Fiction: May 2008 Archives

Kristin, 17 years old, runs from home just before the end of the millennium. Kristin responds to a curious classified ad and finds a new home living with an apocalyoptologist. This researcher of the end of the world has the new millennium starting at the May 1968 in Paris.

The book is quite a firework assembly. The events mix and shuffle a pack of characters whose paths get close to each other but never quite touch. The whole book is like a puzzle, and the pieces click - no, they slam hard - together as the story goes. What is it all about? I most certainly don't know, but it was fun to read nevertheless. This book is best read fairly quickly, because otherwise you'll lose track of who's who. [ The Sea Came in at Midnight at ]The Sea Came in at Midnight at LibraryThing ]

Lord Dunsany was an Irish poet and an author, who wrote short stories, plays and few novels. He made the most lasting impression in the field of fantasy literature, where he was a major fore-runner. Several later authors sing praises and acknowledge debt to Dunsany: H.P. Lovecraft, Ursula Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, David Eddings, Peter Beagle... J.R.R. Tolkien was fond of Dunsany's work as well, so it's fair to say fantasy literature wouldn't be what it is without Dunsany.

Lord Dunsany's most important novel was The King of Elfland's Daughter, published in 1924. I was glad to be able to read a Finnish translation, published by a friend of mine. His small publishing house is dedicated to producing translations of fantasy classics that have so far been unavailable in Finnish. He has already published Leiber's Lankhmar stories, Zelazny's Nine Princes of Amber, Matheson's I Am Legend... He's doing a wonderful service to the Finnish fantasy fandom.

The King of Elfland's Daughter is not just an interesting literature curiosity. It's a beautiful, tragic tale of what happens when ordinary people wish to have some magic in their lives. The people of Erl want a ruler with magic powers, so that the valley of Erl would be famous. The lord of Erl sends his son Alveric to marry the legendary Lizarel, the daughter of the Elven King.

It's not a "then they lived happily everafter story" - Alveric goes and gets Lizarel, that's not a big deal. That's where the complications begin... The story is wonderful, a proper fairy tale for adults. It's full of imagination and style. Dunsany writes in a flowery, archaic style, which is beautifully captured in the Finnish translation. The King of Elfland's Daughter is a book worth reading, for it's historical significance and it's literary value. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ The King of Elfland's Daughter at ]The King of Elfland's Daughter in LibraryThing ]

This book observes the life of a small Dutch village through the eyes of Fransje, who is bound to a wheelchair after a nasty accident. His accident makes him an outsider, looking in at the fringes. He can't even speak, just write. He keeps an extensive journal, writing down everything he observes.

When Fransje was waking up from his coma, he heard people talk about a new kid in town. His name is Joe Speedboat, and even his arrival was full of drama: their moving van crashed straight to the living room of the Maandag family. Joe's dad died in the accident and the Maandag's were properly scared.

Joe is full of energy and has a big effect on the boys of Lomark. Fransje gets to know Joe, and the boys get fairly close. Joe is a wild card that tips the balance off for the whole town. However, Joe's not the last stranger to move in, and many events in the book are somehow started by outsiders who arrive to Lomark. Being an outsider is a major theme in the book: there are the outsiders moving in to Lomark, then there's Fransje, who is also an outsider looking in.

Fransje observers the life in Lomark from school and through the final exams and sees how the other kids leave Lomark to take over the world - and come back, either temporarily or for good. Fransje gets his chance to see the world, too. There's lots of action in this book, but also slower moments, slower thoughts. Lots of laughs, too, both in good and bad taste. All in all, the story of Joe, as seen through the eyes of Fransje, is a rich tale worth reading. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Joe Speedboat at ]Joe Speedboat at LibraryThing ]

The city of Berylon was ruled by the Tormalynes, until Arioso Pellior, head of another major family, slaughtered them all. Only one small boy survived, hiding in the ashes of a fireplace. The boy was delivered to a rocky island far north, to be raised by the bards. The boy, Rook, has no idea of his past, and he seems content to live on the island, teaching music.

However, his heart holds the fire that burnt his family and one day, almost 40 years after the slaughter, the arrival of a distant relative brings the memories back. Rook must travel back to Berylon to face his past. But Berylon is already burning... McKillip takes a classic setting and twists it into a tale that won't fit in the mold of a standard revenge story.

Curious instruments and the magical music played by them is an important theme in this book. There's actual magic in the world, capable of both good and evil. Song for the Basilisk is a beautiful book, as can be expected from McKillip, a true master of words. The book offers plenty of pretty words and lyrical prose, while telling an exciting plot that will hold reader tight. This is no routine fantasy, but a wonderful story in a world full of magic, written with genuine skill. (Review based on the Finnish translation) [ Song for Basilisk at ]Song for the Basilisk at LibraryThing ]

Other blogs that write about the book:
Books under the Covers: Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip (warning: spoils the plot)

The Pendragon Legend is an Hungarian novel from 1930s, but the story isn't particularly Hungarian. A Hungarian researcher and bibliophile János Bátky is introduced to the Earl of Pendragon and is invited to study the books in his exquisite library. Bátky soon learns that getting involved with the Pendragons can be dangerous: he is threatened by mysterious forces and many strange events happen at the Pendragon manor. Antihero Bátky is an outsider who gets drawn into quite a mess.

