Reviews

Review: A LITTLE HATRED (The Age of Madness #1), by Joe Abercrombie

 

I received this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

My very first Joe Abercrombie novel was Best Served Cold, a tale of revenge that introduced me to the concept of grimdark as well as a story that had a profound impact on my imagination. Since then I meant to read his widely acclaimed First Law trilogy, but so far I kept being distracted by other titles, although all three books have been sitting on my e-reader for a long time, gathering virtual dust.

When A Little Hatred was announced, I was both intrigued and worried, because I wondered how much my lack of knowledge of previous events would curtail my enjoyment of this new novel: well, I need not have been concerned – granted, I’m aware I’ve certainly missed the subtler narrative nuances that readers of The First Law will no doubt perceive, but when an author is as good as Joe Abercrombie you can pick up a sequel series and find yourself right at home. It’s what happened to me with Brian McClellan’s second flintlock series, with John Gwynne now-running new trilogy, and now with The Age of Madness, and that’s the mark of an outstanding writer. This does not mean of course that I have abandoned the idea of filling that gap, on the contrary I now feel more motivated than ever…

The realm of Angland, never the most peaceful of territories, is once again in turmoil: wars of conquest are ongoing between various portions of the domain, with all the expected trappings of brutal skirmishes, looting and torched villages. But there is something else as well, something that’s unusual in a fantasy novel and which adds an intriguing angle to the story: the industrial revolution has come to Angland and while farmlands are being repossessed and smallholders turned away from their homes, the cities become the fulcrum of activity, with factories cropping up everywhere.

If a country enmeshed in war is a dismal sight, one where the… fires of industry burn day and night, polluting the air and absorbing an endless stream of laborers, is a far gloomier one, indeed. There is an almost Dickensian quality in the descriptions of these grim factories where people toil day and night in appalling conditions, only to go home to dirty hovels with no other prospect than more of the same the next day, and all for meager wages. Such a situation is bound to foment rebellion, carried out mainly by two factions called Breakers and Burners, whose names clearly point out to the intentions of their members, so that between the distant wars and the festering discontent there is an ominous atmosphere running throughout this story, even though it’s cleverly balanced with that sort of gallows humor I have come to expect from this author.

[…] an enterprising fellow had devised a system whereby prisoners could be dropped through the scaffold floor at a touch upon a lever. There was an invention to make everything more efficient these days, after all. Why would killing people be an exception?

Where the background is an intriguing one, the characters are the true element shining through so much darkness: I’ve come to understand that they represent the “next generation” from the First Law trilogy and here is where I most perceived my lack of knowledge of previous events, because knowing about their roots would certainly have helped me to appreciate them more, but still they are the best part of the story and I ended up loving them all, flaws included – especially the flaws, I dare say…  The men, with a few exceptions, seem to be either old geezers past their prime and their former glories or ignorant savages bent on killing for the pure pleasure of it, while the two main characters look both like children still waiting to reconcile themselves with the fact they have grown up.

Both Prince Orso, the heir to the crown, and Leo dan Brock, son of a powerful chieftain, seem to struggle under the pressures of their domineering mothers, the former because he refuses to give up his unending drinking and womanizing in favor of settling down with a wife and start producing children for the continuation of the dynasty; the latter because he wants to cover himself in glory on the battlefield, but was prevented from gaining direct combat experience and is more in love with the idea of fame than anything else.  Both of them will get the opportunity to come into their own and prove their worth but the encounter with reality will prove bitterly disappointing and painful – in one case physically painful, indeed – and they will have to reconcile themselves with the notion that the legends of old, which have fueled their ambitions, never talked of the less savory aspects of the road to fame.

