dolorosa_12: (mucha moet)
Three of the books I was most anticipating for 2019 were published in three consecutive weeks in January, so I've been having a fantastic time reading this month! All of them were utterly fabulous, and exactly what I hoped for — so they're going to be a hard act to follow. The books are The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden (the final book in her Winternight Trilogy, historical fantasy that weaves mythology with the events of fourteenth-century Russia), The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty (the second book in her Daevabad Trilogy, a series about the political tensions in a djinn kingdom from the point of view of a girl who began her life as a scammer in the streets of Cairo during the Napoleonic wars), and The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (the first in a series of heist novels whose characters live in a magical version of Belle Époque Paris and essentially steal back the antiquities looted by colonial powers).

I reviewed all three books over on my reviews blog, and as always would love to talk with you about them in the comments either here or there.
dolorosa_12: (pagan kidrouk)
It's got to the point where I have had to actively avoid all sources of news, including most social media platforms, because it's so overwhelmingly awful that I was on the verge of tears at work, and on my walk home. As I said to my mother when we chatted on FaceTime this morning, it's one of those weeks (months? years? decades?) which just makes you feel worthless as a woman.

My solution in the face of all this is (once I've ensured I'm still registered to vote in the three countries in which I am eligible) is to turn my attention to things resolutely domestic. I find it soothing.

And so, this weekend, I have turned a full fridge of groceries into meals that will take us through to Tuesday (I always find it particularly satisfying to cook a roast chicken, because I always get at least one second dinner and several lunches worth of leftovers out of it, and then make about a litre of stock from the bones, so it feels very efficient), planted four purple and pink heather plants in the garden, cleaned the bathroom, done two loads of laundry, and gone back and forth to the market to buy all the food I'll need to cover the week ahead.

I returned to a comforting old series of books — a series I've loved since I first read it as a ten-year-old — for yet another reread. The series has five books, and I'm on to the fourth. I possibly would have made more headway if not for all the time I spent scrolling through the Yuletide tagset trying to figure out what to offer, and watching comments appearing on the Yuletide letters post to see if other participants' prompts might help nudge me in a particular direction.

And I've been fairly active over on my reviews blog, posting reviews of two books/series that absolutely blew me away and which I'm pleased to see made it into the Yuletide tagset (I didn't nominate them myself, but I'm so happy to be able to request them).

The first is Katherine Arden's Winternight series, my review of which I have linked to before:

Arden makes much of the everyday labour of women: preparing food, sweeping hearths, embroidering elaborate headdresses, assisting in the birth of children. The lives of these women may be circumscribed, lived within a narrow space, travelling between hearth, bathhouse, and church, but they are not inconsequential. This is a series in which the labour of a mother giving birth to a child is of greater supernatural significance than the outcome of a battle, where a girl slipping bread crusts to household gods does more to forge alliances than the political machinations of men in Moscow palaces.


The second review is of Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver, which I absolutely adored:

This is a world in which women save themselves — and each other — using the tools at hand. It is a world in which the work of a market stall seller, or a noblewoman presiding over a rowdy feasting hall, or a girl feeding chickens is given equal weight to magical powers. Indeed, it’s a world in which supernatural beings view prosaic, human skills as having a kind of magic of their own.


Looking at both quotes together, I seem to have very clear priorities in the kind of historical fantasy I want to read. In any case, I highly recommend both books.

I've just finished doing a bit of yoga (I'm so happy to have found a good Youtube channel with yoga classes to follow for free at home, since I dropped regular yoga classes after their times and locations became too inconvenient), and I'm just about to start cooking tonight's dinner (an Ottolenghi recipe which, miraculously, doesn't have a million ingredients that need to be bought in specialised supermarkets). Matthias and I will probably finish off the weekend by watching the last two episodes of the second season of Luke Cage, which I've found enjoyable and frustrating in equal measure.

I'm not sure how sustainable it is to continue to insulate myself in a news-free, cotton wool-like existence, and I feel a lot of guilt for being able to do so, but I am glad this weekend that it gave me these little, quiet moments, where I could be small, and calm, and gentle.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
I've been writing epically recently, not only online, but also for my PhD. I'm now sitting on about 2000 words, which pleases me immensely. But today I'd like to show you some of my less academic writing.

First, here's my (supposedly) weekly Longvision post. It's about Christian symbolism and the character of Sulien, and it's the sort of thing I wish I could spend more time pondering.

I've got two posts on Geata Póeg na Déanainn. The first is just a general post about life in Cambridge this term - my regular update that sums up the Cambridge experience in a more formal way than I do on this blog. The second post is a review of Kate Elliott's Crossroads series. It might be slightly spoilery for the first two books. The focus is on Elliott's positive depiction of middle-class characters in a medieval world, which is something of a rarity in fantasy literature.

