It has been a long while since I read Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in full. The first time I encountered the work was in high school, when we read an excerpt from the Wife of Bath’s Tale, but it was only when I got to university that I was able to read the work in its entirety. It’s not an easy read at all – Chaucer’s Middle English (a style even older than Shakespeare’s) is hard to get accustomed to, even without having to take the idiosyncrasies of the time period into consideration as well. I was fortunate to have access to a heavily-annotated and copiously-footnoted edition while at university, and that helped significantly in understanding the context of the tales, as did having access to the other books in the library and online journals.
Despite that, though, I have never really found much appeal in Chaucer’s work. I understand why some people enjoy it, but reading it requires more drudge work than I strictly like. I suppose if I could get ahold of Peter Ackroyd’s modern English adaptation I could attempt to read it again, but since I do not have any particular inclination to do so it might be a while yet before I reread Chaucer’s greatest work.
Trigger warnings for this novel can be found at the bottom of this review.
Theatre is a fascinating art. It combines so many arts together: literature, visual art, music, and acting. Combine all of these together in just the right proportions, and, well, magic happens. While it is true that television and film enjoy broader audiences than plays and musicals, “magic” is still the best word to describe the feeling viewers get when they watch a live performance that can be had no other way. Anyone who has ever had the good fortune to watch a play or musical live knows the magic being referred to: even watching a recording of the exact same performance will always pale in comparison to actually being there, in the audience, sharing the same air as the performers onstage. Because of this, theatre has not completely died out as an art form, despite the popularity of TV and movies.
It is this magic that Melanie Rawn attempts to capture and portray differently in the novel Touchstone, first in the Glass Thorns series. Set in a fantasy world that reads a lot like Renaissance England, it tells the story of Cayden “Cade” Silversun, a young tregetour out to make a name for himself with his friends, Jeska and Rafe – Jeska is a gifted masquer, while Rafe is the best fettler Cade knows. Unfortunately, they don’t yet have a glisker they can actually work with – until a chance meeting brings Mieka Windthistle into their sphere. Though Cade is leery of Mieka’s unpredictable personality, he decides to let the other young man perform with them – and finds out that Mieka is the most brilliant glisker he’s ever worked with. Despite his misgivings Cade brings Mieka into his troupe, and together the four of them decide to attempt the Trials: a contest held at the Royal Court where the best theatre troupes compete for glory and patronage. Under the name “Touchstone,” Cade and his friends are determined to beat the odds, and become the best and most famous troupe in the land.
Trigger warnings for this novel can be found at the very bottom of this review.
If there is a city that has a soul in the same way we humans think of a soul, then London would definitely be it. Though it is far from the oldest city that ever existed, nor is it the oldest city still standing, it is probably one of the most vibrant in the world. It is a city with its own unique pulse, its own unique personality – and if we can define a soul as anything, it is probably according to that sense of self, the idea of the self being unique and separate from everything and everyone else. And London, as a city, is very much that.
Because of this, London – and the United Kingdom as a whole – make the perfect setting for urban fantasy stories. Though some of the most well-known authors of the genre have been American, who often mix the aesthetics and sensibilities of mid-twentieth century noir detective fiction with the shadows of the supernatural, British authors have been catching up, and have been using London as the primary setting. And in a way, this makes a lot of sense: the United Kingdom has an immense weight of history to it, and when a place has that much history – history that is constantly cycling through stages of remembrance and forgetfulness – then there is sure to be magic somewhere in there.
German is an utterly fascinating language. Though I haven’t actually studied it, and cannot actually understand it, I am familiar with one particular quirk: how easily it can create new words. It’s something of a joke on the Internet that if someone needs a new word to describe a concept, it is best to turn to someone who knows German, because apparently, the language is uniquely suited to creating new words out of already-existing ones.
But like any other language, German has its own, unique words for specific concepts, and my absolute favourite one is “schadenfreude.” It’s a combination of two German words: “schaden,” which means “harm,” and “freude,” which means “joy.” Taken together, it means “to take joy in the harm of others,” or “to take pleasure in another’s misfortune.” While this is not the most positive sort of emotion, it is a very common one – common enough that I wonder how it is that English does not have its own equivalent. Maybe because the German word is already sufficient? That would make sense.
This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Angry Robot Books. This does not in any way affect my review. The novel is slated for release on March 6, 2018.
Generally speaking, journalists and anthropological researchers are supposed to maintain objectivity as often as possible when they are covering a story or doing research. This is to ensure that the information is untainted by politics of moral judgements: especially vital in a practice that purports to tell the truth and record history (journalism), and the study of humans in societies both past and present (anthropology). In both cases, moral and emotional distance is required in order to ensure that only the unvarnished truth is conveyed.
But this can lead to dilemmas for journalists and anthropologists alike. In many cases they are witness to acts that might be truly, morally reprehensible – like mistreatment of children, or rape, or systemic spousal abuse. This is especially true during times of widespread social crisis, like during wars or famines. A classic example of this is the story behind a photograph dubbed “The vulture and the little girl,” or sometimes “Struggling Girl,” taken by photographer Kevin Carter during the massive civil war-caused Sudanese famine in the early 1990s. Though Carter scared the vulture away after taking the photograph, and watched the child (actually a boy) in the photo finally get up make it to a UN-run feeding centre, there was widespread criticism of the fact that he did not do more to help the subject of his photo. While no one can be certain if that particular criticism is what weighed most on Carter’s mind when he committed suicide in 1994, it is interesting to note that he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in April of that year, and he committed suicide not long after, on July 27. By that point Carter had done more photographs of equally harrowing events (though “The vulture and the little girl” would be his most famous) and it would not be too outrageous to speculate that perhaps the weight of all the things he had seen and all the things he had done (and perhaps more importantly not done) in the name of journalistic integrity finally crushed him completely.