The women fare much better, and I loved both the two main female characters – so different and yet with so much in common, as an entertaining conversation between them reveals in the second half of the book, providing one of the best narrative highlights of the story.  Savine dan Glokta is the daughter of most feared man in the realm (I remember when his name was mentioned with profound dread in Best Served Cold) and having inherited his ruthlessness has turned it into a drive for cut-throat business: there is no activity, no enterprise she has not a share in, and she looks like the kind of predator no prey can escape.  And yet Savine’s privileged, wealthy life left her unprepared to face the awful events she finds herself enmeshed in, teaching her that powerlessness is the worst state to be in.

Rikke, daughter of a northern chieftain, turned out to be my absolute favorite character here: brash, uncouth, foul-mouthed, she is a wonderful contrast to courtly daintiness or city refinement, and her ongoing journey from coddled mascot for a bunch of grizzled warriors to a hard, fearless warrior herself is a joy to behold, enhanced by the peculiar gift of prophecy she must learn to harness and control. Awareness of her failings and the outspoken way she talks about them are among her better qualities, and there is a core of plain common sense in Rikke that’s both refreshing and amusing:

Why folk insisted on singing about great warriors all the time, Rikke couldn’t have said. Why not sing about really good fishermen, or bakers, or roofers, or some other folk who actually left the world a better place, rather than heaping up corpses and setting fire to things? Was that behavior to encourage?

As for the story, all I can safely say without spoiling your enjoyment of it is that it moves at a very brisk pace, shifting between the different points of view as the brutal, merciless plot proceeds like an unstoppable avalanche that also offers two breath-stopping, very cinematic moments, during a bloody uprising and a single combat, that will keep you glued to the pages in horrified anticipation.

Where readers of the First Law trilogy will find themselves happily at home with this new saga, new readers will be intrigued by this cruel, unforgiving world and feel the need to learn more as they wait for the next book in this series.

 

My Rating:

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Reviews

Review: THE VIOLENT FAE (Ordshaw #3), by Phil Williams

 

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review: my thanks for this opportunity.

The long-developing, all-out conflict brewing in Ordshaw is about to flare up, and nobody is inclined to take prisoners.  This could very well sum up the situation in the third and final installment of Phil Williams’ Ordshaw trilogy. And to think that it all started, quite prosaically, with the theft of some money…

Pax Kuranes used to be a gifted poker player, moving from seedy venue to seedy venue to earn a living through her skill with cards, but everything went upside down one night when, after she won a considerable sum that could tide her over for a while, a young thief stole her earnings and Pax, following the trail of that money, stumbled on a book that changed her life forever.  The book contained a huge amount of sketches of weird, scary creatures of a Lovecraftian nature, but they were not the product of an inventive – if deranged – mind, because under the surface of the city of Ordshaw another world lurked, filled with strange beings.

This is how this story began, two books ago, and since then Pax has learned that monsters roam the tunnels under her city and that the Fae not only exist but were exiled from those same tunnels by the fearsome beasts: she’s not the only human possessing that knowledge though, because a government agency, the MEE, is also monitoring the situation and a few civilians have, over the years, made forays into Ordshaw’s bowels.  After clashing with, and then befriending, the feisty Fae Letty and coming into contact with a few Ministry agents, like the level-headed Sam Ward or the oily Cano Casaria, Pax finds herself enmeshed into a very complicated situation where everyone’s survival is threatened not only by the monstrous horde dwelling in Ordshaw’s bowels, but by years of misunderstandings between the factions and by purposely disseminated lies that have kept them from uniting against the real danger.

Having gained – or maybe brought to the surface – the ability to sense the underground creatures, Pax knows she must do all she can to avoid disaster and here she keeps running against time, false accusations and people intent on killing her, to help her city and her newfound friends survive. No matter the cost.

Much as this series features a number of interesting characters, the story it narrates is above all Pax’s journey of transformation, from average person intent on making ends meet from day to day to selfless heroine: what’s extraordinary though is that she does so without losing her street-gained common sense or her endearing abrasiveness.  Which makes Pax the perfect counterpart for Letty, the foul-mouthed, wildly aggressive Fae who defies every kind of trope about such creatures and in so doing becomes one of the best characters in this series, and the one whose chapters I always eagerly anticipated.

