Lady of Devices is Shelley Adina’s first novel in the Magnificent Devices’ series. This steampunk novel is set in an alternate Victorian era. As usual with steampunk novels, steam runs the world. Steam is the hot thing, the Power alternative that will last forever.
We meet Lady Trevalyan, a 17-year old with decidedly unconventional interests. No embroidery for this girl.
I’ve always liked spunky female characters. Women who dare defy whatever society deems as feminine behavior. Claire is one such lady.
When her father shoots himself because of bad investments, the family is left with a lot less money than they had hoped. Claire has to choose between waiting for her mother to find her a husband or try to make a living. She decides to make a living and sets out to explore her possibilities.
Claire soon discovers that the “real world” can be dangerous, especially if you are a woman. This is where her spunkiness comes in handy. This girl has grit. She just screams a bit in her head and gets on with whatever she has to do to survive.
What can I say, I am a sucker for these kinds of portrayals. There is no denying I want my female characters to be strong. I also want my authors to write in a manner that engages my interest and keeps it. Shelley Adina manages to do just that. Her sentences tie together wonderfully and her images are hilarious.
“Claire Trevelyan closed her eyes as a gobbet of reddish-brown foam dripped off the ceiling and landed squarely on the crown of her head. It dribbled past her ears and onto the pristine sailor collar of her middy blouse, and thence, gravity having its inevitable effect, down the blue seersucker of her uniform’s skirt to the floor.” It’s practically so I can feel the goo running down my head.
Emma M. Wooley shares an incredibly important message about what it means to be a teen-girl on her blog. Folks, this is what it is like for most girls out there. Girls are treated as objects, and continue to be after their teen-years. It’s just the way things are right now.
But they do not have to be. Each of us has the responsibility to teach pre-teens and teenagers (boys and girls) that some things are off-limits. Talk about sex, boundaries and being wanted with your kids.
I admit it. I am a feminist. As a feminist I find it natural to be a supporter of equal rights to all no matter what age, gender, skin tone, sexuality, class or cultural or religious background. But I am not the bravest person around.
One of the candidates for bravery of the year would have to be Malala Yousafzai. Her willingness to put herself in danger for trying to get an education, is worthy of many a prize. And she is not alone in trying to get what she deserves in a quiet but determined manner. Unfortunately, people like this are never popular. Neither was she, and she was shot.
Thankfully, the world rallied and Malala is seemingly on the mend now. I really hope she pulls through and keeps on being a bright light for the world to see.
Originally, Marion Zimmer Bradley started the Sword and Sorceress series to further strong female protagonists in the sword and sorcery genre. She saw the need to change what she considered an appalling attitude toward women in these works.
Readers flocked to these anthologies and submissions to them increased. By the time of her death, she was on the 18th collection. After her death it was decided to publish three more collections. In the end, a volume 21 with Diana L. Paxson as editor was printed, and the tradition has continued from there on. (Wikipedia)
Dawn and Dusk — Dana Kramer-Rolls – Dagne, with the different colored eyes, grew up ostracised by her father, step-mother and brothers for being a freak. In the end she has to run away to protect herself. We meet her in a cabin in the woods on a cold and bitter night.
Spell of the Sparrow – Jim C. Hines – A family of two ex-thieves and a budding wizard ought to be a dream come true. But parents will be parents everywhere, and our two ex-thieving parents do not approve of Mel’s dabbling in magic. That is all about to change when poor old dad is spelled by a Cloudling.
The Woman’s Place — Susan Urbanek Linville – The continuing welfare of the tribe is of prime importance. When winter threatens to destroy all of the, grand-dame has to make a choice that will mean life or death to them all.
Kin — Naomi Kritzer – Once magic has been properly woken in a person, they become addicted to the feeling. Julia is going to have to make the choice between her magic or the saving of a child.
Child’s Play — Esther M. Friesner – Mira’s father is the richest man for miles, but that does not make a difference to either of them when Mira’s mom dies. When a new woman moves into the house, Mira knows she is in trouble. Thankfully she has her teacher on her side, a teacher willing to go the extra mile to protect this child.
Ursa — Jenn Reese – A child was placed on a mountain side to die. Saving it changes the life of Ursa and the father.
Red Caramae — Kit Wesler – Caramae sneaks into the catacombs of the wizards looking for an object of power. What she finds is more than she has bargained for.
Parri’s Blade — Cynthia McQuillin – When Soela steals away with a blade that was supposed to follow Parri on his pyre, Hamli goes after her to right the wrong. What she discovers is that grief has many ways of expressing itself.
Necessity and the Mother — Lee Martindale – In Hemfrock Donta runs the inn – The Mercenary’s Mother. It has an excellent reputation and is popular with all kinds of customers. When the city council decide that all metal in the city must be confiscated for the sake of magicks, Donta and her crew pack up and go somewhere else. What will the city council do when they discover that perhaps their decision was a bit hasty?
Sun Thief — K. A. Laity – This is a story of the sacrifice rebelling against her fate when she discovers the truth about the alleged god she is being sacrificed to.
Lostland — Rosemary Edghill – Ruana Rulane was a proper hero, the kind with a special sword and a destiny to fulfill. Not everyone wants her to keep her sword or for her to stay true to her destiny. Betrayal sends her to Lostland, from which very few people have returned.
Plowshares — Rebecca Maines – When Elisabeth loses her husband to illness, she decides to go on pilgrimage to the holy cathedral. Her journey will teach her a great deal about herself and the role of women.
Step By Step — Catherine Soto – After betrayal from their uncle, Lin Mei and her brother have taken to the roads as caravan workers. One night they are attacked by robbers.
Favor of the Goddess — Lynn Morgan Rosser – An unknown woman is hiding from the guards. She isn’t sure why she keeps on fighting them and running away, she just knows that she has to. Then the Empress is scheduled to appear on the Holy Moon.
Rose in Winter — Marie M. Loughin – Rosabel has three chances to grab happiness. Some choices are life-defining.
Kazhe’s Blade — Terry McGarry – Kazhe prefers staying drunk to stay the memory of her loss. Then the loss comes to her opening old wounds.
The Skin Trade — Heather Rose Jones – Being a Kaltaoven – skin wearer – is a quality the Marcalt of Wilentelu would like to possess. When two come to town, he uses all of his persuasive powers to give him the gift.
Multiple Choice — Leslie Fish – Magic is exacting business, but is a useful tool in discovering the truth. When the old wizard dies and leaves his cabin for the next one coming, the wizardess discovers that he is haunting it. She calls him forth and asks him a few questions.
