Reading, Short And Deep #078 – The Rejected Sorcerer by Jorge Luis Borges


Reading, Short And DeepReading, Short And Deep #078

Eric S. Rabkin and Jesse Willis discuss The Rejected Sorcerer by Jorge Luis Borges

Here’s a link to a PDF of the story.

The Rejected Sorcerer was first published as El Brujo Postergado in Crítica: Revista Multicolor de los Sábados 1.4 (2 September 1933).

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Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Siege Perilous from the Mongoliad Cycle

SFFaudio Review

Siege PerilousSiege Perilous (The Mongoliad Cycle #5)
By E.D. deBirmingham; Performed by Angela Dawe
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours
Themes: / Mongoliad / fantasy / Rome / Holy Grail /

Publisher summary:

Ocyrhoe, a young, cunning fugitive from Rome, safeguards a chalice of subtle but great power. Finding herself in France, she allies with the persecuted, pacifist Cathar sect in their legendary mountaintop stronghold, Montségur. There she resists agents of the Roman Church and its Inquisition, fights off escalating, bloody besiegement by troops of the King of France, and shields the mysterious cup from the designs of many.Percival, the heroic Shield-Brethren knight from The Mongoliad, consumed by his mystical visions of the Holy Grail, is also drawn to Montségur—where the chalice holds the key to his destiny. Arrayed against Percival and Ocyrhoe are enemies both old and new who are determined to reveal the secrets of the Shield-Brethren with the hope of destroying the order once and for all.Alive with memorable characters, intense with action and intrigue, Siege Perilous conjures a medieval world where the forces of faith confront the forces of fear. Choices made by characters in The Mongoliad reach their ultimate conclusion in this fifth and concluding novel—and all of Christendom is at stake.

And so it ends. When I started The Mongoliad series last year, I thought it was just a trilogy. I had no idea what to expect with the series as a whole and with the idea of “group fiction.” I had no idea I’d be getting into a historical fantasy-type book (series) with a little mysticism thrown in for fun, had no real idea the breadth that the series would take. Now that I’m done with the main series of Foreworld books, I’m a little sad to see them go. Certainly I’ve liked some better than others, but this book, Siege Perilous, was a fitting and mostly satisfying end.

If you’ve read my reviews of the previous books (Book One, Book Two, Book Three, and Book Four), you’ll recall that my biggest frustration with these books is the expanse of story that is covered. There are multiple plot lines with widely varying characters across a wide geographical area. This makes it hard to keep track of who is who and what’s going on in any given story line, and made the books less “fun” to read. This book didn’t have the same problem. There were still a few story lines (3-4), but they quickly came to all be in the same setting; we were able to see the same event from a few different points of view. Without the confusion of the world and the various goals each person was trying to meet, since those had all come together, it was much easier to follow, and as such made the overall story more enjoyable to read (listen to).

This may have also been helped by the fact that this seems to have been written by only one person. Previous books in the Foreworld Saga were written by at least 3 authors. I’m not sure if these were group writing events, where everybody weighed into each plot line, or if everybody wrote a separate story, but the end result was a difficult-to-follow main story. At first, I wasn’t sure if E.D. deBirmingham was a real person or if it was a pseudonym for a group of the writers, but this 2012 Sword & Laser Google Hangout with the authors from the series demonstrates that she’s really just one person. She also seems to be one of the only women in the project, if not the only woman. I think the woman’s touch on the writing–the battle scenes in particular–was observable in the book as the battle scenes were not as…well, drawn out in this one, as they were in past books.

Plot-wise, this book wraps up the story of the quest for the Holy Grail. Early on in the series, it became obvious that Percival had visions and was on a quest of some sort for the Holy Grail. All of the movements of the Knights Brethren was driven by that. They met and worked with the Binders and the Shield Maidens, they fought the Mongols and the Levonian Brotherhood, all along their quest. When we left the Knights Brethren in Katabasis, the Mongols had been left to decide their new Kahn of Kahns, Ferronantus had died trying to preserve the Spirit Banner, and Raphael found himself talking to Leanne and Gonsuk to get the small sprig of wood that was important to the Spirit Banner and the Mongols. Back in Rome, Cardinal Vieshi had been elected Pope after mad Father Rodrigo was killed by Ferrens after trying to kill Ohseriweh (a Binder orphan). Ohseriwheh was sent away from the Holy Roman Emperor (King Frederic) to protect the Holy Grail that Father Rodrigo had held/used, and Ferrens became a member of Frederic’s court. This book more or less starts with that setup, and takes us along with Raphael, Percival, Ferrens, Ohseriweh, Cardinal Vieshi, and Levonian Herrmeister Deitrich. Through various means, they find themselves in Carcassonne, in a part of the Crusade involving the Cathars and an isolated mountaintop fort. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so that’s where I’ll leave it, but suffice it to say that the book mostly takes place here, through the eyes of these characters, as they struggle to find the rightful vehicle for the Holy Grail.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I did not particularly enjoy the audiobook version. The narrator for this book was Angela Dawe, a break from the previous books’ narration by Luke Daniels. Dawe’s voice had some quirks that didn’t work for me with an audiobook. Quite often, it seemed like she had an higher voice at the end of the sentence than the beginning. This made it sound like some of the sentences were questions, rather than statements. Her pacing was odd, too. There were longer-than-normal breaks between each sentence, the silence lasted just a beat longer than expected. Oddly, the narration didn’t seem to take a breath or pause when I would have expected there to be commas. Further, and this may be due to editing, there wasn’t much of a gap between section breaks within a chapter. This made it hard, sometimes, to know immediately that a new point of view was coming and would make me confused until my brain registered that there was a section break. I’m not sure what lead to this narrator’s selection, but I wasn’t as happy with it as I was Luke Daniels’ narration.

