the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘sword

The Grass-Cutting Sword, by Catherynne M. Valente

published in 2006

where I got it: purchased used








Before a girl circumnavigated fairyland, before John fell in love with Hagia,  before six super- heroines discussed their stories in the afterlife, and long before Space Opera, Catherynne Valente was taking the poetry and dreamyness of folklore and turning it inside out to show you the shiny bits you hadn’t known were there.


Valente’s novella, The Grass-Cutting Sword, was published in 2006, and if you come across a copy in some used bookstore somewhere, BUY IT.  (or even better, find a copy of Myths of Origin, which includes even more of Valente’s early work!) Especially if you like folklore. Especially if you like beautiful / weird / strange writing. If you enjoy C.S.E Cooney or Benjanun Sriduangkaew, you’ll love this.


In the story notes in Myths of Origin, Valente describes The Grass-Cutting Sword as “probably the most textually experimental and angriest” of her work. Yes, it is very experimental! But none of the characters seem overly angry. Driven? Absolutely. Tragic? That too.  Oh, and  as with all good fairy tales, there is a dragon and there is a sword.

The Grass-Cutting Sword is a retelling of the Japanese folktale of how the storm god Susanoo was banished from heaven by his sister Ama-Terasu. Instead of viewing it as a banishment, he takes the opportunity to seek his mother in her underground realm.  Recognized as a god by a worshipful man and woman, he undertakes the quest to save their recently abducted youngest daughter from an eight-headed serpent which has eaten the other seven daughters.


If he succeeds in the quest he has undertaken, the parents have promised him he can marry their youngest daughter as soon as he rescues her. Her parents say she is the most beautiful girl in the world, fit for an Emperor! And Susanoo wouldn’t be so insulting as to disagree, now would he?


The narrative flips back and forth between Susanoo’s point of view, and the serpent’s point of view.  Susanoo doesn’t mind hunting down the serpent, he’s not quite sure what else (other than look for the entrance to his mother’s realm) he’s supposed to do on Earth anyways.



As he travels the countryside looking for signs of the serpent, he tells the reader the story of creation – how his parents lived on an island surrounded by jellyfish, how his mother created the islands of Japan, how her fiery child was the last she would give birth to. Susanoo tells of his own creation, and that of his sister Ama-Terasu and his brother Tsuki-Yomi.

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Inspired by the Small Press/ Independent Books posts on Genre Reader and Fantasy Book Critic, I decided to pull my review of Albert Dalia’s Dream of the Dragon Pool out of the archives. Small Press, but readily available, this should be a must read for fans of historical fiction/fantasy or Asian legends. I think this might have been one of the first true fantasy novels I read, so reading the review again, I laugh at my naive opinions on fantasy.

* * * *

At first blush, Dream of the Dragon Pool seems a rather simple narrative following the poet Li Bo on his journey into exile after being expelled by the royal court. Stopping at an ancient dream temple, Li falls into a dangerous quest that he must complete, or face the anger of the spirits.

Li Bo was a real person, one of the most famous poets in Chinese literature. Of central Asian descent, Li Bo was often seen as an outsider. After an attempted coup, he was sent into exile to the southern reaches of the empire. Before reaching Burma, he was invited to return to the capital. Dream of the Dragon Pool is what may have happened during his travels south. Although many of the people and places in the novel have historical context, Dalia does a beautiful job of unique  world building. Where some historical background would usually be helpful, it isn’t needed to enjoy this wonderful tale.

Li is told at the dream temple that he must bring the Dragon Pool Sword to Mount Wu, to be protected by the Spirit who resides there. To accomplish this, Li and his swordsman companion Ah Wu travel down the Yangzte River and through the three gorges (also a real place, The Three Gorges is to this day a dangerous area of the Yangzte River). But they aren’t the only ones who know the Dragon Pool Sword is in transit. The sword is an object of power, can it be protected by a mere mortal?

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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.