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Last Thursday Review: Silence Fallen and Etched in Bone

So this month is a little special, in that I will be tackling two novels for review. Am I feeling a bit guilty for only reviewing a 40 page graphic novel last month, and trying to make up for that? Nope. I just happened to be lucky enough to have two novels  was waiting for come out on exactly the same day. It was like finding that health vile hidden in the corner of the room when you were just 1 HP away from “Game Over” when you saved the file for hours. So this month I will be presenting Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs, and Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop. Two sides of a similar coin when it comes to alternate modern world fiction.

As always, I will preface the review with a mild spoiler warning; I will do my very best to keep the juicy bits of the story under wraps, and I will try to avoid speaking too much about plot. If you are like me and enjoy jumping blindly into the rad and letting the twists and turns take you where they will, hopefully this will give you a sense of what you are in for without giving away anything much. If you want to be cautious and save absolutely everything but what you read on the book jacket for your own discovery, I won’t be hurt if you stop reading right this instant, just keep me in mind and come back after you’ve read the book (We could have a tete-a-tete about the finer points, I am absolutely certain.)

SILENCE FALLEN by PATRICIA BRIGGS (4.5 out of 5)

Silence Fallen is the 10th instalment in the Mercedes Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs, an epic bard of the urban fantasy genre. We have followed Mercedes, our Mercy, through thick and thin. From the military abductions and experimentation, to the vest uncertainty that is Underhill, she has led us on quite a journey. This time, we see Mercy further from home than we’ve ever seen her. Patricia’s delving into the actual past in this story, into the Old World of Europe and the even older things that inhabit it, reminds me a bit of the whimsy created by Kevin Hearne in The Iron Druid Chronicles, when Atticus ventures through Europe (thinking specifically the sort of romantic atmosphere he created when he spoke of the Polish Witch Coven).

Briggs’ approach to this novel is quite interesting; as always we read Mercy in her own voice, experience everything through her eyes. However, in order to tell the diverging stories, this time she also had to split her party. While we do not experience the story as Adam in the “I” voice, we still decidedly see what he experiences through his eyes, though somewhat less reliably than Mercy. This has to do with the of first person for Mercy, while staying with third person when speaking of Adam and his entourage.

Briggs had taken us through the gamut of the creatures in her world; we’ve been inside the wolf pack, as well as outside of it, with and against the Fae and the Grey Lords, and surrounded by Vampires (Who honestly play the longest game ever, no one ever really seems to be able to determine which side they will fall on, just that it had best benefit them). This time, after the events in Fire Touched, we finally see  a larger united front, a true ‘adventuring party’, where a little bit of everything comes together. The Fae are relegated to a less central role in this story. This could have either been a conscious choice, as the last novel focused so strongly on them, or a side effect of moving the story to Europe, which Briggs has established, since the beginning of the story, as a place that is virtually void of Fae, since the creation of Cold iron and the need to hide the magic.

As far as Silence Fallen goes, I feel that it delivers exactly what I have come to expect from a Mercy novel, with the same sort of addictive quality that makes Briggs’ books so difficult to put down once you start reading. She does this all while introducing us to a new host of characters. We meet some of Europe’s movers and shakers, people that Bran left behind when he came to the new world. Libor  and the Vltava Pack in Prague, Bonarata and the Vampires of Italy, and some very interesting ghosts, just to name a few. As always, Mercy manages to stumble into more trouble than initially would have come her way, all while mostly being able to take care of herself . We also see the return of one of my favourite small characters, Elizaveta, the Russian Witch. Honestly, I would absolutely love it if Briggs gave us a book just about the live and experiences of Elizaveta. She is a little bit grandmother like, but also steel and unforgiving power. If Briggs had not already brought us the Baba Yaga before, I would almost be strongly inclined to think Elizaveta was hiding something else.

There were a few points of minor confusion, either because I missed some tiny clue or a switch occurred that wasn’t entirely explained. After it happened it did make me look back over the previous passages to see if I could spot what it was, but I was still unable to put my finger on the reality of it. I won’t speak to much more on that point though, because I don’t want to venture too far into speaking of plot points.

So, overall, Silence Fallen earns a very strong 4.5 Stars from me. Maybe I am biased, in that I have read this series since the initial release, and wait on the edge of my seat for a new addition to the series (Sometimes with barely contained glee and excitement when the preview chapter goes up online). It’s release also came at a hard time, as the author unexpectedly lost her husband just weeks before the release. So it may be some time before we return to Mercy, the werewolves, and our other ‘friends who may or may not like to eat us’, but I will wait patiently for that day.

ETCHED IN BONE by ANNE BISHOP (3.5 out of 5)

Coming off the excitement that was Visions in Silver, Etched in Bone left me a little wanting for content. Where Visions in Silver felt like a massive leaping point for change, Etched in Bone felt  a bit lacking, a lull in an otherwise usually very exciting world. As the 5th book in the series, it may just be that the author is trying to tie up some ends, to give the reader bits and pieces more on things she had hinted at before.

As far as the story goes, it seems to drag a little bit in this book. There is some stagnation, and some contrived “thriller” elements that are somewhat predictable. I have really enjoyed this world before, and was excited to see where it was going, especially after the world remembered what threat was right outside their doors, that didn’t really need them to survive. Our larger world had shrunk down to basically just the courtyard and a few other areas. For a novel series that held a strong, wanting to be independent character at its centre, we actually spend fairly little time with Meg this time around, and even less time in the Liaison office. Was this sacrificed in order to create the tension between members of the human pack, so that the Others and the Elders could see small-scale power struggles instead of just large-scale events? Either way, there is a decided lack of threat and colour in this one. The baddie is exactly who you expect, and he does exactly what you expect. Bishop may even go slightly too far in order to paint him like a stereotypical baddie, lacking the subtlety that would have worked to help emphasise the ease with which a human can compromise the herd for the benefit of the self.

