Science Fairy Tales

Beauty and the Beast is not my favorite fairy tale.  It may be my favorite as adapted by Disney, but that’s not the story that has drawn me time and time again over the years.  That’s not the one I have three different books of, all with the same name.  It’s not the story that drew me to a book on my dad’s shelves more than fifteen years ago.  It’s not the story Disney failed to retell.

That would be The Snow Queen.

The oldest of my three books is, of course, by Hans Christian Andersen.  It’s a beautifully illustrated copy that I’ve always enjoyed coming back to over the years.  But I haven’t reread it lately, not that I need to.  The newest of the three is, even less surprisingly, by Mercedes Lackey.  It’s an entry into her 500 Kingdoms series, which I haven’t yet covered on this blog.  But that day is not today.

No, this is the middle book, in terms of when I personally acquired it.  Or in terms of publication date, since Hans Christian Andersen is long dead, I bought the Lackey book when it had just come out in paperback, and today’s book was published before I was born.  This is The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge.

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Right away, Vinge introduces the reader to the planet Tiamat, where the Summer and Winter are each over a century long.  It’s located convenient to a black hole, which offworlders use to travel between a network of planets.  Of course, Tiamat is n a binary star system which plays havoc…meaning that the black hole is only passable during the Winter season, and not at all in Summer.  So the Winter people are much more technologically inclined than the Summer.  And yes, the planet is divided into the two groups, one who is in ascendance during the Summer and one during the Winter.

Sounds more like standard eighties science fiction than a fairy tale, right?

Well, what are the elements of the Snow Queen as a fairy tale?  There is a girl and a boy.  The boy is taken by the Queen, who has set a piece of glass or ice in him, that freezes his gaze and makes him uncaring towards the girl.  The girl sets out after him, growing as a heroine on her journey.  She is captured by bandits at one point, but escapes with the help of the little bandit girl who is selfish, but learns to care enough to let her go.  She reaches the Queen’s castle, finds the boy, and manages to melt his heart and restore him to her.

This book is The Snow Queen in every sense of the word.  Every element of the original story is present in some fashion, though there is a lot more going on.  After all, my children’s book is only 114 pages long with illustrations.  This novel is 536 pages long with much smaller type, more text per page, and no images save the cover itself.

When I first read Vinge’s The Snow Queen, I enjoyed the book for the story it presented.  However, the more I reread it, the more I realize how faithfully she recreated the old fairy tale in a new setting.  Which makes me very happy and excited as I read and say “yes, exactly!  This is The Snow Queen!”  It’s not a reaction I have when reading the more conventional retellings of various fairy tales in the fantasy genre, probably because they’re much closer to the original just by being fantasy.  Vinge isn’t the only person to trasncribe a fairy tale to science fiction, nor would I assume her to be the first.  Still, I like to find my old favorite skilfully transformed into a new adventure that is still recognizable as its former self.

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Tortall

Last time I talked about how rewarding the finale of the Claymore manga was after 27 volumes, instead of the measly 26 episodes of the anime.  It’s a similar expression to the feeling I get with the books I finished today, Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen.  It’s only the Trickster’s duology by Tamora Pierce, so you wouldn’t think to compare it to an epic finale.  Not unless you’re familiar with the series that this comes from, of course.

Tamora Pierce has two main series.  That of the Magic Circle, which I cannot stand in the least (and yes, I did try.  At one point I had the first quartet and the first book of The Circle Opens and I realized then that I just do not like those books.), and Tortall.  I first encountered the latter series when my mom bought me a copy of Alanna: The First Adventure roughly twenty years ago.  That would be book one in the Song of the Lioness, the first Tortall book ever written, published back in 1983.

I’m not here to talk about the Lioness quartet or any of the other sets in this series that has steadily grown over the past thirty years, however.  The protagonist of the Trickster books is none other than Alliane, known to most as Aly, daughter of Alanna.  She’s sixteen in Trickster’s Choice, and these two books are about how she comes into her own place in the world, instead of being overshadowed by her blood and adoptive family.

I hope you can see why this particular set makes me think of finales and fulfillment now.

The world of Tortall is, of course, based on our own.  Tortall and its immediate neighbors are based on Western Europe.  Scanra, to the north, is clearly Scandinavia, Carthak in the south is definitely Egypt, the Eastern Lands are not especially fleshed out, and then we have the Western islands.  The Yamani Islands in the north are Japan and then we move to the focus of these books, the Copper Isles.  I’d say these are the Caribbean.  After all, we have the brown people (raka) whose land was invaded by white people (luarin) and conquered three hundred years previously.  Slavery is most definitely a weapon here, and the climate is a jungle.

Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen are yet another example of the interest in spy books that I’ve seen in my reading.  It’s one of the earliest of the current trend, having been published in 2003, five years before Mercedes Lackey started writing about Mags in the Collegium Chronicles.  Which is probably part of why it doesn’t annoy me nearly as much as the Herald-Spy books; this duology is older and I was less disposed against spy books when I first read it.  Admittedly, part of the problem in this case is that I have the amazing talent to pick out older sci-fi that happens to be along similar lines and read it at a time when I am less than interested in this type of book, but there’s not too much I can do about that.  I’d rather move to books I am intrigued to read, even if they’re on a theme that I’m tired of, than force myself to read books I cannot currently muster any interest in.

Another difference is that Tamora Pierce has always written for kids and young adults; that is to say, 12 is a good age to start reading her.  If you’re me, you probably started younger, but I’ll say 12 as an average.  Of course, it’s never too late to pick up a good author, so there’s that.  But because the majority of spy books I’ve read have been written for adults or general audiences, the Trickster books still stand out from them.

There’s also something about these two books that makes their ending seem more satisfying than other parts of the Tortall series.  Maybe it’s because these are the most recent books on the timeline; everything else takes place years or centuries earlier.  Maybe it’s because there’s only the two books when all the other sets are three or four.  Or maybe I just find Aly’s story more engrossing than some of the others.  Some of the earlier books can be a bit dry, but it’s only to be expected that Pierce’s writing would improve with time.  Regardless, I’m always happy to take the time to reread Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen.  Even if the latter is starting to take damage each time I open it up…

Finales and Facts

Today was Claymore volumes 19-27.  The last third of the series.  Remember how, when I first read volume 18, I thought it would all wrap up in just a couple more books?  Oh, I was so wrong.  Claymore is an incredibly slow build to its climax.  Not like Dragon Ball Z where you can spend an entire episode just powering up, but rather like a mountain.  You get within arm’s reach of what you thought was the peak, only to realize that the true peak was even further up than you could see from below.

And the anime’s climax is simply nowhere near as satisfying as the manga.  Yes, with that slow buildup it can seem tedious, but it doesn’t, not really, because a deeper mystery takes center stage.  As the series winds down, we peel back the surface layers of what we have assumed to be truth and reveal even deeper depths of horror and intrigue.  Questions we had so many books ago are brought up…and answered!  And then that climax!

Before I start getting into spoilers, let’s back up and talk more generally about the series.  The world of Claymore is divided into four or five regions, depending on how you’re looking at it.  The five areas are called Alfons, Lautrec, Tolouse, Mucha, and Sutafu.  And yes, I would suspect that author Norihiro Yagi has an interest in European artists from the late 1800s, else why name geography for Henri de Tolouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha?  This has nothing to do with the series, just random fun facts for me.  Another thing I enjoyed is that the anime sometimes features the music of bagpipes.  Given that claymores as a weapon are associated with historic Scotland, it’s appropriate, but not a guarantee for something produced in a widely different culture.

Also, there is the town of Pieta.  A pieta is a specific type of image in European art, featuring the Virgin Mary holding onto the dead Jesus after he’s taken from the cross.  This symbolism is, I’m sure, intentional.  As for actual religion in the world of Claymore…there seem to be at least two distinct ones.  There’s the god of the holy city of Rabona which we don’t know much about but I would probably equate to Christianity.  There’s also the twin goddesses Teresa and Clare.  They stand for goodness and other positive things, and are always shown as having their backs towards each other, and their wings stretched out beyond the other.

The main character of Claymore is Clare.  She’s a young woman who also happens to be a half-human, half-yoma warrior whose job is to hunt down and kill yoma.  Yoma are creatures that feast on human innards, but are undetectable when in human form, save by the silver-eyed women known as Claymores.  By taking yoma flesh and blood into their bodies, they gain the strength and speed to take these monsters on as equals.  So is our first impression of Clare, through the eyes of Raki, a boy she saves.  The first few episodes focus on this, and showing us the world through Clare’s job.  Her second assignment of the series is a black card, meaning that a fellow warrior feels she has reached the limit of her human heart, and wishes to be slain by a friend rather than becoming a monster.

Another few incidents later, the reader (or viewer) learns that though Clare has been this powerful badass, she’s actually the absolute weakest of the warriors in the organization, bearing the lowest rank of 47 out of 47.  Which, reflecting back, is a good way to not only introduce the character, world, and premise, but to really show the difference in power between an ordinary human and a Claymore.  This skill of display continues throughout the series as the opponents Clare must overcome grow progressively stronger.

There is no doubt that Claymore is shonen, that is to say, boy’s manga or anime.  Shonen tends to feature much more combat, and shojo (girl’s manga or anime) showcases relationships.  The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but easy categorizations.  Because of the sheer amount of combat, Claymore could almost fall into the category of tournament shonen, but there really isn’t any tournament.  The closest I can think of is the last few volumes which feature several fights concurrently that gradually peter away as the combatants are slain.  Very few of the 155 chapters in the series have no fighting or bloodshed.  This is most certainly a factor in how quickly I was able to reread the books.

