Book review: Halfblood Chronicles

So recently I decided to reread The Halfblood Chronicles, a series of fantasy books cowritten by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey. I had read it years ago and enjoyed then, decided to give it another go and see how it held up. The answer is, surprisingly well.

 

Warning, this might get a little ramble-y

 

So quick overview: Some centuries ago Elves entered the world from a different world/dimension via a magic portal. Elves possess powerful magic that they used to enslave the native human race (who have a form of telepathic magic, that the elves also suppressed). Elves have difficulty reproducing, and so for a period they mingled with humans, creating the titular halfbloods which had a mixture of elven and human magic (and were equal or stronger than their elven parents). This led to a war that the Elves almost lost. Since then they have gone about brutally eliminating any trace of halfbloods. Oh, also, unbeknownst to everyone else, there are also dragons (from yet ANOTHER world) who have the ability to shapeshift. They use this to generally cause mischief among the elves, including the spread of a prophecy of the Elvenbane, a halfblood that was to destroy the elves.

That, of course, sets up for the first book, Elvenbane.

 

One thing that I was very impressed with during Elvenbane was how quickly the world was established. The first two scenes are as follows:

A human concubine is fleeing into the desert, pregnant with an Elvenlord’s child. She makes it to an oasis, where she drinks some water and passes out from exhaustion.

A dragon shaman is meditating in the form of a rock at an oasis, part of a ritual due to her pregnancy. She sees the human concubine arrive, and some part of her compels her to help the woman give birth. She then decides to keep the halfblood child.

 

That’s it. That’s all that actually happens. Yet, through thoughts and flashbacks, we learn vast amounts about the world. Something that I am always aware of is the delicate balance between tell the story and the “information dump” that can easily happen when trying to weave a new fantasy world. I think these opening scenes are a little more information heavy than typical, but Norton and Lackey handle it extremely well, and there’s something to be learned here.

 

Another thing that (especially the first book) drives home is the idea of coincidence. Or rather, the lack of that. Because when you’re the author, there IS no coincidence! Everything is carefully planned out, and although it might feel contrived in planning, on delivery it is very satisfying to see the pieces fall into place. [Spoilers] when I learned that Father Dragon was the Kalmadea from the journals that Shana had found I actually physically fistpumped the air, because that was a surprise and it fit and it felt great. Sure, sitting back, I could analyze it and say that the likelihood of an anonymous dragon centuries ago being the same one that helped Shana to live among the dragons and finally join her in the fight against the elves was extremely low, but in that moment reading it, it felt right.

 

Something else that I now appreciate a lot more than when I was younger, is that two of the three books feature a female protagonist. I especially enjoy the second one, Elvenblood. Partially because of it’s completely awesome looking cover

Image

This cover is actually the reason I picked up this series

but also because the narrative focuses a lot on the development of Sheyrena, a young Elven lady with a huge inferiority complex. Brought up her entire life learning the “lesser” magics of the women, with an domineering father who sees her as nothing more than a political marriage-piece, she escapes with her brother into the wilderness where she learns her own worth, both in her ideas and opinions, and in the magic she possesses. The second book also has something that I did not remember at all the first time reading through. Black people! In a fantasy epic! And they aren’t even savages. In fact, it is directly noted in the book that, although nomadic, these people were highly sophisticated, managing to best even our protagonists. They fade into the background by book three, however, which is a shame in my opinion.

 

Book three focuses on a human-sympathizing Elvenlord named Krytian. I remember the third book being my favorite when I first read through them, but reading them again now, it felt the most boring and stereotypical of the set.

 

Gonna end here with some sad news I learned awhile back. This series isn’t finished! (which was totally clear from the ending of the third book, I have no idea how I didn’t pick up on that the first time. Whatever, I was 14.) The fourth book, Elvenbred has not, and likely will not, see the light of day, due to the death of co-author Andre Norton. (hmmm, perhaps that is why I felt less than happy with the third book? The first two wrap up all their major plot points, where as the third book leaves many of them open to be resolved in the never-released fourth)

 

Also, writing things! Part of the reason this blog has been so dead is because I am a painfully slow writer (short attention span more than anything), and I feel weird talking about things I’m writing before they’re done (or even after, I guess). But right now I’m currently working on a short story that stemmed from a joke book title I made during a session of the Sims. Long story short, I’m writing a story about lesbian space pirates and it’s kind of gotten out of control at 20 pages. Oops. Here’s an excerpt.