Meg and Simon are exactly as you would expect, and Bishop does not elevate the level of sexual tension between them, though there is a decided focus on their relationship (As there has been from the beginning); all in all, the characters are just as they have been, perhaps with a little bit more struggle on Meg’s part, and a little bit more confusion on Simon’s. Perhaps we even spent more time with the fully human element than ever before, as they try to deal with the lack of a face for the Humans First Movement, while still suffering and dealing with the consequences wrought back those actions. It is like they are walking a line, somewhere between cohabitation and beneficial relationships, and everything just falling apart, back to how it was before. We do see a decided return to the “Other” portion of the others, as they try to deal with things in ways that even they are unaccustomed to (Focused on a single target threat, rather than a whole score of adversaries).

In my opinion, the real moment of true build up also fell a little flat, or maybe, just a little too ‘human’? The anticipation and build up did not lead the expected impact, and it felt perhaps just a little rushed for what it was.

Possibly the greatest piece of growth in the whole story comes from Skippy, as he pushes to be part of the group despite his difficulties. In this, we also get a closer look at Ms Twyla, Crispin Montgomery’s mother, who turns out to seem much more wolf mother anything else, as she somehow seems to hold the fort and make the stands where others are unable to (At times, it even seems like she outranks Simon). Personally, I was moved by Skippy’s advancement as a character, maybe because his innocence reminds me of that innocence that was so integral in Sam, when Meg first worked him out of his shell.

As much as it pains me to say it, this may be the logical point to end the series, as I cannot see another crescendo to large action, and what follows might just be too close a resemblance to wish fulfilment and fan fiction, unless this was just a piece that was necessary to bridge one larger event to another, in which case it may have served just to tie some ends together for the readers before launching them towards something new in the world. The biggest threats within the human world have largely been dealt with (though Bishop keeps hinting at another larger threat coming to the Blood Prophets, there was only a very small build toward it in this instalment).

Over all, I would give Anne Bishop’s Etched in Bone a 3.5 out of 5. I can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as the first 4 novels in this series, and most certainly not as much as Silence Fallen, but I can’t deny the fact that I still had trouble putting it down, as I read it in hopes that something grand would happen. If this was not the end of the series, I hope that the next novel is a massively moving piece of fiction, willed with the tension and excitement that the series started out with. 

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The Tragic Tale of Lady Oiwa and Adapting the Onryō for a Contemporary audience

UPDATE: It has recently come to my attention that this article has been added to a recommended reading list by  a couple of education programs, in relation to Drama and performance. If you are coming here from those sites and you have any questions, or if you are the library resources staff updating the links, please feel free to contact me at negrych @ gmail dot com. I always love talking with students and educators.

As a student, and as a Japanese historian, I have always been intrigued by the role that folklore and storytelling has played in Japanese culture. This is especially true when it comes to the Japanese traditional ghost story and contemporary Japanese horror; something about them always seems more rich, somehow, than our own North American tradition. Japan has always had a rich literary, theatrical, and cinematic relationship with its ghosts and its tales of horror; from Noh and Kabuki to the popular film and literature traditions of today, many of Japan’s traditional ghosts and spirits have been re-invented within the confines of our contemporary cultural understandings to reflect the shift in cultural and social perceptions of horror, tragedy, and the macabre. Fears of being set back on the karmic cycle have been largely replaced by fears of rampant technological advances (something which I investigated in-depth, and continue to be fascinated with), and key literary figures have been reshaped; where once the kuchi-sake-onna, or slit-mouthed woman, used to hold a fan to her face when meeting strangers, now she is depicted as wearing a medical face mask. However, one figure which remains a cultural constant is that of the onyrō, or vengeful spirit, a woman who was so wronged in life that she returned to torment those who caused her suffering. But how have the rampant and face-paced cultural and social changes reflected on the manifestation of these figures in popular culture? That is what I seek to explore in the following essay, which focuses on two popular manifestations of the Japanese onyrō.

The Tragic Tale of Lady Oiwa

One of my favourite stories is that of Lady Oiwa; I was introduced a few years ago to this particular folktale/kabuki play by a religious studies professor. Here was a folktale, a creation of history and popular culture so popular that it has inspired multiple recreations. Within it, a figure so tragic and so powerful that any who participate in a staging of her story, and especially those cast as lady Oiwa, would seek the place of her burial (which may or may not actually exist) to ask for her blessing to retell the story, or suffer their own tragedy (there is a series of accounts that tell of the misfortune that befell those who tried to stage the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan play without first asking her permission and blessing, and were met with a string of ‘Macbeth’ like bad luck). It is a tale of tragedy, betrayal, vengeance, and the problems that dishonourable behaviour can cause.

The ghost of oiwa

For those of you who have never encountered the tragic tale of Lady Oiwa and the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, the story goes a little something like this: There was a masterless samurai (Iemon)who had fallen on hard times, forced to make his living as an umbrella maker (historically true during the Edo period, when many samurai lost their livelihood due to the widespread peace created by unifying the country under Tokugawa Ieyasu.)  Oiwa was frail and weak after giving birth to her son, and was unable to help Iemon with the household; nevertheless, she did what any proper wife could do, she looked after their son and made sure that she was beautiful whenever Iemon came home, brushing her long silken black hair and being as dutiful a wife as she could be under the circumstances. However, because of Iemon’s failure, Oiwa’s father approaches him, and suggests that he dissolve the marriage bonds and allow Oiwa to return to her own family. Enraged, Iemon murders Oiwa’s father. There is more to this, a second story, wherein another man, Takuetsu,  accidentally murders his former master (in a tragic case of mistaken identity), and he and Iemon conspire to make it look like the second murdered man was the one who killed Oiwa’s father, and thus Iemon has succeeded in avenging that death and can continue to live as an honourable man, instead of the failure he has become.

