I’ve been thinking about reading this series ever since I was suggested it by Brian from Books of Brian and read his review of the last book in the series. I’m 99.7% sure that he’s no longer active, but that doesn’t mean I forgot about his suggestion or post.
I got this one from my library because I went seeking another book, then saw these and was like, “Heh, now I don’t have to buy them. Suckers.” You can read the first review of the series, Ninefox Gambit, here.
At times, I thought this book was way better than the first, but other times I was like “hecks no”. The first chapter, at the very least, wasn’t as mind-blowingly crazy as the first chapter in Ninefox Gambit. The plot was very political and complex, which is always something I can dig, but some of the many issues I had with Ninefox Gambit remained difficult to trudge through in this book. In addition, it just wasn’t as fun as Ninefox, but it did have a more reasonable, better plot that wasn’t just a smash-up of Starship Troopers and Heart of Darkness.
The big issue is still that this just doesn’t feel like sci-fi, but like fantasy. Sure, “science, when sufficiently advanced, seems like magic,” but this just doesn’t even feel like science fiction. They fly around in moths, not ships, which I guess is fine. But everything feels like this vaguely East-Asian flavored space magic. The battle scenes, as a result, read like an anime wherein they’re just shouting names of moves that don’t make sense.
Something else that bothered me in this book was that one of the main characters, Mikodez, had a trans-man brother who he often had sex with. I don’t mind the trans part, no matter what you may think about North Carolinians, but the brother part? Got me. Reeeeally got me. Not a fan of incest, not a fan of “my brother’s hard cock” type of thing. Hard nope. Had to put the book down for quite a while after that part, even if it was brief.
Lastly, the book didn’t really focus on the main character of the first book in the way it did in the first book. The narrator-focused characters were all new, and they all had their own interesting flavors, but Cheris as she was presented in Ninefox Gambit was one of my favorites.
3/5 Discoball Snowcones
The story of Raven Stratagem was that General Jedao abducted a Kel Swarm by hijacking the Kel’s heirarchical structures. The Kel have something called “formation instinct,” which means they can’t disobey orders without significant discomfort or death. Because of Jedao’s standing, he couldn’t be disobeyed by anyone other than non-Kel or failed Kel, so he kicks them off the ship.
Everyone figures out that Jedao plans to bring down the hexarchate government by making people love him, and a bunch of people defect from the hexarchate because Jedao’s a smug bastard. But no one can figure out how Jedao intends to make his splinter faction work for good.
That is, at least, until they realize that it’s just Cheris pretending to be Jedao. She’d eaten his memories in Ninefox Gambit, and most of Raven Stratagem led you to believe that she’d been killed or completely possessed by Jedao. Cheris, as she was presented in the first book, was perfectly powerful for her position. She had to fight Jedao as well as her enemy, and that was probably the most tense part of the book. Here? Cheris with Jedao’s skills was way, way too overpowered. Mary Sue all to heck. She didn’t have the same characterization at all, and she may just as well have been Jedao. The only difference I could detect between Cheris in Raven and Jedao in Ninefox was that Cheris was nice to servitors and good at math. That’s just added powers, nothing else.
One left! Sure, it’s a tad bit longer, but it’s the last one and then I’ll be done!
I’ve been thinking about reading this series ever since I was suggested it by Brian from Books of Brian and read his review of the last book in the series. I’m 99.7% sure that he’s no longer active, but that doesn’t mean I forgot about his suggestion or post.
I got this one from my library because I went seeking another book, then saw these and was like, “Heh, now I don’t have to buy them. Suckers.”
First, I really enjoyed reading this. I think it was becuase the tension was always high, and I thought it felt like a lot of good modern sci-fi. There were concepts I liked – like the Black Cradle form of immortality – and Cheris was a great character to follow. The fact that the book was enjoyable as long as I shut my brain off means that I did like reading it at times. However, there were elements that I typically don’t like.
On the back of the book, one of the reviewers said this book is “Starship Troopers meets Apocalypse Now – and they’ve put Kurtz in charge… An unmissable debut.”
That was probably too accurate.
