Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

51Fp8XBGpBLTo continue my read through of older (and sometimes overlooked) works in the history of fantasy and science fiction literature, I have arrived in 1924 for Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter.

Previously I’ve read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912) and The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt (1924). I would recommend both for those interested in older literature of the spectacular. Also The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson was published in 1954, and fits as an influential book in its own right, if you’re interested in that.

The book was fantastic. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, though, no book is. There was a bit of a lag in the middle to end of the book, roughly the 50% to 75% mark. In addition, the story seems to have no real action by the main characters after the halfway point, but that’s by design. As far as how readable it is, I leave that up to the individual reader. I had no problem approaching the book, but will readily admit some difficulty after the middle section.

The story of the book was concerned with two kingdoms: the kingdom of men named Erl and the kingdom of fairies named Elfland. The king of Erl, in the beginning is asked by his people to give them a king who has magic. The king, knowing that what they were asking would lead to trouble, told his only son to venture to Elfland and wed the legendary princess there. That way, there would be magic in the royal bloodline.

The first quarter of the story was concerned with the prince of Erl finding his bride, returning with her, and living with her in Erl. Then, she decides to return to Elfland, and the rest of the book is concerned with the time difference between the two realms and how time doesn’t move for her and the fairies while the men search for a way to get to her.

The characters were the second weakest part of the book, the first being the plot. The titular character, Lirazel, was fascinating as a concept. But as a character she’s shallow. Lirazel was torn between loving Alveric and Erl, and longing to return to Elfland and her father.

Alveric himself was an unsympathetic character who went from heroic in the first quarter to utterly useless in the latter parts of the book.

Their child, Orion, was the most interesting character, in my opinion. He loved his hounds, wanted to meet his mother, but doesn’t want to leave the world he knows behind. It’s complicated and interesting. Ultimately, it culminates in a hunt he took to kill a unicorn. This proved to the people of Erl he was skilled, but also that he had some magic in him after all. Honestly, I had no interest in the unicorn hunt, but it was beautifully told.

The best part of the book was Dunsany’s writing. His descriptions of Elfland as bordering on the twilight of the sky was something magical taken directly from fairytales. The King of Elfland, himself, was never really seen as much as felt. He’s a presence in the story, whose power and authority echo throughout the tale. It’s fascinating and interesting and beautiful. The runes he used in the story had earth-shattering effects, able to change the border of his land to recede, to block people from entering.

It’s an amazing story. I would recommend it for anyone who loves older fiction and fantasy books.

Lord Dunsany writes like a man who has the muses on his shoulder, feeding him the language of imagination and wonder themselves.


You might like some of my other work:

What is Science Fiction?

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Writing with Inspiration

Book Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A-princess-of-mars

In an effort to understand where speculative fiction originated, I’m going to be reading some older stories to figure out the origins of today’s books.

How do I even begin this first one? A Princess of Mars is the forefather of science fiction, first being published in 1912.  It’s influence can still be felt in science fiction and fantasy to this day.

It’s hotly debated how much this book falls into the science fiction genre, since John Carter is taken to Mars without so much of an explanation of how he got there. I would argue, though, that speculating about another planet is a worthy definition of science fiction.

Beyond the historical impact of this book, I guess we should discuss the contents itself.

John Carter is in the Confederate military during the United States Civil War. While there, he gets into a fight with Native Americans and flees into a cave. Suddenly, he awakens on Mars. On this new planet, he finds himself a prisoner of the green martian inhabitants. Here, Mars is called Barsoom, and it’s a place of warfare and hatred, where friendship and love is all but unknown.

The story progresses from there, with him meeting the various martians and learning their ways. I have to be honest here, the first 40 pages or so were a trudge to get through. Those pages were basically without dialogue. It reminded me of reading H. G. Wells or Jules Verne, which makes sense.

The characters are interesting, from Sola the green martian who seems to feel love, to Dejah Thoris, a red martian princess (the titular princess of Mars). Dejah is fascinating in that she seems to have a scientific mind, and shares much of her knowledge with John. But she’s also said to be basically nude the entire book, as most martians forego clothing for ornamentation.

Tars Tarkas was my favorite character. He was a warrior who served the sitting chieftain of the green martians, but unlike other martians seemed to value friendship with John. He had progression throughout the story, and was a likeable character.

One of the interesting elements was that the green martians raise their young as a community. The reasons for this were implied to be that they put all their eggs together to incubate for long periods of time, so it’s possible that upon hatching you wouldn’t know which eggs are yours anyways.

