For a clearer view of my tastes in fantasy, I've also added the other (mostly) fantasy books I have read, along with my ratings. As you can see, I used to be into vampires before... erm.
Joseph Sheridan LeFanu
A Wizard of Earthsea
After his mother's death, young Ged gets to live with his father, a smith, and his aunt the village witch, who teaches him some minor spells, such as commanding to animals, until one day he uses this magic to save the village from barbaric invaders.
Impressed by the boy's potential powers, the mage Ogion takes him as apprentice. But as the days go by, Ged becomes bored and when the choice is offered him, he decides to go to the wizards school of Roke. There he meets with two other scholars: Vetch who'll soon become his friend, and the arrogant Jasper who always looks down on him, and who'll become his rival.
And after several months spent in the school, with hatred steadily growing between them, Ged one day challenges Jasper in a magic duel. And as Ged, in a surge of immoderate pride, is trying to wake the dead, he accidentally unleashes an evil shadow, also almost managing to get himself killed in the process. The story goes on to describe Ged perpetual flight from his shadow.
Ursula LeGuin's style is elaborate and poetic, but maybe a little bit too much, too old-fashioned, for my liking. As a result, the novel somehow failed to fascinate me, and in the end I realized I didn't care much about what happened to the characters. I'll read the rest of the quartet anyway, in hope it gets more gripping.
The Tombs of Atuan
The story takes place on the desert island of Atuan. There, in a terrifying ritual, a five-year-old little girl becomes Arha, the Eaten One. As the years go by in the Place of the Tombs, among an odd community of young scholar girls, old women and eunuchs, she learns the sacred dances and songs devoted to the Nameless Ones.
At the age of fourteen, she finally becomes the One Priestess, the guardian of the Great Treasure, and the only one to know the ways of the Labyrinth, a place of utter darkness where men are not allowed and cruelly put to death if found there.
The story was beginning to bore me, I was watching Arha becoming more arrogant, and old Kossil meaner, by the day and I was reluctantly facing the fact that I didn't care much for her... until the middle of the book, until Arha one day comes across a dim light in the pitch black of the Labyrinth. And as it brings a complete upheaval in Arha's well-ordered and dull life, with it the story also becomes enthralling and finally I almost couldn't put the book down. I hope The Farthest Shore won't disappoint me...
The Farthest Shore
The Farthest Shore, set some fifteen or twenty years after the events of The Tombs of Atuan, tells the story of Ged, now an Archmage, and Arren, a young prince, and their voyage around the world of Earthsea in search of the Unmaker, who is responsible for the disappearence of magic and of the balance of the world.
Compared to The Tombs of Atuan, I found this third part rather disapointing and lacking in action. Ged and Arren are just travelling from one island to the next, and nothing really happens. The evolution of their friendship is interesting, though, and that's what kept me reading. But as a whole, I found the series rather boring, although well written if you like old-fashioned style, and will only read Tehanu for the sake of it.
In this book, Ursula K. LeGuin goes back to Tenar, now a middle-aged farm woman, to tell us the story of her life after the events of The Tombs of Atuan. Only recently a widow, she decides to take the child Therru under her wing, a little girl who has been cruelly raped and terrifyingly burnt and maimed by her parents who, fearing her, wanted to get rid of her.
The story goes on to describe their life on the farm on the island of Gont, Therru growing up, and their perpetual flight from the child's family who want to "finish the job".
Tehanu was written some fifteen years after the original Earthsea trilogy, and the evolution in Ursula K. LeGuin's style, as well as the maturation of the whole Earthsea world are quite noticeable.
This is a stunning conclusion to the series, that got me hooked right from the beginning. And what a pleasure to meet again with all the main characters of Earthsea!
Dragonfly short story
Written some eight years after the last book of Earthsea, Tehanu, this is a highly enjoyable short story about the place of women in a world ruled my men.
Series: The Chronicles of Narnia
The Magician's Nephew
This volume tells a story which takes place in London in the second half of the nineteenth century. It starts with a boy and a girl, Digory and Polly, who stumble into Digory's Uncle Andrew's attic while they were exploring the "secret passage" in the space between the walls and the roofs, in their row of houses.
Uncle Andrew is a magician of sorts, and when he tells Polly to touch one of the yellow rings he made, she suddenly vanishes. In his turn, but taking care to put two pairs of both yellow and green rings into his jacket's pockets, Digory touches the yellow ring and follows Polly. They both emerge in a mysteriously quiet forest, scattered with little ponds inamongst the trees. It won't take them long to understand the mechanism of this Wood Between the Worlds.
Indeed, using the correct ring and jumping into one of the ponds, they are transported to Charn, where Digory incidentally awakes the stunningly beautiful witch Jadis, a 7-foot-tall queen whose unquenchable thirst for power made her murder her own people. Now, like a cat who, having toyed too long with the mouse it caught, has finally killed it and discards it, she hankers for new worlds to conquer. She forces Digory and Polly to take her to London to meet Uncle Andrew, who she believes is a powerful magician who will help her in her conquest.
Of course when she realizes he's not, she wreaks havoc in the city, and finally has an accident when the hansom she's riding hits a lamppost. In the confusion of the ensuing fight, and before she unleashes her terrible wrath, Digory manages to snatch her heel. With Polly holding on to him, he puts the yellow ring on to bring Jadis back to Charn. But as it turns out, several others were connected, including a cabby and his horse and Uncle Andrew, and they all end up in the Wood Between the Worlds. Jumping into another pond, which turns out to be the wrong one, everyone is transported to an utterly dark place instead, where they soon hear the first notes of a beautiful song and watch the sky become lighter little by little.
This enchanting voice belongs in fact to the lion Aslan, and what our heroes are witnessing is the creation of the world of Narnia from the lion's song, the birth of the animals and the growing of the plants.
I enjoyed this books with ups and downs. Whereas I really loved the atmosphere of the Wood Between the Worlds and the dazzling chapter of the creation of Narnia, I wasn't much captivated by the events around the evil queen Jadis or Uncle Andrew. I think we can conclude with certainty, but this was to be expected, that I prefer the fantasy or fairy-tale parts to those that connect to the real world. I'm trying very hard to avoid spotting anything allegorical, which tends to break the charm for me. I'm also usually rather annoyed when the author addresses the reader, but it only happened from time to time, so that didn't bother me too much. But I must say was surprised to discover that even though the story continues in the following books, that of Digory and Polly was over in this one. I wonder what lies in store...
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
This book takes place during World War II, many years after the events of The Magician's Nephew, and tells the story of four young siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. They are exploring the big house of an old Professor (which I'm guessig is Digory from the first book) where they've been sent during the air-raids, when Lucy enters the old wardrobe in en empty room upstairs to hide in it.
Only this wardrobe is actually a direct passage to the world of Narnia, and Lucy finds herself in a forest on a snowy night, the only light that of a lamppost. There she meets a Faun named Tumnus, who is indeed very amazed to meet a legendary Human, an invites her to tea. In the cozy warmth of his home, he tells her of the evil White Witch, who is turning everyone who opposes her to stone, and whose spell on Narnia makes it always winter and never Christmas.
When Lucy finally gets out of the wood and then out of the wardrobe again, no time has actually passed, and of course, when she tells her story to her brothers and sister, none of them believes her. Edmund in particular likes to make fun of her.
On another, rainy day, when they're all playing hide-and-seek in the huge mansion, Edmund decides to hide in the wardrobe and he too finds himself in Narnia. But instead of the Faun, he meets the White Witch, who lures him with Turkish Delight (his favourite sweets) and by making him believe that he can become King if he brings her his brother and sisters.
The book then tells the adventures of the four kids in Narnia, meeting a friendly couple of talking badgers and all kinds of other fantastic animals and creatures, among then the powerful Lion King Aslan, and helping them save the world from the evil usurper Queen.
Reading the series in the chronological order rather than in the publication order, I found that The Magician's Nephew was actually a kind of spoiler for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I think that I would have been more enchanted, amazed and curious about the world of Narnia if I hadn't read all about its creation in the first book. I would have wondered about the lamppost, for example (and it would have been nice to read about the Lion's song later). Knowing about it in advance, I'm sure I found it a tad duller, because I wasn't discovering it at the same time as the kids. This is a nice story, and I know it's a Classic, but I must say it's not as captivating as I thought it would be.
I advise you read it in the publication order: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; The Horse and His Boy; The Magicians Nephew; The Last Battle.
The Horse and His Boy
In this book we meet Shasta, a young boy who's been raised by Arsheesh, a poor fisherman far south in Calormen. One day comes a stranger on a strong warhorse, although it soon appears that this is a tyrannic Tarkaan who wants to buy Shasta and make him a slave. But his horse is actually Bree (does that name ring a bell?), a talking horse from Narnia, who come night, decides to gallop home to freedom, taking Shasta along.
While on the run across the desert, they meet a girl named Aravis and her talking mare Hwin, who's also fleeing, but from her future marriage with Ahoshta Tarkaan the vizier.
Their first stop will be the city of Tashbaan, where Shasta is mistaken for Corin, King Lune of Archenand's son. There he'll also make the acquaintance, among others, of Queen Susan, whom we met in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and learn that she's also about to marry Rabadash, the mighty Tisroc of Calormen's son, but doesn't want to.
Later, Shasta will become a hero by warning King Lune of an imminent attack by both disappointed bridegrooms.
My opinion on this book is so-so. Again, I think Avaris and Shasta's tumultuous adventure is something that can really appeal to a younger audience but, this makes me feel sorry, I personally just failed to get into it. Mark you, I still think I'm going to read the Chronicles of Narnia to my kids when I have some... I'm sure they'll enjoy them.
