Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Kingdom of the Golden Dragon by Isabel Allende (2004)

I needed another book on cassettes instead of CD's, since my player is on the fritz, so I listened to the next adventure of Alex, now 16 years old, his grandmother Kate, and Nadia as they travel to the remote Forbidden Kingdom in the Himalayas. This time we learn of Buddism and mind control and again, protecting a culture from being destroyed by the "developed" world. Again, people who want to steal the treasures of these people and mythical monsters, this time in the form of Yeti or the Abominable Snowman. (I found myself checking the Wikipedia for a take on the Yeti.) Very enjoyable.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks (2005)

The title was so silly I just couldn't resist picking up this free book. I don't know much of the Vampire genre, so I can't compare this to anything. I read something by Anne Rice quite a while ago and didn't care for it, so I haven't tried anything recently.
Roman Draganesti has been around for centuries, but is a "good" vampire in today's New York. He has discovered a way to make artifical blood, which satisfies vampire needs without having to use live victims. I liked the concept, that if someone has been around for centuries, awake at nights - they have had plenty of time to study various disciplines - sciences in this case, and plenty of time to work on experiments. Of course, he has become rich with his inventions, like Lazarus Long in Heinlein's books.
Shanna is a dentist, who is almost killed by the mob, but rescued by Roman. They are attracted, but how could she fall in love with a vampire...
I'm not tempted to read more vampire stories any time soon, but I was intrigued by the vampire clans, the interactions between humans and vampires, their virtual sex, but totally unamused by the harems - as if the women vampires couldn't have found ways to become useful and effective in today's world. I'd think they would get bored lounging around and being catty for centuries.

City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende (2002)

Since I love Isabel Allende, I thought I'd listen to some of her young adult books and was not disappointed. In this book, while his mother is being treated for cancer, 15 year old Alex has to go with his grandmother to the Amazon, where she has been sent by the fictional magazine International Geographic. Of course he lands in an adventure involving an egotistical anthropologis, nasty men who are trying to destroy the local Indians so they can exploit the land, Indians who have never had any contact with the outside world, and Nadia, the 12 year old daughter of their guide, who hears with her heart and communicates with animals. Since Alex and Nadia are pure of heart, they are allowed to see more of the Indian life than the adults and they learn to face their fears. Of course the story gets fantastic and they save the day and bring back some treasures that can help the Indians. Great adventure story that also educates.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Little Fate by Nora Roberts (2004)

This is another one of those three in one Nora Roberts' books, this time with three short fantasy stories.

The Witching Hour (2003) - A pregnant queen escapes her castle during a battle in which her husband dies and evil Lorcan takes over the kingdom. That night she dies in childbirth, giving life to Aurora, who is raised hidden and taught warrior skills to return to revenge her parents and rule fairly again. Her love interest is Thane, who is a lowly stable hand just waiting for the right moment...

Winter Rose (2001) - Deidre rules in a castle under the spell of perpetual winter, like Narnia. Kylar comes riding in through the wintry woods, wounded from battle. She heals him and they fall in love, but must part... The frozen rose in the garden is the indicator for the status of the spell. I liked the details about how she works in a greenhouse to raise food for her household.

A World Apart (2002) - Kadra lives in a primitive world and hunts demons. The demon leader escapes through a portal into present day New York City, where Harper Doyle is a private investigator. Kadra literarily lands on Doyle, who is nursing a hangover. This story was the most fun - I like it when worlds collide like in the Adept series by Piers Anthony. She is wearing Xena leathers and carries a sword. He is good with guns. Again, incredible attraction, when all is done they have to return to their own worlds, but ...

The plots are simple, so they can be told in a 100 pages. I'm sure it was just fun for Roberts to play with a different genre. She has her usual strong women and well developed settings, this time these are alternate worlds with magical power and swordplay.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Gilgamesh (2100 BCE)

A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell
Gilgamesh is an epic poem, considered the oldest story in the world, a thousand years older that the Iliad or the Bible, about the Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh and his friend Endiku, a wild man that grew up in the woods. Endiku is brought into civilization by the erotic arts of a priestess. Then Gilgamesh and Endiku go on to slay monsters and enrage the gods. When Endiku dies, Gilgamesh is grieved, so he goes off on another quest to find immortality.

I was quite amazed, and maybe even bored, to see that hero stories haven't changed that much over the millennium - there is still plenty of ego, violence and sex. What did seem different, that there wasn't a clear sense of good vs. bad. The monster the heroes killed was not necessarily evil, and actually the gods got angry and killed Endiku for his role in it. Sex is also surprisingly explicit and actually a civilizing, healing force, except when Gilgamesh takes his first rights with new brides, but that is an example of his hunger for power. Gilgamesh is an egotistical ruler who really only matures and evolves after his last futile quest for immortality.

I was impressed by the complexity and subtlety of this story from so long ago. The book (and the tape I listened to) consist of both the text of Gilgamesh and an extensive essay by Stephen Mitchell. He explains that the first clay tablets of Gilgamesh were found in 1853 and it took decades before someone could decipher them. Since then numerous fragments and versions have been found throughout the Middle East. Mitchell has not done any translations himself, he has rather adapted numerous versions, using one as the basis, filling in from other versions, and even adding lines of his own to fill gaps or to clarify the story. He has come up with a very readable version.

This book was suggested by one of the audio book store employees, who has been thoroughly fascinated by this epic. I admit my curiosity was piqued and I checked out the library shelves and found many other versions in English including two children's books, plus some versions in German.