St. Johns, FL, United States | Member Since 2009
Originally posted at FanLit.
The Courts of Chaos is the very short last installment of the CORWIN CYCLE of THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER and the fifth volume of the entire series. If you haven’t read the previous books, you’ve got no business here — go away. I don’t want to ruin it for you. Go read the first book, Nine Princes in Amber, and continue on from there.
OK. So Oberon is back and we learn that he’s been manipulating events all along. Now he’s on the throne, which is fine with Corwin because after Eric’s death he’s decided he doesn’t want to sit there anyway. Corwin’s concern is with repairing the pattern that Brand destroyed when he let the forces of Chaos into Amber. To heal the land, someone must sacrifice himself and Corwin is willing, but Oberon insists on making the decisions. He wants Corwin to take the Jewel of Judgment through Shadow so it will be ready to help them during the battle with Chaos. Meanwhile, Oberon intends to fix the pattern himself.
Corwin’s psychedelic hellride through Shadow is long and sometimes tedious as Corwin vividly describes the surreal landscape, reminisces about the past, and becomes introspective as he ponders how he, and his relationship with his family members, has changed. After the constant plot twists in the last few books, some readers may be glad for the leisurely pace, but I eventually became bored with metallic trees and zebra-stripe skies. Short but welcome action segments occur when Corwin encounters murderous leprechauns, a gallant knight, a seductive woman, a talking tree, a philosophical raven, and a treacherous jackal. When he finally reaches the Courts of Chaos, the last battle with a nebulous enemy ensues. Compared to all that’s gone on before, these final scenes are a bit anticlimactic and even start to feel like a bad soap opera when the unicorn shows up to crown the next ruler and a sibling who’s supposed to be dead reappears.
I didn’t enjoy The Courts of Chaos as much as I enjoyed the earlier AMBER novels, mainly because of the long surreal hellride, but it’s a short book that concludes Corwin’s story, so it’s kind of a must-read for anyone who’s read this far in this immensely popular old SFF series. As with previous AMBER novels, Roger Zelazny throws several literary and mythological allusions into this installment. The next five AMBER books make up the MERLIN CYCLE which is narrated by Corwin’s son Merlin. I read them many years ago and only recall that they weren’t as good as the CORWIN CYCLE. I’m not sure if I’ll read them again, though I probably will if I see them on sale at Audible. These have been very nice productions.
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
Andrew and Rose Vanbergen have recently purchased a California inn which they are fixing up and getting ready for guests. They live in the inn along with aging Aunt Naomi, her numerous cats, and her companion, Mrs. Gummage. The Vanbergens have only one real guest so far — the mysterious Pepto-drinking Mr. Pennyman.
Andrew has grand plans for the inn. Unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a slacker and he’s always managing to find excuses for doing anything but the actual work that needs to get done. While his good-natured and industrious wife is cleaning or sewing linens, he’s daydreaming about a gourmet kitchen and purchasing luxury items that aren’t really necessary. (He fancies himself an epicure).
Andrew also tends to have crazy ideas that sometimes border on delusional. Sometimes he acts on these. He knows he’s being silly and that it upsets his wife, so he’s in the habit of being secretive and lying to hide his ridiculous notions and activities. This often gets him in trouble because he ends up lying to cover up his lies. Oh, what a tangled web he weaves! It doesn’t help that his new friend, Pickett, tends to see conspiracies everywhere. When Andrew and Pickett notice Mr. Pennyman’s strange behavior, they decide that Pennyman has some dastardly plan and, in their bumbling way, they start to investigate.
But the truth is even stranger and scarier than Andrew suspects! Mr. Pennyman is at the inn because he’s trying to find the last of Judas Iscariot’s cursed pieces of silver and he knows the last few coins are somewhere on that California coast. If he finds them, the entire Earth is doomed! Inadvertently saving the world will require a series of hilarious misadventures involving a spoon, a carp, smuggled breakfast cereal, a pot of jambalaya, a fake advice column, prank letters, a car chase, several murders, a treasure hunt on the beach, a dangerous Chinese restaurant, and a huge cast of strangely behaving animals.
