The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

It’s hard to know where to begin with this book. Recommended to me by a dear friend, Kerry, who, when I said I wanted a novel to lose myself in, asked, “Have you tried Patrick Rothfuss?” I replied in the negative (though I had heard of him – you’d have to be deaf to the literary and fantasy community not to have), and picked up the first book in his Kingkiller Chronicles a little unwillingly. Unwilling because, with the exception of Kim Wilkins, Juliet Marillier, and Sara Douglass, I’ve read very little fantasy since George RR Martin. I’ve nothing against it; on the contrary, I am a huge fan and have been since I read Prince Caspian when I was eight. My bookshelves bulge with fantasy novels and my first foray into publishing was in that marvellous genre as well. It’s just that having to research my own work and loathing the interminable wait between instalments in fantasy series, I’d deferred my reading in this genre (apart from authors above) indefinitely. I’m just not patient enough and understand completely why my friend, Joy, waits until all books in a series are out before commencing them.

So, I picked up The Name of the Wind reluctantly…

Oh. My.

What a book.

What a reading sensation.

imgres-8How had I deprived myself of this work for so long? Beautifully structured, holistically conceived, filled with characters in whom you believe and a world that is so rich and complex, I found this book impossible to keep away from. I’d rise in the morning and drift towards it; begin to eat and flick it open, regardless of the company (so rude, I know); record a favourite television show (yes, even Game of Thrones) to watch later and read instead; stay up till all hours wishing I could remain in Rothfuss’ world.

And this is why (without, I hope, spoiling the experience).

When the book opens, we’re introduced to Kvothe, the youthful inn-keeper with an incredible past that involves, wizardry, death, monsters, music, women, wine and song, sharp intellect and no small degree of talent, as well as incredible adventures, abject poverty, suffering, brutality, violence, academic and physical lessons, hope, resilience, hard work, love, bets and the lurking ill-will of dire enemies. So how did this amazing red-haired man with a colourful and unbelievable past, who when we meet him seems to have lost the will to live, end up running an inn in a remote, quiet place while the world around him plunges into darkness?

Against his better judgement, Kvothe begins to tell the story of how he became a legend in his own life-time to a man whose been searching for him in order to record his memories – the Chronicler.

And so Kvothe’s tale, from itinerant performer to wunderkind, is told – in Kvothe’s first-person voice in the past before switching to a third person present. The language is poetic and moving, the dialogue snaps one minute and brings you to tears in the next. Kvothe is irreverent, honest, modest (except when he’s not) and completely convincing and lovable, even has he grows into what you can tell will be formidable powers. He’s possessed of a wicked sense of humour, a strong sense of justice and refuses to be a victim, no matter what life metes out. I went through every conceivable emotion and then some reading this book and grabbed the next one immediately (it’s almost a thousand pages), delighted I would be able to spend more time with someone who has fast become one of my favourite characters of all time.

Elegant, original, magnificent in scope yet humble in execution, this is imgresa book any lover of reading would enjoy. Furthermore, Rothfuss is very open with his many fans about his writing, the world he’s created and his ambitions for the writing future. Only, in getting to know him as a writer through words other than those in his marvellous novels, I’ve also learned that the third book in this series, Doors of Stone (there are novellas and short stories connected to the world as well), despite being promised earlier, might not be available until 2016. This brings me back to why I stopped reading fantasy all together –the waiting when you willingly give yourself over to a new book and world is painful. However, in this instance, I make an exception. Learning that Rothfuss doesn’t want to let DoS go until he’s absolutely satisfied it’s as good as it can be, makes sense to me and kudos to him.

Despite the wait ahead, I’ve no regrets I read these books – such is the power and beauty of what Rothfuss has accomplished and my faith in his very impressive abilities – I was poorer without this experience.

Just a marvellous read. I’ll try and be patient… really.

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Book Review: The Crippled Angel

The final page-turning installment of The Crucible series, The Crippled Angel, sees Thomas Neville, former Dominican, warrior and now King Henry’s (Hal’s) confidant and conscience, forced to make the decision that will change the world. Understanding what he is and what’s expected of him, the role he has no choice but to play, Neville nonetheless struggles with his morals and what he believes he must do, procrastinating endlessly! Despite the apparent wickedness of the angels and deception of those called demons, Neville feels he must search for alternatives or delay the inevitable for as long as possible, bringing everyone and thing to the brink of disaster.