This idea was taken directly from Plato’s Republic, and has the same weaknesses as that system. Aristotle said that system would lead to one where children were shown no love and grow to lack it as adults, which is clearly the case for the green martians. Karl Popper also said such a system was a dystopia, and in the martian society, it certainly seems to be the case. The green martians are pseudo-nomadic, moving around at times for war and incubation. While the red martians seem to have ornate walled cities (and physiologies similar to humans).

After about half-way through this book it turned into one of the best books I’d ever read, if not a little dated. If you can get past the first 40 pages, which basically lack dialogue the entire time, then I think you’d enjoy it.

Now, let me get into come spoiler-laden criticisms!

SPOILERS BELOW

The transition from the green martians to the red was jarring. I kind of wanted to spend all my time with them. However, knowing that Dejah was a red martian I knew we’d meet them eventually.

I really liked John as a character, but I disliked how it seemed that he was easily able to influence the martians with love and kindness. Some of it makes sense, like Sola being raised by a loving mother who wanted to know her children. But the fact that the tribe just went along with it was kind of odd. It’s really not a big complaint, to be honest.

It’s left up in the air as to whether the entire book was real or not, but subsequent sequels apparently revisit the world of Barsoom. John also seems to grow old apart from his wife and child, which I really dislike. It left the whole ending with a bitter taste.

I’m really looking forward to reading the other four books I have of this series!


You may like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

You may also like some of my other work:

Writing with Inspiration

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Poetry: “Rusted Theme Park from My Childhood”

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Book Review: Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

9781101965337-us-300Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan is a fine work in high fantasy. I will admit I imagined a far different story from the summary than what it ended up being, but it was a good read. I think I burned through it in about one afternoon.

I will be covering the characters, so if you don’t want to hear the beats of the story, just know I think it was a good book, but wish it had been more focused.

The story follows a few characters:

Raithe is a warrior from a barbarian-type clan. He maliciously kills a Fhrey, a god to humans, in a dispute of his father and his father’s family sword. Raithe is called the god-killer, and as such travels with his new companion, Malcolm, a former slave of the Fhrey. They eventually find themselves in Dahl Rhen.

Arion is the next character, though it feels she was underutilized. Arion is the tutor to the prince, and as such holds a great amount of respect in Fhrey society. She’s a gifted mage (or whatever they call them) and has great powers even among the Fhrey. Interestingly, the Fhrey society seems to have almost developed a caste system over time, and it was only slightly touched upon in the book. She is eventually told to find the god-killer.

Persephone is the widow of the former chief of Dahl Rhen. She is intelligent and finds herself drawn to Raithe, when the man arrives. However, it’s interesting how she keeps him at arm’s length due to her recent loss. She also listens to Suri, a young mystic with a pet wolf.

Suri is my least favorite character. She seemingly has no real problems or weaknesses. Instead, she’s already gifted and even Arion sees a skilled mage in her. I’m not sure why she rubs me the wrong way other than the fact that she’s supposed to be perfect; all bad things seemingly come to her from outside, never internally. Suri has foretold the coming destruction of their society, and because of that she works with Persephone to forestall it.

REAL SPOILERS BELOW, read on at your own peril!

The only thing I didn’t like was the mention of Raithe’s killing of the Fhrey actually after he had incapacitated the elven being. It seemed like a big deal, but it was tossed aside with a single line of dialogue towards the end of the book.

Also, there was the “conspiracy” aspect. I won’t spoil it for you, but it came out of nowhere and felt like it wasn’t set up at all. Payoffs require setups, so I wish it had been setup better.

 

Ultimately, I liked the book. Great characters and an interesting setting. I would love to see more of the Fhrey, so we’ll see how the next books are!

 


 

If you liked my review you might like these others:

Book Review: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

You may also like these posts I wrote about scifi and writing:

What is Science Fiction?

Finding Your Writing Style

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

TheHighCrusadeFollowing in the footsteps of my The Broken Sword review is another Poul Anderson masterpiece, mostly unknown to modern readers.

The High Crusade is a book about English knights, priests, and peasants from the medieval period who take over an alien spaceship and begin to fight the aliens on other planets. It’s fun, exciting, and from that premise comes one of the most interesting explorations of the medieval mindset I’ve ever read.

To be honest, the weakest part is the characters. It was pretty clear which direction the characters were going to go, and with the medieval mindset it was clear the person who broke fealty was doomed from the get go. This is honestly a flimsy weakness, though, since the book is excellent despite this.

