Tales from my Ursula K. Le Guin Bookshelf: The Earthsea Cycle Part II

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

smilings2When Ursula Le Guin revisited Earthsea some years after her completion of Tehanu, as she explains in her Foreword to Tales from Earthsea:

A mere glimpse at the place told me that things had been happening while I wasn’t looking. It was high time to go back find out what was going on now … [and also about] … things that had happened back then, before Ged and Tenar were born. A good deal about Earthsea, about wizards, about Roke Island, about dragons, had begun to puzzle me ….

Tales of EarthseaAnd so, as she put it, she went back, “to spend some time in the Archives of the Archipelago.” The five luminous stories that resulted shed a few bright rays on the people and the forces that unmade and remade and reoriented the world of Earthsea  during the 300 years before Ged. They are told in that quiet Le Guin voice that contains the raging of the storm. The calm that is the storm

“The Finder,” recounts the time after “Elfarran and Morred perished and the Isle of Soléa sank beneath the sea,” after further depredations from warlords and self-serving mages and wild dragons out of the west, after Erreth-Akbe’s Ring of Runes was broken. In that dark time the safest and most reliable magic rested with the “Women of the Hand,” long forgotten in Ged’s time, and with a Finder named Otter, a man who, with the women of the heavily-warded enclave on Roke, began to build the future.

“The Bones of the Earth” gives insight into the selfless strength and generosity of the true mage, and of the sorcerers who would teach the sorcerer who would teach Ged.

“Darkrose and Diamond” tells of the love between two gifted people and the trials they face in times when such gifts were both coveted and suspect.

“On the High Marsh,” from the “brief but eventful six years” when Ged was Archmage of Earthsea, tells the story of a child whose great powers were so harshly misunderstood and repressed that even on Roke he could not be mended, and of the one who went alone and on foot to find him in yet another place of ignorance to which he had run.

The final story, “Dragonfly,” occurring a few years after the end of Tehanu, introduces a powerful new character and provides a bridge, “a dragon bridge” as Le Guin says, between that book and the next one, the masterful novel The Other Wind.

Tales concludes with a 23-page “Description of Earthsea,” filled with details and explanations for much of the world of Le Guin’s creation. Close readers of her stories will revel in this. And for writers aspiring to Le Guin-quality fantasy, there are riches to be found in the Foreword: about “the way one does research into nonexistent history,” and the importance of stories that “have weight and make sense.” You’ll want to read it. Over and over again.

The Other Wind reaches back, nearly to the dawn of history, to identify and address the greatest wrong ever done by the mages The Other Windof Earthsea. This ancient miscalculation, a colossal failure of magic, comes to light through the heartbreak of a sorcerer named Alder, whose young wife calls to him from across the low wall between the living world and the realm the dead. What can be done to mend this vast error and make right the harm it has caused? And who has the power for the task? Tenar, Tehanu, the young king Arren, the former Archmage Ged, and Irian, a dragon who can take the shape of a woman, gather in the Immanent Grove on Roke, to try.

It was in reading the Tales From Earthsea this past week that I felt the whole of this long, patient story wash over me, the slow gathering together of whose parts Le Guin has pursued over these thirty-one years. It is a simple story, seen whole: a world of sometimes rough, sometimes marvelous beauty, populated by a people of rich imagination and great but often flawed intention, who insist on the superiority of their own limited vision over the deep-rooted wisdom and power of the natural world around them.

So, is there more of Earthsea’s story yet to come?

Le Guin tells us in the new Afterword provided in the 2012 edition of The Other Wind that, so far as she knows, “the story that [she] had to tell ends here.”  And yet, she says, she knows what Tehanu will do, and where Ged will go now.

For this series of posts there is definitely more: the science fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. The Dispossessed, which many consider her masterwork, and my favorite, The Left Hand of Darkness, and Always Coming Home. And more? We shall see.

Tales From My Ursula Le Guin Bookshelf: The Earthsea Cycle

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Trilogy2“The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.”