The story is a strange mixture of gothic horror story and light comedy. The Earl Pendragon is a gloomy old gentleman and the history of the family features legendary characters. Rosicrucianism plays an important role in the story. The Finnish publisher advertises the book as Da Vinci Code published 60 years before Dan Brown's novel. This is advertising, of course, but the books belong in the same genre.

The Pendragon Legend is a charming story. It's not high literature, but the plot is clever, Bátky is a lovely lead character and the story has a good vibe to it. I also enjoyed the old-fashioned atmosphere of the 1930's England, and the translator did a good job capturing that in the language used. The Pendragon Legend is a tasty mystery with flavours of horror and occult. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ The Pendragon Legend at ]The Pendragon Legend at LibraryThing ]

Other blogs writing about the book:
26 books: James's book seven: The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb

Bookworms Carneval 3 logo

This is my contribution to the 12th Bookworms Carnival, themed on fairy tales. I was first going to pass the carnival, but then I came up with the perfect book to introduce to the readers of the carnival.

It is Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi by Johanna Sinisalo. The English title is more straightforward Troll : A Love Story, a direct translation would be Not before sundown (which is the title of the first English edition of the book) or something like that. I'll come to the origin of the title later, it's a fascinating thing in itself.

Let's start with the book first and I'll deal with the background later. The book starts with a simple assumption: trolls exist. The book switches with the story, told by different narrators, and all sorts of fragments of literature (web sites, nonfiction, fiction) about trolls, written as if the trolls were a natural thing, an animal amongst the others.

The story is about Mikael, a young photographer, who finds something strange in his backyard. It's a troll, and Mikael takes it home and adopts it. A bond, relationships starts to form between Mikael and the troll, and soon things get complicated, when primal forces mix with modern world and culture meets nature. Add to the mix a Filipino mail-order wife living downstairs and couple of other characters and it all gets rather interesting.

It's a fascinating story, with a strong sexual tensions - it certainly is a love story, as the English title has it. Sexuality is, of course, a recurrent theme in many traditional fairy tales, especially in the original versions. I don't know about the quality of the English translation (or any of the other translations), but if it's as good as the Finnish original, this is one captivating and charming book. Sinisalo is a master writer and can craft convincing alternate realities. After you read this book, you start to believe trolls might indeed exist...

Then some background. Johanna Sinisalo is a well-loved author in the Finnish science fiction circles. She started by writing short stories and has seven times won the Atorox, the Finnish award for the best science fiction or fantasy short story of the year. She's since worked in television, writing the most popular Finnish daily TV series. She's also writing the script for Iron Sky, the new movie from the people who made Star Wreck.

Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi won the Finlandia prize for the best novel published in Finland. That is a major award, and Sinisalo was the first science fiction author ever to win the award (and only one so far). That was a major milestone for the Finnish science fiction literature, even though Sinisalo doesn't really write pure science fiction anymore - nevertheless, she mixes reality and fantasy in a wonderful way and really enhances the Finnish literary world.

The book also won James Tiptree, Jr. award in 2004.

Then I promised to tell you about the title. It's from one of the best-loved songs for children in Finland, Päivänsäde ja menninkäinen (Sunshine and a troll). In the song, sun is setting when one of the sunshines is left behind and meets a troll. The troll immediately falls in love with the sunshine and wants to take her home, even though her shining is making him blind. The sunshine refuses, saying that the darkness will kill her, and she must hurry home before she perishes. The song ends in a sad acknowledgement of how some are children of light and some travel in darkness, and never the two shall be together. It's a really beautiful, sad and sweet and song and a perfect source for a title for this book.

The bestselling author Sam Bayer is frustrated with how his latest book is turning out. Going back to his childhood roots in the small town of Crane's Village, he comes up with a much better book: he's going to tell the story of Pauline Ostrova, Crane's View's teenage beauty and oddball who was murdered when Bayer was a teen.

Bayer wants to tell her story, find out what really happened. He gets support from Frannie McCabe, the former juvenile delinquent, the current Crane's View police chief (he appears in other Crane's View books as well, so if you like him, read The Wooden Sea where he is the main character) and Veronica Lake, his fan and soon his lover. Veronica appears to be a perfect woman, exactly what Bayer needs - but that is just the first impression.

There are no supernatural elements this time, but plenty of suspense and surprising twists to hold the reader tight. This is some sharp writing. The plot is excellent and the characters are interesting and deep. In my opinion this is one of Carroll's very best works. [ Kissing The Beehive at ]Kissing the Beehive at LibraryThing ]

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