Heir of Sea and Fire • 1977 • Fantasy novel by Patricia A. McKillip

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This is a commemorative read, Patricia McKillip passed away just recently.

Synopsis:  This second book in the trilogy sets off one year after the events of book one. Its main protagonist isn’t Morgon anymore but switches to his betrothed one Raederle. She is not only heir to the throne of An but also the titular heir of Sea and Fire. Which means that she has a magical gift that she develops continously as her quest to seek for Morgon progresses. That cover picture embraces Raederle as a warrior princess, only in 1980’s style. 

There’s a lot of political unrest with an ongoing war, rulers leaving their country, and the land-rulership of Hed passing to Morgon’s brother Eliard.

Raederle is accompanied by two other strong women: Lyra, the heir of Herun’s Morgul, and Morgon’s teenage sister Tristan. They convince the captain of Raderle’s guard to set off with them to find and rescue Morgon-the-damsel-in-distress.

Clashes with shapechangers are expected, but Raederle has to accept that some of her ancestors are not only witches but also shapechangers which might alienate her from Morgon and also from her family. Like Morgon, she has to wrestle with ghosts, the dead kings of An. 

Review: This book reminds me a lot of Ursula LeGuin’s second EarthSea-book, The Tombs of Atuan. Not only because it has a similar, distant and refined narrative voice (as many books of these two authors have in common), but mainly because LeGuin switched the main protagonist role from Ged, a classical male wizard hero to Tenar, a strong female protagonist on a journey of self-discovery. And similarly, we still don’t know what’s behind all those mysteries, in contrast to many other books where it’s perfectly well clear what the antagonist is up to. 

Raederle follows a typical Heroes journey, in this case from an aristocratical girl to a superhero witch out of some Celtical myth, very similarly to witch Sybel in Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Just like the first book asked “Who is the Star-Bearer?”, this second book asks “Who is Raederle of An?”, providing an answer but stopping just before the stricture which is hopefully given in the third book, Harpist in the Wind.

McKillip’s excellent, evocative and elegant prose carries the story more than the plot does. It builds up a certain dialogue between author and reader, especially because of the distance to its ensemble which reminds very much of classical tragedies rather than what one would read in more modern fantasy titles. The plot itself brings some interesting twists and one remarkable scene with Raederle figuratively arm-wrestling a ghost king and surviving a night of terrors. One should read this book for this scene alone!

The book feels very much like a middle-book in a trilogy. With an already well-introduced setting, most characters already established, the book was half-a-star less enjoyable than the excellent first book. Which doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t recommend it full-heartedly. But let’s wait and see what the third and last book will offer!

Meta: isfdb, goodreads.

Posted in Fantasy, four stars, Novel | Tagged | 14 Comments

The Riddle-Master of Hed • 1976 • Fantasy novel by Patricia A. McKillip

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is a commemorative read, Patricia McKillip passed away just recently.

Synopsis: Hed is a backwater island featuring only farmers and swineheards, but no heroes at all. In this contemplative country lives Morgon, Lord of Hed, happily as a farmer. Turns out that he’s not without ambitions, as he went to the main country to win a riddle contest with a malicious ghost, unlike the many men who tried before him and lost their lifes. But his siblings didn’t know about that until recently, because Morgon didn’t wave around the winner’s crown. 

Turns out, that more mysterious things go around Morgon. First of all, he’s got a good education at the riddle-masters’ university in Caithnard. Actually, the term riddle is slightly misleading – it’s the knowledge about a historical fact, its context plus an interpretation called “stricture” why the knowledge is important. 

