Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Lady Mage by Alexis Morgan - Book Review

My Lady Mage by Alexis Morgan is the first installment in the Warriors of the Mist series.

I was at Barnes & Noble when I came across this simple yet most inviting cover; a woman on a mesmerising white stallion against a night-sky-forest background. It was – and still is – an artistic cover with my favourite colours combined.

I was hesitant at first. I didn’t know the writer and I knew that most pretty covers enclosed not-so-good books within, but something about that that book kept me coming back to it. On my way out, I picked it up and decided it’s worth a shot. And an excellent shot it was.

Some might be surprised that I am unfamiliar with Alexis Morgan; I’m not American and I have never seen her books here in Egypt.

Back to the book; it was as breath-taking and as intriguing as its cover.

Not being a fan of romance, My Lady Mage is my first fantasy-romance novel. Still, I deal with romance with care for there are often clichés – just read the synopsis of many fantasy books and you’ll notice a pattern – but here, I enjoyed it. And that means Alexis Morgan did something spectacular, for I’m not easy to please.

The novel opens with a sort of introduction titled “River of the Damned” describing the Warriors of the Mist. It begins thus: “The Warriors of the Mist are a legend, their origins lost in the shadows of the past. In dark times, it is whispered, the warriors can be summoned from beneath the roiling currents when a champion is needed and if the cause is just.” (My Lady Mage, no page no. but before Chapter 1).

My Lady Mage revolves around Merewen, whose father ruled their Kingdom in the land of Agathia, but because the law forbids a woman from ruling after her father’s death, Merewen’s uncle, Fagan, takes over. Not only has evil roamed the land ever since, but it also grows stronger with each passing day. The first part in the Warriors of the Mist series focuses mainly Merewen, the warriors, her uncle and his wife and we get a peek at the Duke.

Merewen finds scrolls in her father’s library that speak of warriors that can be summoned to save a land and protect innocent people from evil; they are called the Warriors of the Mist. Merewen’s land has been struck by an unknown evil and out of desperation, she attempts to summon these warriors from the river.
Her summons is answered and five warriors spring from the water.

Alexis Morgan knows how to keep her reader interested till the end – and afterwards. She skillfully uses tension and relief. For example, the novel begins with in a dark eerie atmosphere with the legend of the Warriors of the Mist then with Merewen trying to reach the river without being caught by her uncle’s guards. She summons the warriors, her plea is answered and shortly afterwards we meet them. After all this tension, Merewen faints and the reader gets a bit of relief, when one of the warriors asks “Is she well?” And another answers “No. She’s not. She’s unconscious…” (p. 7). (I personally thought it was rather funny).

Although the warriors are hundreds of years old, they still view one another in their usual age. Averel is still described as the youngest (which I thought was rather cute).

I personally enjoyed how Morgan drew on other well-known texts in literature. For instance, “Then, an arm brandishing a sword burst forth from the deepest part of the river” (p. 5). This reminds me of the popular scene in the stories – films and series - of King Arthur, when the Lady of the Lake raises her arm, holding Excalibur. In My Lady Mage, there is a Lord and Lady of the Lake; another draw on the Arthurian tales. Another reference is in the second half of the story, “For now, the path of the Damned ran together with hers, side by side. Too soon, those roads would diverge, never to cross again.” Naturally, the first thing that came to mind whilst reading these lines was Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”, a favourite of mine. Another example, before I move on to another point, is “The cloth held no magic, naught, but its darkness concealing them in the fading shadows.” This part reminded me of the Elven cloaks in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. (I just had to mention that).
Some might disagree and Morgan will probably be doing this unintentionally – for all writers must have read great works to be able to write themselves. Anyways, for me, it was an additional pleasure.

There are five warriors, led by Gideon and as the story progresses we learn that each of them has a painful past. We also learn how each of them came to join Gideon and become the Damned. (These warriors are: Murdoch, Duncan, Kane and Averel).

