the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘mythology

king makerKing Maker, by Maurice Broaddus

published in 2010

where I got it: purchased

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I have a soft spot for mythology retellings, for folklore characters reimagined in modern times. How will the author handle changes in social mores and expectations?  How do you blend old myths and a new world, and make it work?  Maurice Broaddus’s debut novel King Maker is the story of King Arthur told in present day inner city Indianapolis. Blending the trappings of urban fiction and dark epic fantasy, Broaddus gives us characters and a world that I’ll bet most SF/F fans have rarely, if ever, come across.  The dialog includes a lot of urban street slang, and yet there is a Shakespearean flavor to the timber and rhythm of many of the conversations.

 

The characters from the Arthur story are all here, if changed and modernized: Luther White is Uther Pendragon; his son King James White (yes, King is his first name) is Arthur; King’s friend Lott Carey is Lancelot; the homeless and possibly crazy guy Merle is Merlin; Lady G is Guinevere; Dred is Mordred, and so on. You’ll even find the Green Knight, Percival, and some fae interference. Even the physical trappings are here:  Excalibur becomes a custom-made gun called the Caliburn, and the throne of Britain is reflected in the Breton Court neighborhood which serves as the epicenter of King’s domain. There is additional mythos blended in as well, including immortal spirits, and a set of unforgettable assassins.

 

Merle speaks in riddles and prophecies, and King puts up with him, because the old homeless guy is surely harmless. King doesn’t want to get sucked into the world of drug dealing, but with so few options to get out of the city, he may have no other choice. King knows he’s made some enemies, but he isn’t intimidated by the thugs on his street who try to hustle his neighbors. He protects the vulnerable people in his neighborhood, and generally tries to make his home a better place.  His fearlessness leads Merle to believe that the King has returned.

 

But instead of noble kings, knights in shining armor, princesses and magicians, the names you know from the King Arthur myth are transformed into poverty stricken inner city youths, drug dealers, teen mothers, prostitutes and homeless people. Broaddus doesn’t sugar coat or glorify anything, and neither do his characters. We’ve turned so many old stories into romantic tales of brotherly love and chivalry, but what parts of their stories never made it onto the parchment or into the songs and poems?  In King Maker, we’re given the idea of the noble and romantic Hero’s Journey right alongside destitution,  bleak street life, homelessness, drug deals gone wrong, and women who turn to prostitution because they have no other way to feed their family.  it’s brutal, it’s honest, it’s in your face at all times.

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2014 has been a pretty good year for me.  Personally, I’m damn impressed with how many of these books were actually published in 2014. As a bonus, there’s even a few novellas and short stories in here. In no particular order, here are my favorite reads of 2014!

Favorite Novels:

city_of_stairs-cover1

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (2014) – that this book is on my list should surprise no one. And if you haven’t read it yet, seriously, get with the program. This is one of those amazing books that defies genre categorization, it just *is*.  To give you a big picture without spoiling anything, it’s about watching your worldview dissolve before your eyes, and understanding that games can be played with many sets of rules. Also? it’s simply fucking amazing.

gemsigns

Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter (2014) – This is probably the most important book I read in 2014. Remember when Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother took high school government classes by storm? I wish the same for this book.  Gemsigns touches on enforced marginalization, building (and breaking down) cultures of racism and classism and fear, and religiously and politically promoted hatred, and handles it in a blunt and emotional way. Also? fucking awesome. And for what it’s worth, I cried at the end.

vandermeer annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer  (2014) –  I’ve been a Vandermeer fan for a long, long time (yet somehow I can still eat mushrooms). Annihilation was strange, surreal, and seemed to be magnetically attuned to me. The words in the tunnel rang for me like a tuning fork. And there was just something about characters who don’t have names. I am a jerk, however, because I own but haven’t yet read the third book in the series.

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alis-franklin-1Remember Neil Gaiman’s American Gods?  Give it a different kind of edge and then smash it up with a very contemporary urban fantasy that takes place in a IT department, and you’re on the right track for the premise of Alis Franklin’s debut novel Liesmith.  I’ve a weakness for mythology retellings/mythology in the modern world,  so she had me at “Norse”.  click here to read an excerpt of Liesmith, and when you’re back, I’ve got a guest post below from Alis on how she fell in love with Norse mythology, and specifically, Sigyn.

