It’s been a couple of weeks since I did this last because I’ve been so busy with assignments. Fortunately, I’ve had a bit more time to myself this week, so this feature is back!

What have you recently finished reading?

I’ve been rereading the Narnia books, so I just finished The Horse and his Boy. I read in chronological, rather than publishing order, so I’ve already read The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I still love the narration. Lewis managed to get something wonderfully warm into it, particularly in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and less so in some of the others. But it is so preachy. Partly just because of the target audience (kids) and writing style (somewhat didactic), but also because of the Christian overtones.

I actually spoke to someone recently who hadn’t figured out that Aslan = Jesus? I actually miss having that kind of innocence about the books, because knowing it’s an allegory and being able to identify all the various points with clear correspondences takes away some of the fun.

I’ve also been rereading Sarah Zettel’s Camelot books, though so far I’ve only finished Camelot’s Shadow. It’s probably my favourite of the four because it has the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. There’s some minor typographical and editing issues that are driving me a little bit nuts in the UK editions. Like when Father is used as a name but not capitalised! But it’s a very interesting take on the Arthurian legends, even with the romances being the foreground. I love the fact that the matter of succession has been considered, and Gawain is openly being groomed to follow Arthur, while Guinevere has an active role in running Camelot, and… so on. I need to write my review, clearly.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve finished most of the books I have on the go at the moment. I’m partway through rereading Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas; hopefully, I’ll catch up with the series this time. I still feel the same about it as I did the first time. It’s fun, but it’s not nearly perfect.

Next up: Camelot’s Honour, Prince Caspian, Crown of Midnight…

What are you planning to read next?

After dropping my reading goals, I’m trying to find more joy in my reading again, so I’m doing quite a bit of rereading. I know I want to reread The Invisible Library and The Masked City, by Genevieve Cogman, so I can get round to reading the new one. I just got approved for the ARC! I also want to reread Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, and Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, as well as finish rereading Sarah Zettel’s Camelot books, the Narnia books and of course, Tolkien’s The Return of the King.

I’m also trying not to plan too far ahead. I finish a book; I pick up the next one which makes me smile.

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Review – Camelot’s Blood

Posted 19 February, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Blood by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Blood, Sarah Zettel
Originally reviewed in February 2010

I really love this book. I don’t remember how strongly I felt about it the first time, but I have a thing for second sons in fiction, second sons like Agravain — the quieter, grimmer ones, the dutiful ones with their hidden passions and their determinations. Agravain is a perfect example, and it’s also interesting that in this story, he and Laurel fall in love after their marriage, which comes of necessity and politics more than anything else. The four romances are much more differentiated than I remembered. In this one, I genuinely felt pain for Agravain and Laurel when they were separated, which is possibly because I found their situation more real.

The romance is still a little hurried in places, but I do like what we get of it. I also love the magic of this — Laurel’s magic, as she becomes unafraid and throws herself into it, doing what she has to do. I like how a lot of hints come together — the stain on Guinevere’s palm, for one thing, just that one tiny repeated detail finally finding meaning and explanation. Not something I noticed, on a single reading.

I found this somewhat unsatisfying as an end, the last time I read it. Morgaine is defeated, but Mordred is not killed, he flees. Reading it again, his defeat is pretty conclusive, and he runs like a child, but mostly I’m reminded of the fact that it’s still prophesied that he will bring down Camelot, and the threat of him isn’t neutralised at all. In one way, ending like this is very appropriate, because the quartet follows the sons of Lot, not the court of Arthur — but the court of Arthur and the importance of Arthur’s kingdom is important throughout the books, so it’s kind of odd that it ends without a real conclusion for that.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Camelot’s Sword

Posted 12 February, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Sword, by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Sword, Sarah Zettel
Originally reviewed in February 2010

I’m liking all of these books in my second reading. It’s interesting to see all the different threads of Arthurian myth and Celtic myth brought together in this way — this book especially weaves so many things together: Tristan and Iseult, Lyonesse (Laurel) and Lynet, Lancelot and Guinevere, Morgaine, the Celtic Otherworld… I think I’m focusing a lot more on that, in this reading, instead of on the romance — which isn’t actually as central as I thought. It could do with more time spent on it, actually, because Gareth’s transformation from a womaniser into Lynet’s faithful knight is very hasty and not really given the time and space it should be. Perhaps the scene on the moor could’ve been expanded — another fifty pages would probably have made the love story much more engaging and satisfying. There were some parts of the relationship with Ryol that were glossed over a bit too much — that was closer to the centre of the story, I think, and didn’t suffer too much, but there were a few places where I wondered why the heck it was happening like that. For example, how did Guinevere figure out that the mirror was the problem? Whence came her sudden decision to confiscate it?