Another thing I like is that there is very little sexuality.  Don’t get me wrong, the manga is rated for Older Teens and the anime for Mature audiences.  But that’s generally for almost everything else.  Claymore is a title that uses those ratings because that’s what it is.  It’s not abusing them like so many works do today.  Yes, characters swear.  But it’s only when the situation is that unbelievable, and happens maybe a handful of times in the entire series.  Yes there are a number of nipples shown, but that’s what happens when part of your body is destroyed and you regenerate it: clothing has to be replaced later.  In fact, there are only two points a vagina is or would be shown.  In the first case, it’s a warrior and there is a strategically placed speech bubble censoring her.  In the second case…well…I really don’t know what to think of an awakened being whose true form is a vagina dentata.  That’s pretty wrong on so many levels.  And yet, it is far from the most disturbing thing in this story.  Just the most disturbing visual.

That was one thing I didn’t care for in the anime.  They really played up the potential relationship between Raki and Clare as something sexual, based off the one time that she kissed him.  I don’t doubt that there is romance between them, even if it’s not shown much, but I always viewed it as more of an asexual thing.  After all, I’m quite certain that all warriors are sterilized simply by becoming half yoma.  And awakening is said to be comparable to sexual pleasure, hence why males are more suspectible than females.  In fact, the only truly sexual moments in the entire series are when Ophelia is feeling up Clare.  So the anime focusing on that one kiss feels very out of place for the series as a whole, and quite forced.

As you can tell, I do love Claymore.  Not just because I invested nine years in collecting it, but because it genuinely held my attention and interest rapt every time I returned to it so that when that finale came…it was so fitting and so perfect and I loved it so damned much.

THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!
So let’s start by talking about Clare and her backstory, which comes in volumes 3-5.  She was orphaned and picked up by a wandering yoma to provide cover as he went from town to town.  The yoma was killed by a warrior known as Teresa of the Faint Smile, the number 1 ranker at the time.  Clare then began following Teresa around, clinging to the one person who’d shown her any form of kindness since her parents died.  Teresa became resigned to this and sort of adopted her, to the point that she injured and killed humans to protect Clare.  This broke the organization’s rules, and Teresa was slated for execution.  She was killed by the new number 2 warrior, Priscilla, who awakened as she took Teresa’s head.  Bereft of all she had, Clare went to the organization of her own free will and demanded that Teresa’s flesh be put inside her.  So, instead of being a normal half-human half-yoma warrior, Clare was only one-quarter yoma.

Awakening is what happens when a warrior pushes their yoma energy beyond about 70% of their capacity – at that point they can no longer return to their human form.  They become an awakened being, a superior kind of yoma that also feasts on human innards, but is far more powerful and harder to kill.  The pigment returns to their hair and eyes, allowing them to pass for human, unlike a warrior of the organization.  They are no longer human in any real sense.

In her fight in the holy city of Rabona, Clare passed her limits and began to awaken.  However, Raki was able to anchor her with his love, drawing her back into her human form.  This still counted, in some was, as an awakening, or a half-awakening. The quality of her yoma energy changed, and it was much easier to draw on it at much higher levels before.  This Clare learned when she was teamed up with three other warriors to fight an awakened being.  All three had had similar experiences, and determined that someone wanted beings like them dead.  Thus was born a conspiracy against the organization.

In her fight against Ophelia, number 4, Clare lost her dominant right arm.  This was after she and Raki separated, each promising that they’d live to see the other again.  Luckily, she was rescued and taken in by the woman who had previously been number 2 to Teresa’s number 1; Quick-Sword Ilena.  Clare learned Ilena’s special technique, then was given a great gift: the loan of Ilena’s remaining arm.  With her new skill and increased power, she was able to kill Ophelia.

Later, Clare encountered Riful of the West for the first time, an abyssal being who was once ranked number 1.  There she found Jean, number 9, being held prisoner.  Jean had been tortured by Riful in an attempt to force her to awaken, and when Clare came on the scene Jean’s body had fully transformed, though her human will was still trying to deny this fact.  Clare was able to help Jean return to her human form, and Jean offered Clare her very life in return.

Soon after, half of the organization’s warriors, including all those considered to be discipline problems, were sent north to Pieta, the first town in the northern land of Alfons.  Multiple awakened beings had been seen working together, and four warriors had already lost their lives in this combat.  Clare fought against Rigaldo the Silver-Eyed Lion, who had been number 2 in the time of male warriors.  She nearly finished awakening to do so, and was brought back only by Jean’s sacrifice of the life she’d already given.  In the end, only seven warriors including Clare survived the battle.  They hid in the north for seven years, training and expending no yoma energy so that their auras would fade away almost beyond sensing.  In that time, Clare trained herself in a new technique known as wind-cutter, formerly used by Flora, who was number 8 before dying in Pieta.

