Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland

1536209414.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain & Ireland by Kevin Crossley-Holland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchanged for an honest review.

Created to entertain one night and retold over the years then centuries, folktales came down to the early modern times in oral form before being written down before they were lost forever. Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland by Kevin Crossley-Holland is collection of nearly 50 tales that cover a variety of fantastical territory. Amongst the titles that I personally liked “The Dead Moon”, “Fair Gruagach”, “Mossycoat”, and “The Dauntless Girl” while the entire section entitled “Wits, Tricks, and Laughter” was a waste. While the primary audience is for middle school children, as an adult I did have a nice time reading the book overall though there were some stretches where I was just making it through several stories until a decent one came up.

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The Silmarillion

0544338014.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The creation of Middle-earth and its First Age is presented in both mythical and historical accounts that set the stage for The Lord of the Rings in the world’s Third Age. The Silmarillion is the posthumously published collection of J.R.R. Tolkien’s worldbuilding tales concerning the creation and history of Middle-earth focusing on the First Age but also delving into the relevant history leading to the War of the Ring.

Middle-earth was created through song by the Ainur, though one of their number—Melkor—attempts to disrupt the tune three times but it overpowered by Eru (God). Eru then showed the Ainur a vision of the world and offered them the chance to enter it and rule, many took up the offer including Melkor. While many of the Ainur, the more powerful Valar and lesser Maiar, attempted to create a world for the Elves and Man, Melkor repeatedly destroyed their work and seduced some of the Maiar to his side, including Sauron. The book then shifts into the Tale of the Simarils, which were three jewels crafted by the Elf Feanor that glowed with the light of the Two Trees that were the only source of light before the Moon and Sun were created by the last remnants after their destruction by Melkor who then killed Feanor’s father and stole of the Simarils. Feanor long duped and corrupted by Melkor’s lies leads the Nordor Elves out of the West to Middle-earth to regain the jewels and do terrible things while Feanor and his sons make a dark oath to recover the jewels. Over the next 500 years, the various Elven groups in Middle-earth battle the now entitled Morgoth and his minions while later to be joined by Men. But the curse of Feanor devastates the Nordor and all that become related to them or allied to them or that touch the Simarils. Eventually a Elf-Man, Earendil arrives in The West to beg for help against Morgoth and the Valar with those Elves that hadn’t join the Nordor attack Morgoth and overpower him but the Simarils are lost in Space, the Sea, and the Earth until the End of the World. The book then gives an overview of the Second Age and the time of Numenor, their glory and fall by the lies of Sauron who’s defeat by the Last Alliance ends the Age and disperses his power for a time. And finally, the book ends with the overview of the creation of the rings of power and the Ring by Sauron then an overview of the lead up to and through the War of the Ring as seen in The Lord of the Rings.

While Tolkien did have some wonderful worldbuilding ideas, the mix of mythical and historical tales were hit-and-miss with a lot of dryness poured on. While there is a somewhat narrative framework to the book, there is no narrative flow. Though some of this can be attributed to the intermixture of tales that bent towards the mythical or the historical, they weren’t meshed together very well and that is probably because of the posthumous nature of the book as Tolkien’s son Christopher put the book together and added sections using his father’s notes to bridges things within a large framework but there was a randomness to things.

Overall The Silmarillion should be seen a collection of mythical and historical tales within a large framework, but one that doesn’t mesh well and at times is disjointed. This is a book for hardcore Tolkien fans not general readers who would be stratified with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

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The Citadel of the Autarch (The Book of the New Sun #4)

0312890184.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Wandering towards the North and the ongoing war with a broken, the former torturer Severian nears the end of his journey just to begin another.  The Citadel of the Autarch is the final installment of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun tetralogy following the exiled torturer Severian’s journey away from the Citadel and how he returned.