Now, Iemon was a handsome fellow, and in his journeys he had caught the eye of a local lady of means, Oume, the grand-daughter of a prominent and successful man. In a scheme to separate Iemon from the more beautiful Oiwa, this woman and her family conspire to destroy Oiwa’s beauty; they do so by sending her poison disguised a facial cream, which immediately scars Oiwa’s beautiful face and causes her beautiful hair to come out in bloddy clumps. As a result Iemon, seeing his wife’s disfigurement, conspires to invalidate the marriage by having  Takuetsu rape Oiwa. In a strange break from his previously dishonourable behaviour, Takuetsu cannot bring himself to commit the act; instead, he forces Oiwa to look at her own reflection. Seeing what she has become, she grabs Iemon’s rusty and disused katana and tries to leave the home in order to avenge the wrong that has been committed against her, only to accidentally slit her own throat in the struggle. As a result, she dies cursing Iemon and those who conspired against her with her last breath. Coming home, Iemon wants to cover the death of his wife and hide the crimes committed against her, tries to hide it. Some versions of the story go on to say that the baby is also killed, and to cover his ‘new wife’, Iemon nails Oiwa and a servant to a door and tosses them in a river, declaiming them for having an affair.

With Oiwa out of the way, Iemon and Oume get hitched and plan to live happily ever after, or as happily as two despicable murdering individuals can plan to live. What all stories agree upon is that, after her death, Oiwa’s ghost returns to haunt Iemon, causing him to have horrible visions and resulting in him murdering Ouma and her grandfather. Did I mention that Iemon’s happy new union did not even manage to survive its first night? No matter how Iemon tries to escape, Oiwa always finds him, emerging from lanterns, long black hair matted, one side of her face horribly disfigured, and carrying their dead child. Eventually Iemon winds up at a monastery in an attempt to escape her vengeance, but even there Oiwa cannot be stopped, and eventually drives Iemon to madness and his death.

Adapting the Onryō:

The Evolution of the Edo Period Tale Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan in Hideo Nakata’s Adaptation of Ringu

When it comes to popular and enduring icons of onryō in Japanese kaidan, there is no idiom more accurate than the popular ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ From the early 19th century’s Lady Oiwa from the kabuki play Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (東海道四谷怪談, 1825)1 to present day Sadako from Ringu (リング, 1998),2 no figure evokes more trepidation, fear, and anxiety than that of the vengeful female ghost, known in Japan as the onryō. However, over time there have been changes made to the nature of the behaviour and depiction of the onryō and the way in which vengeance is administered. At the same time, many aspects remain unchanged, and these are indicative of the deeper cultural concern with the kaidan. These differences and similarities are seen when examining Lady Oiwa, and Sadako Yamamura in Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, a film adapted from the first novel of Koji Suzuki’s Ring Cycle series. Both of these tales gained widespread fame and attention, and thus ignited interest in the Japanese tale of the vengeful ghost across generations.3 These meeting and divergence points make it possible for the onryō to have as much of an impact in contemporary settings and for a contemporary audience as in earlier incarnations.

 

Lady OiwaGregory Barrett notes that in Japanese tales of revenge, the one seeking vengeance is typically a woman who has been wronged in some way.4 Despite the time between the original Kabuki play and Ringu, there is very little alteration in the nature of onryō‘s appearance and gender, save for a shift in age from adult to child. Furthermore, Lady Oiwa and Sadako are similarly dressed in flowing white garments, a colour understood to represent death in many Asian cultures; both women also have long black hair, and possess a physical beauty at odds with their manifestations as onryō. It is interesting that Sadako and Oiwa share in the loss of their hair, and the disfigurement of their faces.5 In most incarnations of Yotsuya Kaidan, the journey to vengeance begins which Lady Oiwa losing her hair; because she has been poisoned, when Oiwa attempts to prepare herself to act dutifully as Iemon’s wife “handfuls of raven black hair fell from her head.”6 Likewise, when Sadako’s body is found in the well beneath the cabin, her hair is still intact after a 40 years. However, as Reiko handles Sadako’s corpse Sadako’s hair peels away from the skull, leaving only putrefied flesh and bone. Yet, when Sadako’s spirit appears to exact her vengeance, her hair is still there, obscuring everything except a single protruding eye. This serves to make Sadako an unsettling figure of the unknown.

The second most notable similarity lays in the form of their betrayal. In both cases, there is a heavy association with water; after Oiwa’s body is found Iemon discards it, in order to escape his guilt. To so this “a wooden door was found and [Iemon] nailed a corpse on either side . . . cold-bloodedly, [Iemon] heaved the wooden door into the river.”7 Like Oiwa, Sadako is committed to a watery grave, trapped there and deprived on spiritual pacification which is due to the dead. Furthermore, both women were betrayed by those who were supposed to support and protect them; Iemon is a neglectful husband to Oiwa. He fails to take his responsibilities as husband seriously, instead choosing wealth and beauty over honour. This is furthered by the fact that Iemon is responsible for the murder of Oiwa’s father, which he committed in order to keep Oiwa as his wife.8

In Ringu, Sadako’s mother, Shizuko, commits suicide after being humiliated by reporters during a public display of her clairvoyant powers, jumping into the crater of Mt. Mihara; it was Shizuko’s ability to accurately predict the eruptions of Mt. Mihara that brought her to the attention of Dr. Ikuma, whose desire to display her psychic powers ultimately led Shizuko to take her own life. This same event also brought out Sadako’s powers, causing her to kill one of the reporters who claimed her mother’s powers to be fraudulent. After this, Dr. Ikuma becomes Sadako’s guardian; due to his fear of her, born from her own destructive supernatural powers, Ikuma throws her into a well, hoping that she will disappear forever, and becomes the catalyst for the creation of Sadako’s onryō.9 The film does not do much to establish Ikuma’s role in Sadako’s life, only that he abandoned his responsibility and was one of the catalysts for Sadako’s change into an onryō after her slow and gruesome death.