And female characters are indeed the best – and best crafted – in this series, rising over their male counterparts in a significant way: not only Pax and Letty, but also Holly Burton, the wife of one of the bumbling adventurers who explored the city’s underground tunnels: in the course of these three books she grew from an angry spouse, suspicious of her husband’s mysterious activities, into one of the most dedicated players in the complex game, able to hold her own even against the senior Ministry functionary assigned to the case; or again Sam Ward, whose keen curiosity had driven her superiors to relegate her in a clerical position, until circumstances finally afford her to show her mettle. The men, sadly, fall quite short of such bright examples, like Chief Obrington, who takes a long time to emerge from his political obtuseness, or field agent Cano Casaria, whose dedication to the job is marred by a too-high consideration of himself and a strong belief in his appeal to women.  Even though, I must admit, he takes a turn for the better in the end.

The city of Ordshaw deserves a special mention as well, because it gave me the strangest vibes and little by little it gained its own personality just as much as the living beings inhabiting it: the most peculiar impression I gained was that it was more alive in its lower, hidden levels than in the surface ones – granted, the tunnels where the monsters dwell are dark, damp, scary places where the only light comes from the eerie luminescence of the creatures, and yet it feels… alive, no matter that it’s with the kind of life no one in their right mind would ever encounter.   The Fae city, on the other hand, is far from scary, because of its hive-like architecture that resembles that of a human city writ small – with neon signs and advertising billboards, theaters and office buildings, and everywhere flying Fae of every shape and color.  The city of Ordshaw proper, though, comes across as somewhat deserted, as if its people preferred to stay indoors and go out only when strictly necessary, and I wondered more than once if that was because of some subliminal signal coming from the dangerous underground.  I realize it’s a weird notion, but I could not shake it, no matter how much I tried…

I realize I have not said much about the story in this final book of the trilogy, but it was a conscious choice: there is so much happening, so many twists and turns, discoveries and betrayals, that to talk about them would be a disservice. Even though the story might appear a little confusing at time – or at least it was for me, given the great number of interlacing threads – everything falls into place in the end, and lays the foundation for new stories that might already be in the making, continuing this engaging journey.

 

Look out for The Violent Fae from November 5th!

 

My Rating:

Reviews

RJ Barker talks about THE BONE SHIPS

Thanks to Angela Man at Orbit Books, I have become aware of a short video by RJ Barker, author of the amazing Wounded Kingdom Trilogy and now back on the shelves with his new work, The Bone Ships, which I reviewed recently.

The video, a delightfully humorous lecture on “everything we always wanted to know about sailships, but were afraid to  ask”  😀 is available both at its Twitter link and as a YouTube video. Enjoy!

And if you have not read the book yet (or the Wounded Kingdom Trilogy), what are you waiting for?

TWITTER LINK

 

And here is the YouTube video:

Reviews

Review: BLOOD OF AN EXILE (The Dragons of Terra #1), by Brian Naslund

 

I received this novel from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

Fantasy stories tend to gravitate toward a number of “classic” themes like the quest and the hero’s journey and in this Blood of an Exile is no exception, but experience taught me that what truly matters is the way that journey or quest is told, and how the characters can reach out to the readers and make them care: Brian Naslund’s debut novel accomplished this goal by creating an intriguing background that stems from the usual fantasy elements, then enriches them with some unexpected angles, and by shaping equally intriguing characters that grow on you slowly but surely, their flaws more captivating than their strengths.