This book felt a lot like Starship Troopers, which I found to be just OK. And Apocalypse Now is a bit too on the nose. This book was basically a mashup of those two stirred together with the worst science fiction I’ve ever read. I have no idea why the author even thought it a good idea to go with a far-future feel rather than high fantasy, because the “calendrical” stuff was more like magic than science. When there needed to be any explanations of what was going on, the pages would explode with a wall of word salad that would confuse anyone. The word salad was there to confuse you and distract you from the fact that no, none of this makes any sense whatsoever. It’s magic fueled by religion, no science anywhere, no matter how much math they say is involved.
The villains never, not even once, made any sense. I never got the feeling that they presented any real danger, because even the intercepted messages from Vh indicated they were always losing. The twist at the end about who Shuos Jedao really was not only didn’t take me by surprise, but it felt like a total letdown because I couldn’t agree with him on many aspects.
Overall, it was a fun read, but I really think it felt more like an anime than it should have. There were lots of “formations” and weird names of ships and formations that made me think someone was going to shout “HADOKENNNNN!!!!” any second. However, the problems I had with the book were too big to really overcome, and the walls of word salad put it over the edge.
3/5 Discoball Snowcones
I thought the plot of the book was mostly ok. Kel Cheris, a soldier, is strangely good at math and is manipulated by a spy into becoming anchored to an undead general (i.e. she hears a voice and sees a shadow no one else can). The mechanisms of that were interesting, but like all the other “sci-fi” elements in this book, it was bullsh*t and full of word salad. They made a big deal out of Jedao being insane and a traitor, but one too useful to put to death for good.
Anyway, they got her attached to General Jedao and they went and basically whipped up on their enemy. Kel Nerevor was a rival with Cheris for a while, but then became suddenly subservient when beaten in calendrical sword dueling, then was captured and not heard from again. I was sorely disappointed in that whole sequence.
As mentioned in the non-spoiler review, the bad guys never felt like a real threat. Cheris kept feeling down when her men would get killed, but there were weird soldier-focused-viewpoints that showed they didn’t care because they were Kel, the disposables. Even when the amputation gun (it was magic, don’t let this book fool you) came up, I was like “This is trumped up because the enemy shouldn’t have waited until they were invaded to do this.” The weapons escalated in a nonsense fashion that I found anime-like.
Toward the end, Jedao and Cheris are backstabbed by their government, and Cheris eats his soul in order to become Jedao+Cheris combined. It’s revealed that Jedao became a traitor because he didn’t like the government, and I was like, “Uh, duh.” The “twist” was both obvious and had only been a twist because Jedao hadn’t told Cheris before. I hate twists that shouldn’t be twists, twists that are just because one ally wouldn’t tell the other person what was going on.
Anyway, it ended with a resolution to go after the immortal leader of the hexarchate/empire, and I was like, “This is Ancillary Justice, just not done as well.”
Well, there’s another book in this series, and I’m just crazy enough to keep going despite the first being just fun without much reason behind liking it! Onward to Raven Stratagem!
Though I think he’s not been blogging for a while, I have thought about Brian from Books of Brian and his review of the Machineries of Empire series. I’ve decided to go ahead and explore these books and see what he liked about them.
Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire Trilogy
An innovative set of books, this trilogy explores a brand new universe from the mind of a new author. I’ve read that there’s supposed to be a lot of east Asian inspirations in these, and I think that will be pretty cool. I don’t know much else about them, so it’ll be exciting to jump in and find out more!
Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!
Religion is extremely important on a personal level to many people, and it affects everyone indirectly if not directly. Conflicts over differing opinions on the essential qualities of deity, creation, and human society as it relates to mystical importance abound in the real world.
Fantasy worlds can be equally convoluted. Even a fantasy world in which everyone is atheist or agnostic is still a world with a designed religion, but it can be elevated to a world with designed intent.
5. Know What Beliefs Real Religions Espouse
People can be led to believe in almost anything (just research QAnon), so it doesn’t really matter how mad you make the premise of your religion. What does matter, however, is how your religion makes adherents feel. How does it encourage your characters to act?
Successful religions have all encourages some form of morality and altruism tied into their beliefs. Do good things for the poor, don’t steal things, and respect your elders are common traits. At its core, a fantasy religion should include elements of good. Why?