I've got a couple more links for you. First up, something I stumbled upon through [livejournal.com profile] metafandom. It's a rather interesting post pondering the appeal of the Twilight series, which, as you know, is something I ponder myself from time to time. I think you'll be interested in the conclusions the blogger reaches.

If you're not reading The Intern, a fantastically snarky look at the publishing world, you should be. Her recent post on author websites had me wondering whether to laugh or cry. As someone who has struggled recently trying to track down authors' publicity representatives in order to get review copies of books sent to me, let me reiterate The Intern's complaints: Authors! Fix your websites! Most importantly, include a link to your representatives at each of your publishing companies, with contact details! You would make this reviewer very grateful.

Check out John Scalzi's remarks on Fox 'News' and Obama. He's spot on as usual.

I discovered, via Justine Larbalestier's blog, the wonderful [livejournal.com profile] sarahtales (author Sarah Rees Brennan). She's got some very interesting things to say on the double standards readers tend to hold in relation to female characters. It's good food for thought.

That's probably enough for you to be going on with for now!
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I'm meant to be packing for my trip to Ireland, but, guess what, I'm online, flinging links at you.

First up, I've been blogging epically. The release of the new Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sparked a bit of discussion on the 'Pub. I came to the conclusion that I read the books not for the magic, but for their theme of overcoming one's history. This caused me to blog at length on Geata Póeg na Déanainn.

Then I posted my weekly post on Longvision. It's about genre, and whether it's necessary.

A couple of things have caught my eye on the internet recently. The first is an absolutely excellent post by Justine Larbalestier. She is speaking out about her anger that although her latest book, Liar, has a black protagonist, her US publisher's marketing department insisted on a cover with a white girl on it. It's a particularly timely post, and shows that the publishing world, like society at large, still has far to go with issues of race.

This is a New York Times article about Pottermania and nostalgia among Gen Y. I've been talking about my generation's early-onset nostalgia for months now, but I disagree with the author of the article that this nostalgia was brought about by September 11. Real, ordinary mundane life is the culprit.

Speaking of Gen Y's nostalgia, [livejournal.com profile] ellevee has a great post of all the wonderful things that future generations will miss out on. Scroll down a bit to find this. I remember being aware of this when I took a photo of my (then) four-year-old cousin, and he turned over my camera to see the photo. My camera wasn't digital, and it was beyond his comprehension that it didn't have a little screen where he could check out all the photos I'd taken.

A while ago, I planned to write a rantpost about how bad Season 3 of Robin Hood was. Now, I don't have to because [livejournal.com profile] ravenya03 has done it for me.

A lot of people are asking if I've had a chance to watch 'Epitaph One', the Dollhouse season finale, and the answer is, so far, no. I will eventually get around to it, but I'll be away from the internet all next week while I'm in Ireland, so I won't be able to see it for a little while.
dolorosa_12: (dreaming)
...since I have a take-home essay to do, I'm here, on LJ. However, I've been very good with my internet usage today, and didn't allow myself to go online until I'd written 1000 words.

Here be life, rants and raves )
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I've got a new post up on Geata Póeg na Déanainn reviewing Suzanne Collins' book The Hunger Games. It's essentially spoiler-free.

Hurm.

Mar. 19th, 2009 07:43 pm
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I've been very blog-happy today. First up, a gushing rave review of Watchmen.

A disclaimer, beyond the usual spoiler warnings: I am not a comic-book reader. I saw the film before reading the graphic novel (and in fact, up until this week, the only comics I'd read were Tintin and Maus). Although I know that Watchmen the graphic novel is a deconstruction of comics and their history, I only have an incredibly superficial understanding of this history. My review, thus, is more about the film and comic's broader concerns of the nature of heroism and Cold War hysteria. So please take that into account before throwing me down any lift elevator shafts.

My second link is to a shorter post. It's a follow-up to some questions I raised here about the distressed damsels of fantasy novels. The follow-up can be found here.

Crimes

Dec. 18th, 2008 03:19 pm
dolorosa_12: (dreaming)
I'm talking about crime novels that explore contemporary political concerns (and more specifically, the erosion of freedom in pursuit of security) here. Spoilers for The Tiger in the Well, Farthing and the Roma Sub Rosa series abound.
dolorosa_12: (spike)
Rambling post about the notion of evil as explored in Dr Horrible and The Dark Knight, spoilers abound.