In Almira, one of the kingdoms of Terra, criminals are punished by being charged with the slaying of dragons, and Silas Bershad – once an Almiran noble now fallen in disgrace – was so sentenced: life expectancy for dragon slayers is quite short, not surprising in consideration of their deadly prey, but Bershad has been enduring his sentence for fourteen years, slaying dozens of dragons and becoming something of a folk hero. Still, he’s an outcast, marked by the infamy tattoos on his face and easily recognizable by the symbols of those killings that are branded on his arms.  He’s offered a chance for redemption though: king Malgrave, the man who condemned him and the father of his former lover, princess Ashlyn, offers him a full pardon if he will travel to the neighboring realm of Balaria to rescue the king’s younger daughter Kira, who was kidnapped, and also kill the Balarian ruler.

After some initial reluctance, Bershad agrees to the mission and leaves with a small group of people: his faithful companion Rowan and the inseparable donkey Alfonso; a noble from the Almiran court who’s there to expedite passage through the land; Vera, a widow, i.e. a female warrior trained in the most fierce of martial arts, and condemned thief Felgor, whose sneaky ways will prove invaluable once they reach their destination. The journey is of course fraught with perils, double dealings and revelations, and while the group is en route to Balaria the situation in Almira becomes quite complicated as political intrigues and long-standing plots finally come to fruition, offering an interesting counterpoint to the disparate travelers’ mission and expanding the readers’ knowledge of the land and its history, as the tension escalates toward its edge-of-the seat ending and promises more to come in the following books.

On the surface, Blood of an Exile might appear like your run of the mill fantasy novel, but there are some elements that set it apart from its brethren, and the story’s background is one of them, particularly when you take into account the dichotomy between Almira and Balaria: the former offers the standard medieval context of a primitive land with basic living conditions, where ignorance and superstition rules – the inhabitants’ response to any problem or ailment is to shape mud statues as an offering to the gods, and princess Ashlyn’s interest for natural studies is considered odd and tainted by witchcraft – while the latter is more technologically oriented in what looks like a steampunk society, and the capital city is shaped like a clockwork-driven mechanism requiring great quantities of dragon oil to function.

Linked to that is a very intriguing – and new to the genre – angle on environment and the way its delicate balance can be upset by inconsiderate choices: Ashlyn’s studies have brought her to understand that kind of balance and how it’s all linked to the dragons – how decimating them, either to assuage the people’s fears or to obtain their precious oil, is causing some of their natural preys to overbreed and in turn lead to crop failures or widespread disease. There is a thought-provoking passage in which the Balarian ruler offers a deaf ear to Ashlyn’s warnings about the fragility of the whole system, saying he’s not afraid to go against the “natural order of things” as long as he can keep his people comfortable and happy: it’s a very contemporary, very widespread attitude, that of thinking only about the present and not caring about the future….

As far as the characters go, the chosen theme of throwing together a mismatched band of people to accomplish a given task is one that always intrigues me, because it helps showcasing their characters and makes for a compelling narrative, especially when danger starts rearing up its ugly head and everyone is forced to abandon the mask they present to the world at large. Along the journey I became quite fond of some of these characters and in the end it proved a mixed blessing, because here I must warn you not to become too attached to anyone, since there is no certainty of survival for all of them – that was one of the most devastating surprises in a story that is certainly filled with violence and hardship, but also proved unexpectedly cruel to some of its players.

Of course Bershad takes the lion’s share of the story, and if at first he’s the epitome of the anti-hero, moving from one dragon slaying to another and drowning himself in wine between assignments, his past is revealed bit by bit and we understand how guilt for his actions and resentment for his fate have come into play, while the uncanny way in which he heals from the wounds sustained in his craft seems to go against what I could see as nothing else but a death wish – unexpressed, but clearly latent.  This narrative element will come to present a compelling angle in the overall story and it’s clear it will be at the roots of its continuation: I for one am looking forward to see the direction it will take in the future installments.

My Rating: 

Reviews

Review: THE BONE SHIPS (The Tide Child #1), by R.J. Barker

 

I received this novel from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

R.J. Barker’s previous work, the Wounded Kingdom trilogy, was one of my best recent discoveries, so that once I learned of this new novel, the start of another series, I was beyond eager to read it: once the book became available through the Orbit newsletter I wasted no time in requesting it, and abandoned the story I was reading then in favor of this one.

