By Cheryl Morgan
One of the annoyances of not being able to go to Interaction was that I didnít get to meet Glenda Larke. Meeting Australian authors is hard enough, but meeting Australians who live in Malaysia something of a challenge. Fortunately I still get to read Larkeís books, which appear to be getting better with time.
As I mentioned in my review of The Aware, Larke has made a conscious effort to not write a formula fantasy, despite the fact that her books are about a sword-wielding heroine and her sorceress pal who go around fighting evil. Here are some observations on the second book in the series, Gilfeather.
There is quite a bit of observation about religion in the books. Gilfeather starts out with an unpleasant encounter with the Fellih worshippers, who are one of those classic old-men-with-beards patriarchies that you find in Sheri Tepper novels. An utterly odious bunch they are too. They are Larkeís fundamentalist fanatics. But the official church, the Menod, are not too wonderful either, as exemplified by heroine Blazeís on-off relationship with the patriarch, Tor Ryder. Despite being a sword-wielding adventurer at heart, Ryder keeps insisting that he loves God far more than he can possibly love any woman, which of course messes things up for everyone.
Interestingly the new book isnít mainly narrated by Blaze, it is told primarily from the viewpoint of Kelwyn Gilfeather, a physician from a remote part of the Isles of Glory where the people claim to be not religious at all. What is more they are all pacifists and vegetarians. You might expect Larke to present them as being much better people than the religious types, but in fact most of them prove just as sanctimonious and intolerant in their own way. Thereís a point being made here and I like it.
Gilfeather doesnít only not believe in God, he doesnít believe in magic either. This is somewhat inconvenient when he gets mixed up in the affairs of Blaze, Flame and Tor. Although an Aware himself, and therefore immune to Blazeís illusions, he has difficulty explaining how other people appear to be taken in by them. Not to mention the fact that he doesnít quite understand why anyone would rush around the world getting into all sorts of dangers just to hunt down evil magicians. Of course he gets a rude awakening, but along the way he comes up with the theory that belief in magic is some sort of disease, and this is likely to have relevance in volume 3.
You see the books are still punctuated by reports from the foppish anthropologist, Shor Iso Fabold, who claims to have transcribed Blaze and Gilfeatherís stories as part of a survey of the barbarous peoples of the Isles of Glory. Fabold is adamant that at the time he met these two old storytellers there were no magicians at all in the islands. I suspect that the third volume is going to tell us why that is the case.
As I noted in reviewing The Aware, Larke does not shirk from nastiness in her books. While her Evil Overlord does have some motivation for what he does, the "disease" of dunmagic does seem to cause practitioners to become particularly psychopathic in a manner that you normally only find in horror stories. I also noted that Larkeís writing didnít quite have the maturity to convey the level of nastiness that her plots described. That remained true throughout most of Gilfeather, up until the last couple of chapters when our heroes finally manage to defeat the Evil Overlord and have to face the consequences of their actions. At this point Larke does something that Stephen Donaldson would have been proud of. When it comes to emotional torture of oneís heroes, Larke is getting very good. Iím starting to like this series a lot.
I should warn you that the covers donít really convey the content very well. The Aware had the "my little sea-pony" cover. The cover of Gilfeather, for some odd reason, shows the delicate sorceress Flame wielding Blazeís big two-handed sword, and presumably in one hand as well because, as even the cover artist knew, Flameís left arm is an illusion ó the real arm was amputated in The Aware. Also the cover shows a Viking longship while the book talks about ketches and brigantines. But Iím sure the PR people at Ace know what sells a book so we mustnít complain. The point is that the covers make Larkeís books seem like comfort reading, and thankfully they most certainly are not.