Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Fantastic Opening Lines






Since it is May, I have chosen my first lines from fantasy novels for Wyrd & Wonder.



















Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic.

They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say they had never harmed anyone by magic - nor ever done anyone the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon anyone's head.
I was born in the city of Bombay… once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date. I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th 1947. And the time? The time matters too. Well then, at night. No, it’s important to be more… On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. 















There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy even though the skies were blue...










The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like sticky plaster-dust. (House-cleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country, you had to de-scale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn't, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water.   














This is where the dragons went. They lie... not dead, not asleep. Not waiting, because waiting implies expectation. Possibly the word we're looking for here is... dormant.

And although the space they occupy isn't quite like normal space, nevertheless they are packed in tightly. Not a cubic inch there but is filled by a claw, a talon, a scale, the tip of a tail, so the effect is like one of those trick drawings and your eyeballs eventually realize the space between each dragon is, in fact, another dragon.














Sam Vimes sighed when he heard the scream, but he finished shaving before he did anything about it. 




Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.














Before the mountain at the world’s end was built on the river plain, before the high city there grew up, before most of the Ravens went away into the forests of the deep, before the People’s long rage to kill Crows, before Dar Oakley’s sea-journey into the West, before the Most Precious Thing was found and lost again, before the ways were opened to the lands of the dead, before there were names in Ka, before Ymr came to be and therefore before Ka knew itself, Dar Oakley first knew People.














Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

























 



























Saturday, May 23, 2020

Book Beginnings #20 & Friday 56 #20: The Fifth Season



Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader. The weekly post goes up every Thursday and bloggers can add their links all week. I am rereading The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. I wanted to read a book for the SFBC Book Club (we have a yearly challenge reading past group reads) I started a different one, Among Others, a few days ago, and didn't like it enough to keep reading, so I thought that I would like to reread this instead. After I finished the trilogy in 2018 I thought I would probably want to reread it eventually.   




PROLOGUE: you are here

LET’S START WITH THE END of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.


First, a personal ending. There is a thing she will think over and over in the days to come, as she imagines how her son died and tries to make sense of something so innately senseless. She will cover Uche’s broken little body with a blanket—except his face, because he is afraid of the dark—and she will sit beside it numb, and she will pay no attention to the world that is ending outside. The world has already ended within her, and neither ending is for the first time. She’s old hat at this by now.


And for the Friday 56:








Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Six Degrees of Fantasy Separation: The Lord of the Rings to Lavinia


I still have at least one review to write, but I had hoped to do at least one non-review post for Wyrd & Wonder, so here it is!

I read Imyril’s Six Degrees of Separation post (inspired by Kate’s meme at Books Are My Favourite and Best) and I decided to join in! The idea is to pick six books and find connections between them. 


The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is not the first fantasy I ever read, but probably the first that is still a genuine favorite. It is, of course, famous for its background of invented mythology.


Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke has its own invented mythology in the form of the stories of the Raven King in an alternate England. Both of the protagonists are deeply flawed, although I loved reading about them. Norrell, in particular, is pretty much the Worst, although I felt sorry for him at times.


The Sandman comics series by Neil Gaiman is another work that includes invented mythology and borrows extensively from real-world myths. The deeply flawed protagonist makes some terrible decisions before and during the main action of the series.


The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien features a great many terrible decisions by various parties, but I want to highlight the family drama in the House of Finwe in order to establish a link to. . . 


The Once & Future King by T. H. White is another long-time favorite for me, and the family drama between the Orkney brothers, the sons of Lot & Morgause, is one of the highlights of this classic Arthurian retelling. 


Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin is a beautiful retelling of The Aeneid from the perspective of Lavinia, the future bride of Aeneas. I read it last month.

I think if I do this again I will limit myself to one book per author; lists like this are usually more interesting that way. But just this once, I had to include Tolkien twice.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Review: Chocolat

Chocolat Chocolat by Joanne Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chocolat is a contemporary novel with a few fantasy elements. I really liked the setting, which is one of most beautiful and immersive settings I've read about lately. This is the second time I have read the book. It was worth rereading, but not amazing enough for me to read it a third time, most likely.

The beginning:
We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hot plate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter. There is a febrile excitement in the crowds that line the narrow main street, necks craning to catch sight of the crêpe-covered char with its trailing ribbons and paper rosettes. Anouk watches, eyes wide, a yellow ribbon in one hand and a toy trumpet in the other, from between a shopping basket and a sad brown dog. We have seen carnivals before, she and I; a procession of two hundred and fifty of the decorated chars in Paris last Mardi Gras, a hundred and eighty in New York, two dozen marching bands in Vienna, clowns on stilts, the Grosses Tetes with their lolling papier-mâché heads, drum majorettes with batons spinning and sparkling. But at six the world retains a special luster. A wooden cart, hastily decorated with gilt and crêpe and scenes from fairy tales. A dragon's head on a shield, Rapunzel in a woolen wig, a mermaid with a cellophane tail, a gingerbread house all icing and gilded cardboard, a witch in the doorway, waggling extravagant green fingernails at a group of silent children... At six it is possible to perceive subtleties that a year later are already out of reach.