If the world presented in the Wounded Kingdom is a desolate one, with huge extensions of the land made barren by the indiscriminate use of magic, and people often living on the doorstep of starvation, the one depicted in The Bone Ships is far bleaker and disheartening, not so much because of any environmental concerns, but rather because of the inhabitants’ customs and attitude.

This is a world where seas cover most of the surface, what little land there is formed by groups of islands whose dwellers have split over time into two factions in constant war with each other, a conflict whose origins seem to have been forgotten but that still goes on because of the ingrained hatred between opponents. Where seas rules, wars are fought with ships, and here they are built with the bones of dragons for their strength and buoyancy, but now that the dragons have been hunted to extinction, what few bones remain are prized above all else.   As for the people, islanders’ customs decree that anyone born with a physical defect, or from a mother who died in childbirth, is tainted with weak blood and cannot be part of the dominant class, while any firstborn child is always offered in sacrifice and set on a ship as a corpselight – a concept that still gives me chills no matter how many times I read it.

The overall darkness of the background is the main reason I struggled at first with The Bone Ships: I now understand, with hindsight, that the author was setting the stage for the story and that it was important for us readers to see where the characters came from and what made them what they are, but still the first few chapters seemed to drag and what I pictured in my mind’s eye was all in drab, unappealing sepia tones.  I know I am not the most patient individual in the world, and that I need to feel an instant connection with a story and its characters to truly enjoy a novel, so I can offer this little morsel of advice: if you get that same disheartening impression, just keep going, because your perseverance will be more than rewarded.

Joron Twiner used to be a fisherman but now circumstances have made him an outcast, and as is the customs of the Isles he’s been assigned to one of the Black Ships, the ships of the dead – vessels that are old and ill-maintained, and whose crews are destined to serve and die for the good of the Isles.  Joron is made shipwife (i.e. the captain) of the Tide Child, one of the black ships, a despondent and drunken captain who asks nothing of his equally miserable crew but to be ignored as he ignores them, until the day in which ‘Lucky’ Meas Gilbryn, a famous boneship shipwife now fallen in disgrace, challenges him for the captaincy of the Child and vows to shape him and the rest of the complement into a crew worthy of respect. Meas has been given a mission: what could possibly be the last dragon in the world has been sighted, and the Tide Child tasked with the difficult – and maybe impossible – mission to secure it and in so doing possibly change the balance of war. Success might even mean the lifting of the sentence that condemned them all to a ship of the dead.

From here on the story blends two separate threads, the breath-taking adventure of the search for the Arakeesian – the fabled dragon – and the characters’ journey from a motley band of uncaring individuals to a cohesive, proud crew. The sea voyage itself is a joy to follow, with vibrant descriptions that turn the strong sea breezes, the smell of the salty spray and the creak of the ship’s bones into almost physical experiences, enhanced by the exotic terms used to describe the vessel’s sections or the crew’s roles – as an example, a ship, contrary to normal usage, is referred to as “he” and therefore the captain becomes a “shipwife”, irrespective of gender.  And then there are the strange, dangerous sea beasts that mean certain death for any sailor fallen overboard, or the weird avian creature, the gullaime, who summons the winds to fill the ship’s sails, not to mention the dragons themselves, creatures of beauty and grace who seem to possess an uncanny intelligence.

Unsurprisingly, characters remain the strong point of the story though, even when they require some time to make themselves understood and appreciated: Joron is a prime example of this instance, because of his initial attitude, the certainty of his worthlessness, the lack of interest in others beyond the misery he wrapped around himself. And yet there is a small part of him that wants to believe, that is kindled by Meas’ rough handling and blazes into confidence – in himself first and then in the crew, in the sense of belonging and mutual loyalty that the shipwife can inspire in each and every one of them, teaching them they can be much more than the sum of their parts.  It will be fascinating to see where his journey will lead him as the story progresses, and how far he will travel from the morose young man wasting his days in idleness and drink.