There are some parts of the novel that show that there is some sort of mystery waiting to be solved but that is not revealed. For instance, when Merewen first brings the horses to the warriors, Gideon is struck by their stallion, Kestrel, and bonds with him.
“Still not able to explain, [Gideon] pointed toward the pale shape on Kestrel’s neck and then held up his shield with the image of a white gyrfalcon emblazoned on its surface. The two were nearly identical in shape. When [Gideon] traced Kestrel’s mark with his finger, a shiver of power slid through his senses.” (p. 22).

Rereading and typing this bit, I find it a rather odd, but new, image that something can ‘slide through the senses’. (Note to self). This strange connection is not revealed in the story; I’m still curious if there is something to it or if it just a coincidence.

I particularly like the way Morgan describes the warrior Kane. The way he is introduced in the early chapters – and throughout the novel – makes the reader curious as to whether Kane is man or beast.

Each of these warriors is memorable and loveable on their own. I tried very hard to pick a favourite but couldn’t do so entirely; even Kane, who appears to be – and is in fact – brutal and blood-thirsty, cannot be hated or disliked. (Bookworms will certainly love Duncan.)

Each of the warriors has an animal companion (also called “an avatar”), that is faithful to him. They are all very interesting creatures – no clichés here. Kane’s in particular remains a mystery till the end of the novel.

One of the parts I liked, but that wasn’t elaborated on was on p. 35: “Her uncle might rule the keep, but he was still reluctant to alienate everyone. Her people had been known to take revenge in small and irritating ways.” It makes you wonder what is meant by “irritating” in particular here, and I can’t help but give an evil smile whenever I read it.

Going deeper into Agathia and particularly into Merewen’s land, we meet her cruel Uncle Fagan. Not only does he mistreat all his subjects, with the exception of his lot of bandits, but he also abuses his wife, immensely and in public. The reader will at first be struck by the way Fagan and his wife, Alina, address one another: “Wife! Attend me now”, “Yes, my husband.” (p. 82). However, when one becomes more familiar with the two characters, particularly Fagan, one cannot help but say that the way Alina addresses her husband is more than he deserves.  

The society in Agathia is a patriarchal one, where women are not allowed to rule; even it is their birth right. Despite being the daughter of the ruler, Lady Merewen cannot rule in her father’s stead. Thus, her uncle is called in to take her place. Gideon, who is several centuries old, does not see a problem with a woman ruling the land. For me, this part reflected some modern-day societies. Also, as we go on with the story, we see that the focus is always on the male ruler or rather rulers, namely Fagan and the Duke. Lady Alina is Fagan’s wife, yet she doesn’t act like him. The same applies to Merewen. Both women are warm-hearted and kind as compared to the exploitative and abusive rulers. There is a reason Fagan does not kill Merewen although he rules and controls her land – or several reasons as we get to know at the end of the novel.

Merewen is a hard-headed, rebellious woman. Not only is she brave, but she is also very caring and considerate. She, literally, puts everyone before herself and is willing to risk her life for the people who respected her father and herself and who have remained loyal to both.

Towards the end, we meet the Duke, who rules over all the lands of Agathia. There is a reversal of roles in the scene in chapter 22, where Fagan, who constantly terrorises and abuses his wife, cowers before the Duke and is terrified of him. It is an interesting, dead-cold scene.

I am not a fan of profanity and there were some instances in this novel where I felt there was no need for it. On p. 91, “Meanwhile, Kane continued polishing the damned horse’s hide.” Personally, I don’t see a reason for the word “damned” here, especially since what precedes it does not carry any angry tones or the like.

Also, the use of the (‘d) as a contraction for had (most of the time) is very annoying as the reader has to, often, think whether it is ‘had’ or ‘would’. Moreover, it is the only contraction in the text. For me, there should either be contractions throughout or none throughout as well (speech excluded). It also looks out of place. Without this (‘d) – and a couple of needless uses of ‘damned’ – the book would have been utterly perfect!

The first part in the Warriors of the Mist series is by all means a grabber, a must-read. The moment you finish it you feel like you need the second part right after it to carry on the adventure. The characters are memorable, each in their own way. The book contains some adult scenes so I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under 18 (I suppose that could differ with American and European audiences).