The plot:
Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk move to the French village of Lansquenet, where Vianne sets up a chocolaterie called La Céleste Praline. When the book opens, it is Mardi Gras. They arrive in town during the carnival. The shop is on the square opposite the church and clashes with the old-fashioned town's strict observation of Lent.

Vianne is the main point-of-view character, but Pere Reynaud, the local priest, who has a vendetta against Vianne, gets some chapters from his point of view. I also enjoyed the secondary characters.

The magic:
The magic is understated, but it is a bigger deal in the book than the film. The main character knows what each character's favorite chocolates or sweets are as soon as she meets them, because she can read their thoughts. Tarot cards play a role, although they may or may not actually reveal the future.

The antagonist:
Reynaud is great, and I don't think he's a cartoon villain. This is a gray hats vs white hats type of conflict. The film made the mayor the antagonist instead, so if you have only seen the movie you might want to check out the book version.

The ending:
The ending is bittersweet, but not too sad, and it leaves a few loose ends. In contrast, the film comes closer to tying things up in a neat little bow. (Softening the impact of a bittersweet ending is not exactly new in film adaptations, so I really should have expected it. Stardust by Neil Gaiman comes to mind.)

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Review: Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read Midnight's Children in 2012, but that was my second attempt to read the book. The first time was the previous year, I think. I couldn't get through it the first time, even though I really liked the beginning.

I knew a little bit about Indian history before reading it. I had at least heard of some of the famous people mentioned, but I'm not sure how necessary that is. Jo Walton talks about that issue in her review of the book at Tor.com:

Midnight’s Children invites you to immerse yourself in India the way you would with a fantasy world—and I think that was partly Rushdie’s intention. He was living in England when he wrote it. He’s talked about how writers like Paul Scott and E.M. Forster were untrue to the real India, and with this book I think he wanted to make his vision of India something all readers, whether they start from inside or outside that culture, could throw themselves into. I don’t think his intention was to teach Indian history, though you’ll certainly pick some up from reading it, so much as to demonstrate the experience of being plunged into Indian history, as Saleem is plunged into it at birth.

The novel starts with the main character, Saleem Sinai, describing his birth. He is telling his life story to his fiancee, Padma. And he is dying, so he doesn't have much time. Saleem starts by telling of his birth in the exact moment that India became an independent country. He then backs up to recount the story of how his grandparents met, and then the story of how his parents met. Most of Book One takes place before Saleem's birth. His family is Muslim, but since he grows up in Bombay, Hinduism figures prominently in the book as well. I had to look up a few things, but I found it pretty accessible without a vast knowledge of Indian mythology.

"Family history, of course, has its proper dietary laws. One is supposed to swallow and digest only the permitted parts of it, the halal portions of the past, drained of their redness, their blood. Unfortunately, this makes the story less juicy; so I am about to become the first and only member of my family to flout the laws of halal."

And eventually he comes back to the moment of India's independence:

" ... this year-- fourteen hours to go, thirteen, twelve-- there was an extra festival on the calendar, a new myth to celebrate, because a nation which had never previously existed was about to celebrate its freedom, catapulting us into a world which, although it had five thousand years of history, although it had invented the game of chess and traded with Middle Kingdom Egypt was nevertheless quite imaginary; into a mythical land, a country which would never exist except by the efforts of a phenomenal collective will -- except in a dream we all agreed to dream; it was a mass fantasy shared in varying degrees by Bengali and Punjabi, Madrasi and Jat, and would periodically need the sanctification and renewal which can only be provided by rituals of blood. India, the new myth, rivalled only by the two other mighty fantasies: money and God."

Book Two begins when Saleem is born. The premise of the book is that Saleem and other children born in the hour from midnight to 1 pm have magical powers. Saleem and Shiva, both born exactly at midnight, are the two most powerful. Saleem is telepathic, and later, he gains an extraordinary sense of smell. Shiva's powers aren't described in detail but he lives up to his name: Shiva the destroyer. Book Two covers Saleem's life until the end of the 1965 war between India and Pakistan (April to September). And then, "six years later... there was another war."

"Reality can have metaphorical content; that does not make it less real. A thousand and one children were born; there were a thousand and one possibilities which had never been present in one place at one time before; there were a thousand and one dead ends. Midnight's children can be made to represent many things, according to your point of view: they can be seen as the last throw of everything antiquated and regressive in our myth-ridden nation, whose defeat was entirely desirable in the context of a modernizing, 20th-century economy; or as the true hope of freedom, which is now forever extinguished; but what they must not become is the bizarre creation of a rambling, diseased mind."

