crap i have read recently #4

blemmyae

Is this the real life; is this just fantasy?  SPOILERS below…

Bone:  This was a re-read for me since a former housemate left his copy of the book in my keeping and it seemed like a good time to dive into it again.  It was just as good the second time around.  The story concerns three Bone cousins from Boneville, Fone Bone, Smiley Bone, and Phoney Bone, who are on the lam from Boneville after Phoney Bone was discovered fleecing the locals.   They find themselves lost, get separated, and then Fone Bone literally stumbles across a dragon (along with other unusual creatures, including a talking leaf hopper, a family of possums, and bickering, quiche-loving rat creatures).  It just gets weirder from there.  The three end up forced to spend the winter in The Valley.  There they meet the denizens of Barrelhaven along with Thorn and her Gran’ma Ben (neither of whom are what they appear to be) and discover that an ancient evil is afoot (or abuzz as the case may be).  Fone Bone, who is honest and true and a huge fan of Moby Dick, is the hero of the tale,  Thorn is the damsel in distress, and there are no end of villains, some comic, some tragicomic, and some just evil.  Plus, dragons!

I’m not a big reader of comic books but this one is really good.  The art is well done, the setting is compelling, characters both major and minor are well developed, and the story itself is a mix of comedy and tragedy that works on almost every level.   There is a depth and pathos to even minor characters and you’ll care a surprising amount about what happens to everyone.  This is at its heart an epic story of good and evil, redemption, betrayal, bravery, personal growth, sacrifice, and love.  But then, all the best stories are.

Score:  Meh, but good one.

The Habitation of the Blessed:  In 1165 the emperor of Byzantium received a letter from one Prester John, a king like himself who ruled a far-away Christian land full of fantastic beasts and riches beyond belief.  Among his possessions he claimed a mirror through which he could see the entire world and the Fountain of Youth.  His country was neighbor to Eden itself.  John was a wee bit coy about where this fabulous land actually was and so people believed it was probably in India.  As the boundaries of the known world expanded Prester John’s land moved about, first to central Asia and later to Ethiopia, but it was fully 500 years before people stopped looking for it.  The Habitation of the Blessed is the story of one of these quests to find this magical place.

In 1699 the monk Hiob von Luzern and a small group of priests and novices travel deep into India in search of the kingdom of Prester John.  There they find a village, small and poor, and a woman who leads the old monk to a wondrous tree.  This tree produces fruit of a most unusual kind; sprouting from its branches are books and Hiob is permitted to take only three of them.  Thus the tale of Prester John and his time in Pentexore (for this is the name of the strange land he comes to) is told in three voices, that of John himself, that of Hagia, the Blemmyae who becomes his wife, and that of Imtithal, the nursemaid to the children of Queen Abir.  It is also the chronicle of Hiob’s own loss of faith as he is forced to confront Prester John’s only too human nature.

The book is blessed with two things: a compelling story and a rich sense of the fantastic.  The author essentially uses the text of Prester John’s letter as a starting point and weaves her tale from historical text and christian mythology.  Allegorical beasts and pious faith are mixed with mythical cartography and missionary zeal.   There are some wonderful inventions: John’s trip across the sea of sand wherein both his body and his mind are scoured, the sluggish and bitter Fountain and the way the people of Pentexore learn to live with eternity, the trees that sprout whatever is planted beneath them, including books and vellum and loved ones, Hiob’s desperation as his precious fruits rot away faster than he can read them.  Mostly though, it is a story about stories.  Each of the tellers has a different understanding of the events that followed Prester John’s arrival in Pentexore and as their chronicles alternate we come to realize that this is the story of the end of their world.  Because you see, Prester John is a missionary; he does not come to Pentexore to live peaceably among its peoples, he comes to bring the word of God and to save them.  Despite everything he learns of this place and its people, despite coming to love one of them desperately, he still betrays them.   Ultimately, this book is very sad.  It is the first of a trilogy and although I enjoyed it very much I am not sure I will read the other two.   Faith is the most destructive of human forces and I suspect I already know how this story ends.

Score:  Meh

The Name of the Wind:  I think I should be more excited about this book than I am.  It came highly recommended to me because I have enjoyed the Song of Ice and Fire series so much and on the whole it is not a bad read.  It just moves kind of slow.   Like Habitation of the Blessed, this book also has a framing device and a story within a story.  Kote is an innkeeper in a small village called Newarre (say it out loud; I can’t decide if this is clever or just silly).   He has an assistant who is not what he seems to be but otherwise his life is small and boring and, well, village-y.   One night the town is attacked and Kote rescues a traveler from vicious spider-like demons.  This traveler turns out to be Chronicler, one of the most famous scribes and authors in the world.  He immediately recognizes that our humble innkeeper is actually Kvothe, a famous arcanist, musician, and adventurer that everyone believes to be dead.  He persuades Kvothe to narrate his adventures and thus begins the first of three days of storytelling interspersed with some local drama (demon attacks, fairies, hints of ongoing war).

Like all good storytellers, Kvothe begins at the beginning.  He is a red-headed child of the Edema Ruh (basically gypsies) and he leads what is to all appearances an idyllic childhood with his family and troupe, performing in villages, learning music, being tutored by an arcanist that joins up with them for a brief time.   He’s smart for his age and encouraged in his studies and generally indulged by all.  Then his entire family is murdered by the mysterious Chandrian and Kvothe is forced to live by his considerable wits for several years.  Eventually he makes his way to the University, gains admittance, makes some friends and some enemies, falls in love, fights a dragon, frets about being poor, and begins to learn magic in earnest, all while trying to find out whatever he can about the Chandrian.  This proves difficult, since the Chandrian have a bad habit of killing anyone who learns anything about them.

For most of the story Kvothe is very young.  He is about twelve when his parents are killed and fifteen when he is admitted to the University.  And, no lie,  he is just about the most accomplished fifteen year old ever, as we are constantly told.   There is basically nothing he can’t do faster and better than anyone else.  The only thing he is not good at is keeping his temper and his ego in check and this is what pretty much drives the story.  Unfortunately the plot is a bit of a snoozer and the book could possibly have used a bit of thinning at the editorial stage.  On the other hand I didn’t toss it across the room in despair and I just started the second of the trilogy (one book for each day of storytelling) so it must have something going for it.  A Game of Thrones it is not, not even close.  This is a first novel (first published anything) for the author and it shows, but it has enough cleverness in it to make it moderately interesting.   There may be a bit of subversion of the hero mythos going on and that could be intriguing if the author can pull it off.  For one thing, it is hinted more than once that Kvothe is not a reliable narrator, that his larger than life exploits might be just that, and of course one wonders how this paragon ended up tending a tavern in the ass-end of Newarre (really, say it out loud).   One also wonders just what is going on in the world, what with the skin dancers and the demon spiders and the assistant with the goat hooves.   That said, it takes on the high end of 600+ pages to get mostly nowhere and you will spend more time learning about Kvothe’s  money troubles than seems strictly necessary.

Score:  Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on May 12, 2012.

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