I loved The Last Coin. More than anything, it reminded me of my favorite British comedy, Fawlty Towers. Andrew is Basil Fawlty, the innkeeper who’s played by John Cleese. If you’ve seen that hilarious show, you know that Mr. Fawlty, who thinks he’s more sophisticated than he really is, just can’t help but hate most of his guests. He’s also nosy, eavesdropping and sneaking around and spying on his guests. He lies to his wife about silly things so she won’t know what he’s up to. Andrew Vanbergen is exactly like that, without the British accent. Some readers will despise Andrew, and I have to admit that he’s a bit overdone in parts (especially in the middle of the book, which drags a bit), but anyone who loves Basil Fawlty is sure to enjoy The Last Coin just for the characters and humor. Add in the cool premise of Judas Iscariot’s cursed silver coins and Blaylock’s delightful prose and you’ve got an extremely entertaining story that’s bizarre, amusing, clever, exciting, and unpredictable.
Christopher Ragland’s narration of Audible’s version was excellent. His voice and tone are perfect and he gets the humor exactly right. I highly recommend The Last Coin on audio. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.
Note: The Last Coin is the first of Blaylock’s books about Christian holy relics, but each book stands alone.
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
Most readers are probably familiar with Janny Wurts’ epic fantasy series THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW or the EMPIRE trilogy she wrote with Raymond E. Feist back in the ‘80s, but Wurts also wrote a few stand-alone fantasies, two of which have just been released in audio format.
Sorcerer’s Legacy, Wurts’ debut novel first published in 1981, is one of these. In some ways it feels like a 1981 high fantasy novel (e.g. the medieval setting) but, in the most important ways, it stands out. The story is about Elienne, the recently widowed and pregnant wife of the ruler of a conquered country. She’s been taken captive and awaits what’s certain to be a nasty fate when a wizard from another country saves her on the condition that she marries his endangered prince. She has no choice but to agree, of course, and off she goes to an unfamiliar land where she is alone and unloved and expected to marry a stranger while she grieves her lost husband. At this new court she discovers not only the political intrigue she expects, but also treachery, violence, torture, child abuse, and black magic. Elienne has no idea who she can trust and her only sure ally is the prince she’s supposed to marry.
How does Sorcerer’s Legacy stand out from so many of the other high fantasy novels published in the early ‘80s? First of all, it’s a stand-alone novel — hooray! (Though many readers will wish it was the first of a series.) It’s also got a terrific heroine. The setting is medieval, but Elienne doesn’t try to unrealistically bust out of her traditional gender role. She’s foul-mouthed, independently-minded, tough and opinionated, but Wurts doesn’t try to convince us that Elienne could whip ten men in a sword fight. Elienne’s feminine traits are actually her greatest strengths — she’s compassionate, protective, and loving.
The story is also fast-paced and the plot is almost completely unpredictable — two qualities that I don’t expect to find in a high fantasy novel written in 1982 but that I have come to expect from Janny Wurts after reading her excellent stand-alone To Ride Hell’s Chasm. Everything does not turn out well in the end — there is much loss and grief — but there is also beauty and hope.
The audio production of Sorcerer’s Legacy, produced by Audible, is wonderful. Narrator Emily Gray has a lovely voice and handles Wurts’ complicated sentences with ease. The book was a delight to listen to. Sorcerer’s Legacy is an impressive debut and the audio version does it justice.
Originally published at Fantasy Literature.
Wolfblade is the first book in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy which is a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy which I read several years ago. These are fat epic fantasies with lots of characters that are focused mostly on political drama but also contain plenty of magic and romance.
This story takes place in Hythria, one of the kingdoms in Fallon’s world. Lernen, the current High Prince (a Wolfblade) cares nothing for his country and is not respected by his people because he spends his time in the pursuit of unusually decadent pleasures. All of the nobility agree that Lernen should not be running the country, but they disagree about how they should take care of the problem. Some are content to wait him out, some want to kill him, and some want to take his place. Since Lernen doesn’t seem to be interested in begetting a son, his heir will likely be any future son of his sister Marla Wolfblade, a beautiful teenage girl who Lernen can basically sell off to the highest bidding potential husband. At the beginning of the story Marla is immensely silly. She is more interested in the romantic idea of marrying a handsome warlord than in how her status as mother to the next High Prince gives her (and her husband) political power in Hythria. When Lernen decides to marry her off to the king of the neighboring barbaric country of Fardohnya, Marla is devastated, especially since she thinks she’s in love with the younger son of a Hythrin warlord.
