The Aviary Gate [Reading Challenge 2017]

The Aviary Gate

by Katie Hickman
Bloomsbury, USA, 2010

Challenge #7: A book in a new-to-you genre

(Note: I am reading and blogging these Challenge books out of order)

For this challenge, I chose The Aviary Gate, by Katie Hickman, from my pile of TBRs. From the cover copy I assumed it was historical romance, which is a genre new to me, and so I expected to read a steamy bodice-ripper of some sort. I’m perfectly aware, mind you, that romance has progressed beyond the bodice-ripper, but all the same, I was expecting a 6-packed, studly hero, a feisty but pure heroine, and the hijinks that keep the couple apart, and the sexual tension that comes from that.

Well, yes and no. I found it was more of a historical intrigue, the tale of an English girl sold into the Sultan’s harem in 16th century Istanbul contrasted with the story of a modern-day Oxford Ph.D. getting over a bad romance with a teacher.  The modern gal is researching the slave girl’s story, which acts as a framing device. The author is English and the writing was a lot different from the American style I’m used to. To begin with, it’s in third person omniscient, which is not used much, at least for romances, on this side of the Atlantic, though I’m used to it in the fantasy genre from writers like Neil Gaimon and Tanith Lee.  I found it more scholarly yet less disciplined, and emotionally colder… which was oddly more visceral because it was less in your face than the American style. A few frothy elements of romance were there, mainly to do with longing, and I enjoyed them even though I’m not a fan of the genre. There was perhaps too much forced exposition through the characters’ dialogue, but that may be par for the course for this kind of book. I couldn’t help feel it needed a better edit, though.

The author did have a way with words, and her quirky use of language kept me well entertained. Certain parts of the story were pleasingly squicky, like the slave girl being prepared for the sultan’s bed, which entails a painful depilitation, perfume inserted in private places, and even sitting naked on a block of ice. These were finely balanced between erotica and horror. The descriptions of the black eunuchs were horrifying too. It was hard to discern what the author meant by all this. Perhaps it was historically true, yet overall the sex seemed too squicky and clinical for a romance, even the modern girl’s experience. The author has a background in travel writing and historical writing, so perhaps the clinical feel came from that.

The plot itself was slight in both eras. The slave girl realizes her betrothed is in Istanbul to deliver a gift to the Sultan and tries to contact him, but palace intrigue overwhelms her, and she loses her chance to escape; the modern girl leaves Oxford to England to research the slave’s story, and gets over her former lover, and finds a new one. It read less like an adventure and more of a panoramic travelogue through both eras. Like a story about a story, than a story itself. The characters felt twee at times, especially through their dialogue, and some were stereotyped, like the awesome, supportive Best Friend of the modern heroine, and the ne’er do well, cheeky sidekick of the 16th century hero and love interest. But overall, it was a pleasant read that worked in its way.

(For Turkish harem novels, however, Barbara Chase-Riboud‘s Valide was a lot better.)

Death’s Erotic Thrill

death in a barcelona, spain, cemetary

There’s nothing more to be said here.

(Kiss of Death Statue at The El Poblenou Cemetery in Barcelona)

Worldbuilding Wednesday, 6/7/17

Dragon Falls, an exercise in worldbuilding

Starting a new series on this site, Worldbuilding Wednesday, a selection of randomly generated people, places, things, and concepts suitable for incorporating into fantasy — or any speculative — fiction, courtesy of my continued experimentation with Gammadyne’s excellent Random Word Generator. All are free for any writer to use; I have no claim on them. I’ll be posting on the ins and outs of using this generator in a later post.

Why post lists of names? Many writers do, in fact, have a problem coming up with good names.  If there’s one thing I hate in fantasy writing, it’s names that rely on bland syllables (Galarna, Tokul, Katana) names that are too evocative of this world (George R. R. Martin, I’m looking at you, with Ned and Jon) and unpronounceable or badly hyphenated names (Pam-Ella, Dr’zit.)  I’ve admired Jack Vance and Ursula K. LeGuin for creating unforgettable names, as well as British writers of fantasy like Tanith Lee and Storm Constantine. A good name can even create a character. Think about Lady Lazulvine of the Worm: do you see a villanous sorceress? Or perhaps an older practitioner of dark magic? And an inn called The Reckless Raven must surely host all kinds of unsavory characters.

This weeks’ selections are a mashup of Vanceian (again, that aforementioned Jack Vance), French, British English, Swedish, and German, in a pseudo-European polyglot.