In this volume we meet again with the four heroes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. A year after coming back to England, they're waiting on the station platform for the trains that will take them back to boarding school after the summer holidays, when suddenly, they're transported into another world.
It is soon apparent that they've landed on an island. Driven by hunger, and not knowing when they might go back to their world, they start exploring the place. All they can find is apples from trees that have overgrown an ancient castle ruin. But as they explore these old stones, they realize they're none other than those of Cair Paravel, the palace where they used to dwell when they were Kings and Queens of Narnia. Why is it in such a poorly state?
Later, they will save a Dwarf who will tell them how and why they were summoned back to Narnia, and help the young prince Caspian escape from his tyrannic uncle Miraz, the usurper of the throne.
This booked started out well. I was excited at the prospect of exploring the old ruins of Cair Paravel, looking for treasures hidden under centuries of vines and ivy. But then the story's tone changed, and it became very similar to the previous volumes. I'm not against consistency, but I was beginning to build magical images of haunted castles and suddenly they all collapsed and faded, and I felt a little frustrated.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This book takes Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, along with their annoying bully of a cousin Eustace, once again to the land of Narnia, more precisely on the Great Eastern Ocean, on Prince Caspian's ship, the Dawn Treader.
Caspian and Reepicheep the valiant talking mouse, are indeed on a quest to the Lone Islands, where they hope to find the seven lords Caspian's tyrannic uncle Miraz sent into exile.
On this trip, the children will meet dragons and merpeople, as well as strange one-legged creatures called the Dufflepuds. Lucy will again be very brave, and Eustace will learn to become a better person. Together they wil travel to the End of the World, in search of Aslan's country.
I'm sorry I don't have many more comments to add since the previous volumes. I liked this book, but I can't say whether it's better than the others or not. I just wasn't captivated by the story, except maybe in a chapter or two. The overly talkative Reepicheep tended to get on my nerves, and although the passage with the boat treading the sea of lilies was quite enchanting, the ending was too allegorical for me. Gosh am I getting too old?
The Silver Chair
In this volume, Eustace Scrubb and his schoolmate Jill Pole are called to Narnia by the great lion. Aslan gives them a mission, and four signs to go by, to find King Caspian's lost son Prince Rilian, who's been missing for ten years.
With the help of a parliament of owls, and of Puddleglum the friendly but pessimistic Marsh-wiggle, they'll travel through Ettinsmoor to Harfang, the horrible city of Giants, and then to the Underland to confront the evil Witch-Queen.
The second half of the book was more entertaining than the beginning, which I found a tad slow until the children are on the way. Still, after six books the story becomes rather predictable, and not very passionating, although I enjoyed the passage with the Silver Chair. But I'm sure children would be enthralled by the hero's adventures.
The Last Battle
This final volume is more or less cut in two parts. In the first one, an Ape called Shift bullies and forces his companion Puzzle the donkey to wear an old lion skin on his back and to pretend he's Aslan the great Lion. Allied with Calormenes, they start slaughtering Talking Beasts and doing other evil deeds.
To Tirian, the current King of Narnia, and to his dear friend Jewel the noble Unicorn, this seems like a most unusual behaviour for Aslan, so they set out in search of the truth. They'll call children from our world to their aid: Eustace and Jill.
Ensues a battle opposing the King's small party to the Calormenes and the Men and Beasts they've managed to cheat.
In the second half of the book, like a mirror of the adventures of Digory and Polly in The Magician's Nephew, we witness the unmaking of the World by Aslan (the real one this time). Like in a curtain call, all the characters (but one) from the previous volumes return for the final journey to the forever kingdom of Aslan.
Whereas the beginning was rather exciting, I found the ending really too syrupy and allegorical. It was also very shocking to see the absence of Susan explained by "she's interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations." With its oldish style, and the fact that the baddies, the Calormenes, have a definite Middle-Eastern profile, I felt that the book was really anchored in the 1950's. I must admit I'm glad to have finally finished the series.
Series: Fighting Fantasy
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Le
Sorcier de la Montagne de Feu) with Steve Jackson
Company of Liars
Going from village to village, trying to sell fake relics and hope, the camelot is joined by several companions along the way : Rodrigo and his apprentice Jofre, two Italian musicians, Zophiel the illusionist, Narigorm the strange white-haired little girl and her midwife friend Pleasance, a young couple, Osmond the painter and the very pregnant Adela, and Cygnus the Swan-winged crippled storyteller. Together they head North, away from the plague, telling each other their stories around the fire at night... but careful to hide their dark secrets.
Company of Liars is an engrossing tale of flight and survival in Mediaeval England. It is also a very sad and scary tale. I especially enjoyed reading about Cygnus and Jofre, and found Zophiel particularly odious and despicable. I'm a little frustrated to learn that there exists a special paperback edition with an extra chapter.
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire
A Game of Thrones
The story starts in Winterfell, at the end of a long summer, with the Stark family: Lord Eddard and his wife Catelyn, their boys Robb, Bran and Rickon, and daughters Sansa and Arya, as well as Eddard's bastard son Jon Snow, who is about to leave Winterfell to become a brother of the Night's Watch on the Wall, the immense icy structure in the North, which protects the Seven Kingdoms from the wildlings who live beyond it.
When the Starks hear that the Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, has unexpectedly died and that King Robert is heading for Winterfell with his family, the cold beauty Queen Cersei Lannister and her two brothers Jaime and Tyrion, and their three children, Eddard knows that his old friend and monarch is going to ask him to fill in the newly vacated position and reluctantly prepares to leave his home, to travel to King's Landing in the South.
Eddard has just left Winterfell when Catelyn receives a message from her sister, Lord Arryn's widow, accusing the Lannisters of her husband's murder. From then on, as the intrigue develops, the situation inexorably deteriorates, the tale becomes grim and very violent, heavy with treacheries and injustice.
At first I found the book wasn't living up to all the praise, and I was often confused with the plethora of names of lords and ladies, knights and bannermen, maesters and soldiers. But as the story progressed, I grew fond of several characters and suddenly, I was hooked. I particularly like reading about Jon Snow, young Bran, or the tomboy Arya, and Tyrion the Imp si definitely intriguing! All in all, not what I expected but unquestionably worth the read!
NB: I made the exception to my sacrosanct rule of not starting a series before the last volume is published because my boy-friend and I wanted to watch the acclaimed TV show (and I wanted to have read the book first). We're currently watching it and I must say it's very faithful to the book most of the time.
A Clash of Kings
After the events of A Game of Thrones, the Seven Kingdoms are divided. Chaos reigns as several protagonists claim their right to the Iron Throne, refusing to bow to the young and capricious King Joffrey: Robert's brothers Stannis and Renly, Ned Stark's eldest son Robb, even Cersei's father Tywin Lannister.
While all armies move to conquer castles and loyalties, Catelyn tries to parley with Renly to join forces with Robb, Sansa, betrothed to Joffrey, is stuck in Casterly Rock with Queen Cersei, and Arya is fleeing with Yoren and a bunch of cutthroats bound for the Wall. As for Bran and Rickon, they're left to fend for themselves in Winterfell.
In the North, Jon Snow leaves for the Frostfangs beyond the Wall, scouting for clues of what happened to his uncle Benjen Stark and information about the mysterious and ghastly Others.
In the East, Daenerys Targaryen, with Jorah Mormont and her Dothraki, tries to come closer to the Narrow Sea, looking for ships to cross back to Westeros with her newborn dragons.
Again, I found that the fact that each and every character is named and described more confusing than worthwhile, distracting me from the plot, and making for a laborious reading. However, thanks to striking characters such as Tyrion the Imp, Bran or Arya, the intrigue is still very engrossing, even though it took me months to finish this heavy, small-font volume.
A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow
Pieces continue moving across the huge chessboard of Westeros.
Against her son's orders, Catelyn Stark has sent her hostage Jaime Lannister to Casterly Rock, escorted by Brienne of Tarth, in exchange for her daughters Sansa and Arya. Returning to Riverrun, King Robb also has a surprise for his mother, which might jeopardize certain alliances.
While Arya and Gendry are trying to reach Riverrun, Bran and his new friends Jojen and Meera Reed are fleeing Winterfell towards the Wall, following Bran's dream visions.
Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow has infiltrated Mance Rayder's Wildlings. He's falling in love with the warrior Ygritte.
After the battle at King's Landing, the Onion Knight, Davos Seaworth, has been rescued from the sea and taken prisoner in Stannis Baratheon's dungeons.
Sansa is still trapped in Casterly Rock with her betrothed King Joffrey, while the latter's mother Queen Cersei and uncle Tyrion the Imp are plotting against each other.
In the East, Daenerys, accompanied by her dragons and Ser Jorah Mormont, is buying slaves and setting them free, building herself an army to reconquer Westeros.
You'd think that after a while I'd have learned that with George RR Martin, nothing ever goes as planned. But no, I still hope for the good to triumph once in a while. And they don't. One step forward, at least two steps back… but that's actually what makes this grim tale so gripping, when you're not even sure the hero, at least, is going to make it.
A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons
*I Am Legend (*Je Suis Une
The book opens on a scene of crucifixion and stoning at the Royal Court of Tal. That of Torkyn Gynt, accused by Chief Inquisitor Goth of getting involved an Untouchable, Alyssa, who witnesses the execution.
Then the tale flashes back to 7 years earlier. Our two heroes are 15 years old, and although they haven’t met yet, they’ve been communicating through the Link since their childhood. For reasons unknown, and luckily for them, their magic goes undetected by Inquisitor Goth, the disfigured maniac who roams the country of Tallinor in search of all Sentients, to bridle and brand them under Royal Law.
