Fantasy and Murder

the-dark-horseSubjects fairly closely related to one another some of the time eh? Maybe. Maybe not.

Well, not all aspects of George R. R. Martin’s fantasies are totally fantastic and all of them include their share of the darkness and murder frequently a major part of just plain murder or crime stories. But there is so much more and that is where they entertain in their specialized settings and complicated family connections and their never-ending stories.

I began “A Song of Ice and Fire” (ASOIAF) back before the television series had been cast and, withdance-with-dragons a break before A Feast for Crows, finished it only recently. I thought I had given it up but found I could not persevere with that plan. So in August of this year (2016) I determined to finish AFFC even though it was a serious challenge. The challenge disappeared quickly once I was past page 100 and didn’t stop until I finished A Dance with Dragons (1051 pages).  I am looking forward to the release of The Winds of Winter.

If you have watched the video version and enjoyed it, don’t be deterred. I watched only the first season and then went back to my reading. I will watch more of the series but think the books do greater justice to the story and allow me to do my own imagining. Once the video image of Eddard Stark and Tyrion Lannister and Cersei and Jaime and Arya and Sansa etc. etc. are fixed in one’s mind the images will not go away but are only restrictive and not disturbing. I will leave the video until another time. Some readers are held back by the very large character list: the lists in the back of the books are exhaustive and very helpful.

I most enjoy the creativity and the major dedication and effort involved in creating this story. I would encourage you to try it for yourself and be patient with the process. My favourite part was close to the end but I loved every minute of getting there. Daenerys is my newest favourite character but the stories of Tyrion and Jaime and Cersei are rivetting and truly entertaining. Oh, and yes, don’t forget Jon Snow! or Arya or ………

tooth-and-clawAnother dragon story I read recently is written by Jo Walton and is only a slim single volume. It is titled Tooth and Claw and is a very creative look at the personal lives of dragons. It may perhaps have been intended for a preteen and/or teen reader but I (as an adult) found it delightful and perfect for a summer’s read: it succeeded in distracting me from daily worries and comforted me in its “humanity”. And the dragon characters were all people I know!

Alongside my reading of ASOIAF, I read several murder-mystery novels that were quite good.

Firstly, I read three more Walt Longmire titles (Another Man’s Moccasins; The Dark Horse; Junkyard Dogs)  by Craig Johnson. I another-mans-moccasinsenjoy the setting in Wyoming (Big Horn Country) and the characters of Walt who is the Sheriff in Absaroka county and his deputies, Vic and Branch and Ferg and the other regulars such as Ruby, the receptionist and Lucienne Connally, the former sheriff and Henry, Walt’s best friend who runs The Red Pony and is his partner when he needs extra manpower, on and off the rez. I have read seven of this series so far and find them realistic, entertaining and comforting for some reason. The latter possibly has to do with the recognizable humanity always present in the stories no matter how violent and unacceptable some of the actions might be.

blown-redI also read some Canadian mysteries including Susan Philpott’s Blown Red and Dark Territory which deal with care workers helping women threatened by men in domestic situations of a wide variety and Debra Komar’s The Ballad of Jacob Peck which was a case in New Brunswick in the early eighteen hundreds and for which Komar has used whatever written records are still available to her. This is the second of Komar’s works I have tried (The Lynching of Peter Wheeler). Komar is a forensic anthropologist and her work is non-fiction but as enjoyable a read as any fiction novel on similar subjects.

seven-days-deadI read a Greg Îles book, The Turning Angel, just to sample his work. It was a good read but has a quality I associate with American writing and which I don’t enjoy in large doses. Îles’ books are long generally I believe and I find the length unnecessary and sometimes onerous, even pedantic. I recently read a much shorter and more appealing murder-mystery called Seven Days Dead by a Canadian, John Farrow (also publishes under pen name of Trevor Ferguson) which is the second volume of  The Storm Murders series.  Farrow’s detective is retired (!) but always ends up involved directly in a murder investigation. His name is Êmile and his wife Sandra is often drawn into the action of whatever case they are involved in. This one takes place on Grand Manan in New Brunswick where the couple go for their “first real vacation”. Very exciting and all inside of less than 300 pages!


Fairyland Series by Catherynne M. Valente

Books in the Fairyland Series include: The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland –For a Little While #.05; The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making #1; The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There #2; The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two #3.


Girl Who RuledThe short volume (numbered .05) which introduces the series begins: “In which a young girl named Mallow leaves the country for the city, meets a number of Winds, Cats and handsome folk, sees something dreadful, and engages, much against her will, in Politiks of the most muddled kind.”

I particularly enjoyed the references to books :
“I have all the books I could need, and what more could I need than books?”

Life “should be spent in as much peace and good eating and good reading as possible and no undue excitement.”

“…a pack of supplies (mostly books) hung from her strong shoulder, and a cast-iron duck clunked along behind her, trying determinedly to be taken along.”

And also the life wisdom passed on quite frequently:
“It’s true the world will always hurt you, we say, so best to stay with your ducks by a pleasant lake, and feed them the sparks of your dinner-fire, the fat one’s with orange bits especially.”

