Re-read: Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Picture by Carlos Cram on Unsplash

The next time someone who has never read high fantasy asks me to recommend a book to start with, I shall point them in the direction of Dark Lord of Derkholm. It’s a parody of the genre, but also a good example of a high fantasy novel.

It is also packed with irony (a joke in itself considering the effect iron has on magic and how magic is the backbone of high fantasy), is delightfully subtle, and lacks the tedious self-importance  that plagues most of these works.

Derkholm is set in a world that is practically enslaved to host fantasy adventures for tour groups from another world (which sounds like ours). These organised adventures are practically all that the inhabitants of the world do; it’s being going on for years; and they’ve just about reached their limit.

A decision is made to put a stop to the tours and two oracles are consulted as to how to go about doing so. The book recounts what follows.

DLoDIt’s genius how DWJ hides the main tropes and themes of high fantasy (like the reluctant hero and the battle between good and evil) behind the sham situation that is the plot of Derkholm. Nothing is quite what it seems as every character is playing a double role in the story, and fulfilling meta roles too.

As with all DWJ’s books, the moment everything clicks into place is so hugely satisfying that you can almost hear your bones and brain sighing in contentment. I’ve heard that the author had once mentioned that she wrote her novels without much planning, but simply by letting the story flow out of her. Sounds like magic to me.

This re-read was done via audiobook (using Scribd), published by HarperCollins UK Audio and narrated by Jonathan Broadbent.

Re-read: Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

DEEP SECRET

By Diana Wynne Jones

Publisher: TOR Books

Back in 2016, I started a re-read of Diana Wynne Jones’s books, but did not get at all far. All I managed was Hexwood, Fire and Hemlock and The Time of the Ghost. I think it’s time I admit that I can’t do reading challenges if it involves listing specific titles ahead of time. I can only read what I want to read right then and there. I guess that’s fine.

deeep-secretA couple of weeks ago, I happened to want to re-read Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones. This is a book that has been one of my Top Ten favourites by Diana Wynne Jones for the longest time, and a year or two ago, I bought a Tor Books first edition to replace my ratty, abridged Starscape paperback.

When I say ‘abridged’, I really mean censored. This was my first read of the ‘original’ Deep Secret and it’s only now that I know what got cut.

Thing is, Deep Secret is one of DWJ’s adult fantasies so I have no idea why the need for censorship. Most of what is snipped is to do with sex, but none of it is explicit. ‘Orgy’ is removed twice, but they are just mentions of such an event, not detailed descriptions people having wild sex. There is also the deletion of a description of someone’s face after it’s been shot off, but it’s a one liner and hardly dripping with blood and gore.

There is one sentence that made me sit up and gag a little, but more about that later.Read More »

The Dark is Rising

A book club I belong to is reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence next. We spent the last six months reading The Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner and so, having immersed ourselves in the world of Attolian politics, diplomacy and intrigue, we will now be entering a world of Celtic magic and mythology and lingering there a while.

WhatsApp Image 2021-07-07 at 15.43.43The books in The Dark is Rising Sequence are Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree. I will try to blog about the books as I re-read them. I used to read the sequence every year but I haven’t done that in a while. After all this time, the thought of reading them again is still giving me a thrill. I first encountered the books back in 1988 (the Penguin Omnibus edition in the picture is the very book I found, in one of the secondhand bookstores on Bras Basah Road) and I remember reading them over a rainy weekend when I was between lodgings and staying at Singapore YWCA. The YWCA was not, then, the modern building you see these days on Fort Canning Road. I can hardly remember what it was like back in the 80s except that it was old, worn, with creaky floorboards and peeling paint. If I’d had a smart phone then, I’m sure I’d have taken countless photos. As it is, I can’t even picture the building (was it blue and white?), nor the dormitory where I slept. However, the old house and the rainy weather must have fit well with Cooper’s magical world and the old battle between the light and dark that she brought so vividly to life. I read all five books in that weekend. I can’t wait to re-read them, starting with Over Sea, Under Stone. The challenge will be not to read the whole sequence in one weekend.