After seven years, Clare found evidence that while Raki had been in the north, he may have survived the rampage by awakened beings shortly after the warriors fell.  She and the other six left for the south.  There Clare ended up in Riful’s lair a second time, where the remains of former abyssal being Luciela and her sister Rafaela (number 5 in Clare’s time) were hidden.  Rafaela had killed Luciela seven years previously, but also preserved her.  Touching the buried consciousness within, Clare absorbed Rafaela’s memories.

At one point in the series, I think when the seven are discussing going south, Clare says that she can’t stay idle because of “the many souls inside” her.  As you can see, she does mean that almost literally.  When she stands before Priscilla in the final battle of the series, trying to fight to save her friends, trying to fulfill her quest for revenge, something holds her back and keeps her from awakening.  And Clare realizes that it isn’t her who’s meant to awaken.

It’s Teresa.

Clare’s body conforms to her memory of Teresa, and the spirit that has been dormant within her for so many years rises to the forefront of their mind.  Teresa, the most powerful number 1 in history fights Priscilla.  And when she awakens, her true form is that of the twin goddesses, Teresa and Clare.

It gives me chills just thinking about how absolutely perfect this is.  This fight, this image, this single moment that was built up for twenty-seven volumes.  That is a payoff that few books ever give, and I love it so much.  When I first read volume 27, I immediately reread that last battle upon finishing it.  It is so perfect and so powerful.  There are few enough moments like that in my library that I have to savor each one.

That is why a single anime season of 26 episodes can never be as good as the manga, despite how good an adaptation the first 20 episodes are.  That is why Claymore is probably my favorite manga.

That is why this post is over 2000 words long.  The only question remaining now is…what to read next?

Adaptation Comparison

Years ago, Shonen Jump was a US version of the Japanese magazines that serialize manga.  It was owned by Viz Media, and showed off some of the most popular titles they’d licensed.  They’d also offer a chapter of new series to tempt readers to pick up their other titles, despite not being in the magazine.  I had a subscription for most of Shonen Jump‘s paper run (it ended up being digital in the end and may now be defunct – I don’t know because I gave up at that point) and I have to admit it was well worth the cost.  Because they’d run one or two chapters of 5-6 manga every month, and a normal volume contains about 5-7 chapters, a year’s subscription was roughly equivalent to two volumes of each series being run.  Considering that the price for a year was $30 and each of those volumes cost $8 before tax…I consider it a sound investment.  Even when they started picking series I couldn’t stand, like Bo-Bo-Bo, it was still worthwhile.  I have a good chunk of the Dragon Ball Z Cell saga, all but the first volume of YuYu Hakusho, the first 20 volumes or so of Bleach, and bunch of One Piece too.  Not to mention that the eight years of magazines takes up significantly less shelf space than individual manga volumes of all those series would.

Back in 2006, about a year and a half into my subscription, Shonen Jump previewed a newly licensed manga called Claymore.  It featured a woman, wielding the titular massive sword, fighting monsters.  There wasn’t much to the opening chapter, but it peaked my interest nonetheless and I resolved to collect this particular series.  It didn’t take long for me to get hooked.

I remember hearing about the US release of the anime, but I was having a good time reading the manga, and opted to not spoil it for myself.  I watched and read simultaneously with other series like Inu-YashaFullmetal Alchemist, and Rurouni Kenshin with…mixed results.  So I stuck to one format for the time being with Claymore.  It was slow going, since the volumes only came out once every three months, but I could live with it.  At least that was more frequently than standard novels.

Then at one point the release interval changed to six months.  I realized this meant that the US release was almost completely caught up with the Japanese, meaning that most of the delay was first for the manga to be released and second for it to be translated.  And then, one day, I bought the final volume.

It wasn’t until very recently that I thought to go back and watch the anime, now that I had read the manga in its entirety.  I had to admit to a fair bit of curiosity, given that the anime was limited to a single 26 episode season and the manga encompasses 27 volumes.  There was no possible way that each episode would cover a volume and a bit, but I’d always wondered about it.  So I started watching.

Claymore the anime is incredibly faithful to the manga…for the first twenty episodes.  And don’t get me wrong, it was quite lovely to see something rendered so faithfully.  Animation as a medium has the quality of sound and movement added to the visuals of manga, not to mention color, which allows me to understand certain elements better.  The animation of the youki (yoma energy) might seem a bit intrusive (Dragon Ball Z draws out aura flashes in manga, but Claymore rarely does), but changing the quality of voices to match how the text is drawn, even the color of flesh and blood…it’s helpful.