Fortunately for Marla, there are several people in Hythria who don’t want her marrying the Fardohnyan king either, including many of the nobility and the head of the Sorcerer’s Collective. She has another strong ally in a clever dwarf named Elezaar who she has recently purchased from the slave market. Elezaar has his own reasons for keeping Marla happy. Together they will attempt to save Marla from this disaster, but the plan they come up with will have terrible consequences for almost everyone involved. Marla must navigate a political landscape filled with secrets, treachery, sorcery, adultery, kidnappings, and assassinations. By the end of the story many of her family, enemies, and accomplices are dead, some have gotten in way over their heads, and Marla is transformed into a completely different person.
If you love long soap-opera-ish epic fantasies with a medieval setting, lots of characters, many plot twists, complicated political intrigues, and lots of treachery and death, you’ll probably love Wolfblade. In many ways it’s similar to A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, though not as dark and compelling. For the most part I like Fallon’s world, but there are some aspects that I have a hard time believing in. For example, Hythria seems like a typical patriarchy where a woman is valued only for her beauty and the sons she can bear and is expected to remain a virgin until it’s time to be married off to the man of her father’s choosing. Yet just before she’s married, she’s given a court’esa (a purchased male whore) who teaches her all about sex and she’s allowed to have court’esas when she’s married. I find this unlikely in that type of society. I also couldn’t believe that Lernen would be unwilling to spend just a little time trying to get an heir. I mean, for such a decadent guy, how hard would that be? And in a country that has an all-powerful High Prince, would the assassins’ guild really be allowed to keep secrets about who’s trying to kill members of the royal family? Unlikely. This didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the story too much, but it kept me from being completely immersed in Fallon’s world.
Readers who are familiar with the DEMON CHILD trilogy will recognize the origin of a couple of the main characters in those books, namely Damin Wolfblade and (I think) R’Shiel. We also get to visit the Harshini Sanctuary in Wolfblade and learn a little more about their lifestyles.
I listened to Wolfblade in audio format. This has recently been produced by Audible, it’s 25.5. hours long, and it’s narrated by Maggie Mash who has a lovely warm British accent and does a terrific job with the character voices and the pace. I will be choosing this format for the sequel, Warrior.
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
Henghis Hapthorn, who we met in Majestrum, is back. Actually, he’s not really back, he’s forward, because after solving the mystery of the disappearance of a man who went to look at a spaceship for sale, Henghis finds himself in a future Dying Earth where magic has replaced the role of reason in the universe. It seems he’s been drawn there by some malevolent force that wants something from him. In this future Earth, Henghis contends with warring wizards, fire-breathing dragons, and a very nasty luminous fungus. Will he be able to get back to his proper time and place?
Fortunately, Hapthorn is not alone. He has his computer which has turned into an argumentative fruit-eating feline pet, and a sentient sword which is eager to be drawn and brandished at any potential threat. Unfortunately, Henghis’ intuitive alternate psyche, who prefers to be called Osk Rievor, is missing and Henghis, who’s quite a logical fellow, could really use his help in a world where logic no longer works.
As I mentioned in my review of Majestrum, the first of the Henghis Hapthorn novels which are set in the ARCHONATE universe, Matthew Hughes’ writing style, dry humor, and bizarre characters and situations unabashedly mimic Jack Vance (he even uses the word “exudate”). Hughes’ work is not parody or pastiche — his characters and plot are all his own. These are original and creative stories, not rehashed Vance tales. As a rabid Vance fan, I think Hughes is worthy of comparison to the master and I can’t help but be charmed by an author who clearly loves Jack Vance as much as I do. Even the covers for the Henghis Hapthorn novels were painted by one of my favorite fantasy artists, Tom Kidd, who created the covers for many of Jack Vance’s novels. Charming.
David Marantz narrates the audio version of The Spiral Labyrinth which was recently produced by Audible Frontiers. It took me a while to warm up to Marantz in Majestrum, but I decided that he was a good fit after all and I really liked him in The Spiral Labyrinth. His voice is pleasant and his plain, even reading technique works well with Hughes’ style.
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
The Walk up Nameless Ridge is a short story (18 pages, 39 minutes on audio) written by indie writer Hugh Howey of recent WOOL fame. You can order it for less than $2 at Audible or purchase it for 99c as a Kindle Single and then add the professional narration (Jonathan Davis!!!) for 99c more.