“[The riddle]‘Who was Re of Aum?’” [..]
[The solution]‘Re of Aum offended the Lord of Hel once and became so frightened that he had a great wall built around his house in fear of revenge. He hired a stranger to build it, who promised him a wall no man could destroy or climb, either by force or by wizardry. The wall was built; the stranger took his pay; and Re at last felt secure. One day, when he decided that the Lord of Hel had realized the futility of revenge, he decided to venture out of his lands. And then he travelled around his wall three times but found no gate to let him out. And slowly he realized that the Lord of Hel himself had built that wall.’
[The stricture] ‘Never let a stranger build walls around you’”

Winning the contest entitled him to the master’s robe of the riddle-masters, and more importantly the hand of Raderle, princess of An (who will be the main protagonist of the second book).

Morgon goes on a quest to get some answers from The High One on the Erlenstar Mountain. Crossing the sea, he gets assailed, hit in the head, looses his memories, washed ashore, spending several weeks with an archaeologist Astrin. There, he finds a harp with three stars, just like the stars marking his forehead. Nobody else brings forth sound from this famous harp, only Morgan can play it, and this brings back his memories.

 From there, Morgon passes several kingdoms with their ages old rulers, some of them several hundred years old. It’s a strange world, where the wizards went lost, and Morgon wants to find out the reasons. 

Review: I’ve read this trilogy back in the 1980s and was very reluctant picking it up again after all this time. I feared that I couldn’t trust my teenager self who really liked it. Sometimes, it’s better to just let the good memories in peace and not revisit it with older, more critical eyes. Now, I’m glad to report that I can recommend it to you. 

It’s got a different style than what would be published now, reminding me heavily of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series. It’s really short for a novel with only some 240 pages. McKillip relies on the reader figuring out lots of world-building and following some jumps in the narration. Don’t expect much sword-swinging, the style is more lyrical and maybe dreamlike. Also, the protagonist remains rather distant, which is very typical for mythopoetical fantasy authors of that time, but could bother readers who are more accustomed to tight third person or even first person narrations. As a lover of Tolkien and LeGuin, you can always throw a heap of books in that style at me, and I’ll feed through them unstoppable. 

While the quest structure might sound trivial like yet-another-Campbells-heroes-journey, it adds some more layers. Morgon is a reluctant hero who nearly turns back to his farmers. I can’t think of another protagonist who nearly threw away everything after the 80% mark and where I didn’t know if he’d go just the last station. These stations, where Morgon travels through kingdom after kingdom, meets the ruler, picks up another piece of wisdom, might sound boring, but they are really entertaining because they are so different. Those meetings are deeply personal and some of them stay with me longer. 

Have you read McKillip’s Forgotten Beasts of Eld (my review)? This is rather similar in style and structure and offers more of that kind.  

Meta: isfdb, goodreads.

Posted in Fantasy, four stars, Novel | Tagged | 2 Comments

2021 Nebula Award Winners

The 2021 Nebula Award Winners have just been announced at the SFWA Nebula conference.

I’ve adapted the original list with my reviews and links to online available versions if available. Please note, that I’ve left out some categories which are less interesting to me (YA, Game Writing, Drama Presentation).

Winners and Finalists

All the nominees from short to long (links in the title lead to online available versions):

Best Short Story

Winner: Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather by Sarah Pinsker

Best Novelette

WinnerO2 Arena by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (in Galaxy’s Edge 11/21)

Best Novella

Winner: And What Can We Offer You Tonight, Premee Mohamed

  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Becky Chambers
  • Fireheart Tiger, Aliette de Bodard (
  • Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters, Aimee Ogden
  • Flowers for the Sea, Zin E. Rocklyn
  • The Necessity of Stars, E. Catherine Tobler
  • The Giants of the Violet Sea”, Eugenia Triantafyllou

Novel

Winner: ★★★+☆☆ • A Master of Djinn • 2021 • Steampunk novella by Phenderson Djèlí Clark • review

  • The Unbroken, C.L. Clark
  • Machinehood, S.B. Divya
  • A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine
  • Plague Birds, Jason Sanford
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Patricia A. McKillip (1948 – 2022)

I’ve just read at Locus that Patricia McKillip has passed at May 6, 2022 at the age of 74.