Before I get into spoilers, I can’t recommend this book enough. If you like science fiction or the medieval age, this is right up your alley.

SPOILERS BELOW

The main thrust of the book is Sir Roger’s campaign against the Wersgorix Empire. He’s successful only because he’s modifying medieval warfare to the new technology they acquire, and because the aliens have had a relative peace due to the empire controlling much of the galaxy.

The most interesting element is the idea that Earthlings will go into space far in the future and find a feudal system throughout the galaxy!


If you liked this review you might like some of my others:

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

You may also like my work on writing:

What is Science Fiction?

Turning a Hobby into a Career

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

Book Review: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

anderson_broken_sword_carterI previously covered Poul Anderson with my book review of The Enemy Stars. It was okay, but with The Broken Sword, I feel like he really shined as an author.

The Broken Sword is a fantasy novel, but it’s set in real locations during the viking age of Northern Europe. The twist is that there are actual faeriekin, as they’re called, who are the legendary creatures of old. Interestingly, this means the gods of various locales exist as well, with Odin and Thor being mentioned prominently, as well as various Celtic deities. The Christian god is mentioned as well, in the context of being the “new god” that the old ones fear. It’s an interesting idea.

The story opens with an elf named Imric, who steals a child from a viking leader named Orm and replaces the child with a changeling he sired with a captured troll woman. To celebrate the child, one of the Aesir, the Norse gods, gifts a cursed sword to Imric. The changeling and the human child grow up separately, but look similar in appearance. The human child is named Skafloc, and he comes to understand the elfs’ ways, going so far as to make love to the elf women at times. The changeling is named Valgard, and he becomes a ruthless beserker.

Before I get into spoilers, I want to say that I absolutely loved this book. I think it was one of the best fantasy novels I’d ever read and by far the most interesting thing I’ve read from Poul Anderson yet. The ending didn’t awe me, but it was satisfying. I would say this is a hugely underrated classic of fantasy.

SPOILERS BELOW

One of the odd parts of the book is how Valgard kills basically his whole family, except his foster sister. She flees, and is smitten with Skafloc, who she doesn’t know is her brother. This whole relationship was a little off-putting, but I think that was the point. When their relationship is revealed by the ghost of Orm, it’s shocking and ruins any chance they had to be together.

As far as the ending goes, while I understand a “happy ending” was impossible, I still wished for it as I read. I knew it was coming, with Odin being seen previously multiple times, but it was still sad to see happen.


You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

jemisin_fifthseason-tpI’ve had this book recommended to me multiple times over the past year, but just recently picked it up. I’m glad I did!

The trilogy of novels started with The Fifth Season is critically acclaimed, the first book winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016.

The Fifth Season is three stories in one, told throughout the novel. The first follows a young girl who revealed supernatural powers, the second follows a young woman in the Fulcrum (which is essentially a guild for the orogenes), and the third story is in second person following an older woman. The stories switch between each POV throughout the story.

Throughout the three stories you explore a little about the characters but a lot about the world. Honestly, the world as a dying Earth with strict social structures and a magical system based on geology was creative and unique.

A few things I don’t like:

  • Damaya doesn’t seem to have much of a character, and is a little obvious as far as her characterization goes. She has no real growth or change, and seems to remain the strong-willed overly intelligent girl right from the beginning.

To be fair, she does have some interesting storylines, like the one with the kids bullying her in the Fulcrum. I also like the interactions she had with her Guardian.

  • The second person sections were creative, but difficult to read. Honestly I had so much trouble adjusting to it, but once I did, I enjoyed what I read.

A few things I like:

  • Syenite and Alabaster’s story is the most interesting story in the book. It’s got character development, growth, change, and mysteries that are explored. I loved it.

Syen is a little shallow, but Alabaster was fascinating. When they’re first introduced it was awkward and uncomfortable. As they went on, they maintained a level of awkwardness but it was understandable.

  • The big star was the worldbuilding. N. K. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is fantastic. From the fully-developed organization and culture to the magic system everything is fleshed out and interesting.

Before I get into spoilers, let me say this: the book is award winning. It’s well deserved.

I think this is one of the best written books I’ve read in the fantasy genre, and would recommend it to anyone who errs on the side of experimentation and creativity with genre fiction. Despite how picky I am, I would say it’s fantastic.

SPOILERS BELOW

The first main twist in the book is the fact that all three storylines follow the same character. I absolutely loved that revelation. Syen as a character was a little boring, but the story was told so brilliantly that it didn’t matter.