They finally meet at a village fair, and Tor is about to ask Alyssa to marry her, but he’s interrupted by Merkhud, the Royal Physic, who wants him to come to the capital and become his apprentice. Tor agrees and leaves, and his Link with Alyssa is mysteriously severed.
Alyssa feels spurned, lovesick, so when old Sarrel knocks on her door, she decides to follow her and learn the trade of the wandering herb healer. In the village of Fragglesham, where Cirq Zorros is performing, they come across Goth and his gang. As soon as the pervert sees the lovely blonde, he uncontrollably desires her and tries to rape her.
The book goes on to describe Tor and Alyssa’s stories, the friends they make (one of them a beautiful peregrine falcon) during their flight from Goth and other persecutors, until they meet again.
I enjoyed reading this first volume. It’s full of action, and the characters are very likeable (except for Goth of course), even though they perform magic a little too easily and effortlessly.
Alyssa and Tor are parted again. After escaping death by a clever magic trick and convalescing in the Great Forest, Tor sets out to hunt down Goth, but is soon sidetracked when his falcon Clot is stolen by pirates in Caradoon to be sold to the Queen of the island of Cipres.
In Tal, Alyssa has now spent several years in the castle, working as a healer, believing the love of her life is dead, and blaming King Lorys for his heartless justice. But when Queen Nyria, her friend, ask her to forgive her husband, she actually finds it easier than expected, and even falls in love with the monarch.
All the while, both know their destiny is to reunite the Trinity in order to defeat their real enemy, the angry Prince of the Gods Orlac, who wants to destroy Tallinor. They get help from several of their friends and companions, who turn out to be magical beings called the Paladin.
I found this second volume slightly inferior to the first one. The sidetrip to Cipres is mostly filler material, and I failed to be captivated by the what is emerging as the main plotline now. And Goth escapes death so many times itís ridiculous. Will you kill the wretch already?
Well Iím not sure how to summarize this book. So many things happen to our Mary Sue, Gary Stu and their magical children and friends: numerous comings and goings from the Heartwood to all four corners of Tallinor and Cipres, catching Goth and losing him (again!), trying to outwit the evil god Orlac (who turns out to be not so bad in the end Ė but donít fret, thereís someone even eviller to takes his place as great villain).
Still, the characters are likeable, even though theyíre totally improbable (like Torís blue eyes, which areÖ incredible). But the story in interminable and yet it left me in the lurch. I donít know, I have mixed feeling about this series.
Series: The Quickening
The book opens on a battle, in which King Magus of Morgravia and his Commander of the Legion and best friend Fergys Thirsk fight against King Valor of Briavel. Morgravia wins but Fergys dies.
The story then focuses on their teenage heirs, Prince Celimus and Wyl Thirsk, the new Commander of the Legion. As King Magus's health deteriorates, he asks Wyl to pledge an oath that he will always serve and protect Celimus. Although the sons have always hated each other, Wyl has no choice but to obey his duty. Unsurprisingly, Celimus takes every opportunity to hurt and humiliate Wyl, such forceing him to witness the torturing and burning of the young woman Myrren. When Wyl shows the alleged witch some mercy by speeding her death, Myrren gives him a strange gift, one he won't understand at first.
Later, Wyl plays a trick on Celimus, thwarting his plans of deflowering his younger sister Ylena after winning the tournament at Stoneheart. In reciprocation, Celimus sends Wyl to Briavel on a diplomatic mission to ask the hand of Princess Valentyna, but instead of allowing his faithful Legionnaires to accompany him, he makes him go with a bunch of mercenaries, among them the handsome Romen Koreldy, secretly commissioned to kill Wyl once the deal is sealed. This is when Myrren's curious gift reveals itself.
It's been a very long time since I last read anything that good, and I must thank Robin Hobb for recommending this author. Although the main characters might seems a little Manichean at first, the plot is absolutely riveting, with several unexpected and stunning turns complexifying the intrigue and a wonderful cast of supporting roles. Wow!
Blood and Memory
As Wyl Thirsk is once again victim of Myrren's strange gift, he decides to set off in search of the witch's real father, hoping he will help him understand the magic and put a stop to the curse.
Meanwhile, Celimus's ambition is steadily growing to gigantic proportions. The young and tyrannic king of Morgravia is determined to see the Thirsk family exterminated and his next target is Wyl's younger sister Ylena. Wyl sends his friend Elspyth to track her down at Rittylworth's monastery only to find the place ransacked by Celimus's mercenaries.
Wyl also has to try and warn his beloved Queen Valentyna of Briavel of Celimus's madness and prevent the impending marriage that is supposed to bring peace between both realms and unity against Cailech of the Mountain Kingdom.
Again, the startling twists and turns are numerous in this book, and the different plot lines intertwine into a complex and fascinating weave. I can't wait to see how the story will resolve itself!
Bridge of Souls
In the Wild, Wyl now knows that he has to become king of Morgravia in order to put an end to Myrren's curse. However, he cannot provoque the magic or he will have to face even more terrible consequences. There also is Fynch's destiny revealed to him: with the help of the creatures of the Thicket, he must get the world rid of Elysius's brother, the dark magician Rashlyn, King Cailech's barshi.
Meanwhile, Aremys the huge Grenadyne mercenary has been teleported by the Thicket to the Razors. At first made prisoner by the warrior Myrt and his men, his previous dealings with Celimus and his knowledge of the Morgravian sovereign later help him get into Cailech's good books and become his counsellor. He suggests the King of the Mountain Kingdom organize a peace parley with Celimus. Acting as go-between, Aremys gambles and offers to deliver Ylena as guarantee.
In Morgravia, as Celimus performs further random acts of cruelty, killing any who dares questions certain mysterious deaths but always managing to put the blame on alleged traitorous nobles, his Chancellor Jessom becomes less and less convinced about his King's course of actions. And as the wedding day draws nearer, Queen Valentyna of Briavel finds it increasingly difficult to resolve to marry this tyrant.
This volume is more focused on the Mountain Kingdom, and I really enjoyed discovering further facets of Myrt, Cailech, and also Aremys, as well as reading about Lothryn and Gueryn's ordeals at the hands of twisted Rashlyn. I was a little dubious at first about the whole magical aspect introduced in this volume with Fynch's inheritance, wondering where Fiona McIntosh was taking the plot, but in the end she managed to blend it in almost seamlessly and surprised me once again with the breath-taking twists and jaw-dropping turns that I have come to love and look forward to.
In the first half we learn about the warrior hero Sifrid, the extremely rich and magically strong Netherlandic prince of the Nibelung and of his quest to win the heart of fair Kriemhilde, princess of Burgundy, King Gunther's sister.
Later, there's a rumour that Brünnhilde of Iceland has set up an impossible challenge where the prize is no less than her hand.
King Gunther travels to Iceland to take up this competition With the help of his friend Hagen of Tronege, among others, and that of Sifrid's special powers. But for this he has to pretend that Sifrid is only his vassal. This will lead to a terrible quiproquo between both brides, many hurt prides, secret plottings, and finally to the death of Sifrid by Hagen of Tronege's hand.
The second half tells us of Kriemhilde's incosolable grief, which will turn into an insatiable hunger for revenge against her brother and Hagen, resulting in total carnage.
Probably misinformed, or also mislead by childhood memories of Saint Seiya (where I first heard of the Ring of the Nibelungen), I was expecting tales of Odin and Ragnarok. The fantasy part is actually rather small, as it only consists of the special powers Sifrid gets from the cloak of invisibility he won from a dwarf called Alberich. The story is a bit repetitive, perhaps because of the stances structure (even though this is the prose translation), and I didn't really care for any of the characters. In the beginning, I was on Kriemhilde's side, but in the end she caused too much death and destruction. As a whole, I will say that this was good for my general literary culture, but not a very exciting read.
The castle of Gormenghast is a huge, maze-like fortress built on the side of a mountain. It's surrounded by a tall wall, that helps keep the noble "Castle" people and their menials inside, and the "Bright Carvers", a tribal people who live in mud dwellings, outside on the arid plain.
In this first volume, we're introduced to the castle's inhabitants, amidst the bustle of Titus the seventy-seventh Earl's birth, and a few days later, of his christening. There's the melancholic Lord Sepulchrave, the seventy-sixth and current Earl of Groan, his enormous wife Gertrude and her white cats, and their teenage daughter Fuchsia. And there is Mrs. Slagg, the frail old Nanny who's always complaning about her poor heart, and Mr. Flay, the Earl's tall first servant with the clicking knees. And also Mr. Rottcodd, curator of the Hall of Bright Carvings, and Sourdust the Librarian, guardian of the Protocol. Doctor Prunesquallor with his nervous laughter, and his spinsterly sister Irma, as well as Swelter the tyrannic cook and his kitchen boys, among which the young Steerpike. Then come Cora and Clarice, the Earl's asinine twin sisters, envious of his and Gertrude's power... and a few others.
As the story flows, we watch these numerous protagonists interact, as Steerpike slowly works his way up the ranks of the castle. Charming high-born ladies, plotting arson, nothing daunts him. And what was a so well-greased, fine-tuned machine of minutiae and protocol, the very essence of Gormenghast, is starting to crumble slowly and inexorably.
It's very hard to summarize Titus Groan in a couple of paragraphs. It's so brimming with court intrigue and mischief, interspaced with lush descriptions of this amazingly intricate fortress where I wanted to escape to, or play hide and seek in. As a whole, all I can say it that it was an enormous pleasure to read and that I can't wait to read the next book.
After a somewhat slow beginning, in which Mervyn Peake first briefly summarizes Titus Grown by drawing up a list of which characters have died or gone missing, then introduces the reader with the plethora of new characters that are the teachers of Titus, the now seven-year-old seventy-seventh Earl of Gormenghast, the pace hopefully picks up again. And as the pages turn, the story becomes more and more exciting.