Severian continues his wandering North towards the war when he finds a dead soldier and brings him back to life using the Claw.  They find the Pelerines Camp and are cared back to health as Severian had picked up a bad fever.  While recovering he is selected to judge a storytelling contest, but before he can render his verdict, he returns the Claw to the Pelerine alter and is asked by the Camp’s leader to find a holy man close to the front and save him.  Severian goes, meets the man in his house of multiple time periods, but the man disappears while Severian is leading him away from the house.  Returning to the camp alone, Severian finds it has been attacked and abandoned.  Finding the new camp, he sees his new friends either dead or with worse injures than original.  Severian wanders again and falls into an auxiliary cavalry unit and joins an attack on the Ascians but is injured and saved by the Autarch himself after the battle.  The Autarch, the androgynous brothel guide of Shadow and Vodalus’ agent in the House Absolute in Claw, gives Severian a lift in his flier which is shot down and tells Severian to eat a piece of him so he can become the new Autarch.  Severian does so but is captured by Vodalus’ rebel forces which as Agia in the ranks wanting to kill him.  But after joining up with the Ascian army, Severian is rescued by the green man he saved in Claw via a time tunnel where Severian meets aliens that as Autarch he’ll be tested to allow man to return to the stars if he success or neuter him if he fails like the previous Autarch.  Dropped off on a beach, Severian finds a new Claw of the Conciliator and makes his way back to Nessus and the Citadel.  Using the memories off all the previous Autarchs, Severian sends the Citadel into an uproar of activity.  He returns to his first home in the torturer’s tower, figures out that Dorcas is his grandmother who died soon after giving birth to his father who was sent a warning message in Shadow, and has a philosophical rant about what his position is before being whisked off the planet to be tested.

This story was engaging up until the Autarch returned to the story and Severian awful philosophizing began in earnest.  Though Wolfe wrapped up several storylines or wrote things to just end, I really didn’t care because of how much I had disliked the previous two installments especially Sword.  Severian is an unreliable point-of-view character, which wouldn’t be bad if he wasn’t the only point-of-view or completely nuts or stupid or whatever Wolfe decided to have him be in a given chapter.  The cosmic philosophizing by the aliens or Severian’s attempt at it becomes unreadable because I by now don’t care and just wanted to see the story ended or interesting things happen.  Honestly, each story in the storytelling contest were better stories that this one or the entire tetralogy together.

The Citadel of the Autarch ends Gene Wolfe’s classic The Book of the New Sun as well as my interest in anything written by Gene Wolfe.  While this final installment is better than its immediate predecessor, the series went into a decline right after the first book.  I don’t get the hype of this fantasy-science fiction “classic” and feel it’s overrated.

The Sword of the Lictor (The Book of the New Sun #3)

0312890184.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Upon reaching his assigned city, a young executioner goes on the run from the city’s Archon after failing to kill someone and travels further north towards a war he’s only ever heard of.  The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe is the third volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy continuing the tale of the exile executioner Severian attempting to figure out what is happening in this slowly dying Urth.

Having arrived in Thrax and taking up his position as Lictor of the city, Severian finds Dorcas depressed to the lover of the city’s most hated man and wondering about her past life.  The Archon invites Severian to a costume party to kill someone, upon his arrival he meets a woman in a Pelerine’s robe who faints and once Severian helps revive her then is seduced only to find out that she’s the individual the Archon wants dead.  Instead Severian shows her mercy then escapes a fire creature looking to kill him and sees Dorcas off as she leaves to the South to find out about her past.  Severian takes to the mountains heading to the North and runs to Agia whose allied with the man behind the fire creature to kill Severian, but after an attack by an Alzabo they go their separate ways.  Severian adopts a young boy also named Severian and they journey North, encountering a village of possible sorcerers when a black oily creature attacks looking for the older Severian but results in saving the two travelers.  Coming across an abandoned city, the boy is killed and Severian thwarts a resurrected tyrant from using him.  Continuing his journey Severian arrives at a lakeshore and is drugged by the village leader to be taken across the lake to the castle of a giant, but Severian escapes and gets aid for the waterfolk who ask him to lead them against the giant to is enslaving them.  Arriving at the castle, Severian discovers that Dr. Talos and Baldanders run the castle with the former being a creation of the latter.  After conversations with aliens, the three men fight and the waterfolk help finish off the giant Baldanders after Severian kills Talos.  Continuing towards the North, Severian attempts to digest everything he’s experienced.

Where to begin, I don’t know if Severian thinks with his penis too much or Wolfe writes him to be just stupid.  Throughout the story there is more and more sci-fi elements brought into narrative with some nice fantasy touches, however because Severian continually becomes an unlikeable character because his first-person narration is all over the place thus making the flow of the plot disjointed.  The fact he can’t just kill Agia after she admits to attempting to kill him just makes Severian look incompetent.  There is a chapter devoted to Severian reading a story from a book to the young Severian, the story was obvious a combination of the Roman foundation myth and the Jungle Book but was a highlight of the overall story because unlike the nonsensical play in Claw it was the most enjoyable part of this particular installment.

