Again, I read this in the version illustrated by Charles Vess, this time. I noticed fewer corrections/changes in the text for this one, but perhaps I know it a little less well — though the opening chapter with the ceremony where Arha is ‘eaten’ has always stuck in my head (the drum beating at heart-pace, the ritual word that has lost all meaning) and the descriptions of the Labyrinth, the treasures of the temple… these have made a really big impression on me. As a kid, I think it was my favourite.
And that impression pretty much stayed with me. I love learning more about this part of Earthsea, seeing a whole other perspective. Though she didn’t know it yet, according to her own discussions of her writing process, so many foundations for the later books were laid here, asking new questions of what was established in the first book.
The only thing disappointing about this reread was reading Ursula Le Guin’s afterword, which feels like such an odd thing to say — but I so often agree with Ursula Le Guin that it really pulls me up short when something strikes such a discordant note for me. Here it is:
When I was writing the story in 1969, I knew of no women heroes of heroic fantasy since those in the works of Ariosto and Tasso in the Renaissance. These days there are plenty, though I wonder about some of them. The women warriors of current fantasy epics — ruthless swordswomen with no domestic or sexual responsibility who gallop about slaughtering baddies — to me they look less like women than boys in women’s bodies in men’s armor.
It sort of depends exactly what heroines Le Guin had in mind with that, but “no domestic or sexual responsibility” rings horribly to me. I enjoy the attention to domestic tasks in Le Guin’s work (Yarrow making the wheat cakes in A Wizard of Earthsea; the endless work of spinning and weaving at the Place in The Tombs of Atuan…) — and I certainly wouldn’t want Tenar to run around in armour with a sword. I think it’s important that Tenar, with those skills and her later trajectory, is a heroine… but she’s not the only kind of heroine there can be. (And a woman who wants to have “no domestic and sexual responsibility” is no less of a woman for it.)
Bit odd to end on that note, given that I dearly love The Tombs of Atuan. Still a great read.
I loved The Golden Mean maybe a little bit less than the other books, even though the plot definitely advances here. It’s the end of the original trilogy, and there’s just so much that we don’t know because of the frustrating format. It makes sense that we can’t know it, but it’s still infuriating to get to the end and be left with so many questions about the story and what exactly happened. I’m very curious about that last postcard, don’t get me wrong! I’d love to read more!
But… this particular volume felt a little bit thinner, and the fact that the later books are all available second-hand only (and expensive) is really sad.
It’s still absolutely beautiful, with letters each in their own envelopes (though the envelopes are a little less well stuck to the page in this than in my copies of the first two books). It’s a lovely, tactile, multimedia experience, and I thoroughly recommend it even with its frustrations. I’ll continue reading the series when I can, though sadly it won’t be soon, unless I have a Fairy Godmother somewhere!
Sabine’s Notebook more or less immediately follows Griffin & Sabine, and has the same format. Though they were so close to meeting in the first book, Griffin gets scared at the last minute: can he have imagined Sabine? Is it possible that he’s invented her somehow? So he runs, and his letters to Sabine come from all over the world as he tries to figure things out, travelling to Florence, to Greece, to Japan… and attempts to visit Sabine’s home island.
Sabine, meanwhile, stays in Griffin’s flat in London, giving him the time to get things figured out. And then — well, I’ll let you discover it for yourselves, but suffice it to say that I loved this one as well. The ending is another kick in the gut, same as the ending of the first, and the letters between the two of them are tender and hopeful amidst the fear. And of course, the illustrations are beautiful, and the format with the envelopes and postcards remains really engaging.
I’m keen to see what the last book will do. In a way, the plot of this book is kind of demanded by the format. Once they meet, the conceit kind of falls away. So I’ll be interested to see how that gets resolved…
I’ve read this I don’t know how many times, and it always charms. This time, I read it in the edition illustrated by Charles Vess, which is just gorgeous — and includes both an introduction by Le Guin and an afterword, which shed a little light on the book and what she thought of it, where it came from, and where it went. If you’ve never read it, A Wizard of Earthsea is a hero’s journey, a fantasy tale with dragons and sea-voyages and magic, but also an inward one.
I still maintain that Ged’s journey makes an excellent metaphor for (how I experience) mental illness. Sometimes the descriptions of the Shadow and the way it haunts Ged are just far too familiar; they fill me with my own anxious dread. But then it’s good to be reminded that when you turn and face it, and hunt it down, and accept it as a part of you… to some degree, things can be overcome.
All that said, I still appreciate that Le Guin came back to Earthsea, and found herself looking at how it came to be such a man’s world, and how it could be fixed, things which her introduction discusses a little.
On a non-story note, I did notice some changes in the illustrated edition. Some were obviously good corrections (my old Penguin had plain-sailing as a “sacred” skill on Roke, while this version has it as “scanted”, which is much more likely)… and others I have arguments with, like changing “in wizardly fashion” to “in wizardry fashion”. I think it was right the first time! And my other comment is that I wish there was an illustration of the otak. My visual imagination is non-existent, though I’ve muzzily over the years somehow come to the conclusion that it’s basically a carnivorous guinea pig.
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 20th April 2021
I didn’t love Finna, though I liked it; it felt it leaned a bit too much on being angry about soul-sucking capitalism (which, same, but the choir can get tired of being preached to). Defekt is set in the same world, and briefly crosses over with Finna (we see Jules right before the events of that book), but for whatever reason it worked a bit better for me — it felt a little less preachy, and I loved the idea of all those sentient furnishings. The toilet is a highlight (seriously).