She was one of the first Fantasy authors that I’ve read, and I fondly remember her most prominent work, the Riddle-Master trilogy. Last year, I’ve read her World Fantasy Award winning novel from 1974, the Forgotten Beasts of Eld (my review). McKillip was a master stylist which also shows in her short stories, for example in her 2016 collection Dream of Distant Shores (my review). I still have to read her World Fantasy and Mythopoeic Award winner Ombria in Shadow. In 2008, she also received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement and holds the record for most Mythopoeic Fantasy awards and nominations.

What did you read from her? Maybe I should go for a commemorative read of the Riddle-Master trilogy!

Posted in Allgemein | 9 Comments

Sea of Tranquility • 2022 • Time Travel novel by Emily St. John Mandel

Rating: 2 out of 5.

 

This rather short novel starts in 1912 when some exiled British youngster heads for British Columbia where he has a weird experience. The next part presents a woman talking to the brother of an estranged friend in 2020 NYC, followed by a book author in 2203. The final time slice introduces time travelling agents in 2401 investigating the theory that the world is actually a grand simulation. All those parts are linked, but why and how?

I had a hard time digging through this short but extremely dragging story. After halfway through, I nearly stopped reading it because it was such a boring piece. After that mark it picked up again and introduced the simulation and time travel experience which was engaging at start. 

Now, you have to know that I’ve read a multitude of time travel stories and I love to be surprised by a different angle. This work, sadly, has nothing of it. That big question of the nature of reality has been done better often enough elsewhere.

People newer to the idea that our universe might be a simulation, or to the concept of time-loops, might enjoy this work better than I did. 

 

Posted in Novel, Science Fiction, two stars | 14 Comments

Resilient • 2022 • Space Opera by Allen Stroud

★★★

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Resilient is the second novel in Stroud’s new Space Opera series, after Fearless, which I liked quite a lot (review is here) for its high octane action. How does this successor fare?

It starts at an unexpected place, the Atacama desert in Chile, where the world’s biggest solar array has been built. A terrorist attack destroys this central energy provider and endangers the world’s subsistence. All eggs in one nest – I couldn’t believe this extrapolation of our globalized energy system, because it’s way too fragile, not only in destroying that central location but also the oversea energy transmission lines. Stroud would have better stayed in space with his narration.

After this bad start, the novel heads on to well-known territory from Fearless. Captain Shann is demoted from leading the seized spaceship Gallowglass by her crew. They want to rescue one of their crew and then head for Phobos Station in Mars’s orbit.

Add a new point of view by physician Emerson Drake. He is a colonist on Mars who seeks to get full citizenship. Turns out that the Mars development corporation doesn’t only rarely passes those citizenships which comes along with easy access to air, water, and food. Everyone else is kept on a a tight reign. No wonder that there are activists and terrorists around, right?

Now, Drake is called to an emergency assistance up on Phobos Station where he should help a group of injured miners. Which are actually a group of terrorists conquering the facility. Drake finds himself in the midst of that hostile undertaking.

That terrorist from Atacama desert? That’s another point of view, her name is Natalie Holder. She’s a elite ninja fighter working for a mysterious force. Her masters transfer her consciousness from one clone body to the next. After the Atacama incident, she breaks free from her bonds and her consciousness is transferred somehow to Phobos Station. She meets Drake there, allies with him and fights the insurgents.

The novel is very much like the first one, and adds cloning and consciousness projections as a central topic. Both are not exactly new, but done very well. They should check off any SF nerds’ needs.

So, why only three stars? Stroud builds his novel on many different POVs, switching very often. All of them are first person present tense. In the beginning I had to struggle to recognize who’s in charge and who’s who anyways. Some of the protagonists kind of merged in my mind and I had to concentrate and backpaddle to keep track. That wasn’t enjoyable at all. Add to that some lengths which the first novel didn’t have and the bad start and you’ll understand why I had to subtract one star.