Oulu — Aimee Kratts – Hilda Lajatur decides to quit the village she is living in so she can go to warmer areas. But not everyone in the village is happy about her choice and decide to kidnap her.
A Kind of Redemption — John P. Buentello – All I’m going to say about this story is that it is a proper ghost story.
Journey’s End — Dorothy J. Heydt – Looking for answers to her questions to the death of her husband, Cynthia goes into a cavern of the gods.
Love Potion #8½ — Marilyn A. Racette – Sometimes when customers do not wish to pay the full price, one must use imagination to change their minds.
There were three stories that I especially liked: Jim C. Hines – Spell of the Sparrow for the ingenious way mother and daughter solved their problem, Dana Kramer-Rolls – Dawn and Dusk for its retribution, and Marilyn A. Racette – Love Potion #8 1/2 for its wit.
The stories are all good. Some are quite serious: Susan Urbanek Linville – The Woman’s Place and some quite swordy (and humorous): Lee Martindale: Necessity and the Mother.
Chance brought me to the city of Thaiburley and the street-nick named Tom. Sometimes chance is a wonderful thing and sometimes it isn’t. In this case I found myself liking the writing of Ian Whates and wanted to read the next book of the trilogy.
Thaiburley is a city built in tiers – one hundred of them. At the bottom we find the City Below (often called City of Nightmare by its denizens) and the poorest of the population. Wealth increases as one ascends, until one hits to the top layer – the Upper Heights. This is where the angel-like demons are supposed to reside.
The first two people we meet in City of Dreams & Nightmare are Tylus, our newly-minted Kite Guard, and Tom, our young street-nick. Tylus is out patrolling for the night, while Tom is climbing the many layers of the city so he can get to the top and steal a demon egg. Both stumble onto the apparent murder of a council-man. Thinking Tom is the culprit, Tylus chases him and sees Tom fall off the side of the building. Action-packed from the very beginning.
The adventure continues through the whole book. Tom is chased by the authorities for his assumed part in the murder of councilman Thomas. While running, Tom meets up with Kat – survivor of the Pits (like Rome’s Colosseum). In spite of her young age, Kat is an incredible fighter. Tom on the other hand is very good at not being seen. Both skills will come in handy during the story, because this novel is for the most part about trying to survive against the odds. The baddy of the story, councilman Magnus, sends off his assassin Dewar to tie off Tom. Dewar is another incredible fighter. He has absolutely no qualms and often likes to play with his victims.
Do I recommend this book. I’ll say definitely. City of Dreams & Nightmare was an easy and fun read. Ian Whates certainly knows his craft, and as a reader I always delight in such authors.
This second installment in the trilogy City of a Hundred Rows is as fun to read as City of Dreams & Nightmare was. Once again, we get to meet Tom, Kat, Dewar and Tylus, but this time in different combinations.
Thaiburley’s strange power is failing. The Prime Master sends Tom off to discover the source of the great river Thair in hopes that he will find out just what is causing the failure. Ironically, Dewar the assassin is sent along to protect Tom and his companions. There is no way Ian Whates is going to let this journey be a peaceful one, and we are not disappointed. Here too, are plenty of survival struggles.
Kat, in the meantime, remains in the City Below. There The Soul Thief is killing off people with “talent”. In addition to the Soul Thief the gangs of the under-city are changing, both in structure but also in behavior. This change in gang-life makes life more interesting for Kat, her sister and the Tattooed men. Kat is a great character and her adventures in this book are pretty intense.
Tylus, our Kite-Guard, is sent to the under-city to make something of the City Guard there. Automatically, we know that he is going to have his work cut out for him.
City of Hope & Despair is as much fun as City of Dreams & Nightmare. I like the fact that these books are action-filled and lacking in the gooey factor. Both books deliver what they promise – good old-fashioned adventure. Ian Whates is definitely on my author-plus list.
Maybe the bone-flu is not all it seems to be. As City of Light & Shadow begins, we get a glimpse at what might be the reason behind the disease.
Tom has reached his goal and is left trying to assimilate information in amounts he has never had to before. For such a curious soul, this must be a gift – although a double-edged one. Thais is not exactly what he expected in a god, but how are gods supposed to be anyways.
Dewar wakes up, clearer-headed than he has been in a long time. He knows exactly what he wants to do next. It’s time to go home and take care of some unfinished business.
Kat and her Tattooed men have not given up on getting the Soul Thief. With Tylus and some of his men, they set off into the Stain to kill it.
All the stories come together and we see clearly how they all have something to do with Thaiss. Ian Whates tells an action-filled story, one that kept me reading. City of Light & Shadow is a fun and easy read, just like the other two. The ending left me wondering if this was indeed going to remain a trilogy. Hmmm. In a sense there was closure. On the other hand I was left hanging a bit. Hmmm. Oh well, I like it when authors do that to us readers. It’s kind of cruel, but also a lot more fun for me (kind of). I’ve really enjoyed my journey into the City of a Hundred Rows.
When you go to Deborah E Harkness’ website, you will find information not only on her All Souls trilogy, but also on Ashmole 782, alchemy and a reading guide. Deborah teaches history of science and medicine specializing in the period from 1400-1700. As such, Deborah is Diana Bishop – our female protagonist.
Diana is not only in Academia, she is also a witch with a few issues. In fact, she is an anti-magic witch and tries to use her magic as little as possible. After discovering a disturbing volume in the Bodleian library, Ashmole 782, her magic seems to be having a will of its own. Ashmole 782 zapped Diana somehow and she banishes the book back to the stacks.
Other creatures like herself (witches) and vampires and daemons have a difficult time believing that she has gotten rid of the book and a time of stalking and persecution begins.
Like Deborah, Professor Matthew de Claremont (our male protagonist) also has an interest in history. In his case it is the history of genetics (among other things) that he researches. Because of the zap, Matthew takes an interest in Diana. Matthew finds himself drawn to Diana, and she to him.
I really, really like the fact that A Discovery of Witches stays at Oxford and the Bodleian through a major part of the book. It is highly interesting to read about the feeling of reverence that Deborah has for the library and the important role it plays in society. Words are music and the music of A Discovery ofWitches is the kind that enters your soul and leaves you replete.
Diana and Matthew are fun and frustrating characters. In many ways A Discovery of Witches follows the pattern that a great many action and romance books do. The main protagonists are on opposite sides to begin with and through hardship they are brought together and become friends/lovers.