Well, I’m glad you asked. See, remember that horrible set of books I read last month? Remember The Tombs of Atuan? In it, the gods only take, harm, and maim, and the king uses the reality of their existence to enhance his power. The gods in Tombs of Atuan don’t do anything good – so what was the use of worshipping them? Solely to prevent evil from happening? That lack of benefit – even lack of a theoretical benefit – to the gods in Tombs of Atuan made the entire religion a bit less believable.
People prefer to believe:
The deity will bring peace and health in return for faith and worship
The deity will support their people group, even at the cost of other people groups
The deity will bring prosperity to the faithful
The deity will enforce a social order, especially one beneficial to the adherents
Read up on how a religion uses these promises in order to attract followers. If you don’t know much about the Abrahamic religions, I encourage boning up on that because of their importance in English language literature. If you’re interested in polytheistic beliefs, study Hinduism, currently the polytheistic religion with the most followers. Strangely enough, I also strongly suggest watching Leah Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath – if nothing else, it shows you how religions can successfully draw people in (though Scientology is a bit crazier than others) by using good acts as a sort of bait.
4. Define Your Society’s and Characters’ Goals
In that last section, we defined what a religion can give an individual. Individuals, though, don’t enforce religious rules and standards: communities do, and communities need reasons to keep the religion going. Society as a whole has goals, just like characters in a book. People often imagine countries as characters, and any group of people can be seen similarly. What does this group want?
Some societies struggle for survival. The Pentateuch (the Torah or first five books of the Old Testament) tell the story of a people fleeing persecution and establishing themselves with the safety God provides. Safety for yourself, even if it means the destruction of others, is a very interesting societal goal. I love that sort of thing because it can be easily twisted to develop a genuinely evil society while still giving the relief of moral goodness. Whether or not God physically did much to help them, the faith at least allowed the Jewish people to band together for their survival.
Remember, society tends to be out for itself. The word “genocide” wasn’t even invented until the 1940’s; even Winston Churchill called the Holocaust a “crime without a name” because nothing had been invented yet. That’s right – people didn’t care about wholesale slaughter of a people group enough to make a word for it until less than 80 years ago. Your society will want to survive and win.
3. Make a Creation Myth
There’s elements to every religion that go beyond creation myths, but almost unilaterally there needs to be a creation story in order for it to work. Part of what has empowered atheism in recent decades is the extremely plausible creation story* that didn’t exist prior to the increased pace of discovery in the Industrial Age. Atheism has always been around, but a “creation myth” was necessary to give it a boost and make it palatable to masses.
The order in which things are created is important in all myths. In Cherokee myths, there is the heavens and there is an expanse of water below. Animals came down from the heavens and dug up the mud from beneath the ocean, then tied the land to the heavens with cords so it wouldn’t sink.
Now, what does that say about the power of animals? How do you think a believer of that story would feel about animals vs. someone who believes animals a passive creation of a human-like god? They’d probably think the animals are much more important!
So what is important in your mythology? Start them early, give them a job, and give them power. Consider when “evil” is created, because that will determine much about the morality of your world.
Your myth can be as crazy as you want.
2. Create a Power Hierarchy
Your religion starts with one prophet, for whatever reason, but then the prophet leaves or dies. What next?
All groups, from companies to unions to religions, must have a hierarchy dedicated to protecting itself. Just like any society, as mentioned in number 4 above, church hierarchy will organize itself to carry out its goals of 1) spread religion and 2) get power for the religion. The Catholic church has a very complex and well-defined heirarchy, and honestly you really can’t get a better example when it comes to religious hierarchy and how it works. They have everything planned out, and it just gets deeper the further you look into it. Though the church hierarchy has done a lot to spread goodness and charity, it has also been used to cover up heinous abuses as well as entrench heinous beliefs. Whether or not the deity of your fantasy religion is good, the believers of the religion are still people, still flawed.
