Tag Archives: high fantasy

Shelfie 14: July 5, 2016: The True Way

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We all make ourselves better, and once we’ve made ourselves better, we make the spaces we’re in better, and that’s how we make the world better.

It’s amazing to me how much Auri speaks to me–and by “Auri” I mean Patrick Rothfuss writing with the voice of an insane young woman.

Read this page.  Then read it again.

This page is from The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

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Book Review: The Search: One Long-Awaited Answer Tangled in Many Threads

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This link will take you to the hardcover collection of all three parts of this trilogy.

Some minor spoilers ahead.

After the close of the television show, the team responsible for Avatar: The Last Airbender and a few fans (Gene Luen Yang of American Born Chinese among them) began a series of comics that follow Team Avatar beyond the television show and help to bridge the 70 year gap between Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. There are currently five trilogies: The Promise, The Search, The Rift, Smoke and Shadow, and North and South. The television series ends with Zuko’s agonized and angry question “Where is my mother?” This second trilogy sets out to answer that question.

Finding graphic novels that appeal to and are appropriate for younger audiences can be difficult (though hopefully getting easier as we booksellers realize the demand and make concerted efforts to point out and to stock graphic novels for children). These are shelved with the adult graphic novels in Barnes & Noble, but there is nothing in these first two trilogies at least that is any more adult than what is in the television series, even though in The Search there are family dramas, madness, and politics. Often, I don’t think we give kids enough credit.  Really I think these stories have more appeal for the 7-17 age range than they do for most adults—at least than for those adults not already familiar with the television series and invested in the characters and the world.

This particular trilogy deals more with the personal stories of the characters than the larger world-building of The Promise.

Four years back now, I read the first part of this trilogy and was apparently impressed. It’s only now that I’ve gone back and read the three parts together (over the course of eight days).

The Search does quite a bit of bouncing backwards and forwards in time. The past plotlines are done in more of a monochrome (red for those that happen within the Fire Nation and blue for those that happen among the Water Tribe). Still, bouncing between the past and the present was distracting.

I see why doing so was if not necessary then certainly expedient, but I would have preferred I think to have one or several longer periods of backstory (some scenes in the present were 4 or so pages) than so many often abruptly interrupted storylines. I would have been quite happy spending two parts of this trilogy learning Ursa’s story and only one part having Zuko discover it and reconnect with his mother. I wonder if the creators underestimated the level of investment that fans would have in Ursa’s story separate from that of Team Avatar—which would frankly surprise me; they set us up for this level of interest, and surely this story was told partially in answer to scads of fans asking the same question that Zuko had done because Zuko had done.

I actually think that this story may suffer from too many storylines. Exciting as they all are individually, especially with the jumps between times, it was a lot to keep track of: Zuko’s quest with Team Avatar plus his sister, Azula’s madness, the letter given to Azula by Ozai that raises questions about the Fire Lord line of succession, then Ursa’s first lover and childhood home, her marriage and subterfuge and exile, her second marriage and new life, plus the story of Water Tribe siblings living in a haunted forest in the Fire Nation to try to find a spirit who can give new faces but tangling with its massive Wolf Spirit pet instead. The theme of reuniting families and restoring old lives runs through all, but in 228 pages of comic it’s all too much. In a 500 page novel, absolutely, but this isn’t a 500 page novel.

Now, all that said, I do want it noted that I read these online, and the format was a scrolling one rather than a facing page layout. That perhaps made some difference.

***

Yang, Gene Luen and Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search: Parts 1-3. Ed. Dave Marshall. Illus. Gurihiru. Dark Horse, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Dark Horse Comics, or anyone involved with the graphic novel series or the television series. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Depth and Darkness Beneath the Fluff in Once Upon A Marigold

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157055Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris is a story of family, friendship, love, magic, and fate. For months now my roommate whenever I’ve said that I need something lighthearted and fluffy has thrust this book at me, and several times now I’ve ignored her. This time, it came to mind when I was looking for such a book, and I requested it from her.

Once Upon a Marigold plays with fairy tale and fantasy character tropes but maybe not with gender as much as I would like. As trope-bent fairy tales go, it is more original than many if still fairly predictable, and that I greatly appreciated.