The story is about a mountain climber who hopes to be the first person to summit the famous 60,000 foot peak on the planet Eno, even if it kills him. What he wants more than anything is to leave a legacy, even if it means he has to leave other people, including his family, behind. There are others on the mountain who, presumably, have the same goal. What price are these climbers willing to pay in order to be remembered? After all, nobody cares who got there second. Our climber must grapple with these ethical issues and must live (or die) with the choices he makes.
I was completely engrossed by The Walk up Nameless Ridge. With only 18 pages, Hugh Howey makes the mountain and the climber come alive. I was surprised at the range of emotion I felt toward the climber. At first it was admiration, then it was wariness, then…. well, I don’t want to spoil the plot. I’ll just say that the ending surprised me with its emotional impact.
This is the second time (two for two) that Hugh Howey has pleasantly surprised me with his self-published books, so I’ve ordered several more. In most cases the Kindle/Audible pairing is very reasonably priced.
Jonathan Davis is one of my very favorite (top three, probably) audiobook narrators. If you’re not an audio reader and want to see how engrossing audio can be, give this one a try. You’ll get to hear one of the best narrators in the business and if you don’t like it, you’re only out $2 and 39 minutes of your time.
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
Hugh Howey has a gift for creating elaborate dystopian worlds that readers love to visit despite the fact that they’d never want to actually live there. In Sand, his unfortunate characters abide in a desert world that is gradually being buried by sand which constantly blows in from the east. Over the years its relentless intrusion has overcome so many towns that new generations keep building on top of the ruins of their predecessors. Nobody knows where the sand comes from or why. Nobody knows if there’s anything better over the horizon because when people leave to find out, they never return.
The heroes of the story are the wife and four children of a man who left them years ago. They are a bitter bunch, left to try to hold their family together in a hopeless situation. The mother has resorted to prostitution, the oldest daughter is plagued by painful memories, the oldest son has disappeared. The younger sons seem to be the only ones who want to keep their father’s memory alive.
All of the kids are, or want to be, sand divers like their father. They strap on special gear which allows them to dive into the sand and salvage buried objects — objects that prove that a prosperous and technologically advanced community once lived in their land. Objects that make them curious about the past and wonder what’s beyond the world they can see.
As the story starts, it’s time for the annual family camping trip. It’s no coincidence that, unbeknownst to them, now is the time that the world is about to change, not just for this family, but for their entire world. Every member of the family, even those we don’t expect to see, will have a role to play. And they might not all make it out alive.
Much of the appeal of Sand is simply the curiousness of Hugh Howey’s brutal world. It is obviously a far-future United States. How did we end up like this? What is the rest of the planet like? What happens to the people who leave? Why haven’t they figured out how to get out of this situation? Where is their father? Daily life is harsh and monotonous as the mother sells herself to support her children and the younger kids labor to carry their daily quota of sand away from the town’s water pipes. Their weary work is never done and progress is never made. The world of Sand is a cruel place to live.
There’s a little bit of romance that momentarily lightens the tone and Howey also provides some beauty with his inclusion of the sport of deep sea diving. Anyone who dives or knows people who dive will recognize this — fins, air tanks and regulators, diving buddies, diver down flags, fear of the bends, the thrill of treasure hunting. Except that instead of the glory of the open sea, divers in Howey’s world experience the claustrophobia of being buried alive.
In some ways Sand is a warning about totalitarianism, oppression, and how hard life can be when individual freedom is squelched and technological progress stalls. The book description says Sand is an “exploration of lawlessness.” But there’s something deeper here. If you brush all the grit aside, buried underneath you’ll find that Sand is a tender novel about hope, faith, redemption, family, and the difficult things we’re willing to do for the people we love.
The Sand omnibus edition contains five parts which were previously released separately (“The Belt of the Buried Gods,” “Out of No Man’s Land,” “Return to Danvar,” “Thunder Due East,” and “A Rap Upon Heaven’s Gate.”) I listened to the audio omnibus edition which was produced by Broad Reach Publishing and read by Karen Chilton. She has a lovely rich voice that I enjoyed listening to for 10.25 hours. I recommend this version.