I grew up Baptist, and I didn’t realize there was a church hierarchy beyond just your deacons and a pastor until I got into high school and took history classes. Believe it or not, Baptists have no creed, no real external leadership structure beyond each individual congregation (there are “conventions”, but honestly churches leave those and get kicked out or join all the time, and no one really cares). There’s probably a looser-structured religious group out there, but believe it or not, Baptists have very little structure to their church despite the outsized political power they enjoy.
1. Entrench Your Hierarchy
After you’ve created an organization (or a lack of one, in the case of Baptists and the like), it’s time to look at the part that will really make your religion pop: how does it interact with politics?
There are two main ways you can entrench your hierarchy politically: an outright state with a theocracy (think Iran), or a sort of shadow state that influences government leaders and enforces itself through the power of a deity. A religious hierarchy with sufficient elaboration and order will be able to organize itself effectively and perform both its moral duties and lobby governments of any kind to do its will. Hold souls hostage, get what you want.
If you don’t have a great hierarchy, you’ll probably need to have extremely charismatic individuals that carry a lot of power. As a Baptist, I immediately think Billy Graham. He was crazy influential in politics, and it was probably him who made Baptists so much more powerful. He was able to move masses with a word and cause voting blocs to shift. Following his death, there is no single voice to fill the void, and that is also a risk for a less-organized religion: lack of continuity and lack of singular goal. It’s way harder to entrench loose confederacies for long periods of time.
Do you include a fantasy religion in your works? I’d love to hear about your deities and myths! Let me know more in the comments!
*These creation stories can be entirely right and still don’t disprove most mythos. However, they can be taken alone, which makes them both interesting and powerful.
Long version: This book did have the advantage over the others that it wasn’t so plot-ambitious that it glanced over too much information. Zooming in on Goha/Tenar/Arha’s (yes, the one from Tombs of Atuan) feelings was a good way to go. This book didn’t feel as nonsense-mythological or like a story out of the Bible. The narrator focus was also the main character, a change from earlier.
But, like in Tombs of Atuan, nothing that main character did really mattered. The entire book is about how Goha keeps running around trying to not get raped or beaten, trying to keep this 6-year-old child from being raped, beaten, and burned AGAIN, how all of the female characters are raped and beaten for being female, and how male characters like King Arren and Ged/Sparrowhawk are the only ones who effect change.
I was so enraged by the repeated rape threats and constant fear that these characters experienced that I made the mistake of reading the afterword. This thing was considered feminist – how? It’s about ladies being useless and getting raped. There isn’t hope, not really, not when all the problems are solved either by men or non-human women who can turn into dragons. Women who are given the opportunity for different (a.k.a. male) power always turn it down. The characters ask themselves, pretty directly, what women’s power is: the answer is basically “We don’t know, but we assume it’s something.” There’s nothing shown, nothing had, nothing proven that women have other than suffering and death. The only reason I’d call this feminist is it mentions menstruation, which I usually only see in feminist literature.
1/5 Discoball Snowcones
Like I said above, the main character never really does anything, but things are done to her. In the very beginning, the wizard Ogion dies, and she’s able to stay in his house because people haven’t quite decided who’s going to inherit it (though Ged is supposedly that person). Goha is considered a good placeholder, even when she takes in a 6 year old that has been beaten, raped, and thrown in a fire. Everyone thinks the child is a monster, and three people (the relatives who originally raped the little girl) constantly chase Goha and want to kill and rape the two to death as punishment. Goha never saves herself, just runs around while men like King Arren save her.
Even Ged, whose magical powers had been taken in The Farthest Shore, was able to fight off the rapists when Goha just locked herself in a closet. Goha did think about how vulnerable Therru was after locking herself in the closet, but luckily Ged was around to stab them with a pitchfork. Justice was only sought because Ged made it happen, because male constructs got things accomplished.
Worst of all: a mage in Re Albi’s castle put Goha under a mind control spell. She ran from Re Albi while the spell was weak, since rapists were coming after her and Therru, but she was lured back. Upon coming back, she became senseless and unable to understand language while the mage tied her up like a dog and kicked her “in the breasts.” It was nonsense suffering.
One could argue that Goha did have an effect by keeping care of Therru. This made Therru like her, or perhaps Goha helped the burned child live long enough to show that she was really a dragon. It was completely, 100% bullshit. I saw it coming from a million miles away, and despite being a dragon, Therru was still mostly helpless throughout the book because she is female.