So begins A Wizard of Earthsea, volume one of The Earthsea Trilogy, and so began my readerly friendship with Ursula K. Le Guin. The trilogy was perhaps my first deep insight into that amalgam of dreams and imperfections that is the human condition. It is a permanent fixture of my heart.

There have been periods since that first experience when I did not read Le Guin’s books, and periods when I did, so my experience of her is spotty. But I can tell you that I have, in one way or another, been informed, deeply moved, and emotionally strengthened by every work of hers that I have read.

As many of you undoubtedly know, Wizard is the insightful coming-of-age story of Ged, known as Sparrowhawk, a gifted boy whose pride would lead him into such troubles as would last through the Trilogy and shadow his magic for life. The book is filled with whimsy and hope and learning and deepest despair, and again hope, in the heart of a much wiser young man.

The Tombs of Atuan, volume two of the Trilogy, is that rarity, the coming-of-age story of a girl. Taken from her home and family as a small child, Tenar was dedicated for a life as high priestess to the “ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth.” And so she served, until a young wizard named Ged came as a thief in search of the greatest treasure of the Tombs she guarded.

In The Farthest Shore, volume three of the Trilogy, an older Ged has risen to become the Archmage of Roke, the most powerful wizard of an Earthsea from which the magic seemed to be fading away. Together with the young Crown Prince Arren, and Kalessin, Eldest of the dragons, Ged travels across the world to “confront his own past, and test the ancient prophecies.” With them also sail Earthsea’s every hope.

Tehanu2It seems clear at the conclusion of The Farthest Shore, completed in 1972, that Le Guin thought she was done with Ged. But Ged, it seems, or perhaps Earthsea itself, was far from done with her. Some 18 years later both Ged and Tenar are back, with Tehanu, a foster child of strange and violent origins, who would add her own indelible brush strokes to the evolving portrait of Earthsea and its inhabitants. If the original Trilogy was–and was not–a tale for children, Tehanu is a story for those same children grown, not old, but older. Ready for another course in wisdom.

Once again, a decade after Tehanu, Earthsea had more work for its historian and gazetteer. Unfortunately I cannot comment on Tales From Earthsea. Not just yet. For though I have read The Other Wind, the most recent (note that I did not say the final) book in the Cycle, I have not yet read the Tales. So I will save the fifth and sixth books in the Cycle for next week, after I have read it.

Following that, I will proceed with brief looks, in varying depths, at the other books of Ursula Le Guin on my shelf.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read Tehanu, or the Trilogy itself, I recommend that you do. The elegantly slim volumes of the Trilogy read rather quickly. But Tehanu is a full length novel, requiring and deserving your extended attention. You won’t regret it.

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Foretaste

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

beachThe post on the writings of Ursula Le Guin which I intended to have for you today is still in the works and will appear here next week. Meanwhile, a distillation of the writer, her mind, and her craft.

Love3plots stories3

unread story

smilings2

volcanoes2

Creative adult

lifes hardsm

Sleep

journey piclg

Credit for quotations as presented here, unless otherwise identified, go to http://quotepixel.com or http://www.quotessays.com.

Le Guin photo credits:

Below the headline: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/ArwenCurryDocumentary.html

At middle left: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/ArwenCurryDocumentary.html

Ursula K. LeGuin To Receive Lifetime Achievement Award

Copyright 2014 by Paula S, Jordan

Ursula K. LeGuin Photo by  Marion Wood Kolisch

Ursula K. LeGuin
Photo by Marion Wood Kolisch

It isn’t often that a genre writer is recognized with a prestigious literary award. So when it happens, any SF/F bookish blog worth its pixels should take note.