Other than that, I liked the novel well enough and think that the built up mystery is heading for a very interesting next volume. Anyone who liked the first novel should read this one!

Posted in Novel, Science Fiction, three stars | 2 Comments

Spear • 2022 • Fantasy novel by Nicola Griffith

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis: The story follows the coming-of-age of a nameless girl becoming a fierce warrior and companion of king Arthur. She is a child of two worlds, the Irish Tuatha Dé Dannan with their magic on the one side and the Arthurian companions on the threshold to Christianity on the other side.

Her mother Elen stole one of the Irish Tuatha Dé Dananns’ famous treasures, Dagda’s Cauldron, as a revenge and payment for getting kidnapped and raped. To protect both herself and her daughter, she had to hide in the Welsh wilderness and surround their cave with mighty geas magic. As the story starts, they use the magic cauldron as a plain normal cooking bowl, eating every day from it. The girl has got no name, because names give magical leverage, but her mother calls her Tal for “payment”.

The other world, yet unknown to her, is the court of king Arthur where she wants to become one of his companions, disguised as a (male) knight. 

Just before leaving, the yet unnamed girl asks her mother for her name (please note how she uses singular-They in the following internal monologue):

A name, she thinks, is what makes a person who they are. A name is how they know themself.

Unwillingly, her mother gives up the protection of having no name, and she is known as Peretur

Arthur’s companions and Arthur himself don’t welcome her with open arms, because they feel something uncanny about her, and she doesn’t reveal her parents to them. She has to prove herself as a protector of the farmers, gets rid of bandits, faces many trials, and finally defeats the Red Knight. Her chosen weapon are two spears which she found on the way. 

Arthur’s companions are fully convinced now, but Arthur himself needs yet another great deed to accept her: His wife can’t become children, and she needs to be healed by drinking from the Holy Grail. Peretur knows exactly where it is – back in her mother’s cave!

Review: Now, look at this awesome cover by Hugo winner Rovina Cai! She captured the novel’s essence perfectly – there’s the magical cauldron as a hanging bowl, the red rider, a wooded thicket, and a wooden fort wall. Also, the typescript resembles those early medieval manuscripts. But wait, there are more of those great illustrations coming, as one can see at Tor.com. Those illustrations are yet another reason to get the hardcover edition! 

I didn’t go unprepared into this novel, already knew that it is set in 6th century, embracing magic and the Arthurian legends. The first 20% of the novel really got me involved, it was pure immersion, in the same narration style as Hild

The magic is not the fireball wielding one, but a far more soft version. It’s the magic of knowing, feeling, which makes Peretur understand why the horses are nervous or how her foe will react. Or small thinks, like guiding lost sheep to better places:

She was smiling to herself about the foolish old sheep, and sending it news of where it might find tender grass suitable for its mouth.

Griffith is a big fan of Arthurian legends, and it shows. She did a genius cover by combining Irish mythology with the Arthurian: all four treasures of the Tuatha Dé find their way into this story. Of course, there is the sword Excalibur, addressed with its Welsh name Caledfwylch which stuck in the Stone of Fal. The Holy Grail is combined with Dagda’s Cauldran in an absolutely fascinating way. and finally the Spear of Lugh also appears. You won’t miss anything Arthurian, as the companions are all around, including the Lady of the Lake and Myrddyn/Merlin. 

This integration of two legendary settings doesn’t hinder Griffith at all to also include a modern touch of storytelling. First of all, her protagonist Peretur is a woman disguising as a knight. She is also a lesbian, enjoying some juicy encounters not only with farmer wives. Lancelot is great on horse, but is disabled with a lame leg, and he is a people of colour with his Spanish origins. As Griffith explains in her longer afterword:

Crips, queers, woman and other genders, and people of colour are an integral part of the history of Britain.

Enough praise, you really should buy and read this book!

Meta: goodreads. isbn 9781250819321. Published at 19.4.2022 by Tor. 