The protagonist is a young boy found by a bachelor troll in the woods, who tricks that troll into keeping him rather than returning him to his overbearing family and rule-dominated childhood. Chris grows up into a clever, helpful, inventive teen, who begins to realize that there is much of the world that he has not seen and is especially interested in the royal family upon which he spies through his telescope. He is especially interested in the bookish, brunette princess who lives under the curse of being able to read the thoughts of anyone who touches her—so that most people avoid doing so.

He strikes up a burgeoning friendship with the princess via carrier pigeon, but this only increases his desire for interaction with other humans. He leaves his adoptive father for the castle in search of a human experience, where he encounters both the best and worst of humanity and uncovers a dastardly plot that he feels that he—as a good friend—must foil.

Without giving too much of the plot away, this is a story of improbable happy endings—that are still fairly predictable, because this is not the type of story that I ever worried would end unhappily—and I think that would have been true even if it hadn’t been touted to me as lighthearted and fluffy.

There’s enough intrigue and enough danger here to keep me interested, enough that is difficult—marriage arrangements and broken families—that I would avoid giving reading it to a very young child, but it might be a good book for those on the cusp of middle school, just beginning to explore what is more dangerous and what is more disturbing but unwilling yet to relinquish princesses and magic and happily ever afters. Whether or not such children exist, I’m not sure.

This is the first in a series, but neither my roommate nor I yet have the second. The story stands fairly well on its own, only the prologue leaving the spiderthreads of a new story loose and grabbing.

****

Ferris, Jean. Once Upon a Marigold. New York: Harcourt, 2004. First published 2002.

This review is not endorsed by Jean Ferris or Harcourt, Inc or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Many of My Favorite Things in No Such Thing as Dragons

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0-545-22224-9I don’t know how or where I found this book first. Needing something to pad an Amazon order to get the free shipping, I went down my wish list and found it there. A preview made me suspect that I would adore the writing style—descriptive, poetic, an older style, really—and adore the protagonist—Ansel, a young boy made mute by the shock of the death of his mother and apprenticed by an abusive father to a would-be dragon-slayer. The book was not unpredictable, and anyone looking for surprises should probably look elsewhere, but there’s such a thing as a niche book, and this one fit very comfortably into my niche. It had everything I could wish for: a dragon, a gentle boy who proves a powerful protagonist, children who know better than adults, vocabulary that I have to look up and from which I can learn, corrupt religious officials, strong women….

The older style—one I lean towards myself—suited the book well, I thought, as a story set in a more realistically medieval world than most medieval fantasies. The world is old Germanic, peppered with the characters and superstitions and religious reliance common to medieval times but often overlooked in more fantastical medieval settings. It was more realistic for its language and its details—despite the dragon.

That realism carried forward to a dragon that was less fantastic and more animalistic, a strange beast, maybe last of its kind, but with the same survivalist instincts and behaviors as any other creature.

This was a book about combating stereotypes and not judging a person or creature by its appearance.

The cast was predominately male but the women prove as resourceful and clever as any man.

The two child protagonists—Else and Ansel—take turns saving one another with almost equal give and take. I was pleased that there was no romantic element in this story, a trap that Reeve could easily have fallen into with two opposite sex protagonists of roughly the same age and Else already having been a sacrificial virgin in need of saving and Ansel coming to her rescue, placing them very firmly in the fairy tale roles of damsel in distress and white knight. It even seems possible that Else’s mother might avoid falling in love with the comically blusterous Brock, despite the book’s conclusion.

Reeve did something interesting here too by denying speech to one of his protagonists. The book is told from a third person limited perspective with Ansel as our primary POV character. This of course gives Reeve a chance to have Ansel express himself to the reader but he does have difficulty communicating with the other characters—and both Brock and Else in some ways take advantage of his silence to give more room to their own voices. I think Else in particular benefits from Ansel’s silence, having a rare opportunity to speak her mind without interruption or judgment. Now of course I may be predisposed to be sympathetic towards Else and to pick up on this attitude of Else’s besides, but I am impressed that Reeve was so well able to capture that feeling of relief and freedom in her unbridled expression.

I started this book for Ansel. I stayed for him and for Else.

And the prose and the vocabulary.

****

Reeve, Philip. No Such Thing as Dragons. New York: Scholastic, 2010. First published 2009.

This review is not endorsed by Philip Reeve or Scholastic Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Subtle Feminism, Subterfuge, and Romance in Crown Duel

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Spoilers. I’ve tried to avoid names as much as possible, but there are spoilers.

