Golden Feathers Falling – Marcin Wrona (LTMG)

This LTMG fell through the cracks; the format I had to download it in at the time I won it some months ago, PDF, meant I would have to read it on the screen of my laptop which, while very doable, can be awkward, especially as I haven’t figured out how to bookmark in Adobe (if you can -?). (Excuses, excuses.) So my read of this book and the subsequent review have been a long time coming. But now I have a Kindle, and the galley took very nicely to conversion.

So did I, and so, hopefully, this review will make up for the delay. I love this book. Not only because it brings back happy memories of The History of Western Art in art school with the Assyrian winged man-headed bulls – which I now know are called shedu.

It’s as alien a world, in some ways, as can be found in any fantasy novel. While there are horses and beer and all sorts of familiar trappings, the sun is not the sun, nor the stars the stars, and the character names are very different. I love the main character’s name Alit, and may steal it. Or just rename my Kindle, because it’s kind of ideal. The sun, by the way, is Anki’s Chariot, and the stars his Ashuras. But the alienness is counterbalanced by the fluid, colloquial dialogue. The tablet house Alit and her brother run (writing letters for a largely illiterate society) is presented no differently from any more familiar business, the introductions to its purpose and doings made seamlessly. There is no pretension here, no “behold all the research I did which I here demonstrate in odd subject and verb placement”, or calling wine by the word people in that time and place would have used. That is generally a sure way of creating distance between the characters and setting of a book and its readers, of constantly reminding readers that this is a book and these are not real people. The wonderful characters in these pages are aggressively, vividly alive, and they speak as they speak without a care under Anki’s Chariot for what historians might think of the style of it. The research is obvious in the simple veracity of the setting – and the writing has an authority which lets the characters curse and gossip in perfectly ordinary English without raising hackles.

Funnily, for no good reason the writing has been making me think of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (which I read a very long time ago, and may not have borne any resemblance to GFF at all) – and the Amazon description reads thusly: “inspired by Mesopotamia under Persian rule and the sword-and-sorcery pulps”. Well there you go.

A discussion about all the things wrong with fantasy (on limyaael’s journals) delved into setting once upon a time, and derided the tendency to set fantasy in the same settings over and over. There are, it must be admitted, more Celtic fantasies than are strictly required by quota – and I say this as a complete and utter sucker for a good Celtic fantasy. But with the whole wide world at your feet and all of time to choose from, it is perhaps remarkable that writers keep going back to the familiar, the well-trodden path. Marcin Wrona took Frost’s other path, and while it hasn’t made all the difference – he is by far a good enough writer that a Celtic fantasy by him would undoubtedly be just lovely – it has made a difference. It’s a joy to be a tourist in a new land, to gawk at the mosaics and the fashions, to experience the sophistication and the barbarity, and to try to avoid seeing the bodies impaled on the hillsides.

(Also, from Amazon: “Marcin Wrona is a Polish-born Canadian author, a multiple immigrant, a mustachio-twirling financier, and many other things besides.” Heh.)

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