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Mythago-WoodStephen Huxley and his brother Christian grew up in England near a forest, Ryhope Wood. During they childhood the strange people that sometimes passed by their home were dismissed as “travelling gypsies” by their parents. But in 1946 Stephen returns home from service, after healing his war wounds, to find Christian obsessed by the creatures from Ryhope Wood, the mythagos – mythical/legendary characters come true by the Wood. Their recently deceased father seemed to have suffered from the same obsession and eventually Christian also vanishes into the Wood himself. Later Stephen meets the mythago girl Guiwenneth, starting his involvement with the Wood’s mysteries.

Robert Holdstock’s writing is almost poetic in its descriptions, but unsentimental and rather matter-of-fact. The storyline moves at its own speed, which means that it is rather slow and relatively uneventful most of the book. The characters are plainly drawn and their actions are sometimes hard to understand (for instance, why it is so easy for the characters to believe in the Wood’s phenomenon and to have such an accepting behaviour towards the mythagos), but that gives them a charming simplicity and innocence in its own way. The phenomenon of the Wood is described (or undescribed) in a very natural way that seems like the magic of an ununderstood natural phenomenon, like a thunderstorm to a prehistoric man.

Holdstock_Mythago_Wood_Geoff_Taylor

As a traditional novel Mythago Wood has its flaws. Maybe the concerns over the aesthetics and philosophical features of the writing overcome the credibility of some other essential details (the characters, for instance). Also some aspects are a bit dated. The novel was first published in 1984 and the action takes place in 1946-1948, and the author approaches some aspects of the new view of women’s place in society brought by the 2nd World War. Even though the author seems to be approving of equality of rights, the descriptions of women’s characteristics are laughable in today’s standards – a bit like Robert Heinlein when considering equality. However, Mythago Wood is in its own way a dazzlingly beautiful piece of literature, and as soon as I finished it I couldn’t resist getting the two following books of the Ryhope Wood Series. Mythago Wood is followed by Lavondyss but hold very well as a standalone novel. It won the BSFA Award for Best Novel in 1984 and the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985, among others.

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To your scattered bodies goOne day all humanity wakes up in a river, naked and hairless, remembering all their lives to the day of their death on Earth. Bound to each individual is a recipient nicknamed “grail”, in which food and other resources appear when the “grailstones”, stuctures in the riverbanks, are activated. Whenever someone dies is immediately resurrected somewhere else along the river. The length of the river is beyond imagination. The novel follows Richard Francis Burton, a Victorian adventurer who was mysteriously given some “backstage” view of the resurrection miracle. He attracts a small group of companions which include Kazz (a Neanderthal), Peter Frigate (a 21st century science fiction writer), Alice Liddell (yes, the Victorian lady who inspired Alice in Wonderland) and Monat Grrautut (an alien who disastrously contacted Earth on the 21st century). Burton also creates a nemesis to whom he seems to be attached to, Hermann Goring (leading member of the Nazi Party and founder of the Gestapo, among other delightful activities).

To your scattered bodies go2The exotic premise led to 2 movie adaptations, in 2003 and 2010. The novel, even if published in 1971, is surprisingly fresh. The characters are edgy and three-dimensional, showing incredibly complex personalities, each of them with bleak characteristics as well as very touching moments. The religious, cultural and ethical references are interestingly managed, keeping the reader as expectant as the characters themselves. During Burton’s journey through the Riverworld trying to solve the mystery behind the Resurrection Day, all hints of an answer originate a thousand more questions, a characteristic that usually generates love or hate in readers – similarly to the series “Lost”, I guess. Even though I found it satisfying as an isolated read, the end is left (widely) open.

This is the first book of the Riverworld series, won Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1972, and is followed by The Fabulous Riverboat.

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The killing moonIn the ancient city-state of Gujaareh peace is the only law.” Gujaareh is ruled by its Prince and the Hetawa, the institutional religion of the goddess Hananja. The cult of Hananja is based on dream magic to maintain and defend peace at all costs. Gatherers, high ranking priests of Hananja, visit the corrupt and the sick during their sleep and give them peace, collecting all their dream-blood (life energy) and sending their souls to the dream-world. Sharer priests use the collected energy to heal Gujaareh’s people. But such organized society is an easy prey for corruption. The Gatherer Ehiru and his apprentice come across strange events related with miss-use of dream-magic. Together with Sunandi, an embassador of a neighbouring state who also gets tangled in the situation, they must find out what is behind some heretic murders in Gujaareh.

Gujaareh’s location on a different planet is given away by the presence of several moons. However it shows many similarities with ancient Egypt: the privileged situation following a river and between other cultures, the clothes, the relationship between Prince and religion (including the fact that the Prince becomes King when he joins Hananja after death). Also interesting is the advanced spiritual, commercial and cultural life of Gujaarh in comparison with the neighbouring societies, similarly to the ancient Egypt. The storyline itself is an interesting mystery plot, in which the relationships between the characters are rather complex but given by a cleverly subdued narrative. The reader understands the characters’ feelings, even consummated and unconsummated romantic feelings, in a rather subtle way which gives a much more realistic feel to the narrative.

In spite of the intricate social pattern that the reader has to get into, the fast paced writing doesn’t fail to create suspense, without relying on cliffhangers.