It’s in episode 20 that we start seeing things diverge, and that impression is solidified in episode 21.  My guess is that the anime was only going to get one season, and they opted to wrap up what they saw as the ongoing storylines in Pieta, despite the fact that this ended up being not quite the halfway point of the series.  So they crammed in a climax that would hopefully give the viewers closure by changing a number of things around.  If I’d seen the anime before reading the manga, I suspect I’d probably see nothing wrong with that ending.

I promise you, the ending of the manga is better, if only because it has twice as much buildup and wraps up all those loose ends.  But it’ll be a bit before I get there.  You see, I’ve begun to reread Claymore, starting in the middle of volume 9, where we first begin the Pieta arc.  Yes, I know, it’s distinctly weird to start in the middle of a book.  But manga are a bit different from normal books and in this case it makes more sense to start where the story arc begins, instead of at the beginning of the volume which is in the middle of dealing with Riful and Dauf.  Besides, I did mention that I’m starting from volume 9 and this series has 27 volumes in all.  So, that’s a bit over 18 volumes that I am going to read.

I really don’t care for bringing manga to work because I end up bringing so many volumes each day, but given that I binged the anime in less than a week, I’m a bit impatient.  Plus, who knows what my weekend will be like.  I brought five volumes to work today and finished the fifth a few minutes before my lunch ran out.  Then you’ve got the reason why I posted so late today – because manga volumes are fairly short, I couldn’t guarantee earlier that I was done finishing volumes for the day.  The good news is, I should be able to finish the series before I sleep tomorrow night.  The bad news is that I really should’ve waited until Saturday and burned through them all here at home, where it’s much easier because I can sit in the library with the whole stack next to me.

So what did I actually read today?  Most of volume 9 all the way through volume 18 – I’ll start 19 over breakfast tomorrow.  This contains all of Pieta, the skip to seven years later, and the beginning of the Destroyer.  We see Jean’s work brought full circle and the beginning of the confrontation that the anime rushed.  Plus so much more.  One failing of the anime is that, because it was so faithful and ended so early in comparison, we never really got to see any warriors ranked above three.  Oh sure, we met two of the Abyssal Beings, awakened ones who were number one in their own times, and even one or two others who were number two, but we never saw any active warriors with those ranks to begin to compare them to the ones we knew. More on that tomorrow though.

I’ll tell you though, when I began reading the Destroyer arc back in 2011, I thought the series would end in just another volume or two.  Oh, how wrong I was.  Which says something about how amazingly rushed the end of the anime was, doesn’t it?  I should do a big spoiler section with more details, but it’s getting late and I have work in the morning.  Hopefully I’ll remember to do that tomorrow.

Cons and Books

When I go to conventions, I usually come home with more books than I brought.  Most will come from the dealer’s room.  Sometimes they can come from the free table.  Other times, well, there are other options.  There is an Author Guest of Honor, but they are not the only writer to frequent the con, as many use it as a way to promote themselves and sell their work.  They’ll certainly be at the signing table, but they may also choose to get a table in the dealer’s room, or to be on panels.  That’s how I first came across Rachel Neumeier.

I can’t tell you what the panel was, because I’ve seen her on several – she’s usually at the cons I attend and is fairly active when it comes to panels.  She’s a smart, informed woman and always offers interesting thoughts to the discussion.  And, being an author, she’ll always promote a book or two when she’s introduced.  On this particular occasion she had two with her.  One I don’t recall, and the other that she described as a fairy tale.

I love fairy tales.  I asked her about the book after the panel.  She signed it to me and gave it to me.  Cue my total surprise and pleasure as I acquired The City in the Lake.

Then I got a good look at the cover – something that’s not easy to see halfway across a room, regardless of whether it’s the size of a classroom or a third of a ballroom.  This cover is gorgeous.  Stylistically, it reminds me of a woodblock print or an old etching.  The amount of detail is amazing.  And the colors!  Sunsets have such beautiful colors and they really shine here.  I love looking at this cover.

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Now, I was told that this story is a fairy tale.  But I promise you, this is no tale you’ve ever heard before.  After all, “fairy tale” refers to a type of story, a particular feel and flow.  Just because it’s not old enough to be in the Grimm’s collection or famouse enough to be a Disney movie doesn’t negate the identification.  The City in the Lake is indeed a fairy tale.  A new one dreamed up by Neumeier.

It’s more personable than most of the old fairy tales – being a full novel, it would have to be.  The characters have names and personalities along with their traits and roles.  There’s still things that seem random and have merely “fairy tale logic” to carry them, but they make sense within the story and bind the tale together.  And the quaintest, sweetest expression of love I’ve ever heard of.  The villagers in this book speak of “seeing someone’s face in every rain and dewdrop.”  Given the nature of the book, this could be a metaphor or simply be taken at face value.  Either way, I think it’s very touching.