Alexis Morgan’s choice is words and imagery is notable throughout the novel, one of the ones I marked was “before the sun crested the horizon” (p. 18). She wittingly uses tension and comic relief well in her novel, which, I must say, is a blessing.

Morgan also gives her readers a glimpse of the following book, making them more eager and excited.

My Lady Mage is the first romantic fantasy novel I have read – and no I have not read the Twilight series nor do I plan on reading it. This part is succeeded by Her Knight’s Quest, which was published on 5th of March, 2013. It is unclear how many parts the series will be, but @Goodreads shows a third part called Honor’s Price, which is expected to be out sometime in 2014.  

Note to Alexis Morgan: Thank you.
Overall rating: 5 stars.

Check out Nadaness In Motion's book review of book 2 in the series, Her Knight's Quest.

Works cited: Morgan, Alexis. My Lady Mage. New York: Signet Eclipse, July 2012. Print.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Wuthering Heights - Book Review

Emily Bronte’s famous novel Wuthering Heights does contain bits – tiny bits – of the gothic and the creepy, but it is not what the reader doesn’t expect. May be because these dark instances recur in modern movies often, we see them as cliché; perhaps they were not so during Bronte’s time.

Nonetheless, I had heard so much about the novel, that I was so eager to read it. When I was done, I wasn’t that pleased.

The novel is terribly popular for its earthly and spell-binding imagery. The most famous and loved-by-all image - few can disagree with this, myself included - is when Catherine Earnshaw says: “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Healthcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.” 

Most of the good imagery is seen when Catherine talks about Heathcliff or when she compares him to her suitor Linton. Another popular quote and image is: “…but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of his and mine are the same and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning or frost from fire.

The imagery is indeed poetic and I do applaud Bronte for her creativity and choice of images and words (within those images).

There are, however, instances of pure stupidity, childish behavior, and a fair bit of ruthlessness. Catherine Earnshaw constantly claims that she and Healthcliff love each other , not a physical form of love but rather an unearthly, soul-connected love (yes, I am avoiding the word ‘spiritual’ here).

Throughout the novel, I did not feel that Healthcliff loved Catherine, neither physically, nor spiritually, nor anything. I felt that the novel was about two people constantly teasing one another – and other people – for fun and heart-ache, and to spite one another. The so-called ‘love’ in Wuthering Heights did not seem like love at all. It is overrated.

I cannot elaborate further for this means that I will have to reread the novel. However, I must honestly note that while writing this review, the novel appealed to me more than it had done when I read it a few years ago. Hence, I’ve raised the rating to three stars instead of only two.

For more quotes from Wuthering Heights, please go here:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Reign of Fire

At last, my reign of fire has begun!
The world as you know it will be undone!
Burn precious land! Burn!
To rule you, has come my turn.

Green is not my colour,
But blazing red is.
Come, has humanity’s hour,
To see how devastating life will be.

The time has come for them to see,
The beauty of mortality.
Wallow not, for you have all been consumed by your greed,
Now you sow the thorns of your seeds.

Plenty, the world gave you,
But repay it kindly you did not.
Now brace yourselves for what it will give you,
You idle, cunningly conniving lot.

The fields of green will burn red,
‘We have it under control,’ you said;
The seas of blue will turn black with rage,
And my fury will last for an age!

Then, if you live still,
We shall see what becomes of your will.
Will you end the storm and learn?
Or shall we annihilate your spawn?!

Burn precious land! Burn!
Show these men the choler in your core!
Burn mighty land! Burn!
Let’s see if these creatures have a heart or will exist no more!

Burn furious land! Burn!
See them crumble; it’s their turn!
Burn bitter land! Burn!
In this age, all life, to ashes, will burn!

The poem is picture inspired - with a hint of personal stuff.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Nature's Trance

Can you hear that distant melody?
That woman’s voice amongst the trees?
As the sun sifts through the leaves
The earth dances under your feet,
Like a beating heart.