What’s more is that Alabaster basically made up for Syen’s lack of depth. ‘Baster was forced to continually impregnate other orogenes due to his status as a ten ring. However, he was most likely a closeted gay man. He also never fell in love with Syen, which made a ton of sense.

I think at this point my other major complaint can be aired: the lack of love. I understand this was probably intentional, given the world the story takes place in, but it felt alien and inhuman, transferring that oddity to the characters. It was also apparent when Syen had her first child. You felt little to no love between mother and child, and made Syed seem robotic.

Now, I want to talk about the ending, so I’ll give you a nice warning and white out the text below:

ENDING SPOILER

Syen ends up killing her son in the end, to kill the Guardian that was bonded to her. It was heartbreaking and sad, but also felt soulless because it didn’t seem like Syen even cared about the kid to begin with. I kind of don’t understand why she had to kill him anyways if the obelisk was all ready moving towards her for aid, or why she didn’t just launch more projectiles at the ships.

The ending revelation as to what caused the Earth to get into its “current” state was interesting. I also noticed the distinct lack of description of the moon, and when they revealed that humanity killed Earth’s child, I knew it was the moon (as did most readers I’m sure). So for the book to end with the question from a damaged Alabaster concerning the moon was a nice surprise. 

All in all I would, again, recommend this book.


If you would like to support me, please use my Paypal link.

You may also like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

51r6XIPWmoL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Oh my, this is a big one. I first read Tolkien back in middle school. Like many other people, I was forced to read The Hobbit and discuss it in class. I remember vividly the cassette recording my teacher played of Tolkien himself reading the “riddles in the dark” section of The Hobbit. It was fantastic.

But today I want to review the sequel. Most critics agree that Tolkien outdid himself with his sequel, The Lord of the Rings.

The book is technically three books. These are The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. And even further than that, each book has two parts to it. This is especially seen in the last two books, where the stories diverge between Frodo and Sam and the rest of the fellowship.

The story is concerned with the events after The Hobbit ended. Bilbo Baggins is in Bag End, and has his ward Frodo. The story opens with Bilbo’s birthday. He’s 111 years old but doesn’t seem to have aged. He still has the invisibility ring he got at the end of The Hobbit, but doesn’t seem to be adventuring anymore.

However, like The Hobbit, Gandalf arrives and everything changes. Bilbo uses the ring and leaves it behind, leaving for the land of the elves. Frodo is given the ring instead, and it’s revealed the object belongs to Sauron of Mordor, the great evil to the East.

The story follows Bilbo and his friends as they take the ring through Middle Earth to destroy it in Mount Doom. Honestly, the book ramps up once the hobbits leave the Shire. It especially hits its stride when they meet Strider, who is also known as Aragorn.

That leads to my one complaint. It’s one that’s been leveled at the book in modernity: Aragorn is good at everything. He seemingly has little flaw, despite his wanderings with the Rangers. The other issue with the book is the lack of progression in the Frodo and Sam story line. Once they get to Mordor it picks up, but it certainly drags at times.

As far as positives, I can’t speak enough praises to this book. Tolkien blends song and poetry with prose in unique places in the book, and it’s beautifully written. His world is thoroughly developed, the world-building being a step above every other author of the time (though I’d still prefer Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian).

If all you’ve ever seen of Lord of the Rings are the movies, you’re well-equipped to understand the story. However, much is redacted from the books to cover a 9 to 12 hour run time. Characters like Tom Bombadil and scenes like the return to the Shire are completely left out (the latter being one of my favorite scenes in the book).

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy, as it was basically the guidebook on how to write fantasy during the 20th century.


If you like my work consider supporting me with a donation! http://www.paypal.me/FrankOrmond

You may also like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

What is Science Fiction?

9262561366_05ea466cff_bMy family and I discussed some of the more recent Frankenstein movies, and the conversation drifted into the original novel by Mary Shelley. Inevitably, that brought out discussion of the original novel being the first science fiction novel. Apparently, this was a position Brian Aldiss held as well.

Now, I believe that science fiction, as a form of literature, is not so easily defined. As such, a distinct division between what was and was not science fiction is nearly impossible. However, I believe that there are various requirements that a story should meet to be considered science fiction:

1. It must have been written during or after the Enlightenment.

I would argue that science fiction didn’t exist until the Enlightenment. I would say that prior to this, any sort of fantastical or imaginative speculative fiction wouldn’t have had any concern for scientific ideas.