As you can no doubt tell, I whole-heartedly love this book.  I actually got a chance to mention to Neumeier’s brother how pleased I was to have it a month or so after acquiring it.  (This was totally random, but I was at a game day and he was there too; friends of friends in the con scene can do that.)  I really should look into more books by her though.  My only real concern on that front is that The City in the Lake does stand alone and from what I’ve heard her say, it is fairly distinct from the rest of her work.  Still, that doesn’t mean I’ll dislike everything else she’s written and I should pick something else and just read it.  After all, it wouldn’t be the first time I found a new author by reading a standalone and found far more than that to enjoy.

 

Vampires vs. Werewolves

When did the rivalry start?  I promise you, vampires vs. werewolves wasn’t new when Twilight came out, but I honestly don’t know how it came to be that these two creatures became so very competitive.  I am, as you know, partial to vampire books, even though most of them are over the top and really just count as porn.  I would have to really sit and think to give you a good estimate as to how many different books or series I have with vampires.  I don’t have that trouble with werewolves.  I just don’t like them very much.

I’m not even certain what is it about werewolves that I find so much less attractive.  They can surely be interesting when written well by competent authors…but what can’t be under those circumstances?  Maybe it’s just that I’m no dog person.  I never have been.  I usually chalk this up to meeting a Great Dane.  When I was four.  The dog was bigger than I was.  Regardless, I tend not to go out of my way to pick up werewolf books.  If werewolves invade a series I’ve already been reading, well, that’s life.  If I’ve been following the series that usually means it’ll be worth my time, werewolves or not.

Which makes it all the more interesting that the book I finished today is a standalone.  And with a title like The Silvered and a picture of a wolf and a girl on the cover, it’s easy enough to guess what it involves.  This is why, the very first time I read this book, I checked it out from the library.  It may be by Tanya Huff, but there is the unwritten rule that I never like everything by a give author, so I figured on being safer and not spending money just yet.

I think you can guess the end result, given my statement that this is not my first time reading The Silvered.  No, I have my own mass market paperback copy sitting next to me as I type this, so you can assume that the book was worth the money.  Also that I like Tanya Huff.  So let’s dive into actual content, shall we?

The world of The Silvered is, technologically speaking, in the Victorian Era.  Gas lights are beginning to be installed in Aydori, the homeland of protagonist Mirian Maylin.  They are quite common in Karis, the Imperial capital.  Within the Empire, magecraft has been dying out for generations, whilst those of Aydori are still quite powerful.  This is likely in part due to the Mage Pack, who are the mates of the Pack.  The term “werewolf” is never actually used here.  The were refer to their kind as Pack, and the Empire, well, their term is “abomination.”  Charming.  Anyway, Pack are greatly attracted to the scents of powerful mages, and I would guess that you’d either need two Pack members or a Pack and a powerful mage to produce Pack children.  The book never goes into that much detail, but it seems logical if you assume that Pack, being werewolves, are creatures of magic.

So Aydori is ruled by the Pack Leader, his councilors are Pack and tend to be other Alphas who might choose to challenge him for his position.  I don’t know that the Pack Leader has to be male, but most of the Pack mentioned in the book are male, so it might be a gender skew issue.  Back on track, the book starts in the middle of the Empire’s push towards Aydori.  There’s a battle going on, and yet Mirian’s mother is more concerned about her daughter’s ability to attract one of the Pack for a husband.  Given that the Pack rules the land, marrying in is the best way to boost one’s status, and Mirian’s mother is all about social status.  Mirian herself is a mage attending the University, but hasn’t shown much power.  She tested well, but so far all she’s accomplished is first levels in five of the six elements.  The elements of this book aren’t simply earth, air, fire, and water, but also metal and healing.

Anyway, that’s where everything starts.  Then the world turns upside down and it’s the beginning of Mirian’s journey to realize exactly what she’s capable of when she puts her mind to it.

I have to say, now that I’ve read the book a few times, I do appreciate the foreshadowing and subtle clues thrown in about halfway through.  It’s a somewhat offhand bit, but putting two and two together, I see the four now.

I don’t see my preference for vampire books over werewolf books changing, but if i have to read one of the latter, The Silvered is a solid standalone that I’m pleased to have in my library.

Ongoing Comics

Yesterday I got a call while at work saying my comics were in.  Last weekend I’d gone to pick up a copy of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #14, only to find there were none in stock.  Still, my favorite shop was happy to order one for me, and with #15 due out this past Wednesday, it worked out well.  So I stopped by to grab them as they’ll only hold ’em for a week and I had a busy weekend ahead.  I also reread #13 just to remind myself where we stood.  And oh my, does issue 14 pick up and deliver and then that cliffhanger!  Ugh, why isn’t it June yet?

