Apr. 5th, 2008

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A few years ago I read the first volume of Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters Trilogy, Daughter of the Forest. It's a tale set in a semi-historical Ireland just around the time that Christianity is beginning to arrive and is loosely based on the traditional Grimm Brothers fairy tale of the Six Swans. I enjoyed it enough to want to read the rest of the trilogy, which I finally got to earlier this winter.

Son of the Shadows
Child of the Prophecy

Unlike many trilogies, this one actually got stronger as the series wore on, possibly because, once the maiden has finally succeeded in her long and lonely task of weaving the coats to turn her brothers back into human form, the preset material of the fairy tale is over with and Marillier begins to develop situations, plotlines and characters that, while certainly still well-grounded in Irish myth and tradition, are more surely her own imagining.

Marillier's tale follows three successive generations of the family of Colum of Sevenwaters and encompasses conflicts over land and power, issues of changing traditions and beliefs, and struggles between sorcerers and Druids, the Fair Folk and the Folk under the Earth, leading to a final confrontation that brings all the conflicts together in a culmination of a ages-old prophecy. Aside from her explorations of Celtic myth and tradition, what drew me into the trilogy was the fact that in all three volumes, the central protagonists are the women of Colum's family, who must each in her own way thread the balance between all the opposing forces until the time comes at last to choose and fulfil the prophecy.

In The Sevenwaters Trilogy, Marillier has written an enjoyable and interesting tale for those with a fondness for Irish or Celtic themed fantasy.

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In other serial reading, I have read two more books in Lois McMaster Bujold's series of books about Miles Vorkosigan, diplomat, courtier, spy (now retired), leader of a mercenary space fleet (now retired), and possibly the best-known hero with disabilities in all of science fiction.

In Komarr, there has been a serious accident in space that threatens an massive terraforming project, and Miles is dispatched in his new function as Imperial Auditor to determine if it was really an accident. The investigation morphs into a spy-terrorist plot thriller, and is all very standard Vorkosigan stuff, with one major exception - Miles is falling in love. With a woman that he really shouldn't be having anything to do with.

A Civil Campaign pursues the very tricky matter of Miles' love life against a background of court plots and significant challenges to Barrayar's very conservative thoughts on gender and sex.

Both are fun to read, and my only complaint is that after this, there is only one Miles Vorkosigan book left in the series.
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The Trail of Bohu, Charles R. Saunders

This was the last published volume in the magnificent fantasy series about the hero Imaro and his quest to rid the land of Nyumbani of the evil Mashataan, demons who seek to destroy him and to rule all of Nyumbani. Saunders had several more volumes planned, but the apparent lack of interest in a black fantasy hero whose quest is set in a world based on the land and cultures of Africa has now twice cut short the telling of the tale.

The Trail of Bohu is long out of print, and used copies can be pricey, but for those who did buy and enjoy Night Shade Press' recent re-release of a revised version of Imaro and The Quest for Kush, the story doesn't end in Kush, and this was the book that showed us where Imaro would have to go to complete his quest - and that told us just who Imaro was, and why this quest was his to shoulder.

Yes, I'm bitter. Just the idea of Imaro, a black hero, travelling through an African fantasy world, was exciting when Saunders' first stories were published. In the 30-odd years since, a reader still has to hunt for fantasy that's not set in a white universe. But at least I have all the Imaro that there was.

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The Children of Hurin, by J.R.R. Tolkien, with much editorial assistance from Christopher Tolkien, is one of those books that one feels duty-bound to own, but which unfortunately is not quite worth the owning.

As anyone who has looked at the massive volumes of Tolkieniana that have been released by his son is surely aware, Tolkien wrote and rewrote his stories over and over again, often coming at them in different ways, expanding, summarising, ch=changing, trying on many retellings.

Ultimately, it seems that there were two complete versions of the story of the Children of Hurin - the abbreviated one that is interwoven with all the other tales of men and Elves in Middle Earth before the defeat of Melkior that one finds in The Silmarilion, and a longer and more detailed, albeit unassembled one that Christopher Tolkien has now edited into a finished work.

The problem is that the version in The Silmarilion already tells you everything you need to know about the tragic story of Turin and Nienor, and it puts it into the larger context of the battle between Melkior and the combined forces of elves and the select tribes of men who stood with them. If I'd never read The Silmarilion, I'd probably have been much more excited reading The Children of Hurin. But if I hadn't read the Silmarilion, it would have been because I wasn't the Tolkien fan that I am, and I probably wouldn't have bought The Children of Turin anyway.

If you feel a need to have the complete Tolkien collection, by all means buy this and explore the additional information about the lives of Turin and Nienor that this volume provides. But if you are looking for something new to rekindle the excitement you had when you first started reading The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings - this is not where you will find that.

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Roman Dusk, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

As much as I adore Yarbro's great creation, the vampire Saint Germain, I must admit that some aspects of the novels become repetitive - Saint Germain's endless difficulties with troublesome civil servants who just don't trust him and want to extort money from him while preparing to expose him for whatever it is that they suspect him of being being a very large entry on that list. Usually, the repetitive aspects are, for me, more than cancelled out by the richness of historical detail, the twists and turns of the current chapter in Saint Germain's long life, and more often than not, the character and constraints surrounding the women who are an essential part of the vampire's life.

However, this time around, the setting - Rome during the time of the Emperor Heliobagalus - is not all that deeply explored, and we have seen both Saint Germain and Olivia in Rome before, and facing exactly the same kinds of bureaucratic persecution before. Yarbro does explore the growing presence, activism and persecution of Christians in this volume - in fact, that's a significant element of the difficulties faced by both of Saint Germain's significant female companions in this book - and the decadent fusion of sex and sadism of not just the Imperial court but much of Roman culture of the time, and her attention to detail is as always comprehensive and precise. But... I think next time I'd prefer to see Saint Germain in some place and time a bit further removed from the settings of earlier novels.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it - just not quite as much as many of her other Saint Germain books.

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Global Women: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy, Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild

Both Ehrenreich and Hochschild have written independently on the topic of work, and particularly women's work, in an era of downsizing, outsourcing, commodification of emotional work, the global economy, and vast economic disparities between the First and Third worlds.

In this volume, they have collected a variety of papers that look at how the labour, both physical and emotional, of third world women is being used, and usually exploited, in the service of the needs of men and women in more developed nations, and at the effect this has one the women, their families, and their home communities. Many papers look at the issue of how third world women's domestic labour as nannies and maids is being exploited to support the entry of women in developed or developing nations into the workplace; other papers examine sex tourism and the international movement of sex workers.

An excellent collection of perspectives on this topic, and well worth examining.


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