One thing that is becoming clear to me is that the relationships aren’t as cookie-cutter as I thought, my first time through. The relationships between Gawain and Rhian, Geraint and Elen, Gareth and Lynet… they’re much more distinct than I thought at first, and the brothers are less alike than they thought at first. I’m not sure why I thought them so cookie-cutter the first time through, actually. Possibly because all the romance is that bit hastier than I’d like. Possibly I’m a slightly more discerning reader. Possibly my taste has just changed!

I really wish this book had received a little more attention from a proofreader. The little nags I have about grammar and punctuation are really little. For the most part I like the writing. But it’s so distracting to keep thinking, “But where is the comma?”

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Camelot’s Honour

Posted 5 February, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Honour by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Honour, Sarah Zettel

Originally reviewed in February 2010

The first time I read this series, I wasn’t all that impressed. There are still things I’m not so keen on — the love at first sight, for one thing, doesn’t ring very true, and also the books could do with better proofreading. There’s punctuation missing, and I’m pretty sure “grieves” and “greaves” don’t mean the same thing. But, this time, I found myself a lot more interested. I preferred Geraint to Gawain, I think, and I was interested in him and his feelings about his relationship to Morgaine, and his way of dealing with his legacy from his father — and his love for Elen.

I don’t know if the story of Elen and Geraint is based on any legend, Arthurian or otherwise, although I suspect that the story of Gwiffert, at least, has some kind of link to existing mythology. Still, it’s nice to see a lot of mythology together and coupled to the Arthurian mythology, to make something new. The ongoing story of Morgaine is interesting, too: I can’t actually remember very well how that’s resolved, and I forgot that she seemed genuinely in love with Urien.

I originally didn’t like Elen much, but there is something compelling about her, too, and her struggle, and Collanau. I wished the book had more about the Lord, the Lady, and Elen’s family. As far as I remember, the Lord and the Lady don’t come into it again, which is a shame.

(Erec and Enide is, of course, where I think this comes from. It doesn’t follow it directly in plot, but I think the idea of the bird came from there.)

[Note in 2016: I know much more about the various sources now — The Mabinogion is a big one.]

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Camelot’s Shadow

Posted 29 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Shadow by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Shadow, Sarah Zettel

Originally reviewed in February 2010

Since I’m hoping that the module on King Arthur will run next year [note in 2016: it did], and reading widely in the tradition helped me with the Robin Hood module, I decided to revisit these books. As I said in my review almost two years ago, I’m not really one for romance books, generally, but these are Arthurian — which helps a lot, since it’s something I’m always interested in — and they’re not exactly bodice-rippers, and I do like Sarah Zettel’s writing. There’s genuinely a plot alongside the romance — at least in this first book of the four — and earlier elements of the tradition are woven into the story, while it’s also not quite a carbon copy. It could have deviated more from the tradition, easily, and perhaps been more engaging then, but this is interesting enough. I like the portrayal of Guinevere, very much in love with Arthur, and though she’s mischievous, she’s a good queen. If I remember rightly, the betrayal of Arthur with Lancelot isn’t re-enacted in this quartet, which I quite like. That’s something new. And I like this portrayal of Gawain, as compared to some quite loutish ones I’ve read before.

It’s interesting how close it sticks to the plot of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I’m doing a module on at the moment. I hadn’t read that the first time I read this, so I didn’t really appreciate how it had taken that plot but also woven in the women, Rhian and Kerra, and how it’s also woven in the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell — which I haven’t read, but I know a decent amount about.

It’s nice that there’s an overarching plot to these four romances, with the figure of Morgaine, about whom we learn little in this book. It’s also nice that they’re romances in both the medieval sense and the modern sense. At least, it is for my inner geek.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Taste of the Nightlife

Posted 19 June, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Taste of the NightlifeA Taste of the Nightlife, Sarah Zettel
Review from April 1st, 2012

I liked Sarah Zettel’s Camelot quartet a lot on first reading, but it didn’t stand up very well to me writing an essay on it. This… I felt the whole way through how she was manipulating the readers’ thoughts and feelings. I could feel it, and it annoyed the heck out of me… but I still couldn’t put it down. So I’m wavering between two and three stars here. I don’t know if I can explain how ambivalent I feel about it. (I’ve changed the star rating three times so far in typing this paragraph.)