Against a backdrop of war, politics, pestilence, treachery and unbelievable cruelty, moments of kindness, generosity and love shine. It’s these, particularly in the form of Hal’s misused Queen, Mary, that Neville clings to as the angels and events conspire to force his hand. A strong friendship develops between Neville and Mary which is the woman’s only respite as Douglass does not spare the gentle queen any misery and we bear witness to utterly appalling injuries – emotional and physical – inflicted upon this poor soul.

Philip and Catherine also feature as does Joan of Arc and, of course, Neville’s wife and child. Relationships grow, transform, suffer and are fulfilled or otherwise. Again, Douglass uses real figures and events to create verisimilitude amd add richness and depth to this complex tale. Dates and places differ as do consequences, but the excitement never abates.

Using a great deal of medieval biblical and religious imagery, Douglass paints a bleak, adventurous and marvellous world where angels and demons tread and manipulate boldly for their own purposes amd where good and evil are no longer black and white but more than fifty shades of grey. The Church as an institution is not let off lightly, and Christianity as preached by Jesus is upheld as a system of faith that’s been as brutalized and misinterpreted as Mary by those with their own shocking agendas. I admire Douglass enormously for the themes she tackles in this series and the ideologies and beliefs she places under a daring microscope. For while this rollicking take of good, evil, everything inbetween and those who practice it is set in the past, it still resonates strongly today.

A fabulous conclusion to a terrific series.

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Book Review: The Nameless Day, Sara Douglass

I first read this book when it was published in 2000 and, while I’d forgotten a great deal about it, I did recall that I really enjoyed it. Re-reading it again, however, made me appreciate not only Douglass’ story-telling style, which grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let you go, but also her skill for weaving actual history into her fictive works. The Nameless Day and, I suspect, the entire Crucible series, illustrates her mastery at this.

The Nameless Day centres on a former soldier and aristocrat, Thomas Neville who, after the grisly suicide of his paramour and murder of her children, abandons the sword for the cross, becoming a Dominican friar. Only, life isn’t going to be easy for this complex, confused man as unbeknownst to him, he’s about to play a crucial role in the forthcoming war between the angels and demons. Told he’s to inherit the mantle of a mysterious and independent friar, the marvellously named, Wynken de Word, Neville sets out to reclaim this man’s casket, said to hold the secrets Neville needs to defeat the evil about to engulf the world. But this wouldn’t be a Douglass book if the protagonist wasn’t sorely tempted to stray from the path God has laid out for him and Neville’s adventures are no exception. Temptation arrives in the form of the beautiful Meg, a woman Neville loathes with every fibre of his being….

Set against the backdrop of the schism in the Catholic church (where two popes were declared – one in Rome and one in Avignon), the Hundred Years War between Britain and France, Joan of Arc, and internal strife raging through Britain in the form of tensions between Yorks, Lancasters and the spread of the Lollard movement, Douglass also charts the rise of humanism and the early stirrings against the exclusivity and greed of the Roman Catholic church.

Explaining that this book is set in a parallel universe to ours, one where it’s not unlikely that Archangels Michael and Gabriel would appear and the miracles attributed to Joan of Arc occur, this is a sweeping saga of a book with one of the most unlikeable protagonists I have ever encountered. I loathed Thomas Neville for most of this book and yet, it’s a credit to Douglass that you still want to undertake this journey with him, even if it’s only to see him eat his words and be humbled in the end.

Full of bloodshed, religious bigotry, zealotry and indulgence, it’s also full of rich characters, a fabulous plot and accurate historical detail, which is beautifully woven into the fabric of the story. I finished this book and went straight onto the The Wounded Hawk. This is story-telling at its brutal, fast-paced best.

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Acceptance Speech Norma K. Hemming Award

The Norma K Hemming Award was announced on June 11th in Melbourne, at the Continuum conference.

Sara Douglass was a joint winner for her book The Devil’s Diadem. For health reasons, i was unable to be there to receive it on her behalf, but I did write the acceptance speech which I know would have been beautifully read by fellow author and friend, Jason Nahrung.