Irma Prunesquallor's party, and then her romance and the way the whole affair eventually backfires on Wellgrove, although it does not push the plot further, were fun to read. Titus's growing love for his sister Fuchsia, and at the same time his attempts at shunning both the physical prison that is Gormenghast castle and the mental cage that is its sacrosanct ritual, attempts that lead him into the mysterious forest where lurks the Thing, and to the grotto where Flay has taken shelter, were passionating. Finally, Steerpike's mischievious, murderous ambition, and the others' suspicions that gradually turn into evidences, and the memorable chases in the shadowy maze of the fortress that ensue, were purely mind-boggling.
Mervyn Peake's characters are so complex that in the end you like the ones you despised and hate the ones you loved in the first book. His words give life to such an amazing imagery, it vibrates and dazzles, it's intoxicating. This is magic.
In this book, we follow Titus, now almost twenty, as he escapes from the Castle, flees its oppressive Ritual, and becomes lost in a sandstorm. Helped by the owner of a travelling zoo, Muzzlehatch, and his ex-lover Juno, he ends up in a big city. Of course, no one there has ever heard of Gormenghast, and the general opinion is that the boy is deranged, and with no paper, he's soon arrested for vagrancy.
Hopefully, there are a few people who believe in his story, or at least who are intrigued by it, and they try to help him. And now Titus, the deserter, the traitor, longs for his home, and looks for it all the time to prove, if only to himself, that Gormenghast is truly real.
I don't know how closely Titus Alone actually follows Mervyn Peake's intentions before mental illness struck him, but this final volume is indeed chaotic. Its characters and style, its setting and atmosphere have little to do with both previous books. Or maybe it's just me who didn't understand anything, but nevertheless, all I felt was bitter frustration.
Boy in Darkness short story
Although no names are ever mentioned, for those familiar with Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, it is quite clear right from the start that the Boy is in fact none other than Titus, the seventy-seventh Earl of Groan, shunning the immemorial, oppressive Ritual. And indeed (and from the book cover too) I was expecting, and looking forward to, more exploration of the labyrinthine fortress. I was disappointed though, as Boy in Darkness is just a dream-like, surrealist fable with little in common with the trilogy. It is short, and can be read as a stand-alone, but I strongly recommend reading the Gormenghast trilogy too (or instead).
*The Vampyre (*Le Vampire)
The Colour of Magic (US: The Color of Magic)
In Ankh-Morpork, the Scone of Stone, the Dwarfs' sacred relic, has been stolen, and the director of the rubber factory has just been murdered.
As Sam Vimes is sent on a diplomatic mission to Uberwald for the coronation of the new King of the Dwarfs, and Captain Carrot has gone in search of missing Angua, Lord Vetinari reluctanctly promotes Fred Colon as Captain of the Watch...
Although presented as a novel of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, the action is principally centered on Sam Vimes and his struggle with the not-so-nice werewolves of Uberwald.
With its numerous winks to our own world, as well as the guest appearence of dear characters such as DEATH or Gaspode the Wonder Dog, the Fifth Elephant turns out as funny as I expected a Pratchett novel to be. Definitely a very good read!
As the youngest son of a well-to-do family, William was destined to a cleric, or a land manager, or maybe a soldier career. But in fact he's always liked reading and writing, and having moved to Ankh-Morpork he's trying to make words his living. Therefore for some time now, and five dollars, he has been writing a monthly news-letter to some select members of the nobility in several corners of the Discworld, in close collaboration with the Guild of Engravers... until one day, when he finds himself knocked down by the dwarf Goodmountain carrying a huge engine: a press.
And so the Ankh-Morpork Times was born. Being able to have many copies much quicker, and to sell them to much more people, he is also faced with the problem of having to find lots of new interesting things to say. And even though he realises that people are ready to take everything for granted as long as it's in the paper, he wants to tell only the TRUTH. And when the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, is arrested for the apparent murder of his clerk and the theft of seventy thousand dollars (in coins), William starts to investigate.
At the same time, competition arrives too. Less fussy about veracity, The Inquirer quickly becomes the people's favourite.
The Truth is a wonderful satire of the world of journalism and the power of media. But aside from that, with great new characters such as Sacharissa and Otto the vampire Iconographer, as well as dear old ones such as Gaspode the Wonder Dog and Vimes, it's also a ing funny book... well of course it is!
Thief of Time
At the same time at the History Monks' monastery, Lu-Tze the Sweeper has just taken a new apprentice, Lobsang Ludd, who seems to be able to slice time very, very finely.
In Thief of Time, the 26th Discworld novel, Terry Pratchett explores time paradoxes. Aside from his unmistakable humour which, again, made me chuckle and look a bit silly on the bus (but it's OK), I found the philosophical parts a bit too... well, philosophical, and I must admit I sometimes found myself out of my depth. But as a whole, I found this novel very enjoyable. And in any case I just love Igors.
The Last Hero
So to save the world from total destruction, the Wizards of Unseen University and the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari, have no choice but to call Leonard da Quirm to the rescue. Soon the inventor, along with the very literal Captain Carrot of the City Watch and Rincewind the chicken-hearted WiZZard, embark on a perilous journey aboard the Kite, a bird-shaped flying device powered by Swamp Dragons. According to his calculations, if the Kite goes over the rim at great speed, it'll come back around and rocket right towards the hub, where lies Dunmanifestin, just in time to stop Cohen and his gang.
Even though The Last Hero might seems a little bit short, comparatively, of course it has the genuine, punful Pratchett style that we've all come to love so much. The good side of it is that it's read in no time, eh! And Paul Kidby's lavish illustrations are just astounding. Would do a wonderful gift idea, wouldn't it?
It is springtime in Ankh-Morpork, the lilac is in bloom. As his wife Sybil is about to give birth to their first child, Commander Samuel Vimes of the City Watch heads to the cemetary of Small Gods, to commemorate the day Sergeant John Keel, his mentor, and six other coppers died some thirty yeas ago.
Later, arriving at the Patrician's Palace, he hears that Carcer, a serial killer who's been wreaking havoc around town lately, has just been cornered. This might be his only chance to arrest the murderer.
Outside, there's a storm brewing. After a chase in the streets of the city, Vimes and Carcer end up in the tower of the wizards' University, a highly magical place. And as the Commander is about to catch his prey, lighting strikes, and both are transported back in time, some thirty years earlier... Soon Carcer commits another crime and kills John Keel.
Night Watch has a strong "Back to the Future" theme, where changing events in the past... well, the now, of course affects those in the now... well, the future. Many things have changed in thirty years, and Vimes struggles to put his own past back on the track. It won't be long until he encounters his younger self. Passing himself off as Sergeant John Keel, not only will he have to teach young Sam to be a good copper, but he must also survive the oncoming Revolution.
True to form, Terry Pratchett gives us yet another witty, intelligent, hilarious Discworld novel of the City Watch, with its traditional footnotes and tongue-in-cheek humour, and some cameo appearances of Death... what more could we possibly ask for?
Polly Perks is a young woman who works at her father's inn, the Duchess (named after an iconic Borogravian figure). However, since it is one of the numerous "abominations unto Nuggan" for a woman to own pubs in Borogravia, she realizes that if she wants to keep the Duchess, she needs to get her brother Oliver back from the front. Indeed, Borogravia is at war, again, with one of its neighbours.
So when the recruiting party goes through town, she cuts her hair, disguises as a man, kisses the portrait of the Duchess and gets the Shilling. Now she's in Sergeant Jack Jackrum's army, along with a group of other makeshift soldiers, among which Maladict the reformed Vampire (who's given up blood for coffee), a Troll and an Igor. Soon enough she learns to walk and swear like a man, and to wear a pair of socks in her trousers.
I found Monstrous Regiment hard to get in at first, because I got all the names and nicknames mixed up and I wasn't familiar with military vocabulary, let alone military slang. But in the middle of the book the story started flowing more naturally and became much more exciting, and in the end I liked its "farce" twists and turns a lot.
26-year-old Moist von Lipwig is a talented con artist. Or used to be: this morning he (well actually his "Mr Spangler" identity) was hanged. At least that's what the citizens of Ankh-Morpork witnessed. In truth, Moist von Lipwig was secretly and discreetly "rescued" by the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, and proposed a unturndownable challenge: to become the city's new Postmaster.
The book tells of how he'll get Ankh-Morpork's ancient postal service up and running again, with the help of Mr Groat the old postman, of Stanley the pinhead and keeper of the Rules, of Miss Adora Belle Dearheart of the Golem Trust, and of his parole officer Mr Pump.
Of course he'll face many obstacles, especially in this modern world where clacks can deliver a message in the blink of a shutter tower... yes, but there's been an unusual number of deaths on the clacks lately... Could he outrun them?
Going Postal hooked me right from the start. It was so exciting to explore the Post Office's old building, literally packed with old, undelivered mail, and to witness the invention of stamps... Of course Death makes his usual appearance (or apparition?), and the punny references (to The Lord of the Rings, the Internet, etc) are legion. The final race reminded me of an old film, the title of which I can't for the life of me remember, where some old fashioned service competes against the modern one... oh well. With this book, as well as with Monstrous Regiment and the Tiffany Aching sub-series, it seems to me that Sir Terry Pratchett is finally back on track after some years at half throttle.
Moist is bored. He misses his old, more adventurous life, back when he was Albert Spangler the con artist. So when he's not running the Post Office, he likes climbing to its roof at night, and has already picked all its locks.
But when Mrs Topsy Lavish, chairwoman and owner of 50% of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork, but owner also of Mr. Fusspot the dog who owns 1%, dies and leaves her shares to her dog and bequeaths Mr. Fusspot to Moist... he has no choice but try and make it work again.
It starts with the Mint, which actually runs at a loss. Since making coins costs too much and people are already using stamps as currency, Moist devises the first bank notes, which soon have the same success as his stamps.
In the meantime, Cosmo Lavish tries to take Vetinari's identity and Moist's girlfriend Adora Belle Dearheart uncovers ancient golems buried in the desert. And all the while the Glooper gloops.
I really like the character of Moist von Lipwig and was glad to read about him again. The book is of course filled with references that make you chuckle twice: when you get them, and when you find yourself clever because to got them... it's the Discworld double effect!
And in the meantime, the wizards discover that according to an old tradition, they are to play a game of football every twenty years (and that means about now) or they will have to reduce their meals to only three a day and only so many cheeseboards too. Only the football that is currently played in the streets of Ankh-Morpork looks more like a mob riot.
The book describes how the Wizards, advised my Nutt, Trev, Glenda, Juliet and Lord Vetinari, set out to write down new and more civilized rules for football, and finally gather the UU team.
I really enjoyed Unseen Academicals as a whole, but especially I found the four main characters very endearing, particularly Mr. Nutt who is always striving to "be worthy" (as he was taught by Her Ladyship in Uberwald) and Miss Glenda, who is very down-to-earth but learns that sometimes, just sometimes, you have to follow your impulses.
Whereas his 6-year-old son Young Sam is delighted to discover a whole new world of animal poo, far from the hustle and bustle of Ankh-Morpork, the Commander of the City Watch is feeling totally at odds and out of his depth.
However, Vimes's copper instincts tell him something unlawful is going on. And soon he discovers that a young goblin girl has been violently murdered and that Jefferson, the village smith, is missing. With the help of Feeney Upshot, the local pig farmer-cum-constable, he starts to investigate. An adventure that will take them underground and above water, even as far as Howondaland.
This is a very enjoyable story, reminiscent of crime fiction. Vimes's arrival in Crundells reminded me of Downton Abbey, and I also loved exploring the Goblin cave and learning about its people. But the part I enjoyed the most is the middle of the book, when the thrilling murder investigation is in full swing.
Incubust very short story
Series: Discworld for Children
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
It works perfectly well, until the rats develop a conscience. They agree to do it one last time and head for Überwald, or more accurately for the small village of Bad Blintz. There they soon realize that something is amiss. Food in the village is rationed, rat tails are rewarded 50p a piece and strangely, there isn't a single "keekee" (regular rat) around. Teaming up with Malicia Grim, the mayor's silly daughter who thinks she's living in a fairy tale, they are determined to uncover the mystery.
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents easily stands among my favourite Discworld novels. With a story that sometimes reminded me of Mrs Frsiby and the Rats of NIMH and a humour echoing that of the Bromeliad, where Pratchett observes our silly human world through the eyes of other creatures, and where rats have names such as Hamnpork or Dangerous Beans because they liked the sound of it but didn't understand the meaning, it is as intelligent and sensible, sometimes scary, even sad at times, as it is hilarious. And David Wyatt's illustrations are just too cute!
Series: Tiffany Aching
The Wee Free Men
Not long after, Wentworth is kidnapped by the Queen of FairyLand. Following the advice of Miss Tick, a witch she met at the village fair, and her talking toad, and with the help of the Nac Mac Feegles, the blue-skinned little pictsies with the strong Scottish accent, she arms herself with a frying pan and her Granny's book on Diseases of the Sheep, and sets off in searched of her brother.
Beside being extremely funny and packed with action, The Wee Free Men is also a really sweet book, full of Tiffany's fond memories of Granny Aching, who was a famous shepherd of the Chalk, and a kind of witch in her own way. It's a story both for adults and children, telling you to look at the World around you, and teaching you, in a light way, the respect of Nature or other moral values. This might well be my favourite Discworld book, I absolutely loved it!
A Hat Full of Sky
Tiffany is now eleven, two years have passed since the events of The Wee Free Men and the incident with the Fairy Queen. She's learnt a few tricks since then, like the ability to step out of her own body, which is actually very handy when your only mirror is too small and you want to check if your hair is well combed at the back of your head. Although she likes wearing that invisible hat Mistress Weatherwax gave her.
Now Miss Tick the witch is bringing her to the mountains, to Miss Level's cottage to be more precise, an old witch with two bodies, where she shall begin her apprenticeship.
Her news friends, the other witches' apprentices, and especially Annagramma Hawkin, mock her because she's only good at sheep and cheese, and Miss Level only helps old people or acts as a midwife and she's not even doing proper magic, and of course Tiffany's not even wearing proper witch clothes with stars and sequins, let alone a real witch hat. In the end, Tiffany's apprenticeship turns out to be not exactly what she expected, but much, much more.
And all that time, the little blue fairy men, the Nac Mac Feegle, are watching over her. And what they find out is that an evil spirit, a Hiver, is pursuing Tiffany, waiting to take up her body the next time she steps out of it. Rob Anybody and his mates set out to help her.
I really really love the Tiffany Aching books. In them, and probably because they're aimed at a younger audience, Terry Pratchett manages to philosophize in a much more accessible and discreet manner than in his lastest (adult) Discworld books (like Thief of Time). The values he teaches here, through the relationship between people, or between people and the land, are very noble ones, and they're seemlessly sewn into a storyline that is in itself very captivating, and of course very funny. I really really love the Tiffany Aching books.
It's the beginning of a long, cold winter, and twelve-year-old Tiffany Aching has to save the lambs.
Tiffany's an apprentice at Miss Treason's, the very, very old (she's 113) and blind witch. She likes working there, helping around, even though she finds it slightly irritating when the witch borrows her eyes. There she also learns about the "Boffo".
One night in a clearing, they witness the Dark Morris and Tiffany's dragged into the dance. The Wintersmith falls in love with her, and starts making Tiffany-shaped snowflakes and icebergs. And he wants to become human, too. For sure the girl is flattered, but if she doesn't do something about it, winter will never end, springtime will never come again.
To cap it all, Miss Treason is about to die. She makes it spectacular though! And naturally now the young Lancre witches are competing for her cottage, and since Annagramma's the oldest, she's most likely to get it. The problem is, she thinks witching is about Magick, whereas it's more like settling quarrels between farmers and midwiving, really. Hopefully, Tiffany's here to help (but shh, don't tell the other witches).
Of course, the Feegles are always around to lend their big wee hag a hand.
True to the Tiffany Aching books tradition, this third volume is a perfectly balanced mix between the funny (the Nac Mc Feegle's appearances for example, or Horace the cheese) but also real-world-relevant sides of Discworld, and a more bucolic, pastoral, romantic and nostalgic hymn to Nature and simplicity. Have I said I really really love the Tiffany Aching books?
I Shall Wear Midnight
Tiffany is now the local witch on the Chalk. This means she mends broken toes and blows congested noses in the nearby villages.
When the old Baron dies under Tiffany's care (all she could do was take away the pain away), Miss Spruce the nurse accuses her of murder. On the way to Ankh-Morpork to warn her childhood friend Roland of his father's passing, she is attacked by the Cunning Man, a fiendish spirit. Roland, in turn, incriminates her.
Later she realizes it's actually the maleficent ghost who is poisoning people's minds against witches. She has to confront him. Of course, the Feegles are here to help… or not.
This volume is once again packed with philosophy and phun! I very much enjoyed meeting characters such as Preston (a young, smart castle guard who Tiffany befriends) and Letitia (Roland's watercolour fiancée, with whom there's more than meets the eye). I loved this Tiffany Aching book and I'm very sad it's the last one. I wish I lived on the Chalk with these people and these values: life and death as they should be.
Series: The Bromeliad
Masklin and his family are the last ten nomes of their warren, devastated by cold, predators and hunger. Desperately, they set out on a last chance journey and climb up on one of the lorries of the humans.
What they'll soon discover is that this lorry has lead them to the Store of Arnold Bros (est. 1905), the home of thousands of other little nomes who, having never left the Store, think of the Outside as of nothing more than just another fairy tale. The coming of Masklin will be a great upheaval in their quiet lives. And as they learn that the Store is to be demolished, they make plans for their escape.
Although Truckers was originally written for a young audience, it's an enthralling adventure but also a story about understanding other people's ways and helping each other, and no doubt grown-ups will love it too. Because Terry Pratchett's unique sense of humour is lurking round every corner, especially when nomes try to interpret our human world... and what's more to make sense of it!
After escaping from the doomed Store of Arnold Bros (est. 1905), the nomes find refuge in a disused quarry. And although life's harder Outside than it was in the Store, after a while everything goes well... until they find out that the quarry is going to be reopened.
At the same time, they also learn that Grandson Richard, 39, an heir to the Arnold Bros (est. 1905) fortune, is going to Florida to watch the launch of his first telecom satellite. To Masklin it's an oportunity to send the Thing back into space where it could contact the Ship which will bring them back HOME. And so he sets out, with Gurder and Angalo, on a trip to the airport.
And as the rest of the nomes are waiting for them to come back, their food reserves are inexorably running out and the humans' presence is starting to be a real nuisance. Are they going to flee and hide or are they going to stand up to them?
As expected, Diggers is brilliant and extremely funny. And again, the confrontation between the nomes' and our view of the world is the source of many of the typically "Pratchettian" puns we've all come to love!
Masklin, Gurder and Angalo have just left the quarry and are heading to the airport in hope to go to Florida, where they can put the Thing on a space shuttle so that it can call the Ship. Following Grandson Richard, 39, they board the Concorde.
