It’s been a long time since I’ve written any book reviews. When I had a job, I would generally read on my way there and back, as well as during breaks. When I’m at home most of the day, I usually find myself using the computer instead. I’m actually going to start another temp job soon, so maybe that will give me more time to read. That said, I have finished a few books in the past month or so. I just really couldn’t think of much to say about them, so I was waiting to combine them. I think I’ve waited long enough now, though, so here goes.
Handbook for Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell – Most of the basic ideas behind this story weren’t really anything new as far as modern takes on fairy tales go. We have a headstrong young heroine learning that dragons aren’t all bad. Haskell puts her own twist on the concept, however, and the characters are quite engaging. Princess Matilda, who prefers transcribing manuscripts to performing her royal duties, and also feels out of place due to her club foot, sets out to write her own book with the same title as the one for this novel. (Hey, kind of like The Royal Book of Oz.) After an encounter with the Wild Hunt that results in her and her friends winning two of their magical horses, Matilda finds herself a prisoner of a nasty prince who sacrifices women in order to summon the Hunt. I found it interesting that the characters reference some real-world people, legends, and institutions (many centered around medieval Catholicism); yet it’s also a world where monsters exist. From context, I suppose Matilda’s fictional kingdom is in Germany or thereabouts.
Songs of Earth and Power, by Greg Bear – This is actually a set of two different books, The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage. While primarily known as a science fiction author, these books are more straight fantasy. The poet Michael Perrin befriends a composer named Arno Waltiri, and ends up in the realm of the Sidhe. The first book mostly consists of Michael exploring the realm, and eventually completing Coleridge’s Kubla Khan in his own way in order to defeat a mage. In the second book, Michael returns to Earth and becomes the caretaker for Waltiri’s collection. This leads to him organizing a performance of Waltiri’s magical concerto, which results in the two worlds being merged. He also finds out that Mozart and Mahler are still alive in the fairy world. As you can tell, in addition to dropping references to earlier mythology and fairy lore, Bear makes music and poetry integral parts of his plot. As with the Eon books, the author makes his world so vast that we only see a little part of it with the protagonist. Also, there was some gratuitous sex thrown in. It seemed that, for every woman Michael met, either he was attracted to her or her to him, if not both. It didn’t bother me; it just seems like this might be a quirk of the author.
Ziggy Zig-Zags the Light and Dark Fantastic, Volume 1, by Ron Baxley Jr., illustrated by Vincent Myrand – I bought a copy of this picture book from the illustrator at the last Oz Convention. It’s a very elaborately illustrated volume featuring a cute story about a Welsh Corgi who travels through various fantasy lands doing good deeds. Yes, he does visit Oz, and meets with some Winged Monkeys. Neverland and Wonderland are also part of the brief narrative, as is an encounter with a neo-Nazi scientist practicing sinister genetic experiments. One picture I found particularly amusing was that of the crocodile who ate Captain Hook and is now being worshipped as a god.
He is, somewhat incongruously, wearing both an Egyptian headdress and a pimp hat.
The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne M. Harris – It wasn’t until after I read this that I found out the author was the one who wrote Chocolat. Not that this means much to me, as I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I found it interesting that an author known for a totally different kind of novel was diving into classical mythology. Basically retelling Norse mythology from the viewpoint of Loki, Harris generally sticks pretty closely to the original stories, but adds in some more continuity, making some attempt to explain how Loki can be the Aesir’s ally in one myth and their worst enemy in another. There’s also an element of conspiracy to the plot, with the downfall of the gods being worked out as a revenge plot by Mimir and Hullveig, and Loki basically being a pawn in their scheme. It’s a rather tragic end to a character whose main complaint tends to be that the gods don’t appreciate him except when he can do something useful, and he ends up in that same role against his old allies. That said, I do think Harris could have done a little more with Loki’s voice. As it is, it’s a good retelling of the myths, but not as much fun or as interesting of a commentary as you might think the trickster would provide. I’ve also seen some reviews comment on the title, as “gospel” is such a Christian term. There are a few allusions to Christianity in the book, and perhaps it’s supposed to be sarcastic as “gospel” means “good news” and Loki’s view is cynical throughout, but I don’t know for sure.