Ministry of Sound CDs listened to since last update: Sessions 2, discs 1 and 2; Sessions 3, discs 1 and 2; Sessions 4, discs 1 and 2; Sessions 5, discs 1 and 2; UK 2006 Annual, discs 1 and 2; US 2007 Annual, discs 1 and 2.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
The alternative title for this might as well be 'Ronni indulges in some shameless fangirlishness'; I am quite partial to the vampires, and Anne Rice's series is, of course, the original and the best. (Leaving folklore and various incarnations of Dracula out of the equation.)

I first read these books when I was 21, and though I chose to read them for the vampires, the experience was utterly transformative, rivalled only by reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series when I was 12. Both sets of books just came to me at the right time in my life. Rice's novels provided just the rich, philosophical feast, the melancholy musings on life, literature and mortality (and their connections), the sense of the deadening, sterilising weight of history, that I felt and yet could not articulate at the time. Her immortals are monstrous, inhuman, and at once figures inspiring empathy and understanding.

There are 10 original Vampire Chronicles novels and two 'New Tales of the Vampires'. It would be impossible here to give each one the attention it deserves (and in any case, I only like the first five and last Chronicles books) so I shall only talk about a few unifying themes and ideas that make these books special to me.

The ethics and burdens of immortality clearly are at the forefront of any books about vampires, and Rice gives them a prominent position. How do you give meaning to a life which has no end? If you cannot die, how can you find common ground with the other conscious beings with whom you share the Earth? How much of human morality is connected with human mortality? Rice's vampires struggle with these and other conundrums of their condition, and each comes to his or her own conclusion. Marius finds purpose in guarding the bodies of Akasha and Enkil, the oldest, unmoving vampires; Pandora's millenia-long love for Marius gives her unlife meaning; Lestat embarks on quest for human fame and fortune that lasts two centuries and leads back to the simple Catholic religion he craved as a child (with his own melodramatic flourishes, of course), while David Talbot, the fastidious Englishman whom Lestat 'turned' becomes the self-appointed historian and chronicler of the older vampires' stories. In this way, Rice creates inhuman characters who deal with their inhumanity by becoming the embodiment of various human qualities - duty (Marius), love (Pandora), celebrity (Lestat) and scholarship (David).

But her first, and perhaps greatest character, Louis, the melancholy, world-weary narrator of Interview With the Vampire, finds no solace in these human things. I have always thought it significant that Rice wrote only one book from Louis' perspective; he is closest to her heart, and 'his' book is the anguished cri de coeur of an intelligent, rational, educated 20th-century woman struggling to find in her rationalism a reason why evil exists in the world. 'How can we be moral in this new world where there is no God? If we are not human, are we more than human - are we the closest thing to God - and if so, shouldn't we act with a morality that is above that of humans?' Rice's anguished narrator seems to be asking.

Armand, Maruis' youthful-looking, emotionally volatile protegé, decides that the purpose of vampires is to reflect the spirit of their age. If this is the case, the miserable Louis is the spirit of the Enlightenment (as Armand tells him, 'Your fall from grace has been the fall of a century'), born into rationalism but yearning for the dark, certain, uncertainties of an age where the world's phenomena had not yet all been explained away.

Lestat, Louis' erstwhile antagonist and companion, is the embodiment of the 20th century. Even in 'Louis'' book, he takes up too much space, stealing every scene, demanding to be noticed, demanding to matter. His journey, catalogued in most of the later books, sees him start up a theatre of 'vampires pretending to be humans pretending to be vampires', become a rock star whose music awakens Akasha, the mother of all vampires, on a murderous crusade to annihilate humanity, swap bodies with a human to feel what mortality feels like, go on a Divine Comedy-esque journey into Heaven and Hell (this in my second favourite book after Interview, Memnoch The Devil) and undergoes a melodramatic spiritual transformation that causes him to lie in the desert under the sun (which should destroy him) and yet live. And this all in just four books! Lestat remains a liar to the end, but in the broad sweep of his journey, we can see the journey of 20th-century humanity - from rationalism to despair and back to a form of spirituality again.

Rice's true talent is that although readers never forget that her books are dealing with characters who are utterly inhuman, we can find in their stories existential anguish, philosophical musings and esoteric concepts which reflect the burning questions, struggles and confusion of our own, utterly human lives.
dolorosa_12: (child)
So, a little while ago I whined about fantasy novel clichés and promised to write a little bit about fantasy novels that either bypass these clichés or at least reinterpret them. The first series I want to hold up as an example is Jo Walton's Tir Tanagiri Saga. They're a retelling of the Arthurian legend, but in an alternative world (Britain is Tir Tanagiri, Romans are Vincans, Saxons are Jarns etc). What's this, an original take on the Arthurian story? I hear you ask, but Walton truly does something special with familiar ingredients.