I’ve read complaints about all of the things that I liked about the book – lots of data, frustrating characters, library. Kind of funny really, how different our tastes in books are and how we are drawn to such different facets of them. I would say that this is a non-typical yet typical supernatural story about adventure and identity.
Samuel Vimes is a beautiful character. He grew up in Cockbill Street, the poorest area of Ankh-Morpork. They were so poor that while they had practically nothing to eat, at least their floors were clean enough to eat off. Getting into the Night Watch was quite a change for Sam. Now he had money for food. Being a guard runs in Vimes’ family. In fact one of his ancestors, old Stoneface, beheaded the last king of the city. Vimes’ worldview is that everyone is guilty of some kind of crime.
Our first proper meeting with Captain Samuel Vimes occurs with him falling over drunk into one of Ankh-Morpork’s streets. It had been a hard day for the Watch. Poor old Herbert Gaskin had broken one of the fundamental rules of being a guard. He forgot to run away from trouble. Now the most despised group of men in the entire city consisted of only three men: himself, Sergeant Colon and Nobby.
In the meantime a young man is heading for the city with “all the openness, sincerity and innocence of purpose of an iceberg drifting into a major shipping lane.” Carrot is the name of this young man, due to the color of his hair but also due to the shape of his body. One day at sixteen his dad sat him down and told him he was not the six-foot dwarf he had always thought he was. Human was his race. His dwarven parents had in fact found him in the woods next to a burned out carriage. Now it is time for him to depart and seek his fortune as a watch-man in Ankh-Morpork. With him his father sends a sword, a dwarven woolen shirt, a golden cod-piece and The Laws And Ordinances of The Cities of Ankh and Morpork.
The Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night have a plan to overthrow the Patrician. They are going to summon a dragon. Against all odds they actually succeed in calling one forth. It turns out that this is a double-edged sword. Now that they have called the dragon forth, the dragon figures out a way to get back on its own.
One of the themes that we will encounter again and again in the Watch series is the power play between Vimes and Vetinari (patrician). Vetinari plays Vimes like the strings on a guitar. Carrot is the person who manages quite well to live between a rock and a hard place. His literal interpretation of the laws of Ankh-Morpork and his ability to own any situation makes it possible for him to soften Vimes’ explosiveness after meetings with Vetinari.
1992: BBC4 produced a 6-episode serial dramatisation by Michael Butt of Guards! Guards!
Edward d’Eath’s father has just died, leaving him the thirty-seventh Lord d’Eath and an assassin to boot. Unfortunately his father had not left Edward any money. Quite a single-minded person whose belief in a King as ruler of Ankh-Morpork was quite fervent. Coincidentally, he stumbles upon Corporal Carrot, who just happens to look like one of the old Kings. Edward sets about trying to get Carrot and kinghood into fashion.
Captain Vimes is retiring from the police to marry Sybil Ramkin, Countess and the richest woman in Akh-Morpork. He is about to become one of the posh, a gentleman of leisure. But Vimes is finding it difficult to let go of policing.
Thankfully, an important artifact disappears from the Assassin’s Guild. The mystery must be solved. But the Assassin’s Guild aren’t interested in help from the Watch. Vimes loves the chase and the opportunity to get out onto the streets again. The chase after the weapon/artifact turns out to be both challenging and bloody.
Gaspode the wonder dog makes his appearance in Men-at-Arms. Gaspode the talking dog (too much time at the UU can change someone). He is rather keen on Angua (the werewolf).
In Men-at-Arms Pratchett plays with our biases. Here we get to see racism in all its “glory”. Even though the cops in the Watch are only supposed to be cops, they still have to overcome biases towards each other. Like so many others of the Discworld books, Men-at-Arms looks at the power of belief. We get a look at what that belief makes it possible for people to do.
2000: Stage adaptation of Men At Arms by Stephen Briggs
Feet of Clay (1996)
1996: Winner of SFX award for best SF/Fantasy Original Novel
1997: Nominated for 1997 Locus Awards – best Fantasy novel
Commander Sir Samuel Vimes is shaving, thinking on the horrors he has to face as a gentleman. People doing things for him, formal dinners and not being able to sit with the servants any longer playing cards and drinking beer. And then: “There was a flicker in the glass. He moved sideways and ducked. The mirror smashed. There was the sound of feet somewhere beyond the broken window, and then a crash and a scream.” The Assassin’s Guild are at it again. Some of the other gentle-people of the city do not want Vimes alive, and the Assassin’s Guild keeps on trying to do their job.
Captain Carrot has made it through his first two years in Ankh-Morpork. The love of his life is Corporal Angua, a werewolf, whose bad-hair days he takes in his stride. She is quite handy to have around when people want scaring. So when some incredibly thick thieves rob Ironcrust’s Dwarf Bakery she does just that – earning the “respect of the community.”
The body of Father Tubelcek is discovered. The watch have just hired their new alchemist, a dwarf by the name of Cheery Littlebottom. She is sent along to investigate the clues she discovers, of which one of them is a strange light in the dead eyes of Father Tubelcek.
Weirdly enough, it turns out Nobby is posh. He has his own coat of arms and has now become a peer. Poor guy, how is he going to deal with this? With increasing desperation it seems.
2007: Stage adapatation of Feet of Clay by Stephen Briggs.
An Ankh-Morporkian and a Klatchian fisher are both at the scene when a strange island rises above the sea. Both immediately lay claim to the island and this leads to a dispute between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch. The Klatchian crown prince is sent to Ankh-Morpork and diplomacy ensues (kind of). One of the funniest scenes Terry has ever written comes when Vimes has to lead a parade. The whole thing came alive in my head and I almost fell over laughing.
An assassination attempt is made on the prince and the Klatchian embassy declare war against Ankh-Morpork. Vetinari resigns and Lord Rust takes over. He is slightly eager for war and his decision leads to Vimes and the gang ending up in the Klatchian desert.
At the same time Vetinari, Colon, Nobby and Leonard of Quirm take a u-boat ride to the island and then to Klatch. Nobby ends up having the time of his life with “nubile” women. This is also an extremely funny scene. Poor Nobby. But while there is plenty of humor in the foursome’s trip, there is also a serious reason for their trip (obviously since Vetinari is involved).
Uberwald – the land of vampires, werewolves, trolls and dwarves, is becoming restless. Something very important is happening in a few weeks time. A new Low King is being crowned, and that is causing fighting in Ankh-Morpork. With 50000 dwarves living in the city, people are bound to notice that something is going on.