What somewhat surprised me with Wings is that it's not only the conclusion to a tremendous adventure: the story really gets a level deeper, as the relationship between the nomes and the Thing develops. And don't worry, you still get those hilarious puns such as the one about frogs who have "such a tiny life cycle it still had trainer wheels on it"!
The Bromeliad trilogy is a gripping story, extremely funny and easy to read, but it's also a story about how the world around you can always amaze you if you only look a bit further than just at your direct neighbourhood. I highly recommend it to both children and grown-ups alike!
The Carpet People
Under the omnipresent threat of Fray and after the destruction of their village, a group of carpet people decide to march against the evil mouls and snargs. Along the way, they meet other tribes with other ways of living and other points of view, and they know they'll have to ally with them in order to win the battle.What sort of disappointed me is that Terry Pratchett almost doesn't take any advantage of the setting of his story, i.e. an actual carpet, at all and in the end you realize it could have happened anywhere. However, he approaches many great themes, like proving that in union, there is strength, and in a way this is a pretty good early sketch for his later masterpiece: the Bromeliad.
The Dark Side of The Sun
Accompanied by Isaac, a Class Five robot, and Hrsh-Hgn, a phnobe, he goes on a quest to find the legendary Jokers' World, supposedly situated on the dark side of the sun.
This early novel (1976, seven year before the first Discworld book) struck me as extremely messy. Indeed, I found the plethora of characters, races, robots and planets very confusing. Furthermore, since I'm not a Sci-Fi reader, the book failed to ring any bells and I guess I missed the puns and allusions. And even though Pratchett's famous style is already well recognisable, and premises of many later Discworldisms such as Hogswatchnight, Soul Cake Friday or Small Gods, are mentioned, they're not enough for me to recommend this book.
The Unadulterated Cat (with Gray Jolliffe)
No doubt you will enjoy this book, even if you don't have a cat (I don't). It's got good ole witty Pratchett style, with the habitual footnotes, and Gray Jolliffe's cartoons are terrific. It's read in no time and and will have you bursting out laughing incontrollably.
Good Omens (with Neil Gaiman)
In the meantime, babies are swapped, the Witchfinder Army investigates and the Four Horsem- Bikers of the Apocalypse, Hell's Angels of course, along with the four other Bikers of the Apocalypse and the four teenage Cyclists of the Apocalyse all converge to Lower Tadfield in Southern England where it's all supposed to happen.
With a plethora of characters, puns round every corner and hilarious footnotes, Good Omens is not only another version of Good vs. Evil, but is also a pure delight when it comes to train your zygomatics.
There's also a long trench in the forest and at the end of it, the wreck of the Sweet Judy and a strange girl who tries to shoot him. But soon this little misunderstanding is over, and they start communicating.
Together they'll help the refugees arriving from nearby islands and start rebuilding a civilization, explore the lagoon and the Grandfathers' Cave and find ancient statues and hidden treasures, defend their Nation against the Raiders.
Even though Nation is not as witty and funny as the usual Pratchett novel, I really enjoyed seeing Mau and Daphne's relationship become deeper, and found their discovery expeditions very exciting. Daphne reminded me much of Terry Pratchett's other teenage heroin, Tiffany Aching. The novel itself is also full of philosophy in disguise, which makes it instructing to boot, although it contained slightly too much religion to my liking.
Dodger is a tosher. He makes a living by picking up bits and pieces that fall into the sewer drains. He lives near Seven Dials with his old mentor, Solomon Cohen, and a very smelly dog, Onan.
Dodger becomes an unlikely hero by repeatedly finding himself in the right place at the right time: he rescues a young woman beaten by two men, prevents a robbery at the Morning Chronicle and inadvertently stops a certain barber named Todd from committing murder.
Unsurprisingly, he soon ends up in a political imbroglio that could trigger an international war and becomes the target of an assassin.
Even though it’s not part of the Discworld series, Dodger is a terrific adventure and detective novel, full of the usual Pratchettian humour and philosophy, and I greatly enjoyed it.
Series: His Dark Materials
US: The Golden Compass
Set at the turn of the twentieth century in an alternate Europe where everyone is inseparable from their animal daemons, shape-changers that only settle at puberty, this is the story of Lyra Belacqua (and her daemon Pantalaimon), a teenage orphan girl living in Oxford College in charge of her powerful uncle, Lord Asriel.
Being a curious little girl, Lyra hears lots of gossip in the old halls. Some, about Dust, as well as pictures of a mysterious floating city in the aurora, make her dream of travelling North on one of her uncle's expeditions. But soon she also hears rumours of children, mainly from Gyptian families, who have started to mysteriously disappear, lured and captured by what people call the "Gobblers".
And when her playmate Roger the kitchen boy is kidnapped, she's desperate. But at the same time arrives Mrs. Coulter, an elegant and fascinatingly intelligent woman, who wants to take Lyra to her school in London. Believing that she'll learn more about Dust and maybe travel North with her, she soon becomes Mrs. Coulter's protégée. Until she realizes that the woman is none other than the head of the General Oblation Board of London, in other words the "Gobblers", and runs away.
The rest of the story tells how Lyra finally travels to Lapland, setting out in search of Roger and the other missing children with the help of the Gyptians, with whom she first takes refuge, of Panserborne (armoured bears) and witch-queens, and of the alethiometer, a strange compass-like device that reveals the truth to anyone who can read it, which the Master of Oxford College secretly gave her just before she left. Little by little, she'll become caught up in the adults' intricate powerplay.
I liked Northern Lights (US title: The Golden Compass), and found it quite pleasant to read, but I wasn't overly captivated by it. I was moved by Lyra's friendship with Iorek Byrnison, an exiled Panserborne, and deeply shocked, appalled, when I discovered what the "Gobblers" do to the snatched children, but that's about it. Lyra's a tad too temerarious and quick-witted, and in the end, I found her hardly believable. I'm very fond of Pantalaimon though.
The Subtle Knife
Will Parry is a twelve-year-old boy living in Oxford with his mother, who's suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and his cat Moxie. His father, an arctic explorer, has gone missing almost since the boy was born.
Will's mother has been facing more and more crises of late, and strangers have been harrassing her repeatedly, asking questions about her husband, about the letters he sent her twelve years ago. Will decides to send her to his old piano teacher's house to keep her safe, but when these men come back and search their home, Will accidently kills one of them. Not wanting to call the police because they would put his mother into hospital, he takes his father's letters from their hiding place in the sewing machine, and flees.
But walking on the side of the road, he sees a cat much like Moxie suddenly disappear. Examining the patch of grass more closely, he discovers a window, resolves to cross it, and finds himself in Cittàgazze, a sun-drenched, palm-treed city on the sea shore, in another world.
The city looks as if everyone just left in a hurry though, and when Will is looking for food in the recently abandoned cafés, he stumbles onto a lost young girl, Lyra. Although shocked to see a human without a daemon, and after asking her alethiometer for advice, she knows she can trust Will, and they finally decide to help each other.
The rest of the book describes how they travel back and forth between worlds, Will searching for his father, Lyra gathering information about Dust, both making new allies as well as meeting new enemies, facing new, more deadly dangers.
I liked The Subtle Knife more than Northern Lights (US title: The Golden Compass), was more gripped by it as a whole. I particularly enjoyed the connections between Lyra's and Will's (our) Oxford, when Lyra discovers what is similar, and what is not, to the place where she grew up. There's still a rather mystic edge to the story which I don't quite get, but I guess everything will clear up in the last chapter.
The Amber Spyglass
This volume starts just where the previous left off: after the conflagration on the hills near Cittàgazze, Lyra is nowhere to be found. Looking for her, Will meets two Angels, Balthamos and Baruch, who urge him to bring the Subtle Knife to Lord Asriel. He promises to help them, as soon as he's recued Lyra.
Lyra is actually in another world, where Mrs. Coulter is keeping her asleep with drugs, and telling the local population that she's a holy woman and that she's trying to heal Lyra, so as to be left alone and unquestioned. Soon though, with the help of a little village girl named Ama and of two tiny spies in the service of Lord Asriel, Gallivespians known as the Chevalier Tialys and the Lady Salmakia, Will finds her again and saves her.
But now the most dangerous part of the journey begins, because both children want to go to the Land of the Dead, to make amends and try to rescue Roger and Will's father.
As for Dr. Mary Malone, who crossed into Cittàgazze and then in yet another world, she meets a strange people called the Mulefa. Living with them for some time, she finally learns their language, make friends and discover they also know about sraf, the Shadow particles she was studying in her laboratory, or what Lyra calls Dust. She'll build a spyglass to see sraf and understansd its purpose.
Meanwhile, Father Gomez, an emissary of the Church, is on a Holy mission to kill Lyra, to prevent her from committing the original sin again.
I still don't know what to think of these books. The story is sometimes very moving, with some heart-wrenching passages, but the rest is sometimes dull and not very believable. I didn't think this final book tied up all loose ends either. It was enjoyable, but I wouldn't call His Dark Materials my favourite series.
Series: The Vampire Chronicles
*Interview With the Vampire (*Entretien
Avec un Vampire)
Series: The Mayfair Witches
*The Witching Hour (*Le Lien
*The Mummy (*La Momie)
Series: The Swans' War
The One Kingdom
The One Kingdom tells the story of three young lads from the Vale of Lakes, Tam Loell and his cousin Fynnol, and Fynnol's cousin Baore Talon, who set off on the river Wynnd to sell artefacts found on an ancient battlefield in the town of Inniseth.
The first night they're met by Alaan, a stranger looking for old stories about given names in the Vale. When they're attacked by brigands, Alaan sacrifices himself to help the young men escape. The next morning, they meet a party of travelling Fáel. Among them Cynddl, a story finder, asks to join the boys on their trip downriver. A trip that will end up taking them much further south than they initially intended.
