June 04, 2006

Summer Fantasy Extravaganza

I've always liked the hyperbole of the word "extravaganza." What is a "vaganza" anyway, that having an extra is a good idea? Anyway. I've been reading up on a lot of fantasy lately, in thinking about writing some fantasy or sci-fi myself, and have caught up with some classic series as well as a few more recent releases—all of them new to me, though—and they're all included here. And, let me tell you, it's been a fun way to stay inside in the air-conditioning now that it's June and north central California is becoming an oven.

What started me on my latest fantasy binge was seeing a new release by Tamora Pierce in a bookstore (in blessedly cool Seattle), reading the dust jacket, and realizing that I had two whole series of her books left to read before I ought to tackle this, the latest in the Circle of Magic and Circle Opens world. So I did. I went to the library and first checked out the Circle of Magic quartet. These series are set in a world similar in feel to the Lioness and related series, though there's a new world map to get to know and a new set of cultures and social structures. All of these are drawn with Pierce's usual attention to detail and knowledge of our own world's history.

In the first of these books, Sandry's Book, we are introduced to all four main characters: Sandry, Tris, and Daja, all girls, and Briar, one boy. All are about ten years old, each is from a very different walk of life, but all have strange, untested, yet powerful forms of magic. Brought together by the respected mage Niko to the temple of Winding Circle, they must get to know one another at the same time that they learn to control their magic. In the process, they form bonds with one another that, while they are magically strong, will be tested in various ways as each one encounters his or her own set of trials. In the first four books, the four learn how to control their magic together at Winding Circle, as pupils of the temple dedicates: Sandry with thread magic, Tris with weather magic, Daja her fire magic, and Briar with green magic.

The story picks up a few years later in the Circle Opens quartet, in which the four travel separately to various reaches of their world with their teachers. Each one must now become a mage-teacher themselves, and learn to help others without the added magical support and friendship of the other members of the quartet. Daja, for instance, must help a community deal with an insidious arsonist while teaching two wayward sisters how to control their burgeoning magical talents. In this quartet, the stories grow increasingly exciting, and the world is drawn in more and more detail, but at the same time, there's a bittersweet feeling, as each of the students must learn to face life without one another.

Here's where the newest book, The Will of the Empress, picks up. Sandry, Briar, Daja, and Tris are brought together once again, as older teenagers, but they've been apart for so long that the bonds of both magic and friendship have suffered. Can they learn to re-forge that bond in time to deal with a scheming Empress's harmful plotting? Yet another exciting tale.

Of course, I read all this a little while ago, in the late spring, actually, before going on vacation for a while. Upon coming back, I started thinking about revising a novel manuscript I've been trying to get published and TadMack recommended a book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series entitled The Wee Free Men. I hadn't read a Discworld novel in years—since I was in high school, probably. What I remembered about Discworld—or so I thought—was its rampant silliness and satire, so I wasn't sure how that would apply to my particular project, which is decidedly not a satire. But I thought I'd give it a read, because TadMack has excellent taste, and also because it would make a nice break from thinking heavy revision-related thoughts.

It turned out that I was in for a nice surprise. Though Wee Free Men and its sequel, A Hat Full of Sky, are loosely set in Discworld, the heavy satire I remember is largely absent. Although there is a lot of humor, and occasional references to recurring characters, this story could have been set in the bucolic past of our own world. Imagine an England-like countryside where witches exist, but are mistrusted; where the world of faerie pops up to those who have eyes to see.

Now insert young Tiffany Aching, heir to her grandmother's witchy heritage. Instead of happy little fairies with golden wings, insert a tribe of miniature cussing Scottish hooligans. Though this is in many ways a funny story, it's also suspenseful, dealing with the dark side of faerie, and the general stupidity of human nature. I'm still reading the sequel, and, happily, I hear that there's a third book in the works. I can hardly wait, and I'm even thinking about re-reading the other Discworld books. After all, I have a friend who owns all of them, and an entire hot summer ahead of me.

1 comment:

tanita s. davis said...

Oh, do reread them all! It's well worth it to stay indoors and cool, plus I really think I owe a lot to Pratchett's underlying storylines. There's a lot you can do to feed a more thoughtful reader, beneath the lively character driven action and humor. He speaks so eloquently to human nature, and makes me do some serious thinking. Wish I could write like that!