But of course it’s Meas who held the greater part of my attention: strong, capable and with an abrasive demeanor that goes well with her scruffy appearance and hides a keen mind and an iron will, but also a capacity for understanding and compassion she keeps under tight control – although at times it surfaces together with one or her rare smiles.  A true creature of the seas, she lives for and breathes with her ship and crew, and through her example – that of a woman born to the highest rank and now lowered to the captaincy of a Black Ship – they learn how to take pride in their accomplishments and the fulfilment of their duty. She is called “Lucky Meas” and at some point we learn how she gained that nickname, and yet what she teaches her people is that their fame, their luck if you want, is not something they can expect to be given, but must take – earn – for themselves.  A character larger than life at time, perhaps, but one I will enjoy meeting again in the next books.

I would like to close this review by mentioning the beautiful images – miniatures in truth – decorating the beginning of each chapter, that add a special quality to the story itself, and to advise you to keep your eyes (and ears…) open for the arrival of Black Orris. You will know what I mean once you get there  😉

If you are already fans of R.J. Barker’s works, you will enjoy this; if you are not… what are you waiting for?

 

Reviews

Review: THE RAGE OF DRAGONS (The Burning #1), by Evan Winter

 

I received this novel from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

The first time I heard about The Rage of Dragons, through a fellow blogger’s review, I was beyond intrigued when learning that the book takes a different approach to the usual fantasy themes by basing the story on an African-like background, which is indeed new and refreshing in the genre. Besides, how could I resist a tale of vengeance? Since my long-ago encounter with The Count of Montecristo I always found revenge stories to be quite compelling, so there was no doubt that this would be an intriguing read.

At the start of the story we meet the Omehi people, refugees in search of a place to settle in and re-build their society: they just landed in a promising location, but the natives’ fierce resistance forces them into a bitter conflict that is still ongoing some two hundred years later, when we encounter the novel’s main character, Tau.  In a society geared for endless war, everyone must be trained for combat, but Tau is not very sanguine about that and his goal is to finish his mandatory warrior training and then injure himself in a way that will allow him to still be a productive member of society in a non-belligerent role.

Fate, however, brings such an upheaval to Tau’s life that it sends him on a very different path, one that will turn him into the fierce warrior he never meant to be, so he can carry out his vengeance against those who wronged him.  And as Tau pursues that aim, the conflict with the Xideen keeps escalating and the future for the Omehi looks increasingly bleaker…

The Rage of Dragons started out in a very promising way for me, with its original approach and setting, but ultimately it failed to engage me fully, which saddened me quite a bit since I had hoped for more – or maybe set those expectations too high.  For example, the background is a potentially fascinating one: the novel is marketed as an African-inspired story and there is indeed an intriguing feeling in the descriptions of the scorched, unforgiving land settled by the Omehi, of the relentless sun beating down on people and their activities. The language is permeated by terms calling out to the African culture, and even though they sometimes overwhelm the readers, asking them for an effort of memory to place them in the right context, they enhance the difference from the more traditional fantasy storytelling. Still, I could not avoid the sensation that those elements of originality were only skin deep, because none of them helped in making me perceive the depth and complexity of such a different culture.

From the opening we learn that Omehi society is divided into two castes, nobles and commoners, assigned by matrilineal descent, and that women hold the highest powers: the ruler is a Queen and the magic wielders are women, which would lay the ground for a strong female presence throughout the story, and yet the narrative evidence is contradictory.  As far as the caste system is concerned, for example, we only know it’s there and that the nobles often misuse their influence for personal gain, but there is nothing more here aside from the perception of the inherent injustice of this social structure. Female figures, what few there are, hardly impact the storyline, giving me the unwelcome sensation that their apparent agency in Omehi culture is more a token one than the real thing.

