Dragon’s Code

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Dragon’s Code by Gigi McCaffrey
I read it as a: digital galley
Source: Netgalley
Length: 272 pp
Publisher: Del Rey
Year: 2018

A NEW PERN BOOK!! *FLAILS*

Ahem. Dragon’s Code, set in the Ninth Pass of the Red Star, returns readers to the characters Lady Anne originally wrote – F’lar, Lessa, Master Robinton, the Oldtimers. Here, young harper Piemur, whose voice had previously been glorious until its adolescent break, has been somewhat adrift for the past three years. While waiting for his voice to settle, he has been mapping the Southern Continent for Robinton, but has been pining for his lost voice and his harper’s trade. He feels bereft and useless, something no one enjoys. Robinton, really the Pern equivalent of Francis Walsingham, spymaster extraordinaire, has learned of a plot against Jaxom, the young Lord of Ruatha. This is based in part on the theft of Ramoth’s queen egg by the desperate Oldtimers, an event that could drive dragon to fight dragon, and which is very familiar to long-time Pern fans. In response, Robinton sends Piemur and Sebell, his own journeyman, into Nabol, from whence the threat arises. While there, Piemur and Sebell encounter the worst people Nabol has to offer, enduring abuse and worse. Piemur has to learn the lesson that sometimes revenge serves no justice and can cause further damage. Ultimately, he finds his voice – in an unexpected way.

This was a wonderful addition to the Pern canon. I admit that part of it is pure nostalgia because no one can write Pern as well as Lady Anne herself, not even her daughter. The Ninth Pass is my favorite, mostly because that is what Lady Anne wrote mostly, and what she wrote first, and what most readers were introduced to when first encountering Pern. It’s the “right” time to be in. It felt good to come home to the Ninth Pass.

I also loved seeing Piemur grow from a lost, and let’s face it, kind of whiny kid to a young man full of purpose and drive. There was a lot to be said of his path in this story. It is not just a traditional bildungsroman, which would have been boring, indeed. He learned to lean on his friends and family, to trust himself, and when in doubt, always listen to your mother. I loved the bits of wisdom Ama doled out – it felt like those might have been things Lady Anne said to Ms Gigi and Todd as they grew up. It was like a little bit of Anne coming back to talk to her readers, and whether it is true or not, it was delightful. My favorite was:

I don’t think, my Pie, that any of us could be happy in life by doing just one thing. Through all these long Turns I’ve lived, I’ve grown to see some parts of my life very clearly. It was the unlikely choices I made – where the sights I set my aim at were hardest to reach – that became the most highly valued feats of my life. Maybe it’s because the goals were hard-won. I could not say for certain. … You’ll be fine, my Pie. Just be yourself, and always listen to your instincts…and you’ll be fine. (Kindle loc 3421)

Piemur took these words to heart and managed to find his voice, literally and figuratively, in a way that is perfect for him. I can’t wait to see what the next installment has in store.

The book played on themes of honor and trust throughout, which is directly related to the titular dragon’s code. The code that has to be upheld for Pern’s way of life to work has been violated on both sides – Oldtimer and modern riders alike have acted wrongly. The trust the crafters and holders place in the dragons has been broken. The honor of the dragonfolk has been bent, if not broken as well, and all must learn to work together to repair the code.

At first, there was a little too much telling and not showing, especially for readers already intimately familiar with Pern. It took a little while, but Ms. Gigi did eventually hit her stride and the pacing got much better. Some things are a little inaccurate based on her mother’s previous books. For example, Silvina is the Harper Hall’s headwoman, not Fort’s. The Hall and Fort are separate, though adjacent, so each would have their own headwoman. Totally minor, though, and not anything that took away from the overall story.

Overall, I HIGHLY recommend this book – I already preordered the hardcopy for my own collection – and was absolutely beside myself to see a new Pern book on the market. I devoutly hope there will be more Pern books, and soon, from Ms Gigi. I was fine when Todd was writing Pern books, because any Pern book is better than none. But I didn’t care for his nearly as well as I did for this one. I thought Ms Gigi’s was better written, and I admit that I prefer those that are set in the Ninth Pass.

Dear Ms Gigi – PLEASE write more Pern books! I loved this and miss the people of the Ninth Pass terribly. They are real people, you know, and we need to visit our friends. I can’t wait to see what Piemur’s new career has in store for him! Love, Me.

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Misfortune of Time (Druid’s Brooch #6)

40176383Misfortune of Time by Christy Nicholas

I read it as an: egalley

Source: Helen Hollick at  Discovering Diamonds. 

Length: my file only gave Kindle locations, not page numbers. Super annoying.

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2018

*Minor spoilers ahead. You have been warned.*

In this sixth installment of Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch series, Etain, a 12th century Irish woman, has the ability not to age thanks to the magic she draws from her Druid’s brooch. The brooch is an heirloom inherited from her mother, passed down the family line, first given to her family by a Druid in thanks for saving his life. Etain is able to change her appearance at will, so she can age herself appropriately over the years, but her natural appearance is of a woman around 30 years old. In truth, she is around 150. She has had many husbands, many children, and has had to leave them all behind in her long life to avoid being discovered and killed as a witch or Fae. Her current husband, Airtre, is a mentally and physically abusive putrescence of a man, a Christian priest whose primary goal is to move up in the Church to a bishopric. Etain stays only to protect her young grandson, Maelan, from Airtre. When events explode, Etain is forced to flee, getting help from some unexpected allies, including other priests and monks, as well as a few kindly Fae.

