Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Fairy tales are made of magic.
I wonder how many of you are sitting there right now, nodding (with the large, up-and-down head movements which signify your enthusiastic agreement, or maybe with those small, I'm-incredibly-uncomfortable-in-my-own-skin head bobs which indicate a more-cautious accord), compared to the number of you with a pained look plastered across your faces. "Fairy tales?", the skeptics among you are thinking. "Didn't we leave those behind in grade school?"
Well... yeah, most of us probably did... but why we did that is what I'd like to know.
Look at it this way-- most books do a decent job of throwing "real life" in our faces. It may not be the real life you or I have (and in the case of murder mysteries or horror stories, that's a really good thing), but you know what I mean. It's either the stuff we do, or the stuff we see on TV or in the news. Fantasies, on the other hand, are sort of like grown-up fairy tales, and they offer us something very different--a respite from what we see around us every day, a chance for our imaginations to soar and our dreams to take flight. (Who wouldn't want some of that, right?)
We appreciate fantasies well enough when we're young. At age 8, my friends all knew the same fairy tales that I did--scary stories with their dark forests full of menacing characters, threatening the lives/happiness of the good, who had to figure some clever--and often magical--way out of their predicaments. All these years later, though (yes, it's a lot; no, I'm not going to tell you how many), and probably only a handful of my former compadres have any interest in such things. Adults tend to liken fairy tales to cotton candy and rainbow-colored unicorns, forgetting the darkness and the thrills, and the absolute belief that "other" things are possible. The magic, you see, is gone.
There are always exceptions, though... a few people who retain their sense of wonder, those who not only believe in the possibility of the magical, mystical, and supernatural, but can also bring them to glorious life. Patricia Briggs is one of them.
Although Briggs is better-known for her contemporary urban fantasy series (featuring coyote-shifter-and-mechanic Mercy Thompson), her roots are actually in classical fantasy. In fact, after having her very first book--the fantasy Masques--published (only to watch it go pretty much nowhere), Briggs continued in the fantasy genre, writing several more books before finally turning to urban fantasy.
Switching to the newer genre wasn't a mistake; her Mercy books are very entertaining (and popular) reads. But, here's the cool thing... Briggs has recently returned to her original love--literally.
Masques, as originally published, wasn't a "bad" first novel; it had an interesting central story line, and Briggs' talent for creating a fascinating world peopled by compelling characters was obvious, even then. But the finished product was, shall we say, a little rough around the edges. There was a choppy quality to the writing, and I, as a reader, was left wanting to know so much more. (When a reader is left wanting more from an author's first novel? Take that as a very good sign... provided the author follows through, continuing to get better, of course. In Briggs' case, she hit it out of the park.)
So, when given what is a mighty unique opportunity in the world o'writing, Briggs jumped at the chance not only to see the long-out-of-print Masques republished, but also to revise portions of her early work for the new edition. (How cool is that, right?) The result is less a do-over than a polishing-up; it addresses some of the inexperience evident in the original, finally giving us a really good story that at long last feels truly complete.
Masques is the first in what is actually a loose trilogy known as the "Sianim" books. (Don't worry if you read the books out of order; the only recurring characters are minor ones, and each story is really a stand-alone.) It follows the adventures of Aralorn, a most-unusual daughter of a nobleman, who opted to forego a life spent doing ladylike things in favor of going out on her own as a mercenary (first a fighter, and now a spy). Aralorn is also something more than what she first appears; she is a shapeshifter (albeit an untrained one), possessing a degree of "green magic" (the ability to harness magic from the earth around her).
In the midst of an increasingly-troubling political landscape--one in which the most powerful (and scary) mage in all the land, Geoffrey ae'Magi, is suddenly, inexplicably gaining overwhelming popular support--Aralorn discovers that she is the only hope. So, together with a very small band of other non-believers--one ousted king, a handful of poncey noblemen, a few tradesmen, several small children, plus her own sometimes-companion, a wolf (who is also not quite what he appears)--it falls on Aralorn's small shoulders to hatch a plan to defeat the evil ae'Magi... before he and his men--and his monstrous magical creations--can find where the rebels are hiding and destroy them.
Masques is full of vivid imagery and fascinating lore. I had no trouble picturing the forests, the snowstorm, the caves, or the castle. I loved the Man in the Mountain tale, and how the telling of it played into the story. Briggs also did a superb job of adding in more dialogue, lending the interactions (and the relationships which develop from them) more believability and greater emotional depth. This time around, her finished work is a complete story--exciting, touching, and very hard to put down.
Originally, fairy tales were full of evil characters bent on doing some very bad things. Black-hearted witches plotted to kill the fair maidens, dastardly bakers-of-cookies really threw plump little children into their ovens, etc. Pastel-rainbow-colored unicorns had no place in real fairy tales... yet somehow that's how a lot of those stories have been bastardized for today. Briggs, however, holds firm, maintaining the grittiness of her own first fantasy/fairy tale--good characters die! even kids! really bad stuff happens!--while also giving us the satisfying, exciting, fantastical, happy ending we all expect (and need) from our fairy tales. Briggs is bringin' the magic back for adults... and I absolutely cannot wait to get another taste of her particular brand of magic in the totally-new sequel to Masques (Wolfsbane, which is set to drop in early November). :)
GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 4 out of 5 mousies!