Look closely but not desirously,
You’ll see fairies of all colours;
Transparent glittery wings
Fluttering against the wind,
Like baby butterflies.

Inhale the fresh air,
Taste the forest’s scents,
Your tongue will yearn for more.
Orange, pine, mint,
Roses, rain, damp grass.

Your bare feet feel the rhythms,
They dance in this mystical trance.
The air carries you,
Your voice now pure, magical,
Sings a melody in the distance.

The forest is calling you:
‘Become part of me, fulfill your destiny’.
A woman’s voice sings amongst the trees
No one can see her,
But her voice resounds an ancient melody.

This poem was also titled "Songstress". Feel free to tell me which do you find more fitting, or make your own title suggestions. Thank you.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ramblings of the Troubled Mind (6-6-2013)

I’m sure most people would call me crazy; ‘You go to work to do nothing and you’re not happy?! Are you mad?! That’s every Egyptian’s – person’s – dream job!’

Well I suppose this is the unegyptian part of me. I’m not going to be Nada who ‘just sat there.’ No. I’m not going to quit – yet – not until I find something else.

I feel like I’m stuck in a whirlpool of stupidity and mundaneness. I’m losing bits of myself day after day, week after week and month after month.

Even the bookworm in me is dying – it could always be the book I’m reading. I’ll definitely start a new one tomorrow. But the problem is the will – my will. The famous saying goes “When there’s a will, there’s a way.” But what if there is no will?!

Every day I have to get up, get dressed, take my bags, go to work, get creative in finding means to pass the long hours, get in the car again and leave and hopefully get home in one piece.

After an absolutely meaningless day at work, I go home tired – and yes doing nothing all day is tiresome, probably even more tiresome that doing something. It is more tiresome, dispiriting and highly unsatisfactory.

I go home, too tired, annoyed and bored, eat or sleep or both; then, wake up too lazy to do anything worth mentioning or to go anywhere, especially when I’m alone and especially now that many of the people I know have exams and the rest are just Facebook people I haven’t seen in ages, probably even eras.

Lately, I have bought a ton of books with more to come – already filled in orders for them. Some will arrive later this month and I sincerely hope they break me free of this recurrent dumb misery; the rest will probably arrive sometime in late August or early September.

I feel like a switched-off light bulb. I need an incentive to get me writing and reading again – reading with fervour I mean. I need to reawaken the bookworm and writer in me.

People here don’t see me. It’s been a year and none of them seems to know me or interested in getting to know me – let alone understand any part of me. The same can be partially said of me – partially not entirely.

Every time I get on Goodreads and see the amount of books there are and how writers, worldwide in general and in the US in particular, are flourishing and writing and publishing series after series, I feel more frustrated and irritated. There is an excellent medium for reading, writing and publishing there (whether for print or Kindle or Nook or whatever) – at least I think and believe so. It’s what I see. I desperately want to enter that world and become an accomplished writer. It’s difficult, I’m well aware of that. But at the pace I’m in, I doubt I’ll ever get anywhere beyond my room, keyboard and blog.

I have so many ideas in my head, but the laziness and lack of will are killing me very slowly. I’d like to get my masters’ degree in literature (poetry or novel), practical criticism, linguistics, comparative literature or any such field. They even have a masters’ degree in creative writing abroad! How cool and awesome is that! (None of the latter here in Egypt of course, I wouldn’t even dream of it.)

Generally these interests of mine do not qualify for any kind of scholarship…

I start my next German course in August – bummer. I was hoping to start in June, but that’s not possible unless I take once per week from June till September. Not sure what I’ll do about that yet. I was hoping for an early start to get me out of this mood and possibly push me forward to finding new opportunities.

I plan to finish Sir Gawain and the Green Knight today along with its review, which I just realised is more of a summary than a review of the 98-page poem. I suppose I can make two versions; one short review and another much lengthier summary and review.

