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Saturday, May 20, 2023

A Message Through Time by Anna Ciddor. Melbourne: Allen And Unwin, 2023


Australian boy Felix and his older stepsister Zoe have been on holiday in France, in the city of Arles. In the last hour or so before departure, Felix finds a Roman stylus, with a message in a bottle giving instructions for time travel, writing the Latin word “Ave” to travel into the past and “Vale” to return. Of course, he can’t resist and they find themselves in Roman Arles, or Arelate, in the time of Emperor Constantine. There they accidentally pick up a Roman girl, Petronia, whom they show around briefly before taking her back to her own time, where they may be stuck…

If you have read the novel The Boy Who Stepped Through Time by the same author this will be familiar, but you don’t need to have read it to enjoy this, though there is a guest appearance by a character from that novel. 

The novel is a lot of fun, with culture clash mixed into the adventure. Petronia’s attitude to modern times is hilarious(though she is impressed by public playgrounds). When the three young people return to Roman times the culture clash is even more over-the-top, with food, medicine and customs bizarre to the two modern children, but quite normal to their hostess. Like the previous novel, it is well researched with the help of the author’s sister, an expert in this era. The author has also done the very good internal artwork. 

They take a trip on a barge along the river Rhone to reach Petronia’s family, and from here things start going wrong for  Felix, but he can’t tell Zoe.

The adventure does bring them closer, though.

I enjoy time-slip stories and this one is an excellent example of its type. 

Perry, hero of The Boy Who Stepped Through Time, has to live in this era by himself and work out how to get home while Felix and Zoe have each other and know what to do - the problem is a very different one. 

But anyone who enjoyed the first novel in this universe will certainly enjoy this one. 

I recommend it for ages 9-12, late primary school to early secondary. 

Available in both ebook and print, along with the rest of her fiction, at all good web sites in Australia, or order from your local bookshop. If you live outside Australia you might have to find out when it’s available in your country. Right now, it’s only available here, sorry!  But you can get her other books, including The Boy Who Stepped Through Time, on overseas sites, including Amazon, both print and Kindle.

Thank you, Allen and Unwin, for sending me a copy of this novel! 

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

The Key To Rome by Sophie Masson. Armidale, NSW: Eagle Books, 2023


The year is 84 CE, the place is the Roman province of Britannia. The rebellion of Boudicca is within living memory for many adults. 

Twelve year old Livia, daughter of an eye doctor, is now an orphan. She has promised her dying father to take a mysterious key to her uncle Marcus, who was estranged from her father, but will know what to do with it. Livia has nothing now but her old horse Pegasus, her father’s doctoring kit, which she knows how to use - and the key. When her uncle is not at home, she travels further, to the home of someone who might know where Marcus is.  Her uncle is not there either, and she is advised to go back to his home,  but a British slave boy, Mato, offers to help her if she will take him with her. There is more to this story than Livia had believed. She and her new friend will have to solve the mystery before disaster strikes.

Here is another one of the talented Sophie Masson’s exciting historical adventures. Many of them have fantasy elements but this is a straight historical mystery, well researched and with a useful historical background and glossary at the back. 

The cover art and internals, including a map, are drawn by Lorena Carrington, a gifted Aussie artist who has worked with Sophie Masson before. 

Livia is a strong leading character who refuses to give up, even when the quest for her uncle looks as if it might be useless. She weaves together the clues to lead her in the right direction. 

This novel, aimed at ages about nine to twelve, reads like a Rosemary Sutcliff adventure, perfect for young readers who enjoy history and are inspired by strong characters their own age. It’s also not a bad place to start children on historical fiction.

Christmas Press, of which Eagle Books is an imprint, is an Australian small press which has been doing very well. For now, though, The Key To Rome will only be available in Australia. Dymock’s Bookshop already has copies, as does Amazon Australia, but it’s just as simple to ask your bookshop to get it in.

If you haven’t yet discovered Sophie Masson’s wonderful work, you can get it outside Australia in the usual good websites. 

A To Z Challenge 2023: Myth And Folk Tales In Fiction - Some After Thoughts

This year’s Challenge badge!

So, another A to Z has come and gone. Every year I think I won’t come up with a theme, and then I do, and get passionately involved. The same has happened this year. 

