Monday, 14 April 2014

The Best of The Review: Favorite Posts From the First Half Year (Volume V)

"Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament"~~from The Troll Garden by Willa Cather

Lisl’s style of remembering a much admired text is so full of feeling that I almost felt overcome with her acuity of ‘Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament’. Lisl’s review made such an impression on me I had to buy the book (The Troll Garden) because I needed to be able to read the whole story for myself. Lisl and I often have long discussions about different books, and our discussions are always absorbing. Our memories bounce from text to text, but her memories of ‘Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament’ have left me wanting more of Willa Cather.

“Paul had his secret temple. . . his bit of blue-and-white Mediterranean shore bathed in perpetual sunshine.”

            It perhaps would be easy to sympathize with a boy such as Paul, who is moved by “starry apple orchards” and who feels a zest come into his life at first sight of the instruments that set free his inner spirit. However, those intoxicants with which Paul is able to forget his dreadful English teacher are the same that enable him to dismiss the inconsistencies, the contradictions of both his resentments and desires.
       Upon first encountering Paul, we recognize the duality of his nature: rebellious, yet sensitive to the criticisms of others. He is somehow able, at least to a certain degree, to hold the teachers under his sway; his behavior unsettles them. One instructor feels that he senses a boy who is haunted, not strong. Perhaps the teacher—significantly, the drawing-master—sees him as somewhat of an adolescent Keats, burdened with an image of “feminine” sensitivity and weakness. Another likens him to a helpless cat, tormented by a group as vindictive as their own gathering.
            The flip side is, of course, that of a Paul who seemingly bounces back without exerting much effort. He runs, after all, with a light-heartedness he hopes will enrage his teachers. So self-sure is he that it takes being sat upon to calm him of his glee. The boy seems to possess a glee that might take him to the fine places he desires to be in if he applies himself. He by no means is lacking in some artistic gift, for he only needs a spark, a thrill “that ma[kes] his imagination master of his own senses, and he could make plots and pictures enough of his own.” Perhaps he misapplies himself; he denies the drive toward acting and music, yet nothing is made of writing, to which his natural abilities seem to point.
            Unfortunately, Paul fails to progress beyond this stage of rebelliousness, as he is far too undisciplined and lacks the drive with which to challenge himself. Although his teachers believe him to be perverted by racy books, Paul’s sensitivity is not a result of absorbing fanciful stories, for he rarely reads at all. He is dissatisfied with his life, but his preferred alternative is to exist in a world of “glistening surfaces and basking ease.” He has the desire to partake of such a fine existence, but has “no mind for the cash-boy stage.” He would like the status of “Saint” Andrew but, as we see, desires not the martyrdom of the twelve-hour toilers.
            Paul therefore escapes into the romantic world of the symphony—at least as he views this world to be. For him it is not a world that includes indolent husbands and the necessity for skillfully stretching a Mark or a dollar. Nor is it a world where limited season subscriptions or an ordinary sore throat might send one spiraling downward. Indeed, this universe is one of endless champagne bottles and mysterious dishes (brought to him, naturally) in warm, lighted buildings. This is Paul’s temple, the wishing-carpet in which will lead him to all these grandly decorated concert halls peopled only by individuals of superior taste—no English teachers—and succulent dishes to soothe his palate.

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Plague Seed~~by Wade Allen Steele

Rob demonstrated to me how important reviews really are, not only as feedback for the author, but also for the readers. I know all reviews are subjective, but I have to admit that Plague Seed would not have been my first choice for reading. Rob, however, made the book sound exhilarating. His review reminded me of my sons, now in their 40s, who were avid Dungeons and Dragons players to the distraction of most other things. To this end I may just have to succumb to Plague Seed. Beware though, readers, if you don’t see me for some time then search for me, for I could well be lost in the book.

The Plague Seed is a high fantasy novel for both young adults and the not so young. Put it this way: if you spent your formative years immersed in fantasy role playing games, killing orcs and trolls, (hands up, I admit that I’m guilty!) then you will thoroughly enjoy this rollercoaster of pure escapism.

Welcome to Western Talandria: a world shared by men, some civilised and some savage cannibals,

drunken dwarves and aloof elves. The book is written as a letter written by an elf to his infant son. The epistle chronicles the history of he Plague War from the perspective of one of its heroes, an exiled elf of many names. We are introduced to him as Seligre, the Firebrand, posing as a merchant, attempting to mingle with the patrons in a high-end den of ill repute, in the mountain town of Colton’s End. It becomes clear in a brawl that Seligre is no mere merchant; he is a member of the Sword of Silence, a criminal guild centred in the nearby town of Dentim. In a local establishment he becomes enamoured by a beautiful human dancer called Katelyn. Katelyn is no mere dancer however; she is the wife of Raymuz, the headman of Colton’s End.

Raymuz mistakes Seligre for Dockra, Katelyn’s one-time elf lover, and orders his arrest. Katelyn and Seligre escape Raymuz's men and team up with Tahlkin the dwarf, an ale-brewing priest of the drunken deity, Rold. 

As the companions desperately evade capture, or worse, all hell is breaking loose at Colton’s End. Gathering in the Faylin Mountains, a great northern army is composed of disaffected humans, goblins and lumbering troll like creatures, the Grumach. Raymuz is in league with the army bent on conquering Talandria. Carrying a message from Dokra to the High Council of Elves, Katelyn hires Seligre to take her to the Blessed Forest of Oldenhome to the south. Oldenhome is the impregnable homeland of the elves, where they live in splendid isolation from the troubles of those they view as lesser folk. Tahlkin joins them in their journey south, as Colton’s End is no longer the place to open a temple of Rold and sell beer, and the roads are now dangerous to travel alone.

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