There has been much ink (actual and digital) spilled in recent years about just how white fantasy is. Almost every orphan boy (and it’s usually an orphan boy) who rises to become the hero of the realm has been white, and the realm he becomes a hero of is usually some version of Western Europe, but with dragons – and magic, elves, and whatever other fantasy trope/s the author chooses to employ. If non-white people do appear, they are cast as the villains: barbarian hordes. perhaps, or evil warlords intent on enslaving the otherwise peaceful lands the protagonist calls home. Occasionally, an inscrutable “Oriental” wise man or wizard will put in a brief appearance, or perhaps the protagonist will befriend some wandering tribal people whose customs and traditions are suspiciously like an amalgamation of every single Native American stereotype the author had ever heard of.
What this does is distort the view of the fantasy genre as a whole. For the very longest time, it seemed like only white boys and white men had a right to the grand adventures so often depicted in fantasy, while white women and people of colour have been forced to mutilate their sense of themselves in order to fit into the shell of a white boy or a white man – that, or not participate in the creation and consumption of fantasy at all. It felt like all of fantasy fiction was blurring together, a series of white male heroes and magical Western European worlds all smudging into a boring, beige landscape: the genre equivalent of bland oatmeal.
This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher via Netgalley. This does not in any way affect my review. This book is slated for release on November 20, 2018.
This is a review of the seventh book in a series. It contains no spoilers for the book being reviewed, but may contain spoilers for the books that precede it. Please do not read this review before reading the other books in the series.
When reading a long, ongoing series, it can be difficult to keep track of plot events and story elements as they are laid down along the way – especially when reading a series that is more than four books long. In many cases, I have to go back and reread the previous books in a series before engaging with the latest one, just to refresh my memory on what has happened before. This is especially important when the author has a tendency to leave certain story elements – characters, seeming offhanded remarks, even little tidbits of lore – scattered in various books, only for those elements to lead up to something even bigger later in the series.
Personally, I find that sort of thing a lot of fun. Though it can be difficult keeping up sometimes, it’s still immensely pleasurable to pick out elements in previous books and figure out how they fit in the grander scheme of the series’ story arc. I don’t always guess right, of course, but when I do, I have the pleasure of experiencing the kind of “aha!” moment that comes with figuring out the solution to a puzzle.
Almost since the beginning, humanity has simultaneously loved and feared the ocean. This ambivalent relationship is most clearly illustrated by the many gods and goddesses associated with the ocean: at times benevolent, at other times vengeful and full of wroth, ocean deities were a constant reminder to their worshipers that the ocean was never to be underestimated, that it was to be treated at all times with respect.
That is a trend that continues into the present day, with or without the gods. For every story that presents the ocean as a tropical idyll or a means to adventure, there are others that present its dangers. The movie Jaws is a powerful, visceral reminder of the threats that inhabit the ocean, and though Titanic is more known for its love story, it is also an excellent reminder of how thoroughly human hubris collapses in the face of the threats the ocean presents. Even being near shore does not guarantee safety, since people can and often do die of things like riptides and jellyfish stings. And this does not even take into consideration the things that lurk deep in the ocean’s depths, in the places where humans have yet to explore.
Trigger warnings for this novel can be found at the very bottom of this review.
Magic does not exist – at least, not in the sense of what it means in fairytales and fantasy novels. Some people equate the word “magic” with “wonder”, and claim that in that sense, magic has not really disappeared from the world. It still exists: in the old myths and legends, in the superstitions we practice – and in the hopes and dreams we hold close, but are too afraid to tell others about. Such things can be good or bad, of course – not all dreams are good, after all, and not all desires are healthy – but that does not make them any less magical. Dangerous, perhaps, but no less magical for all that.
It is that duality between the magical and the mundane that is among the themes crucial to The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey. The novel is set in the fictional Saint Brigid’s Island on the west coast of Ireland: an isolated scrap of land where the islands inhabitants rely on the sea for their survival. But eking out that living can be difficult, and makes for tough, resilient folk, and a tight-knit community that keeps its secrets well and close.
I first read the Odyssey when I was around nine or ten. Lest anyone think I was far more precocious than I actually was at the time, it was a prose illustrated version of the epic poem. The book was intended for twelve-year-olds and older, but my mother was well aware that my reading level was far in advance of my peers’, and so had no qualms about handing me the book.
That book would become one of the cornerstone books of my childhood: a book that would guide my future reading in various ways, and which still continues to guide my reading today. Thanks to it I have an abiding love for clever characters who think their way out of their problems – even as they think their way into them, sometimes. I had been told for a majority of my life that I was a smart girl, but never that I was strong. So to read about Odysseus, whose prowess and success was defined not by his strength but by his cleverness, his smarts, was to find an archetype to whom I could finally relate.