I was a little bit put off by the “self-cest” thing, though: Derek is the main character, and after he takes an uncharacteristic sick day, he has to do a special inventory shift. During the shift, he meets four of his clones, and finds himself particularly drawn to one of them. Sure, that one is quite different to him in many ways, but the potential romance between them was a bit of an odd note for me.
Still, a fun novella, and I suspect those who already enjoyed Finna will enjoy this at least as much.
I really need to read more of the Xuya stories and novellas all at once, because I like the world but it always takes me some adjustment time. The Citadel of Weeping Pearls stands alone, though, and once you get your head around the fact that it’s based on Vietnamese culture and customs (but in a space empire), it flows along smoothly. Bright Princess Ngoc Minh has been missing for years, along with her Citadel, after her mother the Empress sent armies against her. Grand Master Bach Cuc has been searching for her, and seemed to be close to a breakthrough, but now she’s missing — and Diem Huong, a commoner who lost her mother on the Citadel, is also about to conduct an experiment that may send her to the Citadel.
I found that the only thing that bothered me was the number of POVs, and that was mostly while I was settling into the story. It was obvious why we needed the various POVs by the end; without them, the Empress seems just horrible (instead of a woman who makes horrible decisions believing they are for everyone’s good, which is a different sort of horrible), Ngoc Ha seems too wishy-washy… but together they all work out and show a sad story, examining the bonds between families, and the terrible things an Empress might do for the good of everyone (or not).
It works really well as a novella; I think it’s perfect at this length.
The Faerie Hounds of York did not quite go the places I expected it to. It started off with Loxley finding himself in a fairy ring, rescued by a gruff but kind stranger, Thorncress. Warned to leave the area and get himself to London, away from Faerie influence, Loxley quickly finds himself under Thorncress’s care again. A bond is forming between them, as Thorncress tells Loxley he will help him solve his mystery and get free of the Faerie… if it’s possible.
There’s one hell of a moment with this book which I didn’t expect, given the genre; I shouldn’t say too much unless I spoil the impact, because it turned a story I was mildly enjoying into something more intriguing for me. Some aspects of the romance genre are still here, but there’s a subversion of certain expectations which put me on the back foot. I shouldn’t say too much about that!
I enjoyed the characters and the bond they form, but that moment of subverted expectation might’ve been the best bit — I could otherwise have wished for more build-up, more familiarity with the inner lives of the characters (particularly Thorncress). On the other hand, then there’d be less mystery… In any case, definitely enjoyable.
Holy moly, this is lovely. I was urged to get this to do a review on it for Postcrossing (check out my others on the Postcrossing blog!), so it was one of the things I bought with my Christmas gift cards… and I’m glad I did. It’s an epistolary story, showing both the fronts and backs of postcards and — in little pouches, from which you have to pull out actual letters which are handwritten (Sabine) or typewritten (Griffin) — letters sent between Griffin (an artist who creates postcards) and Sabine (an artist who illustrates stamps).
Sabine has been seeing Griffin’s art in her dreams for years, and reaches out to him via a postcard once she finally finds out who he is and how to contact him (through running across his artwork). After just a few postcards are exchanged, she proves to him that she knows his art like no one else can, and they quickly forge a connection despite the physical distance between them. It’s a love story, and a mystery: how are they connected? Why are they connected? What does it mean?
It’s a lovely reading experience; the pouches are a nice gimmick, and they really give you a sense of discovery. I’m not super great with visual detail, but the fronts of the postcards (illustrated by Griffin and Sabine, in the story) and the decorations on envelopes and letters add quite a bit. It’s a very short read, but worthwhile — and that ending! I’ve ordered the next two books.
This most recent book in the Invisible Library series features Irene, Kai, Vale, Irene’s new apprentice (Catherine), and Kai’s brother. It’s a very Sparks Will Fly sort of arrangement, not least because Vale is pitted against an adversary, his criminal mirror. A mastermind. A Moriarty — or so it seems. I was a little disappointed that certain characters didn’t interact more (let’s not be coy, I wanted more of Kai and Vale working together), and it feels like the particularly mixture of characters didn’t really have time to mix up and cause mayhem before the book was suddenly over.
That’s partly because recurring themes get tugged on again, and characters that had left the narrative triumphantly returned… some of them more predictably so than others.
All in all, the book sped by at the usual pace, and I ended up pretty happy with the explanations for the way characters are being moved around the gameboard. One very predictable outcome comes in almost at the end of the book, and honestly, it shouldn’t have taken a genius detective to see it. At the same time, the epilogue gives us an intriguing glimpse at deeper machinations and stories yet to come…
Not a favourite in the series, I think, but one which moves the plot along — and is as always a very absorbing and swift read.
Genevieve Cogman has given us a proper heist story! We’ve seen Irene stealing books before, of course; that’s kind of the point. But this book is a traditional heist story, expanding the idea of Fae having archetypes into modern stories about thieves and crime bosses, as well. It’s fun to see Irene with a whole crew, even though this book doesn’t feature Vale at all — and fun to see her and Kai able to work together again.
There’s obviously a bigger plot accumulating, as well, so that though there’s a sort of “monster of the week” feel to the various thefts and negotiations and investigations, slowly the pieces are coming together on other big questions. Alberich was but a bump in the road, seemingly; there’s something even bigger to worry about, between the revelations of this book, the truce promised in the previous book. It feels good that six books in, the individual stories are still engaging — total popcorn for my brain, anyway — and pacy, while an overarching story keeps building at its own pace.
I’m fascinated by Indigo and the position this book puts Kai in; I’m super curious about Irene’s promised new apprentice. I love the way Sterrington has come back into things, and hope to see more of her. And it looks like the next book should see more of Vale again, maybe even at the same time as Kai — a book that’s Kai, Vale and Irene against the world has my full attention.