Sunday, February 27, 2011


Title: Volkhavaar
Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: sorcery, love, the power of belief, souls, astral projection, slavery, religion, pride
Rating: ***

Plot: The author of the unforgettable Birthgrave, of the panoramic outworld of The Storm Lord, and of the future folk of Don't Bite the Sun, now presents us with something different-and yet equally enthralling in its color and fantasy and high adventure.

For Volkhavaar is a novel of witchcraft and wonders on a world far removed from those we know. Here the gods contend for power-and the Dark forces against the Light-and here an entire city and its land is plunged into the shadow of an evil beyond anything conceivable.

It is the story of Shaina the slave girl and of Volk the outcast who enslaved himself to cosmic forces to gain total power-and of how they were finally to meet and clash-with an entire world as their prize.

Volkhavaar is high fantasy comparable only to the best of Andre Norton and Michael Moorcock.

My Thoughts: Reading has been difficult for me this month, with school starting up and all. It seems I rely very heavily on fantasy and Tanith Lee novels when I'm stressed about school! This particular novel I actually ordered through Link+ at my university library, since I was having a hard time finding an affordable used copy. It contains all of the elements I so love about Tanith Lee novels, but with unique characters and plot so that I'm still interested it as an individual piece of work.

Volkhavaar is told in a very mythic tone, giving its story an air of folklore or ancient myth as told by a wizened grandparent. Archetypes are also heavily relied on in this novel, as is apparent from the plot description given on the back of the book. The story truly is a dichotomy between Light and Dark, Shaina/Love and Kernik Volk Volkhavaar/Hate. While this can sometimes feel quite flat, overall Volkhavaar maintains its integrity as a story, and seems to still have something to "say" despite the cliched basic premise.

The power of belief is essential to this tale, and the reader is left wondering throughout if something really occurs (magic or the gods' power for example) or if it is only believed to occur. This issue is even explicitly addressed in one instance, when a sword is reduced to its basic elements in order to erase its belief in a killing-which is undone as soon as the sword stops believing it occurred.

Like in most Lee stories, I found that the villain received the most attention, and that they were the true "movers and shakers" of the story. In this case, Kernik's life story and ambitions take up well over half of the pages and is much more of a "presence" then Shaina, who seems to be merely another beautiful, proud, vision of a hero. The conclusion only reinforces these impressions.

With that in mind, I did feel the conclusion was a bit anticlimactic. While the emphasis on belief creating reality throughout the novel did prepare you for the ending, it did seem as though it would have benefited from a more difficult or flashy resolution...since the clash between Shaina and Kernik was being slowly intensified starting page one I thought that there would be more struggle/fireworks in the concluding chapter. But apparently not.

Recommendation: Any lover of fantasy novels or stories about Love and Light struggling against Dark and Hate should enjoy this short novel (192 pages). The writing is atmospheric and artistic, and the themes tackled throughout the book are timeless.

Random Excerpt: "Takerna was the King, and Kernik was his prophet.

In the village street, passing him, they bowed to Kernik, as they had nodded to the priest. He was dreaded and blessed. They brought him presents, food, new garments. He led them up the mountain. It lasted all of a year." (p. 58)

Similar Reads: The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner

Lee, Tanith. Volkhavaar. New York: DAW, 1977.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Waiting on Wednesdays: Deathless

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Release Date: March 29, 2011

What Amazon has to say: Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Love Stories

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, each week there is a specific theme for the list. This week is our favorite love stories found in books, here is my list (in no particular order):

1. Creidhe and Keeper in Foxmask by Juliet Marillier. I am a sucker for Marillier romances, it doesn't matter that they are all somewhat similar-I love them every time. I think I might like Paula and Stoyan from Cybele's Secret even that I am thinking about it.

2. Jane and Silver in The Silver Metal Lover, which I kind of discussed briefly here. According to it is a tale of transforming love, a tearjerker, about a robot who seems to fall in love with a human girl who loves him passionately-but is it really just his programming? Naturally, it ends tragically.

3. Lucy Snowe and M. Paul Emanuel from Charlotte Bronte's Villette. Although I hesitate to add onto this list what I think of as a semi-unhealthy relationship with vastly unequal status being accorded to the female half, it is certainly a passionate and "natural" romance that builds slowly, and unexpectedly under Lucy's feet throughout the whole novel.

4. Fiona and Reed in The Safe-Keeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn. I think I really like the dynamic of "growing up together," even though it does come a smidgen close to incest in most contexts. I liked the romance and the twist in this novel however, and only felt slightly awkward when brother and sister became something more romantically involved. That's a good storyteller I suppose.