And so it is noted here, with endless respect for the author and gratitude for her work, that Ursula Kroeber LeGuin is to be presented the 2014 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

The award was created in 1988 to recognize a lifetime of literary achievement and has previously been awarded to Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Toni Morrison, along with some 23 other authors, including Eudora Welty, David McCullough, John Updike, Joan Didion, and E.L. Doctorow.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) report that Ms LeGuin has been named this year’s honoree in recognition of, among other accomplishments: “… her transformative impact on American literature,” saying that “ …for more than forty years she has defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, and transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism to forge new paths for literary fiction.”

She is the past recipient of numerous other awards, including the National Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction, and a Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, plus 21 Locus Awards, 6 Nebulas, 5 Hugos, 3 Asimov’s Readers Awards, a Pushcart Prize, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and a Newbery Silver Medal plus many other honors.

Ms, LeGuin’s blog, biography, bibliography and much more may be found at her web site.

The National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner will be held on November 19, in New York City. Neil Gaiman will present the award.

Further Links:

National Book Foundation

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)

io9.com article

Wikipedia

Octopus!

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

 

     Kelp Forest, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Kelp Forest, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

There are plenty of ways to research a novel at arm’s length: Internet, libraries, books, conversations with practicing professionals. But sometimes you have to step in a little closer, get your hands on the real thing.

Great Pacific Octopus, Birch Aquarium

Great Pacific Octopus, photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium

For some time now, that real thing for me has been a living, thinking octopus, the basis for several characters in my present-day alien-contact novel-in-progress.

I had read about these wily animals, seen video evidence of their astonishing feats of camouflage and intelligence, and asked about a zillion questions of patient professionals. Still I needed to know what the critter felt like. How slippery or squishy or cold might those eight arms be? And how tightly might those suckers grip? What would their skin, with its quick-changing colors and textures, actually look like? How might I feel, looking into the eyes of an octopus that was looking back at me?

Click for larger image

Photo by Ken Jordan. Click any photo for a larger image

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, it happened. Big “Thank you!” to the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

I first saw the large, reddish Great Pacific Octopus clinging suckers-out onto the thick glass of his tank in the aquarium’s Hall of Fishes. Those suckers were impressive, but it was hard to tell from that tangle of arms just what he looked like, and certainly no way I could reach in for a quick handshake.

Jenn Moffatt introduces Ken and me to the Octopus!

Jenn Moffatt introduces Ken and me to the Octopus! Photo by Cindy Watson

Wandering out to the seaside plaza, I found a dozen or more middle-schoolers petting the residents of a tide-pool aquarium. When I asked, one of the staffers on duty there pointed me to a sea cucumber as the next best thing to touching an octopus. So I too, the oldest kid in the bunch, reached into the chilly water and touched carefully, as directed, with no more than two fingers. Cold and soft and squishy the sea cucumber certainly was, and not too slippery for comfort.

But friends, he wasn’t an octopus.

Jenn points out larger suckers. Note triangular extrusions at left center.

Jenn points out larger suckers.  Note the triangular extrusions at left center.  Photo by Ken Jordan

Meanwhile, back in the Hall of Fishes, my husband had arranged a visit with the real thing. Yay!  Jenn Moffitt, a trained marine biologist and the aquarium’s Director of Husbandry, ushered us into the dark space behind the scenes. She emphasized that it is never wise to handle any animal without proper training. Then she removed a panel from the lip of a tank, and there, in a wash of blue light, was the big guy himself.

My long-awaited handshake. Cold but very nice.

My long-awaited handshake.  Cold. Slippery.  But not unpleasant.  Photo by Ken Jordan.

I touched his arm, holding only the lower end of it as Jenn directed, felt it slide between my fingers, felt the surprising strength of even the smaller suckers near the tip. His flesh was a bit firmer to the touch than the sea cucumber’s, colder too. And really slippery. This is good, among other things, for sliding free of an attacker’s grasp while still holding tight with his suckers to whatever he wants. Another theory suggests that it keeps his boneless arms from tangling into knots. Well, maybe.

