Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

The Finnbranch Readalong: Undersea

Did you read this, squiders? If not, don’t. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more confusing piece of literature in my life.

Continuing on from Yearwood, we follow Finn (or do we?) as he learns more about who he is and what he’s meant to do. There continues to be a mix of Celtic and Norse mythology (Llugh from the first, Sleipnir from the latter–or at least an eight-legged horse). I suspect Finn is modeled off of Odin, since he only has one eye and had the two crows in the last book (and now has an eight-legged horse). Is it supposed to be a direct analogy? Who the heck knows?

It’s hard to talk about this book because I feel like I couldn’t follow it at all. I like to think I have a decent reading comprehension, even when it comes to things like myths which are often obtuse or contradictory, but I spent a lot of this lost. Finn is also apparently both his father Ar Elon and his son Llugh, and he spends a lot of time in this story in Llugh’s flesh. For some reason Llugh will lead an army of sealmen (never referred to as Selchie in this book despite that terminology in the first one) against Finn on land. Why? Because he’s supposed to? Not sure.

There’s also a lot of obtuse references to an alternative, ultimate form of Finn (one character, after Finn tells him he is Ar Elon, Finn, and Llugh, swear allegiance to him, and when Finn asks which name he recognizes, replies, “The one you did not say.”) as well as the fact that Finn knows what’s happening and what must happen. None of that knowledge ever gets passed on to the reader, however, so don’t get excited.

I feel like this book is mostly a convoluted mess of “Look how mysterious I’m being, oooo, look at all these levels of myth, it’s so cool.” I am annoyed at it. I am also annoyed at the plot progression, or seeming lack of it. (SPOILER, if you care.) It goes something like: Finn has killed Ar Elon (which technically he did at the end of the last book), Finn leaves island and goes back to land where he’s apparently gone back in time and is now his father (at least, that was the implication I got) and meets his mother as a young girl, Finn leaves land, Finn finds random island and fights his dead father, he is his dead father and is barred passage, then he’s Llugh and the island gatekeeper takes care of him for a bit and shows him the fathomless hall he’s been building underground on the island forever, Finn leaves island and finds some sealmen to serve him, Finn returns to island with sealmen and finds a whole bunch of other sealmen who recognize him as Llugh and are ready to go to the war against Finn as preordained. Also everyone on the island is dead? And then Finn/Llugh disappears and there’s some allegory about youth and ugh. I am so done.

I’m still trying to remember why I put this book on my Amazon wishlist. It was probably on some list of mythology-based fantasy somewhere and someone made it sound way more awesome than it is.

Part of me wants to give the trilogy up at this point, but from what I understand, the third book, Winterking, undergoes some sort of time jump, and I guess I’m intrigued enough to continue on with this madness. So we’ll discuss Winterking on Aug 24 (this is the longest of the three books, so that should give us a little more time to slog through it).

Did you read this, squiders? What did you think? Help me on what happened because I’m really confused.

The Finnbranch Readalong: Yearwood

Hey hey, Squiders! Only one day late, which, considering how this week has gone, is a freaking miracle.

So, Yearwood, book one of the Finnbranch trilogy. Did you guys read this? It’s so very ’80s fantasy it almost hurts.

We’ve discussed previously how you can see very obvious trends in epic fantasy from the “classic” fantasy of the ’50s and ’60s ala Tolkien to the modern character-driven fantasy of today. The ’80s fall somewhere in the middle, where the characters have begun to be more important than the plot, but generally not to the extent you find today.

Yearwood follows Finn, a teenage boy growing up in an isolated mountain community. His mother is married to the lord, but the lord is not his father, and, indeed, he’s never been given a real name, so his sisters have each made up their own for him. There are no other men in the community aside from his mother’s servant, the lord’s obsession on trying to figure out his father’s name having driven the community into decline.

If that sounds like a convoluted mess, you’re not wrong. The prose here is pretty dense, though it is in first person. Yet Finn is not actively telling his story, but telling it in retrospect, an adult telling the story of when he was young. Yearwood seems to be half of an origin story, with the other half continuing into the second book, Undersea.

Finn’s kind of a hard person to ride along with. He’s egotistical and sometimes cruel in that way that most teenagers get. He’s angry at his mother, who has never shown him any affection, and at his absent, unknown father. Even when he begins to learn how he was begat and who his father is, the anger stays with him.

There’s a weird mix up of mythology here. There are two crows which Finn arguably owns which he gives names meaning Thought and Memory, a clear connection to Odin, who likewise has crows named the same, but that seems to be the only Norse mythology here. The rest feels more Celtic, especially with several references to Dagda and the fact the Finn’s community is called Morrigan. There are also references to Selchie, which is another spelling of selkie, though the mythology doesn’t translate directly here. Still, it seems like the setting is supposed to be its own world rather than a version of our own. Not sure if that was the intention, however.

This is fantasy in the way legends and myths are—nothing is distinctly fantastical, merely accepted as how the world works, whether it’s giant death crows or walking stone kings.

So, tl;dr—this feels like a modern retelling of a legend, with the same sort of story structure and dense language. Yet it was oddly readable despite that. But I can see why more modern readers on Goodreads aren’t terribly fond of it.

Did you read this, squiders? What did you think?

We’ll read Undersea for next month and do a discussion on July 18.

Language Barriers in Speculative Fiction

Hey hey, so apparently I was going to write this post two years ago, got as far as “WOO” and never went back to it. Good job on focusing, me.

Language barriers are something common that you find in science fiction and fantasy stories. It makes sense, especially if you’ve got cultures that have never met before, and it can make for interesting conflict if characters can’t understand each other. Especially when dealing with alien races, you can even make up new ways of communication that may be impossible for other species to learn.

On the other hand, sometimes you need characters to be able to communicate, even if you’ve set things up so they shouldn’t be able to because of whatever reason.

Let’s go over some of the most common ways to get around language barriers. And feel free to let me know your favorite and least favorite examples of overcoming barriers and what worked (or didn’t) in the comments.

Common Language

The idea here is that there’s a common language that different species all learn so they can communicate with each other, even if they have their own language otherwise. This is your “Galactic Standard,” as it were. Of course, for this to work, your various species need to similar enough that it makes sense that they’d all be able to make the same linguistic sounds, etc.

One Person Understands

This is where you have a character that speaks its own language which is incomprehensible to the reader/viewer, but luckily there’s that one other character who knows that language and can translate or have one-sided conversations that essentially get the meaning across. Han Solo with Chewbacca, for example, or Rocket with Groot.

Universal Translator

These are magic devices that automatically translate any language it comes in contact with, as long as said language has been encountered before (to add some leeway for when you want a plot that hinges on miscommunication). A lot of the time, these can also pick up new languages after a few minutes of listening. A LOT of science fiction uses this idea, though you do occasionally come across the fantasy equivalent (such as a spell of understanding).

Telepathy

Maybe characters can’t understand each other, but hey, using telepathy can help even the most disparate of species communicate! (Assuming, of course, that their patterns of thought are at all similar.) This mode can often rely a lot on visuals and emotions rather than words.

Immersion/Building Understanding Over Time

For a more realistic approach, if your cultures aren’t meeting for the first time, you can assume they have had interactions for a while and might have started to pick up each other’s language. (Some people show this through some characters/species speaking with an odd grammar, though be aware this can get tedious to read.) Alternately, people can pick up languages through immersion, which is where you’re immersed in another language for a long period of time. This forces you to learn the language through everyday interactions, and also helps you learn how to convey ideas when you don’t have the vocabulary yet.

Of course, both of these methods require time, and if you need two characters to be able to interact to stop the universe from imploding in the next week, well.

Do you have a method I’ve left out, Squiders? Examples, good or bad? Thoughts on storytelling that relies on disparate characters being able to understand each other?

Introducing the Finnbranch Readalong

Howdy, Squiders! Let’s do a readalong, since it’s been a while. I’ve scoured my book shelves for series of the appropriate genres (which also aren’t massive) and have found Paul Hazel’s Finnbranch trilogy (Yearwood, Undersea, and Winterking) from the early ’80s. (I have a omnibus of all three from the later ’80s.)

I’ve never read it, but I’m pretty sure somebody bought this for me off my Amazon wishlist, so I must have had it recommended to me somewhere, or read something about it and thought it sounded like a good time.

Interestingly, it seems like while the trilogy was well-received back in the day, the reviews on Goodreads are all over the place. If nothing else, it should be an interesting look at how storytelling changes through generations, as I’ve previously noted somewhere in the archives that there’s a pretty obvious change in the fantasy genre in the ’80s. I wonder where this trilogy will fall on it?

Let’s do one book a month, since that seems to work the best for everyone who wants to read along being able to do so. So let’s read Yearwood by June 15th. And if you have any thoughts on this or potential future readalongs, please let me know, either in the comments or by contacting me directly.

Happy reading, squiders!

Let’s Talk About Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Afternoon/evening, Squiders. As you guys know, I was a major Potterphile back in the day. Still, when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out in July, I didn’t pick it up. There seemed to be a lot of mixed thoughts on both the idea of revisiting Harry Potter years later as well as the plotline itself. There’s also the fact that Cursed Child is a screenplay and not a prose novel, and the fact that it wasn’t even really written by J.K. Rowling.

I could understand those fears and anxieties and so I just…didn’t touch the thing.

But my husband took the small, mobile ones to the library while I was at MileHiCon a few weeks back and picked the book up for me. Still, I resisted. I stared at it for a week before I touched it. And then I was very slow about it, reading maybe ten pages a day, afraid to get too caught up in it, just in case.

And then last night I read the last of it in one go, so here we are.

I liked it, in the end. It feels like it fits. Adult Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Draco read like believable adult versions of the kids from the books. The story mainly revolves around the younger generation, Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (♥ Scorpius, poor kid), and deals with them trying to break out of their fathers’ shadows (and shenanigans along those lines). There were some really nice moments.

There was also one key scene where I will swear part of it was missing. I flipped back and re-read it a couple of times, and it still didn’t make sense. And I felt like some of the less major characters were occasionally out of character.

But still, it was nice to revisit that world, to see what had changed over the years. Also, technically, to see the future, because if you recall, the Battle for Hogwarts happened in 1998, and so the story starts 19 years later, in 2017. It was nice to see Harry (even if he is not the greatest parent), to see Ron and Hermione’s relationship, to see the kids as their own characters.

So, if you’ve been holding out–there’s no reason to. It’s not going to destroy the characters you love or the stories you grew up with.

I gotta say, the stage version must be something. Some of the stage directions…plus there’s a section with polyjuice potion, and another with transfiguration–I’d like to see those pulled off. It’s probably awesome. The Internet tells me that there’s talk of moving the show to Broadway, or starting a separate showing on Broadway, or something along those lines, and if we get a Broadway show, maybe we’ll get a traveling show, and then maybe I can go and see it.

Read Cursed Child, Squiders? Like or dislike? Favorite new character? (Mine’s Scorpius, as noted above.) Plus McGonagall, right? You can never go wrong with Professor McGonagall. ♥

The Ever Fiend by Randy Ellefson

Happy Monday, Squiders! I’m pleased to introduce The Ever Fiend by Randy Ellefson. Randy’s also giving away a giftcard as part of his book blast, so look for the entry info at the bottom of the post.

mediakit_bookcover_theeverfiend

Only a fool steals from a wizard.

Talon Stormbringer thought he knew the risk of stealing from Viland Shadowbreaker – until he got caught. The wizard will spare him if Talon performs a service – fetch the deadly silver elixir from the Everway, a supernatural land that Talon assumed wasn’t real. Only children believe the stories about what lies within – lost souls, corrupted magic items, and mysterious destinations that most people never escape. Ruling over it all is the Ever Fiend, a bogeyman that people use
to scare unruly youngsters into behaving.

Talon agrees to go, if only to stop Viland from doing something unholy with the potent elixir once retrieved. Joining him are a band of people he can’t trust. Their leader, a sorelia with nefarious plans of his own. The sorelia’s battle-trained mynx, a large cat who obeys only its master. An alluring swordswoman who wants to enchant her blades with the elixir. A cocky guard whose bravado might prove more liability than asset. A warrior kryll whose curiosity about the elixir might cost him more than his life. And a tortured Knight of Coiryn who seeks redemption in a place where most are damned. Of all the things they might discover on their journey, one is the most obvious and yet the hardest to learn…

Excerpt:

Suddenly freed, Talon squeezed his sword, flexed his limbs, and weighed some options. Quick as he was, no sword could fly faster than words. And while the taller shadow was likely the wizard, he had no idea to whom or what the other shadow belonged, and had to know before launching an attack. Besides, he could hardly assess his foes with his back to them. He slowly
turned around, a scowl on his face.