In the end, Ged is all that really matters as he moves into Ogion’s house.
I’m starting a new set of books. You can read my reviews of Tales of Earthsea and The Other Wind on Goodreads, because apparently I can’t put things down once I start them.
I should have given up after book two, The Tombs of Atuan, but I must be some sort of masochist to believe in the sunk cost fallacy enough to read book three in this series.
The Farthest Shore Author: Ursula LeGuin 1972 Amazon Link
Whatever, if you want to see me whine about the earlier books in the series, you can see A Wizard of Earthsea and Tombs of Atuan here if you want. But you shouldn’t, because literally no one agrees with me that these books aren’t good.
It might be because I pushed and suffered through the first two books, but I just can’t come up with an excuse for this one.
The narrator, Arren, was never actually the main character. Arren was briefly described as the son of the king, and he was constantly told he was important, but I never figured out why he was important. This book was like reading The Great Gatsby in terms of how the narrator differs from the main character, except it feels like there’s no reason to do so. Arren wasn’t built up hardly at all, and Ged had not changed from the end of A Wizard of Earthsea. You didn’t watch a fall or even a massive character change in either of these people. It wasn’t a good Bildungsroman, nor was it a good epic destiny story. There was allegory (not telling about it because spoilers), but even then it fell flat for me.
Like in the two previous books, Ged/Sparrowhawk is so overpowered that I never feared for anything. There was no tension whatsoever for me. I never cared.
1/5 Discoball Snowcones
The plot was the same useless plot as the first book where they had to travel all over the world to meet some dark force, learn its name, and tell it its name so as to defeat it.
The only real difference between this book and the first one is that there’s a clear Christ-figure allegory in Ged. Like I mentioned above, I do think I figured out the allegory in this story and why LeGuin chose any of the plot elements she does. In The Farthest Shore, Ged pretty much dies, comes back, has Arren pretty much tell about their successes, then flies off on a dragon (symbol of ascension, I’d say). It also makes sense, because in A Wizard, Ged “suffers death” in the form of splitting his soul in two, then in Tombs of Atuan “was buried” because it literally took place in a tomb, then in The Farthest Shore “rose again on the third day in accordance with scripture.” The dragon, as well, was there at something called the making, so I assume this nigh god-like creature may have been a symbol of a flaming chariot or something like that. I also am not convinced this was planned in A Wizard of Earthsea, because that allegorical link feels weak sauce.
Ged’s supposed to be this all-knowing, super-wise wizard brosef, but he feels insufferable to me. I can’t stand his whining about how magic upsets the balance of things, about how wizards should do things by hand anyway, and then endangers children in order to defeat immortal wizards.
I didn’t read the afterword. I’m now of the opinion that authors should never try to explain things, because these afterwords just kind of piss me off.
It doesn’t matter anymore. Why am I doing this to myself.
Honestly, I’m not really sure why I can’t let go of the sunk cost of buying these books. I wasn’t a fan of the first entry in the series, and I find it rare that series improve after that. However, I’m hopeful that this one won’t be as mythological in feel and might show more than tell.
The first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, wasn’t my jam. I don’t know what to say here because I explained it all in the intro.
I found this entry to the Earthsea series a lot better than the previous one. Rather than telling a lot of little tales building up to a single, momentous occasion, LeGuin tells a more compelling story about a single person’s experiences. The character of Ahara is much fuller than that of Ged, the dialogue is better, and there’s much more of a developed feel as to how the book works. The beginning of the book was pretty good, building up the Tombs of Atuan and how the evil, Nameless Ones demanded a nameless priestess.
The back end, however?
No. Straight up no.
*Minor spoilers?* When the main character ceases to be the motivating presence behind the plot, and when she becomes pretty much useless, the story fell apart for me. LeGuin spent so much time creating a wonderful story with tension and depth, but then it completely fell apart at about halfway through. The ending for the main character didn’t feel terrible, but it’s neither happy nor is it fulfilling. The deaths that occurred felt useless and bland, especially as they all happened off screen.
Though I liked it better than the first in the series, it was only by the smallest margin.
2/5 Discoball Snowcones
I hinted above that the back end was awful, and it was.
Ged, the hero from the first book, showed up about halfway through this book and stole the show.
Not only is he still the overpowered Mary Sue from the last book, he’s supposed to be basically infinitely wise and trustworthy. Ahara learns her name from him, and I found that disgusting – the whole premise was that the Nameless Ones had eaten her name, and by allowing her to have one that Ged just pops up with, her power is stolen. Ever after Ged tells her her name, Tenar, Ahara is pretty much useless. Even when she helps Ged out of the tombs where he is trapped, she cries and becomes a lump except when he tells her what to do. He fends off the gods that Ahara had worshipped and served her whole life.
So they escape, but Ahara is useless because she only knows the tombs. Ged figures out that Ahara has a great treasure sought by the whole world to bring peace, and he pretty much forces her to go to an island and present it to their king.
THEN HE ABANDONS HER even though she begs him to teach her sorcery. What he doesn’t tell her, and what is established in the first book, is that women are worthless so he can’t teach her sorcery. Ged just destroyed what had been a compelling story by coming in and “solving” the problems in the worst possible way.
Also, don’t read LeGuin’s explanations or afterword. Just don’t.
I judge The Farthest Shore, or Book 3 of the Earthsea Cycle. Why the heck did I obligate myself for this torture? I pray the next one’s better.
Years ago, I had some friends who said many of the ideas in Harry Potter could be found in the much older Earthsea Cycle books by Ursula LeGuin. Though I can’t find the purchase I made back then, rest assured that buying all 6 at the time cost something like 1.5x the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea.
And I never read any of those sequels.
Since I have a hard time not reading things I buy, I decided to re-read A Wizard of Earthsea so I could continue the series without being lost.
A Wizard of Earthsea Author: Toni Morrison 1968 Amazon Link
I’ll go ahead and be honest that when I read this book the first time, I wasn’t a fan. Not in the least. There was a reason I didn’t read the other books in the series despite them being short. I’m here now to see if that original feeling holds up.
Compared to my first read-through a couple years ago, I’d say this book wasn’t as bad as I’d originally thought it. It’s still filled with telling rather than showing, and I just don’t like LeGuin’s style in this book. It feels like classic YA, something written between a fairy tale and an adult fiction. Because of this “telling” problem, the book contains a lot of completely disconnected explanations of the different islands on Earthsea. It was enough that I have completely forgotten them and would need them re-explained in the next book.
The dialogue was terrible, though I think it achieved its goal of feeling mythical or biblical. However, if I want to read something as boring as The Bible, I’m probably going to want to read The Bible since it is way more impactful on life, culture, politics, and (for me and a group of other people) salvation.
Ultimately, A Wizard of Earthsea is a Bildungsroman about a main character I don’t like. He’s truly a Mary Sue type character, one with powers far beyond those of any other character or creature in the book. (Other clear Mary Sues in a popular book include Paul from Dune, Ender from Ender’s Game, and General Jedao from Machineries of Empire.) I’ve never been a fan of Mary Sue characters, and this part of Wizard kept me from becoming invested.
The other characters were bland, and the female characters so sterotypically vapid that I didn’t even want to think about them.
The only redeeming qualities of this book, in my humble opinion, are the influences on fantasy and YA as arts. I can see its obvious importance in the formation of books like Harry Potter, and I can see how it connects from the seminal Lord of the Rings series (which I also need to re-read).
2/5 Discoball Snowcones
The plot of the book wasn’t terribly focused. The big enemy was a shadow that Ged/Sparrowhawk created in an attempt to summon a spirit from the dead. In order to defeat the spirit, he must find its name.
One of the things I remember from my first read is the name is freaking easy to guess. Since the shadow chases him forever before he turns around to chase it, and because it looks just like him, it should be well-known that the shadow’s name is Ged. The endless traveling around these islands and having conversations with the locals felt so pointless when the end result was obvious.
I don’t really want to read the sequels, but stupid me, I’m going to keep on with it because I spent money, dammit.