This is going to be a difficult book to review in that I’m not sure if I’ve just finished one book or two or three. This edition includes two novels that were originally published separately (as Crown Duel and Court Duel) and a short story that was published first in this edition. That short story I can set aside as wonderful, fluffy fluff but with perhaps the best use of page formatting and white space that I have seen in a long while. The very bottom of the last page reads (and I’m truncating the sentence to avoid spoilers):

“[…] and kicked the door shut behind us.”

Because the line goes to the very bottom of the page, there’s no indication that this is the end of the story till one turns the page and sees two blank, white, facing pages staring out at the reader like the shut doors, saying “what happens now is not your business.”

Just excellent. Though I’m not sure if that was providence or plan. It would be a difficult thing to plan so well.

Now to the meat of this book:

The first book, the original Crown Duel, begins with a rebellion led by a brother and sister, a count and countess of a small, rural, and isolated province in the greater kingdom of Remalna, ruled by a tyrannical king, self-important and uneasy it seems to me on the throne, leading by threat and fear, imposing brutal taxes on lower classes, and occasionally arranging “accidents” for detractors, family of detractors, and potential detractors. The sister is captured by the general of the opposing army after her brother gives into fear and breaks the war code of conduct. She is humiliated, escapes and is hunted, is captured again, and is rescued, sets out to get vengeance, and has her worldview turned on its head when she discovers that she and her brother have not been alone in plotting the overthrow of the king. Mel wins allies through her righteous intentions, refusal to surrender or to be cowed, and her willingness to learn.

Mel is a sword-wielding heroine deprived for the majority of the book of sword, privilege, or the usual trappings of a hero. Most of the book she spends injured, ill, and on the run. Her true power is in her ability to invoke empathy and sympathy through her personality and through the just nature of her cause.

The second novel sees the rebellion ended, the tyrant dead, her brother a member of the royal court, and Mel being invited into that court as well, where battles are fought for social popularity and against faux pas, games of which she is ignorant, though she is a fairly quick study. There she negotiates social patterns, cliques, and party planning.

Both books pulled some pretty stunning twists.  Smith uses a close first person, and Mel is a poorly informed narrator if not an unreliable one.  She tells her story I think as truly as she can, but she is ignorant of many of the characters feelings and intentions, and some of those characters drive the larger plot of the novel more than does Mel.

In the first novel, Mel claims to be entirely uninterested in the opposite sex—and truth be told, she has little time for such diversions, even when she finds a knight to rescue her. But she doesn’t trust the knight, who has ostensibly opposed and hunted her throughout the novel, and later she believes that he kills her brother. This story does not much read as a romance to me, though Smith makes clear that there is frisson when Mel exchanges glances with one particular character—though the nature of that thrill and recognition remains unclear.

In the second book, Mel still purports to be uninterested, but she arouses the interest of several men at court, including a notorious and popular flirt. She has to evaluate her feelings and her beliefs about love and relationships, and does so while corresponding with a mysterious suitor whose gift-giving she demands become a real relationship—if their only conversations are carried out through written letters.

This whole series reminded me of a fantasy Pride and Prejudice with a backdrop of political uncertainty (not a conscious parallel, Smith says, but she admits that there might have been some influence from Austen). The second novel in particular harkens to the social drama of Austen’s book. Mel’s stubborn dislike based on previous, false conclusions in particular harkens to Elizabeth’s as does her eventual reversal of her conclusions because of a letter and her opposite’s upright actions. Ultimately, this story is a romance, albeit a slow one and one which, as the romance builds, washes the reader in action and subterfuge.

The world was interesting, well-crafted, and beautifully described. The first book in particular has elements of a journey novel as Mel is chased and dragged across the country. I spent some time wishing for a map, which I ultimately found after finishing the novel, but I was able through the text alone to place most of the important places within a larger setting and when I did misunderstand, those misplacements didn’t affect the plot.

Smith carefully crafts a feminist heroine and a feminist story. Mel never pretends to be anything other than female, and she feels no need to adopt traditionally masculine performance to be powerful—even when she’s been most stripped of power and needs a disguise. Moreover, Smith carefully, wonderfully maintains gender balance among her background characters. I particularly noticed the female guardswomen, stable hands, and servants, marked by the feminine pronoun more than anything else. It was a very subtle feminism, and very much appreciated because for being a nonissue it was all the more powerful.

