Paranormal Adventure Reading: Throne of the Crescent Moon

All the while I was reading Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon I was picturing it as a movie. It's a very visual book and the characters would come across well on screen.

The main character is Dr Adoulla Makhslood, serves the world by killing ghuls. Fortunately those are increasingly rare as he really feels he is getting too old for this kind of work. He would have been killed on his last case if his assistant, the straight-laced, weapon of God, Raseed, had not managed to save him.

Suddenly, it turns out that there are a lot of ghuls out murdering people, and there has to be someone very powerful behind them. Dreams of his city awash in blood add to his sense of urgency.

Throne of the Crescent Moon provides a wonderfully filled-in, lived-in bit of world building. Admittedly, my first impression was of a "here we go again" with the prisoner of a mysterious, but powerful, figure, and so on, but soon I was charmed by the plight of the overweight Adoulla, getting too old and puffing out too quickly still going out to do what he alone can do, yet again.

I wouldn't say the book is flawless. For me, something about the Prince of Thieves type character doesn't seem quite thought through. On the other hand, the scenes where he is using magic to enhance his voice and the crowd's vision of him is one of the things that would work well in a film, being a parody of the way films already treat swashbuckling heroes. It is in the final battle and the ending, when he just a man, that something doesn't quite work for me. It's like the pieces are there, but they don't, quite, come together.

Really, though, it's an engaging read.

As a bonus, I see I enjoyed and reviewed short story by Saladin Ahmed a few years ago at my old blog.



Easy reading: The Collected Works of AJ Fikry

The Collected Works of AJ Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, is a pleasant novel about a bookshop owner, AJ Fikry, whose life could be better. His wife has died. His first edition of collected poems by Poe, which he only has because he hopes it will fund his retirement, is stolen, and someone leaves a baby in his store. How is a novel a 'collected works'? The answer is in the conclusion Fikry comes to as his life progresses.

Throughout the book are some of Fikry's own book reviews. He's clearly not someone who just follows the crowd.

This book is recommended as one of those pleasant, easy to read without being brain-dead kind of books.

Historical Fiction: The Red Queen

The Red Queen is Philippa Gregory's sequel to her enjoyable biography of Elizabeth Woodville, The White Queen. Elizabeth Woodville was the wife of Edward IV and the mother of the twins in the tower who were so famously murdered possibly/probably by their uncle Richard III. It was the War of the Roses, the cousins war. Everyone wanted the king's title, despite the fact that their family, being royal, already had the power.

One of the pleasant things about The White Queen, apart from the happiness of Elizabeth and her husband, was the fantastical element, the blood of a river goddess being said to flow in her veins and which allowed to her sometimes to summon elemental help.

The Red Queen is not a continuation of the story, but a parallel to it. It is about Elizabeth's rival Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII.

In the book, Margaret begins as a young girl obsessed with the idea of being like Joan of Arc. However, as a girl she receives no training whatsoever in anything that would help her achieve this. In fact, she doesn't even seem to realise that she would have to learn, for instance, to ride a horse. Being very young, she thinks her greatness will simply be recognised and she will be a mighty leader. No one, though, even looks at her, never mind recognises anything great in her. She is told what to say, briefly has a nice dress to wear and finds herself married. When she's barely old enough is sent to bear a son for a husband.

It's a strange book to read because the character of Margaret is not particularly likable, and seems that the author didn't like her either. There are many excuses for her: She is young, no one notices her let alone loves her, there's no one to give her kindly advice. She is important the one time she becomes pregnant, but once the child is born she is separated from him, her husband dies, and she has to marry someone else to advance Henry's cause.

Gregory, the author, suggests Margaret should be recognised for her intellectual endeavors, her efforts to get an education in a time when women were not taught anything. However this doesn't really come across in the novel which focuses on Margaret's ambition for power and has little to say about her intellectual efforts. We learn that she translates scriptures and gives out pamphlets to her servants. We don't learn if her servants could read, but we do get the impression that Margaret was just an annoying kind of person.