There are many differences between the Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan and the adaptation of Ringu, reflecting the changes that have occurred in order to keep tales of vengeance and onryō appealing and unsettling. The most important of these changes occurs in the nature of the targets of the onryō‘s vengeance. While Lady Oiwa is a vengeful spirit who “would only torment the guilty and leave the innocent alone,”10 In contrast, Sadako is indiscriminate and takes after all those who come contact with the site of her betrayal, as she felt she had been betrayed by everyone with whom she had ever had contact with. This is a return to earlier Noh conventions, where ghosts bare vague grudges,11 and take their anger out on any bystander.12 In opposition, Lady Oiwa is focused on bringing pain and death only to those who were involved in her downfall and betrayal. Sadako’s unlimited anger is for the benefit of the audience, allowing them to experience fear and anxiety similar to older kaidan audiences. This also stops the audience from seeing Sadako as an avenging hero, and instead makes her a true threat in the minds of the audience.

Sadako from 1999's manga adaptation. Art by Misao Inagaki

Sadako from 1999’s
manga adaptation. Art by Misao Inagaki

The second difference between Oiwa and Sadako exists in the very nature of their character; while Oiwa has a voice, and is given means to express her feelings, Sadako is a silent haunter, with no voice or opinion. Not once is Sadako’s voice heard, and never is anything more than a ring of light seen from her point-of-view; in essence, she is the unknown. While flashbacks inform the audience of her history, all Sadako is given is a pattern of actions propelled by her unyielding thirst for retribution. This pattern serves to set her further apart from Lady Oiwa; Sadako is guilty of sinful actions, while Oiwa is sinless.13 The movie implies that Sadako is the product of a fantastical birth; there is speculation made throughout the film that Shizuko was lured down to the ocean by some unknown creature and the result of that relationship was Sadako who, as a result of this union, possessed psychic powers beyond that of her mother.14 The only blood on Lady Oiwa’s hands is her own,15 and suicide was glorified as an act of redemption.16 Sadako, on the other hand, has taken life other than her own; during a flashback, it is insinuated that she was responsible for the death of a reporter, and it is from this point that others truly begin to fear her abilities. Once again, this difference instills unease and fear in the audience, on a level reminiscent of the way Lady Oiwa’s onryō would have made the kabuki audience feel.

Sadako is almost a complete unknown in the film adaptation of Ringu, while Lady Oiwa is the polar opposite in almost all incarnations of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan. The similarities that remain between them are the sake of convention, a reminder that at one time it was believed that such an avenger was given power for the sole sake of exacting vengeance for wrongs committed against them. The differences are created in order to evoke a similar feeling for the audience, one which leaves them uneasy and frightened. With modern society quickly becoming desensitized to violence and horror, the psychological Japanese film must adapt in order to instill the same anxiety as such onryō and kaidan instilled in the past. Ringu must also be evaluated as an adaptation in order to truly understand the evolution of kaidan; the film adaptation of Ringu and its depiction of Sadako is a completely different beast from what Koji Suzuki created in his novel. It is no secret that author Koji Suzuki’s novel is a much more in-depth study of modern adaptation of the Kaidan conventions, the evolution of the onryō as a vengeful spirit, and as a product of widespread cultural change.


 Footnotes:

1 This is the date for the first public performance of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan; however, the play itself is based on events which occurred in the 17th Century.
2 The original tale, Ring, was a novel written by Koji Suzuki in 1991. Subsequently it was adapted into a television film in 1995 (Ring: Kanzenban), a feature horror film in 1998 (Ringu) directed by Hideo Nakata, and finally into English (The Ring) in 2002. Additionally, it has spawned a series of sequels in the franchise.
3 Ringu‘s success is apparent in the fact that it has been adapted multiple times, in a variety of forms, and over a variety of cultures (American and South Korean). Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan‘s popularity is apparent due to the many adaptations and re-tellings it has been subjected to over the years since its initial debut as a Kabuki play; this includes customary visits to Lady Oiwa’s grave marker prior to any new adaptations being staged, multiple film and anime versions, and her popularity among figures of ghosts and women in ukiyo-e prints.
4 Gregory Barrett, “Vengeful Spirit” in Archetypes in Japanese Film: The Sociopolitical and Religious Significance of the Principal Heroes and Heroines (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1989), 7.
5 In the case of Sadako, one never sees more of her face than a single, bloodshot eye, while Lady Oiwa is characterized by heavy scarring and disfigurement, a result of the poison she unknowingly ingested.
6 Arendie Herwig, “A Ghost at Yotsuya on the Tokaido” in Heroes of the Kabuki Stage: An Introduction to Kabuki with Retellings of Famous Plays Illustrated by Woodblock Prints (Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2004), 298.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid., 297.
9 Here is where the film adaptations really differs from the novel; in the novel Dr. Ikuma becomes quite ill and is committed to a sanatorium, where he convinces a young doctor that his daughter, Sadako, must be killed because of her power. This leads the young doctor to pursue Sadako and, when subjected to her powers, to strangle her and throw her down a near-by well. However, when she was thrown down the well she was still alive, and her death came slowly as she tried to claw her way out. This death is what gave birth to the onryō, who had been wronged or abandoned by every individual with whom she had come in contact.
10 Barrett, 97.
11 Ibid., 99.
12 Ibid., 97.
13 Ibid., 101.
14 Again, this varies greatly from the novel; originally Sadako was the daughter of Shizuko and Dr. Ikuma, conceived during an illicit extra-martial affair.
15 Herwig, 298.
16 Edmond Rochedieu, Le Shintoïsme ( Paris: Cercle du Bibliophile, 1968), 184.