All in all, I’m glad I read the series. I actually will not be leaving the world quite yet, as I have a few of the SideQuest Adventure books and another side story in the world. I’ll be reading those soon, to keep up my familiarity with the world. I definitely think that listening to this book shortly after finishing Katabasis helped keep the overall plot in my head. To those who might be interested in reading the Foreworld Saga books, I do strongly recommend reading at least the 5 main-line books in order and in close time proximity to one another. Siege Perilous, while in many respects an outsider in the saga, may have in fact been my favorite, and provided a mostly satisfying end to the Saga.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of Academ’s Fury by Jim Butcher

SFFaudio Review

Academ's Fury by Jim ButcherAcadem’s Fury
By Jim Butcher; Read by Kate Reading
17 CDs – 21 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN:  0143143772
Themes: / Fantasy / High Fantasy / Elementals / Battle / Primitive Culture / Rome /

Having been a fan of Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy Dresden Files series for some time, as well as a consummate reader of traditional fantasy, I recently decided to delve into the author’s Codex Alera series. I found the series opener, Furies of Calderon, to be a solid entry for Butcher into the epic fantasy genre, but my recent review also pointed to some room for improvement. After devouring its sequel, Academ’s Fury, I’m happy to report that Butcher has found his voice and set the tone for the series.

A brief refresher: the Codex Alera series takes place in the land of, you guessed it, Alera, whose inhabitants possess the ability to control elemental powers called furies. The lone exception is the series’s prime protagonist, Tavi, who has come of age without developing any apparent skill in furycrafting.

Academ’s Fury skips ahead two years from the conclusion of the previous book, and finds Tavi studying at the Academy of Alera Imperia, the land’s capitol city. The novel thus adopts many tropes of the “school novel”: bullies, arrogant teachers, and mischievous rule-breaking. Tavi also gains a window into the realm’s politics by serving as page to First Lord Gaius Sextus. Further raising the stakes, an isolated adventure in Furies of Calderon turns out to have disastrous implications both for the valley of Calderon and for the imperial city itself. The result is a novel that weaves these plot treads together into a rich, satisfying tapestry.

Like its predecessor, Academ’s Fury follows the viewpoints of several characters, although Tavi is clearly the linchpin. The Cursor Amara, siblings Bernard and Isana, and the treacherous Fidelias all reprise their roles, and all these develop in significant and sometimes surprising ways. The Marat wolf tribe, which played a pivotal part in Furies of Calderon, also returns under the capable leadership of Chieftain Doroga. The chieftain’s spirited daughter Kitai also figures heavily in the story. Several new characters join these veterans in the tale’s events. The only notable standout from among them, for me, is Antillar Maximus, Tavi’s fiercely loyal friend at the Academy.

More importantly, Academ’s Fury expands the scope of the world of Codex Alera by introducing two new races: the wolf-like canim and the insectile Vord. Both races possess serious martial prowess and present a serious threat to Alera. Unlike the Canim, however, the cold, calculating Vord cannot be reasoned with. By means of worm-like parasitic scouts, the Vord take possession of humans, preserving their physical stature and mental abilities but blotting out their souls. This dynamic makes for a few horrific scenes of which Stephen King might be proud, and the Vord warriors and queens ooze vileness and evil both literally and metaphorically. The battle scenes in Academ’s Fury resemble those of R. A. Salvatore or early Terry Brooks in their invention and frenetic pace.

Jim Butcher utilizes the novel’s setting in the Academy at Alera Imperia to disseminate information about the world without resorting to mere “info-dump” modalities. Through Tavi’s readings, dialogues, and examinations, the book takes a deeper look into the history of Alera, including its tenuous connections to the Rome of our world. We also get a brief glimpse under the hood at the mechanics of furycrafting.