The Sword of the Lictor continues the downward spiral of this “classic” due to the fact that the point-of-view protagonist continues to get more unlikeable because of his clear stupidity and that fact that Gene Wolfe can’t put together a narrative that makes for good reading.  With this as the penultimate installment of the tetralogy, my hope for the finale isn’t high.

Peace and Turmoil (The Dark Shores #1)

1733664300.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Peace and Turmoil by Elliot Brooks
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Forces are at work in the lands of Abra’am that will cause the end of peace and bring about turmoil that hasn’t been seen since the War of Fire. Peace and Turmoil is the first book of The Dark Shores series by first time author and BookTuber Elliot Brooks, which follows four young people who are suddenly thrust from their peaceful lies into political turmoil.

Gwenivere, heir to the throne of Xenith, is expected to choose a suitor from amongst guest at a Peace Gathering even though her preferred choice of Roland, heir to the throne is Mesidia, is off limits because each is a Guardian of one of the fabled Artifacts of Eve. Roland along with his father King Pierre is dealing with a long simmering succession feud with the rival Victorians. Across the Dividing Wall mountain range in the desert kingdom of Sadie, the assassin-prince Dietrich is convinced by his younger brother to go to the Xenith Peace Gathering and find a way to get Roland’s Dagger of Eve to not only save their mother but give the family immortality in the face of insurrectionists that Dietrich has been killing. In the southern continent of Eve, the long-lived X’odia sees a vision of Dietrich being stabbed by his younger brother with the Dagger which will lead to the destruction of her homeland, the High Council sends her to Abra’am to prevent this from happening. By the end of the book, Gwenivere is on the run under the false assumption that she killed her father while Roland is in exile after the death of his family but with X’odia looking to find Dietrich to get the Dagger back not knowing his brother has already killed him, maybe.

Brooks divided her book into multiple point-of-views, dominated by the previous mentioned four characters plus numerous secondary characters. Of the four main character arcs, X’odia is by far the best from start to finish followed by Dietrich, which was enhanced by his brother’s point-of-view chapters. Brooks decision to indicate the location of where a chapter was occurring, including a section of the “world map”, was a brilliant touch. The inclusion of little tidbits of letters, messages, diary entries, etc. by known and unknown characters in-between chapters were a nice touch to add context to the world as well as foreshadow without being heavy-handed about it. And the magic system is something new and intriguing, but not overwhelmingly powerful. With all these positives, why is the rating so low? Unfortunately, the political developments occurring in the third quarter of the book that made no sense as well as the total incompetence of Gwenivere’s father King Gerard and Roland’s father Pierre just totally ruined the last half of the book after an interesting first half. The primary issue is fallout from the Attack of Fiends and the desire of four nations to intervene in Mesidia’s succession issue—that has been going on for several generations but all of a sudden is a “problem”—resulting in Gerard kowtowing to their wishes and joining them to save as many lives as possible. However, Pierre has the rebel leader—the she isn’t the potential new queen—in chains as a result of the Attack and confessed to her role while her daughter and the bloodline heir to the rival claim has become a voluntarily become a citizen of Xenith; Pierre has every right to behead the traitor then declare the four nations who support his rivals had declared war on his nation, Xenith—who’s capital was attacked—and the peace nation of Riverdee that Mesidian soldiers defended. And why Gerard doesn’t do the same, or at least threaten, is beyond me as well. Things just fall apart and frankly it’s hard not to see Gerard as a usurper of his own daughter because he was originally a Mesidian himself and married Gwenivere’s mother, who was Guardian and thus heir or reigning Queen at the time of their marriage but five years deceased at the beginning of the book. While there were other little pet peeves, they were nothing compared to these political issues.

Peace and Turmoil is Elliot Brook’s first published novel and the first in The Dark Shores series, yet while there are many positives it is the nonsensical political developments in this fantasy political novel which undermine the overall narrative and thus the overall enjoyment of the book.

The Bone Clocks

0812976827.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everything that happens has consequences in the future and one weekend for a 15-year old teenager after a fight with her mother has unexpected consequences throughout the rest of her life. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell follows the life Holly Sykes through her own eyes and those four other characters during 60 years of her life.