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The Hunger of the Gods • 2022 • Epic Fantasy novel by John Gwynne

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Don’t read further if you want to avoid spoilers for the first book in the series.

This is book two of the Bloodsworn Saga, following the excellent The Shadow of the Gods (my review).

The cover picture already spoilers a very small part of the book: the wolf god is back. He’s not the first one to be resurrected after more then 300 years after the twilight of the gods, and you might guess that he won’t be the last one.

Their tainted children, all those who have the blood of the gods within them, life as thralls in the Norse land of Vigrið. 

Where the first book followed three warriors – Varg, Elvar, and Orka – with different backgrounds, this story continues their point of views but adds another two: Guðvarr who we know already from book one, a cowardish swaggerer who constantly swears at others – only with his inner voice, of course. A real anti-hero! And then the traitor Biórr who follows the party of the Raven-Feeders with their mighty leader, the dragon god Lik-Reifa. 

The story stays the same on the one hand: it follows the old story lines without really solving any of those. And it adds up by letting a part of the protagonists leave the north continent and dive into the mysterious southern continent. That should be fun!

I don’t need to convince anyone here. Readers who started the first book already can safely go for this one, it’s not that different. Just brace yourself for some GRRM-like twists. Others who are skeptical if they want to invest into yet another unfinished series can safely wait for the next volumes to unfold. 

Highly recommended for fans of darker, epic fantasy with multiple point of views, full of scary monsters, magic, and gods. 

Meta: GoodReads. Published in the UK at 14.04.2022 by Little, Brown Book Group 

Posted in Fantasy, four stars, Novel | Tagged , | 8 Comments

2022 Tolkien Society Winners

Yes, I know, the Tolkien Society Award is far from being one of the top literary awards of F&SF, like Hugo, Nebula and the likes. But it’s important for me, because I’m a huge Tolkien nerd. 

It’s always interesting, what they bring up at “excellence in the fields of Tolkien scholarship and fandom”. 

Winners have been announced during AGM & Springmoot 8.-10.04.2022 in Exeter. 

Finalists & Winners

All the nominees from short to long (links in the title lead to online available versions):

Best Artwork

Best Book

  • Winner: The Nature of Middle-earth, ed. Carl Hostetter
  • The Gallant Edith Bratt, Nancy Bunting and Seamus Hamill-Keays
  • Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien (republished), ed. Christopher Tolkien
  • Tolkien and the Classical World, ed. Hamish Williams

Best Article

All finalists are from Tordotcom and not available online.

Best Online Content

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2022 Hugo Award Finalists

Today is 7.4.2022, and the Hugo Awards finalists have just been announced. The winners will be presented quite late at this year’s Chicon 8 1.-5.9.2022.

You may have noticed that I’m not posting regularly these days. That’s because I’m in gaming mode. I can’t say if or how many of those works I’m going to review. If so, I’ll update this post, of course

As an additional service, I try to find the online available versions and link them in the list. Please note, that I’ve left out categories which are less interesting to me.

Finalists 

All the nominees from short to long (links in the title lead to online available versions):

Nominees for Best Short Story

Nominees for Best Novelette

Nominees for Best Novella

All finalists are from Tordotcom and not available online.

  • Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire 
  • Elder Race, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tordotcom)
  • Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard (Tordotcom)
  • The Past Is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente (Tordotcom)
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers (Tordotcom)
  • A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow (Tordotcom)

Novel

  • ★★★★★ • Project Hail Mary • 2021 • Space Opera novel by Andy Weir • review

  • ★★★+☆☆ • A Master of Djinn • 2021 • Steampunk novella by Phenderson Djèlí Clark • review

  • ★★☆☆☆ • The Galaxy, and the Ground Within • 2021 • Space Opera by Becky Chambers review

  • A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine (Tor)

  • Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki (Tor / St Martin’s Press)
  • She Who Became the Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan (Tor / Mantle)

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