Miranda, Caliban, and Jacqueline Carey

People all have their own reasons for loving or hating Jacqueline Carey’s books, but they all agree she is a great writer.

It’s no secret that Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite writers, and if you’ve read any of her work it should be clear why. The skill with which she crafts her work is evident from the very first word, and even when she’s writing stuff that I can’t stand to read (like her Agents of Hel series), I still acknowledge she’s doing it better than almost anyone else. She’s most well-known for her Kushiel books, set in Europe with an alternate history where Christianity never really took off, but an early offshoot of it took off like crazy.The depth to which this culture is built up with its own mythology and the parallel development of other cultures (particularly Muslim, Norse, and Celtic societies) all vividly comes out over the course of the first novel Kushiel’s Dart. This book is notorious for its sensuality, and I’m sure a lot of people write it off (or enjoy the hell out of it) as a “bondage book,” but it’s way more than that. I was enraptured by the tension built into every paragraph as the book opened, and although I shrugged off the main character’s submissive qualities (i.e. she experiences pain as pleasure), I wasn’t prepared for how well that quality would play into the plot, nor was I prepared for Phedre’s incredible skill and bravery. There’s way more to that book than a naked chick on the cover.

banewreaker
Sadly this doesn’t mean I’ve met the legendarily friendly author; I got this for $1 from Neil Clarke at Readercon last July.

I also wasn’t prepared for how Jacqueline Carey writes Tolkien better than Tolkien. In a recent blog post, she was very honest that all her stylistic variations have been quite intentional, and in The Sundering duology, she writes in a Silmarillion style but with the tension and depth that she’s known for. You know all those prologues to David Eddings’ books? Banewreaker has the best of those ever written. They’re so notorious that people skip them, but you won’t want to skip this one:

The Place was called Gorgantum.

Wounded once more, hed fled there; and having fled, seethed. It was not a defeat, not wholly. No one could say such a thing while he yet lived and held Godslayer in his possession. He was Satoris Third-Born, and from this place, this vale, to the Sundering Sea, the west was his. Two of his Elder Brother’s three Counselors were slain, their weapons lost or scattered. The high Lord of the Rivenlost was slain and his son with him, and many others, too. The number of Ellylon who remained would fill no more than a city. There were Men, of course, in ever-increasing numbers, but such discord had been sown on the battlefield as would make for bitter blood between the two races.

Now, I’m not much into this style of fantasy—as much as I want to be—than I am into bondage books. But the way that Jacqueline Carey does it, there’s always a tension that keeps me going from one sentence to the next. She constantly surprises the reader, and not just with clever characters, but with psychological and metaphysical twists that go to the emotional core of the characters. I am really looking forward to reading Santa Olivia, and more of the books in the Kushiel series.

That brings me to Miranda and Caliban, which I just finished yesterday. The thing that makes great authors, above all, is honesty, which Carey definitely gives her readers over and over again, maybe even too much (which is just enough), and the other is a love of the works of Shakespeare. I say this not just because it’s true, but because it’s true of me, so you’ll know how awesome I am, and have properly high expectations when you read my work. The Tempest is a play that I haven’t read, although it was the first play that I saw onstage, at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, all I remember is an actor with a donkey-head, who was part of a group of characters my father referred to as “The Knuckleheads.” I would really like to see it now, and to read it, after reading Carey’s interpretation of it.

I learned deep and interesting things about people by reading this book

Stylistically, Miranda and Caliban is another departure for Carey. It’s written first person in present-tense with the two title characters as narrators, and the first amazing thing that made it hard for me to put down was the way she portrayed the voices of the characters. Miranda starts out as a young girl of seven years, and Caliban starts as someone who barely has the ability to speak. Their voices change over the course of the book, where they are, at the end of fifteen and eighteen, respectively. I sometimes found myself thinking “Is this really that good? The voice sounds kind of childish,” but then I realized I had been fooled, in the best sense, by the author’s ability to portray the voice of a storytelling child. And as always, Carey goes to the depths, the archetypal depths of the characters’ coming-of-age experiences, in all their sensual and disgusting details. I really think I’ve learned something about people from reading this book.

In other news

My friend and fellow New Englander and Trident Media author-on-submission J.P. Gownder has started a new blog and he’s started off with a highly provocative topic: R. Scott Bakker’s portrayal of women. The topic is so provocative that the comments for J.P.’s Facebook post were shut down before I had a chance to comment. I didn’t get the impression that J.P. was criticizing Bakker or telling him what to do, but analyzing his own reaction to a great author’s work. I haven’t read Bakker, but now I’m intrigued. Despite the sidelining of women or downright bad treatment of them in Bakker’s most well-known works, they are enthralling, as much as this aspect of them is repulsive. Bakker himself responds, kind of by saying “that’s the point.”

What I don’t get is how some fans seem to think they can tell authors what to write. One of the commenters lectured Bakker on his “missteps,” saying what he’d done wrong was covered in “Gender Studies 101,” as if gender studies is required learning for authors, instead of oh say, learning how to write. Why would you want to tell a writer what to write? Part of reading a good story is getting surprised. I think it’s pretty arrogant to think that a writer who you admire is going to listen to you at all, and quite a bit more arrogant to actually tell him (or her) what to write, or that she’s done a good job of incorporating feedback. An author’s job is not to give readers what they want ahead of time.

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