Still, these misgivings would be minor ones, and easily ascribed to the “growing pains” of a debut work, if it were not for what turned out to be my major contention with The Rage of Dragons, which was its main focus – Tau. It was difficult, not to say impossible, to find a connection with the character: at first he comes across as a variation on the theme of the reluctant hero: he has no heart for fighting, which in a military culture is a huge problem indeed (those who are unwilling to fight are relegated to the role of ‘drudge’, little more than slaves forced to serve the community in the more menial and demanding tasks), while his plan for a self-inflicted injury, which would free him from military service while maintaining his status and freedom, sounds mildly cowardly and did little to endear him to me. Then tragedy strikes and Tau spins in the very opposite direction, training hard and succeeding quite shortly in becoming a fearsome warrior, which is somewhat difficult to believe given his initial lack of interest for warfare – even taking into account the powerful drive offered by his thirst for revenge, it’s a change I struggled to accept.

That desire for revenge (an element, as I said, that can powerfully drive any story) leads Tau to a single-mindedness that further alienated him from me, because it was not so much a tight focus on a goal but rather a tunnel vision to the exclusion of all else, be it the bonding with his comrades or the consequences of rash choices – and Tau is quite prone to the latter, to the point that I often wondered if he was stupidly foolish rather than powerfully driven. Moreover, the emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, which takes a considerable space in the overall narrative, turned out to be too much – at least for my tastes – and those descriptions, no matter their cinematic detail that would work very well on screen, felt boring and repetitive after the umpteenth flashing of bronze swords.

When all is said and done, I would not label The Rage of Dragons as a bad book, because it’s not, but in the end it felt to me as an unfulfilled promise, a story with a great potential that remained mostly untapped, and that’s the main reason for my overall disappointment. Which does not mean that this story could not get better along the way…

 

My Rating:

Reviews

Short Story Review: THE LADY OF SHALOTT, by Carrie Vaughn

 

CLICK ON THE LINK TO READ THE STORY ONLINE

 

Until the very end I thought this short story might be a retelling of the Arthurian myth about the Lady of Shalott, the maiden confined in a solitary tower, weaving an endless tapestry and forbidden to look out of the tower’s lone window, on pain of death.  And at first the tale seems to follow that path, describing in rich, poetic detail, the life of this unnamed woman who creates idyllic scenes of trees, rivers and animals from an inexhaustible supply of silken thread, all without ever having seen the things and creatures she fills her work with.

The young woman has no memory of who she is, or used to be; of what caused her imprisonment and the curse hanging over her head. All she knows is that she must never, ever look outside, and although some curiosity about her situation does surface from time to time, she seems content of her endless weaving and of the days, each one like the one preceding it, spent in solitude.

Yet something is about to change: Lancelot, one of the knights of the Round Table, happens to pass near the tower and wonders about it, this strange building not attached to any castle but simply standing there, at the border of a forest.  And here is the first inkling that things might not be what they look like, because Lancelot’s musings about who and what a knight must be, and do, seem more attuned to those of a simple-minded fool rather than a valiant knight in shining armor.

 

A knight must do good. Make a name for himself by doing good, by going on quests and such. Succoring the weak. Slaying monsters. Or all of them at once, if the opportunity presented itself.

 

Once he learns that there might be a maiden in need of rescue in that lone tower, he sets his mind on freeing her, deaf to the warnings of nearby villagers about the terrible curse hanging over the prisoner. For her part, the young woman, piqued by curiosity about the commotion she hears outside her prison, decides to look out through a mirror – a way to circumvent the curse’s prohibition – and on seeing Lancelot falls in love with him, and for the first time in her life feels the desire to challenge the curse and escape from the confining walls.

Here is where the story veers sharply from the legend and turns into something completely different: I will leave you to discover it on your own…  🙂

 

My Rating: