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.
It’s been some time since we did a TAG! And there is one that caught our attention earlier this month, when it appeared on Bookforager. Get to know the Fantasy Reader – sounds like a great post to finish the Wyrd & Wonder month with. So, here it is!
What is the first fantasy novel you read?
Ola: The Lord of the Rings. I was seven when I read the whole trilogy – it was a copy borrowed from my older brother’s friend. Right after I finished it I went to the bookstore and with my saved pocket money bought my own copy, which then I instantly proceeded to reread. And here we are! 😀
Piotrek: I want to say Hobbit, and it’s likely the truth. My first & favourite short story collection is Joan Aiken’s Room Full of Leaves and Other Stories, but Hobbit is the novel I received as a gift from a cousin some time early during my primary school years and it was my gateway into fantasy. What can I say? This is a wonderful book, accessible to the youngest readers, sucking them into the wonderful world of wyrd & wonder! It enchanted me and I never looked back 🙂
If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?
Piotrek: It’s not an easy question. Some of my favourite authors write stories where horrible, horrible things happen to the protagonists. Maybe Guy Gavriel Kay? He creates wonderful worlds and usually delivers a happy ending without too many casualties…
Ola: Hmmm. Pratchett, I think. Discworld is a fabulous place, and I’m sure I’d fit right in ;). As much as I love dark stories, I would not want to become a part of them, be it a hero or an onlooker or the hapless victim of friendly fire ;). Happily ever after trope is the one I insist on when my personal life is at stake 😀
What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that turned into a huge revelation?
Ola: Revelations, huh? I’d say I’m too old to get revelations from fantasy books 😉 but it wouldn’t be entirely true. My revelation, and one that will last much longer than just this year, is the discovery of Dragon Ball manga (I know, I’m stretching the definition a bit, but that’s my answer :P). Seriously, I never expected to love it at all, let alone as much as I do. Some of original DB volumes are among the best books I’ve read this year, and the whole series (well, maybe except the Cell arc) is an instant pick-me-up for me! 😀
Piotrek: I haven’t read that much fantasy this year, yet. But Gardens of the Moon, finally fully read, turned out to be better than I remembered from my first failed attempts. I’m a bit late to this party, but yay to Malazan Book of the Fallen!
What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?
Piotrek: Favourite? That must be either High Fantasy, or Military Fantasy, judging by what occupies all my all time favourite lists. If I had to choose one, it would be high fantasy, the source of it all.
But what subgenre is the most neglected by me as a reader? Romantic Fantasy, most likely…
Ola: Genres and subgenres… Not a fan :P. If I had to choose, I’d opt for military fantasy (Cook, Tchaikovsky) or science fantasy a la Zelazny, with lots of mythology thrown in the mix. Romance in any form gets an instant NO from me, so if there’s something like Paranormal Romance/Romance Fantasy that would be the ultimate no-read subgenre for me. Also, YA. Please, no YA, fantasy or other…
Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?
Ola: I don’t have any auto-buy authors. I rarely buy books at all – only those I really really love and I’m certain I’m going to reread one day. I don’t think I have complete works of any one author, to be honest. I prefer to borrow books – then, if the book is less than stellar, I don’t have a problem of it taking shelf space. And if it’s good enough for me to want to have it – well, welcome aboard, there’s still space on the shelves! 😀 Besides, everyone writes a weaker book from time to time, even the best of the authors, and I wouldn’t want to own these anyway. But I do buy whole series that I love (especially when I know they’re finished) – Discworld, Shadows of the Apt, Black Company, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Fitz and Fool… 😀
Piotrek: Not really, no. Used to be Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he writes new stuff faster than I’m able to read it. He’s still one of my favourite contemporary writers though!
How do you typically find fantasy recommendations?
Piotrek: In my seventh year of blogging it really is mostly fellow bloggers, definitely. Thank you, guys!!
Ola: I second Piotrek’s answer! Thanks, all!!!
What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?
Ola: Well, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Abercrombie’s The Wisdom of Crowds (out in September) and Barker’s The Bone Ship’s Wake (September, too) – both the final installments in what’s shaping up to be very good trilogies. The review for Abercrombie’s The Trouble with Peace is here, and the reviews for the Barker’s earlier books are here, if you’re interested: The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships.
Piotrek: Hard to say. With my TBR as long as it is, I mostly read series already finished, and books published years ago. I don’t want to insert a GRRM joke here, as these stopped being funny years ago 😉
What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?
Piotrek: The one that fantasy is somehow not proper literature, that including fantastical elements somehow makes it less serious. This silly superstition still lingers among some close minded people, and I would like to see it vanished forever 🙂 There was a short post about it early in blog’s history…
Ola: Again, I second that. How come Shakespeare can be rightly considered a titan of world literature, but modern authors implementing the same fantastical elements can only be “fantasy authors”?
If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?
Piotrek: I’d ask some questions first. My answer would depend on person’s age, interests, favourite non-fantasy books… it might be Hobbit, Harry Potter or one of the Discworld books, or something dark and bloody, like the Black Company series.
Ola: Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for all! Well, mostly maybe for mythology/anthropology lovers ;). Tolkien’s Hobbit for those adventurous at heart. And for those young and delighting in creepy, maybe Meggitt-Phillips’s The Beast and the Bethany would be a good place to start, or Roald Dahl’s books, even before Harry Potter.
What’s the site that you like to visit for reviews, author interviews and all things fantasy?
Piotrek: Apart from blogs? Tor is the last one I regularly visit…
Ola: Blogs, and sometimes Tor. I do visit magazines websites, but I mostly read SF short stories, rarely fantasy.
Well, this was fun! We’re not tagging anyone but if you’d like to give it a go, be our guest! 😉
Series: Modern Masters of Science Fiction (University of Illinois Press)
A brand-new critical monograph on one of my favourite SFF authors – how could I resist? 😉 It also came out in an opportune time, when I was quite unhappy with the flat fun of A Master of Djinn after the highs of The Lords of the North, and needed something different to cleanse my palate.
Cox’s monograph delivered on both accounts; his writing is simple and informative, and very approachable considering the inherently academic character of his book. There’s obviously a long, quite exhaustive bibliography and a satisfactory amount of footnotes, but the language throughout is intentionally focused on communication instead of erudite fencing with other specialists on Zelazny’s work – maybe because, as Cox indicates, there are no other Zelazny pros and very little academic output concerning his work. It may be, as Cox suggests, that the necessary condition of passage of time has not been yet fulfilled – Zelazny’s untimely death in 1995 might seem like aeons past, but it really wasn’t that long ago 😉. And while the genre itself has undergone several changes since then, it is still difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff and conclude, with a degree of certainty, what can be considered a modern classic and what was just a work accident.
And indeed, Zelazny’s works are so varied in terms of style and themes and worldbuilding that it’s not a surprise some of his books are better than others – and with the author of Lord of Light, the good books are among the best of what SFF has to offer, and even the weaker offer a dazzling profusion of amazing ideas and impeccable, evocative language. It seems, however, that in the US-UK SFF circles there is even a longstanding consensus of considering Zelazny an unfulfilled promise who after a strong start became a commercial writer with no ambition. Frankly, remaining far removed from this little world of authors and critics I was surprised to learn about this piece of “conventional wisdom” – to me, some of Zelazny’s latest works are among his very best. And that’s basically what Cox is trying to prove in his monography: going chronologically through Zelazny’s work, the author of the monograph attempts to refute this stereotype and show that Zelazny conducted ambitious literary experiments in his writing to the very end, delivering varied books, but not generally worse than at the beginning – but as to whether Cox’s arguments are successful, you probably should ask someone else, since I never doubted this assertion😉.
Piotrek: Wow! We made it through another year! The blog, that is, but the world as well, even if not in a great shape. Re-Enchantment did splendidly though, thanks mostly to Ola’s efforts, as I’ve been an infrequent contributor, certainly in the second half. And yet 2020 was quite good for me as far as reading goes, and not for the same reasons many people read more. Quite a bit of my reading used to be done in during commute, so working from home I had to change my habits just to keep up. And keep up I did, with a 102 GoodReads titles, as of December 14, and 32,281 pages – versus 81 titles and 30,233 in 2019.
Piotrek: How will we do in 2021? I’m not into divination, but I plan get better in time-management and create more posts. Still not as many as Ola, probably 😉 Apart from that, I’m not even making too many plans about my reading next year, we’ll see how it goes. One thing that seems probable – I might finally get a Kindle, and admit I cannot have all the books on my shelves.