South, where Dease, Samul, Arden and Beldor Renné are plotting the political murder, at the annual Westbrook Fair, of their cousin Toren, current leader of the family. This way they want to prevent him from returning the Isle of Battle to the Wills, the Renné's age-old enemies. Indeed, they think this peace offer will make them vulnerable and bring the family to ruin, plus they hope to frame the Wills at the same time.
Also caught in the midst of this intrigue is 20-year-old Elise, daughter of the blind musician Lord Carral Wills and niece of the despicable Menwyn, who wants to marry her off to Prince Michael, son of Prince Neit of Innes, and use her to reawaken war against the Renné.
I found the beginning of the story rather slow, with the first four protagonists mainly rowing down the river, and sometimes reminiscent of the Fellowship of the Ring, with young cousins off on an adventure, meeting elf-like Fáel, being tracked down by scary men... I also thought the short glimpses at the numerous other characters' stories were kind of confusing. Thankfully, the plot really gets interesting when all pieces finally click together around 200 pages before the end, and the book suddenly becomes a page-turner.
The Isle of Battle
After the Renné costume ball and the disastrous attempt at overcoming Hafydd, Alaan is seriously wounded and flees to the river Wynnd, finally ending up in the gloomy Stillwater marshland.
In his tracks are Haffyd and his men-at-arms, accompanied by Prince Michael secretly spying on him, and
After their cousin Toren's failed assassination, Samul and Beldor Renné are forced to flee. Toren, Dease, and later the Knight of the Vow Gilbert A'brgail, follow.
Meanwhile at Castle Renné, Lord Carral Wills meets Lady Beatrice and asks for the Isle of Battle to be returned to him in exchange for a peace treaty. There he also meets Llyn, and the reclusive girl with the burned face finally lowers her barriers in the blind man's presence.
But at the same time the Prince of Innes and Menwyn Wills, taking advantage of Hafydd's absence, decide to overrun Isle of Battle. The Renné and their new ally Lord Carral must go to war.
In this volume, numerous groups of characters alternately converge, forging new alliances, and diverge, like meandering arms of a river. Aside from Lord Carral's branch and its tributaries, it seemed to me that most of the book was spend wading waist-deep in the murky swamp of the Stillwater, squinting through thick fog, following the various groups of protagonists chasing each other, trying to catch Alaan before it's too late... leaving me virtually sodden.
The Shadow Road
Barely escaping alive from the hidden lands moors, our heroes learn from Tuath the Fáel seer that Hafydd has made a bargain with Death and is planning to create a soul eater.
Alaan, accompanied by the three Valemen, Cynddl the Fáel storyfinder and Rabal Crowheart, decides to leave for the borderlands of Death's Kingdom in search of Wyrr. On their way, they meet the Dubrells, Orlem Slighthand's giant people.
As for Elise Wills, still hosting the spirit of Sianon, she goes on pursuing Hafydd on the river Wynnd with the help of Toren Renné and Gilbert A'brgail.
Meanwhile, war is still brewing between the Wills and the Renné on the Isle of Battle. Prince Michael of Innes searches for allies to confront Menwyn Wills, retake control of the army and make both feuding families see they have to choice but to join forces if they want a chance to win against the sorcerer Hafydd.
As a whole, I found there were too many characters for my liking, and as a result some secondary plot lines were more intriguing than the main one. Generally speaking, I was more interested in what happened in the common world than in the magical forces and fights between reincarnate sorcerers. For instance, even though I was glad to leave the dankness of the river for the dryness of the desert for a while, I'm not sure the addition of the Dubrells' story was really essential, and I much preferred reading about Carl A'denné and Jamm, about Prince Michael, or about Llyn Wills and Carral Wills. Ultimately, the Swans' War trilogy is enjoyable but lacking a little concision... close, but no cigar.
Exploring the neighbourhood, he discovers Scollay Square and the Rialto theatre, meeting Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers on the screen, and the Lovelies after midnight. Back home he observes Norman Shine, the shopkeeper, from a hole in the ceiling. Every morning they read the newspaper together – and find out that the area is going to be demolished and renovated soon, sounding the death knell for the Pembroke Books. It isn't long until Firmin tries to communicate with Norman, only to be served rat poison in return.
Discomfited, his love unrequited, Firmin learns some sign language and tries his luck at the Public Garden... without much success either, and is rescued by Jerry Magoon, the solitary sci-fi writer who lives next to the shop. Together they listen to music and eat peanut butter. But Firmin's hopes are dashed again when he realizes his friend doesn't actually understand him and only sees him as a funny pet.
Firmin is a moving, sometimes sad, novel full of nostalgia, impossible dreams and foolish hopes. I really wish I could have been Firmin's friend.
*The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
While she is at a loss as what to write next, she receives a letter from a Mr Dawsey Adams in Guernsey, saying he has book that once belonged to her, which he got from the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and could she please tell him more about its author.
Juliet's curiosity is piqued by the Society's name and thus they start exchanging mail about literature and life on the island during the war, soon involving Dawsey's neighbours in their correspondence. As letters come and go, Juliet grows fond of her new friends and after a few months, she decides to travel to the Channel Islands and meet them in person.
This book was offered to me by my father-in-law, who knows I usually only read Fantasy. However, he was spot on! This is indeed an exciting novel full of charming people. I wish I could go on reading about them, and I would love to see a film!
*Where the Evil Dwells (*Le
Pays du Mal)
Series: The Guardian Cycle
The Dark Moon as Julia Gray
In Makhaya, on the Floating Islands, Empress Adina is about to give birth to her first heir. As prophecied in the Tindaya Code, a child born under a special lunar conjuction, the alignment of the Red, White, Amber and Dark Moons, is to become the Guardian, the hero that will save the world from a terrible disaster supposed to happen on the next alignment, seventy-five years later. But children born under this conjunction are usually crippled, and when the infant is finally extracted from his mother's womb, what a relief it is to see that he is in perfect health. However the Empress's joy doesn't last long, as she realizes her labour is not over yet, and gives birth to a second, badly misshapen child with strange glittering eyes. Believing this twin is an ill omen, and the incarnation of evil, she orders him to be taken away, his existence kept secret forever.
Fourteen years later, the crippled boy Terrel is living in a madhouse in Havenmoon with his friends Alyssa, a girl who can see into other people's dreams, and Elam, a young boy who's been arrested for stealing potatoes when the moon conjunction was not right for harvesting. Indeed, the whole Floating Island society is dictated by the Seers, astrologers who set up rules and taboos, according to the positions, waxings and wanings of the four moons. Their task is also to calculate the timing of the numerous earthquakes caused by the moons.
One day though, a strange, unexplained earth tremor occurs, opening a breach in the wall of Havenmoon's abandoned necropolis. Terrel and his friends go and explore the forbidden cemetary, where they find an old observatory and a library. Soon after this event, Terrel recieves his first visit in fourteen years. It is Shahan, a Seer of Makhaya, who tells him about the Prophecy of the Guardian, in which he believes Terrel might have a role to play. The boy also learns that due to the last earthquake, the Dark Moon has apparently left its orbit and that as a result, the next alignment should occur sooner than expected.
As another consequence, soldiers are now arresting everyone who's breaking a taboo under the new conjunction, as well as everyone who would have if the moons hadn't moved, and soon Havenmoon is crammed with prisoners. One day, soldiers try to rape Alyssa, but she defends herself with strange invisible forces. Believing she's a witch, they lock her up in a dungeon cell. When the old necropolis is about to be filled with prisoners, Terrel wants to save the books he found there. He and Elam manage to get out of the madhouse after cerfew, and on their way back, Terrel wants to check on his friend Alyssa. But Elam is caught, and Terrel has no choice but to escape if he wants to survive. In a dream that night, Terrel promises Alyssa that he'll come back to save her.
Looking for food and shelter in the countryside is not easy, the more so as Terrel often scares people off with his crippled right arm and leg and strange eyes. But realizing that he can feel earthquakes before they actually happen, he uses this strange ability to help a farmer save his herd. Finally accepted as farm hand, he then works another miracle and helps a cow and her calf in a difficult delivery. However, people start to become suspicious. Could he be the Enchanter from the legends? And when one night, Terrel is caught talking to an owl, he knows he can no longer stay on the farm.
The owl's mind was in fact controlled by Alyssa. Having the intuition that Terrel has a great part to play for the future of the Floating Islands, and having heard of rumours of a monster killing miners in Betancuria, she urges him to go there.
As you can guess by the length of this introduction, many unexpected twists and turns happen in The Dark Moon. In this first volume, we follow Terrel as he makes his way to the mines, meeting a pedlar who teaches him how to disguise his eyes using the "glamour", then travelling with a troupe of actors, all the while accompanied by Alyssa in the form of various animals, learning about what he's supposed to do once he gets there. And meanwhile in Makhaya, the Seers are calculating the new positions of the moons, as Prince Jax and his mother Adina's thirst for power is growing.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I was expecting more straightforward Sword & Sorcery fantasy, but it's actually pretty well written and full of interesting and likeable characters. The story hooks you right from the first page on, and until the last one. I noticed I have a tendency to love Orphan Boy & Prophecy plots, and once again, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
The Jasper Forest as Julia Gray
After saving the Floating Islands from utter destruction by bargaining with the elemental in the mines of Betancuria and letting the Enchanter take all the credit, Terrel is sent into exile, cast off on the ocean on a makeshift raft, with no idea where he is going. Probably to Macul, a land said to be inhabited by barbarians. Moreover, his link with Alyssa has been broken since he's been over water. After weeks adrift, at the mercy of the waves, his frail embarcation is finally driven ashore in a lagoon. The boy is about to die from dehydration when he's rescued by two young men, Aylen and Olandis, who take him up the river to their village.
