I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
I eagerly purchased this audiobook of T. H. White???s complete The Once and Future King, because for a long time Audible only had the individual books available. And I loved the first four books, which begin with the halcyon fantasy of The Sword in the Stone, in which the boy Arthur (???Wart???) is educated by an anachronistic Merlyn. The scenes describing the daily life of a medieval castle during different seasons are vivid and beautiful, while those recounting Wart???s fantastic adventures and transformations into various animals are imaginative, suspenseful, and humorous. White loved and respected flora and fauna (even snakes), and this first book is encyclopedic and fantastic, dense and rich, absorbing and moving.
From the second book, The Queen of Air and Darkness, which opens in the cold north as Queen Morgause boils a black cat alive while her four sons are telling the story of their grandmother???s rape by Arthur???s father, begins the increasingly dark movement of the novel, centered on the tragedy caused by Arthur???s family history and the romantic triangle between himself, Guenevere, and Lancelot (The Ill-Made Knight). In the 2nd through 4th books White most closely follows Malory, though he also moves the era forward from the 11th to the 15th century and empathically imagines how medieval men and women felt and thought with modern psychological insight. At the same time, he writes plenty of joie de vivre, questing and combating knights, and fascinating details about medieval life (food, fashion, feudalism, etc.).
The novel really concludes with the 4th book (The Candle in the Wind) as the last battle between Arthur and Mordred is about to begin, but this audiobook then adds The Book of Merlyn, which may be good for completists, but which I found disappointing, as on the eve of the last battle Merlyn takes his former pupil off for a night of anachronistic political and philosophical debate with Badger and company about why humans wage war and what might be done to prevent it. Apart from Arthur changing into an ant and a goose to experience two different social systems, there is little ???story??? in this last book: too little Arthurian Matter and too much Whiteian Musing.
Jason Neville does a marvelous job reading the long work, effortlessly giving different characters distinctive voices and personalities without over doing it (so that, for example, his female characters sound like human beings rather than like a man imitating ???women???). And his King Pellinore reminds me of John Gielgud.
I recommend this audiobook for anyone interested in the Matter of Britain or philosophical and well-written fantasy.
Magyk (2005) by Angie Sage has many typical children's magical fantasy genre elements: the lost seventh son of a seventh son possessed of extraordinary magic power, a princesses in hiding, an evil necromancer, good wizards, witches, and ghosts, supernatural creatures (like boggarts, brownies, and dragons), legendary magical artifacts (even a lost ring found underground in the dark!), and spells and magical rules for every occasion her page-turning plot requires.
Sage's novel adds to the genre a usurping dystopian governing body (the Custodians) with a penchant for rationalizing people, excluding women, and banning magic. Sage's good characters, a balanced mix of adults and kids, are very appealing and great fun to spend time with: Marcia Overstrand (the purple pointy python-skin shoe wearing ExtraOrdinary Wizard), Arthel Melle (the avuncular ghost of the former ExtraOrdinary Wizard), Silas (the unambitious and good-natured Ordinary Wizard who is a seventh son), Nicko (one of his sons who likes boats), Jenna (the princess on the run), Boy 412 (a member of the Young Army, "the Pride of today, the Warriors of Tomorrow"), and even Stanley the message rat (Sage does for message rats what J K Rowling never does for message owls: gives them their own point of view). And best of all Sage writes with enjoyable and engaging wit and style. I often laughed out loud at the lines her characters speak and the situations in which they find themselves. Magyk feels lighter and wittier than the Harry Potter books. Her slimy and poisonous Magog creatures are nightmarish, but also prone to greedy foibles, and her Dark Lord DomDaniel (back from the Badlands with a vengeance) snores and drools while he sleeps.
The fertility of imagination and richness of style in Magyk don't approach that in, say, Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but Angie Sage does write more magical magic than J. K. Rowling. Although Sage, like Rowling, does a fair amount of mundaning of the fantastic (as in having Marcia cast clothes cleaning spells), she is also capable of writing scenes that make the world come alive with a fresh perspective, as when the last Shield Bug goes into earnest and confused action, when the Dragon Boat appears in an underground temple, when the ghost of Arthel hugs Jenna and makes her "feel as though a warm summer breeze had wafted through her," when Boy 412 stares awe-struck at the "haze of [purple] Magyk energy" on Marcia as she casts a spell and sees her "brilliant green eyes glitter[ing] as she gaze[s] into infinity, observing a silent film that only she could see," and when Jenna goes outside Aunt Zelda's cottage to watch the marsh wake up in cold dawn beauty and thinks about her identity and family and childhood dreams and sees "a fishing boat crewed by chickens."
