R. Lee Smith
Any time I start an R. Lee Smith book, I can kiss my bedtime good-bye. I know I’m going to be up reading at four in the morning because I just can’t put the book down and turn off the Kindle. This one was no exception.
Au fond this is a beauty and the beast story, only the beauty is nothing to write home about and the beast is so beastly that he bears the scars of the people who tried to kill him. Unfortunately for them, he’s already dead.
Lan, a worker in the peach orchards of Norwich, has traveled to Haven (formerly London) the capital of Azrael, the new ruler, to plead with him to stop the Eaters. These monsters turn the newly dead into more Eaters unless their bodies are burned. They are mindless, zombie-like horrors. and Lan wants them stopped. Lan doesn’t have any real hope of stopping them, but she has to do something.
Azrael is bored beyond comprehension. He is all-powerful, safe within the walls of Haven and feared as well as served by all. Even his children hate him. He is intrigued by Lan at first because she treats him as a man. A scarred, powerful, frightening man, but not a monster. Something begins to grow between them that surprises them both.
I think it is Smith’s world-building that sucks me in every time. I have read this book three times, and I’ll probably read it again. Each time there’s something new. And I cry at the end, every time.
This is one of my favorite books, the other two being The Two Towers and Return of the King. I know I have read it at least 10 times since the first time in college some 50 years ago. Strangely I have never cared for The Hobbit.
It never loses it freshness, and there is always something new to notice. This time it is Aragorn’s grief at leaving Arwyn at the start of the adventure. They are preparing to leave the House of Elrond, and they are gathered on the steps, waiting for Gandalf:
Aragorn sat with his head bowed to his knees; only Elrond knew fully what this hour meant to him.
He and Gandalf are the only ones who know the challenge facing them and the odds against their survival. He may have seen Arwyn for this last time in this world. And yet he finds the strength and courage to go on. Somehow over the years and many readings, I had missed this little insight into Aragorn’s sacrifice.
This time through, I’m not skipping anything. I’m in no hurry to finish the books. Instead I savor every description that I used to skim through, anxious to get to the next action bit. Who knows what other gems I have overlooked?
Jane Yolen uses three voices to tell the story of the white-haired child, Jenna, who is found by the warriors of the Hame: straight-forward story telling, folk songs, and academic analysis. Among the three sources emerges a world in transition, awaiting the white leader who is to take their world through a disruptive time to a new world order.
Jenna, also called Jo-ann-enna, learns that she is this white warrior. Her growth into the prophecy is rocky, resisted by the leaders of her world, accepted by some. The calling forth of her dark sister, Skalda, visible only by moonlight and candle light, helps her to accept her fate.
Jane Yolen has a gift for world building that creates an articulate, believable world for Jenna to come into her powers. This book, the first of three, is a solid introduction to her life and surroundings.
I think I enjoyed this book as much as an adult, as I did a teenager. This time through, I was especially taken with the character of Lucy. She is inarticulate when not believed by her siblings. She doesn’t have the vocabulary to express herself and bursts into tears at their disbelief.
I was struck by Lewis’ line when Father Christmas was handing out weapons to the boys, but denied them to the girls (except a bow and arrows for Susan), for ‘battles are ugly when women fight.’ From what I’ve read, battles are ugly no matter who is fighting.
At any case, this is an ageless story, fit for boys and girls, no matter what age they are.
I really like Andre Norton. I started reading her in high school and never stopped. I even remember the first book by her I ever read—Time Traders. I reread that recently and found it held up pretty well. Today my favorites are stories of High Hallack. They feature heroines who have agency, intelligence and courage. This book is no exception. Gillan opts for adventure over security and nearly loses her life when she trades places with a young women, one of twelve plus one promised to men who came to the aid of her country in time of war. Their bargain is women for wives in exchange for their help. Gillan sees the distress of the young women, and offers to take her place. She finds more than she bargained for in the man she she is matched with.
If I had one complaint, it would be that the book finished too soon. Since it is part of a series, I hope to meet Gillan and Herrel again.