The old grievances between trolls and dwarves have not yet been resolved and large areas are controlled as fiefdoms by vampire or werewolf clans. Into this “suet pudding” Vetinari plans to send an ambassador for Ankh-Morpork, and he wants to send the Duke of Ankh. Cunning man that he is, Vetinari had already spoken to Lady Sybil about it. Vimes knew when he was beaten.
The replica of the Scone (dwarf throne) is stolen from The Dwarf Bread Museum. Vimes finds an aboundance of clues, to many in his opinion. To him it is a stupid crime that does not feel stupid.
Vimes goes off to Uberwald, leaving Carrot in charge of the city. Thankfully, Sybil is along. She will take care of the negotiations, while Vimes will represent Ankh-Morpork in his unique style.
Angua discovers that her xenophobic brother Wolfgang has decided to take over Uberwald. She leaves Ankh-Morpork and Carrot to stop Wolfgang. Carrot makes a difficult choice. He chooses love over duty and goes after Angua. This time Colon is left in charge of the Watch – a recipe for disaster.
The Fifth Elephant follows these three journeys – Vimes and Sybil/Carrot and Angua/Colon as head of Watch.
In a sense, The Fifth Elephant is a love story. Sometimes the choice is between the people we love, duty and tradition. Can we have it all?
The Night Watch for the most part happens in the past. Through a freak accident, Vimes is thrown back to the time when he was a younger man and new to the Watch. Along for the ride is Carcer, a cold-blooded murderer. Carcer’s goal in the past is to kill Sybil, thereby wounding Sam beyond repair. Sam’s goal on the other hand is to make the city safer from people like Carcer. To do that he has to establish a new identity as his old self cannot know who he is. Luckily/unluckily Vimes assumes the identity of John Keel, his old sergeant. John Keel has been killed by Carcer. Vimes knows that changing the past will also affect his future. There might not be a wife and child-to-be when he gets home to modern Ankh-Morpork. But Vimes is who he is and cannot leave the Watch or his old self in their old shape.
Unfortunately, Carcer joins the Unmentionables. They are the secret police, carrying out the whims of Lord Winder (patrician of the time). This often includes people going missing, torture and terror. Vimes sets out to make life difficult for both Carcer and the Unmentionables.
Would we try to change the past if we could? Many of us probably would. In trying to influence his younger self to be a better copper, Vimes changed himself. But the big lines of the city. Hmmm – read and see. Corruption and incompetence are dangerous qualities in rulers, but also in the ones set to carrying out the rules. So, what happens when Vimes sets out to change his old world, trying to make it a better place?
2008: BBC Radio 4 2008 radio adaptation dramatised by Robin Brooks
2004: Night Watch stage adaptation by Stephen Briggs
Dribble the dragon, Samuel Vimes, Sam Jr. by Kiriban
Vimes really, really does not like Vampires. Until now he has refused to have any of them on the Watch. That choice is taken away from him by his “beloved” Vetinari. Sally is employed to assist in the investigation around the death of the dwarven demagogue, Grag Hamcrusher. Apparently a troll is the culprit. Sergeant Angua and Captain Carrot are the other Watch member assigned to the case.
Corporal Nobbs and Sergeant Colon get the job of investigating the disappearance of a 50-foot painting titled The Battle of Koom Valley. The discovery of the disappearance leads to several things happening. Trolls vs. dwarves, assassination attempts, a Kube and the Summoning Dark all lead to Vimes, Sybil, Young Sam, Wilikins, and several members of the Watch going to the Koom Valley where Vimes discovers the secret of the valley.
Young Sam has become the mainstay of Vimes’ life. This will prove essential in keeping Vimes alive and sane. Family is all to him. Vimes’ dedication to peace is strong throughout the book, as can be seen clearly in his fight with the Summoning Dark. Racism is prevalent in the book through the animosity between dwarves and trolls. Once again we are confronted by our own biases. One might even replace racism with religious conflict: Protestant/Catholic (Ireland) or political conflict: Palestine/Israel.
Samuel Vimes and one of his weapons (dragon) by Jan Pospisil(Perfect)
Snuff’s focus is for the main part on Vimes and his family. Lady Sybil makes him take a family vacation to her mansion Crundells. Of course Wilikins comes along. Here all is peaceful and Sam is enjoying being able to concentrate on being with his wife and son. But that is not the way things stay. The house-staff seems to hate Sam and Vimes nose is itching with the smell of wrong-doings.
Samuel discovers a grotto of goblins living nearby. For some inexplicable reason the local gentry seems to hate/despise/revile the goblins and treat them as disposables. When the murder of a local blacksmith occurs, all of a sudden the whole country side is involved. On his side, Vimes has Sybil, Wilikins, a young police officer called Upshot and the goblins. Against him are Lord Rust (who has interests in the area) and most of the local gentry and quite a few of the peasants.
It’s time to call in the cavalry. While he has no jurisdiction at Crundell, Vimes is able to ask his people to investigate certain aspects of his discoveries. The Watch does not play a large part in Snuff, but they are present.
I was touched by Snuff. In a sense I felt as though I was saying goodbye to Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh-Morpork and Commander of the Watch. Pratchett writing has gotten darker as the years have passed for the Discworld. The topics are no longer solely focused on making fun (in his gentle way) of current sci-fi and fantasy fashions, but very much on personal development and the conflicts people meet in life. The slavery of the goblins in Snuff very much reminded me of the slavery that has gone on and is going on in the world. Somehow people find it in themselves to treat others as nothing. Rising up to fight this slavery, both on a large and a small-scale is incredibly difficult. Thankfully Pratchett always leaves us with a sense of hope that things might get better.
Witches (usually women) are a force to be reckoned with on the Discworld. Nowhere near as flashy as the wizards (usually men), these women often rule their villages with an iron fist and a whole lot of headology. Pratchett describes headology as:
a witch’s way of magically setting fire to a log of wood consists of staring at the log until it burns up from pure embarrassment. As a result it is less energy intensive, which means that a witch can do more than a technically equally powerful wizard. (Discworld Wiki)
Now, imagine headology turned on people. That might frighten a few into behaving who might not otherwise behave.
The strongest headologist of the “good” witches is Granny (Esmeralda) Weatherwax. Her sister, Lilith (below), happens to be one of the “bad” ones. In a world supposedly without a hierarchy, Granny is the unspoken ruler of the witches. In the village of Lancre there is absolutely no doubt she is the boss. That is until an attempted rebellion be some wannabe witches (below). Granny is a dream of a witch. In the trio of Lancre her role is the role of the Crone (although noone would actually call her a “Crone” to her face – no one with their senses intact). Granny’s special ability is to see reality clearer than the rest. Pratchett explains that this is a manner of seeing the world that does not lie to itself including an ability to question not only the world but oneself again and again and again. Young Tiffany Aching seems to be following in Granny’s “footsteps” in this regard (below). What one needs to realize about Granny Weatherwax is that she is always there for you when you need her. Her one weak spot is her cat: “gerrofoutofityoubugger!” (generally called “You”). Considering who the owner of “You” is, I find it easy to believe that she is the only creature who has gotten the better of Greebo. While younger and much smaller than Greebo “You” terrifies him – inasmuch as he is able to be terrified of anything/anyone.
Greebo belongs to Nanny Ogg. Nanny is probably the only person alive who thinks of Greebo as a big softy.
To Nanny Ogg he was merely a larger version of the fluffy kitten he had once been. To everyone else he was a scarred ball of inventive malignancy.
Nanny is the Mother of the threesome in Lancre. Now there is a lady I wouldn’t mind meeting. Her sense of humour is broadminded, raunchy and hilarious. At the same time she rules her brood and their spouses with something akin to terror with a dash of love mixed in. They adore her yet fear her – at least her daughters in law. Nanny Ogg saves Granny from herself when that is needed and functions as Granny’s grounding rod. Not only that but Nanny lightens the mood when Granny feels overwhelmed or as if the people around her are too stupid for their own good. While Granny is the one who scares people Nanny is the one who woos them – until it is time to stop wooing. Nanny’s final job in the trio of witches is to prod Magrat in the direction Nanny feels Magrat ought to go without being as truthful about it as Granny tends to be.
Magrat Garlick is an interesting character. She happens to be the “Maiden” of the Lancre coven. At first glance Magrat is a young ditz with a heart of gold and a great belief in crystals and folk wisdom.
Witches aren’t like that. We live in harmony with the great cycles of Nature, and do no harm to anyone, and it’s wicked of them to say we don’t. We ought to fill their bones with hot lead.
But as you see, Magrat has another side as well – like we all do. In Lords and Ladies that side shows up in all its glory.
Unlike Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, Magrat is not very good at headology. Her forte lies in research and development of herbs and cures (and her crystals of course). She struggles with her self-confidence, but Granny and Nanny make up for that by having an abundance of confidence in themselves. It can’t be easy being the youngest witch when the two older ones in your coven have such strong personalities.
Young Tiffany Aching down down on the Chalk (mountain) is a whole different type of character. She has to take over the responsibility for her mountains when her grandmother (the local witch) dies. The only possible candidate is Tiffany Aching. At 9 her ability to ask uncomfortable questions and her quest for knowledge points to her potential as a great witch down the line. But Tiffany isn’t really worried about the whole witch thing nor is she caught up in the need to be one. Instead she happens to have the gift of making cheese. I know, strange gift for a witch one might say. But witches are practical people who prize such abilities over other more wizard-like gifts. In fact, Tiffany excels so much that one of her cheeses has come alive and become and excellent mouser. Its name is Horace. She is friends with the Nac Mac Feegles, a feat not managed by many.
These four witches are my favorite ones. There are many more that make appearances in Pratchett’s Witches’ series, but Granny, Nanny, Magrat and Tiffany get into so many incredibly weird and funny situations that its impossible not to have them as favorites. The Witches’ series consists of Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, Carpe Jugulum, The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight. As usual Wikipedia gives detailed information about these women, Pratchett’s page is a given source and L-Space has fun details.
EQUAL RITES (1987)
As I stated at the beginning of this post most witches are women and most wizards are men. There are exceptions. Some of those exceptions start with mistaken identity.
Up in the Ramtops a wizard comes awalking using his staff as a guide to where he is going. Bad Ass, the village, is his lucky destination. A child is being born, the eight son of an eight son.
Drum Billet, our wizard, knows he is about to die. Wizards and witches get to have that knowledge. He gives his staff to the son of the smith and dies. One problem. The eight son of the eight son just happens to be a girl, Eskarina Smith. A wizard girl. Oops.
Good thing for young Eskarina Smith (Esk to her friends) that Granny Weatherwax was the midwife that saw her into the world. When Eskarina is 7 her mother decides to send her along with her brothers to Granny. Strange things seem to be happening around the girl whenever she is upset.
When they get to Granny’s, Granny Weatherwax is lying on her bed looking quite dead. Being a witch she wasn’t, she was only out borrowing. Eskarina feels Granny’s undeadness and goes downstairs waiting for Granny to return (while her brothers run off terrified). When she hears loud noises upstairs, even she becomes terrified, runs off, falls down and is met by the staff (yes! the staff came to her).
Granny knows something has to be done, and right away. She decides to take her to the wizards school in Ankh-Morpork, the Unseen University, and enroll the young Eskarina. But getting the girl into this all-male school is going to prove more difficult than Granny had thought.
“The night was as black as the inside of a cat. It was the kind of night, you could believe, on which gods moved men as though they were pawns on the chessboard of fate. In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weazel’s eye. It illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: “When shall we three meet again.”
Here we have the Discworld’s version of MacBeth‘s witches. The mother, the crone and the other one. Or as other people know them, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Maigrat.
King Verence of Lancre is making a discovery. He is about to become a ghost, unable to stop the kidnapping of his child. By a freak accident the child ends up in the arms of Granny Weatherwax and she decides to take a hand in playing with the future and sends the baby off with a troupe of actors.
Fifteen years later.
Words have power. In the “good old days” the jester was the only person at a king’s court who could speak his mind without fear of the consequences (supposedly). These days we have the media. But words have power. We might remember an event or something about the people involved, but as the story gets told and re-told our perception of the event changes. Pratchett’s way of pointing a light at our perceptions and prejudices is a wonder.
1997: Wyrd Sisters was produced as a two-part animated television series, produced by Cosgrove Hall.
WITCHES ABROAD (1991)
“This is a story about stories.
Or what it really means to be a fairy godmother.
But it’s also, particularly, about reflections and mirrors.”
On the Ramtops there was only one witch who was not attending the Sabbat. Desiderata Hollow was making her will. Desiderata is a fairy godmother to princess Emberella. The other one was Lilith (who just happens to be Granny’s sister).
In Genua, the magical kingdom, Lady Lilith de Tempscire loved the idea of travelling through mirrors. After speaking to Desiderata she was glad that there would only be her and the voodoo woman left to fight over Emberellas’s future.
At Lancre the fairy godmother wand is delivered into the hands of Magrat. The note from Desiderata reads:
“I niver had time to Trane a replaysment so youll have to Do. You must goe to the City of Genua. I would of done thys myself only cannot by reason of bein dead. Ella Saturday muste NOTTE marry the prins. PS This is important. PSPS The those 2 Olde Biddys they are Notte to come with Youe, they will onlie Ruine everythin. PSPSPS It has tendincy to resett to pumpkins but you wil gett the hange of it in noe time.”
With this bit of headology, Desiderata guarantees that Nanny (with Greebo) and Granny decide to accompany Magrat on her journey to Genua. As the threesome moves through the lands on their way to Genua, they manage to upset quite a few people. In typical tourist style they are loud and obnoxious and wonder why these people cannot speak properly. But there is also magic battle and voodoo fun to be had.
1999: Witches Abroad stage adaptation by Aaron Birkes played at Aberystwyth Arts Centre Theatre
LORDS AND LADIES (1992)
Magrat, Nanny (with Greebo) and Granny are back in Lancre after being absent for eight months. That worried Magrat. Was the kind-of-agreement between her and Verence still up and running.
Upon her return, Magrat was informed by King Verence that they were to be married at midsummer and that all of the arrangements have been made. No proposal, just a statement. He is the King you see, and Magrat a subject.
A stone circle up in the mountains of Lancre keeps the Dancers in. That is if they are not let out. When people forget about the Dancers, it is an easy matter to lure them into the stone circle, leaving them quite dead.
Esme Weatherwax and Nanny Grogg come to the Dancers and discover that someone has been dancing. Diamanda, Perdita and that girl with the red hair decided that they should teach themselves witching in the absence of the older ladies. About six of them have been going up into the mountains every full moon dancing. When Granny goes borrowing she discovers that there is some kind of mind loose in the kingdom – Elf.
Mustrum Ridicully of the Unseen University worrying about baldness and thinking back to the good old days when he went walking with Esme. When he is invited to the wedding of King Verence and Magrat, Ridicully decides it is time to up into the mountains. With him go the Librarian and the Reader in Invisible Writings, Ponder Stibbons.
1995: Lords and Ladies stage adaptation by Irana Brown
2005: Lords and Ladies German feature length fanfilm. I’ve only been able to find the link to the trailer. So if anyone has a link to the full-length movie, please send.
In his dedication Pratchett writes:
“My thanks to the people who showed me that opera was stranger than I could imagine.”
Mr. Goatberger, the publisher, has been sent the manuscript to a book. It wasn’t even on proper paper, and he was filled with apprehension. Then he started reading, kept on reading, and called in his assistant, Mr. Cropper. He began dreaming “the dream of all those who publish books, which was to have so much gold in your pockets that you would have to employ two people just to hold your trousers up.”
Agnes Nitt has come to the Opera House to audition for a part. She might not be the greatest looker, but she has a voice to kill for. When the time comes to select the players, Agnes gets stuck singing for the goodlooking Christine.
Gytha Ogg gets a letter addressed to “The Lancre Witch”, bringing Granny’s temper up a bit. Nanny’s book “The Joye of Snacks” has become a hit, and it turns out the publisher has been a bit complacent about paying Nanny her dues. In fact, he owes her about four or five thousand dollars. They decide to take a trip to Ankh-Morpork and stir up the town a little. That, and convince Agnes to come back to Lancre as the maiden witch. They bring Greebo, Nanny’s cat of terror. His part in this story is amazing.
Reading Maskerade with the Phantom of the Opera playing in my head at the same time was great fun. Terry Pratchett has really nailed it this time.
If you want and incredibly detailed and extensive analysis of Maskerade, I recommend Bewitching Writing by Dorte Andersen at Aalborg University. It seems I’m not the only fan of Terry.
1998: Stephen Briggs stage adaptation of Maskerade.
2006: A stage adaptation of Maskerade by Hana Burešová and Štěpán Otčenášek (partly using adaptation by Stephen Briggs) premiered in Divadlo v Dlouhé, Prague. Pratchett attended the closing performance five years later.
CARPE JUGULUM (1998)
Into the country of Lancre comes an army. An army made up of very small blue men, no higher than six inches tall. Little blue men nobody messes with. Men whose favorite pasttime is fighting anything and anyone.
Not too far from Lancre, four vampires come accross an invitation to the name ceremony of the child of Queen Magrat and King Verence. It is a dangerous thing to invite vampires into your home, whether that be house or kingdom. Sort of gives them free rein. Count Magpyr, his wife and their two children enter Lancre with their servant Igor.
Granny Weatherwax gets called away to a birthing that is in trouble. When she gets there, she has to decide who to save, mother or child. Very few people could make such a choice without trying to share the responsibitility with someone. Flying back towards the castle she notices mist is on its way from Uberwald.
The dwarf Casuanunda is having to resort to highway robbery. But robbing that black coach is not very tempting when he sees how another highway robber is treated. Instead he goes on to Lancre where he has a few aquaintances.
In this novel Pratchett plays with the idea of split personality, references vampire movies of the day, pyramid schemes and good and evil through the Phoenix vs. vampire myths. Pratchett managed to give this novel a slightly creepy feel.
THE WEE FREE MEN (2003) (Skrellingene – 2004) – Locus YA winner 2004
We now leave Lancre behind (for the most part) and enter the world of the Chalk and Tiffany Aching. She is nine years old when we meet her for the first time in The Wee Free Men.
My first meeting with Tiffany (or Petronella in Norwegian) was in Norwegian. I thought I would introduce my youngest to Pratchett and this new book on the market seemed like the thing to read. Was it ever.
When we meet her she is lying by the river tickling the trout on their backs. She liked hearing them laugh. With her on this expedition was her brother Wentworth (Steingrim in Norwegian). Like all little kids he was messy and sticky but easy to be around.
I’m sure you remember the little blue men in Carpe Jugulum. Here they come again, trying to fish. For some reason Tiffany was able to see them. Only witches should be able to see the blue terrors.
Grandma Aching has just died and Tiffany thinks that she might have been a witch. The little blue men turn out to be the Nac Mac Feegle. Since Grandma died they are on the lookout for a new “hag”. Since Tiffany sees them and is able to control them (somewhat) the Nac Mac Feegle tell Tiffany that she is their hag.
They need help for their Kelda (mom). She is ill. Tiffany comes with them to their hole in the ground and checks out things for the boys. Sadly, the Kelda is dying (of old age) and Tiffany needs to be there for the boys until a new Kelda can be found.
When Tiffany’s baby brother disappears, she now has allies in her search for him. The search brings Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegles into a strange world where Tiffany’s hag-hood is proven.
My youngest son laughed his head off and was really spooked at times. An excellent children’s book in my opinion. They won’t get all the references, but who cares, I probably don’t either. What’s really great about the Tiffany Aching series, is that we get a look at Tiffany’s growth from the beginning. Terry has created a wonderful character in our young Tiffany.
There is a possible film adaptation of The Wee Free Men by Rhianna Pratchett (Terry’s daughter) in the inning.
More laughter came for my son in “A Hat Full of Sky“. Those Nac Mac Feegle names are genius. I read them in Norwegian (in one of our dialects of course) and I couldn’t help myself. I giggled along. Pratchett has so many of those giggle moments and then all of a sudden a belly-laugh comes along. All part of his godhood status for me I guess.
Tiffany is now an apprentice to Miss Level. On their way there, Tiffany and Miss Tick are attacked by a hiver (powerful, dangerous creature). At the cottage of Miss Level, Tiffany discovers that Miss Level is in fact two-bodied and that there is a ghost cleaning her house. During her stay Tiffany has to fight the Hiver, but fortunately she does not have to battle alone all of the time. Help is to be found in many places.
We get a great look at the life of an eleven year old torn out of her old life, having to go to boarding school (so to speak). Everything is new. Not everyone is nice. On top of that she has the Nac Mac Feegle and the Hiver. Growing up must come quickly then. Pratchett does an excellent job at looking at the development of Tiffany’s identity. She emerges as someone who has integrity and the willingness to question herself. She’s actually a pretty good role-model for young people.
By now I think we’ve seen that Tiffany is not the kind of girl who is ruffled by just anything. It takes a bit more than normal to get her uncomfortable. Being wooed by the Wintersmith is one of those things. In “Wintersmith” Tiffany does a foolish thing. At the dark morris dance welcoming winter, Tiffany finds herself drawn into the dance. Ooops. Wrong person.
This means the Wintersmith (who brings winter) meets Tiffany rather than the Summer Lady and is enchanted by her. Double oooops.
All of a sudden green stuff sprouts underneath Tiffany’s feet and the Cornucopia appears. Tiffany seems to have taken on at least one of the Summer Lady’s abilities. Her friends Roland, Nac Mac Feegles and Granny Weatherwax have to help Tiffany get out of her new bind.
While her new teacher, miss Treason, is kind of creepy Tiffany manages to learn a lot from her, not least all which color of cheese she does not like.
I’ve seen from commentaries that some people think Wintersmith too childish. Sometimes I wonder if I’m reading the same books as other people or if I’m expecting different things from the books. I find all of the characters delightful, even crazy old Treason. Terry’s writing is up to its usual standard and as a brainwashed cultmember of the Pratchettian cult I’m sold.
OK. Now we come to the last book in the Witches and Tiffany series: I Shall Wear Midnight. For some reason I found it poignant. You know how sometimes you get a feeling of being thankful that you’ve read a book? Well, Midnight and Snuffare both Pratchett books that gave me that quiet feeling. I was moved.
Tiffany is now grown up (15) and is working the Chalk as its only witch in a climate of growing suspicion and hate.
When the Baron of the county dies, she is accused of killing him. Tiffany travels to Ankh-Morpork to inform Roland of his father’s death. As usual the Nac Mac Feegles follow Tiffany into town.
Tiffany’s fight this time is against the Cunning Man. Once again we get a battle between the almost good against the practically evil.
My love for this book could also be due to its darker tone. This darker tone fits the books well.
“The Privilege of the Sword” is part of Ellen Kushner’s Riverside stories and is a fun read. Kushner makes this whole world believable. It’s a fantasy book without magic or supernatural creatures. Instead we get a novel set in a time where women were commodities to be bought and sold for money and land.
Katherine, our main character, is sold to her uncle to pay her family’s debts. Her uncle is the decadent Mad Duke Tremontaine, and his plans for his niece do not follow conventional rules. Independence and the ability to defend herself are qualities that he aims to knock into her through sword lessons. Maybe not what Katherine had in mind, but she buckles up and does her best to uphold the agreement that was made between her mother and her uncle.
So, why is this book so good. One reason is that the characters of Katherine and Mad Duke are three-dimensional. Another is the humor and action that fills the novel. The Privilege of the Sword flows somewhere between peaceful and tempestuous.
Sometimes a gem just drops into your lap. Our library had a book sale and I bought a bag of books for 50NOK. Inside I found this collection of essays from 1986. In connection with the end of UN’s 1975-1985 this status report was created. In it we find women who meet other cultures and report on what they see. This book was sponsored and compiled by New Internationalist, a cooperative specializing in social justice and world development issues. In addition to publishing its own magazine, it collaborates with the UN and other organizations to produce a wide range of press, television, and educational materials.
The essayists are:
Toril Brekke of Norway meets Kenyan women whose husbands have travelled to the cities to find work.
Angela Davis of the US travels to Egypt where virginity is of prime importance.
Anita Desai travels from India to Norway to investigate gender roles.
Buchi Emecheta of Nigeria travels to the United States to investigate the impact of the education boom on sex roles
Marilyn French of the US investigates the difference between middle-class and poor Indian women.
Germaine Greer of Australia meets the women of Cuba, women who are considered both active comrades and sex-objects.
Elena Poniatowska of Mexico investigates the effects of the sexual revolution on the women of Adelaide, Australia.
Nawal El Saadawi of Egypt meets women involved in political activities seeking to change the definition of family and society.
Manny Shirazi of Iran investigates the impact Soviet socialism has had on the female relatives she meets.
Jill Tweedy of England meets the first generation of literate women in Indonesia
Dark Space is the first novel in the four book serial calledSentients of Orion. Orion refers to the stars and sentients are all intelligent humans and non-humans residing there. Among those non-humans we find dePierres’ favorite little creatures, the tardigrades/water bears (called Sacqr by dePierres). Except dePierres’ Sacqr are a bit overgrown and fond of invading mineral-rich Araldis for food in the form of humanesques. We quickly learn that the Sacqr have been brought to Araldis for nefarious reasons.