I have long known of this book as having produced a favorite character of two my friends’. His name is Vidanric. I read almost the entirety of the first book looking for this character that I expected to love as well. I need to take a moment to compliment and thank my friends for using Vidanric’s first name exclusively when discussing him. “Only polite,” and I was allowed to make my own assumptions (184).

*****

Smith, Sherwood. Crown Duel. New York: Firebird-Penguin Putnam, 2002.

This review is not endorsed by Sherwood Smith, Firebird Books, or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Love and War in The Shadow Throne

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TST_exlargeThere is very little time between the second and third books of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy; there is in fact a bit of overlap between the last chapters of the second book and the first chapters of the third. The third book does very little to recap Jaron’s previous exploits, and it jumps immediately into the action and into the drama. Because I tried to begin the third book of Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy after having finished the second in March 2014 and finished the first chapter unable to remember whom a particular character was and how he was able to enter the kings’ private garden and then be hugged by the weeping king, I went back and reread book 2 before returning again to retry book 3, and I think I advise reading the two books back-to-back if that option is available to you too. If you have to read the prologue of The Shadow Throne to reignite your delight in the series, somewhat diminished perhaps by The Runaway King, do that first, then return to The Runaway King and remember what you’re reading up to and why you’re reading. DO NOT run to the Wikia site for the series to answer your questions; I spoiled a bit of The Shadow Throne’s ending for myself doing so.

Especially as I neared the end of The Shadow Throne and of The Ascendance Trilogy, I parroted Sam Gamgee’s quote from Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Two Towers:

“And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?”

Nielsen has never shied from the dark and the brutal; it’s that more than anything else that tips this series from middle-grade to teen. With Carthya at war, surrounded by more powerful enemies on all sides, all of them invading or pressing at the borders, this book is even darker than the other two. The plot seems to bounce Jaron, Roden, Tobias, Fink, Imogen, and Amarinda, all teenagers or younger, in and out of battles and in out of captivity. Their captors are cruel, and Nielsen describes in some detail some of the fiercer beatings, using whips, truncheons, the flats of swords, boots, and fists. The captives are starved and humiliated. There’s psychological torture besides: offers to spare another captive in exchange for information or obedience, offers to save one of two captives but condemn another….

Jaron’s cleverness shines through in all its glory as a tactician and military leader and his love for Carthya and for humanity, his desire to better the lives of everyone, and to sacrifice himself all shine too.

But this is a story about the power of love. Love gives a person purpose, someone or something to fight for, someone or something to fight to return to. Though Jaron claims not to understand this till very late in the book, his actions are driven by love more often than he admits and it’s this that makes his armies and himself powerful in the face of overwhelming odds. Jaron has generated a great deal of love and loyalty among those he knows and those he rules. The attacking armies have greater numbers, but the Carthyans fight for Jaron and for Carthya. It is love that motivates Jaron to escape his first and maybe most brutal captivity of this book, love and fear for a friend.

This book seems to have garnered a lot more criticism on Goodreads than I’d have expected: for being more predictable than previous books, for doing little that was original as a war fiction book, for being war fiction at all. Perhaps these critiques are not unfounded, but I found myself willing to go along with Nielsen and with Jaron through a war fiction (especially coming directly off of the action and hijinks of The Runaway King), and I appreciated the way that details from previous books became clear as forethought for backup plans and backup backup plans in this book, showing if not some spectacularly original thinking on Jaron’s part (at least not when we as readers have read through hundreds of wars in a hundreds of different worlds) then at least some very insightful thinking and careful planning by Nielsen. I allowed Nielsen to play with my heartstrings a bit. [SPOILER] I at first believed that Imogen was dead, then reasoned she couldn’t be, then as time went on and she didn’t reappear, decided that she must be, and then she was back, and I was surprised to see Imogen back when she came back but was surprised because I believed that Nielsen had done away with her, and a lot of people are calling this a cop-out, and maybe it could be, but it was also the only way to happily resolve the series within a trilogy. Had she been dead, Jaron would have been a victor in the war maybe, but he would have been a broken and hollow man. Because the point of this book and this series was the power and strength to be found in love, Jaron had to be happily married, had to be in love—not necessarily with Imogen, but with someone, and he had to be married for love and not for duty. So that’s my answer to those who cry cop-out, a cry I’d probably otherwise raise myself. [END SPOILER] Some of what came as a surprise to Jaron and, because read in his first-person narration, read like plot twists, did not come as a surprise to me, but that I believe was within character for him. Though otherwise good at figuring out people, he was always slow to see love, not unlike Sherlock Holmes (at least within the BBC universe). I would be very unsurprised to learn that Holmes gave some inspiration to Jaron actually. So then again I see reason that the plot twists seemed less twisty—and again I offer my argument that this is a series about the power of love ultimately, so love had thematically to win (here I am talking about a specific “twist”).

Ultimately, as a war book, as a conclusion to a series of mounting danger and threat, I was satisfied. I do feel, like many, that the first in this series is perhaps best because Jaron is most loveable at his most carefree and most obnoxious, but the series builds as it should, and concludes as it should.

****

Nielsen, Jennifer A. The Ascendance Trilogy, Book 3: The Shadow Throne. New York: Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

This review is not endorsed by Jennifer A. Nielsen or Scholastic Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Mystic and Rider: Internal and External Journeys as Foreground

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I hadn’t read Sharon Shinn’s Mystic and Rider for four years. I’d reread all the other books in the Twelve Houses series at least once before returning to this first book. There’s much to draw me to the Twelve Houses books as I’ve discussed before, but there is something especially compelling to me about the deep friendships between the six primary protagonists. In this first book, those friendships remain unformed for the majority of the book, the six are instead plagued by prejudiced distrust and several brief fights that must be broken up by more level-headed and duty-driven members of the group. It was interesting to revisit this time before their friendship because I had foreknowledge; I know how inseparable this unlikely group becomes. More than that, I know the trials that they will face in the future, and I can see the foreshadowing in their dialogues. I enjoyed laughing and mumbling, “Oh honey, you don’t even know.” I can also enjoy a writer who foreshadows because it shows a plan and it shows forethought (usually).

The exterior action of the plot is concerned with assessing the attitudes of various regions and ranks of a kingdom. The worldviews of a society are the sort of detail that is usually relegated to an emblematic scene or a throwaway line of dialogue or exposition. It’s impressive to see Shinn maintain the readers’ interest in what is so often so condensed and shoved to the background by other writers.

Granted, Shinn supports this plot with a romantic co-plot and the drama of six diverse personalities in prolonged, close quarters.

I think Shinn does a good job of integrating these the internal and external plots so that neither seems to take precedence over the other. It could be read with either or neither as the primary focus.

Shinn also adds a bit of mystery by concealing one character’s background in particular and having another spend the book not trusting her because of that concealment. I never read the story without knowing Senneth’s story, having read the third book in the series first. I suspect though that that mystery helps too to drive the reader through the story.

Shinn writes fantastic characters, all invoking a great deal of empathy. She writes a fantastic, vast, and vivid world. If you haven’t yet been intrigued by my earlier reviews of these books, I advertise them one last time. Beyond this, there are no more books in the series for me to review, so this will be the last you’ll hear of them from me for a while. If you like high fantasy; poetic, solid prose; empathetic characters and stories of close friendships; if you like fantastical romance; if you enjoy a little politics and intrigue and fantastical religion, give these a try.

I’ve grown a bit with these books, and as I’ve grown, I see them differently, but they are only a bit tarnished for being away from a circle of friend and fellow fans. My rankings of them fluctuate a bit with my circumstances. What once I liked least, I think I now like almost best. And these books set the bar for fictional boyfriends very high. I’m glad that I have these books as warm friends’ smiles in my bookcases, and I considering purchasing the series a solid investment for all the times I will pick them up to smile over a scene or ask Shinn’s advice on worldbuilding.

****

Shinn, Sharon. The Twelve Houses, Book 1: Mystic and Rider. New York: Ace-Berkley-Penguin, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by Sharon Shinn, Ace Books, Berkley Publishing Group, or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Unasked (861 words)

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From a distance, no one would be able to tell that the towel tied over her skirt was not part of the dress. That was easy enough to smuggle to the creek. The soap cake she dropped in her pocket. It was too easy. The trickiest part would be getting down the ladder without loosing the towel from around her waist.

She was halfway down, one hand holding steady the knot that had indeed started to slip from the cotton, when Darryn announced himself with soft footfalls on the hard earthen floor. He spared no time on a greeting, but asked, “Is now a bad time?”