I still have two more book reviews that I need to write – and by ‘need’, I mean I will not forgive myself if I don’t write them. They are The Hobbit and My Lady Mage.

I have three more elemental poems to write – for no publication whatsoever; ‘Water’ and ‘Fire’ being the completed two. I had written ‘Water’ over a year ago – may be even two years ago. I wrote ‘Fire’ last Tuesday.

I have so many stories in progress but I fear to complete them in this mood lest I ruin them. At the same time, there is the possibility that attempting to complete them might actually get me out of this wretched mood.

There is still hope.

There should always be hope.

There has to be hope.

- Written Thursday, 6th of June, 2013.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Holy Grail (Book Review)

When I first picked up Giles Morgan’s The Holy Grail, it was on sale at a local bookstore - @DiwanBookStore – otherwise it would have been too expensive. I’m glad it was on sale because it’s a real treasure.

Overall the book is divided into eight chapters. Each chapter is subdivided into shorter parts. It is easy and interesting to read, especially since it intertwines history and literature. Although it does not have any complete stories, The Holy Grail encompasses many smaller and shorter stories within the folds of its pages. The reader is often reluctant to turn the page for fear of forgetting the beauty of the page before it.

The first three chapters are titled: “The Magic Vessel”, “The Cup of Christ” and “Glatsonbury and the Grail”. The first chapter handles the Grail as an idea or a magic vessel; it discusses how various cultures have objects similar to the Grail. For instance, in Celtic mythology, they had, instead of the chalice cup, a magic cauldron. The book also traces the Holy Grail in literature across time, particularly with regards to King Arthur and his knights, who were often, if not always, associated with a quest to seek out or retrieve the Holy Grail. Morgan explores the Grail in relation to Christ and Joseph of Arimathea, who as Morgan explains “plays a key role in the medieval Grail stories, and other than Christ, he is a biblical character mostly associated with [the Grail]. However, like the Grail itself, there remains something mysterious about his identity and his relationship to the chalice cup,” (p. 57-8). Morgan then discusses the various scenarios by which Joseph of Arimathea could have obtained the Grail.

Following that is an entire chapter, excluding other references throughout the book, dedicated to “Arthur and the Holy Grail”. This fourth chapter is followed by another called “The Grail Mysteries”, which explores the Templars, the Cathars and The Turin Shroud, and other religious groups and ideas often associated with the Grail.

The three remaining chapters in the book are titled: “The Grail Revival”, “A Modern Obsession” and “The Cinema of the Grail”.  The first of these three explores a literary revival in Grail-related tales in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through prominent writers such as William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Morgan reveals that the idea of the Grail “belongs outside the orthodox teachings of the Church” (p. 105). Puritans and Catholic Church reformers rejected Grail literature at the time.

The following chapter “A Modern Obsession” handles the Grail through the works of T. S. Eliot, Carl Jung, T. H. White and J. R. R. Tolkien. Morgan claims that “there are undeniable parallels” between Tolkien’s epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings and the Arthurian romances, for both involve the theme of the quest. “Like the Grail romances the quest which is undertaken is perilous and difficult and can only be achieved by one special individual” (p. 131). However, there is a major difference between the Grail and the One Ring. The former has healing powers and is a “heavenly talisman”, whereas the One Ring is evil and corrupts whoever possesses it. Morgan also claims that the Arthurian influence is apparent in the titles of two of Tolkien’s three books, namely the last two. “The Fellowship of the Ring echoes the fellowship of the Round Table and The Return of the King evokes the legend of Arthur’s promised return.” (p. 131). Morgan also compares Aragon to King Arthur and the wizard Gandalf to the Arthurian wizard Merlin.

Giles Morgan also elaborates on the works of author T. H. White, who published a series of books on King Arthur and Camelot between 1939 and 1977. The series begins with The Sword in the Stone, followed by The Witch in the Wood, then The Ill-Made Knight, Candle in the Wind and finally The Book of Merlyn, which was published posthumously.  

