Let’s puzzle this one out, shall we?
Let’s puzzle this one out, shall we?
Returning to Ruritania, Germanic names, and fictional European countries again…
There are really a lot of them, evidenced by this list on Wikipedia. I was blown away, actually.
Who are the inhabitants of these make-believe, little-known nations? Some of them I list below.
Wouldn’t you like to live here?
(Art by John Stevenson)
Fantasies set in Germanic cultures, like those based on Italian ones, have not been published much in recent years, yet in past decades there were enough of them to have their own subgenre: Ruritanian Romance. These novels were set in imaginary Central or Eastern European kingdoms and were full of G-rated intrigue, mystery, and passion. Lost heirs, arranged marriages, double-dealing chancellors, and spies figure prominently in them. In the books these kingdoms were depicted as existing in the contemporary world alongside France, Switzerland, and Russia and not in their own alternate universes. The most famous of them was Ruritania, in which the novel The Prisoner of Zenda was set, but there was also Graustark, Laurania, Syldavia, Grand Fenwick and, more recently, Zubrowka, from the motion picture The Grand Budapest Hotel. Ursula K. LeGuin jumped on the bandwagon in the 1970s with her nation of Orsinia, and more recently, Jacqueline Carey featured a Germanic nation known as Skaldi in her Kushiel’s Dart series (which can be considered an R-rated Ruritarian one.)
Here’s some Germanic — or Ruritanian! — sounding towns for a similar setting in fiction or gaming.
by Christian Kennedy
Waitingstar Publishing, New York, 2011
[Challenge # 5: A Free book]
Ah, my first finished read of 2018, by which things are starting smashingly well.
First up: A Freebie, in this case, an Amazon giveaway by the author. I knew full well what kind of book it was by the word slave and the well-coifed beefcake on the book’s cover (which, incidentally, did nothing for me: I like skinnier, angstier types, with cigarettes and dreadlocks) that stood as a pictorial representation for BDSM and other kinky stuff. In past years fanfic and original yaoi archives satisfied my appetite for slavefics like these, until there was just too much of it and it became too time-consuming to sift through. Self-publishing rose to fill in the gap, until that, too, became too tedious to sift through, so now, when it gets dropped into my lap I take a look. Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy and Pauline Reage’s The Story of O continue to be my benchmarks for a good kinky read, balancing stylization, the sensual, a driving, overarching plot, and hardcore, varied sex acts that aren’t too belabored.
The One Gold Slave follows the Sleeping Beauty model that takes place in a fantasy world removed from our own. This unnamed kingdom consists of small fiefdoms ruled by magically-talented Kings and Queens who owe allegiance to an Emperor. The estates are staffed by slaves, and they are happy to be slaves, as the snippets of slave instruction manuals before each chapter suggest. There are no commoners, no middle class. This is, economically, kind of whack-a-doo – after all, who’s in charge of the slave business? — but after all it is an erotic fantasy, and if sufficiently differentiated from the mundane world, it could work.
Unfortunately, it never did for me, and this lack of… authorial investment at otherworldiness, I guess… made the read lightweight for me and, for want of a better word, silly. At least in Sleeping Beauty we knew we were getting a fairy tale by the language and structure, and subject matter, and stylizations, but the writing of this one was far too casual. The slaves behaved less like peons under threat of life and death from their masters than a bunch of dim college students dormered together at some not very demanding summer job. Their dialogue was way too modern for this mythical world, as was their romantic banter, a lot of which I skipped to get to the action.
The hero of the book is a pleasure-slave named Zsash who, at the ripe age of 30, graduates slave-school and goes up for auction in the first chapter. Aside from that horrible name he’s completely unremarkable, so no one bids on him. In desperation he starts yelling, which incites a beating; but he’s also bought by a powerful Mistress, Queen Isavayne, for the gold piece of the title, and at age 30 he begins his slave career as her bath-slave. He narrates the book, and he’s the worst offender as far as the colloquial dialogue goes. He also seems to have had no life before the story begins. Assuming he’s started his lessons at puberty, surely it wouldn’t take 15 years to learn how to have sex? While a newbie to the estate was needed for the purposes of the plot, he comes across as way too ignorant of the world to be 20, let alone 30. He’s beaten a lot throughout the book, too, his physically hurts described in a long winded way, and I wonder if the author was purposely trying to make him a Beta, as opposed to the Alpha males that are in vogue these days. (Note: I’m not fond of Alphas myself, in fact I detest the very concept of males split into Alphas and Betas. I mention this only in the context of contemporary romance novels.)