Works Cited

Barrett, Gregory. “Vengeful Spirit.” Archetypes in Japanese Film: The Sociopolitical and Religious Significance of the Principal Heroes and Heroines. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1989. pp. 97–117.

Herwig, Arendie. “A Ghost Story at Yotsuya on the Tōkaidō.” Heroes of the Kabuki Stage: An Introduction to Kabuki with Retellings of Famous Plays Illustrated by Woodblock Prints. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2004. pp. 297–299

Rochedieu, Edmond. Le Shintoisme. Paris: Cercle du Bibliophile, 1968.

 

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Of Monsters and Beasts: Review of Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs (Spoiler Free)

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)

Author: Patricia Briggs

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs, 2013 Ace Fantasy

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs, 2013 Ace Fantasy

Publisher: Ace Fantasy

Year: 2013

Pages: 340

Rating: 5 out of 5

Forward: This is the 7th entry is a series. If you have not read the others and don’t wish to have any sort of up-to-this-point spoilers, I am going to lay this out for you right now: If you like Urban fantasy, want to read an engaging and well written series, start with Moon Called, the first entry under the Mercy Thompson books. You will enjoy it, I guarantee.

Book Cover Summary: Mercy’s life has undergone a seismic change. Becoming the mate of Adam Hauptman – the charismatic Alpha of the local werewolf pack – has made her a stepmother to his daughter, Jesse, a relationship that brings moments of blissful normalcy to Mercy’s life. But on the edges of humanity, what passes for a minor mishap on an ordinary day can turn into so much more . . .

After a car accident in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Mercy and Jesse can’t reach Adam – or anyone else in the pack, for that matter. They’ve all been abducted.

Through their mating bond, all Mercy knows is that Adam is angry and in pain. But she fears Adam’s disappearance may be related to the political battle the werewolves have been fighting to gain acceptance from the public – and that he and the pack are in serious danger. Outmatched and on her own Mercy may be forced to seek assistance from any ally she can get, no matter how unlikely.

REVIEW

Mercy Thompson, our wise cracking bad-lucked heroine, comes through in yet another instalment of Briggs’ widely liked series. The reader is re-acquainted with old friends, and enemies, and exposed to a whole new set of problems which further complicate her usually bumpy life. The daughter of Coyote is always finding herself in one sticky situation or another, and yet each time it seems fresh and beckons the reader to keep turning the pages, even into the wee hours of the morning.

Briggs’ provides equal measure between all four worlds she includes, meaning that the Fae, werewolves, vampires, and even the odd human fall into the tangled web. Brigg’s masterful way of working together first person insight and external characters is brought to the forefront, and she does not skip a beat of action, emotion, or darkness. As with the latest entry in the Alpha and Omega series, Fair Game, Briggs’ has added a darker twist to the story she presents her readers, looking not only at the preternatural dangers, but placing more weight on the danger posed by the ordinary mortal humans. Could this be a new spin, a new direction, that she is going to pursue? A solidarity between those things which go bump in the night, which enabled them to combat the humans, who are less able than the supernatural beasts when it comes to hiding their monstrous nature? Where do the real monsters dwell , among those who have no choice and do what they can to keep their animal natures under control, readily admitting to their faults, or in those who hide it behind a thin mask of civility and grotesque mockeries of humanity, unwilling to accept the mantel of responsibility for their actions?

This story picks up shortly after the events which unfolded in Fair Game, and I think it is a marvellous addition to the existing Mercy tales. It serves as a return to the concerns raised in the first Mercy novel, Moon Called, while still carrying the momentum which has built through the series, driving it to pursue a deeper development on the tenuous line between what it means to be a monster and what it means to be part of society.  Her attention to political and social upheaval, and the alienation of others based solely on the concept of ‘other’, sheds a poignant comment on the way in which modern society divides itself.

Once again, I simply could not seem to put this one down until I had completely finished reading it. I have come to expect a great deal from Patricia Briggs when it comes to style and quality of writing, and she once again delivers what she promises. The connection to the characters we have come to know is deepened with each encounter, and new understandings begin to emerge when old friends and enemies are re-examined. I have had some people tell me that they have problems with the repetitive ‘kidnapping’, yet each time it has come up (which I will admit is a few) it has not hindered the progress, but rather displayed that the affected characters have grown, and how their past experiences have shaped them. Writers would not return to tropes if it did not serve a purpose, and readers would not continue to follow if they felt that nothing was gained by the return. This is by no means a series wherein the reader is constantly forced to read the tried-and-true ‘damsel in distress’ tale; Briggs does not present the reader with any damsels, her characters are all strong in their own ways, which makes it highly pleasing to read. If anything, the return to the kidnapping theme reflects how the non-preternatual (perhaps a better term would be ‘mundane’) community has grown to become set in its ways for handling all things which it does not understand, or actively refuses to understand.

Without a doubt I can say that I will continue to read the Mercy Thompson series as long as Briggs is able to publish them, provided that her ability to craft characters, relationships, and interesting fantastical elements remains as elevated as it has. In all honest, I always find something new which intrigues me; a small detail about the Fae, the attention to the hierarchy among the vampires and the werewolves, and I am wound right back into a state of wonder at her ability to convey so much in such a short span of pages. Of all the names in urban fantasy, I know that if I am looking to truly enjoy a book filled with interesting character and well written story I will look to Briggs.