Interview: Tutu Dutta

TutuDutta1

Tutu Dutta retells Malaysian folktales and also creates original stories based on the myths and legends of the region and beyond. Her latest book is The Blood Prince of Langkasuka (Penguin Random House SEA), inspired by the Malaysian legend of the fanged king of the Bujang Valley. The following Q&A was done over email. For more of Tutu, visit her blog Betel, Banyan, Basil & Bamboo.Read More »

Book Review: Akata Witch & Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

 

Akata Witch is about the coming of age of Sunny Nwazue, a twelve-year-old Nigerian girl who lives in Aba, Nigeria. Sunny is American-born and an albino, and both these things get her picked on at school, including called ‘akata’, a derogatory term that Nigerians reserve for Africans who are born in foreign lands.

When Sunny is beaten up by bullies, she is defended and befriended by her classmate, a quiet, gentle boy called Orlu. Orlu introduces her to the insolent, sassy Chichi and to Sasha, an angry 15-year-old African-American who’s on an extended visit to Nigeria because his  parents think he needs sorting out.

Through Orlu, Chichi and Sasha Sunny gets to know the world of Leopard Knocks, a hidden village where wonders as well as horrors lurk. Her new friends also help Sunny discover her true self as a Leopard Person, someone with magical abilities. But while they come from Leopard families, Sunny’s parents and brothers are Lambs, non-magical people from whom Sunny must keep her identity a secret.

Akata Witch is largely about Sunny figuring out who she is. The story also establishes that Sunny has a part to play in an important and potentially catastrophic event that she sees in a vision reflected in the flame of a candle. And it makes plain that Sunny functions best when working with Orlu, Chichi and Sasha. Together, they form a coven, their individual powers and unique abilities most potent when united.

In Akata Witch, the four battle Black Hat, a Leopard Person whose thirst for power has led him to work with a malevolent spirit named Ekwensu.

In Akata Warrior, the next book in the series, Sunny must face Ekwensu again at the same time as deal with her role and responsibilities as Leopard Person living with a Lamb family, in a largely Lamb society.Read More »

Review: Water Into Wine by Joyce Chng

WaterintoWine_300WATER INTO WINE

By Joyce Chng

Publisher: Annorlunda Books, ebook

[Some minor spoilers ahead]

Xin inherits a vineyard and decides to embark on a new life (and career), packing up and moving, with her mother and children, to Tertullian VI.

I found the story an easy read, and I was eager to turn its virtual pages as I found Xin an interesting, intriguing character, and I was eager to find out more about her … him?

Sadly, when the book ended I still had lots of questions about the character. Read More »

Review: Dongeng by Anna Tan

Dongeng[This review contains spoilers]

DONGENG

By Anna Tan

Publisher: Pronoun, 214 pages

The prelude to Dongeng by Anna Tan sets the scene and fulfils the promise of the book’s title: This is a story set in the world of fairytales. Sang Kancil makes a brief appearance, confirming that, as the title suggests, the fairytales will be those of the Malay world.

The title also seems to remind us that the world we are about to enter, via the story, is an imaginary one. While we may be expected to suspend our disbelief as we immerse ourselves in Tan’s words, the title stresses that this is a fairy story. Or is it? Certainly, as I read more, I began to see that the book’s title might allude to the doubt and skepticism felt by the novel’s protagonist about what she encounters. Indeed, the title seems also to cheekily reference the reader’s own assumptions that the story being told is pure fantasy.

‘Chapter One’ plunges us into the thick of things: Sara, the protagonist, finds herself in the middle of a forest, on a moss-covered dais no less. A city girl, who lives in Kuala Lumpur, she is immediately aware that something really odd is afoot, and so, one of her first observations is that her handbag has travelled to the forest with her and that nothing in it has gone missing — as it would be inconvenient to have to apply for a new identity card and cancel her credit card. This response is rather incongruous, but not entirely implausible, I suppose, considering how traumatised Sara must be to find herself whisked away to another world.Read More »

Re-reads: The Stolen Lake (The Wolves Chronicles) by Joan Aiken

TheStolenLake1
The cover of the first edition published by Jonathan Cape and illustrated by Pat Marriot.