I read the first book before this prequel and think perhaps it works quite well in that order. I was then quite intrigued by Mallow’s story and ready to discover more about her.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making  is a joyful reading Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairylandexperience. It is introduced  this way: “In Which a Girl Named September is Spirited Off By Means of Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle.” I found these introductions to each chapter delightful promises of the adventuring to be done in that particular chapter.  September is about to turn eleven when this book begins and she is approached almost immediately by the Green Wind who offers her a “ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes…to the great sea which borders Fairyland”. Feeling quite bored, September responds emphatically “Oh, yes!” September neglects saying goodbye to her parents but she “had read a great number of books and knew that parents are only angry until they have discovered that their little adventurer has been to Fairyland and not the corner pub, and then everything is alright.”

This book was a New York Times Children’s Bestseller and won the Andre Norton Award. Neil Gaiman described it as “A glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom.”

These books introduce new terminology and challenge young and older reader alike: conservatism as a personality trait, trapezoidal, rhomboid, tesseract, latitude and longitude, cloud types and cartography are all introduced within a few pages of one another.  And this is just the beginning. They are quickly followed by a Temporary Visa and a Customs declaration which must be filled out upon entering Fairyland. And then she must set out upon a quest. She meets wairwulfs and witches including one named Hello and her sister named Goodbye and their husband named Manythanks.

Girl who Fell Beneath FairylandThe Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There opens with this dedication:

“For everyone who has taken a chance on a girl
with a funny name and her flying library.

Let the Revel begin.”

The list of Dramatis Personae for this book is a delight in itself. Besides September and her parents it includes the following:

the Hreinns, Taiga and Neep; Fairy King Charlie Crunchcrab; the Wyverary A-Through-L; Aubergine, a Night-Dodo; Belinda Cabbage, a Fairy Physickist; The Onion-Man; Saturday, a Marid; Glasswort Groof, a Goblin; Halloween, Queen of Fairyland-Below; The Silver Wind, a Following Wind; Gleam, a Paper Lantern; The Watchful Dress, a Useful Tool; Imogen, the Leopard of Little Breezes; Nod, a Dream-Eating Tapir and many, many more.

The book begins with some thoughts about secrets, a subject which will also have significance in the next book of the series. “Secrets are delicate things” but they can “get stuck inside you, and very slowly boil up your bones for their bitter soup. Then the secret has you, not the other way round.” Valente includes much of this sort of wisdom in her tales of fairyland and the reader may take it for her own edification or ignore it at her peril!

It has been nearly a year since September went to Fairyland when this book starts and she wants very much to return. She has turned thirteen and she and her mother make a cake (they had saved up their ration cards because there is a war going on) and then they go to a film about spies and she got three new books, “one of them in French, sent all the way from a village liberated by her father (with a little help). While she was out reading in the long May grass when the “breeze ruffled the pages of her birthday books but she did not look up until the rowboat flew at ripping speed over her head on the tips of the wheatstalks as if they were waves.” “September’s mother stepped out of the house, looking for her daughter, her eyes puffy with tears. But there was no girl in the wheat anymore, only three brand-new books, a bit of toffee still in its wax wrapper, and a pair of crows (Wit and Study) winging off, cawing after a rowboat that had already vanished ahead of them.” When she awakens after being dropped on the border between our world and Fairyland a great forest surrounds her and she discovers the “best of birthday presents”! She is back in Fairyland. She is also alone. So it remains to be seen how this adventure will go but you can be sure, readers, that it will be an ADVENTURE!

This book was A Time Magazine Best Book of 2012 and Booklist described it as follows:

“Valente’s inviting, lush, and densely detailed world is so evocative of well-travelled lands such as Neverland and Oz, but, at the same time, is uniquely its own.”

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two is reviewed by Sophie ScribeGirl Who Soared Over here and it is a good summary by someone who hasn’t read the earlier books in the series.  I like the dedication on this third book:

For all those who take the hand of a brightly colored stranger
and journey back to Fairyland once a year

and everyone
whoever thought
they were too young
or too old.

This book has a fantastically clever and accurate “essay” on lies in the first four pages. It applies to all ages: one just has to pay attention and read it more than once.

September has grown up and/or is growing up quickly in this volume so it is even more suitable for older children of all ages. Don’t let the latter claim throw you off: it just means that adults could learn a great deal from this book (not that they couldn’t learn quite a bit from the previous books in the series)!

There are some great library references in this book. The librarian herself is something wonderful to consider:

The actual Librarian is a Periwig,  “Aldermanic Order, from the Foxtail Haberdashery…a wonder with figures and sorting and classification and fiddly things that take patience that people’s heads just don’t have.”

Here are some quotes from the librarian:

“A silent Library is a sad Library.”

“A Library should be full of exclamations! Shouts of delight and horror as the wonders of the world are discovered or the lies of the heavens uncovered or the wild adventures of devil-knows-who sent romping out of the pages.”

“The books, you know, they have opinions. Factions.  Pitched battles.  Right now, the Fictionals have the advantage – they’re the flashy ones, after all, and whatever they say in their pages goes, even if it doesn’t make a  lick of sense and rhymes besides. Non-Fiction has had to abide by the rules of what really is, and that is just exhausting.”

“Clothes are a story you choose to tell about yourself, a different one every day.”

“A Librarian must be stalwart and bold: she must give information when it is asked for!”

There is much much more of this amazingly entertaining creative material to be found throughout this series. If you have the least interest in going to Fairyland I heartily recommend going with September.