The novel’s greater breadth of scope and its focus on Romanesque political intrigues address the major complaints I had with the first book, but Academ’s Fury still isn’t perfect. For one thing, the pacing flags somewhat near the end. A bigger defect, to my mind, has to do with the character development. Most of the characters do develop in interesting and believable ways, but a few of them come off as flat. Sadly, this is true in some ways of Tavi, who always seems to get the better of his rage, his fear, or his other negative traits. He’s a fascinating character, but his lack of internal conflict and teenage angst diminishes his believability. Similarly Doroga, the Marat chieftain, fits too perfectly the archetype of the “noble savage”. He’s a lovable character, but he exists in a hundred other variations in a hundred other fantasy books.

Kate Reading’s performance once again brings the Codex Alera series to life. Each character receives full articulation, so that even without dialogue tags it’s clear who’s doing the talking. The Latin scholar in me occasionally winces at her non-classical pronunciation of certain words (she renders princeps “prin-SEPS” instead of “prin-KEPS”), most listeners probably won’t take issue with  such minor details.

Minor qualms aside, Academ’s Fury improves on the first novel of the Codex Alera and continues to promise great things for the series.

Posted by Seth Wilson

LibriVox Noir: The Aeneid by Virgil

Aural Noir: Online Audio

LibriVoxOut now from LibriVox is an early English translation of an epic poem. Aeneas’s story is the story of the foundations of the Roman republic and the Roman empire. Its ethos plays an important role in shaping who we are nearly two millennia after it was written. I think of it as the first in a long tradition of NOIR LITERATURE. Sure, you thought that the story of Romulus and Remus was grim. But that’s much later in the history of the Roman people – at least according to the greatest Roman poet, Publius Vergilius Maro, better known as Virgil. Virgil wrote this earlier history of the Roman origins for his Emperor, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, better known as Augustus.

If you’ve read The Iliad you’ve already met Aeneas. The end of The Iliad is the beginning of The Aeneid. Aeneas leads his surviving, but homeless, Trojans to Italy, where they become the ancient ancestors to the Romans. The first six of the poem’s twelve books tell the story of Aeneas’ wanderings from Troy to Italy, and the second set of six books chronicle the war for the new Trojan homeland. In his war against the brave and honorable, but hot-headed Turnus, Aeneas keeps his cool (as a good Roman should). In fact, Aeneas is everything a good Roman should be, full of filial piety, brave, resistant to the temptations of distracting women, and ultimately ruthless.

Some scholars think that the final scene of this epic is unfinished. I understand why they think that, they say the meter is off, that Virgil died before he could make it fully symmetrical. I choose not to believe that. I choose to believe the final lines of this epic poem are exactly as Virgil intended: That is, COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY NOIR.

Here are the final lines of the poem’s Fitzgerald translation:

“Then to his glance appeared the accurst swordbelt surmounting Turnus’ shoulder, shining with its familiar studs – the strap Young Pallas wore when Turnus wounded him and left him dead upon the field; now Turnus bore that enemy token on his shoulder – enemy still. For when the sight came home to him, Aeneas raged at the relic of his anguish worn by this man as trophy. Blazing up and terrible in his anger, he called out: ‘You in your plunder, torn from one of mine, shall I be robbed of you? This wound will come from Pallas: Pallas makes this offering, and from your criminal blood exacts his due.’ He sank his blade in fury in Turnus’ chest…”

Aeneas, who throughout the rest of the poem symbolizes pietas (reason), in this final scene becomes furor (fury). Since this poem is considered the national epic of the Roman people, it seems fitting that the Roman virtues are at the fore of the concluding scene. Romans were vengeful, pitiless, with what Friedrich Nietzsche called a “master morality” – the morality of the strong-willed. What is good is what is helpful; what is bad is what is harmful. For Virgil, and Augustus, the strong-willed Roman morality is not needing the approval of a higher power. For us, in certain circumstances it leaves us saying things like… “Forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

LibriVox Noir Audiobook - The Aeneid by VirgilThe Aeneid
By Publius Vergilius Maro; Translated by John Dryden; Read by various
24 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – 13 Hours 39 Minutes [POETRY]
Published: October 2008
The Aeneid is a Latin epic written by Virgil in the 1st century BC that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who traveled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. The first six of the poem’s twelve books tell the story of Aeneas’ wanderings from Troy to Italy, and the poem’s second half treats the Trojans’ ultimately victorious war upon the Latins, under whose name Aeneas and his Trojan followers are destined to be subsumed. The poem was commissioned from Vergil by the Emperor Augustus to glorify Rome. Several critics think that the hero Aeneas’ abandonment of the Cartheginian Queen Dido, is meant as a statement of how Augustus’ enemy, Mark Anthony, should have behaved with the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra.

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Posted by Jesse Willis