Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Never Mind the Politics, Feel the Faith: Fay Sampson, Them (Oxford: Lion Publishing, 2005).Never Mind the Politics, Feel the Faith:

Britain seems to be a theme park. Berlewen is Countess of Cornwall, her parents the Grand Duke and Duchess. All is well on the estate, and servants mind their manners and mostly try not to be seen--as at Disney, the "true" inhabitants aren't supposed to see the technicians.

Then THEY forbid Berlewen and her family to leave their estate--they aren't allowed to ride their horses off the grounds. This is followed by a summons for Berlewen's services, but unfortunately her pet, an enkenethal, a sort of alien wolf-hound, chases them off and Berlewen decides to flee accompanied by her maid, Honesty.

Honesty and Berlewen have adventures. They meet the Robin Hood rebels and sing "One new morning my Prince will appear" (I joke not, it's the words of a freedom song). Eventually they and their friends will rescue the slaves and begin the liberation of the world from the Stalinists of the Freedom and Justice party. Along the way the earth moves and a dragon goddess emerges, and eventually there is an eclipse during which no guns work--this helps the peasant's revolt a great deal.

Although there is a nice hint that the pet (called "Prince" by Honesty) might be the saviour of them all, at the end, the Prince turns out not to be the boy who serves the soup.

Can you tell I didn't much like this book? OK, in order:
1. The style is verbose and over-written. I'm not sure it would have bothered me in a fantasy book but here it seemed constantly over the top, and its emphasis on landscape and describing people subsumed the rather interesting rebellion which was going on.
2. The politics are a mess. By this I don't mean that I don't agree, but that they never make sense; there is a token gesture to the idea that rulers may believe they are acting for the best when they behave tyrannically, but it never really hits home, and there is no sense at all of what might replace THEM. The faith in the monarchy is touching.
3. They are rescued by the dragon-goddess. This is fantasy, not sf.

And finally:
4. I started to get quite uneasy about two thirds of the way through. I'm still not certain why I was bothered. Maybe the setting in Cornwall? Glastonbury as a place of refuge?

Anyway, I wasn't in the least bit surprised when the actual prince, at the end, starts to act not like a prince, but like a Saviour.

He appears to have been in three places at once. Honesty remembers feeling that the prince was always with her. He bakes bread and serves soup to his followers. He appoints three leaders to act in his name (Honesty, Berlewen and her brother). He gives them staffs of office. He defines being a prince as "being with your people, all of them, wherever they are, sharing their suffering, bearing as much of it as you can. The ruler of all must be the servant of all." (248)

He refuses to rule; "I have shown you the laws by which this world was made to run. [I must have missed a chapter because I didn't notice.] Now I need delegates to carry on my work. Some people will muck out stables in my name, read bedtime stories in my name, keep account books in my name, and yes, govern a country in my name." (249)

Sorry lady, you've been rumbled. One G. P. Taylor is more than enough, and neither of you have the panache of C. S. Lewis.

A ps: just before posting it occured to me to check the publisher. I apologise. No deception is intended Lion Publishing is a Christian press. Odd though that there is more than a whiff of paganism about this novel.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is the same Fay Sampson who wrote a decidedly pagan retelling of the King Arthur myth. Wonder what made her go in to children's religious writing. I agree with you about GP Taylor, I hated Shadowmancer.

4:37 AM  
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4:25 PM  

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