One thing lost in the audiobook version is Sage's portentous capitalizations and faux-archaic spellings of words like Magyk and Darke and use of bold font for the names of spells, because when the reader Allan Corduner says them they of course sound as if they were spelled and printed normally. But you gain so much by listening to the audiobook, because Corduner relishes reading the novel and keeps just the right 75-25 balance between tongue in cheek and heart in mouth, making everything more funny and magical and moving than it would be if one were only reading the physical book.
Will I go on to read/listen to the following six novels about Septimus Heap? Hmmm. If I find them on sale and myself with plenty of time I might, but I am in no hurry right now, because this first novel is a little longer than necessary and ends with satisfying closure.
Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) is a heroic fantasy classic, telling the tale of the growth of Ged, the future Archmage of Earthsea, from a proud and reckless boy hungry for knowledge and power to a young man at peace with himself. Written with poetic concision and grace, Le Guin's novel depicts compelling events in an other world with more thought, imagination, philosophy, and care than the majority of the bloated heroic fantasy novels these days can begin to muster. Her convincing depiction of a fully realized secondary world, Earthsea, complete with legends, traditions, songs, tales, different cultures and environments, and well-thought out and philosophically consistent and cool system of magic, is impressive, especially given how short her book is.
Although the short novel adheres to some genre traditions, as in, for instance, depicting the maturing of a hero through adversity and adventure with female characters playing subordinate roles as flawed teachers, beautiful temptresses, or cute supporters ("weak or wicked as woman's magic"), it also performs (especially given its era) some remarkable subversion and expansion of the genre, as in making Ged and his fellow Archipelagans people of color, depicting a school for wizards with different types of magic to be mastered, and rendering the climactic struggle as something much more interesting and meaningful than a struggle between the hero and an external evil monster.
And Le Guin's prose is a taut pleasure, every sentence being comprised of the perfect words in the perfect order with the perfect syntax and punctuation and rhythm, so that the book may be re-read multiple times, each time with a new appreciation. This is so whether she is describing characters ("He grew wild, a thriving weed, a tall, quick boy, loud and proud and full of temper") or settings ("Now the dark forest-crowned cliffs gloomed and towered high over his boat, and spray from the waves that broke against the rocky headlands blew spattering against his sail, as the magewind bore him between two great capes into a sound, a sealane that ran on before him deep into the island, no wider than the length of two galleys"), or voicing wise aphorisms ("Heal the wound and cure the illness but let the dying spirit go"), or evoking horror ("So it came over the sea, out of the Jaws of Enlad towards Gont, a dim ill-made thing pacing uneasy on the waves, peering down the wind as it came; and the cold rain blew through it") or epiphany ("In that moment Ged understood the singing of the bird, and the language of the water falling in the basin of the fountain, and the shape of the clouds, and the beginning and end of the wind that stirred the leaves: it seemed to him that he himself was a word spoken by the sunlight").
Some words about the audiobook read by Robert Inglis. I have twice listened to Inglis' definitive readings of the entire The Lord of the Rings and think he is ideally suited for Tolkien's masterpiece, giving them their necessary gravitas, pathos, suspense, humor, and beauty (including effectively doing different voices for the different characters—his Gollum, Gandalf, Frodo, and Sam are all perfect—engagingly singing the different genres of songs, and so on). However, perhaps because I first listened to Harlan Ellison's over-the-top but entertaining reading (in which he shouts, screams, whispers, sighs, sobs, sings, laughs, lectures, or just reads, endowing key words with special weight or particular pauses with extra pregnancy), Inglis sounds here a touch pale, thin, and tired. Or is it that Le Guin and Ellison are American, Inglis British? Whereas Ellison's version brought out different aspects of A Wizard of Earthsea that I hadn't noticed before, Inglis' version felt more routine. Mind you, Inglis is an excellent, professional reader, and Ellison's version is no longer available on Audible.
Anyway, people who like philosophical, poetic, concise, and original fantasy should read Le Guin’s Earthsea books, beginning with this one.