Mercedes Lackey: Phoenix & Ashes (2004) Literature and War Readalong October 2014

Phoenix and Ashes

I wasn’t going to do that anymore but after 270 pages of boredom, I had to put the book aside. I’ve got a pile of books on a small shelf, just opposite my bed, and while reading Mercedes Lackey’s novel Phoenix & Ashes I kept on looking at the titles of books I just bought (The Flamethrowers, The Interestings, Nobody is Ever Missing . . .) that I wasn’t reading because of this. I skipped to the end, read the last two chapters and that was that. The idea sounded so original. A retelling of Cinderella set right after WWI. Unfortunately the result is neither a proper historical novel, nor did it feel like real fantasy. It was more like an author filling pages using painting by numbers for books. You can’t just take a fairy tale, and use the story as plotline. Fairy tale retellings need to tell us something new about a fairy tale. They shouldn’t just be abused because the author has no story of her own to tell.

A novel like this needs great characters but I found them all very one-dimensional and uninteresting.

The period detail was well done, but it wasn’t anything new. You could watch Downton Abbey and get more out of it. Or read one of the many excellent historical novels set at that time. No need to trudge through 480 pages of something like this.

I was also annoyed because of the very poor editing. Or shoddy proofreading. So many mistakes in a book are not acceptable.

Luckily I have only one of Mercedes Lackey’s novella’s on my shelves. I’m not going to pick that up any day soon. I thought this book was a waste of talent, because she isn’t a bad writer as such, but sadly this is a lifeless, uninspired book.

My sincere apologies to all those who picked this up because of the readalong. I know Emma had the same reaction and gave up after some 100 pages. But I’m equally sorry if someone loved it and has to read such harsh words now.

 

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Phoenix & Ashes is the tenth book in the Literature and War Readalong 2014. The next book is the WWI novel Flight Without End – Die Flucht ohne Ende by Joseph Roth. Discussion starts on Friday 28 November, 2014. Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including the book blurbs can be found here.

The Company of Wolves, Bloodmantle and other Retellings of The Little Red Riding Hood

The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood: Versions of the Tale in Sociocultural Context

My first contribution to the Once Upon a Time Challenge V was the novel Red Riding Hood based on the movie. As you can read here I wasn’t too impressed with it.

Meanwhile I’ve seen the movie as well. It’s a visual treat, I enjoyed it but it isn’t as good as The Company of Wolves which is much more mysterious.

The Brother Grimm tale, The Little Red Riding Hood has fascinated people since forever. The dense forest, the wolf, the red cloak are such powerful images. It is certainly one o the  fairy tales with the most retellings.

There is a nice collection by Jack Zipes called The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood. It contains a huge range starting with the tale by Charles Perrault to more contemporary versions like the  Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves. Carters story can also be found in her collection of fairytale retellings The Bloody Chamber. There are actually two versions in it. A very short sketch and one that is a bit longer.

I read Zipes book a few years ago and was impressed by how many different versions there are but there was none that I really liked. The Company of Wolves as a story is less convincing than the movie based on it. And there are other retellings in The Bloody Chamber that I liked much more.

The one re-telling that really impressed me is Tanith Lee’s Bloodmantle from her collection Forests of the Night. It can also be found in Wild Women. Tanith Lee’s stories can serve as proof that there is more to fantasy than meets the eye. If there is one writer who is capable of writing literary fantasy it is certainly Tanith Lee. Her writing is poetical, imaginative and very original. Here is what she says about Bloodmantle.

The forests of the mind are benighted, dark and dazzling places. Things wander there that shine, and burn, and bite.

Much of my writing, long and short, begins with nothing more – or less – than a feeling. The nearest I can come to describing this is to relate it to those curious unremembered memories, triggered maybe by a scent, or a certain seasonal light. Bloodmantle started in just that way, a sensation. Then quickly followed the notion of Roman Lupercal as a werewolf-finding feast. Wolves are creatures that live most definitely in my mind forests. I meet them with the primitive and often irrational wolf-fear, but also in fascinated love.

The girl in th red cloak of course most of us know. Innocence can be cruel.

In Bloodmantle the woman or girl isn’t only a victim. The roles change and there is potential to do harm in both, the man and the woman. The story isn’t very long but rich and multilayered, with a story inside of the story, a tale transmitted from days long gone, and a part that takes place in our contemporary world. The wolf is as much perpetrator as prey, half man, half animal and also ghost.

A very artful picture book Little Red Riding Hood illustrated by Daniel Egnéus came out this year. I discovered it during the Once Upon a Time Challenge. Here is Chris’ review  that contains some of the truly wonderful pictures.

You can also find something about Daniel Egnéus here

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