The story is told from the point of view of Sulien ap Gwien, the daughter of a minor Tanagan aristocrat and one of the 'Last of the Vincans'. The story opens with her rape at the hands of Jarnish raiders, an event which comes to colour all of her life. The raiders also kill her younger brother (and her father's heir) and destroy her home. Sulien winds up as a soldier in the 'Ala' (like the elite army) of the new young king, Urdo (the Arthur figure in the stories). During the course of the two books, Sulien helps Urdo in his quest to unite Tir Tanagiri in the face of Jarnish invasion and the loss of the Vincan legions (which mirror the ending of a Roman presence in Britain and the Anglo-Saxon invasion), as well as in the face of the encroaching new religion of 'The White God' (Christianity). So far, so predictable. It could be any Arthurian retelling.

What makes this series special is the focus on the really terrible struggle Urdo faces to unite his country. As he points out on numerous occasions, his claim to the High Kingship is no better than any other regional lord in Tir Tanagiri. Lots of books that focus on this kind of heir-to-throne-consolidates-his-power storyline seem to give their hero an air of entitlement. And they don't make the struggle seem believable. It is not enough for the king-to-be to fight simply one battle and then be in control of a country as volatile as fifth-century Britain was. Walton shows that it was a hard slog, a careful balancing act between justice and expediency, full of compromises, unlikely alliances and sheer dumb luck. She resists the urge of so many other fantasy writers to make the struggle between Christianity and 'the old religion' simplistic and black and white. Sulien herself has no time for the priests of the White God, thinking them and their religion stupid and a religion of slaves, but Walton never seems like she's on an anti-Christian diatribe. Sulien is a pragmatic heroine. She recognises that hers will be the last generation of religious pluralism, and she moves on, seeing that uniting the country is more important than fighting a religious war.

Walton's characters are all also fully fleshed out, and yet symbols and ciphers at the same time. In some fantasy, especially that written by women with female protagonists, there's often a tendency to write stereotypes rather than flesh-and-blood characters. The heroes are always pure and good, and the villains are always base and are motivated by stupid motives. In the Tir Tanagiri books, everyone has a bit of villain in them (except Urdo, who is viewed through Sulien's platonicly-adoring eyes and can do no wrong). Their actions are thus comprehensible because they are all human. At the same time, they're all symbols, in the way that characters in mediæval tales are all symbols. It's a tricky combination to pull off, but Walton manages it.

Without giving too much away, I'd also finally like to commend Walton for her heroine in this book. It's a terrible cliché, and, like many clichés, there's truth in it, that 'women's fantasy' tends to focus on romance. The central theme of much mediæval or historical fantasy is an unlikely relationship between the narrator/protagonist and a male character. It's the mechanism that drives the plot, and the tidily-wrapped up ending usually involves the heroine and the hero realising that they're in love, saving the world and ending up together. Well and good. I mainly read this kind of story, so I can't be too sneery about it...

BUT I will love Walton forever for creating a heroine who is not driven by unrequited or unrecognised love. Sulien is an entirely sexless being. It doesn't really matter wether she is turned off men after being raped, or whether she is asexual to begin with, for whatever reason, the quest to find true love is removed from the story and thus as a motivation for the series' heroine. Sulien's a thoroughly original heroine, the leader of an army, a military tactician, a representative of the old order while trying to build a new world at the same time. She witnesses enormous change during her long lifetime and she records it wryly, with affection and the rueful vision of hindsight.

Walton writes beautifully, and her story is enhanced by the various poems she sprinkles through it. (I hear you scream in horror - a poetry-spouting fantasy novel - but these poems really are accomplished. As someone who's studied Old Irish, Middle Welsh, Old Norse and Old English literature, I can appreciate what she's trying to do.) She's managed to do something very difficult for a fantasy novelist: create a new world with its own, utterly believable internal logic, an Otherworld that draws you away from reality, and yet every so often throws you back with a quote that seems drawn from your own personal experiences. I'll leave you with the opening lines of the first book, The King's Peace, which is one such quote that has a special resonance for me:

'What it is to be old is to remember things that nobody else alive can remember. I always say that when people ask me about my remarkable long life. Now they can hear me when I say it. Now, when I am ninety-three and remember so many things that are to them nothing but bright legends long ago and far away. I do not tell them that I said that first when I was seventeen, and felt it too...So I have been old by my own terms since I was seventeen.' - Jo Walton, The King's Peace, Penguin, p ix.

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