I wasn’t in love with the characters. I was reminded constantly of other books — Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, for one, with the first person female narrator who loves to cook, isn’t conventionally brave, and gets messed up with vampires, and has two men with whom she has sexual attraction, one of whom is a vampire and the other of whom is a warlock… (I don’t remember exactly the details of Mel in Sunshine, but I seem to recall some details which pointed in that direction.) And of other urban fantasy books. The tone really didn’t come across as anything new, and sorry, but I don’t think Zettel is that skilled at writing mysteries. She doesn’t give you the tools to solve it yourself, which makes it confusing and that bit boring.

And yet. I wanted to know which guy she picked. I wanted to know her brother’d be okay and she’d reopen her restaurant. There was enough there to keep me turning the pages. I even think I’ll probably read the sequel, though I’m in no hurry. I’m just… disappointed.

Rating: 2/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 4 November, 2014 by in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme is “Top Ten Books I’d Like to Reread”, which is a topic just made for me — the first one in a while I think I could talk for ages about — because I love rereading. Honourable mentions in advance to Chalice and The Hobbit, both of which I already reread recently! And I’m just going to leave it unsaid that I want to reread The Dark is Rising books, since I do that every year.

  1. Seaward, Susan Cooper. I’ve been meaning to reread this for a while. Heck, by the time this post goes live, I might’ve got round to it already. It’s beautifully written, a bit more mature than The Dark is Rising, and I love the characters a lot. I read it right through the day I got it, I think, at Christmas a couple of years ago. And then I made my partner read it, and my mother, and… everyone else I could get my hands on, really.
  2. The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay. I think this might be the next book in my chronological-by-publishing-date reread of GGK’s work. I think it’s my mother’s favourite of GGK’s books, and my partner loves it too; I remember liking it, though it wasn’t my favourite, but it’s one of the few I’ve only read once so far (along with Under Heaven, which is too new for me to have reread yet).
  3. Sunshine, Robin McKinley. This is another I might’ve got round to already by the time this post goes live, because I’m tearing a streak through Robin McKinley’s work lately. Sunshine is one of my favourites; the world-building, the characters and their relationships, all the talk about food… And also, vampires done right, so that they’re genuinely fucking freaky, even Our Hero.
  4. Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey. And pretty much everything by Carey, actually. I love the richness of her writing, and the intrigues of the court in Terre D’Ange. Honestly, if it wasn’t for all the sex and BDSM in the book, I’d recommend it to everyone, because the actual world-building is really cool. But I’m aware it’s not something everyone can be comfortable with.
  5. The Fire’s Stone, Tanya Huff. I could swear I’ve already talked about wanting to reread this somewhere on the blog, but I can’t find it. I did start a reread recently, but then got interrupted. I’m particularly curious because just before I first read this, my partner and I were working on an original world/plot that was very, very similar in many ways. And I’m looking forward to the relationship between the three main characters, and the way the situation turns out for them all. It’s sweet, feel-good stuff.
  6. The Winter King, Bernard Cornwell. I’ve always loved the way Cornwell handles the legends. Okay, some of his characters really don’t fit with the legends, and I do like the legends, but at the same time he has one of the most likeable versions of Galahad, and a really interesting take on the magic/reality stuff where the narrator can view it as magic and we can dismiss it as trickery, or maybe not quite.
  7. The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner. And the rest of the series. It’s easy to read, fun, and does interesting things with the character, the world, etc. I’m less a fan of the most recent book, but I’m still going to try rereading it.
  8. The Tombs of Atuan, Ursula Le Guin. The whole series, really, but this one is my favourite. It marks a separation from the world of the first book, which is fairly conventional fantasy, and begins to shape a place for women and a different view of the world that’s more in line with Le Guin’s own beliefs. And she’s so good at writing the small clear moments of quiet that really shine (Ged’s hand and the thistle).
  9. Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb. It’s been a long time, and I miss Fitz, Nighteyes and Verity. (My mother never liked Verity nearly as much as I do, but I find him one of the most genuine characters of the lot — not subtle, not perfect for his job, but doing what he can and making good despite the difficulty.) And there’s a new Fool trilogy now, which I even got an ARC for originally, so I want to reread everything to get back up to speed for it.
  10. Sorcerer’s Treason, Sarah Zettel. I remember these being good books, using a less typically Western fantasy setting, with a lot of Russian influence and I think later Asian? I remember finding it very different, at any rate, and I do like Zettel’s work. So, soooon. I hope.

Any of these your own special favourite? Let me know! I comment back to everyone who comments here, both on my post and on your own if you’ve done one.

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