5. Mirasol and The Master from Chalice by Robin McKinley. This is a Young Adult book, I found it to be overly simple, and most pages were expanding on world building and inner dialogue-not any sort of plot development. However, the imagery surrounding the two love birds was wonderful. The Master is, not only the Master of the feudal territory, but also death and flame incarnate-he sears people to the bone with the softest touch. Mirasol is a barefooted (hippie-type) bee keeper who is suddenly called upon to act out a ritualized part as Chalice. I was tempted to include Beauty and the Beast from Beauty, also by Robin McKinley, but felt that this version of the Beauty and the Beast tale was more stylized and fun.

6. Unnamed protagonist and Hatta in Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee.
I admit it's been several years since I've read this particular novel. However, I do recall Hatta being quite a sweet and romantic being, far more into emotional connection than sexual attraction (as evidenced by his tendency to adopt monstrous bodies). The protagonist continually rejects him as anything but a friend, but when she is exiled he follows her in a new body which she does not recognize, and finally wins her over. He probably deserved better, but he was such a sweet character.

7. Jena and Gogu in Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
I only meant for one Marillier book to be included here, as the romances do tend to blend together in her novels, but really...I'm weak willed and want to include a second one. This romance is derived from "The Princess and the Frog" and occurs within a whirlwind of activity, including fairies, vampires, forbidden love, crumbling households, and hostile takeovers of the family home by a relative.

8. Charlotte and Randall in A Curse As Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
This retelling of Rumpelstiltskin has a host of problems as far as plot development and historical accuracy (well, at least I had issues with) but the romance between Charlotte and Randall was quite sweet. Charlotte is a rather cliched strong willed woman trying to make it in a man's world and take care of her community, and Randall is a city banker who goes above and beyond to help her and win her heart.

9. Lizzy and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I really have nothing to add.

10. Shahrazad and the King in The Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey
While the basic premise of this romance is rather sickening (it is a retelling of a Thousand and One Nights/Arabian Nights, which is based around a murderous king and a selfless women who tries to stay his killing of girls by stringing him along with wonderful stories) it comes off as rather sweet and enlightening in this young adult novel.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Waiting on Wednesdays: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages: A Comedy of Transdimensional Tomfoolery
Release Date: February 21, 2011

What Amazon has to say: Holt's latest comic fantasy gently twists the reader's mind like a wet dishrag. Polly Mayer thinks she's going crazy: her coffee keeps disappearing, someone else is doing her work, and a dry cleaner vanishes without a trace. Her brother, Don, assumes a rational explanation until he finds an object capable of working magic. Polly's boss, Mr. Huos, knows quite a bit about some ongoing transdimensional skullduggery, but he has no idea who he is or where he came from. Holt (Blonde Bombshell) throws in a highly intelligent pig, a brass ring that isn't, and a "chicken or the egg" riddle with universal ramifications, leaving readers clinging by their fingernails to this rapid-fire tale of a space-time continuum going manic.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Title: Misfortune
Author: Wesley Stace
Themes: cross-dressing, family, inheritance, Classical Mythology, Victoriana, friendship, love, identity, growing up, self-acceptance
Rating: ***

Plot: Misfortune begins with irresistible details of a bygone era as it unfolds the tale of Rose, an infant boy adopted and raised as a girl, who must abandon the luxury and safety of his beloved home and travel halfway around the world to discover who he really is-and to unlock the secret of his rightful place.

My Thoughts: Once again, I take offense at the very very misleading plot description...but I will try to leave that aside this time.

I found this book to be utterly delightful, at least the first half of it. It was a joy to read; I felt enveloped by the atmosphere of Love Hall, and as confused as Rose her/himself about her/his sexual identity and place in the world. The story of her stunning birth, delivery into the hands of Lord Loveall, and his rearrangement of the world itself around Rose was a touching and joyful story. Even with the darker undertones of his refusal to acknowledge that his adopted child was in fact male, Rose tells the reader about her childhood in a sort of painful and joyous detail. The unraveling of the secret of her gender is excruciating for both Rose and the reader, who can do nothing but sympathize with her confusion. As she is the heir to a vast fortune, her greedy relatives descend upon her, and contest her rights to inherit.

Unfortunately, from there it seemed to become rather muddled and preachy...not to mention any sort of historical realism (or at least suspension of disbelief) disappeared for me at around the three hundred page mark. I also found that a lot of the "sex" scenes were rather unnecessary...and modern and gaudy and just inserted for shock value (oh no! Victorian-ish characters are doing naughty things-like giving their uncles hand jobs and flashing themselves around to turn down marriage proposals!).

What would seem to be the biggest adventure of the book, Rose's running away and traveling the world and debasing herself, are left out except for brief references later in the novel to the fact that she never enjoyed sex herself. This in itself was disappointing, her childhood is given to us in detail, then a huge blank spot where she runs away, sees the world, and comes to the brink of suicide...this seems as though it should be included to me at least.