Some color shift was subtly discernible, even under the blue light, and Jenn pointed out 1-to-2-inch triangular extrusions on his head. These, she said, seem to appear when he is thinking. When she touched one of them I was surprised at how easily it flexed, not at all the rigid structure it appeared. Hmn. Interesting insight into the tricks of this master of disguise.

Sadly, I never quite achieved an eye-to-eye with him, and our visit was done.

Maybe next time.

We left him to his unimaginable thoughts.

Thank you, Jenn.

My Role Model Committee

For me, no one role model could ever be enough. You need different ones for different undertakings. Hence my committee.

The first is personal, my grandmother,  Mary Catherine Foster Stahls. Born only 15 years after the end of the civil war (she was more the age of a great grandmother for me) she saw nearly ninety years of the most rapid change in history. Though she never held a “job” she could do anything.

Margaret Brent Conjectural drawing  Edwin Tunis, ca. 1934

Margaret Brent
Edwin Tunis, ca. 1934

Grow anything. Sew, quilt, or reupholster anything. Repair anything. Build — or oversee the building of — almost anything. In my memory’s eye she usually holds a hammer.

For feminism, the lady is Margaret Brent, first feminist and first woman to ask for the right to vote in the western hemisphere. That was in Maryland (where she was the governor’s attorney) in1648, 40 years after the founding of Jamestown. They said no.

For courage, Sojourner Truth. Fearless. Best-known conductor on the underground railroad. A judge, demanding proof that she was a woman, once ordered her to show her breasts in court. She stood tall, and proud, and with great dignity opened her dress and showed him.

Barbara Jordan, for oratory and for legal scholarship. She should have been the first woman on the Supreme Court.

Kate Chopin The bird that would soar above the plain of tradition and prejudice  must have strong wings.

Kate Chopin
The bird that would soar above the plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.

Kate Hepburn, for talent, style, and sheer guts. The woman knew who the hell she was.

Sally Ride. First American woman in space.

Kate Chopin, for courage in authorship. It isn’t true, though commonly believed in Louisiana, that all available copies of her novel The Awakening were collected and burned in New Orleans sometime around 1900. However, as “[one of the] first American authors to write truthfully about women’s hidden lives,” her book was widely condemned, called morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable. Willa Cather said it was “trite and sordid.” It has been removed from more than one library’s shelves and

Grandma Moses  (Anna Mary Robertson) on her 88th birthday.

Grandma Moses
(Anna Mary Robertson)
on her 88th birthday.

challenged even in recent years. Yet today the book is available world wide, in translations including Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, and Galician. And a new one out soon in Turkish.

Ursula LeGuin, for insight, excellence, productivity, and durability.

And finally, as a role model for late-blooming artists of every discipline, my patron saint, Grandma Moses.

So, who’s on your Role Model Committee?

Credits:

Margaret Brent Image.  Information sources here and here.

Kate Chopin image. Information sources here and here.

Grandma Moses Image

More Recent Reads

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Here, as promised last week, are comments on two more authors whose work I have only recently discovered: D.B. Jackson and Gail Z. Martin.

As historical urban fantasy, D.B. Jackson’s The Thieftaker Chronicles series, represents a definition-expanding departure for that popular sub-genre. But somehow I can’t see many readers of either historical or urban fantasy complaining. I, for one, read Thieftaker, the first of the series, almost without taking a breath, and picked up the second, Thieves’ Quarry,  immediately after. The third book, A Plunder of  Souls, is the newest resident of my kindle.

Thieftaker Chronocles

I loved seeing Jackson’s well thought-out magic system at work in pre-Revolutionary War Boston, complete with occasional sightings of  Samuel Adams, James Otis, and other anti-stamp-act agitators of the time.

The title character, the thieftaker and conjurer Ethan Kaille, is a former British Naval officer whose youthful involvement with a shipboard mutiny earned him long years of backbreaking servitude on a Caribbean sugar plantation. Now, a toughened and scarred but not a hardened man, with his sentence completed but his position in society much reduced, Kaille depends for his livelihood on the one talent most likely to get him killed in Boston. A hundred years after the Salem witch trials, witches (more properly,”conjurers’ according to Kaille) can still be hanged or burned at the stake.

