starlady: (sora)
[personal profile] starlady
Item one: Jo Walton's list of neglected books in sff. Some if not all of these--such as Megan Whalen Turner, OMG!--are unjustly neglected. A good list, in any case.

Item two: the text of Cat Valente's GoH speech at ConFusion last weekend, which is pretty damn awesome, and I encourage all fans of sff to read it.

Which leads to item three…a book review! What else, really?

Valente, Catherynne. Under in the Mere. St. Paul, MN: Rabid Transit Press, 2009.

Thinking back over all the Arthuriana books I've read, to say nothing of the mostly crappy movies I've watched, I can't legitimately claim to not be a fan. That said, however, I've never read The Once and Future King or La Morte d'Arthur (nor watched Merlin), and my standards for Arthurian derivations are now pretty high, since it's so common in the genre. I think I can fairly say, though, that Valente's take on Camelot may be unique.

His name became like the sword in the stone: write Arthur on the skin of your hand and it means more than a boy so named, it means him, always him, forever.
Valente's singular insight--ably illustrated by James and Jeremy Owen--is the extent to which the continued tellings and retellings of the Arthurian mythos have leached the players involved of character; they have become archetypes, and as such they are well suited to being reanimated as archetypes by Valente's admittedly baroque prose. I'm quite sure Valente and this book aren't to everyone's taste, but the beauty of her language is stunning, as are the occasional deft insights into the nature of stories, and of this story, that she slips into the text. Nor is it entirely devoid of humor, which is a nice touch. Her other innovation is her connection of the land in which quests take place, the Otherworld, whence Camelot's enemies come and where they reside, with California. As they say, I'll buy that, partly because her evocation of California--mostly SoCal, okay, let's be fair--is so enthralling and perfect despite its fantastical description.

After I finished the book I realized that the legend's three central characters--Arthur, Merlin, and Gwenivere--did not get sections of their own, which is an interesting decision in light of the fact that even people I'd never heard of, such as Balin and Balan, get their own chapters. But we know them well enough through the other characters, and what else could they say, that their friends and enemies and lovers did not already know? If the people of Camelot are archetypes, its king and queen and wizard are legend.

P.S. [livejournal.com profile] thewronghands talks a bit about parts of the book on which I cannot comment, particularly the floral symbolism, here.
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