Marlon James, Moon Witch, Spider King (2022)

Author: Marlon James

Title: Moon Witch, Spider King

Format: e-book

Pages: 626

Series: The Dark Star Trilogy #2

First things first – I’M BAACK! 😉 My vacation in Poland proved to be more adventurous than expected, what with flights cancelled barely days before departure and getting covid right after we finally arrived in Poland after 72 hours of travel… But that might be a topic for a separate post, because today I’m going to write about James’s long-awaited sequel to Black Leopard, Red Wolf.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf was a singular book: dark with horrifying, intimate violence, propulsively emotional, full of fantastical monsters (some of which were still wearing human skin), crass and whimsically poetic, and, ultimately, abrasively addictive. The protagonist, Tracker, was bare against the world: his emotions were naked, extreme, and absolutely understandable for everyone who ever met a boy on a cusp of manhood.

But why do I write about the prequel in the review of the second installment? Well, because Moon Witch, Spider King is not similar to Black Leopard, Red Wolf in any recognizable manner – and yet it serves as a satisfactory juxtaposition of perspective to the first book. Moon Witch… tells the tale of Sogolon, the old witch we already know from Tracker’s tale, the witch we all rather despise even though we know of Tracker’s misogyny and his total lack of empathy to anyone so vastly different from him.

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Barry Hughart, Bridge of Birds (1985)

Author: Barry Hughart

Title: Bridge of Birds

Format: paperback

Pages: 278

Series: The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox #1

This story is advertised as “a novel of an Ancient China That Never Was.” It’s a very subtle claim, one that gives an insight into what type of novel Hughart wrote: wistful, whimsical, full of wonder, benevolently sarcastic, witty and self-aware, and most importantly, incredibly optimistic. I really didn’t know how much I needed such a book – until I read it.

“RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

IT IS THE PLAGUE OF

THE TEN THOUSAND

PESTILENTIAL PUTRESCENCES!”

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Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber: Subtle Architecture of Treason

This is our post for Witch Week 2021: Treason and Plot, organized by the inestimable Chris of Calmgrove and Lizzie of Lizzie Ross. Witch Week is a yearly event happening in the last week of October, in tribute to Diana Wynne Jones’s third Chrestomanci book focusing on all things fantastical. This year, however, instead of concentrating on Halloween and thereabouts, we’re taking a closer look at the history of the Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot, the British tradition of Bonfire Night, and various treasonous activities causing rot in states, real and imagined.

We chose Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber as our topic for this year’s Witch Week for two reasons: first, Zelazny’s untimely death in 1996 caused a curious silence around his works, so that he’s no longer a well-known author and his novels have been slowly sliding into oblivion in recent years. He remains an author’s author, mentioned here and there by the new generations as a source of inspiration, but in our opinion he deserves wider recognition. Secondly, The Chronicles of Amber, a series of ten books that can safely be classified as fantasy, though discussions can be had whether it’s epic or urban, or something else altogether, is a wondrously complex latticework of betrayal, double dealing, plots within plots, lethal mysteries and hard-bitten protagonists somewhere between noir detectives and medieval knights.

Ola: Well, there’s a third reason. Both Piotrek and I love Amber, and needed little excuse to return to this fantastic world ;). Zelazny’s a great author in general, though uneven at times. But his best works are among the best the genre has to offer, and even his mediocre ones boast of unique imagination, propensity for audacious literary experimentation, and sensitivity to language that’s at once precious and highly uncommon. Incidentally, a novel perfect for a Halloween reading, and also containing a lot of treason, backstabbing, and plots to conquer the world, is his A Night in the Lonesome October.

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Stephen Fry, Troy (2021)

Author: Stephen Fry

Title: Troy

Format: E-book

Pages: 432

Series: Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology #3

Hmmm, where should I start this review?

I really like and admire Stephen Fry, his dry humor and his wonderful acting abilities. The audiobooks narrated by him are among the best I ever listened to. His love for Greek mythology is widely known, and he certainly has a respectable amount of knowledge about it. Moreover, he has the uncanny ability to make it accessible and relatable to a modern, not classically educated reader.

And herein lies the problem ;). I gradually discover (yeah, I can be a slow learner ;)) that I do not like retellings of the mythologies I love. Nope. Just nope. I catch myself questioning the author’s decisions about including or omitting stuff, about structuring the narrative, and so on. Worse, I disagree with interpretation ;). So really, I don’t know why I’m even doing this to myself! But when I noticed Fry’s Troy on NG, I just had to check it out to see if it would be a good book for younger readers – and for me 😉

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Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

Author: Frank Herbert

Title: Dune

Format: Paperback

Pages: 528

Series: Dune #1

Everything’s been written about Dune many times over, so forgive me if my review will be somewhat off beat this time. I don’t feel the need to detail the plot or the worldbuilding. 

Dune is unequivocally a masterwork of SF, a SF at its best, openly acknowledging its ties to myths and the belief in universal truths of human cognition. But Dune also reaches way beyond SF, having become one of the few absolutely crucial works of fiction of the 20th century. And yet, and yet, while I admire it with passion, it’s a book I cannot love. It leaves me cold and uncaring. It leaves me wanting to pick it apart, and dirty my hands in its bloody insides, and emerge holding the offending element in my palms, triumphant in finding what fault exactly makes me less than welcoming toward it.

But the truth is, I suspect I know it already.

Nice opening, huh? So now I’m going to subvert your expectations, and launch into a lengthy consideration of the socio-ecological ramifications of Herbert’s universe. Kidding!

Though not entirely.

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