Internally, she cursed him using several of the colorful phrases she’d learnt in the fishing town of her childhood. She could tell him that it was a bad time, tell him to leave. He would do it. But if he ran into Mr. Crowe and Mr. Crowe asked after Talya, Darryn would tell him exactly where to find her—or where he thought Mr. Crowe would find her—in a bathtub that Mr. Crowe would quickly find empty. Darryn was a terrible liar, and Mr. Crowe was like a bloodhound. Asking Darryn to lie might be worse. She could tell him the truth, but he might worry that her actions were just illicit enough to get them both in trouble.

Any way she likely got in trouble.

She got down off the last rung and turned to face him. Truthfully, she said, “It is a bad time.”

The deities hadn’t been good to her, but she would have to hope that someone would watch out for her—just this once.

“I’m sneaking off,” she continued, “and I need you to as well before Mr. Crowe finds you. Before anyone finds you.  Don’t tell Priscilla where I’ve gone either. Don’t tell anyone.”

“You’re sneaking off,” he repeated, “with a towel?”

“Yes.” Her voice snapped more sharply than she’d have liked.

She liked Darryn. He found the good in people and in situations where Talya saw only bad, and he was unwaveringly loyal to those he liked best—Talya among them. He couldn’t lie, so he was honest even if he didn’t want to be, sometimes betraying secrets he hadn’t meant to betray, but always apologizing profusely if he did, so Talya always knew it was not willfully done. Usually he was easygoing, he was always eager to please, and he was not wont to complain—or if he did complain, it was because he sought to protect, because he saw dangers.

To soften the harshness of her bark, she explained, “I want a bath. But I don’t want to haul water, and Mr. Crowe’s forbidden me to use the raincatch water for anything other than drinking water for the animals till after the next rain.”

Darryn frowned. “So you’re going to creek.”

“And I’ll be careful. I’ll go to the forest’s edge.” In fact she planned to venture just beyond the first trees to keep from being spotted, but Darryn feared the woods and wouldn’t want to know that. “Any soap will be washed downstream and away from Evanston. No one needs to know.”

Talya waited while Darryn thought this over. She knew he wouldn’t like it. Technically it was a violation. No one was supposed to use soap in the creek. It had to be clean to drink—but she’d thought of that, found a way to keep her actions from hurting anyone else. Still Darryn wouldn’t want her in trouble—and she could still get in trouble. He would want to stop her, talk her out of it, but he would know that he couldn’t.

“I could come as your lookout. I’d keep my back turned.”

She would trust him to mean to do it too. Watching her, glimpsing her would be another form of violation. He wouldn’t mean to look, but something would startle him, and he’d turn, and somehow she didn’t want him to see.

To soften the refusal she smiled. “No.”

“Then,” he was clearly faltering, coming to the same conclusion she had done: that the best thing that he could do for her was keep out of sight himself until she was safely back.  “Then I’ll get the water for you.”

“What?”

“You don’t want to haul water, but,” he smiled, “I think the day’s been kinder to me.”  He pointed at her. Dirt, hay, and hair all clung to her sweaty skin and tangled in her mussed braid.

“I can’t ask you to—”

“You’re not asking.” He walked past her and into the storage area at the end of the barn aisle. He emerged with two buckets. Of course he knew where they were. “Find the tub,” he said coming back up the aisle. “Set it up wherever you like. I’ll fill the tub for you and be gone. Leave you to become a girl again or whatever’s hiding under that dirt.”

“Darryn Tvorec, you—” But though she knew many colorful phrases, she couldn’t bring herself to shatter him with the acerbity of any of them.

“You’re welcome,” he called as he headed out the barn doors.

This week, the line stolen was mine.

With it, Trebez at Machete Diplomacy wrote “No Happy Hour Tonight.

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Sunrise Kiss” (545 words).

Bek at Yeah. But So What? Everybody’s Weird wrote “A Mom Solution” (259 words).

Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Theater Traditions.”

And welcome to the thieves’ ring C.C., who used the line to write “Not on My Watch,” which you can find on her blog, Creatures, Critters, and Crawlers.

Check back for more posts later.

Book Review: A Dance with Dragons: The Plot is Dark and Full of Terrors

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I’d forgotten how involved I become in George R. R. Martin’s very vast and deep world of Westeros and its surrounding countries. When I picked up A Dance with Dragons, fifth and latest in A Song of Ice and Fire, it had been almost a year and a half since I’d finished Book 4: A Feast for Crows. I fell right back into the world, if I was glad to have the dramatis personae with brief descriptions of each character in the back of the book—especially for minor characters who’d died or only been seen several books back.