I really enjoyed talking about some of my favourite books and others I have only discovered recently. I haven’t done much this year about the actual registration stuff apart from join the official page. It gets exhausting to do much more than that; in previous years I have gone to the Challenge website every day and slotted in a new piece of information, found interesting blog sites to visit and put a link to whatever was my daily post so people I visited and their visitors might wander over. It just got to be too much; the only sites I have visited were those who visited me, and I’m a bit behind even in those. I will be catching up and finally getting around to reading those posts I have promised myself.

 But I’m glad I had a go at writing something every day. And the theme was a good one - yes? Just writing about it reminded me of how many books, short stories and films have myths or folk tales in their backgrounds. It’s all part of our cultures, reminding us where we come from.

I have a review to write, so I will keep this short, but thank you to all those lovely people who have visited and commented, whether you were taking part this year or not. I couldn’t have done it without knowing you were reading and enjoying.



Monday, May 01, 2023

A To Z Challenge 2023: Myth and Folk Tale in Fiction - Z Is For Zoology!

Z is for Zoology, or, fantastical critters in fiction.

For the last post in this series, we will check out some of the unusual folk lore of mythical creatures to be found in fiction.

We’ll start with unicorns, those virgin-hunters who can be trapped by a pure maiden. Not necessarily a young girl - in Terry Pratchett’s Lords And Ladies, the elderly witch Granny Weatherwax is able to force the unicorn to come with her to be shod.

Unicorns vary from book to book. The unicorns in the Harry Potter books are the kind we think about first when we think of that word. They are beautiful, innocent beings which have blood that will bring you back from the brink of death, but which curses you because how dare you kill something so innocent and pure! They do prefer “the woman’s touch”, so Professor Grubbly-Plank, covering Hagrid’s class, gets the girls to come to the front.

On the other hand, there are the dangerous ones. The one in Lords And Ladies is running around the kingdom killing people on behalf of the evil Fairy Queen. 

In Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers Of London novel, Broken Homes, the paranormal police Constable Peter Grant is investigating a case in the countryside when he encounters a unicorn which is huge, totally crazy and carnivorous. The fairies are around too, and they are not nice either. The unicorn is definitely not sweet, innocent or pure. It kills!  I do recommend this series, by the way, it’s funny and touching and - did I say it was funny? 

Arthur Rackham, Questing Beast: public Domain

We first meet the Questing Beast, or “beast Glatisant”,  in Malory’s Morte D’Arthure. Well, it’s where I first met it, anyway! It has the head and neck of a snake, the body of a leopard, haunches of a lion and feet of a hart. It makes a sound like “thirty couple of hounds questing.” I believe it’s to be found in a lot of Arthurian literature. In Malory, it’s the beast traditionally hunted by the family of King Pellinore. I assume they never catch it. It does eventually get caught, in Malory, by the Saracen knight Palomides. 

T.H White writes it into his Arthurian novel The Once And Future King. In that novel, Pellinore is a comical character who isn’t really trying to kill the Beast; he just collects its fewmets(hard droppings). They have a relationship - the Questing Beast enjoys the hunt. 

The Beast appeared in an episode of Lost In Space, along with a knight chasing it. When the knight finds out the Beast is female, he doesn’t want to continue, so the Beast, feeling sorry for him, teases him into hunting her again. 

Dragons appear in so much fantasy fiction, it’s just too much for this post, so I will just note a few. 

As you may know, dragons are different in the east and the west. In Asia, they are benign water beings which are respected. The only Asian dragon novel I have read is Tea With The Black Dragon by R.A MacAvoy. The Black Dragon of the title, Maryland Long, is in human shape for reasons explained later in the novel. He is a distinguished Chinese gentleman who works with the heroine, Martha Macnamara, a middle-aged woman who is a folk musician to find her daughter, who has gone missing. It’s a lovely, charming novel,well worth a read.

And then there are the other kind of dragons. You know - the fire breathing Western dragons. In tradition, they are not benign animals. They are connected to the devil. When St George kills the dragon and rescues the maiden, he is saving the Church. There are dragons which are symbols, such as the red and white dragons seen fighting in the story of young Merlin, which symbolise the British(red) and the Saxons(white). 

Those do turn up in Arthurian fiction. 

