The Curse of Chalion – Lois McMaster Bujold

The Curse of Chalion is a secondary-world fantasy based off Spanish history–the youth of Isabel I and the Reconquista. Names and some events are changed, but there are clear analogues. Of course, the titular curse is fictional, tying together a string of bad luck in real life as a magical disaster haunting the royal family.

I enjoyed the book greatly–whether you know the history it’s drawing on or not, it’s a wonderful theological adventure, in which fantasy gods play a prominent role. My post however will be less about the book’s many good qualities, and more about something that troubled me.

I don’t pretend to know a lot about the Reconquista, but I do know that during Isabel’s reign, Muslims and Jews were expelled from the country. In this fantasy world, the Christian equivalent are Quintarians, worshippers of the Five Gods, whereas the Muslim equivalent, the Quadrenes, see one of the gods as a demon and do not worship him. In general, the fictional religions have nothing to do with their real life counterparts–the only reason I call them equivalents is because of their position in the political situation. For example, the Quintarians are accepting of homosexuality, because it’s thought to be part of the fifth god’s domain. Obviously 15th century Christians were monotheists and also thought homosexuality a sin.

There is no equivalent population to the Sephardic Jews in this story, which greatly simplifies the ethics of the situation. There also don’t appear to be any equivalent to the moriscos–Muslims of Spanish rather than Moorish origin–which again makes it a lot more clear-cut. There are invaders, occupiers to be kicked out, and no collateral damage along the way. Moreover, the Quintarians are, in the context of the book, objectively right about their religious beliefs. The Quadrenes are simply wrong. 51k72bgtswml-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Now this is obviously not a direct take on the Reconquista and assorted fallout, but a world where magic is real. It still troubled me how thorny historical issues and atrocities are smoothed out in the fantasy world, when it’s so easy to draw equivalents to the real world (Isabel=Iselle, Enrique=Orico, Beatriz de Boabadilla=Betriz). Iselle herself is a lot less complicated and flawed than her real-life counterpart, because she simply has a less complex situation to deal with.

Another series that similarly troubled me was Aliette de Bodard’s Aztec books, in which the Aztec gods are real and demand human sacrifice. This takes place in a world exactly like our own otherwise, without the poetic license of a true secondary world. It seems to justify to some degree the human sacrifices of the Aztecs, making the historical crime of unwilling sacrifice much more palatable.

I don’t have an easy solution for any of this. In fact, I think fiction and particularly fantasy is a good place to explore issues and counterfactuals that make no sense or are even dangerous ideas in the real world. I loved The Curse of Chalion in part because I could recognize how Bujold had taken real events and cleverly made them fantastical, and I am reading the sequel, Paladin of Souls. But the ethics of using and twisting real history in fantasy bothered me nonetheless.

The Crown’s Game- Predictions

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Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game (formerly The Tsar’s Game) is out in May, and if you remember my earlier post on the book, you’ll know that I was excited because it takes place in 1825 Russia, the year of the Decembrist Revolt, a failed rebellion by a group of liberal officers on the Senate Square in St Petersburg.

However, it’s clear this is an alternate Russia, with magic and also some changes in the imperial family. The tsar going into 1825, Alexander I, had no son, so the succession went to his youngest brother Nicholas, bypassing the middle brother Constantine, who had agreed not to take the throne. The confusion surrounding the succession provided an opportunity for the Decembrists.

In Evelyn Skye’s alternate Russia, the Tsar has a son, Pasha. This eliminates the confusing succession that provided an opportunity for the real-life rebellion. So I see several options here:

1) The rebellion breaks out, but in a different way, possibly caused by main characters Vika and Nikolai. This would create conflict for Nikolai, who is friends with Pasha.

2) Pasha leads a palace coup and/or joins a rebellion against his father, an action with ample precedent in Imperial Russia. Alexander I, for example, overthrew his own father.

3) The rebellion breaks out separately from the main characters’ actions, and they must decide their relationship to it.

Of course, since there’s a sequel coming, this all may be delayed to book two!

Evelyn Skye has asked me to include the following information about the book and THE GIVEAWAY!

About the Book:

Title: THE CROWN’S GAME

Author: Evelyn Skye

Release Date: May 17th, 2016

Pages: 416

Publisher: Balzer+Bray

Formats: Hardcover, eBook

Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

About Evelyn:


Evelyn Skye was once offered a job by the C.I.A., she not-so-secretly wishes she was on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and if you challenge her to a pizza-eating contest, she guarantees she will win. When she isn’t writing, Evelyn can be found chasing her daughter on the playground or sitting on the couch, immersed in a good book and eating way too many cookies. THE CROWN’S GAME is her first novel. Evelyn can be found online at www.evelynskye.com and on Twitter @EvelynSkyeYA.

Website | Twitter |Facebook | Goodreads | Tumblr | Instagram

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive an ARC of THE CROWN’S GAME. International.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/M2VkM2RiMjQwOWM5ZWE0M2QwNTA5Mjk4ZTJiMDc4OjEw/?

Find the complete Tsar’s Guard Parade Schedule at Evelyn Skye’s website!

Recently Sold YA Novel: The Tsar’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Evelyn Skye just scored a six-figure deal for her YA historical fantasy set in 1825 Russia. The Tsar’s Game will be out from HarperCollins Balzer + Bray in 2016. And there’s only one reason to set a novel in 1825 Russia- the Decembrist Revolt. Hopefully that will feature prominently.

Here’s the summary:

Sixteen-year-old Vika Andreyev can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Eighteen-year-old Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters, the only two in Russia, and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakh hordes threatening Russia, the Tsar wants an enchanter by his side.

In the past, however, two enchanters have posed a problem. Too much ego, too much power, too much potential for betrayal of the Tsar. So the Tsar’s Game was invented, a duel of magical skill. The victor becomes the Royal Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected advisor. The defeated is sentenced to death.

The Tsar’s Game is not one to lose.

Of course, they both want to win. Until now, Vika’s magic has been confined to her tiny island home, and she’s eager to showcase her skill in the capital city of St. Petersburg. It also doesn’t hurt that the competition allows her to express her mischievous streak. Nikolai, on the other hand, is a study in seriousness. As an orphan with not a drop of noble blood in his veins, becoming the Royal Enchanter is an opportunity he could, until now, only dream of. But when Vika and Nikolai begin to fall for each other, the stakes change.

And then, the stakes change again, as secrets from both their pasts threaten to upset the balance of the Tsar’s—and the Russian Empire’s—power

The Game is so much more complicated than it looks.

Karen Memory Release Day

Elizabeth Bear’s steampunk lesbian adventure story, Karen Memory, goes on sale today. Here’s a link roundup.

Excerpt here.

Bear’s post in John Scalzi’s The Big Idea series.

Liz Bourke and Brit Mandelo review it at Tor.com. I particularly like this quote that Liz pulled out:

“Priya looked up at me through all those bruises, and I thought filly a third time. I could see in her eyes what I saw in some of my daddy’s Spanish mustang ponies. You’d never break this one. You’d never even bend her. She’d die like Joan of Arc first, and spit blood on you through a smile.”

NPR review here.

Buy the book!

No Human Hands to Touch (short story in Sirens and Other Demon Lovers) – Elizabeth Wein

‘Medraut,’ I murmured, ‘Do not call me Jocasta, or I will let you borrow my brooches…’

Have this story (published in “Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers,” available as an ebook) on hand immediately after reading The Winter Prince (which I highly recommend you do!). Told from the point of view of the antagonist Morgause, it fills in some of the protagonist Medraut’s backstory, which is darkly hinted at in the book. It shares an amazing atmosphere with the book which isn’t apparent in the sequels: It’s full of tension, self-destructive pride, defiance, messed-up family relationships, cruelty, and loneliness.

His lips curled back, barely, and he croaked at me, ‘I do not need your brooches.’

The Winter Prince – Elizabeth Wein

“‘Have you ever loved anything?’

‘Yes. Yes. All the wrong things. The hunt, and darkness, and winter, and you, Godmother.'”
This is a book I wish I had written.

It is a first novel, and cool and sharp and glittering, like a heavy, hanging icicle. It is very dark, with just enough hints of the backstory to let you fill the rest in for yourself.

It is an Arthurian retelling, focused on Mordred, in a version in which Arthur has legitimate heirs.

The narrator, Medraut, is complicated and brave and oh-so-fallible, like his siblings and father, the other central characters. He addresses his narration to his mother-and-aunt Morgause, who is terrifying- sadistic and false and capable of cutting to the bone.

The ending departed slightly from the subtlety of the rest of the book, spelling out the epiphany, but that’s a minor complaint. The voice is intense, deliberate, engrossing.

The Winter Prince is a short read, just over 200 pages, and a brilliant one. There are sequels, but they branch out further from the Arthurian setting and don’t seem as good. This one stands alone, and is a masterpiece.

Cry Murder! In a Small Voice – Greer Gilman

A novella for Elizabethan/Jacobean drama nerds. The language is deliberately difficult, and in the second half I was frequently unsure what exactly was happening, and the ending was unsatisfying, but this was still a fascinating read. Lots of Shakespeare, and a surprising number of Marlowe references (“…his Lucan still unfinished, plays unthought of. Overtaken: and would never now be thirty. Zeno’s poet. An were I that witch of Thessaly, I’d conjure Kit and say, translate me.”). Even before I read the acknowledgements, the influence of Sonya Taaffe (author of the marvelous poem “Lucan in Averno”) was clear. Everything is better with Pharsalia references.

But this is the Ben Jonson show, as Ben goes up against the Earl of Oxford, with a stopover in Venice, in a fight that appeals to the grieving father in him. The reason the ending bugged me is that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the protagonist, but his storyline and character arc are wrapped up nonetheless.

The story is chock-full of period allusions, in-jokes, and references (for example, the secondary antagonist named Nightborn is pretty clearly a twist on Edward II’s Lightborn). It’s also full of wordplay, and replicating Elizabethan wordplay is certainly no easy task. Those aspects, as well as Ben Jonson as a fully realized point-of-view character, make it well worth the price of admission for fans of Renaissance drama.