The book begins with a 15-year old Holly Sykes leaving home after a fight with her mother, only to have a life altering weekend for herself involving a trip to a paranormal world that she forgets and her family as her younger brother disappears. The book ends with a 74-year old Holly taking care of and wondering about the future of her granddaughter and foster son as climate change and resource depletion are sending the world towards a new dark age, though a surprising return of an old acquaintance results in them having a future. Between these two segments we follow the lives of an amoral political student Hugo Lamb, Holly’s husband Ed, author Crispin Hershey, and Marinus who is both a new and old acquaintance of Holly’s for a period of time in which they interact with Holly during different periods of her life that at first seem random but as the narrative progresses interconnect with one another in surprising ways including glimpses into a centuries long supernatural war in which Holly was directly involved in twice.

From beginning to end, Mitchell created a page-turner in which the reader did not know what to expect. The blending of fiction and fantasy from the beginning then science fiction as the story went beyond 2014 (year of publication) as the narrative continued was expertly done. The use of first-person point-of-views were well done as was the surprise that the book wasn’t all through Holly’s point-of-view but switched with each of the six segments of the book giving the reader a mosaic view of Holly’s life. The introduction and slow filling in of the fantasy elements of the story were well done so when it really became the focus of the book in its fifth segment the reader was ready for it. On top of that the layers of worldbuilding throughout the book were amazing, as characters from one person’s point-of-view had random interactions with someone in another and so on. If there was one letdown it was the science fiction, nearly dystopian, elements of 2043 in which the political-economic setting seems farfetched—namely China who would be in trouble if there is an energy crisis and thus not dominate economically as portrayed in the book—that made the denouement land with a thud.

I had no idea what to expect from The Bone Clocks and frankly David Mitchell impressed me a lot, save for the final 10% of the book. The blending of straight fiction, fantasy, and science fiction was amazing throughout the narrative and the numerous layers of worldbuilding, plot, and slowly evolving of the mostly unseen supernatural war that was instrumental to main points of the narrative. If a friend were to ask me about this book I would highly recommend it to them.

The Claw of the Conciliator (The Book of the New Sun #2)

0312890176.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Outside the walls of his home city for the first time, a young executioner on a mission finds himself amongst strange locations and stranger people. The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe is the second volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy continuing the journey of Severian, an exiled torturer figuring out the world.

Picking up shortly after the last volume, Severian is in the mining village of Saltus with a new travelling companion Jonas after being separated from Dorcas and the theater company at the gate of Nessus. Severian believes he sees Agia, but after searching for her returns to his inn to take his mask and cape to execute an accused witch. Later that night he travels to an old mine, fights off man-apes, and comes face-to-face with Agia but doesn’t kill her even though he tricked him to get him there so see could have revenge and get possession of the titular Claw that she put on Severian’s person during the events of Shadow and Severian used during his fight with the man-apes. Severian and Jonas are then taken by associates of Vodalus, who they kill as they get to the revolutionary’s hide out in the forest. Severian and Jonas join Vodalus after taking part in a cannibalistic ritual, before heading off to the House Absolute on a mission from Vodalus. The two are captured by the guards and in a holding room are attacked, which results in Severian learning that Jonas is a robot with human skin. Using the knowledge acquired from the memories of the person they ate, Severian finds a way out of the holding room and Jonas leaves to find a way to get repaired. Severian wanders around the grounds, finding his sword, coming across the Autarch, and then is reunited with theater group and Dorcas. The five perform a play during which Baldanders turns and attacks the crowd resulting in the group running for it. Severian meets with them again on the road heading north, he and Dorcas head to Thrax while Dr. Talos attacks the other member the troupe resulting in her joining them and is attacked by a poisonous bat which results in her death in the ruins of a city while meeting with associates of Vodalus who perform a mystic ceremony.

This story was all over the place and it felt like the quality of everything connected with it was the same. There was significant worldbuilding with Severian getting out into the wider world as the previous fantasy feel was joined by sci-fi elements to create this unique landscape of future Earth. However while Wolfe created this interested background, the plot and the first-person narration were all over the place and whatever elements that were good were very much outweighed by the bad, in particular the nonsensical play that added nothing for approximately 15 pages and was just to set up Baldanders’ attack in the next very short chapter. And frankly every time Severian seems to become interesting, though by his own account, he does a 180 by disclaiming his own “perfect” memory or puts himself down.

The Claw of the Conciliator is a mishmash of good, bad, and frustration. A lot of this comes down to the writing of Gene Wolfe and primarily from the first-person point-of-view that creates most of the issues. Maybe after finishing the tetralogy I might get a better view of things, but frankly if this “classic” continues to be frustrating it’ll be a big disappointment.