If she was going for a Beta, she went too far in the other direction. This didn’t stop me from reading, as I wanted to see what scrapes he got into. But it did strain credibility for me in that I just didn’t believe in him as a character. That is, from the first pages, I saw him as a young, not too bright acting student trying to improvise his way through a sword-and-sandal epic and not convincing anybody of anything.
The first 2/3 of the book was mostly setup, and though it didn’t strain me too much to read it, I also skimmed a lot because it wasn’t too interesting and didn’t have much bearing on the plot. I guess the hero slept through slave-school because in these chapters he did all the things a slave shouldn’t: flirting with the household staff, mouthing off, asking the wrong questions, keeping a dangerous weapon, and stealing his Mistress’s panties, wine, and drugs. Why Queen Isavayne, who is actually the most epic and kick-ass character in the book, let him get away with it is beyond me. Why masters would allow their slaves sharp weapons is beyond me. On an estate full of able-bodied slaves, who or what is keeping them in line? My mind kept wandering to questions like this, and it’s safe to say I’m probably not part of the audience for this kind of erotic romance… there was a lot of going on about nothing.
To be fair, the story picked up 3/4 of the way through when, after an umpteenth beating, the hero is sentenced to fight in the Emperor’s gladiatorial contest against his nemesis and rival, and the fight and aftermath, including a return of romantic attraction between the hero and the Mistress’s right-hand slave did get my blood racing. After that there was a nice revelation of the book’s villains and a few nicely perverted sex scenes. Finally, things were moving. If the whole book had been like that, I would have been happier.
Mythical animals include the unicorn, jackalope, sea serpent, hydra, sasquatch, and many others… such as these. All randomly generated by me for inspiration and to get your creative furnaces going.
Yauzink: An aquatic lion with webbed paws, fins, a fish’s tail, and a mottled green and brown coloration. It is the favored steed of mermaids.
Basimurgh: A huge beast resembling a rhinoceros, but with eight horns on its long, square snout and white bristles on its head. It lays eggs in a nest of bones and meditates quietly until they hatch.
Nidbets: Monkey-like creatures with three tails and sweet smelling breath.
Yammovern: A dangerous mountain-dwelling wolverine whose forelimbs have mutated into batlike wings. It has an alert, watchful stance and poisonous spurs on its ankles.
Varlumph: A strange mixture of camel and lion used as a mount by steppe nomads. It spits at those who anger it.
Tatsa-Opel: A strange beast of the north that looks like a hippopotamus-headed musk ox covered with brown and tan stripes.
Wyvaroon: A rare animal that resembles a camel with eight humps and hairy tonsils. It has cloven hooves and foul, rancid breath.
Peganix: A legendary animal that looks like a fox with bird’s legs and wings. It has a single eye in the middle of its forehead and an insatiable appetite for human hearts.
Gallinemph: A rarely seen animal halfway between an armadillo and a hare in appearance. It is covered with shaggy fur and has scarlet nostrils.
Winkjereen: Tiny finger-sized ferrets with dragonfly wings. They flit in clouds under appleberry blossoms.
|It’s January again, so it’s time for another reading challenge courtesy of Authors Water Cooler. The Challenge consists of a list of 50 categories/subjects for a book, 12 of which we can choose with the option of extra credit if we finish early. Some categories are new, some were carried over from last year. Last year’s challenge was a lot of fun but also required discipline on my part, as I tend to be a lazy reader unless on a schedule I can habituate to. I was able to find that sweet spot during my lunch hour, however, and luckily a habit for me, though it takes a while to establish, distresses me to break it.
1. Get on with it already: A book that’s been on your TBR (to be read) list for over a year.
Hermetech, by Storm Constantine.
I’ve been trying to read this one forever.
2. Freebies: A book you (legally) obtained without paying for.
The One Gold Slave, by Christian Kennedy
A giveaway from the author.
