Fonda Lee – Kaul Shaelinsan

With Jade War out, it’s long past time I mention Fonda Lee’s Jade City, where Ms. Lee has imagined a new world, a contemporary alternate history with a rich history that intimately informs its present. Cleverly woven in, I can see Lee writing books chronicling the history at which she’s hinted. 

Into this world returns Shae, the youngest of the Kaul clan, even though she had tried to step out of it. 

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Her family is a crime family which doesn’t just have its fingers spread throughout Kekon, they rule Kekon and the city Janloon through their use and control of jade. Jade gives users enhanced abilities, but only if that person has trained to use it. 

Shae, who trained to use jade but chose not to use it, leaves to remove herself from clan business and ensure that she makes it on her own rather than in a world where everyone would assist her to curry favour with her family. To test one’s mettle, to be successful on our own merit drives us forward and it has driven Shae to make herself the most vulnerable by going to a foreign country where no one knows her or cares about her country and learning how to be successful. She returns educated, poised and ready to navigate her family and her country on her own. 

But she returns to the Island that shaped her family and herself and a favour to her brother Lan pulls her back into clan business.

Shae’s quiet workings, a relatively minor character who wants to be minor, reveal a critical weakness that may undermine the whole family. Yet, despite her not wanting to be involved with her family’s business, she makes decisions to protect her family, inserting herself into the business out of a sense of honour and duty. By doing so, her life will be ruled once more by her family. It’s a difficult choice to make but she does so to protect her family.

Her loyalty to her family mean that she has to make difficult choices that pull her into her family’s ways and business. However, there is no doubt or hesitation on her part. She makes the requests of the people around her that have to be made to look after the family’s interests. 

We don’t get to see all the results of Shae’s actions but Jade City laid a lot of promises for Jade War. 

 

Fire: Demons, Dragons and Djinns – Rhonda Parrish

Fire: Demons, Dragons and Djinns edited by Rhonda Parrish celebrates fire, its capacity to destroy, to liberate, to heal and to provide heat.

Collateral damage, when the results of a decision to help someone cause damage to others or the ones we want to help. We see collateral damage all the time, from politicians to charities to families.

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In The Djinni and the Accountant by Hal J. Friesen, Charlotte finds out that she is a victim of collateral damage. Because of that damage, she has had to work harder and alone to get an accounting eduction and job.

The one who caused the damage offers to fix the damage. Who wouldn’t want to take the hurt that we’ve experienced in the past and wish it away? We’re always told that the hurts we’ve experienced make us stronger, make us the people that we are today.

Maybe. But having experienced that hurt ourselves, we are more empathetic when others experience it, as Charlotte is when she reviews the collateral damage the djinni’s wishes have caused. Being empathetic increases with age (insert link) as we experience more.

Charlotte takes that hurt and turns it to something good when she makes her choice. Not all of us can do that so if you see someone else doing so, see it and commend them.

 

A Guest Post by Barbara Tomporowski – Always Raederle

Please welcome Barbara Tomporowski to this little blog space who is dedicated to the written word, to social justice and to make the world around her a better place. She can be found at When Words Collide and The Cathedral Village Arts Festival. 

It was always Raederle.

My gaze fell across my bookcase. It stands proudly, blocking the entrance to my room, unbowed by the volumes stuffed every-which-way until its doors barely close.

Who isn’t happy when they’re reading a great book!

Since it was almost midnight, I side-stepped the bookcase and entered my room. And there, on the hardwood floor beside my bed, lay a special edition of the Riddle-Master trilogy by Patricia McKillip. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, the first book was published in 1976.

Raederle, a princess from the country of An, was fated at birth to marry the man who won a wraith’s crown in a riddle-game. She is seldom mentioned in the first book, although the memory of her windblown hair and laughter drives the prince to leave his turnips and claim her hand. It is in the second book, Heir of Sea and Fire, where Raederle comes into her own. Unwilling to let the lords of An argue over who should marry her, she leaves her father’s halls to visit her distant cousin, a pig-herder. The lords find her there, with her feet bare and her hair unbound. This lack of concern for appearance serves her well in the second and third volumes as she tromps throughout the realm, borrowing ships, bartering with wraiths, and seeking the missing Prince of Hed, a prince from an island so poor its main exports are beer and plow horses. His only desire is to read and brew ale, until three star-shaped birthmarks draw him into a mystery where riddles are more deadly than steel.

What she finds within herself, however, is more important.
In Heir of Sea and Fire, Raederle must come to understand her shape-shifting, elemental power. When she finally embraces it, she quells a band of undead kings:

She stripped light from the shields, from the armbands and jewelled crowns, from the flagstones, blazed a circle on the stones around [him]. She looked for a single source of fire in the room, but there was not even a candle lit. So she contented herself with drawing it out of her memory…The fury gave her dark insight into odd powers. It whispered to her how to crack a solid flag-stone in two, how to turn the thin, black rift into a yawning illusion of emptiness… (pp. 342-343.)


One of the things that draws me to Raederle is how she finds her own power. Turning her back on comfort and propriety, she learns to master herself, which frees her to experience the wonder of the lovely, pitiless land. For example, she initially refuses to fly in crow-shape, the traditional animal form of the Kings of An, until exhaustion compels her. Then she flies for weeks with the Prince of Hed, trying not to think about whatever they might be eating. The chapter ends with these beautiful lines:

Raederle whispered, “Your eyes are full of wings.”
“Your eyes are full of the sun.” (p. 426).

The male characters are excellent too. Bri, the beleaguered shipmaster. Har, implacable king of wolves. The Prince of Hed himself, who values books over crowns. Yet it is the women who inspired me. The far-seeing Morgol. Spear-wielding Lyra, who says, “I don’t take vows. I make decisions” (p. 442.) But in the end, it was always Raederle, who shaped my love of elemental things. The purple prairie crocus, the scent of straw and lilac, shadowy creatures gnawing in the garden.