This is the first book of the Dreamblood duology, but it stands alone from the second volume, The Shadowed Sun, which is more a sequel than a continuation.

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New York, 1939. Josef Kavalier, a Jewish teenager from Prague, arrived as a refugee to live with his aunt and cousin. Josef used to study painting in the Academy of Fine Arts and escapology with a famous Czech escapist, and he soon discovered that his cousin (Sammy Klayman) shared his interests in drawing and the famous escapist Harry Houdini.

Sammy (aka Sam Clay) got a contract for Josef (aka Joe Kavalier), himself and several other Brooklin teenagers, to create a comic-book hero for a novelty products company intending to rival the recent success of Superman. This hero was The Escapist, who used his powers to free the Jewish people from the Nazi threat. However Sammy and Joe lived their own adventures with their personal problems: Joe wanted to bring his family from Prague and Sammy had to deal with his sexual identity problems.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is an epic novel about two Jewish boys in New York, who used to write about super-heroes and didn’t realize they were living amazing adventures in their own way, which was a reflex of World War II and the context of New York in the 40’s. It mixes the Golden Age of Comics, American culture in the mid-20th century and the influence of Jewish culture in American History/Mythology.

The description of events and characters is very colorful, resembling a comic book plot. Sammy and Joe influenced the comic book characters with their personal life, and were also influenced by their own characters. Some details are fantasy-like, for instance, the exotic appearance of the golem of Prague in several parts of the book. Several events were based in the actual lives of famous comic-book creators and some historical figures played minor roles in the plot (Orson Welles, Salvador Dali,…).

Although The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay seems less “adventurous” than Gentlemen of the Road, it manages to be more “epical”.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001.

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Biblioteca is the Portuguese translation from the Serbian Biblioteka (original). In English it is known as The Library.

Biblioteca is composed of six short stories, all of them with the same theme: a Library. Each story is narrated by a man who comes in contact with a strange (magical/enchanted/fantastic) book or library. Each of the six men has a different personality, with strong manias or obsessions, and reacts differently to the strange events occurring to him. They also have different feelings towards books: from being writers or obsessive book lovers to despising books.

Although it is made of six different stories, Biblioteca is very uniform, and works very well as a unit. Each story is very good on its own, but together they become remarkable.

It is a very small fantasy book dedicated to books and their lovers. There is not much to say without spoiling it, except that… IT’S BRILLIANT!!!

Thank you, Cristina.

In 2003, Živković’s mosaic novel “The Library” won a World Fantasy Award for Best Novella.

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The remote Waystone Inn was a peaceful place with a peaceful clientele. One night, while the Chronicler was passing near the Inn, strange demons attack local villagers. The Chronicler recognized the innkeeper as the famous hero-wizard Kvothe, as he showed his expertise in dealing with demons. The Chronicler convinced Kvothe to tell his story, and Kvothe started the narration from the time he lived with his parents, itinerary actors jumping from town to town, and started his studies with a wizard who traveled with their troupe.

Although Kvothe was converted to a hero by popular tales and songs, his story showed a different perspective. He was an extremely clever, fast-learning boy who lost his parents to legendary demons, only remembered by children songs. He managed, sometimes by unconventional means, to survive in a wild city life and to get an education in magic. Later he tasted the sweet taste of heroism and liked it…

The Name of the Wind has a taste of a high fantasy classic all over. Kvothe is an interesting character, shaped like a regular hero but with some unconventional twists from time to time, specially related with his will to survive.

The main character of The Name of the Wind is an orphan who enters a magical school. The similarity with Harry Potter when Kvothe starts school is evident. This similarity is just strongly felt in a few chapters; it is a bit annoying and completely useless. The story of The Name of the Wind is interesting by itself and very well structured, it needed no support from a successful fantasy story which has nothing to do with it.

It is the beginning of a trilogy and it left me eager for the rest…

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Quentin Coldwater was a Brooklyn high school student with brilliant grades and obsessed with the imaginary world of Fillory (a kind of Narnia). One day he took an odd test, and was invited to a special University where he was taught magic. While in Brooklyn Quentin was living an unhappy and unfulfilled life. While studying magic… well… his life kept unhappy: magic was difficult and did not bring an objective to his life. Without an objective, magic became just useful to take an easy life, enjoying instant pleasures: drink, sex and drugs. One day, the discovery of an artifact from Fillory brought the opportunity for an adventure…

The Magicians is mostly a decadent mix of Harry Potter with The Chronicles of Narnia. Quentin is a kind of Harry Potter without objectives. He has all his needs fulfilled but there is no Lord Voldemort to fight. At the School of Magic he meets a group of students sharing the same problem, each one with a special way of dealing with it. His best friends are Alice, a brilliant hard-working student who has all kinds of Freudian, anti-Freudian and pseudo-Freudian conditions, and Eliot, a genius-boy that learns everything without studying and who is an alcoholic gay sex addict. The characters are very well constructed and described, as well as the (strange) relationships among them and the way they evolve throughout the story.

Although The Magicians has some more or less subtle dark humored references to Harry Potter, Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, it is not just a jest on other books. It has a story for itself, with interesting characters, and, most of all, an attractive writing. There is no need to be well acquainted with other works to find The Magicians interesting.

Note: this book is filled with dark humor. It may be depressing for people who do not get it.

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