The other main characters are also drawn in good detail: Kaille’s feisty lady friend, Kannice Lester,  is the bright, successful manager of her late husband’s tavern. The young Reverend Trevor Pell, also born with the hereditary gift of conjuring, becomes a friend. The goodhearted but reckless Diver Jervis is a sometime assistant sleuth as well as a friend. But perhaps the most colorful character of them all is Kaille’s archenemy, the daring and unscrupulous female thieftaker, Sephira Price.

A thieftaker was an early version of a private detective, most often tasked with recovering stolen property and paid for this service with the reward money offered for its return. In Thieftaker, Kaille has been hired to solve the mysterious death of a wealthy merchant’s daughter as well as the theft of the heirloom broach she was wearing. In Thieves’ Quarry it’s multiple unexplainable deaths among the thousands of Redcoats who occupy Boston in the wake of violent protests over the stamp act.  Needless to say, magic is involved at many levels, and Kaille is threatened by more than one kind of killer. The tension is high, the action frequent and deadly, and the lively characters fully believable. Both books provide engrossing reading, as well as historian D.B. Jackson’s authentic images of the Boston of those chaotic times. I expect the third book, A Plunder of  Souls, to offer the same.

Gail Z. Martin‘s series Deadly Curiosities also takes place, in part, BR-Deadly-Curiosities in historic times. But in this case the format is a series of short stories stretching from 15th century Europe, to the small early-17th century town of Charleston in what would one day be South Carolina, and finishing with a full length novel, also entitled Deadly Curiosities,  set in present-day Charleston.

Here the magic takes the form of potentially deadly forces, born of powerful human emotions from the past that have settled into material objects such as tools, jewelry, artwork, or other artifacts and so continue into the present day. Such forces can be either good or evil, but the most powerful of them arise from human conflict, death, and despair. Certain humans, born with the magical ability to detect such forces in whatever objects they may inhabit, make it their mission to acquire and defuse or destroy such haunted objects before they can be used for more evil.

The links connecting all these stories consist of family lineages from one gifted generation to the next, a network of antique and curiosity shops around the world, and one 500-year-old Vampire named Sorren whose mission it is to coordinate the whole operation, protect the humans who run the shops, and see to the neutralization of the deadliest of the haunted objects.

In the novel, a 20-something young woman named Cassidy Kincaide, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history, is the current owner of the centuries-old Charleston shop known as Trifles and Folly. She is assisted and frequently protected by Teag Logan, an all-but-dissertation doctoral student in history and an expert practitioner of various obscure schools of martial arts. All seems well, until a tall, wizened figure in black begins to follow Cassidy around. Then dozens of small, harmless objects in the shop and around the city abruptly become suffused with deadly power, and the mangled bodies of vagrants begin to appear on the historic blood-soaked grounds of the old Navy yard. Suddenly Sorren is in town, a powerful Voudon practitioner named Lucinda lends her powers, the magical weaponry and defenses come out, and all hell is on the loose.

D. B. Jackson’s  Thieftaker Chronicles books are available in paperback, hardcover, audiobook, and all e-book formats. Associated short stories can be found on Amazon.com and the author’s web site.

Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities novel and nine of the ten short stories in the series are available on Amazon.com and on the author’s website. The Final Death, a novella, is available free for a short time on Wattpad.

Recent Reads

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

One of the things I love most about science fiction conventions is the discovery of new-to-me tasty reads. Thanks to several cons this spring, I have recently been spending time with the works of four good writers whom I had somehow previously missed.

I’ll take them in order of my reading, two now and the other two next week.

At RavenCon (Richmond, VA ) the new discovery was Author Guest of Honor Elizabeth Bear, a gifted writer both of fantasy and of what might be described as hard urban science fiction.

