BPAL of the Day: Yule
Happy Christmas to those of you who celebrate it! May it bring a lot of presents! I celebrate Yule and my presents are two layaway payments this year.
'The Green Pearl' went from borderline boring to mildly entertaining to high suspense over the last two nights. I had to end my walk just as things were getting very nerve-wracking and intense. I really want to read it on a walk, but it is all I can do not to plunge into it right now! I'm posting these reviews in a poor attempt to distract myself.
'Alphabet of Thorns' by Patricia McKillip.
I read this one before I went to Columbus. (Which feels like ages ago.) It follows the tale of a transcriptior foundling named Nepenthe who was taken in by the librarians as an infant. A young mage named Bourne gives her a mysterious book written in an indecipherable language to take to the librarians. Nepenthe keeps the book and finds that she is able to translate it, eventually becoming obsessed with it.
The book, written in a language of thorns, tells the ancient story of Axis and Kaine. A conqueror and his powerfully magical cousin whom were madly in love, but it was decreed that Axis needed a strong political match and was forced to marry someone else. Kaine 'gave herself' to Axis as a wedding present. First she masqueraded as a masked and robed boy jester of sorts that entertained the queen and later her children. When Axis decided to conquer other lands, Kaine was unwilling to leave him so she made herself dangerously powerful and Axis took her with him as a weapon of war. He conquered the world with Kaine's powers at his side. Once he was done with the world Kaine opened portals in time so he could conquer even more lands in other times. They were unstoppable.
Entwined with the tale of Nepenthe and her book is that of a new young queen with magic of her own, a young mage from a rebellious family and the Dreaming Knight whom it is said will only awaken if the kingdom is in grave peril.
It is a beautifully woven tale with some lovely unexpected twists and McKillip's exquisite prose. The ending is very unique and surprising.
The only fault I found, if it can be called that, is how strongly some of these characters resembled characters in 'Od Magic'. It gave them a feel of being the same actors playing different parts.
A lovely, unusual and beautifully told tale.
Wildwood Dancing, By Juliet Marillier
I have been getting around to some of the books long on my 'maybe someday' list. I spotted this one at Borders last year, but never got around to reading it. I seem to be on a fairy and folk tale based/like fantasy kick lately, so this one strongly appealed. I believe it is based on the same folk tales as the Barbie 'Dancing Princesses' movie. This is, of course, a very different version! To begin with, their father is a merchant, not a king.
The narrator is Jena, the second eldest sister and the practical one who is good with numbers. Jena has a frog named Gogu as a... 'Pet' isn't really the right word; 'best friend' would be closer to the mark. They speak to each other and he gives her advice and friendship. Her elder sister Tatiana is something of a flighty ninny. One of her younger sisters, Paula, is a budding scholar at a time and place where women are supposed to be domestic, decorative and nothing more. Ilulia seems more standard issue for a 'proper young lady'- that is to say boring. The youngest is five and is too young to tell what sort she will be. Their father becomes ill and is told by his physicians to take himself to a warmer climate for the winter. He leaves Jena in charge with a kindly uncle nearby to help out if needed.
The five sisters have a special secret. For nine years they have visited the Other World (faery) on almost every full moon. They dance and play there with their friends all night and return the following morning to their homes. All goes well until one night when member of the Night People (vampires) come to the Fairy Queen's court. One of them, a young man named Sorrow, catches the eye of Tatiana. (Are all women who fall in love with vampires or semi- vampires hopeless ninnies?) It is love at first sight, worrying Jena greatly. (I personally liked the tall and strange, but gentle-natured Grigori. A relative of the witch who is the real ruler of the wood.)
Meanwhile back at home troubles are mounting. Their good-natured uncle was killed in a hunting accident, leaving their power-hungry and vengeful cousin Cezar as lord. He quickly belittles, bullies and insults Jena and her sisters and takes over their home and finances, saying girls are incapable of taking care of themselves. His brother drowned when they were children and Cezar blames the witch of the Wildwood for his brother Costin's death. He plans to burn down the Wildwood in the spring.
Jena's struggles against her cousin, her lovelorn sister, her frog that is not a frog, the Night People and various others made for an interesting, if frustrating story. Jena certainly was trying to put things right, but is utterly ineffectual at actually fixing anything until a male comes along and saves the day.:P Tatiana's pathetic wasting away was spectacularly aggravating. I gave the story some leeway for being based on old fairy tales, but it tested my tolerance strongly.
*** 1/2 Stars.
‘Cybele’s Secret’ By Juliet Marillier
This is the sequel to ‘Wildwood Dancing’ and is written from the PoV of Jena’s scholarly sister, Paula. It has been several years since the sisters’ last visit to faery. Two of Paula’s sisters have completed the requisite task of breeding male heirs, Tatiana has not been seen since she entered Faery with her beloved and Paula has had no luck finding another gate to replace the one that was lost. Paula and her father travel to Istanbul to acquire an ancient pagan artifact for one of her father’s clients. Paula’s father allows his daughters more freedom and education than would be considered proper for young ladies and this is quite an exciting and dangerous trip for young Paula. She hopes to use her part of the proceeds for the sale to start her own bookselling business.
When she arrives in Istanbul she meets the dashing and dangerous pirate Duarte, who steals her scarf and seems to immediately take an interest in her. Her father learns that his friend and the man who told him about the artifact’s sale has been murdered and hires a bodyguard for himself and (mostly) Paula. Paula chooses a man named Stoyan who was once bodyguard for her father’s friend. (He was away at the time of the murder on the trail of his brother who was taken by the sheik to become a eunuch in his service.) Paula is invited to visit the one woman who passes for a scholar in Istanbul, an imposing Greek lady named Irene. She (happily) has a frequently absent wealthy and important husband and has created an oasis of scholarship for women in her home.
The culture of Istanbul at any period is enough to get my hackles up, and reading about it in this book was no exception. It is pretty much my own version of HELL- women never leaving the home, being told what to do, forced subservience and then sitting around naked. Yep, that’s hell. :P
There are adventures, mysterious artifacts, handsome men and moments of peril aplenty. The ending was expected and a little bland, but not terrible. I enjoyed Paula more than Jena, as she seemed more resourceful and capable of action on her own behalf. Her relationships with Stoyan and Duarte are interesting and enjoyable. While both had their charm and strength, they did not overshadow Paula. (I’d have chosen opposite of the way she did romantically.) In the end it is Irene that really impresses. She is more than she seems. While the things she does are not always ‘nice’ it is very easy to see why she does them. To be a woman of intelligence and ambition in a culture where those traits are severely frowned upon would have been maddening for her. She would have achieved her aims by any means necessary. She was a true ‘gray’ character who cannot be stamped with a simple ‘good or evil’ label.
An excellent and thought-provoking book.
**** ½ Stars.
Next up six Patricia McKillip books! Including a set of short stories that includes one beautiful, haunting tale that I have read four times already. Much more on that later.