Sunday, March 27, 2016

Book Review: “Fragile Things”

by Neil Gaiman.

If you've been following my blog you know I am a huge fan of Gaiman, and this collection of short stories and poems took me one step deeper into that magical world where the mind can truly run free. While all the stories were essentially wild and fantastic, as his tales always are, a weird and dark strain runs through them all, and that was a whole new experience.

Such beauty in so much ugliness in "Keepsakes and Treasures: A Love Story". The fantastic saga of the "Sunbird". The old lady in the attic and that terrifying image of the head of a cat in "Feeders and Eaters". Twelve snapshots of love, of silence, of memories in "Strange Little Girls". The unique exchange of storytelling in "October in the Chair". Every story had something unforgivably dark, something stunningly beautiful.

Some of the more memorable stories for me included "A Study in Emerald", a brilliant fusion of Sherlock Holmes and a Cthulhu murder mystery in a setting that was as unique as its final denouement was surprising; "Other People", a tale of undying grief and everlasting terror in one endless cycle; and "Goliath" (a short story written specially for 'The Matrix') a story of love and loss that is as real as it is fabricated, as momentary as it is eternal.

This collection also showcases Gaiman's poetry (I had no idea!)
Remember: that giants sleep too soundly; that witches are often betrayed by their appetites; dragons have one soft spot, somewhere, always; hearts can be well-hidden, and you can betray them with your tongue.”
Created as a guide to what one does upon finding oneself in a fairy tale, "Instructions" was my absolute favourite poem in his collection.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Book Review: “King Solomon’s Mines”

by H. Rider Haggard.

A lost mine deep in the bowels of earth, brimming with precious diamonds. An endless treasure protected eternally by an ancient curse. Into this - largely unexplored - world, three travellers enter. With fantasy woven into history, this is the story of a journey into the heart of Suliman Berg.

The story does start off slow, but I suppose one has to account for the sensibilities of the times. In 1885 there was probably no tearing rush to get to the crux of the matter in a few choice words. And so, while it took me some effort to get through the initial descriptions of, for example, how to save oxen from certain diseases, and it certainly took me a lot of effort to get past the subtle but somewhat consistent references to black and white cultures; I found the story amazing enough, to be able to move past those setbacks.

As they follow a mysterious map drawn in blood by a 16th-century Portuguese explorer, the journey to the fabled Mines bestows amazing roles upon the trio. From being hailed as white men from the stars with magical capabilities, to donning the role of warriors fighting bravely for the rights of a usurped king, this tale is fascinating because it does not rely solely on a secret horde of precious stones. The journey itself is a great adventure.

As far as the characters that make up this journey, while we do, in essence, follow hunter Allan Quatermain, aristocrat Sir Henry Curtis and sailor Captain Good, for me, this was not necessarily "their" story. I felt this was more of a saga about Kukuanaland, and the story of what happened to the different people that lived in, or visited, its mysterious lands. The strange travellers on a doomed mission, the shameful secret of a murdered king, the heartbreaking loyalties of a rescued maiden, the united bravery of a rebellion uprising ... this story belongs to each and every one of them.

I do however have to make a special mention of "immortal" Gagool. Chief advisor to the king, witch hunter of the land, and armed with uncanny powers of prophecy, her character is as unique as it is a powerful presence in this tale. Additionally, it is she who brings this fascinating tale to a close by leading the three protagonists on the final leg of their journey into the mines, the secret location being known to her alone. Carved deep inside a mountain, the stunning mines - as much a storehouse of treasures, as a homage to past rulers of the land - present a whole new journey fraught equally with extreme risk and reward.

At one point, during the war, it is said of the battle: "Now it seemed to be a love song, now a majestic swelling war chant..." - I can actually say that of this entire story.