I say that because issue 15 is another that takes a step back and reflects through the eyes of a different character, without actually telling us what will happen next.  And it’s rather interesting because, for the first time, we get a look through Zordon’s eyes.  Which is somewhat interesting.  We don’t really learn much about him, but through him we get a look at the past of this alternate world.  It fills in the gaps, but I don’t know that it really introduces anything new that we couldn’t have guessed at.

The Squatt and Baboo comics are…well…I prefer Bulk and Skull.  I guess I relate to a pair of humans more than a pair of monsters?  They’re still amuse, just not as much as Bulk and Skull.

Whoops, I meant to post this earlier since I finished these things on Saturday, but enough of the day was left that I might’ve read something else…

Cover Art

A single solitary sunbeam that Caravaggio would be proud of falls through an offscreen window, partially illuminating a young woman in the remains of a nice red dress.  The line of her leg draws you down to a cruel shackle clasped around her ankle, the chain running off into the darkness.  Most of the image is in shades of darkness, allowing you to only focus on the woman.  At the top, gold lettering proclaims that Robin McKinley is responsible for the work within.  Below, hovering just above the woman, the word Sunshine is scrawled in metallic red.

I think we all know that this is a vampire book, even if I don’t want to photograph the poor, abused, library book.

There’s a “type” of covers that signify vampire books.  They are often very dark, or dark with a small amount of light.  The settings tend to be baroque or gothic, and characters tend to be well-dressed if they appear.  Red is a dominant color, or a common choice for the title text.  If a vampire appears in the image, it’s not in a way that shows their fangs or inhumanity.  The book’s appearance is just on the tasteful side…where romances tend to be just a bit beyond.

I knew nothing about Sunshine when I picked it up off the library shelf three weeks ago.  Really, I saw the name Robin McKinley, and that was enough.  I paused long enough to take in the cover, recognize that this was almost certainly a vampire book, and continued on my way to check out.  I am still glad that my first McKinley novel was Beauty, because it made a favorable imprssion on me in every way from the title to the rose motif, to the first line of the synopsis. If it had been Sunshine, I’m not sure I would have become so inclined to pick up anything and everything with McKinley’s name on it.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a great book and I need my own copy.  I just went online to slap it on my amazon wishlist against a future purchase and I saw a couple different cover variants.  Neither of which is anywhere as evocative as the library’s copy.  That’s one for the library and oversized paperbacks.  We all know that I prefer mass market paperbacks, but in this case the cover is just…ugh, it’s great.

Like the other McKinley books I’ve read, Sunshine is told in the first person.  However, it’s some time before we actually learn the protagonist’s name.  We learn first about the world as she’s defined it through Charlie’s Coffeehouse where she works.  Charlie is her stepfather, and he and her mom have two boys together who are a teenager and a bit younger than that.  The protagonist is their big sister and twenty-five.  Her parents split up when she was six.  Oh and there’s magic and stuff in this world.

All of the McKinley books I’ve read have been set in some other version of the world that has magic and fantastical creatures.  However, Dragonhaven and Sunshine are such that you can be fooled into thinking it’s the real world if you’re not paying attention.  Especially Sunshine.  Yes, a lot of terminiology and especially locations have different names.  “Combox” instead of “computer” is an easy one, but for the most part, you can easily imagine your local hipster coffee shop in Charlie’s stead.

But there is magic and stuff here.  Our protagonist (Rae Seddon)’s mom tends to buy wards for her when she’s concerned, though Rae tends to stick them in her glove compartment and forget about them.  There are three main kinds of Others that people are concerned with and might want to ward themselves against.  Vampires are the biggest, and it’s rumored that they control a fifth of the world’s total wealth.  They were once human but are no longer and you cannot ever think of them as being human.  Weres are were-any animal, but there are drugs that can prevent the change and many of them hide in ordinary human society.  They can also have kids the normal way, same as demons.  Demons are the last category of Other and they’re really a catch-all.  If it’s not a vampire and it’s not a Were, it’s a demon.  Oh and apparently about ten years ago was something called the Voodoo Wars wherein humans fought Others and won…breathing space.

Anyway, the story really starts when Rae goes off by herself and is kidnapped by vampires.  Which is where the story would end if this was the normal course of things for this world.  But then there wouldn’t be a book.  And things get much more convoluted and intense the longer it goes on.  There are four sections to the book, and I’m only briefly touching on the first.

It’s a hero’s journey all right, but more in the sense of personal advancement and understanding than anything else.  Rae needs to understand and come to terms with who and what she is, which is more than she’d let herself believe for so many years.  But also to get up at 4am to make cinnamon rolls.  Because that’s her job.  Well, she runs the bakery in the coffeehouse.  So she makes more than just cinnamon rolls the size of your head.  But man do they sound good!

THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Okay so, Rae’s birth name is not Rae Seddon, especially since Seddon is Charlie’s last name, and he’s just her stepdad.  No, her real name is Raven Blaise, and you better believe that the Blaise family is full of sorcerors of some kind.  Her father is (was? never confirmed dead or alive) Onyx Blaise who was seemingly the best of the best or something like that.  We never get a huge amount of detail on that, just that the families of this sort tend to be rather inbred by this point, but Rae’s mom is an outsider with no magic whatsoever, hence there was a lot of fallout from both families about that marriage.

Rae herself is a mage, and was taught how to use her power to transmute (a “stuff-changer”) by her grandmother.  It was just a brief lessoning when she was ten.  The most interesting part of Rae’s magic is her element: sunlight.  She literally draws strength from sunlight.  This also gives her an affinity for her element’s opposite.  So while a water mage can cross a desert more easily, an air mage hold their breath longest…a sunlight mage could very well have an affinity for vampires.

This is fascinating to me, and a great concept.  Not to mention the story itself.  But I think asking a vampire what orange juice tastes like to them and getting the answer “It tastes like orange juice” is one of the funniest lines in the entire book.

There’s That Dated Sexism

I think I’ll reorganize my James H. Schmitz books slightly and stick Legacy in front of the Telzey Amberdon books.  It definitely takes place before those.  Agent of Vega and The Demon Breed will probably stay tacked onto the end, as they doesn’t actually share intersection points with the rest.  Legacy is the story of Trigger Argee, who makes an appearance in one of the Telzey tales found in The Telzey Toy.  I find it interesting that Trigger gets a full novel while Telzey has a series of shorter stories.

Trigger is a great name for the character, for while she is likely to think things through, when she does move, it’s as fast as she can pull the trigger.  There’s also a lot more focus on Trigger as female than I’ve really seen with any of Schmitz’s heroines before.  And let me tell you, it’s been rather enjoyable to read these works from the sixties and seventies featuring strong female protagonists.  In many of the stories, gender is almost an afterthought, for all it impacts things.  In Legacy…not so much.

There have been some hints of the sexism that was more common in those days in previous stories, but it becomes much more blatant in this book.  There’s a lot of discussion of fashion and some disappointingly common tropes and reactions concerning gender.  It’s not nearly as bad as some other books, but Legacy is by far the worst of Schmitz’s books for sexism.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a good book and fairly enjoyable, but Trigger is much girlier than the rest and the sexism makes it a harder read for me.  I’ve had a good time discovering James Schmitz, but I’m going to hold off on reading the last book for now.  That is, of course, The Witches of Karres, the book that got me to grab the lot.  I figure I’ll read it once I get my hands on the sequel, though I’m in no rush.  I figure I can probably find The Wizard of Karres at the library or a used bookstore when I’m ready.  Speaking of libraries, I do have the second book to read, so that’s likely where I’ll go tomorrow.

Your Myth, Our Laughter

If I wasn’t sure before, I am now.  The Telzey books, Agent of VegaThe Demon Breed and probably at least one more book I have not yet read are all part of the same universe.  This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, just something that I like to know for a fact, instead of a feeling or suspicion.  Actually, it’s probably far more a good thing than a bad, because this is a great way for the author to explore different aspects of the same universe while not having to reinvent the wheel every time.  A lot of my favorite series use this approach, and it is a classic.

The Demon Breed was today’s book and I think this is the first James Schmitz book I’ve read that was written as a complete novel and not as shorter stories that were later combined into a single book.  Even the publication dates only say that it was originally published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact magazine, not that it was serialized as with previous books.

We have yet another alien species encroaching on human space here, and yet they almost seem afraid.  At least, of specific humans known as Tuvelas.  They appear to be secretive superheroes in some ways, and are obviously the only true threat humans pose to this alien race.

The aliens also have a human captive, Dr. Ticos Cay who is desperately hoping for a rescue from his friend Nile Etland.  He’s hinted to the aliens that Etland is one of the mythical Tuvelas and will wreck their shit for them when she arrives…but he hasn’t had a chance to get a message to her and tell her that.  What are her chances of survival when the aliens have decided to test the validity of Cay’s claim?  Well…that’s the rest of the book you see.

The few spots of darkness in The Demon Breed are all easily explained away.  Typos…well…those happen, though not usually more than once, but there’s very little that can be done about a book nearly fifty years old.  There were a couple little twinges due to concepts that have fallen out of favor since the sixties, but that’s very rare in these books.  Schmitz has done a great job of writing about a future that isn’t dated, and I appreciate it.

Overall, this was a great adventure story.  Most of Schmitz’s books have been science fiction thrillers, with lots of spies and intrigue.  This one was an adventure in trickery and rather enjoyable.