Jenny Casey

In the latter category I devoured all three books in her Jenny Casey Series (Scardown, Hammered, and Worldwired) in a couple of weeks. That’s lightning fast for me, but I just couldn’t put them down. Think near-future sf, set first (volume 1) in a battle-weary Canada and north-eastern US, then (volume 2) on an essentially untried space station, and finally (Volume 3) in near-Earth space in the company of two very different but equally-inscrutable alien spacecraft. The cast of tough, bold, capable, highly individual characters includes folks from three major nationalities, every gender, and every level of society and government bureaucracy, with significant issues of trans- post- and cybernetic-humanism. Wow. Just wow.

iron bone

Bear’s fantasy duology (Book of Iron and Bone and Jewel Creatures) centers on Bijou, a gifted wizard-artificer and trusted associate of the crown prince of Messaline, an Arabic-flavored medieval environment. The first book entails adventure and intrigue in Bijou’s wildly creative young womanhood; the second, the climax of a life-long battle and the still-powerful, mature artistry of her late old age. Beautiful, imaginative, and deeply moving.

blessed world

I have not met Catherynne M. Valente, but it was sometime during RavenCon, Balticon, or ConCarolinas that she was recommended to me for her vast descriptive powers and the beauty of her prose. The first book of her Dirge for Prester John series, The Habitation of the Blessed, did not disappoint. (The second book, The Folded World, is on my to-be-read-next list; the third, The Spindle of Necessity, is due out soon.)

The myth of Prester John, a Christian Priest and King of a mysterious oriental or African land, arose in the 12th century and influenced a number of European adventurers to seek him in various little-known corners of their world. This continued until 17th century orientalists finally disproved any connection between John or his realm with observable reality.

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Valente has set her vibrant, intensely human retelling of his story in a lush realm of great riches, peopled with such oddities of medieval travel tales as monopods, dog-faced people, and people with their faces on their chests. She has further embellished the myth with a historically feasible origin for John, horrific and (as far as I can tell) completely original challenges met in his journey to that realm from Constantinople, and a detailed account of his slow and painful acceptance of the strangeness of life and kingship there.

Note that Valente’s printed books themselves give evidence of the beauty of her language and mythical world.

Next time, D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker Chronicles and Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities.

 

Sources for Prester John:

Image:
anatomyofnorbiton.org

Legend:

philaprintshop.com
en.wikipedia.org/Prester_John
anatomyofnorbiton.org

Con-Gregate: A Brand New Science Fiction Convention

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Meet Greg-8, avatar of Con-Gregate, a new start-up Con in the North Carolina Triad: Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem.
avatar
Kinda cute isn’t he?

Why that name? Think Con-Greg-8.

The first annual Con-Gregate was held in Winston-Salem this past weekend. I’m hoping for more photos for next week’s post.

Con-Gregate comes with a distinguished pedigree, organized as it is by a committee with extensive experience running such conventions as RavenCon, ConCarolinas, StellarCon, Trinoc-coN and DragonCon

That experience showed. Con-Gregate 1 was an enthusiastic, smoothly-run gathering with what seemed to me surprisingly good attendance for a first-run Con.

Larry Correia Larry Correia

The Guest list was good too, with Writer Guest of Honor Larry Correia, author of the Monster Hunter International series and the Grimnoir Chronicles, and Artist Guest of Honor, Mark Poole, with such gaming art credits as Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. Special guests included Special Literary Guest Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books, and Special Media Arts Guest Jennifer McCollom, professional make-up artist for such films as The Hunger Games and Talladega Nights.

Most all the guests, in fact, were entertaining and informative, and frequently more than usually conversant with their audiences.

Mark Poole Mark Poole

In answer to fans’ requests, the programming included specially planned interactive features, including audience participation discussions and roundtable workshops in addition to the more traditional discussions among the expert panelists with questions from the audience in the final minutes.