Sondra followed her mother’s gaze to the abomination staring back at her from the depths of that reflective surface. Her normally limp hair had been tortured and cajoled into a fluffy mass of dark curls that threatened to swallow her round face. The heavy swirling mascara was supposed to highlight the shape of her eyes, but she thought it looked clownish, especially in combination with the liberal application of her mother’s bronzer, which gave her already tan skin an unnatural golden hue. The corset was a deep green—almost black—and it was made to accent her curves, but at 14, these were nonexistent and all it did was emphasis the scrawny stick-like nature of her torso and limbs.

Life update

I’ve been negligent in updating this blog!

Well, here’s some stuff going on in my life.

-I just graduated college! Hooray!

-I’ve moved across the country to go live in my parents’ house like a bum (boo!)

-Trying to figure out my life

-I really have no excuse to not write anymore, so I’m going to at least try to write a little every day (which I should have been doing anyway, but…well, you know. Life.)

-Try to get my stuff out to more magazines and see if I can’t get some more stuff published

-Look for work I guess

-I have an unpaid blogging job! It’s for media representation! My first post is up!

That’s my life right now. See you around.

The Rusty Knight

New material will eventually make its way onto this blog. In the meantime, here’s yet ANOTHER story I wrote and then forgot about until just now. THE RUSTY KNIGHT is a short story I wrote as part of a class called “creative writing in the community.” We were all tasked with writing a poem or short story aimed at a younger audience, and then paired with a young student (grades 4-7, I believe) to help mentor them in writing their own story or poem. At the end of the class both our work and the work of our young student were compiled and printed in a book and given to the families of the students.

The Rusty Knight

Tommy was a perfectly ordinary boy who lived in an ordinary house with a perfectly ordinary family. He went to a perfectly ordinary school where he learned perfectly ordinary things with his perfectly ordinary friends. Everything about Tommy was perfectly normal, except for his uncle Lermin. Tommy’s uncle Lermin was his mother’s brother, and he traveled around the world. He had a great mane of gray hair that stuck up wildly because he never bothered to comb it, and he wore a great big patchwork coat, like a quilt with armholes. Tommy’s father disapproved of him, and his mother was embarrassed by him. Tommy, however, loved him. On his infrequent visits, Uncle Lermin would always bring Tommy some kind of gift from his travels, and tell him all sorts of wonderful tales about his adventures.

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The Danger of Speaking for Others

The other day I came across an older article written by Ursula K. Le Guin about the whitewashing of her Earthsea series. (Sidebar, I really need to read some of her work). There was a paragraph here that struck me, because it is something that has always sat at the back of my mind as a concern:

So far no reader of color has told me I ought to butt out, or that I got the ethnicity wrong. When they do, I’ll listen. As an anthropologist’s daughter, I am intensely conscious of the risk of cultural or ethnic imperialism—a white writer speaking for nonwhite people, co-opting their voice, an act of extreme arrogance. In a totally invented fantasy world, or in a far-future science fiction setting, in the rainbow world we can imagine, this risk is mitigated. That’s the beauty of science fiction and fantasy—freedom of invention.

I think this is a very real issue when writing about disenfranchised people, or advocating for them. On one hand, your privilege (whether it be your skin color, sexual orientation, gender, etc) will allow you to reach the ears of those who might not listen to those same arguments from people without power, it also runs the risk of simply drowning out the voices of those you want to advocate for.

I value (good) representation over just about everything, so when a show like Avatar: The Last Airbender comes around that draws heavy inspiration from Asian and Inuit cultures, I’m ecstatic. But I can’t help but wonder how many other stories told in worlds based around non-western culture, done by people of those cultures, were passed over for this project, because the creators were not white.

I guess a fear of mine is overstepping my bounds when it comes to writing races outside my own, or about women or lgbtq characters. But I don’t think the answer is to just never write about characters that do not exactly mirror your own. Proceed with caution and get lots of advice, I guess.

Oh well, these are probably things that will be more of a concern after I actually get a book finished, right?

Light and Dark

As a lover of fantasy, and as someone who hopes to one day write in that genre, I often struggle with this highly ingrained symbolism. I can’t say for sure where or when this concept originated, but since at least Tolkien it has been a staple of high fantasy (both novels and games). If something is evil, then it is “dark” (black) and when something is good it is “light” (white). This isn’t limited to fantasy, much of our language reflects this white/good black/bad dichotomy (Martin Luther King Jr. even spoke about it). To put simply, the constant reinforcement through our language of black as negative helps to perpetuate the anti-black/white supremacist mentality that has existed since America’s founding. I don’t want to be a part of that.

But even so, sometimes I find myself slipping up.

Keep vigilant, one step at a time.