You can learn more about Alis Franklin at her website, and follow her on twitter where she is @lokabrenna.

 

Wicked Loki and Loyal Sigyn, Terrible and Victorious

by Alis Franklin

 

Ever since I was a kid, curled up behind a well-thumbed copy of the Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend one of the old Viking gods always fascinated me more than the others.

It wasn’t Thor, god of thunder, or Odin, god of wisdom. It wasn’t Hel, goddess of death, or Frigg, the prophetess who spoke no secrets. It wasn’t even Loki, thief and trickster, and my second favorite god, as far as these things went.

Instead, it was Sigyn.

Who? you might ask. I wouldn’t blame you.

Here’s the funny thing about Norse mythology; the Vikings didn’t write it down. They weren’t a particularly literate society so, bar a few inscriptions on rocks and swords, we really don’t know much about what they thought of their own culture. Instead, most of what we know about them—in particular their myths and legends—was recorded several hundred years after the official end of the Viking era.

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bridge of birdsBridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

published in 1984

where I got it: purchased new

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In a rural village in the shadow of the Tang dynasty, the parents are all weeping.

 

They weep because their children lie dying from a mysterious illness. A matriarch of the village gives her life savings to their strongest young man, Number Ten Ox, and tells him to go to the city and purchase the services of a wise Sage, for certainly a learned man can divine the reason for the children’s plague and help develop a cure.  Number Ten Ox is soon to discover that a peasants fortune doesn’t go very far in the city.   However, he returns with Master Li Kao, who is able to understand how the children became sick, and give instructions regarding the herbs needed to cure them.  Knowing what they need, the elderly Master Li climbs onto the back of Number Ten Ox, and across China they go.

 

 

 

They rather quickly find the first portion of the cure, and set out immediately for the rest. One clue leads to another, each adventure feeding into the next. Stealing money (to fund their quest, of course) from a corrupt business owner leads to tricking a dowager,  which eventually leads to the most expensive woman in the world, which leads to visions of pleading ghosts lead which lead to phantom paintings on mountain tops which lead to heartless men, which lead to following a dragon through hell and back. Which leads to Master Li asking the all important question of why do children play the games they play? And through it all, they keep running into people they’ve met before in a curious pattern.

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Scale-Bright - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

As I mentioned in my review of Scale-Bright, there are three short stories that are connect to and have been included with the novella. Some of you have already seen these, as “The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate” was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies in 2013, “Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon” was published in GigaNotoSaurus in 2012, and “Chang’e Dashes From the Moon” was first published in Expanded Horizons in 2012.   The short fiction take places chronologically before Scale-Bright, and they are the mythological foundations for what occurs in Sriduangkaew’s newest contemporary urban fantasy.

 

The too long didn’t read of this review is that if you aren’t reading Benjanun Sriduangkaew, you need to be.

 

No bones about it, these short stories are gloriously bewitching, and the more I read them, the more they glowed. As with all mythology, these are stories are that coming to me through the eras of history. Like the dying light of a super nova that takes generations to reach me,  being warped and dimmed by clouds of dust and time along the way. But this light, was different.  These are characters who are saying “this is my real story, this is what really happened, this is the true color and depth of my light, of my life”.  In these retellings of how Xihe gave birth to the sun, of how Houyi the archer God shot down the suns, and of how Chang’e became the Goddess of the moon, Sriduangkaew has done the impossible: she’s convinced Goddesses who exist on high to tell us lowly mortals the silken secrets that shine deep within their hearts.

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Scale-Bright - Benjanun SriduangkaewScale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

published August 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the author (thanks!)

