The city of Merina is rich and undefended, and falls prey to the conquering Emperor Balthasar, his dark mage Apolon, and his heir Leopold. The dowager queen Adele, her daughter queen Lydana, and the heir Shelyra surrender the city to save it from destruction, but go underground to fight back against the conquerors.
Ho hum. I said the Eight Dreadful Words on page 179, and stopped reading, when I got too bored just waiting for something to happen. By this stage we've had lots of background introductory material, on the three Merinan women, the three enemy men, and various other 'colourful' characters. But that's all we've had (apart from a little heavy-handed foreshadowing about evil gems), it's nearly half-way into the book, and I'm bored.
Maybe the problem is that each of the three writers has provided one book's worth of build-up, all lumped together? Or maybe the problem is that I don't like the kind of plot structure where things get worse, and worse, and worse, and ... until, finally, the characters do something. Maybe the writers are trying to draw a picture of a situation so bad that even the 'ordinary' folk will revolt; I'm just sitting there saying "what are you waiting for: fight back, dammit!"
Tales of life under the 'bloody sun' of Darkover, a lost human colony, reverted to feudalism, where some humans have interbred with the natives to produce the Comyn, a psi-caste of rulers. The series ranges right from the original Landfall, through the Ages of Chaos where the new psi powers lead to devastating wars, through to the crisis of recontact with mainstream, relatively alien, Terrans.
The early books in the series are okay romps (and are probably half a point lower than the overall series rating), but in 1975 with Heritage of Hastur something changed, and they improved, and deepened, dramatically (and most of these are probably half a point higher than the overall series rating). The focus of plots varies widely throughout the series, but they are known for dealing sensitively with the intense intimacy between husband and wife brought by psi-contact, with homosexual relations, both male and female, with the place of women in a feudal society, with the use and abuse of power, with culture shock.
Meanwhile, Linnea has never ceased to search for her lost daughter, Kierestelli, whom she and Regis were forced to send into hiding with the native chieri. Almost by chance, Linnea reconnects along the telepathic relays with Kierestelli, now called Silvana of Nevarsin Tower. Silvana, convinced that her parents abandoned her, rejects her mother’s overture and returns to her hidden home among the chieri. But the chieri once roamed the stars themselves, and they have not forgotten the terror of warfare in space—lessons that they pass on to Silvana.
Unknown to the ruling Comyn, danger now fills the skies above Darkover, and Silvana holds half the key to protecting their world. Gareth holds the other half, if he can only stay alive long enough to discover what that key is…
JayJay's third marriage has just ended as disastrously as the previous two, and she's looking for an escape. In her local bookshop she finds a tourist guide to the unknown small European country of Glenraven, and feels unaccountably drawn to it. Her best friend Sophie, still mourning the death of her daughter, feels just as compelled to accompany her.
That guide book is, of course, magical, and has summoned these two unlikely heroes to Glenraven to save it from the immortal tyrant Watchmistress. Our heroes, however, are oblivious of this fact, and, thinking they are ordinary tourists, blunder about the country, upsetting all the careful plans of their desperate summoners. They soon realise, however, that something Is Not Right, but with their sophisticated western background, it takes them a while to accept magic.
Unlike many generic fantasy quests, the plot is not just a straight line from start to goal. It has sufficient complexity, and sufficient setbacks and twists, to keep up the interest. I think I detect the hand of Holly Lisle in the loving details of some of the more gruesome murders. A fun read, if a slightly rushed conclusion, and just a single sentence paving the way for a sequel, if needs be.
The promised sequel had indeed materialised. This time out the magic Guidebook selects Kate Beacham as its hero. She's a wiccan, disowned by her own family, facing being run out of town by the local bigots, who have just killed her horse. Then a bunch of Glenravenites gate to her cottage, pursued by a monster. Kate kills it, but is then captured by the very people she rescued. The guidebook then informs her she has to team up with these people, before Callion and the Watchers destroy both of their worlds. But one of them is a traitor. Not her best day.
Most of the action takes place in our Machine World, rather than Glenraven, this time. The action proceeds briskly, and there are some funny moments as Kate passes off her non-human visitors as SF costumers. It is rather obvious who the traitor is from early on, however, just by employing the usual mystery story algorithms.
The story is spoiled slightly by the overt preachiness in a couple of places. But it makes a very pleasant change to have a mediaevaloid fantasy where the occupants both of our world, and the other, agree that this world does has its advantages -- and to have a protagonist who actually prefers this world (despite all the pain it has given her).
Truth Jourdemayne, sceptical parapsychologist, has grown up hating her father Thorne Blackburn as the con-man who killed her mother while pretending to perform magic. But now the aunt who raised her gives her some strange gifts from that time, and she decides to confront the past. And at Shadow's Gate, the mansion where the fatal ritual took place last time, she finds another group gathered together to try the ritual again.
A fairly straightforward tale of magical awakening, with a not very plausible attempt to throw in some "romance" features. Truth is rather irritating as the alleged sceptic who on the one hand isn't sceptical enough, and on the other, refuses to believe what is actually happening.
Every year since 1984 Marion Zimmer Bradley has edited a Sword and Sorceress volume: a mixed bag of original tales of women as (realistic) warriors and mages: no "brass brassieres" here. Some of the authors in earlier volumes have since gone on to make a name for themselves as SF or fantasy novelists, for example, Laurell K. Hamilton, Mercedes Lackey, Diana L. Paxson, Jennifer Roberson, Elisabeth Waters.
Another okay bunch of stories, featuring shapeshifters, and dream quests. None stick for long in my memory, but fine for whiling away a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Another okay bunch of stories, featuring shapeshifters, puzzle rings, and getting just what you ask for. . Some very short ones break up the usual pattern quite nicely.
Yet another okay bunch of stories for whiling away a lazy Sunday afternoon.
More of the same.
More of the same, but of a bit higher quality than usual: a few of the stories did stand out from the crowd.
More of the same. Some are a little disappointing -- it feels as if the some of the battles (and some were rather trivial tussles) are being won by "feminine wiles" rather than cleverness or courage or whatever.
More of the same. Some raise a smile, but none really stick in the memory.
The theme of this volume is "finding your true self or true path" -- and often that seems to be not being a swordswoman. Again, a fairly slight collection with only one or two that stand out in the memory.