I have read several books by Christy Nicholas, including some in the Druid’s Brooch series, and I must say I think this is my favorite one so far. The characters were all multidimensional and interesting, for the most part, and I enjoyed seeing a variety of people mingling together in the villages Etain traveled to, even if life wasn’t really like that in 12th century Ireland. I think she captured the fear and ambivalence of an abused woman well, though I hope I never truly understand that. Etain had a horrific life and it speaks to the strength of her spirit that she kept going and trying to survive rather than just giving up and letting some mad horde kill her as a witch, for the brooch can’t protect her from death.

I loved the theme of tolerance woven throughout, as well as the Gaelic hospitality. There were many instances of travelers or even old friends being offered food, drink, and washing water the moment they set foot indoors. I loved that because that’s how I was raised and it felt like home to see it reflected on the page. As well, the tolerance was a thread throughout. Etain has lived long enough to know that belief isn’t what is important, it is people who are important. She tells Maelan that “a little kindness can have unexpected rewards,” and often she herself has to remember her own lesson and take the kindness of others. Later, Maelan’s wife, Liadan, tells her, “Before I met [Aes], I didn’t realize pagans were just normal people like you and me.” Learning that people have more similarities than differences is a vital life lesson that many people today still need to learn.

The one thing I wish was different was that some of the narrative felt rushed. When Etain left Faerieland and settled in the ringfort, working in the kitchens, for example, little time was spent there, little real detail. The same happened before she entered Faerieland, when she was in the village and traded all her herbs for a cow. I wanted more detail and time spent in those places. Doing so, I feel, would give more of a sense of loss, of fatigue, because Etain was happy in both of those places and then was forced to go again. But these are minor quibbles in my overall enjoyment of this very engaging historical fantasy.

Also, it totally made me think of Dar Williams’ song The Christians and the Pagans.

Coraline

13634292Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Neil Gaiman

Source: public library, though I own a paperback copy that I flipped through as he read it to me

Length: 3:36:00

Publisher: Harper Audio

Year: 2003

Coraline Jones’s new flat has 13 doors that open and close. The 14th door is locked, and when Coraline’s mother uses the key to it, it opens onto a brick wall. She assumes it would have adjoined the empty flat next door but when Coraline goes exploring, she finds a hallway to another flat mirroring her own. In it are another mother and another father and all the same things Coraline is familiar with, only they are altered in a fundamental way. Everything is darker and more sinister. Her other mother wants to keep Coraline with her forever. To force Coraline to stay, the other mother steals Coraline’s real parents and hides them. Coraline, with the help of a very special cat, engages the other mother in a battle of wits to find the souls of three children she encountered while exploring the other world in exchange for her and her parents’ freedom.

I’ve read this many times before but don’t think I’ve ever actually reviewed it. Huh. Naturally, I loved it. In true Gaiman style, Coraline is a study in darkness and strangeness and creepy-crawly feelings that the things you thought you knew are just a little bit off somehow. It is just scary enough to be horrifying to younger readers but delightful to adults. Button eyes ought to be terrifying to anyone. I love the themes of liminal space, which Gaiman always includes in his writing and which he handles so beautifully. It is also an interesting thought exercise on what happens if you can get different parents, which is surely a thought that every child has had at one point or other. Who hasn’t thought at least once that they wish they could have parents that let them have everything they wanted? Coraline’s other mother tried it, though darkly, and Coraline herself came to the conclusion that nobody actually wants everything they want, they want to want everything they want. There’s a big difference, and it is an important lesson to learn the distinction between the two.

It was funny because I chose to listen to it on audiobook this time and one night around midnight, my phone randomly turned itself on and started playing this book. Normally, it would have scared the bejesus out of me to hear a voice talking in the middle of the night. However, I recognized Neil’s voice and it didn’t scare me at all. I thought it was lovely. Instead, it worked itself into my dreams and I had an anxiety dream because I was in the middle of replacing my floors and my house was a mess and my furniture was all over the house and covered in tile dust and my overriding worry was, “Where am I going to have Neil Gaiman sit?? I don’t have anywhere for him to sit that’s clean!” And then I woke up and realized that he wasn’t actually at my house, though that would have made my entire life, it was just my phone reading to me in the middle of the night in his voice.

Children of Earth and Sky

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Cover image from Children of Earth and Sky

I’m a big fan of magical realism and what I call near-fantasy, where things are familiar and close but just different enough to make you remember you aren’t actually in your own world. Guy Gavriel Kay is a master of creating this type of world (as are Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link). His newest novel, Children of Earth and Sky, is another example of his creative skill and delightful storytelling ability.

This book creates such a lovely, rich world full of complex and interesting people. Kay’s main characters in this novel are fascinating and multifaceted. He has a wonderful ability to make you get attached to them quickly, which isn’t always a good thing when some of them die right away. Only it is, because it’s awesome when a book gives you the feels right away and DOESN’T FREAKING STOP. The characters are all well rounded and interesting throughout, even the minor characters. You can’t help but care about them, even ones you don’t think you want to care about. Danica, Marin, Pero, Leonora, Neven, they are all vibrant and living people, each with their own path to take, and I genuinely cared about each of them every step of the way.

Kay gives a tale of a quasi-Renaissance Europe that is rife with political turmoil and intrigue, complete with his usual flair for weaving in elements of magical realism. The world he creates is just on the edge of recognition, which I absolutely love about all of his works that I’ve read. I always get the feeling that I’ve been there or studied this in history before, but then he pulls a literary stunt to remind me that I’m actually reading a really well crafted fantasy, like a dead relative cohabiting in someone else’s mind with them. This was the perfect escapism fantasy for me. I want to reread all of Kay’s other novels now!