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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

*** Liavek: The Players of Luck, ed. by Will Shetterly & Emma Bull. Fantasy.

This is the 2nd book in the series begun with Liavek. I'm not really sure why I like this anthology series less well than the similar Thieves' World (#10) series. Though as I look back, I didn't like all of that series, either.

I'm wondering if perhaps the way I've been reading these recent two Liavek books has something to do with my lukewarm feelings about them. It's how I always (for the past couple of years, anyway) read anthologies and omnibuses (correct, btw--I looked it up here). I read them one story or novella or novel at a time, with another book in between. It keeps the stories from blurring into each other and allows me to experience each one individually. It works very well in most cases, but I'm beginning to suspect it might not be best for this type of fantasy anthology.

My biggest problem with most of the stories in this anthology--even the ones I liked--was the language/wording/tone/names--that flavor of writing that a lot of fantasy books have. It got to the point with a couple of the stories that I started wondering if they were written in a deliberately obscure fashion, trying to trip up unworthy readers the way a certain kind of teacher will write tests, not to see if students understand the material, but to try to trick them, a complaint I already expounded on here. Perhaps if I read the stories all in a row instead of with breaks in between, the transition to the fantasy-style wouldn't be so difficult, and I'd enjoy them more. The next one I read, I'll try it that way.
  • "A Happy Birthday" by Will Shetterly. A small child foils an attempt to kill The Magician. This one has recurring characters, and was clever, but the multitude of names at the beginning was confusing.
  • "Before the Paint Is Dry" by Kara Dalkey. This was one of my favorites. For one thing, it was different. A mural is commissioned for the Council Chamber, that, when completed, will contain a magic spell making the council members' minds susceptible to despair. It's up to recurring character and art critic to fix it.
  • "The Rat's Alley Shuffle" by Charles DeLint is a good example of a story that was confusing. Too many names, and ambiguous genders (not a problem, except when the names were replaced with pronouns, then I couldn't figure out who was doing what). There was also an unexplained departure from the established worldbuilding. Wizards in Liavek have to reinvest their luck every year on their birthdays, during the hours of their birth. But the plot of this story had someone inviting a group of wizards to a card game on their birthdays so he could bind their luck in the deck of cards. It was a clever story, but it didn't make sense within the established rules.
  • "Two Houses in Saltigos" by Pamela Dean. Another story that starts by confusing me with way too many names. It's a sequel of sorts to her story in the previous anthology, with the suicide order. It takes place in a theater, and the multitude of gender-ambiguous names (I'm wondering if this is a requirement) was even more confusing, because the actors seemed to take roles regardless of gender. I'm not harping on this, really, it's vastly more a matter of clarity rather than gender-identity. In any case, it seems deliberate in this story, which is about a love-tangle between several people for whom gender is irrelevant. It's one of the longer stories in the book, and it did become much clearer about halfway through, but if I weren't so stubborn, I'd have stopped reading after the first few pages.
  • "Rikiki and the Wizard" by Patricia C. Wrede. Once again, she writes about the god Rikiki, but this time it's an extremely short story--a fairy tale, about a wizard who offered his daughter's hand in marriage to whichever god would make him so rich and famous that he would never be forgotten. It's written in fairy-tale style, as is the conclusion. Very cute story.
  • "Dry Well" by Nathan A. Bucklin. The convergence of a musician-by-default; His Scarlet Eminence, the regent; a shipwreck; magic; history; and the strange workings of fate. It's a convoluted story, but complete and satisfying. Another of my favorites.
  • "Choice of the Black Goddess" by Gene Wolfe. This has another shipwreck. A floundering ship lands on an island where a theater troupe has shipwrecked. Several people have gone missing, and they end up playing a deadly game of shah (which sounds like chess, but with fewer pieces). Even when it was finished, I wasn't quite sure what had happened.
  • "The Ballad of the Quick Levars" by Jane Yolen. This is a poem, followed by a few paragraphs of explanation. Seems more like an entry in an encyclopedia on Liavek than a story.
  • "Pot Luck" by Megan Lindholm. Pot boil is a common delicacy in Liavek--it involves a stew that's kept continuously over the fire, and every day additional ingredients are added. (sounds much like the way I ate when I was a poor student) One inn is particularly famous for its pot boil, until one day, the owner comes in and it reeks. The solution to this mystery was fairly obvious, but it was a fun, and relatively un-confusing story.
  • "Show of Faith" by Gregory Frost. A thief, while trying to steal grain with which to make alcohol, ends up with a magic artifact that allows one to speak with the dead. I didn't quite buy the ending. ****spoiler**** Why would the regent just leave when she mentioned contacting a woman he'd killed, instead of killing her as he'd intended? ****
  • "An Act of Trust" by Steven Brust. This was just confusing. It takes place before/after/during the previous story, explaining some details, contradicting others.
  • "Ishu's Gift" by Charles R. Saunders is subtitled "an Ombayan Folktale," and that describes it quite well. It's like Ombaya's version of the story of the Garden of Eden.
  • "A Cup of Worrynot Tea" by John M. Ford. Another confusing story. Worrynot tea is the Liavekans' birth control. The story starts out sounding like a matchmaking attempt, then about halfway through, it changes, and there are forged messages, a battle, some possible jealousy, and the question of whether or not to reinvest ones luck, and then it just ends.
  • "The Well-Made Plan" by Emma Bull. The title is ironic, because the plan in question goes completely awry, and noble wizard Koseth wakes up to find himself in the body of young wizard Silvertop, and his body, presumably housing Silvertop, has been kidnapped. It's a fun story, one of the better ones of the anthology.


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