After this "blank" period Rose founds herself in Turkey, near a pool which is identified with hermaphrodites...and from there is rescued by a childhood friend and returned safely to London. In London she searches for her true family, as her family's "man" continues searching for legal loopholes in order to regain Love Hall.

I don't want to spoil too much, because this really is a book that must be read to be fully understood and appreciated, but I think most people would find the conclusion of Rose's story to be rather TOO easy and TOO coincidental. I suppose in this respect it is very much like a Victorian English novel, where everything falls into place-no matter how nonsensical-and the story concludes with a happy ending for some-and a punishment for the bad characters. Of course...I find I must vent about just one aspect, which is a rather critical point in the book, so don't read the next little paragraph if you don't want spoilers!

****** it turns out, Rose had been picked up by a lord from a garbage heap. BUT she was actually a long lost descendant of the TRUE heir to Love Hall. In fact, no other Loveall family member is a true descendant of the legal heir. A stretch, isn't it? Oh, and also that long lost true Love Hall heir is also the mysterious poet Rose's adoptive mother has dedicated her life to...doesn't it all fall into place now?

Naturally, Rose (in skirts and a mustache-as she is to dress ever more) and a whole troupe of rag tag followers appears at Love Hall and put on a performance. I found this to be way over the top and...cheesey...almost had a 1980s/90s teen movie revenge vibe to it.

Am I being too harsh?
Needless to say, in the end Rose finds a happy way to negotiate her sexual identity, her family and friends accept her in skirts with a mustache and wife, and she has a final revenge on her greedy family.

Recommendation: I have mixed feelings about Misfortune. It was fun to read (the first half of the book), it was an adventure, it was unusual. The writing was pretty good, and imagery was wonderful. But...I felt it just spiraled into tackiness and I lost my ability to believe ANY of it. Nevertheless it was fun to discuss, so you may wish to read it just for that!

Random Excerpt: "As she held me in her arms, her mind was suddenly brimming with thoughts of Day and "The Houses of Dead," which told how God, having no sex, provided the mind with no sex at birth. And what was I but her tabula rasa?

That was why, as she drew me closer to her bosom, she smiled (p. 99)."

Similar Reads: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Lieutenant Nun by Catalina de Erauso

Stace, Wesley. Misfortune, a Novel. New York: Back Bay Books, 2005.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Waiting on Wednesdays: Cloaked

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Cloaked by Alex Flinn
Released Date: February 8th, 2011

What Amazon has to say: I’m not your average hero. I actually wasn’t your average anything. Just a poor guy working an after-school job at a South Beach shoe repair shop to help his mom make ends meet. But a little magic changed it all.

It all started with a curse. And a frognapping. And one hot-looking princess, who asked me to lead a rescue mission.

There wasn’t a fairy godmother or any of that. And even though I fell in love along the way, what happened to me is unlike any fairy tale I’ve ever heard. Before I knew it, I was spying with a flock of enchanted swans, talking (yes, talking!) to a fox named Todd, and nearly trampled by giants in the Everglades.

Don’t believe me? I didn’t believe it either. But you’ll see. Because I knew it all was true, the second I got CLOAKED.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Best Debut Books

The Broke and the Bookish has a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday, in which participants list their top ten answers to the weekly theme. This week the theme is the Top Ten Best Debut Books, and here is my list.

1. The Thirteenth Tale (2007) by Diane Setterfield-I must agree with Jamie form The Broke and the Bookish on this one! This was an excellent gothic tale that I can't recommend highly enough. It completely blew me out of the water. I must have whatever books that she writes next.

2. Beauty (1978) by Robin McKinley-I read this as a child, after checking it out of the library, and have reread it several times since. McKinley's first book was something magical, and I think it had a quality that can't be surpassed by her more recent books (although I love them all)-but I don't know what that quality was. Perhaps just the earnest and simple tone of the tale? Obviously it is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. And I love it.

3. Of Bees and Mist (2010) by Erick Setiawan-This story creeps under your skin, squirming around long after you've read it. Setiawan is a master world builder, and this was a fun debut novel (which I reviewed here).

4. The Manual of Detection (2010) by Jedediah Berry-Another recent debut novel that I read and loved, especially for the fantastic world-building. (Review here).

5. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte-Jane Eyre was Bronte's first published book, and enough has probably been said on this debut novel. I love the combination of romance, morality tale, and gothic/supernatural suspense that are all jumbled together in this story.

6. Catch-22 (1961) by Joseph Heller-This satire of the "murderous insanity of war" was devoured in a day. During four minute passing periods and a 25 minute lunch (and perhaps during class) when I was a freshman in high school. I think this book is still a rite of passage. Only, so few of us pass anymore.

7. The Stranger/Outsider (1946) by Albert Camus- It's fairly existential. It's simple. It's about a man hung for not crying at his mother's funeral, there is also the incidental murder of an Algerian. Fantastic debut.

8. A Study in Scarlet (1887) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle-Um, surprisingly ingenious and fun to read. Usually nineteenth century writers are a bit tedious for me, but I was pleasantly surprised with this one. Also, has anyone seen the newish BBC Sherlock? Only three episodes. Three brilliant episodes.

9. The Joy Luck Club (1989) by Amy Tan-I read this in Freshman English in high school, and found that I rather liked all the different background stories and the rather tragic web of relationships that made up this book. I have read others from Tan since, and found this and The Hundred Secret Senses to be fantastic.

10. Everything is Illuminated (2002) by Jonathan Safran Foer-I may have picked this up because I kept catching the end credits for the film, and loved the song "Start Wearing Purple" by Gogol Bordello. Also, how awesome is the cover design for this book? Of course, it was so much better than I had hoped. This led me to read his second novel, which is also excellent.

Metallic Love

Title: Metallic Love
Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: the nature of humanity, love, apocalypse, robots, science, slaves, the existence of souls, doubt, power, control, death
Rating: ***

Plot: As an orphan growing up in the slums, Loren read her clandestine copy of Jane's Story over and over, relishing every word. But Loren is no Jane. Savvy and street-smart, Loren could never be stirred by a man of metal, her passion never ignited by an almost-human-even one designed for pleasure.

Still, when the META corporation does the unthinkable and brings back updated versions of robots past-Loren knows she must see Silver. And just like Jane, it is love at first sight. But Silver is now Verlis. If he was perfection before, he is now like a god. Yet he is more human than his creators think-or fear. While Loren doesn't quite trust him, she will follow her twice-born lover into a battle to control his own destiny-own that will reveal to her the most astonishing illusion of all.

My Thoughts: Metallic Love is interesting because it is both an inversion, and a reaffirmation, of The Silver Metal Lover. For any who have not read The Silver Metal Lover it was first published in 1981-significantly before this "sequel." It stared a rich and naive Jane who fell in love with a very lifelike robot named S.I.L.V.E.R. and ran away from home to live with him. It's a poignant story of love, and an affirmation of the existence of the soul-even its potential capability to inhabit a robotic form. I have read from several sources that Metallic Love is of another spectrum of emotions, and likely any reader will like one book but not both.

Metallic Love picks up on Jane's world twelve years after S.I.L.V.E.R. and the other models have been disabled, with a very poor and "regular" girl who runs away from a strict religious community after reading The Silver Metal Lover/Jane's Story repeatedly. (I suppose I should note here that both books are written as autobiographies by the main characters, Jane and Loren.) When she finds the robots are being reissued she is compelled to see Silver in person, and so abruptly quits her job and leaves the city. When she does at last see Silver, and the others, she is recruited to help test his "capabilities." As the story progresses the reader witnesses the strange fondness and possessiveness Silver (reincarnated as Verlis, perhaps without a soul-or a different one) has for Loren (the anti-thesis of Jane). Several aspects of their relationship would be frightening if both were human; and they are even more frightening as Verlis is a robot. This combination of hate/love brings Loren deep within Verlis's struggle with his own position in society. He is superior yet a slave. He also plans to rectify that situation.

As Loren slowly unravels this plan, she comes to realize something quite important about herself (this is a very common trend in Tanith Lee's books, really the adventures all lead up to some self-discovery) which completely alters her perception of reality as well as how she perceives Verlis.

In The Silver Metal Lover sweet Jane falls in love with sweet Silver, and the book closes with an emphasis on how real that love was, and how special and human Silver was. Metallic Love has an ambiguous female lead, and a sometimes downright cruel Verlis, they struggle not only with the past (Jane's Story-is he Silver or Verlis?) but also with questions of power and societal position. The book closes not with humanity, but with its anti-thesis. In this way, Metallic Love is an inversion of The Silver Metal Lover. However. In the final chapter, readers will also find a small reaffirmation of humanity and the existence of the soul. I really feel like even that gives too much away.

Recommendation: Oh it's a quick read, just go for it. Especially read it if you have read The Silver Metal Lover, but it's really not necessary to have that background to understand and appreciate Metallic Love.

Random Excerpt: "Her conversation with him, and mine, was a double helix, and he was the axis.

I thought about that through the afternoon. The "comfortable" room was makeshift, the bed a mattress on the floor which, though clean, had already been slept in, and the bathroom gave only cold water. The kitchen-hatch downstairs had tea-making facilities. I drank mug after mug of Prittea." (page. 158)

Similar Reads: The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee, (several books I have not read but seem to have similar themes include:) He, She and It by Marge Piercy, Robot Visions by Isaac Asimov, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Lee, Tanith. Metallic Love. New York: Bantam Books, 2005.