The children, or at least 581 of them, find each other with the help of Saleem's telepathy. Their unity is as tenuous as India's national unity, as it turns out.

I can't really classify this novel as either comic or tragic. It is a book of contrasts. It is pretty disturbing at times, though. Let's see, there's torture, alcoholism, domestic violence, and misogyny. This is one of my favorite novels, in case you can't tell from how much I'm quoting it!

"All games have morals, and the game of snakes and ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do, the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner; and for every snake, a ladder will compensate."

I'd like to say something about the portrayal of women, but I'm not sure how to address that without going into great detail about exactly what happens in the book. There are several important female characters: Saleem's maternal grandmother, Naseem Aziz; his mother, Mumtaz, who takes a second name, Amina, after her second marriage; his aunt Alia; his sister, the Brass Monkey (the name comes from an English expression); his crush at school, Evie Burns; Parvati, one of the Midnight's Children; and Padma, Saleem's lover and, eventually, his fiancée.

"How are we to understand my too many women? As the multiple faces of Bharat-Mata? or as even more... as the dynamic aspect of Maya, as cosmic energy, which is represented by the female organ?
Maya, in its dynamic aspect, is called Shakti; perhaps it is no accident that, in the Hindu pantheon, the active power of the deity is contained within his queen! Maya-Shakti mothers, but also muffles consciousness in its dream-web. Too many women; are they all aspects of Devi, the goddess, who slew the buffalo-demon, who defeated the ogre Mahisha, who is Kali Durga Chandi Chumunda Uma Sati and Parvati... and who, when active, is colored red?

'I don't know about that,' Padma brings me down to earth, 'They are just women, that's all.'"


The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) entry for Rushdie mentions Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum as a possible influence. I don't think I have heard of that book, so I will have to look it up. And in the comments at the Tor review I linked, someone mentions The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman as a possible influence, or at least a book with some interesting parallels. I haven't read that either! Maybe I'll get to it after I read a few of the other very long books I am already planning to read. I don't consider this book all that long, really; considering all the things that happen in it, it is actually pretty short, but dense!

Rushdie has an interesting essay on unreliable narration in the book, which you can read here.

View all my reviews

Friday, May 8, 2020

Book Beginnings #19 and Friday 56 #19: Chocolat by Joanne Harris



Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader. The weekly post goes up every Thursday and bloggers can add their links all week.


My book this week is Chocolat by Joanne Harris. This is a reread for me. The beginning:  

February 11
Shrove Tuesday

We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hot plate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter. There is a febrile excitement in the crowds that line the narrow main street, necks craning to catch sight of the crêpe-covered char with its trailing ribbons and paper rosettes. Anouk watches, eyes wide, a yellow ribbon in one hand and a toy trumpet in the other, from between a shopping basket and a sad brown dog. We have seen carnivals before, she and I; a procession of two hundred and fifty of the decorated chars in Paris last Mardi Gras, a hundred and eighty in New York, two dozen marching bands in Vienna, clowns on stilts, the Grosses Tetes with their lolling papier-mâché heads, drum majorettes with batons spinning and sparkling. But at six the world retains a special luster. A wooden cart, hastily decorated with gilt and crêpe and scenes from fairy tales. A dragon's head on a shield, Rapunzel in a woolen wig, a mermaid with a cellophane tail, a gingerbread house all icing and gilded cardboard, a witch in the doorway, waggling extravagant green fingernails at a group of silent children... At six it is possible to perceive subtleties that a year later are already out of reach. Behind the papier-mâché, the icing, the plastic, she can still see the real witch, the real magic. She looks up at me, her eyes, which are the blue-green of Earth seen from a great height, shining. 


The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.
This post is also for this week's Friday 56. Here is a bit from page 56 (Pere Reynaud
's pov) :

Her eyebrows are perfectly straight, giving her a stern look belied by the comic twist to her mouth. Hands square and functional; nails clipped short. She wears n makeup, and yet there is something slightly indecent abut that face. Perhaps it is the directness of her look, the way her eyes linger appraisingly, that permanent crease of irony about the mouth. And she is tall, too tall for a woman, my own height. She stares at me eye to eye, with thrown-back shoulders and defiant chin. She wears a long, flared, flame-colored skirt and a tight black sweater. This coloring looks dangerous, like a snake or a stinging insect, a warning to enemies 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Read It Again, Sam Challenge 2020

So far this year I have joined the Deal Me In Challenge (which I need to update; I'm almost on track with that one, but I have been checking them off on paper, not online) and the Back to the Classics challenge (which I will catch up with soon, I think). Now I am joining one more challenge for 2020: 


Level 1: Déjà vu: Reread 4 books

1. Guards! Guardsby Terry Pratchett
2.
3.
4.











Top Ten Tuesday: Fantastic Opening Lines

Since it is May, I have chosen my first lines from fantasy novels for Wyrd & Wonder . ...