Ola: I’ve absolutely no idea what 2021 will bring – but, as humans tend to (and that’s the main reason they largely cling to life as a species) I hope it will be better than 2020. What a year that was! A Chinese proverb – or rather a curse – come to life, and survived. So many aspects of our lives changed (hopefully temporarily) for worse, but we know all about them and there’s no need to bring these up again. I’d prefer to focus on positives instead :). 2020 was a great reading and blogging year for us here at Re-Enchantment, with many records broken and equally many firsts achieved. I signed up for NetGalley (and while this was a rather mixed bag for me reading-wise, as my reviews can attest) it was at the same time a very interesting learning experience and one I’ll be happy to continue. I also signed up for Goodreads, and I’m glad to say it’s going pretty well. Maintaining old bookishfriendships and making new acquaintances is always a big positive for me, so in that respect GR serves as a valuable extension of our blog. And while I kept my stats anyway, in a customised Excel spreadsheet, it is indeed nice to have all the books read in a year presented in a pleasing infographic ;).
I got over 120 titles under my belt this year, mixing up a healthy amount of non-fiction (10%) and fiction (11%) into my usual genre and comic book reading. And I’m hoping to add a book or two to the list on my upcoming vacation :). As we did last year, this year we’ll have a separate post covering our best and worst reads of the year (and maybe some TV series too, though sadly not many movies ;)) too. In this one, we’ll focus a bit more on our blog stats.
In 2020, Re-Enchanted nearly doubled the last year’s stats when it comes to the number of visits (a whooping 15k), the number of comments (over 2.5k) and the number of likes (over 2.3k). We also had 10 more posts, 57 to date, than last year. As we drifted slowly toward longer posts, mainly reviews and a few fun tags, judging by the number of comments we seem to have found our sweet spot. The blogging friendships we made all over the world continue, and this year we cherish even more of them with new bloggers finding our blog and us finding theirs. Our number of followers almost doubled – thanks everyone! 🙂 But the 2020 wouldn’t be itself if it weren’t turbulent in every aspect of life, and so even our exceedingly bookish blog couldn’t stay apolitical as Polish politics barged uninvited into our lives.
Our most popular post in terms of views was Ola’s glowing review of Neal Asher’s The Line of Polity, garnering well above 300 views. It’s this year’s post, which is worth noting as the next two are comparative oldies: Ola’s scathing review of Ernest Cline’s Armada and the last year’s Re-E blockbuster, Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master, which were both written back in 2016. The most popular posts are garnering more and more views through search engines, which is very encouraging as we keep building our repository of quirky, detailed, lengthy reviews ;).
We’ve also beat the 50 likes boundary this year. Our most popular posts in terms of likes were Piotrek’s Vacation Post, closely followed by Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas, Marie Brennan’s Driftwood, our lonely tag in this review-dominated field, Favorite books in five words, and Daniel Polansky’s The Seventh Perfection. As for the comments section, our most commented post was the review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic (again), a highly enjoyable tribute to the Gothick tradition with a delightful fungal twist ;). With 76 comments it maintained its one-digit lead over Madeline Miller’s Circe and Brian McClellan’s Blood of Empire.
We have taken part in one concerted bookish effort this year, Wyrd and Wonder. It was a great adventure, and an unparalleled output for us with 7 posts in a month, but with so many things going on around us we weren’t able to celebrate any more similar events. Maybe next year 😉
Piotrek: I quess it was a year when people would get excited by even a mention of vacations 😉 I’m so happy I managed to squeeze that in between all the lockdowns… I have to admit I did not suffer too much in this troubled year.
It’s been a very good year for the blog, no doubt. Apart from the editor monstrosity WordPress forced on its users – we all still hate that with a passion, it goes without saying. But here we’re allowing ourselves a well-deserved celebration, so we’re not going to spoil the mood :). And next week we intend to go deeper into our best of/worst of lists for 2020 🙂
We’ve been doing many TAGs recently, but we found it’s a nice way to collaboratively write something fun quickly 😉 We still have a few we wanna do, this time – it’s the Real Neat Blog Award – many thanks to Lashaan of Bookidote for the nomination! We will be using his set of questions, so remember – there are no stupid questions, and answers are our sole responsibility 🙂
1. If you could do something better than you’re already doing right now, what would it be?
Piotrek: Organizing my time. I don’t have too much to do, just a bit more than I used to – and there goes good bit of my reading time, and, sadly, most of my blogging time. Less politics, less FB, better concentration – should help, if I find the willpower 😉
Ola: Surfing. Achieving zen-like peacefulness in the middle of the week. Watercolor painting. I could go on and on, but that’s enough work for now 😀