In Fenduca, Terrel is taken in by Aylen and Olandis's father Kerin and step-mother Ysatel, and slowly recovering from his ordeal. Alas, he doesn't speak these people's language, and he can feel the whole village is suspicious of him. Could he really come from the Cursed Islands? Could he be an enchanter, a Sharakan? After some difficult times, Terrel is finally accepted when the villagers discover he has the power to heal animals, a power even Terrel was unaware of. And little by little, he'll learn their language and history: Fenduca is situated at the foot of a great black mountain, on the top of which lives the tyrant king Ekuban, in the jeweled city of Talazoria. And since the valley is the source of some riches coveted by Ekuban, the latter and his soldiers are constantly harassing the villagers.
Terrel has been searching for a way to go back to his home island of Vadanis when he has a dream in which he learns that there might be another elemental in the city of Talazoria, and that a terrible earthquake is threatening the world again if he doesn't stop the king from angering the "demon". Indeed, Ekuban has been holding the elemental prisoner in an old dungeon surrounded by a moat, and entertaining his nobles by sending beggars and cripples to fight it, to their death. Terrel will have to leave his new found friends soon.
The rest of the book describes our hero's journey to Talazoria, stopping on the way, against his will, in a mysterious valley enshrouded by clouds and where the sun never shines, to help lift a curse that has been preventing the women to have children for the last four years.
I liked The Jasper Forest a lot. It's not that this volume is extremely original, the layout being approximately the same of that of The Dark Moon, nor that the overall plot is passionating, it's just that the characters are so extremely likeable, and the story so well-written, that Terrel's day to day life becomes a real pleasure to read!
The Crystal Desert as Julia Gray
Over three years have passed since Terrel left the madhouse of Havenmoon. After preventing another disaster by bargaining with the elemental in Talazoria, he's crossed another ocean, to find himself in the desert of Misrah. Terrel is now travelling with the Toma, a nomadic tribe, earning his rightful place thanks to his healing skills. Among them are two refugees who will become his friends: Mlicki, a disfigured boy who seems to have some hidden powers, and his little sister Kalkara, who hasn't uttered a single word since the death of their parents in the raid of their village. Feeling somehow very close to the girl, Terrel searches for a way to break this protective barrier and uncover her mysteries.
Terrel feels he has to find another elemental in this land, but he has no idea where, until he hears of a plague spreading all over Nydus, which makes its victims afraid of water until they die of thirst. Knowing of the Ancient's sheer terror of the liquid, his doubts are now confirmed, all the more when he learns that the huge Kullana river has run dry since a tremendous earthquake caused the land to fissure in two. To save the world from yet another catastrophe, it soon becomes clear that Terrel has to take part in the Race of Truth, a long treck through the desert where no drinking is permitted during daylight. And not only has he to join Zahir, the Toma's champion's team, but they'll have to win this race in order to be granted access to the Mountain of Makranash, where the Ancient elemental supposedly resides.
Meanwhile, the Seers, as well as Muzeni and Shahan's ghosts, are still trying to decipher the prophecy in the Tindaya Code, whereas Jax is still behaving as if he were the Guardian and invading Terrel's dreams at each opportunity, torturing him and wreaking havoc with his weather-mage powers. As for Alyssa and Elam, as well as some of the sleepers encountered along the way, their spirits are coming to Terrel's help whenever they can.
Again, I loved reading about Terrel's adventures, learning the ways of the nomads in their search for precious water in the harsh and barren desert of Misrah. The overall plot is again pretty similar to that of the previous volumes, but who cares, when the characters are so endearing and interesting? As long as the pages keep turning, I don't...
The Red Glacier as Julia Gray
Another three and a half years have passed since the events of The Crystal Desert, our hero is now twenty-one. Still drawn by his instincts, Terrel is on the Skua, a ship heading for the ice covered island of Myvatan, where he believes resides another Elemental. And when he recognizes a vision from his dreams, the rock carved in the shape of a large whale described in the Tindaya Code, he has to convince the captain of the ship to let him disembark.
Emerging from Savik's Whale's blowhole, Terrel soon finds himself caught up in a war that's been going on for centuries between the Black, Red, White and Gold quarters. Taken to Saudark by the Black who suspect he's a spy, Terrel later discovers a society where water is the vector of magic. Indeed, whereas men fight with swords and spears, the Magians, all women, use the potency of water to create powerful weapons in the form of weather spells. It won't be long until Jax, taking over Terrel's body one day, impresses Tofana with his weathermage skills. The chief Wizard will then devise Fire Starters, a weapon capable of destroying their enemies utterly in the blink of an eye. If Terrel doesn't do anything about it, it will be an appalling massacre, and a threat for the whole world of Nydus.
The book goes on to describe the terrible war of magic in which Terrel reluctantly takes part, trying to make his way to the Elemental at the same time, and making new, invaluable friends on the road. Among them are Tegan and Yarek, two young people who, like him, are eager to bring peace back on Myvatan.
Whereas our hero's overall goal is still the same, this volume is a tad different from the previous ones in the sense that Terrel's search for the Elemental takes a slightly less ponderous place in the story, leaving space for a little more action. The new characters introduced here are again very likable and their society quite interesting. However, not much is said about the further deciphering of the Tindaya Code and the solving of the Dark Moon and Sleepers' mysteries, as Alyssa and the ghosts intervene less often. And I have to admit I kind of missed them, and had the felling that the pace had somehow decelerated. Let's hope this is only the quiet before the storm, as I'm looking forward to reading how things resolve in the climatic conclusion I'm expecting in Alyssa's Ring, the last volume.
Alyssa's Ring as Julia Gray
More years have passed since the events of The Red Glacier, and after failing to heal the insane Elemental on Myvatan, it's now time for Terrel to cross the Movaghassi Ocean once more and make his way home, to Vadanis.
Terrel is now travelling in the land of Kenda with a ragtag group of men: Faulk, an imposing but taciturn former mercenary, Lawren, who believes he's a seer, Nomar the healer and his son Taryn, who can see in other people's dreams, and Roskin, a falconer. On the way, they also meet two runaways, a young lady called Yllen and Pieri the storyteller.
Stopping for the night at the Haven Inn, it isn't long before they pick up rumours among the local gossip that the city of Vergos is in turmoil. That same night, Terrel learns that there are Sleepers in Vergos, and that the next lunar conjunction, prophesied as the end of the World, is scheduled for less than three months later. He has to go there before it's too late. Alas, it is soon apparent that the elements are against him, as huge balls of fire start to fall from the sky and spurts of molten lava start to gush form the surrounding volcanos.
The book goes on to describe Terrel and his companion's struggle to avert disaster and find a way to finally get back to the Floating Islands before the next conjuction to fulfill the promise he and Alyssa made eachother so many years ago.
Again, I enjoyed this book a lot, but more because of the interaction between its characters than for the way the overall plot is solved. Indeed, Mark & Julia Smith (Julia Gray) once more introduced interesting and loveable protagonists, whom I liked spending time with, whereas the conclusion left me somewhat unmoved. But don't they say that the journey is more important that the destination?
Bringing back a sword named Sweetnesss as proof, he goes to the King's castle to claim the reward. King Astin asks Mark to give up the legandary blade in exchange for any prize of his choosing. Mark picks the sovereign's most precious jewel: the hand of his youngest daughter, the bold and impetuous Gail, currently betrothed to Duke Richard.
Mark is a farmboy, not used to court manners. He's blunt and makes blunder after blunder, but the Princess actually sees in him her chance at freedom from court duties and etiquette.
And since Gail wants to enjoy the world, she won't let her new husband touch her until she decides so, for fear she falls pregnant and has to stay at home. She'll also make Mark travel on foot to their estate at Borders, in the company of Lissa, her strongheaded childhood pal and lady-in-waiting, and Mark's only friend at court, the elegant and bespectacled Valerian, who's secretly in love with Lissa.
During the treck they'll grow fond of each other.
Arriving at Borders, Mark realises that by breaking the spell, he might have unleashed the magic and ghosts that had been sealed off in the keep. Now he has to put everything right.
Nobody's son isn't your typical fantasy novel. Nor is Gail your typical princess or Mark your typical hero. He swears, has fears and doubts, and we're privy to his thoughts. This gives the book a slightly comical tone and a pleasant rhythm. A nice surprise!
In the first hundred pages we follow Jonathan Harker on his trip to Transylvania, where he goes to meet his client, Count Dracula, who is in the process of acquiring some real estate properties in and around London. It won't be long until the young lawyer notices the Count's strange behaviour, and realizes he's a prisoner in his host's Castle. Only when Dracula finally makes for England can Jonathan escape.
Then until halfway through the book, we are told of Lucy's declining health since the arrival in Whitby during a tempest of a strange ghost ship, and of the struggles of her fiancé Arthur Holmwood, his American friend Quincey Morris, and Drs. Seward and Van Helsing to save her life... and when this fails, to save her soul.
In the second half, all the protagonists unite, putting their diaries and reports together, also gathering clues from Dr. Seward's delusional patient R. M. Renfield, in order to obliterate this great evil.
Of course my first encounters with vampires, and especially the legend of Dracula, was through the numerous films based (some remotely) on this novel. I remember being very obsessed as a child with a vial that froze people still in the French spoof "Les Charlots contre Dracula", and later charmed by the eerie atmosphere in Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers. But the one that made the most lasting impression on the then 19-year-old me, was Coppola's most romantic version, which also became my favourite film for some time. As a result, I must say that while reading (for the second time), Jonathan Harker had Keanu Reeves's face, Mina Winona Ryder's and Van Helsing Anthony Hopkins's. However, Count Dracula himself was too unlike Gary Oldman for him to take his features.
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