3. Setting sail: A book taking place mostly or all on water.
City of Fortune, by Roger Crowley
A history of Venice.
4. I remember that!: A book about a historical event that took place in your lifetime.
Where Wizards Stay Up Late, by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
About the creation of the Internet.
5. My hometown: A book by a local author.
Reamde, by Neal Stephenson
A fellow Seattleite.
8. Bits and pieces: An anthology (poetry, short stories, whatever).
Undead Worlds, A Reanimated Writers Anthology
24. War is hell: A book about war, on the lines or the homefront, fiction or nonfiction.
A Delicate Truth, by John Le Carre
Never read him before! Looking forward to it.
34. Who was that, again?: A book about a person you know little about.
The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory
Who is she? I dunno.
29. Keep up with the Joneses: A book by someone everyone else seems to have read but you have not. T
wilight, by Stephanie Myers; Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
This one is a toss-up. If I can’t find my thrift-store copy of Twilight, I’ll do the Maguire.
38. Coming to a theater near you: A book made into a major motion picture.
Albert Nobbs, by George Moore
Been meaning to read this one for a while, too.
48. The butler might have done it: A mystery.
Antiques Swap, by Barbara Allen
I credit this one to my cousin’s wife, who had been trying to get me to read cozy mysteries for years.
49. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my!: A high fantasy. T
he Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison.
That’s as High Fantasy as it gets.
(Note that these will not be read in the order they appear here, but according to my whim.)
She was renowned for her love of children, though that love had sinister qualities.
(Artwork by Vania Zouravliov)
by Peter Townsend
Harper Collins Publishers, Kindle edition, 2012
[For extra credit: A biography or autobiography about someone still alive.]
I had planned to finish up my 2017 Reading Challenge with Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon, by Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, but it was stolen, along with the lunch bag it was in, a foldable spork, and some reading glasses, from my workplace. I was more than a little PO’d because I was just getting into it, and I truly cannot see what any of the homeless people, the probable thieves, would want with a book about the American space program. Not only that, the eyeglasses case was one shaped like a video game controller and hard to replace.
So, for a last minute substitute, I pulled in Who I Am the autobiography of Who guitarist Pete Townsend, one of the more erudite and philosophical personalities of the 1960s. This was actually a Kindle edition I purchased because I had tried twice to read a library copy of the book, and failed. Something about the immense pain on his face on the cover pic made me afraid to open it, and I was not sure of what I would find.
I’d actually been interested in the Who and their music for a couple of years now. The group’s Tommy rock opera was one of my earliest exposures to rock music at the age of 5, the album being an obsession of my older brother’s. My favorite songs were Pinball Wizard and Go to the Mirror. The metaphysical aspects, though, went over my head until I could read well enough to understand the lyric sheet, and in retrospect it was a influence on some of my own early fiction. Townsend’s book, happily, goes into great detail about Tommy’s genesis, recording, and legacy. In fact all of the material dealing with the 1960s is great, to me at least, because I’m always interested in artists and their influences. Also of interest was Townsend’s journey as a recording studio pioneer, especially of the small in-home studios many rock stars of his age began to employ. In today’s era of cheap, sophisticated, digital tools, it’s hard to remember how much sheer experimentation and invention it took to achieve unique sounds.
The other members of the Who, and the group itself, did not receive as much attention; those interested in a bio of the early Who will have to look elsewhere, such as Tony Fletcher’s Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend. (I’d read that bio before this one, so didn’t feel shortshrifted at what Townsend left out.)
Though the early sections of the book were interesting, the middle was largely a slog. It became too diary-like in a “I did this, then I did that” way and although as erudite and well-written as the previous chapters, it lacked a story arc, for want of a better term, such as going from addiction to sobriety, or discomfort with celebrity to acceptance of it. In the final third, with Townsend investing more in his sobriety and realizing some truths about his past, things get interesting again, leading up to the infamous incident where he was busted and fined for visiting a child pornography site, and it’s not what you think. He also had some interesting insights about digital media devaluing itself — when everything is freely available, all the time, anywhere, it becomes harder than ever to find the good amidst the bad, or even determine what makes a piece of media good at all.
In sum: I’m glad I read this, and as a person I’d rather hang out with Townsend than many of the other rock stars I’ve read bios of.