The Riddlemaster seems innocent compared to contemporary fantasies. Its kisses are chaste, its violence circumscribed. Yet the prose hums, the characters fresh and authentic. I aspire to write so well.

To the west, a snowstorm batters Calgary. The wind will soon howl across the ranch lands and buffet the prairies. In Saskatoon, as I type these lines, the wind is already rising. I hope I’ll make it home tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll curl up and reread Heir of Sea and Fire.

Bio: Barbara Tomporowski writes, dances, and photographs. She also sings badly, inflicting her garbled tunes on her closest friends and family. She aims to present the beauty and majesty of the Canadian landscape through the written word.

Lucas K. Law and Derwin Mak – Where the Stars Rise

At When Words Collide 2017, I heard about this book but I didn’t have much interest in buying it. However the thought of it must have percolated in my memories over the next year because at When Words Collide 2018, I bought it. The gorgeous cover, by Samantha Beiko, helped.

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I’m so glad I did. The fantasy and science fiction in this book is good, really good. I feel for the characters in these stories and the imagery, one story after another,  was fresh and exciting (for me, anyway).

With so many characters to choose from, it was hard to pick only one. However,  the character’s voice that echoed the most for me was Paris Azarcon from Karin Lowachee’s story Meridian.

Being abandoned has a profound effect on us. We lose trust, our sense of security and love. Through no fault of their own, Paris Azarcon’s family abandons him when they are killed by raiders. He fights, literally and figuratively, through that loss, rejecting those around him before they can abandon him, until he finds himself in a place where they won’t let him reject them.

Once he regains this sense of family, security and belonging, he finds a measure of peace, until news comes that disrupts that peace.

He then has a choice; seek out the answer in that news and potentially invite abandonment or stay with the status quo.

I wonder how much influence our past hurts have on our present day decision making. That must be why young people are more willing to take risks. They’ve had less bad experiences to measure the risk against.

As a young man, Paris has the opportunity to take a risk or preserve the status quo. I cheered him on so read his story to find out what he did.

Alexandra MacKenzie – Marlen

As an immortal, you would have to give up your family and friends when they died and you didn’t. In The Trouble with Mages: Immortal Quest by Alexandra MacKenzie and published by Edge Publishing, one immortal mage named Marlen has been pursuing a relationship with a mortal named Nick. Each time Nick dies, he is reborn but forgets his previous life until Marlen helps him remember it. Sometimes they have a relationship together and other times they don’t.  

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I scoff at romantic notions like a relationship that lasts on and off again over five hundred years. Yet, Marlen pursues this relationship so sweetly and clumsily, only because he loves this one person, that even my heart melts at this story. He could do anything with all of time available to him, yet the only thing worth pursuing to him is this one relationship, from page 193:

“I know you happen to believe that I’m a lazy, good-for-nothing fool, but what you don’t know is that I’ve spent my five hundred good-for-nothing years trying to do the one thing I thought had any meaning in this world. I tried to love someone.”

Marlen’s devotion sets him apart from the modern era, in which this story is set, and from the other characters in this story. His scatter brained activities, putting everyone in danger by releasing a powerful mage and keeping information from Nick, could make Marlen only an obstacle to Nick but his love and devotion actually elevate Marlen.

 

Barb and J.C. Hendee – Leesil

Who can’t root for someone looking for redemption? When we are first introduced to Leesil, he engenders very little sympathy. He steals from peasants with his partner Magiere, and then uses the money to drink, not thinking beyond that night.

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Then we learn that he has skills with knives that enable him to kill, steal, and fight in relative secrecy and he becomes interesting. How did he come by these skills?

The guilt that drives him to drink is a result of betraying his mother and father because he couldn’t be what they needed him to be. He is at heart a decent person who just wants to get along with people and help them. It’s this decency which led to his betrayal and his guilt.

He had to make a choice between continuing to destroy himself or destroying his family. He chose to destroy his family and in doing so, began a new path to destroying himself.

That, of course, is where Leesil begins in the story. I haven’t finished reading the series, but now that he’s started on a new path to redemption, does he continue?

 

Barb and J.C. Hendee – Magiere

What does one do when he or she doesn’t believe in vampires but everyone around them does? Magiere chose to become a vampire hunter in Dhampir by Barb and J.C. Hendee. With the help of her associate, half-elf half human Leesil, they travel the countryside taking money from small villages to get rid of vampires. Leesil acts as the vampire.

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It’s not often anymore that the main character of a novel starts off as an outright con artist and ultimately thief with no reason noble for it such as feeding their siblings. I suspect nowadays this novel’s beginning would have been edited to make the main characters more sympathetic. Yet somehow Magiere stuck with me even many years after reading it the first time. When I saw it as a used book, I snatched it up and re-read it.

Magiere wants to move on, start again and run a legitimate business. She’s tired of being on the road and wants a place to settle down.

Why switch? Why abandon her con-artist ways? Her practicality. She has an essential practical nature. If someone is dumb enough to believe old tales, then taking their money from them is natural, just like eventually it isn’t practical to be on the road anymore.

That adherence to practicality then makes it hard for her to accept that she is a Dhampir and that there are actually vampires when her teeth elongate and a killing rage happens within her. It is even harder for her to accept that there are vampires.

What I like though is that she doesn’t get any redemption for her past transgressions against the villagers in the first three books. I have yet to read book four or five. She lives with her past actions, guilt creeping in for her previous practises, as she gets to know the people in her town and sees the impact her actions would have had on her victims.

Humans do bad things and there’s no one there to give us redemption. We have to live with those actions.