I thought I would share the speech with you – it is only short. Here it is:

It is difficult to accept an award on behalf of a beloved friend who has died, suffice to say, you try to imagine how they would feel and what they would say and that’s what I will try and do now.

Firstly, however, I want to thank Jason Nahrung, my dear friend and fellow writer for being so kind as to accept this award on my behalf for Sara.

Secondly, I know Sara would want me to extend warm congratulations to the joint winner, Anita Bell – it’s lovely to share this recognition with you, Anita.

As for winning the Norma K Hemming Award for Devil’s Diadem, Sara’s last novel, it’s a great tribute and Sara would have been humbled by it but also, I think, grateful that the judges and this community understood what she did with the tale and, in particular, the character of Maeb.

The citation says that Maeb, the main protagonist, was “…an ordinary woman (who) lives extraordinarily, questioning and evolving her place in history, in patriarchy, and in an unfurling horror.”

This could have been written about Sara. Those of you who knew her would agree with me that she was simultaneously an ordinary and extraordinary woman. She was a trailblazer for us speculative fiction writers, a great but quiet supporter of the national and international community of writers, readers and fans, and someone who, while writing this book, suffered the unfurling horror of cancer.

What many of you won’t know is the pain, blood, sweat, and tears that Sara poured into this novel – something her original dedication noted. I was privileged to share this dreadful yet wonderful time with Sara. She loved this book with a passion – it was her escape, her salve.  Towards the end of writing and throughout the editing, when she knew unequivocally she was dying, Sara allowed her emotions, her fear, her dread, her confusion and grief to transfer into the story – into Maeb.

Yet, for all that, it’s not a bleak novel; on the contrary, it’s beautiful, otherworldly and haunting – like Sara really. Read Devil’s Diadem, and you will find Sara Warneke and Sara Douglass on every page, in every line and every word.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the honour you have bestowed upon her, thank you for remembering her. As she walks the falloway paths, I hope we’ll all continue to do so.

That was it. But I would like to add something here:

My heartfelt thanks to Jason, the organisers of Continuum and the judges of the award – and to all of you who love her works as much as I do.

Karen x

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Kushiel’s Dart: Jacqueline Carey

When my friend, the writer Sara Douglass, first toured America, she did so with two other wonderful authors: Juliet Marillier and then newcomer, Jacqueline Carey. So taken was Sara with Carey’s work, she brought back copies of her debut novel for me, and our friend, Francis Thiele, and gifted them with the instructions: “you must read this book.” Never one to ignore a directive like that, I did. Oh. My. Recently, I picked this novel up again, to remind myself of what it was I loved about it before reading the sequels… My. My.

This is a sublime and highly erotic tale of a beautiful woman named Phedre who, as a child, is indentured to a guild dedicated to sensuality and the arts of love and where she is taught how to pleasure others with her body. Born with a scarlet mote in her eye (a ‘dart’) the mark of the goddess Kushiel, Phedre is no ordinary courtesan but one who can receive and inflict both pleasure and pain. Highly sought after, it is in the bedchambers and among the other nobles of her land (and foreign dignitaries who desire to experience the arts of one who possesses Kushiel’s Dart), that Phedre’s worth as a lover, spy and keeper and secrets is realized.

The world that Carey has created is sublime, the language of the novel so poetic. You savour words and phrases, appreciate the elegance of the descriptions, and experience the longing that Phedre arouses; the descriptions of pain are visceral and detailed, yet also tantalizingly seductive. Your flesh tingles as you read and your cheeks grow warm – continuing is not for the faint-hearted. Nothing is gratuitous but endowed with meaning and adds to the reader’s understanding of Phedre’s worth in this hedonistic, complex and powerful realm. Carey uses her knowledge of history and politics to create a rich and imaginative world based on Europe during the Middle Ages/Renaissance but with an almost Byzantine feel, where art and poetry are both beautiful and deadly and always valued and where sensuality is a currency. Never unnecessarily graphic, but nonetheless charged with eroticism and heat, this is one of the most original fantasy novels I’ve enjoyed in a while.

It was a terrific read the first time and even better the second.


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