Terry Pratchett has dragons that only stay solid if you believe in them, in his first Discworld novel The Colour Of Magic. It’s not a good idea to stop believing while you are riding one in flight…

Mostly, though, there are the little swamp dragons, which are so fragile they can and often do, explode. They first appear in Guards!Guards!, the first novel in the City Watch series which features policeman Sam Vimes. Someone has been calling up a “noble dragon”, a much bigger variety which no longer lives on Discworld. It turns out not to be a good idea at all, as the dragon can’t be controlled. Sam visits Lady Sibyl Ramkin, who breeds, shows and sells swamp dragons. By the second novel, Sam marries her.

It’s a very funny story and be careful not to be drinking tea when reading it, as the laughs start on the first page. 

The Gorgon is a being from Greek mythology we are all familiar with. She was a beautiful woman turned into a hideous creature with snakes for hair, turning people into stone if they come near. In the end, she is killed in her cave by Perseus, while minding her own business and asleep. It’s not even to protect a community, just to  achieve a quest Perseus has been set by an evil king who wants to marry his mother and is getting him out if the way.

I have just started on a collection of Tanith Lee short stories The Gorgon: And Other Beastly Tales. The book’s title tells you all. Each story is about a fantastical being. The title story has a meeting on a Greek island with a mysterious masked woman. The reason for the cover up is not quite what you might think, but at the end, the narrator, a professional writer, does feel he has been turned to stone if not in the way you would expect from a Gorgon. I bought this in Apple Books, where it’s cheap.

In the anthology Mythic Resonance(in which I have a story) there is a story called “Through These Eyes I See” which is a twist on the story of Medusa. Mandy is a girl, living with her parents, who has a gift of healing - her look heals, not turns to stone. She has a room full of mirrors, which protect her, not those who come for healing. She is being used; the gift doesn’t help her. The book is available in Apple Books. 

Australian author Simon Haynes wrote a very short piece in which, in modern times, the Gorgon has become a sculptress who takes men home and… well, you can guess what happens next!

Finally in this post, werewolves. The standard werewolf of folklore turns into a wolf at the full moon. Professor Lupin in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban is that kind of werewolf. Once in wolf shape he can’t control himself, which is why the Whomping Willow and the Shrieking Shack are set up for his benefit while he is at school, before his friends work out a way to become animagi and join him in animal form. You can be turned into a werewolf by being bitten, as in folklore, and Remus Lupin was turned as a child by a nasty piece of work called Fenrir Greyback who specialises in turning children. I couldn’t help feeling, as I read, that it’s a symbol for pedophilia - and shuddering. 

But many werewolf stories don’t bother with the full moon thing. In Petronius’s Satyricon, there is a story told about a werewolf who protects his clothes before simply changing, with a spell created by urinating in a ring around them. (I used that idea in my werewolf novel!). There are stories in Greek myth about men turning into wolves for several years before turning back.

Terry Pratchett’s character, Angua, a member of the City Watch, is a werewolf. You are born a werewolf in this series, and there are great werewolf clans in her country, Uberwald. It’s not possible to be turned. She is an aristocrat where she comes from, and not very fond of her family. Silver does affect her, though only in the sense of controlling her. A family member was born a wolf instead of human with shapechanging abilities, and killed by her family. A brother of Angua’s fled the family home and has done well, getting himself a job as a sheepdog. 

Tanya Huff’s novel Blood Trail is one I found intriguing because it did something different with werewolves. There is a peaceful werewolf family with a farm. They aren’t just humans who can shapeshift, they are a pack of wolves in human form, so the brother and sister have to be separated from each other before they do something incestuous, not acceptable for humans.

A fascinating series, by the way, one I do recommend highly. It involves Vicki Nelson, a private investigator with an eye condition that forced her to leave the police force and makes working at night almost impossible. Her partner is Henry Fitzroy, the son of Henry VIII, who has lived for hundreds of years as a vampire, so he can work at night and needs help during the day. Henry makes a living as the author of bodice rippers. He doesn’t harm anyone, as he only needs a small amount of blood, which he takes from sexual partners who have no idea what he is doing! 

I think I will leave it here, with a short reflection tomorrow. I’m going to catch up with visiting your blogs in the next day or two. I have been held up for various reasons, but I do want to read what you have done. 

  I hope you have enjoyed this set of posts as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you! Thank you for following!