At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson
Small Beer Press, Easthampton, MA 2012
From my TBR pile. Kij Johnson has won the Theodore Sturgeon, World Fantasy and Nebula awards. This is an odd and moving collection by one of my favorite authors and goes onto my Best of 2013 list.
It is unusual to come across a collection of stories that is emotionally deep and, at the same time, chilling and even horrific. I have loved Johnson’s writing since I read The Fox Woman years ago and ordered this book as soon as I heard about it. Not keeping up with fantasy publications, none of these were familiar to me. I find them difficult to describe. Most feature animals, there are aliens and most feature humans in all their strange and convoluted glory.
All moments are this moment. Past and future jumble together: Jingu cannot say which is which. And because everything — sorrow and anger and love and grief — is equally immediate, she finds herself strangely distanced from her own life. It is as though she listens to a storyteller recite a tale she has heard too many times, the tale of the empress Jingu. From The Empress Jingu Fishes, page 109.
Built with elements of folk and fairy tales, mythology and science fiction, the stories bend and twist out of those forms and enter what I consider the realm of slipstream. Some are are made of memory and there are often stories within stories. Johnson travels to unfamiliar places, even for fantasy. I find myself wanting to follow her, as long as I am sure I know the way back.
Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
Greenwillow Books, New York, 2001
From my TBR pile. Read for Diana Wynne Jones month and Once Upon A Time VII.
The story takes place in a world of high fantasy, where griffins and young magicians are siblings, pigs fly and the mysterious Mr. Chesney runs Pilgrim Party tour groups from what appears to be our world. Chesney insists on all the familiar scenes, wizards, demons and horrible battles, which include the deaths of some “expendable” tourists. The tours continually wreak havoc throughout the land and destroy many inhabitants livelihoods. These people are tired of being exploited, but are helpless to fight back until the dragons show up. No suprise there.
Dark Lord of Derkholm is a parody, filled with family squabbles, depressed and drunken wizards and adolescents yearling to spread their wings, both figuratively and literally. It is a joy to read. It won the Mythopoetic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 1999. There is a second book in this series, Year of the Griffin, which I hope to read sometime in April.
What a master. I was introduced to Diana Wynne Jones by Ana a couple of years ago, and felt robbed at not having found her sooner. She was a British author who somehow never received the media push granted to J.K. Rowling. I have since tried to convince every Harry Potter fan I know to read her books.
The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Viking Press, New York, 2011
From my TBR pile. My first book for the Once Upon A Time VII challenge.
I read The Magicians last year and found it just okay. Early reviews mentioned “Harry Potter for adults”. The novel is about a New York City teenager, Quinton Coldwater, who while thinking he is applying for university is surprised with an invitation to attend Brakesbills College, a kind of ivy league Hogwarts. Quinton, along with other “Physical” students, spends years in class, learning spell casting, and enjoying first loves, sex, drugs and drinking. Eventually several of the students enter the land of Fillory, an “imaginary” place from a series of beloved children’s book very much like C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Maybe it was the referential use of this classic series that made me a bit squeamish.
I found the second book much more satisfying. It centers on two of the characters from the first book, Quinton and Julia, and brings historic depth and clarity to their behavior and their choices. There is better storytelling, more fantasy, with strong roots in folklore and mythology. I think Grossman worked hard to bring his characters to life and strengthen the magic. I am hoping that there will be more books to come because I’d like to know what happens to these young people.
The goddess was warm, even humorous, and loving, but she had a second aspect, terrible in its bleakness: a mourning aspect that she assumed in winter, when she descended into the underworld, away from the light. There were different versions of the story. In some she grew angry at all mankind and hid herself underground half the year out of rage. In some she lost one of her dryad-daughters and retired to Hades in grief. In others the goddess was fooled by some Loki-type trickster-god and bound to spend half the year hiding her warmth and fruitfulness in the underworld, against her will. But in each version her dual nature was clear. She was the goddess of darkness as well as light. A Black Madonna: the blackness of death, but also the blackness of good soil, dark with decay, which gives rise to life. From page 325.
It’s Spring and Once Upon A Time is here. Running from the March 21 to the June 21, Stainless Steel Droppings magical challenge is one of my favorite yearly events. From Carl V’s website:
Thursday, March 21st begins the seventh annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through Friday, June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.
The Once Upon a Time VI Challenge has a few rules:
Rule #1: Have fun.
Rule #2: HAVE FUN.
Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!
Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.
There are many ways to participate, I plan on taking The Journey, which means I only need to read one book from any of the categories. I plan one reading many more than that.
I am hoping OUAT VII and Arti’s Proust Read-Along will get me back into blogging about what I am reading.