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
The Marvelous Land of Oz is the first of L. Frank Baum’s fourteen sequels to his much more famous novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Each of the sequels, which were published form 1904 to 1920, are illustrated by John R. Neill and are now in the public domain. My 11 year old daughter and I listened to a delightful audio version of The Marvelous Land of Oz which was read by Tara Sands. I purchased this version for free at Amazon and added Tara Sands’ wonderful narration for $2.99 with the Amazon/Audible Whispersync deal.
In The Marvelous Land of Oz, an orphan boy named Tip is being raised by an evil witch named Mombi. One day Tip tries to frighten Mombi by making a pumpkin-headed stick man and placing it on the road where Mombi will pass on her way home. Instead of being scared, Mombi animates the pumpkin-headed man with the magical Powder of Life which she has just illegally procured. When she threatens to turn Tip into a statue, Tip and the pumpkin-headed man (now named Jack) flee with the Powder of Life. They animate a wooden sawhorse and set off for the Emerald City which has been run by the Scarecrow since Dorothy and the Wizard left.
When they get to the Emerald City, a coup attempt is in progress. The Scarecrow’s throne is being usurped by a nasty little girl named Jinjur and her gang of girls wielding knitting needles. Tip and Jack want to help the Scarecrow get his throne back, so they all set out to get help from the Tinman, Glinda the Good Witch, and others (but not Dorothy — she’s still in Kansas). Can they get the Scarecrow’s throne back before the pumpkin head spoils?
The Marvelous Land of Oz is a creative and fun story in its own right, and it can definitely stand alone, but fans of Baum’s original OZ story are sure to relish revisiting the land of Oz and its strange but familiar characters. Beside those we already know, readers will meet a few new endearing heroes who I hope we’ll see again in the remaining sequels. My favorite was the Highly Magnified Bug who insists that making puns is a sign of genius.
The story is not all silly laughs — there are actually some thoughtful bits, too. For example, the characters wonder whether Scarecrow is justified in fighting for his throne when it didn’t legally belong to him in the first place. It had been stolen by the Wizard.
Both my daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed The Marvelous Land of Oz and plan to read the next book, Ozma of Oz.
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
Warbound is the third volume of Larry Correia’s GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES, an alternate history which takes place during the early 19th century. This review will contain spoilers for previous volumes. You’ll definitely want to read those before picking up Warbound.
The stakes are higher than ever in Warbound. When Jake Sullivan was let out of jail to help his country, he never dreamed he’d be fighting an evil being from another dimension that plans to suck the power out of magic-wielding humans so it can use their power for its own. Roosevelt’s administration is unwittingly (perhaps) helping this “Pathfinder” by demanding that all Actives get registered and wear a special badge. They’re even building special towns for Actives to live in and are starting to round them all up. Jake realizes that this will only help Pathfinder when he’s ready to harvest all the power.
Francis, an airship tycoon who’s also an Active, is frustrated as he tries to enlighten congress. His girlfriend Faye, whose Spellbound powers are growing, is worried that the power will taint her. Feeling more alone than ever, and knowing that the Council is trying to assassinate her, she goes on a quest to zombie-infested Berlin to get some answers. Meanwhile, Toru, the disgraced Japanese Iron Guard who was exiled to America, feels certain that the Chairman of his beloved Imperium is now the Pathfinder’s pawn. If so, the Chairman has fooled all of Toru’s brothers in the Iron Guard and Toru wants them to know the truth. He’s looking for redemption and hopes to win back his honor. He’s also starting to question his country’s moral philosophies.
Toru, Jake and their international group of magical friends (we met most of these fascinating folks in Hard Magic and Spellbound) have to make some unsavory alliances if they want to defeat the Chairman and Pathfinder. They meet some helpful Chinese mobsters in occupied China, but the scariest ally is a psychopathic psychologist who Jake retrieves from solitary confinement in a maximum security prison. It will take all of these people’s combined efforts and skills to win this war for humanity. Along the way, they’ll fight Samurai and ninjas, find a mechanical armored body suit, cause a riot, explore underground tunnels, blow up dirigibles, control animals, meet Rasputin, create origami art, and learn about the metaphysics of the magic. As usual there is some humor, some romance, some clever alternate history (I love the bastardized quotes at the beginning of each chapter), and several well-choreographed brutal fight scenes. There is also major loss and one of my favorite characters dies. If there are any future volumes in the GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES, I’ll miss that character.