The main story threads are these: [If it needs to be said: SPOILERS!] Tyrion Lannister is on the run across the Narrow Sea. Daenerys Targaryen is queen of Mereen, and Mereen is at war and under siege. A bunch of characters (Tyrion, Victarion Greyjoy, Quentyn Martell) are racing to her side. Jon Snow is Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and his radical decisions are destroying his men’s trust in him. Bran Stark finds his three-eyed raven, but he is neither what Bran expected nor are the raven’s powers what he expected. Cersei Lannister is a prisoner of the High Septon, Asha Greyjoy of Stannis Baratheon, and Theon Greyjoy of the Bastard of Bolton, who has been named trueborn and is on the road for lordship. Another long-lost Targaryen, with a better claim to the throne than Dany, moves on Southeastern Westeros. Arya Stark is still in Braavos, on the path to becoming a servant of the Many-Faced God (Death). Jamie Lannister has nearly finished negotiating the surrender of the Riverlands to the Iron Throne. Westeros is still embattled. The king on the Iron Throne is still the young Tommen, but the tales in this story concern him very little. [END SPOILERS]

I include all the last names because one of my friends helped me recognize that this series is not a series about characters in the way that most series are about characters. Even Lord of the Rings, perhaps the most epic of the series that I’ve ever read, tells the story of the Fellowship, the defenders of all that is good in this world, more than it does the story of Ring or of the world, I would argue. Perhaps I have this sense because the Fellowship feels safer and more protected than any character in A Song of Ice and Fire. The focal point of A Song of Ice and Fire is the Iron Throne of Westeros, and the characters are only the hustle and bustle around this one stationary point, the only seemingly sure thing being that at the end of this all the Iron Throne will be there, the world will be there (though I really wouldn’t put it past Martin to tear down both before this story reaches its conclusion, to have this story end in true apocalypse, the destruction of mankind or of the sun or some such). The story actually really does look a lot as Sesame Street depicts it, the chair not moving and everyone else circling.

Having this revelation early in my read-through put a perhaps different spin on the story for me, and while I was upset by the surprises that Martin left for me, I was not as upset as I might have been because I realized that characters—however much I care for them—and I do care about some of them quite a lot—are not Martin’s story, that they weren’t what I am supposed to be watching most closely as I read the book series. It gave me some distance—and by distance, I mean emotional padding.

This story more than any of the others, I think, is dark. Each book has been dark, but in this, more primary characters than not have been imprisoned or besieged. The one character who through the book is at no time either imprisoned or besieged—Jon—feels enslaved to the Wall and to the vows that he took as a Night’s Watchman, and so he remains stationary. Schemes in prior books have been towards a goal, and much of that scheming has been on some level successful. Much of the scheming in this book has been away from failure instead, desperate grasping to hold onto past successes at best. Jon, again the outlier, moves towards a goal—peace in the North—but his peace is upset by the schemes of others. Bran Stark actually reaches his goal, but doing so grounds him, makes him stationary, and prevents him from yet intervening in others’ plots.

I realize that I said that the wider story is not the characters’ but the Throne’s and that I’ve yet said very little about the Iron Throne in my discussion of the book’s plot. The Throne is the goal of almost all of the characters in the book, whether it’s sitting on the Throne him- or herself or seeing the right person or the right family sitting on the Throne.

The possible exception is the Night’s Watchmen, who have sworn to take no sides. The Night’s Watch has problems in the North that drive their attention away from King’s Landing and the Iron Throne, but even so they are drawn in this book deeply into alliance with Stannis Baratheon, a claimant of the Throne, and into the struggle for Northern dominance among the Northmen of Westeros.

I spoke of a true apocalypse. If that apocalypse comes, it will come from the North, Beyond the Wall, and that is why the Night’s Watch’s story is still relevant to the story of the Iron Throne. The threats that they face are the only ones that could interrupt the game of thrones. And if no one defends the Throne from those threats, then apocalypse will come unheralded. And that may be the threat of the next book, The Winds of Winter. But let’s leave supposition there. I’ve done enough of it in this post.

****

Martin, George R. R. A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5: A Dance with Dragons. New York: Bantam-Random-Penguin Random, 2013. First published in 2011.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House Publishing Group, or Penguin Random House, LLC.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.