Month: June 2009

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

Date of Publication: 1926 (my edition: 2001, Cold Springs Press)

Number of Pages: 239

Synopsis (from back cover): Lud-in-the-Mist, the capital city of the small country Dorimare, is a port at the confluence of two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl. The Dapple has its origin beyond the Debatable Hills to the west of Lud-in-the-Mist, in Fairyland. In the days of Duke Aubrey, some centuries earlier, fairy things had been looked upon with reverence, and fairy fruit was brought down the Dapple and enjoyed by the people of Dorimare. But after Duke Aubrey had been expelled from Dorimare by the burghers, the eating of fairy fruit came to be regarded as a crime, and anything related to Fairyland was unspeakable. Now, when his son Ranulph is believed to have eaten fairy fruit, Nathaniel Chanticleer, the mayor of Lud-in-the-Mist, finds himself looking into old mysteries in order to save his son and the people of his city.

Review: This is a very delightful story, and one that meets every reader’s expectations of what should happen. In terms of good versus evil, right versus wrong, innocent versus guilty, every expectation is met. One may think that this sort of predictability would make the story dull and stale, but in fact, it elevates the story to a higher plane.

One of the most important themes in Lud-in-the-Mist is the unreality of our reality. Life is a story that we have control over. If we have control, why shouldn’t the innocent be vindicated and the guilty punished? Mirrlees points out, rather uncomfortably, that we has humans choose to believe in what we believe in, but nothing is at all certain. Is Fairyland a myth, or is our all-important belief in Law and Order actually a myth? Our hold on reality is tenuous at best, and in order to regain control, sometimes we must choose to believe in things once cast aside, which is exactly what Nathaniel Chanticleer does.

One of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, wrote the foreword to Lud-in-the-Mist writes that this book “is, most of all, a book about reconciliation – the balancing and twining of the mundane and the miraculous.” Mirrlees achieves this balancing act superbly, and she deserves a much higher place among the ranks of modern fantasy writers. I recommend this book to any fan of fantasy, or to anyone looking for a great story that helps to disrupt the monotony of daily life.

One warning: the Cold Springs Press edition, which is the most common, is fraught with typos. Please be patient when reading.

Rating: 8/10

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Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Date of Publication: 2005, HarperTorch

Number of Pages: 384

Synopsis (from back cover): Fat Charlie Nancy’s normal life ended the moment his father dropped dead on a Florida karaoke stage. Charlie didn’t know his dad was a god. And he never knew he had a brother.

Now brother Spider’s on his doorstep – about to make Fat Charlie’s life more interesting…and a lot more dangerous.

Review: Anansi, one of the gods featured in Gaiman’s American Gods, is a spider god who owns all the world’s stories. This is probably the most important thing to understand about him. His son, Fat Charlie, though, is a man who doesn’t even live his own story. When Anansi dies and Charlie meets his brother, he is forced to face the two parts of himself: the part that is Fat Charlie and the part that is Spider, who lives a life Fat Charlie could only dream of.

This story is many things all at once. In a way, it’s a coming of age story (even though Fat Charlie is an adult). It’s also a story about families, love, and the nature of life and death. It’s a thriller, with its own maniacal killer, and it’s a story about the history of the world and how we came to understand it, mainly through Anansi’s stories. It’s fast-paced, moving, hilarious, and scary. I would recommend this book not only to fans of modern fantasy, but also to anyone who simply wants to read a great story.

Rating: 10/10

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Date of Publication: 2001, HarperCollins

Number of Pages: 588

Synopsis (from back cover): Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming – a battle for the very soul of America…and they are in its direct path.

Review: Neil Gaiman, originally from England, explores an issue that every American, whether they realize it or not, has struggled with. Who are the gods of America? Where do they come from? America is a country founded by people from all over the world, depriving us of a central mythology or religion. Even the people who crossed the land bridge over the Bering Straight brought their gods with them…they weren’t here already. This is the problem that face the unique characters in Gaiman’s story. They are gods…but what happens to gods when people stop believing in them? People brought them here, and then abandoned them. The gods in the story areĀ  a wandering people, misunderstood, forgotten, and fighting for survival.

Shadow unwittingly gets put in the middle of the fight between the old beliefs and the new. As a main character, Shadow is mysteriously incomplete. Although much of the story is told from his point of view, he seems to simply react to things and doesn’t ponder them. In any other book, this would be a drawback, but in this one, Shadow fits perfectly. He is a man without a past; after the death of his wife, he lets go of his past and unflinchingly accepts his new fate.

As an American reading this book, I really identified with the idea that this country is a difficult place for gods. My ancestors came from all over Europe; there is no one defining culture or belief system. But the book provides a warning, that as a society, in place of the old gods, we have set up new ones: technology, mass media, fashion. To what or whom will we sell our souls?

Rating: 10/10