Patricia Briggs Official Website

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1)

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2)

Iron Kissed (Mercy Thompson #3)

Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson #4)

Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson #5)

River Marked (Mercy Thompson #6)

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7)

Home Coming (Mercy Thompson Graphic novel)

Moon Called #1 (Trade Paperback graphic novel edition)

Moon Called #2 (Trade Paperback graphic novel edition)

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Silencing the Ghosts: Review of Fair Game by Patricia Briggs (Spoiler free)

Fair Game (Alpha and Omega #3)

Author: Patricia Briggs

Fair Game by Patricia Briggs, 2012 Ace Fantasy

Fair Game by Patricia Briggs, 2012 Ace Fantasy

Publisher: Ace Fantasy

Year: 2012 (hardcover) 2013 (paperback)

Pages: 280

Rating: 5 our of 5

Book Cover Summary:  It is said that opposites attract. And in the case of werewolves Anne Latham and Charles Cornick, they mate. The son – and enforcer – of the leader of the North American werewolves, Charles is a dominant Alpha. While Anna, an Omega, has the rare ability to calm others of her kind.

When the FBI requests the pack’s help on a local serial-killer case, Charles and Anna are sent to Boston to join the investigation. It soon becomes clear that someone is targeting preternatural. And now Anna and Charles have put themselves right in the killer’s sights . . .

Review

I have to admit that I have been a fan of Briggs since I first picked up Moon Called, the first entry of her Mercy Thompson series, quite a few years ago on a random bookstore excursion. This return to the Alpha and Omega side of her writing is fabulous, and her strengths really shine through. I cannot gush enough about how much I enjoy reading Patricia Briggs’ urban fantasy, it is always a treat when one is released, and once I start reading I simply cannot put it down until I have turned the last page.

I have always felt that Charles was a bit of an odd duck in a pond of geese, but Anna really balances him out. However, Briggs is very attentive to the way in which she has constructed her werewolves, weaving them with equal parts ferocity, vigilance, and depth (well, for those who have survived this long). This story begins in a very difficult place, and asks the most vital question: What is more important, duty or love?

It is interesting to see the mundane twist Briggs has put on the antagonistic force in this particular entry in the series, but it is very refreshing and keeps me convinced that her skill is much more than just being able to write amazing characters who you either love to love, hate to love, or love to hate. By casting an unknown force of evil as being one which preys on the predators and prey species alike, there is a much darker cast about this book. The internal struggle which Charles faces with his own ghosts adds another dimension of tension to this book, and is spectacularly highlighted. With a man/animal as old as Charles and Brother Wolf, there is always the question of stability, especially when it comes to such a complex mate like Anna, the only one who is able to quiet the roaring beast within all who she is around.

Briggs is masterful in crafting the minutia of personal relationships, and this book steps it up another notch to a place that Briggs very rarely has gone before with her current urban fantasy series. Within the desolation and disquiet of the manhunt, the moments when individuals truly connect and understand each other, such as Agent Leslie Fisher and Beauclaire, Bran and Asil, and of course Charles and Anna, are so well crafted and the emotion so palpable that it gives the reader very little choice but to connect to the characters in a very human way. I mark this as the sign of a superb writer.

The Alpha and Omega series itself has been an interesting bit to navigate; while it is set in the same world as Marcy Thompson, our favourite shape-shifting mechanic-by-day cum coyote, and events from both series have an over arching impact, there is something decided special about the moments that readers get to share with figures like Anna and Charles. Both are spearheads in the realm of the werewolf, neither completely traditional nor completely new.

As with her inclusion of the Fae and vampires, Briggs has carved out a niche for her characters they sets them apart from the mass-produced and overhyped genre of urban fantasy. While they are highly recognizable as the tropic werewolves (called by the moon, massive, deadly, tempered), Anna lends a voice to the madness which serves to prove The Marrocks’ spin-doctoring of the reality of werewolves is not all false. Briggs creates a clear difference between what is animal and what is evil; the monster hidden by the human skin is something unnatural and evil when it is completely hidden behind the eyes of a man. The beast that looks out from the eyes of a werewolf, on the other hand, plays by a set of rules which has governed the Earth since time immemorial. While it is not a puppy to be played with, neither is it a beast to be put down when it is acting in accordance with nature, when it is only surviving. The same cannot be said about the beasts and monsters that are human, through and through.

If you like well written fiction, want to be enthralled to the point of being unable to put the book down for even a second, or have been sitting on the fence about picking this one up, I suggest you pick it up in whatever form best suits your reading preference. It falls just between River Marked and Frost Burned on the Mercy side of things, and some of the events echo over. If you are just looking to get in to a new series, this one starts with a short novella in an anthology, and the links to the Amazon page for all are listed below. If this type of stuff peaks your interest, I also suggest you pick up the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, starting with Moon Called. A review of the latest entry in that series, Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7) will be following in the next few days.

If you are more of a graphic novel fan, there is also a one already release and another forthcoming hardcover edition coming of Alpha and Omega, which looks to be spectacular.

Patricia Briggs Official Website

Alpha and Omega (Novella)

Cry Wolf (Alpha and Omega #1)

Hunting Ground (Alpha and Omega #2)

Fair Game (Alpha and Omega #3)

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Magic and Chaos come alive again: Review of Hounded by Kevin Hearne (Spoilers Free)

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)   

Hounded by Kevin Hearne 2011 Del Ray Books

Hounded by Kevin Hearne 2011 Del Ray Books

Author: Kevin Hearne

Publisher: Ballantine Books Del Ray

Year: 2011

Pages: 289

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5

Del Ray Summary: Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His Neighbours and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old – when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws power from the earth, possessed a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’d hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power – plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some old-fashioned luck of the Irish – to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

REVIEW

                    Let me simply say this before going any further: if you want to enjoy reading something simply because it is a fun read, I highly recommend you pick up this series. I have become picky with modern-day fantasy simply because there is far too much of it and, to add salt to the wound, quite a bit of it is repetitive and not worth the paper or data space it takes up. This was a welcome breath of fresh air in a desert filled with bones and dead horses which had been beaten far too much. I enjoyed every page, and devoured all subsequent releases by this author, even the short stories and novellas released between full length novels.

Our first romp into the world of Atticus O’Sullivan, Last Surviving Druid, is an absolute blast. It is equal parts action/adventure and comedy/introspective reflection. Chased for centuries by an angry Aengus Og (Aengus the Young, a Celtic god of Love), Atticus’ past has finally caught up to him in Modern Day Arizona. Between the comedic quips and exchanged between Atticus and his Irish wolfhound Oberon, the dire presence of Flidias, Goddess of the hunt, the Morrigan, Chooser of the Slain, and Brighid, the first among the Fae and the leader of the Irish Pantheon, and the bubbling sexual tension between Atticus and local bar-maid, Granuiale, Kevin Hearne has woven together a great tale for his readers. In a world were vampires and werewolves run Law Firms, suspicious neighbours call the cops of a regular basis, and immortal/deific figures visit on a whim, Atticus is sure to provide some great moments for fans of urban fantasy, mythology, and well written fiction. Atticus is unique, and I have not found a hero like him in prior reading; even Harry Dresden would have a difficult time holding his own against our flame-haired, sword wielding, shape-shifting, quick-witted druid.

I have always been a pursuer of myths, a repository of Ancient facts, and a bit of a nerd about it. When the advent of the internet was just getting past the age of Dial-up connections, the younger version of myself was busy searching sites for all the myth she could get her hands on. Needless to say, influenced by Xena, I spent most of my time embroiled in the world of the Greek and Roman pantheon, and my later studies expanded my knowledge into the realms of Buddhist and Japanese mythology. This book re-ignited my passion in the same way Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians had done, thought with a markedly more mature spin (let’s see how Disney Hyperion reacts to horny hound dogs with poodle fixations, and Ancient goddesses’ who can call it a good day if they get the chance to thoroughly bed a man who could very well be the most hated mortal among all world pantheons). Atticus’ wit often gets him into trouble, as with great age apparently comes the inability to hold his tongue to any extent; Atticus is equal parts comedian and deep philosopher, and this lends very well to creating a figure with which the reader can not only connect, but support and sympathize with. Despite being centuries old, he is still just a man, and liable to commit to mistakes despite knowing better.

Hearne’s writing style is addictive; like Patricia Briggs and Jim Butcher he knows how to balance the realms of fantasy and modernity, while still creating something absolutely fascinating. I ate through this book in all of 12 hours, and promptly went out to grab the next two which, to my luck and benefit, were already released. If you are looking for a good read that will keep you engaged. I especially enjoyed the way in which Hearne has thought to weave together the preternatural and supernatural in his tales, beginning the foundation of a wide-stretching tale which is not limited in scope to the gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters with which we are accustomed. There is a strong Irish flavour, but the basis of immortal or deific existence being based on how much attention their tales receive from mortals creates a canvas which will stretch far beyond those figures we have come to see time and again.

For more information visit Kevin Hearne’s official site

More reviews to follow for subsequent entries in the series: Next up Hexed by Kevin Hearne

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A short poetry exploration in 5 unconnected verses

After attending a poetry reading last night, I could not help but compose a few short verses. Aside from the nights’ frivolity, and the improv which occurred for no reason other than the muse struck and the company was good, there was a seriousness to the craft which I observed last night, a seriousness which I have not seen in poetry for quite some time. For me poetry has always been a spur of the moment engagement; it was never planned, and when it was forced it always seemed to fall short. My hand is only amateur, but that’s were everyone must begin.

To shake the sweet bonds of starlight’s embrace;

Holding fast to the vestiges of time.

the phantom warmth dissipates.

How can morning come at such  a price?

The misty Sunday morning

Spurns the breath from out my lungs.

Even when observes from warmth

Its cold beauty haunts the eyes.

You are the Orphic rhapsody

Modified, from joy to despair.

You are the brightest star,

Lighting the path to Elysium.

The light of dawn reflects brightly

Upon the silence Archer in the field.

To be his quarry , a true ambition;

For no hand is as skilled as his.

Though the day closes

I feel not the press of time.

My dreams will be reward enough,

Locked in tender Morpheus’ embrace.

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Time and Fantasy: Musing on a Conference

On the 9th of February I not only had the pleasure of attending a conference that I had been excited about for month, but  the opportunity to present a paper of which I was quite proud.  To my joy this was A Conference of Ice and Fire, the first, and hopefully not last, conference organized by the English Student Society on my campus focused on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

The previous term the University had offered the first, and to my knowledge only, A Song of Ice and Fire focused class in Canada. Being a graduate student in History I was not allowed to take the course for academic credit, but that did not dissuade me. Despite the trepidation from my own department that I would be far too busy to handle my work load, excel in my courses, and audit another course, let alone do the assignments required, I forged ahead. To put it mildly, I had an absolute blast every Tuesday and Thursday from September to December getting ‘geek out’ with others like me.  To the amazement of a few unnamed individuals, it did not make any negative impact on the progress I was making with my own thesis.