Female names

Duchess Vyrgilla Lyrestone

Joiwynn Leerdawn

Jolette Deepspoon

Jularva Wineshore

Lady Lazulvine of the Worm

Queen Lyrilene

Ravenia Snipcup, AKA The Luscious Minstrel

Lady Shylla The Mournful

Ydivene

Imeili

Ulaytra

Sanshudra Sodcold

Male Names

Rolarch Witswallow

Sir Ghilius, Knight of the Somber Glaive

Sir Hyverys of The Boar

Sir Jingill of The Lusty Eye

Trinopher Podgrace

Ferschin Vanerock

Finnwen Damchick

Jarad Liegerend

Kalián Lovberry

Fayport the Unctuous

Mzarbar the Barbarian

Sir Jafflo of the Pure Wyvern

Local Color (People, Places, Things)

Ozder, the Angel Of Glory

Orsinfield Keep

Dallesong Palace

Fort Forancy

The Falkenmoss Kings

Folio of Displacement

Grand Duchy Of Svorotufte

Hessenborn Canyon

Brandraith Keep

Lightcourt

Inns: The Corpulent Stag, The Reckless Raven, The Blue Weasel, The Four Fingers Inn

Black Queen I

Photo by Daniel Jung

It’s when she lifts the veil that you have to worry.

(Photo by Daniel Jung)

Gunslinger

Art by Roman Chaliy, https://www.artstation.com/artwork/Vb658

He was brave to the last, but this didn’t save him… from unlife, that is.

 

(Art by Roman Chaliy)

Chamber of Chills

chamber of chills, 1950s horror comic

Most horror comics of the 1950s are nostalgic rather than horrifying, yet every once in a while I come across an image that is truly startling in its rawness. They were the decade’s way of dealing, sociologically, with the repressed horrors of WWII.

 

Cecaelia

A Caecilian (or octo-mermaid) from X-Ray Art by Benedetta Bonichi
The Cecaelia is an octopoid mermaid who, instead of having a fish’s tail, has the arms of an octopus. The villain of Disney’s The Little Mermaid was one. 

 

(X-Ray Art by Benedetta Bonichi)

The Lifeform

The cultured alien lifeform had an innocuous beginning, but a bloody end.

 

The Lonely Apollo Pioneers

Apollo 11 moon rocket

Returning last week from a trip to Florida, I have to say the highlight of my trip was seeing, at last, Kennedy Space Center. For a child of my generation this was a place that gained its initial familiarity on B&W TV screens (or color, in wooden consoles, if you were well-off or indulgent) with the news broadcasts of trips to the moon. It seemed a small, straightforward place on that long-ago screen. Like a football field, perhaps, with bleachers to watch the proceedings. In the years since, with continued broadcasts though the shuttle years, and my own research, the reality of it was not so compact; yet still, as a real-life visitor I was unprepared for the vastness.

The place is BIG, and sprawling, and very alien. Merrit Island, where Kennedy Space Center is located, is also a wildlife refuge where I saw gators, manatees, flamingos, spoonbills, dolphins, and wild parrots. The terrain is flat, the vegetation semi-tropic, the soil pale and bleached. Growing up in a decaying city of the U.S. Northeast, and later living in the lush but cool emerald-green Northwest, it was very alien to me. I couldn’t help but think if those same pioneers thought it alien as well. Of course, they were military test pilots, stationed and training in many different areas of the US, and so might be assumed to be used to changes of locale. But they still must have carried within them the local prejudices of their childhood homes, for a certain climate or terrain. Coastal Florida might have been an unworldly experience for them, a preparation for the unworldliness of outer space, and the moon itself. In effect, it was a subtle preparation.

Being shuttled around the place on an air-conditioned bus as I took the special tour, I saw for myself its vastness and loneliness. Strapped into a capsule at the apex of the Saturn V rocket, they must have been very lonely as the support personnel deserted them for the launch. That’s another thing I found out. Everyone cleared out of the vicinity for a certain radius, less the whole thing explode, like this:

 

Note the melted cars.

Seeing the place, for the first time I truly understood the immensity of the American space program, the sacrifices it required, and its dangers.

The visit was pricey, coming to around $120 for the basic admission and the enhanced tour, but that was par for the course for Florida attractions, and well worth it for the history. I also fulfilled a bucket list item.

Dumbo

Dumbo, by Austem Mengler

Not all the great pachyderms became extinct.
Some turned into ghouls.

(Dumbo by Austen Mengler)