It might have been a sadder, maybe sweeter story, if it had been about someone who was not brilliant, or even particularly clever, but did yearn for knowledge and did manage to get some despite the obstacles. Instead, it's about a not very clever person who has no thought of the good of the country but encourages war just wants to be able to sign herself with an R for Regina, the queen.

The Red Queen is recommended reading mainly for the depiction of the lot of women in 15thC England.


Napowrimo day 8

The napowrimo challenge today is to write a love poem to an eggbeater.
It occurred to me that the love didn't have to be between me and the eggbeater. It could include another utensil. a bowl springs to mind. Then I decided to make the poem a cinquain, which has a pattern of 2-4-6-8-2 syllables per line.

I didn't want to take it too seriously.

Wire frames
Bend in and out
In graceful curves, twin balls
That fill my bowl change the mess to

Meanwhile, its Camp Nanowrimo, and April is a much easier month than busy November to do such things. So there are a few challenges around for writers to enjoy at the moment.



Listen Up: The Red Priest's Vigil

"The Red Priest's Vigil"
By Dirk Flinthart
Narrated by Graeme Dunlop
Here at PodCastle  256

This is a story I don't mind hearing over again a few times. The setting is tight, confined to an inn where the priest, who dresses in red, comes because a friend is dying there. The story, though, is not told from his point of view but from that of the innkeeper who is writing a letter to explain the outcome of a plot he is involved in.

It turns out that the red priest knows some martial arts, so there is a lot kicking of arse, but behind all the fighting, there is a textured world and a lot of sadness. Not everything is explained but there is a sense that it all makes sense to the characters, and it's precisely because it feels like there is more to be gleaned here that I like to hear the story again despite all the fight scenes.

After the narration the author's explanation of how he came to write the story is just heartbreaking.

An aside, "The Red Priest's Vigil" was originally published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, which shows what good taste they have, so go ASIM.


Listen Up: The Giant Who Dreamed Of Summer

The Story: The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer
By: Jess Hyslop
At: Cast Of Wonders
Narrated by M K Hobson

Listen or download Here
Read it Here

It's wonderful to find a new source of great fiction stories. Cast Of Wonders specializes in young adult fiction that creates a sense of wonder. It's fantasy that seems to do the trick. CoW editor Marguerite Kenner commented while guest hosting at PodCastle that: "Young people aren't oblivious or immune to sex or violence, but it's less their centre of their world than exploration, self discovery, inquiry and navigating the passage of time."

That insight into the nature of YA literature, and the promise of fantasy, naturally lured me to CoW to find more.

The first story I looked at was "The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer". The giant is a frost giant, not a fierce giant who tries to end the world, but one of a tribe who follow the snow and cannot live under the heat of the sun when the snow melts and the world turns green. And yet he wants to see summer.
 You can read this story, but it's really one of those that's best heard aloud, especially when the reader is a good one like M K Hobson.

Listen up:The Queen and the Cambion

The story: The Queen and the Cambion
By: Richard Bowes
Read by Wilson  Fowlie
At: PodCastle

Another beautiful story. I'm getting rather fond of PodCastle. I like it's floating castle logo, the castle drifting through the air or, possibly, space, with its bit of earth trailing roots below it, and the theme music from Shiva In Exile - which is a great name, too, and I like the range of fantasy stories that turn up.

At first I thought I was not going to like this story much. Another Arthurian tale, another historical mix, a what if someone met so-and-so theme. If you want my attention for a story like this, you had better do something special.

Which it does. It's a kind of low key story and it's really about the relationship between Queen Victoria and Merlin. Maybe it's not deep, but it has nice moments: When the young Victoria first meets Merlin, she needs his help. When she is old it is she who has the power to help him.

As a bonus the podcast's M.K. Hobson reads us a quote from T H White in The Once and Future King, the one where Merlin tells Arthur that the cure for sadness is to learn something.

A cambion, by the way, is a human-demon  offspring which Merlin, famously, was.