Finally, the last chapter in Giles Morgan’s The Holy Grail is “The Cinema of the Grail”, which encompasses the representations of the Grail in films by, to name a few, George Lucas in his epic fantasy series Star Wars, Steven Spielberg – alongside George Lucas – in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Monty Python in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and finally in Peter Jackson’s recent adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

There is no doubt that Giles Morgan knows how to present his work and keep his readers interested. The entire book is 155 pages long divided into short chapters, which are sub-divided into shorter topics or ideas. The language isn’t too difficult, though it might be a bit for people who are unfamiliar with Christian terminology. Naturally, there are many references to literature since the Arthurian legends are often associated with the Holy Grail; accordingly, the reader is interested in exploring all of these references to see how each writer draws on the legendary Arthurian romances. Moreover, Morgan’s weaving of words appears to come naturally but has a lasting effect on his readers.

I have finished this book not more than three months ago and I am already eager to reread it as well as other books by Morgan.

The Holy Grail by Giles Morgan is one of those books that you cannot put down and the moment you finish it, you feel like you want to start it all over again. It is, by all accounts, a must-read.

Works Cited:
Morgan, Giles. The Holy Grail. Wales: Pocket Essentials, 2005.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Writers rating their own books? Is that even normal?!

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve had this INSANE addiction to the popular book-and-readers website Goodreads; researching books, their writers, people’s comments about those books, recently published books, others to-be published, other genres, recommendations generated by the site…etc.

For those who are not familiar with Goodreads. It is a website that features books in print, e-books, Kindle editions...etc of publications from all over the world. It also includes groups for discussions, polls, and a creative writing section. It is a must-check-out website for bookworms and non-bookworms alike. On Goodreads, there are three categories for a book’s status: read, to read, and currently reading. If you’ve completed a book, you may, or may not, rate it using a scale of 1 to 5 stars. You may also leave your comments or impressions.

Something odd I’ve noticed recently was that some writers rate their own books!

How does that work? I mean, I write a book and give it a 5-star rating?!

Obviously, if I’ve written a book I’m going to think it’s the best ever and I’ll give it the highest rating – otherwise I wouldn’t have written it and it wouldn’t be my pride and joy.
It was rather striking for me to see – or rather notice this. I have been thinking about it for a few days now: no one in their right mind would give their own work a bad rating; everyone views their work to be of the best or highest quality. True, they might view their later works as better and more sophisticated for writing develops with practice, experience and time, but still, a writer wouldn’t willingly downgrade his or her own work. Furthermore, few – if any – writers can distance themselves from their own piece/work to be able to give it an objective review or commentary.

I have convinced myself that I will not post the writers’ full names here, so that no one would think of them as silly – other than myself.

A certain writer gave her book a 5-star rating and commented saying “I think it’s fabulous, but I wrote it”.  For this line I had the urge to say “No kidding” or “Oh really?!”

Call me silly, but it rather annoyed me. I know I would like or do often think the same of my own work, but I don’t say so out loud. I’d rather see or hear other people say that.
Similarly, a young Egyptian author gave all of his short story collections a 5-star rating. I’d comment, but I don’t know what to say other than “weird”, but that would be a repetition.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian writer, or rather poet, gave her poetry collection a 5-star rating. - I have to note that one of her fans commented saying “[This collection] deserves 10 [stars] not only 5”. Ironically, this same person gave the collection a 3-star rating below! I don’t like the excessive use of exclamation marks, but with this last remark, I have the urge to do that which I most abhor: !!!!!!!!

Moving on, I came across a writer, not Egyptian or Arab, who gave their work a 4-star rating. I wonder why.

Whether it was for fun or for real, this last rating is just down right “weird”. Why would a writer give their work a 4-star rating? Don’t they like the outcome? If yes, why didn’t they perfect it then? Is it an old piece therefore they view their newer ones as better? If so, why rate it in the first place?

As a reader, if I see a writer downgrading their own work, I won’t consider reading it. Period.

I realise that some, if not many, might find this post altogether silly, but certain things need to be said. At least that’s what I think and believe. Take it where you will.