5 Favorite Books I Read Last Month (August 2013)
#3 “Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe” — Edited by J. E. Mooney and Bill Fawcett
It seems there’s been a master of fantasy and science fiction out in the world this whole time and I didn’t even know it. Much in the same way that “Songs of the Dying Earth” was written to honor the world and wonder of Jack Vance‘s writing, “Shadows of the New Sun”–as its title makes clear–was written in honor of Gene Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe is famous for producing “The Book of the New Sun,” a tetralogy ranked (according to its Wikipedia page) as “number three among 36 all-time best fantasy novels before 1990.” So that’s nifty.
Unlike my experience with “Songs of the Dying Earth,” in which I caught the references to Vance’s work (having consumed every bit of the “Dying Earth” as possible), I came to “Shadows of the New Sun” a Wolfe neophyte, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Obviously, if you’re a Wolfe fan, this book will be right up your alley, but if you’re like me and haven’t heard of the guy or his work before this, don’t worry–it stands up all on its own.
Of the 19 stories contained within this collection, two of my particular favorites were “A Touch of Rosemary” by Timothy Zahn (of the Star Wars Extended Universe fame) and “Snowchild” by Michael A. Stackpole, both of which involved wizards, and both of which reminded me of Vance’s work. As Wikipedia classifies “The Book of the New Sun” as part of the “Dying Earth” genre, my feelings towards those stories shouldn’t really be much of a surprise to anyone.
But they aren’t all low fantasy. There’s “Epistoleros,” by Aaron Allston, set in an alternate history Texas whose title is among the best I’ve ever seen (once I finally got it–bravo to you, sir), and “Tunes from Limbo, But I Digress” which is a delightful sci-fi story by Judi Rohrig.
In other words, regardless of whether you’re a fan of Wolfe’s before picking up this book, you certainly will be afterwards.
#2 “Mage’s Blood” — David Hair
My sincerest compliments to you, Mr. Hair, for “Mage’s Blood,” the first book of the “Moontide Quartet.” Like the #4 entry on this list, Hair’s book also deals with a world that’s similar to our own, one with Crusades launched by Western-styled folks against Muslim-ish easterners. Unlike “The Thousand Names,” however, “Mage’s Blood” positively teems with magic–launching it to the #2 spot on my list.
Magic and how it works is (for the most part) explained in great detail, and understanding it is integral to a number of the plot’s sticky situations. A mage who’s strong in elemental magic might be weak to one who can manipulate thoughts. Another might be able to quicken their blows to strike at an opponent’s weak points, but a mage skilled in necromancy is very difficult to kill… And so on. As someone who likes intricate systems, I enjoyed this aspect of “Mage’s Blood,” especially since Hair does such a good job of explaining how things work in the context of the narrative.
To the plot! Two continents, separated at their nearest point by three hundred miles of open ocean, are joined every twelve years by the Leviathan Bridge, a massive construct created by a mighty wizard, when the moon’s tide is just right (thus the title of the quartet). For a while, there was relative peace between the two continents, even though magic is thought divine in the West (literally–the Jesus-figure in the dominant religious mythology granted magical ability to his disciples and all their descendants) while in the east it’s considered a product of Shaitan.
Unfortunately, the Third Crusade is about to head across the bridge while the Eastern Shihad is prepared to meet the infidels. Told through a number of perspectives, including a failed young mage, a world-weary mercenary, a clever master spy (whose last name is literally “Gyle”) and a lowly market girl who finds herself married to one of the most powerful wizards in existence, “Mage’s Blood” is an awesome novel full of amazing set-pieces, scenes and characters.
I was sad to put it down, but pleased to know there’s three more books coming. (His official website says the second book, “Scarlet Tides,” comes out this month!)
And what could be my most favorite book from this past month, you wonder? I’ll tell you! (On the next page.)