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Niall Alexander’s recently reviewed Scale-Bright on Tor, and  he suggested reading the accompanying and related short stories first. Benjanun Sriduangkaew recommends reading Scale-Bright first.  I followed both of their advices.  I read the short stories first, but I’ll review the novella first. Check back next week for a review of the short stories that are published along side and birthed Scale-Bright, because they are glorious all on their own, in a completely different way. Let me give you a little teaser right off the bat: if you like Catherynne Valente, you’re gonna love Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

 

Those familiar with Chinese mythology will recognize characters and words, will smile out of the corner of their mouths because they know what’s coming. Woefully ignorant (yet less so, now) of Chinese mythology, all these characters and words were new to me. Wikipedia answered my most basic questions about Houyi and Chang’e, but the words I didn’t know, words like banbuduo, mowhab and daihap, had to be figured out contextually. Those were the words that tasted the best.  For those readers who would prefer some background before diving in, Sriduangkaew wrote a great guest post over at SFSignal that is a cheat-sheet of sorts.

 

The stories she was raised with are real if not always told correctly, and the movies and plays only told the tiniest part, and Julienne, a mortal woman in Hong Kong, has been invited into mythology. Orphaned and then found by her aunt Chang’e and Chang’e’s wife Houyi, Julienne knows no one would believe her if she said her aunts were Immortals.  It’s a tenuous yet amusing dynamic between the three women – Julienne is a little embarrassed about what she sees as her personal failings, and her aunties are fiercely proud and protective of her.  They give her the tiniest of sacred protections, and she unknowlingly helps them navigate the concept of “family”.  There is more than the barest undercurrent that this is the first time in Julienne’s life that her sexuality has not been questioned or judged, that she’s being completely and unconditionally accepted for who she is.

 

Julienne knows she is on the edge of mythology, that her aunties are the women to whom these stories actually happened to, that to them they are not stories but history, that Houyi is still paying for the crime of shooting down the suns, that Chang’e is making up for all the time she lost when she was imprisoned on the Moon. But  I’ll talk much more about those two ladies later, as Scale-Bright is Julienne’s story.

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Six_Gun_Snow_White_by_Catherynne_M_Valente_200_311

 

I was maybe 20 pages in Six Gun Snow White when I wrote this in an e-mail to a friend:  “spending the morning of my first vacation day reading Cat Valente’s “Six Gun Snow White”.  the words are so pretty i am afraid if I touch them they will shatter into a million pieces and i will never hear the end of the story . . .  e-book words will surely be flatter and soulless, they won’t respond to my petting. might be safer that way.”  Those words on those pages, they were pretty, but they were also knife tip sharp, and with every page they clawed their way into me.

 

If you’re familiar with Catherynne Valente, you already know what she does with words. And if you’ve read other reviews I’ve written of her work, you might know what her words do to me. With every word I read, with every page I turn, a creature takes shape. Something that flies and dreams and takes me with it, a dragon made of velveteen words, and as you read those words, and caress those scales, the dream creature’s shape becomes clearer, this is what you’ve been looking for all this time. And the story is the breath of that dragon.

 

See?  reading Cat Valente makes me talk in ways my vocabulary can’t support.

 

So, “Six Gun Snow White”. No dragons to be found here.  Only a child who is forced to find her own way.  Valente takes the traditional Snow White story, and plunges it into the American frontier, the mines of the Dakotas, the mythologies of the Native Americans. A white man takes a crow woman as wife, and a baby daughter is born. For reasons unknown but guessed, the man treats his own flesh and blood daughter as an adopted ward, a novelty native girl, someone the maid can dress in doe skin and trot out for visitors to view and ask “is she real?” “Where did you find her?”.  The girl learns how to read, write, and be silent.  The name she uses for her father is Mr. H. He doesn’t treat her poorly, or unkindly, he simply doesn’t treat her like anything at all. She doesn’t know any better, she thinks this is love.  And then he gets married again.

 

The new wife, Mrs. H., sees this dark haired, dark skinned girl in braids and leather, and decides to make her into a true lady. Everything that makes the little girl what she is, Mrs. H destroys, even her name.  To remind the child of everything pure she’ll never be, Mrs. H. bestows on her the name Snow White. And she doesn’t know any better, so she tries to tell herself that being treated like this is what love is. This is the point you’ll start to recognize the original fairy tale, and this is also where Snow (who doesn’t remember her own name) takes the story in her own hands and refuses to allow it to be told in anyway except hers.  Mrs. H is a witch, and Snow can only take so much.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.