As with most conferences ours had a guest of honour, a speaker of repute; this was Dr. Janice Bogstad from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Editor of sci-fi, Tolkien/LoTR collections,  she is a fascinating woman, and her experience within the sci-fi and fantasy, and comparative fields in literary studies is astounding. After a rousing morning of excellent papers, amazing conversation, and thought-provoking questions, Dr. Bogstad present us with a series of rather remarkable ideas regarding the concept of time in fantasy and in particular in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, and the notions of sibling-hood.

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When she spoke of time in fantasy writing she brought up the works of David Eddings, one of the authors whose work I devoured as a teenager. I could not help but begin to think about how time works in his novels, especially pertaining to the Belgariad sage, and the joining books Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress.

In The Belgariad it would seem that time very rarely comes into focus from a flowing river of eternity. It is punctuated and measured only in prophecy and tragedy. This is especially true for Polgara, Belgarath, and the Gods.

The Gods very rarely seem to keep track of time in any nature, unless they are directly affected by tragedy or prophecy. Issa, the god of the Nyissans, does not note the passage of time, and is only brought reeling back into the flow when he comes to find out that the name of his beloved high priestess, Salmissra, had passed from one woman to another more times than a snake can shed its skin. For Mara, god of the Marags, time is a perpetual march of sadness, loneliness and misery after his ‘children’ were murdered by the Tolnedrans. The driving force behind the concept of in The Belgariad time is also rooted in the suffering of Torak  who sleeps endlessly, as if caught in a single long night until the prophecy wakes him.

For gods the idea of ceaseless and undocumented time is common place. For the continual existence of such figures time cannot flow as it does for mortals. But this way of measuring time can be juxtaposed onto Belgarath and his daughter Polgara. This notion is put forward in their respective off-shoots stories, where the two most timeless mortals within the mortal world condense their exceedingly long lives into manageable collections. Once again, time begins to slip away from the measurements that we have become accustomed to in our own world and in literature.

bigbelgBelgarath has refrained from writing out his history because it goes back beyond knowns records of the world. Belgarath is the first mortal to enter into the Vale of Aldur, and as a Disciple of Aldur and a user of the Will, the longest living one. He is, as his daughter Polgara calls him, the Old Wolf. When he enters the Vale seems time stop for him, held in a vacuum and unable to touch him. He spends years working at menial tasks without knowing that time has passed, isolated from the march of time. This is long before the War with Torak over the Orb of Aldur, the establishment of the Rivan king, and the splitting of Arendia. Belgarath only notes that time begins to move again in moments of tragedy; finding that the village of elderly people who helped him on his initial journey to the Vale has vanished, the death of his wife Poledra, and the death of his daughter Beldaran. Does Belgarath avoid time as much as possible outside of prophecy because it simply hurts too much to exist within it? As the Eternal Man, how does time make sense to him outside of prophecy and tragedy?

Polgara_595

The same if true for Polgara. However, as a woman who thrives on order and control, she does record the dates of major events, such as the death of her sister Beldaran, and the extinction of the Wacite Arend line. She, unlike Belgarath, has a direct connection to the flow of time, thought she does not always exist within those constrants. She too must watch those she grows to love, age and die, while not losing sight of her own will and passion. She must form those close connections within the span of the prophecy, or be the knife on which the world impales itself when the prophecy comes to fruition.

Prophecy, that tricky master or mistress, always has seems to have a plan waiting in the wings, and surfaces when a major split in time is on the verge of occurring. It surfaces and draws all of these figures back into the flow of mortal time; Mara learns that he is not alone, and that he does still has a child; Issa changes Salmissra into a snake, elongating her life and ensuring that he will be able to tell one high priestess from the next should he be called upon. Belgarath and Polgara journey with Barak, Silk, and Garion, all guided and measured by prophecy, who could only exist in the proper span of mortal time (arguably), with the right set of predetermined events unfolding.

The insight that we get from Belgarath and Polgara’s accounts help to explain some of the elements which Eddings incorporated in The Belgariad; we discover why Polgara is met with such awe and reverence whenever she presents herself, and why she must always appear in a certain fashion. They also explains why Belgarath has the need to run free and escape from the world; it has become difficult to form attachments when one knows they are eternal while others are merely ephemeral. However, Garion is their link to the mortal world, and he gives new meaning and flow to time.

Sibling relationships within these books are also interesting. The gods are brothers, raised and watched by father Ul and mother Universe, and yet they have their differences; the rifts and tragedies they experience give them a sense of time and yet do not bind them to exist within the constraints of the concept. Belgarath forges brotherhoods with those who come to the Vale of Aldur and become, like him, initiates of the Will and disciples of Aldur. Polgara must sacrifice her sister in order to set the prophecy of the orb in motion, and to ensure that Garion will one day meet his destiny, despite the fact that it will be centuries before he is born.

In contrast, Martin ensures that we have a grasp on the flow of time within his world, even if it is biased when it comes to key events. We know exactly when the War of the Ninepenny Kings occurred, the successions of knights who held the title of  Commander of the Kings Guards, and that Dunk the Tall rode as a hedge knight 89 years prior to the events in A Game of Thrones. Martin firmly cements his readers in a carefully constructed time-line with defined dates and orders, and yet those events that he leaves out are the more important.

These fantasy novels present one of the key problems that occurs in the study of history. What occurred directly before and directly after the most important events which we have recorded? What has been left out, and why? Is it absent because no one survived to speak of it, because no one had the heart to record it, or because it did not seem to be that important when it occurred? It is always a difficult question to navigate when looking into cause and effect in history, as often the small aspects are disregarded in favour of the larger picture.

Interested in the Books?

Belgariad Vol. 1

Belgariad Vol. 2

Polgara the Sorceress

Belgarath the Sorcerer

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