Con-Gregate 2 will meet July 10-12, 2015, at the High Point Plaza Hotel in High Point, North Carolina. Writer Guests of Honor will be Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole, with Fan Guest of Honor Albin Johnson and Special Artist Guest Scott Rorie.

Looks like another good one!

Juliet McKenna’s Rogues and Mages

Gambler's FortuneWhile not too unlike the usual motley of medieval fantasy folk, Juliet E. McKenna’s characters come equipped–or lumbered–with finely-drawn gifts and quirks that set them apart both in her world and in the usual run of characters in the genre.

Their distinctiveness arises in part from several interesting ethnicities. The hunter-gatherer forest folk, for instance, have fiery hair, exceptional night vision and gifts for music and survival. The yellow-haired mountain dwellers are given to monolithic clan fortresses, mining, shepherding, and feuding, within a matriarchal society. But most important in all these peoples are their individual qualities of head, heart and/or temperament, either natural or the result of chancy nurturing in their chaotic world.

Previous reviews of McKenna’s Tales of Einarinn series have examined her extraordinary female hero Livak (The Thief’s Gamble) and Livak’s partner in adventure Ryshad, “a man both bold and honest,” (The Swordsman’s Oath.) In The Gambler’s Fortune, three of her well crafted supporting characters move into finer focus: a mage, Usara of Hadrumal, and the brothers Sorgrad and Sorgren, two thoroughly disreputable old friends from earlier adventures.

Livak leading, they constitute a company of four chartered by Archmage of Hadrumal and the powerful Tormalin house of D’Olbriot. Their charge? A quest for traces of an ancient magic now being wielded against them by shadowy enemies from beyond the sea. Livak’s leverage in winning the commission–and her hope for a fortune suitable to a quiet early retirement with Ryshad–is a book, a collection of ancient songs which may hold clues to the lost magic.

With Ryshad left to his own responsibilities and hopes of fortune back in Tormalin, Livak takes full stage with her personal brand of leadership: brainy, confident, and resourceful; courageous almost to the point of recklessness when the odds are with her or when lives are in danger.

The mage Usara is touchingly drawn as the closeted scholar eager to pit his considerable powers against the challenges of the greater world. Never mind his less-than-subtle air of superiority and sporadic power struggles with Livak, he works hard as a mage, ever willing to tire himself to exhaustion for the protection of others.Further Tales

Sorgrad and Sorgren, pureblood natives of the northern mountains, are the darkest of Livak’s allies but far from the darkest of her world. As young men, expelled from their clans for impudence and disruptive behavior, they blazed a trail of mayhem and larceny across the lowlands, chiefly as soldiers of fortune in the annual summer wars. Sorgrad, the elder, is good-looking, intelligent, self-taught in many skills and social graces, ingenious in devising enterprises and strategizing battles large and small. Sorgren, the smaller and more violent of the two, has rarely, if ever, lost a fight.

So why are they, and particularly Sorgren, in Livak’s company? Because their greatest positive talent is unfailing loyalty, priceless beyond gold in her dangerous world. And because, on this venture, their less attractive talents may mean the difference between life and death.

That enemy, a wizard as brutal and implacable as the vicious father and frozen land that produced him, will draw Sorgren into the battle of his life, revealing the blackest secrets of both their souls.

As has been said of other anti-heroes, the brothers will do the bad, even the evil thing to stop the horrible thing.

Still, interleaved with the challenges of this engrossing adventure are good times among friends, interludes with the intriguing people of the forest, and the wisdom and poetry of Livak’s book of ancient songs.

imagesIncidentally, the account of her discovering that book can be found in A Few Further Tales of Einarinn, a collection of illuminating shorter works set between Swordsman’s Oath and Gambler’s Fortune. The story, “Absent Friends,” also provides a closer look at Livak’s and Ryshad’s relationship in quieter times.

The Gambler’s Fortune, A Few Further Tales of Einarinn, and many other works by Juliet E. McKenna are published by Wizard’s Tower Press and can be found on Amazon.com.