Baronessa Mira Fedor is our man character. In Dark Space we follow her from the time she is about to graduate and become Pilot First (intuitive able to bond with the biozoon Insignia). Except Mira learns at her graduation ceremony that her ability is to be removed from her because she happens to be a woman. Women on Araldis are only appreciated for their child-bearing ability. Upper class women are not allowed to learn to defend themselves and are socialised into a sex-slave thought pattern from the time of birth. Mira Fedor is not quite at that point when we first meet her, but she is about to learn some pretty harsh lessons about survival and the dangers of such misogyny.
Don Trin Pelligrini is the spoiled, self-absorbed son of the Principe of Araldis. Trin happens to be the one who was supposed to receive Mira’s innate ability. His life until we meet him has consisted of getting what he wants, when he wants it and at whatever cost it may be to others. He, too, is going to learn quite a bit about his real worth to the world he lives in and possibly about his ability to survive. If survive he does.
Jo-Jo Rasterovich, is the first humanesque to meet the “god” Sole. His meeting has become famous and Jo-Jo has assembled quite a fortune due to it. Except something about that first meeting keeps on nagging at Jo-Jo’s consciousness. Why would this “god” wish to be discovered at the time that it was? What really happened that Jo-Jo seems unable to remember?
Tekton, the God-head, from Lostol gets exactly what he asks for in his meeting with Sole. What I have learned from reading extensively about fictional and real lives is that what we think we wish we had, might not actually be what we really want. Greed, ambition and paranoia guide Tekton’s wish. Let’s face it. Giving in to the three of them all too often brings out the worst in ourselves and often in others as well. No reason why dePierres’ Dark Space should be any different in that respect.
There is one thing I found really strange about dePierres’ creation. Humanesques of various origins are able to interbreed, making for interesting variations. I can see how they would be able to have sex in some cases, but breeding seems a bit far-fetched.
My view of the nature of people is pretty bleak, yet for most people alive life is bleak. If you have a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in, enough food and clothing and semi-safety you are better off than 70% of the world’s population. All of this makes it understandable that some of the choices made by the privileged 30% are considered cruel – not to mention the choices of the top 20 or top five % of the world’s population. Trin and Mira drop abruptly from the life of the privileged 1% of their world and join the rest of the people who fight to stay alive. Dark Space is bleak, filled with action and full of people learning to adapt or die. I liked Dark Space and struggled to put it down.
Even though the story is placed at the time of the Civil War in the US, I imagine Robin Oliveira’s own background as a nurse helped in describing some of the work and attitudes we read about in her novel My Name is Mary Sutter. At this time being a physician and a woman was practically unheard of. Physicians were trained through apprenticeships, and for a man to take in a woman as a student would mean overcoming prejudices. Professionally schooled nurses were also a thing unheard of. Apprenticeships were the way to go if a woman wanted to become a mid-wife or assistant to a physician.
All of this haphazard training of either physicians and nurses left both professions with vast differences in the abilities of the people who had finished their training. Some nurses and doctors made matters worse for their patients while others were miraculous healers.
Mary Sutter’s mother was a mid-wife and Mary had gone along with her on her many trips into the child-bearing population. What Mary learned about herself during those trips was that she would love to become a surgeon and thereby save people who otherwise did not get visited by a physician in time. Due to the above apprentice-shipping she was refused this opportunity and also refused admittance into medical school.
Mary Sutter was nothing if not determined in eventually reaching her goal. The US Civil War presented her with one such path. Washington was desperate for help on the battlefield and many women felt called to duty. Mary Sutter happened to be one of them. Her experience seems representative of the others I have read of. As such Sutter’s experience seems to correspond with the experiences my nurse friends tell me of today. Arrogant doctors, incompetent doctors, miracle doctors and patients who span the gamut from assholes to angels. As a someone who has been a patient I have met nurses of all kinds but mainly wonderful ones. Most of my nurse friends feel a “call” to serve and this is their way of serving others. Amazing people!
War is a gory and horrifyingly brutal affair. Not one gram of glory is present anywhere on the battlefield. But what a school for aspiring doctors and nurses. One doctor Mary Sutter had to work with had to care for more than 100 men. She helped with operations and learned how to treat stitch wounds. Eventually she managed to be sent to the front and learned how to amputate and live with the gore of poor medical hygiene.
I liked her character. Mary was a goal-oriented woman who worked extremely hard to achieve her dreams and she was certainly a woman that I could have looked up to. Inserting extraneous yet historical characters did not work well for me. It was Mary I wanted more of. But my wishes are irrelevant to an author’s work and it isn’t even a complaint just an observation.
Under Heaven affected me profoundly. I believe it was the depth of Shen Tai’s mourning for his father and his offering to his father’s spirit that moved me most. Imagine setting yourself the task of burying all the bones from a battle twenty years past in order that those spirits might find peace. A more appropriate place for restless spirits than a battleground I cannot imagine.
Kay went on to say that he’s interested in how the course of a person’s life can change in a moment, and how “small moments and events can ripple outwards.” Whether it’s an individual or the life of a people, he pointed out, “significant consequences can begin very inconsequentially. That’s one thing that fascinates me. The other thing that fascinates me is how accident can undermine something that’s unfolding, something that might have played out differently otherwise.”
To Kay, “the human condition is redolent with this aspect of randomness, and I try to work that into all of my books.” (CBC Books)
The choices Shen Tai, his older brother and their younger sister, Shen Li-Mei, make end up having both intended and to a great extent unintended consequences. All three discover that assistance and opposition comes in many forms and sometimes from unexpected quarters.
In this story there aren’t any really bad people. There are mainly just people with the regular gamut of human emotions and with varying degrees of ability to do something about their desires. While the Tang Dynasty was a better place for women than the ones before it, women held less room in society than men. As with most places in the world today, women had to be a lot more creative in their maneuvering than men did. Their accepted roles were also very different from the one men were able to hold. To become a warrior like Wei Song, one who even guarded a man, was not something that was open to most women (much like today).
Reading about the role of women was both a painful process but also a delight. Delightful because of the intelligent and brave women I got to meet and painful due to the few changes that have happened in the world when it comes to the roles of women and how true their power is.
Under Heaven is a fairly dark story. Considering the times and the rebellion it portrays that is no wonder. I am trying to decide if I would call it dark fantasy, but I don’t know if that would be appropriate. I love its complexity and many threads that all come together one way or another in the end. What an awful race we humans are. It really is rather sad to see us revealed in all our terrible glory. Under Heaven was an intensely touching book that left me thankful for having found it. According to the author, his goal in writing is to keep the reader turning pages. It worked.