All right, I’m going to keep on with The Tombs of Atuan. Blegh.
And here I am, giving in to it. Once upon a time, way back in 2016, I had some friends suggest A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in Ursula LeGuin’s highly influential YA fantasy series. I saw on Amazon that you could get all six of the Earthsea Cycle books for the price of like 2.5 books or something like that, and I was like, “Well, if my friends suggested it, that probably means they’re worthwhile. I might as well take this deal!”
And so I read A Wizard of Earthsea.
And I hated it.
And I talked to my friends, who said “Oh, yeah, it’s not that we liked it – it was just highly influential, so you should read it to understand the state of fantasy.” And yes, it was influential. And yes, its main character was brown, which was almost unheard of in English literature at that time period.
I died a little, but I put the books away… until now, because I spent money on this! AND I WILL NOT OWN UNREAD BOOKS!
Ursula LeGuin’s The Earthsea Cycle
LeGuin originally wrote A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968. Given the time period, you already know it’s going to be a little screwed up, but I’m pretty good at forgiving people who write within their own historical time frames. I’m also really hoping that I’ll be more interested in them now, and that they’ll not seem so unreadable.
Also, I’m only presenting four of these books – A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu here on the blog. Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind will only be available on my Goodreads page.
Elizabeth Merry is a prolific blogger who writes fantastic stuff. Her prose is always delicious, and she’s so nice! And, despite that kind exterior, she offers this book of dark tales set in a seaside town. I was excited to read this and see what she had in store.
Many of these stories had been elsewhere showcased in other anthologies, so it’s also possible you’ve seen one before, but never packaged so neatly like this.
We All Die In the End: Scenes From a Small Town Author: Elizabeth Merry 2020 Amazon Link
This is a book of 19 shorts focused on various characters that live in the same seaside, Irish town. As a warning, some stories in the book are incredibly dark and many either contain or hint at emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. There are explicitly sexual things in the book, though not at great detail for each scene in which they appear. Because the stories are all shorts, however, any content that may be unacceptable to a reader can easily be skipped and other stories enjoyed.
On With The Review
Without a doubt, this collection of short stories was the most well-curated of any I’ve seen. Not only did the stories fit together well thematically, and not only did they have the same general setting, but they wove into each other by mentioning various characters that showed up later. For instance, the first story is about Arthur, but he talks about Jennifer and her dogs. Jennifer shows up in the next story, and they introduce other characters. Carmel works at the grocer’s, and Julia and Sadie down at the pub are mentioned repeatedly.
It. Just. Works.
Most of the stories make you think, and many contain complex social relationships that only reveal themselves in their fullness at the end. That being said, I sure wouldn’t want to live in this town – too many bad guys and terrible people! There weren’t many characters I could really get behind and root for, as many of them were morally gray or completely decrepit. Even so, they were all interesting, and Merry writes very well.
When I review collections of shorts, I also like to select a few stories to talk about in more detail.
I LOVED the Myrtle scene. Because the story was told with a narrator positioned just behind Myrtle’s shoulder and with Myrtle’s personality in mind, I couldn’t get a true physical description in my mind. That being said, when the little kid was afraid of her at the grocer’s, I immediately went to “completely insane cat lady” in my head. I was not disappointed. It went from crazy to VERY CRAZY in the span of no time, and Myrtle was just the best. I loved her, she was terrible, it went great.
The Standout: Angela
This was probably the most different from all the other stories. Though it took place in the same town, it felt somewhat cloistered away from the rest of them because of its focus on the nunnery and school. How it turned out was completely unexpected, and it’ll probably be the last story that goes fuzzy in my head.
Least Favorite: Eugene Curran
This one was the very last story in the book, and to be honest, I had to stave off writing the review for a few days because I knew it would linger in my mind and spoil what was otherwise a great collection. This one was the most horrifying and abusive, and I was never really sure what the storyline was except for being about Eugene’s abusiveness and baseless paranoia. It did, in a way, come full circle to the paranoia seen in the first story, but it enveloped the lives of others who were terrified and prevented from escaping domestic abuse. While abuse was present in other stories, this was the only one so deeply dark that I couldn’t get my interest up.