After enjoying seven of his novels, I’m no longer surprised that Larry Correia always entertains me. His outspoken libertarian political views don’t bother me (I lean that way, too), but he’s a rabid gun nut, and that’s an issue that I don’t feel quite so libertarian about. There’s some gun porn in Warbound but it’s minimal and tasteful. Jake Sullivan occasionally lets us know that he’s politically conservative:
“FDR can go to hell. I’m a man. Not a type, not a number, and sure as hell not something that can be summed up as a logo to wear on my sleeve. A man. And I ain’t registering nothing.”
Larry Correia’s political views inspire Jake Sullivan’s characterization, but Jake’s libertarianism fits well in a story set during the time of the New Deal and it never interferes with the exciting plot. (It’s far less intrusive than Heinlein’s pulpitting.)
Warbound has been nominated for a Hugo award. I’m not interested in commenting on this year’s Hugo kerfuffle except to say that I agree with John Scalzi when he says let’s put politics aside, read all the books, and judge them based on quality. And to those who refuse to read this Hugo-nominated book, all I can say is that you’re missing out on a lot of fun. This story may not have the intellectual heft that I’d prefer from an award-winning book, but it’s wildly popular and it’s certainly not dumb. It’s clever, well-written, and immensely entertaining.
Now, let me talk about my favorite part of Warbound: the audiobook! This series has one of the best (maybe the very best) audio performances I’ve ever heard, and I’ve listened to close to 1,000 audiobooks. Actor Bronson Pinchot, the narrator, is an audio genius. Genius, I tell you! This story has a large diverse cast of characters that differs in sex, age, race, region, culture, education level, and every other way you can think of. Pinchot handles them all with ease, giving each character their own voice, rhythm and tone. I have never heard this done so well. Even if the story wasn’t entertaining in itself, Pinchot’s narration of Warbound could keep anyone riveted, which is why it’s been nominated for a prestigious Audie award. Have a listen!
A note about my rating of Warbound: I struggled with how to rate Warbound. If I was rating the audiobook, it’d get 5 stars. But, realizing that most of our audience doesn’t listen to audiobooks, I tend to rate based on if I’d read it in print. In this case, though, it’s really hard for me to separate the audio out of it because it was such a huge part of my enjoyment of the book. I may be being a bit stingy to only give Warbound 4 stars because I got more than 4 stars worth of enjoyment out of it.
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
I thought I was tired of Arthurian Legend and I’ve avoided reading one for quite a while now, but Gillian Bradshaw’s beautifully written story about Sir Gawain has changed my mind. Hawk of May takes place early in Arthur’s career and is inspired by the Welsh legends of King Arthur, the Sidhe, and Cú Chulainn. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Bradshaw’s DOWN THE LONG WAY trilogy.
In Hawk of May, we meet Gwalchmai, son of the Morgawse, the beautiful sorceress who hates her father Uther Pendragon, and who seduced her half-brother Arthur years before. Morgawse is the wife of Lot, one of the kings of Britain who, now that the Romans are gone, are engaged in a power struggle amongst themselves and are simultaneously trying to fight off Saxon raiders. It seems that Arthur is the only man who realizes that all the in-fighting must stop and the kings must band together so that the entire country isn’t overrun by Saxons. Arthur is the strongest, but when he declares himself high king, the petty kings balk at this young illegitimate up-start.
Gwalchmai is a middle son and feels like he can’t measure up to his father’s expectations. His older brother Agravain is a great warrior, but Gwalchmai’s stature and temperament is more delicate. His mother offers to train him in her arts and Gwalchmai learns to read and write before being introduced to Morgawse’s more secret powers. When he finally witnesses one of her darks rites, and realizes that she is also influencing his younger brother, Gwalchmai is deeply disturbed and runs away. Then he has a mystical experience with “The Light” and decides to find and join Arthur’s band. On the way he experiences the brutality of the Saxons and the dilapidation of the Roman Catholic Church — issues that Arthur is trying to address. When Gwalchmai finally meets Arthur, the high king will not accept him and Gwalchmai doesn’t understand why. Gwalchmai must try to win Arthur over and prove that he serves the Light. Fortunately, the Light has given him a cool sword and some special powers and eventually he develops into a warrior (which is not a spoiler because, you know, it’s Sir Gawain). There is a pro-Christian slant to Hawk of May, as you might expect from Arthurian Legend. The “Light” seems to represent Christianity while the “Darkness” represents the witchcraft and old ways of pre-Roman Britain.