One of my favourite fantasy series is Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles. There are twelve books, including a prequel (The Whispering Mountain), with  Dido Twite the protagonist in most of the stories.

After I read Calmgrove‘s post about The Stolen Lake, I couldn’t resist re-reading it. It’s the fourth book in the main series and my favourite as I find it has the most thrilling and unusual plot. The ever plucky and pragmatic Dido is also especially endearing in this installment. I like her so much and find her optimism and can-do attitude inspiring and cheering. (I want to be Dido when I grow up.)

In this story, Dido is onboard the HMS Thrush, heading back to England. Dido, having escaped death and worse in the previous two books (Blackhearts in Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket), is looking forward to going home and is dismayed when the Thrush is forced to make a detour after the Captain of the ship is summoned by the Queen of New Cumbria (a country in Roman America, Aiken’s alternate history version of South America). Surprisingly, the Queen requests that he bring Dido with him.

stolen lake2
The Houghton Mifflin edition, with cover art by Edward Gorey.

It turns out that Queen Ginevra requires help to get back the country’s ceremonial lake which she claims has been stolen by the King Mabon, ruler of the neighbouring Lyonesse. Even more surprising is that the Queen is apparently more than a thousand years old and is waiting for the return of her husband, King Arthur. Could her longevity be linked to the noticeable absence of female children in New Cumbria?

Dido is soon in the thick of another adventure, this time one involving an imprisoned princess; shape-shifting witches; human sacrifice; cannibalism; and reincarnation.

I’d resolved to re-read less this year in order to make some progress with my TBR list, but I’ve decided to just read whatever I feel like. I will be re-reading Black Hearts in Battersea next.

Review: The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

night-paradeThe Night Parade is about Saki, a thirteen-year-old Tokyo brat who is mad at having to spend four days of her precious vacation visiting her grandmother in a remote village, instead of with her odious-sounding ‘friends’, including the venomous bully Hana.

Saki, her younger brother and their parents are at her grandmother’s village to celebrate the Obon festival, which is something like Qing Ming for the Chinese. Saki is glued to her mobile phone, more interested in getting a signal than bonding with her grandma.

She’s an average teenager, basically; a typical brat who doesn’t appreciate history, culture and traditions. She (probably) loves her family, but at this point in her life she considers them boring spoilers-of-fun. To her, the countryside is also boring – because it’s so far away from the city and malls and concerts.

However, while Saki is far from likeable, her flaws are familiar – not only do I have teenage kids, and one tween, which means I know all about children grumbling while on holiday, ignoring the beauty around them and focusing on how they miss their video games, and YouTube vlogs, but I also remember being that age and getting stupidly angry about going on trips if it meant missing my favourite telly programmes . So, sure Saki’s irritating, but she’s also believable and recognisable, and I understand that the person she is at 13 isn’t the person she’ll be forever. Also, I expected her experiences in the book to make her grow and change for the better, and so, become a more sympathetic character. Thankfully, she does become less bratty by the end of the book, although, in my opinion, no more likeable.Read More »

Re-read: The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones

dwjttotg

My re-read of Diana Wynne Jones IS continuing, I swear, although it keeps getting interrupted by me being in the mood for other books (currently, Qiu Xialong’s Chief Inspector Chen mysteries). After a hugely satisfying Hexwood re-read, I started on the Unexpected Magic anthology, abandoned that and moved on to The Time of the Ghost.

The Time of the Ghost was my very first DWJ, bought in 1986, in Singapore when I was doing my ‘A ‘levels at National Junior College. I seem to remember a table with books laid out on it, at some kind of market or near a hawker centre. I think it was in Jurong West, where I stayed in a rented room. I still have the book I bought (above), a hardback Macmillan edition, with cover art by Maggie Heslop.Read More »