A black-robed, balding man stood beside the empty pedestal, a reassuring smile on his swarthy face. Perhaps he was a Marulan from across the Antaran Sea. But Marulans were thought to be mostly savages, their skins as black as their deeds, and not wizards with an air of sophistication and opulence. The man did not have an accent that Talon could hear. The long face, nose, and limbs matched what Talon had heard from stories. The dark eyes of Viland Shadowbreaker observed him coolly.

Bio:

Randy Ellefson has written fantasy fiction since his teens and is an avid world builder, having spent three decades creating Llurien, which has its own website. He has a Bachelor’s of Music in classical guitar but has always been more of a rocker, having released several albums and earned endorsements from music companies. He’s a professional software developer and runs a consulting firm in the Washington D.C. suburbs. He’s married and loves spending time with his son and daughter when not writing, making music, or playing golf.

http://www.RandyEllefson.com

http://www.llurien.com

FREE eBook: http://fiction.randyellefson.com/freebook/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/randyellefson

FaceBook (as author): http://www.facebook.com/RandyEllefsonAuthor

Randy will be awarding a $10 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter to win a $10 Amazon/BN GC – a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Adventures of Kate Readalong: The Merlin Effect

Well, Squiders, here we are at the end of the “trilogy.” What I find most interesting about The Adventures of Kate is that, aside from Kate, the books are completely unrelated. There are no overlapping characters or locations. I suppose T.A. Barron could have gone on forever in this vein, though Kate would have probably eventually run out of adult relatives to take her exotic places or show her exotic things.

So, The Merlin Effect. Originally published in 1994. Kate states at the beginning that she’s 13 now; I feel like she’s also 13 in Heartlight. I flipped through the beginning of Heartlight again to check but couldn’t find a mention of her age, but if so it’s been a rather eventful year. Traveling through space on the back of a giant butterfly, traveling back in time to protect an ancient forest, and now hanging out with Merlin at the bottom of the ocean.

I place The Merlin Effect between The Ancient One and Heartlight in terms of my own likes. I felt a little more tired of the whole Arthur legend thing this time around, but I think that’s me being burned out on it in general. Still, this is a very different take on the whole thing.

Right, let’s gather our thoughts. In this book, Kate has accompanied her father to Mexico while he searches for the remains of a legendary shipwreck. Her father is a historian with a particular interest in Arthurian legend and Merlin in particular. (T.A. Barron went on to write several novels about Merlin, so I suppose this was a topic of particular interest for him.) He believes that this shipwreck may contain one of Merlin’s treasures, a horn of great, though unknown, power, and that by finding said treasure he can prove that Merlin really existed.

However, there’s a giant whirlpool in the general area of where the ship–if it ever existed–went down, which complicates things, as does strange volcanic activity that another scientist staying at their camp is studying. A third scientist is studying a type of fish believed to be previously extinct, but which seems to be given eternal life here in the region by the whirlpool.

Merlin and Arthurian legend is prevalent throughout, though it is interesting to see it mixed with new elements with the shipwreck and the whirlpool.

Anyway, I mostly enjoyed the book, though the last few chapters leapt point of views a ton in completely unnecessary ways, in my opinion, and the question as to whether or not Terry is still alive is never answered. I don’t know if we were getting set up for another book which never happened–though even if there had been more Kate books, it seems like they would have been completely unrelated–or that particular subplot was just deemed too unimportant to bother wrapping up. But it feels weird that it was just left hanging.

Have you read along with me, Squiders? What did you think of The Merlin Effect or the Adventures of Kate in general? I feel like the books have held up pretty decently over the past 20 years, which is, of course, always the danger of revisiting something you enjoyed in your youth.

Most of T.A. Barron’s books are middle grade, mythology-based series, so if that sort of thing floats your boat you might want to check out the rest of his stuff. I read the first few books of his Merlin series before I dropped it, though at this point I can’t remember if I got bored or simply aged out of the intended demographic. It looks like he’s moved on to Atlantis as well.