Besides Morgawse, Arthur, Sir Gawain and the rest of Arthur’s band, we meet some of Britain’s petty kings, Cerdic the Saxon king, the bard Taliesin, and… dun dun dun!… Medraut (aka Mordred). Guinevere has a small role which will, I assume, become more significant later. We all know pretty much how the story goes, so there aren’t a lot of huge surprises here — oh my gosh, a Saxon raid? Really?? And Arthur and Morgawse??….. but she’s his sister! — which is probably why I don’t read a lot of stories about King Arthur, but as I mentioned, Gillian Bradshaw won me over with her lovely prose and her realistically grungy portrayal of Britain’s dark ages. Also, you could really forget that Hawk of May is Arthurian at all — you could simply read it as a coming-of-age story in which a sensitive young man experiences the Darkness and the Light and struggles to make the right choice about how he should live. The story is focused much more on characters, especially Gwalchmai and Arthur, than battles and politics.
I listened to Sourcebook’s audio version of Hawk of May. It’s almost 12 hours long and is read by Nicole Quinn. At first I was put off by the choice of a female narrator for a story written from a boy’s first person POV, and I think a male narrator would have been a better choice, but Nicole Quinn did a great job. She has a beautiful British accent and handled all the parts well. Her voice for Morgawse is absolutely (and appropriately) mesmerizing.
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
Eva Nine has been living in an underground bunker for all of her twelve years of life. She’s being raised by a slightly humanoid robot named MUTHR (it’s an anagram), her omnipod (a personal hand-held device) and her computerized home called Sanctuary. Eva Nine is the only human she’s ever seen. What’s above ground? Why is she not allowed out? Are there any other humans on Earth? If not, where are they? Soon some of Eva’s questions will be answered because somebody is hunting her and to escape, she must leave Sanctuary by herself.
When Eva Nine gets outside, she finds that everything is unrecognizable and nothing is as she’s been taught. The flora and fauna are unknown to her omnipod which is usually able to identify anything. She encounters strange enemies and makes friends with creatures that seem impossible. Could it be that she’s not on Earth? Where is she? Why is somebody hunting her? And what is WondLa, a word she saw on an old scrap of paper? With a couple of new friends, Eva Nine sets out to discover the truth.
The Search for WondLa has a great premise and a delightful heroine. It’s easy to care about Eva Nine, a sweet girl who’s totally alone in a foreign world. The setting is intriguing (both above and below ground) and the story is filled with weird creatures, some of whom are quite loveable. The print version of The Search for WondLa has some wonderful art which you can see at Tony DiTerlizzi’s website. (DiTerlizzi is the co-creator of the popular SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t find the plot of The Search for WondLa to be engaging for long. While I liked Eva Nine and was interested in her situation and the answers to all her questions, I thought that most of the plot dragged and was repetitive. Eva Nine escapes the Sanctuary, travels, gets caught, escapes, travels, gets caught, escapes, travels. There’s a little more to it than that, but not much. As she travels, there is a lot of description of Eva’s world, but even this is dull to read, unfortunately. If there had been beauty in the prose, or if the author had given me something deep to contemplate, I would have liked this part better.
Eva’s situation is desperate, but I never felt it. Every time there’s some sort of tension, it’s resolved quickly. I was also never convinced that Eva Nine was truly hungry, thirsty, tired, dirty, or scared. Eva Nine seems to float above the surface of the world and rarely feels truly engaged, though she’s always describing it to us. Similarly, the weird creatures she meets never felt fully alien. They look strange and each has its own cutesy speech mannerism, but other than that they feel human.
The Search for WondLa will likely appeal to Middle Grade readers, its target audience, but maybe not to older readers who would like a more solid feeling world, more beauty in the writing style, and something to think about. The story ends on a major cliffhanger that will thrill those who’ve enjoyed the book, but I decided that I didn’t care enough to purchase the sequel.
I listened to the audiobook version which was produced by Simon & Schuster and read by actress Teri Hatcher. This is Hatcher’s first audiobook experience (at least the first available on Audible) and she does a nice job, but I had to speed it up quite a bit because her delivery is slow (or maybe the book was just boring).
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