Now, the timing is intentional. Books like Gulliver’s Travels and Icosameron fit this element.

2. It must have been concerned with a scientific idea.

Even if that idea is as simple as “could we go to another planet?” or “what will life look like in 1,000 years?” Works that explore the possibilities of a hollow earth or people who live on the moon also fit this requirement, and if they were after the Enlightenment, fit the first as well.

I would also include some “soft” scientific ideas in here, such as psychology or politics. Thus, utopias or dystopias can be explored in detail in science fiction. I would exclude current politics or military science from this, if they were by themselves as scientific ideas.

3. It must have been concerned with speculation.

This means that a direct, realistic explanation of an even does not fit. Likewise, general fiction that doesn’t speculate anything isn’t a science fiction novel.

Now here’s the issue: space opera and military science fiction can speculate on the use of space faring technology or fighting aliens, but they don’t expound on those ideas. Nor do they need to!

I think these three elements must be included. Rod Serling once said, “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible”.

So was Frankenstein the first sci-fi novel? No, I don’t think so, though it may have been the first “hard” science fiction novel, but that’s a different story. Perhaps this is overthinking it, or maybe I’m missing some element that would define certain stories and not others.

What do you think?


You may like some of my other work on this site. Make sure to check me out on Twitter and Instagram.

Maybe some of my reviews:

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Maybe some of my work on writing:

Writing Descriptions

Finding Your Writing Style

Maybe my poetry:

Poetry: “Cardinals in Spring Snow”

Book Review: Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

34081658._UY200_.jpgDavid D. Levine held an AMA on Reddit not too long ago. I ended up asking a question of him, which he took the time to respond to! I’ll link my tweet on it here.

But hearing from him encouraged me to read his book Arabella of Mars.

From the start it was an odd read, something I had to adjust to right away. The issue wasn’t the tense or narration, but the way the story read. The setting was something like a Victorian age understanding of space, with Mars being settled by English colonists, and the vacuum of space replaced by an atmosphere and sailing ships.

Before I get to spoilers, let me say: I recommend this book if you like older literature and science fiction. It’s right in that sweet spot.

SPOILERS BELOW

The book is in three parts. The first is her on Earth and her issues there. From there we end up in the air between Earth and Mars. Again, this book is based in an almost Victorian understanding of space. Third, the book is on Mars.

Right in the first few chapters Arabella is taken from her home on Mars and moved back to England to live as a proper noblewoman. While there, her father dies, relatives essentially kidnap her and plan to murder her brother, and they escape to Mars. This is, again, all in the first few chapters.

I will admit to two criticisms I have of this book. The first is at this point in the story, when Arabella is at her worst. It honestly surprised me that things could turn so grim for the girl. I felt like quitting the book here, but luckily I pushed through.

In the second part we have Arabella taken aboard the Diana. Arabella pretends to be a boy and tries to enlist in the Navy to get to Mars, but is luckily intercepted by a merchant captain who offers her a ship to learn on There’s a robotic navigator clearly inspired by the chess-playing Turk, and the Indian captain who seems to have a certain nobility about him.

Most of the adventures in this part are exceptionally well thought out and interesting. I found myself drawn into the story here, and concerned about both the “time bomb” aspect of getting to Mars as soon as possible, and tension of Arabella hiding her sex. It’s well-written! Almost reminds me of Treasure Island in this section.

Then we get to the third part of the book, when Arabella’s sex is revealed and she helps land the ship on Mars to find a rebellion of Martian natives. It’s an interesting situation, and here Arabella really shines. She knows the Martian customs and helps her ship from being destroyed. Then, she’s able to negotiate for food and water and get permission from the Martians to talk to her brother.

This is where my second complaint in the book exists: the Captain accompanies Arabella and seemingly has no purpose in anything. He has nothing to do. It honestly feels a little lazy given how well-written everything else is.

The ending of the book was satisfying, which is what you want for an ending (the resolution of which was set up from the beginning). In fact, all of Arabella’s  problems seem to stem from her father’s poor estate planning, which is hilariously brought up towards the end as being the solicitor’s fault.

As far as everything goes, I would say the book is a satisfying read with plenty of adventure. My own love of military science fiction drew me in when we dealt with actual sailing ship situations. Arabella is basically treated as a new recruit on a Navy ship (even though it’s a merchant ship).

All in all, David Levine nailed it. I hope the next one is as great!


 

If you liked this, you might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: Warship by Joshua Dalzelle

Book Review: Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick