All things are known,but most things are forgotten.
It takes a special magic to remember them.
Robert Holdstock's Lavondyss
The Huddled Masses Ensemble just sent us quite a few cases of Pendle Witches Brew, an ale with a thick, malty, and quite earthy taste. It was an unexpected payment for allowing them to stay here for a month last winter while they toured this area. Now this brew isn't quite as good as my all-time favourite ale, Thomas Hardy's Ale, but it's quite tasty. It's amusing to watch the musicians of the Neverending Session compare notes with Bêla, our Ottoman Empire refugee and long-time resident violinist, who become their 'adopted' grandpere many years ago, about this spectacular brew.
Oh, I did see Mistress Zina telling the barkeep to tuck away a case for later drinking? Or did she have it put away in her office? No matter -- there's 'nough for everyone!
Lots of music reviews this edition with one reviewer pondering the matter of just how good a Philip Glass opera based on the Brothers Grimm' 'The Juniper Tree' tale can be, another finding a Nordic music one-off project to be quite lovely, and yet another delving deep into a number of Celtic offerings . . . And that just scratches the surface of the music reviews this edition!
You want book reviews? Well, there's quite a few of those as well with highlights including three works of horror including The Best Horror of the Year -- Volume One in which part of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror gets resurrected in a new format, Lilja's Library -- The World of Stephen King in which a web site becomes a book, and Hellbound Hearts in which Clive Barker's Hellraiser mythos gets the short story treatment.
But first, more than a few words on Robert Holdstock's Ryhope Wood series . . .
As we are inclined to do from time to time, we're devoting our opening notes to the appreciation of a specific work. This time we've chosen Avilion, the latest in Robert Holdstock's Ryhope Wood series -- now twenty-five years in the making since the appearance of the first novel, Mythago Wood.
So why Avilion now as my reading material? As you well know, late November is a cold, rainy, and often simply nasty time as regards the weather 'ere in the place where the Green Man offices are located. This being the case I decided to read the Green Man Library copy of Avilion, the latest novel in the Ryhope Wood series. These tales seem born of the colder time of year even when the story is set in warmer months, and fiction with a strong seasonal feel to it -- such as Emma Bull's midsummer-set War for The Oaks -- is something I always enjoy. This series handles seasonal changes in its corner of Albion very well indeed.
But this is not a review of Avilion, as another staffer is doing that task for us. This is more of an appreciation of a series that started twenty-five years ago. Keep in mind that the Ryhope Wood series is not easy reading. The language Holdstock uses in this series is decidedly challenging, as you can read in this brief excerpt from the fourth chapter of Mythago Wood, the first novel of the series . . .
Wynne-Jones arrived after dawn. Walked together along the south track, checking the flux-drains for signs of mythago activity. Back to the house quite shortly after-no-one about, which suited my mood. A crisp, dry autumn day. Like last year, images of the Urscumug are strongest as the season changes . . . Perhaps he senses autumn, the dying of the green. He comes forward, and the oakwoods whisper to him. He must be close to genesis. Wynne-Jones thinks a further time of isolation needed, and it -- can't speak to her. Must do what is needed.
If you read these novels carefully, you'll be amazed how everything fits together quite seamlessly. Be warned -- the language herein is decidedly not what you find in most fantasy works! It is truly mythopoeic in nature, with a dense self-referentiality that requires its readers to pay attention not just to the narrative here as it unfolds, but to how that narrative relates to everything else in the Ryhope Wood series. The stories here are anything but linear in nature, as time, space, even the characters themselves change over and over again, so that what appears a certain way at one point will likely not appear the same way elsewhere in the metanarritve!
Now Holdstock says that Avilion is the sequel to Mythago Wood, so while you need not read the intervening works to grasp the full meaning of Avilion, you must read Mythago Wood first or it will make no sense at all. Oh, Lavondyss, The Hollowing, and Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn -- not to mention a related Brittany set novel called Merlin's Wood -- are well worth reading after you've read these two. Indeed, the entire series could well keep you going for months this coming winter!
Before picking up Avilion, do heed the words of Richard Dansky who reviewed the series for us -- 'It's not that they're not good. On the contrary, they represent some of the finest work done in fantasy over the past two decades, and possibly longer. No, the difficulty lies in the content and structure of the series. Most fantasy slots neatly into the 'heroic' category with its attempt at epic, trundling merrily along the Campbellian path of the hero's journey. Plots are linear, armies march, kingdoms struggle against evil, and in the end it all comes right in book three or five or seven or nine. Not so in Ryhope.'
And heed also the comments of noted writer Christopher Golden who said in the Green Man Pub when I asked him what he thought of the series as he sat reading his copy of Avilion -- 'Mythago Wood had a huge impact on me. I read it early on and loved it, the inward journey into human myth and belief most of all. I've enjoyed all of the others as well, but my favorite work of Holdstock's is his extraordinary and lamentably out of print short story collection The Bone Forest.'
(Our Librarian assures me that The Bone Forest novella is now back in print in the UK as part of the recently re-published Merlin's Wood which includes also two short stories 'Earth and Stone' which about a man witnessing the creation of Newgrange in Ireland, and 'The Silvering' a tale of Selkies. You can order it here.)
I envy you for having the pleasure of reading this series for the very first time!
Cat Eldridge reviews Green's The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny, the tenth book of the twelve that the Nightside series is slated to run according to an email we got from Green himself. As Cat tracks private investigator John Taylor's continuing adventures in the Nightside, he hints 'what you expect to happen will likely not be what happens -- even I was surprised by the actions of two of the ongoing series characters!'
David Kidney knows that a sparsely attended concert doesn't necessarily mean that the musician isn't any good, and he recently attended a live show that proved just that. 'He is a sensitive singer with a flexible voice, he lays down harmonies and background sounds (including percussive noises) with an ease and facility that is amazing to watch/hear. He reminds me at various times of Brian Wilson, or Lindsey Buckingham.' David's speaking of Jean-Paul De Roover, and you can read more in his very positive review.
Mia Nutick brings us a review of the fifth collection of Newford stories from urban fantasy master Charles de Lint. She says 'Overall the stories here are well crafted and entertaining, and repeat travelers to Newford will meet some familiar faces -- Jilly, Sophie, Nina, Meran, Goon -- but there's a nice array of newer characters here as well.' Find out more in her review of Muse and Reverie.
Robert M. Tilendis approaches the release of pianist/conductor Leon Fleisher's recording of three Mozart Piano Concertos with excitement -- 'Fleisher was a brilliant pianist in the 1950s and '60s who lost the use of his right hand due to a neurological disorder . . . Now that he has regained the use of his hand, we are graced with his first two-handed appearance on disc in some forty years.' Fleisher appears to still be in top form. In this Excellence in Writing Award -winning review, Robert praises the 'total transparency . . . it's as though nothing stands between us and the music . . . One gets the feeling that Fleisher and the orchestra were enjoying themselves immensely.'
For those who wish to hold on to the spirit (spirits?) of Halloween for just a little while longer, we have a number of reviews which should go well with a mug of hot cider and some only-slightly-stale leftover Halloween candy.
Robert M. Tilendis' review of Masks from Around the World -- A Personal Collection offers a peek into one man's vast and eclectic mask collection from around the world, while if it's scarey stories you're searching for, Kestrell Rath takes a look at a new horror annual, The Best Horror of the Year -- Volume One edited by Ellen Datlow. Kestrell says that 'The quality and variety of stories, along with the depth and breadth of Datlow's summary of the year in review, makes The Best Horror of the Year informative as well as entertaining, and any horror fan who wishes to keep current with the state of the genre will want to have a copy.'
Kestrell also reviews Hellbound Hearts, a new anthology in which some of our best contemporary horror writers contribute stories set in Clive Barker's Hellraiser universe. As Kestrell describes it, 'There are a wide variety of settings, historical periods, and material forms for the infamous Lemarchand Configuration, which proves to be a truly infernal device. Read the rest of the review here.
Robert also provides an eloquent review of Thomas M. Disch's The Word of God, or, Holy Writ Rewritten. Robert describes the book as ' . . . a satire on organized religion and those who subscribe to it . . . a fictionalized memoir; a not-so-gentle swipe at Philip K. Dick . . . ; a sampler of [Disch's] poetry; sketches for other stories. But it all weaves together as it wanders around . . . ' You can read Robert's insightful Excellence in Writing Award-winning review here.
He next takes a nostalgic look at Spy vs. Spy -- The Complete Casebook by Antonio Prohias -- 'Those of us who remember Mad magazine in the 1960s and '70s also remember 'Spy vs. Spy,' Antonio Prohias' ongoing series about the Black Spy and the White Spy (and sometimes the Gray Spy, a female counterpart, as well) who spent their time thinking up outlandish, Rube Goldberg-style ways to do each other in.' Go here to read Robert's review.
Robert wraps up his review with the graphic novel Metal Men by Duncan Rouleau, of which he says 'Superheroes periodically get reinvented. Sometimes superheroes who have been 'extras' in other superheroes' stories get their own series. Thus, we have Duncan Rouleau's remake of the Metal Men.' You can read his review thisaway!
For those who like their horror mixed with more than a little bit of humor, Kestrell suggests Seamus Cooper's The Mall of Cthulhu, which she summarizes as 'a story of one Boston barista's battle with the forces of darkness.' Go here for a taste of eldritch humor.
April Gutierrez reviews Lilja's Library -- The World of Stephen King takes a look at a book which collects an impressive number of interviews and reviews from the web site maintained by Hans-Åke Lilja.
In the first of two pulp-style offerings, Leona Whisoker reviews Eric Brown's Gilbert and Edgar on Mars -- 'in a delightful twist on an old theme, Brown has not only written Burroughs as a character in a book; not only adopted Burroughs's florid style for the task; but has actually dropped the author into the fictional Mars Burroughs created -- complete with the legendary John Carter as sidekick.' Read the rest of Leona's review here.
David Kidney then reviews Jason Starr & Mick Bertilorenzi's The Chill, of which David says, 'This new series from DC's Vertigo Crime imprint seeks to raise the bar for the graphic novel, taking it into the arena of crime literature . . . ' Read David's review to find out how well this literary experiment succeeds.
Next, Cat Eldridge reviews the audio dramatization of Simon R. Green's Deathstalker, describing it as 'Space opera done right.' Go here to read the review.
Valentine's Fall by Cary Fagan gets an enthusiastic review from Mister Kidney who says, 'There are several twists, and surprises, and enough solid information about bluegrass music and the mandolin to make an amateur mandolinist smile.'
Kestrell Rath wraps up our book reviews with a look at Spellbent, a new urban fantasy by Lucy A. Snyder of which she approvingly says, 'Snyder's brand of urban fantasy is . . . 'a bit darker and grittier than most, with many of the characters battling their own very believable personal demons as well as the supernatural variety.'
Camille Alexa has a look at a DVD of the first season of an award-winning BBC series. She explains 'Against the backdrop of airplane-wing collars, fat polyester seventies ties, and numerous David Bowie songs, Life on Mars unfolds as the story of a modern-day Manchester police officer . . . who finds himself zapped back to 1973 in the wake of a serious car accident.'
And David Kidney brings us a musical performance DVD that clearly left him giddy. 'Recorded in 1977 the show includes original leader Lowell George on slide guitar and vocals. George passed away in 1979 and Little Feat have continued to this day with many of the same members. . . Last year the band celebrated 40 years with a CD of new recordings of favourite tunes with special guests like Jimmy Buffett, Dave Matthews, Bob Seger and Vince Gill, but on Skin It Back it's all Feat, and the Feat don't fail us at all!'
Donna Bird starts off this issue's music appreciation with a look at En Klang af Tidloshed (A Sound of Timelessness), the second disc by 'Danish neo-traditional band' Svobsk. 'I would characterize these tunes (and one song),' Donna writes, 'as bright and upbeat overall . . . Although I can definitely hear the Nordic folk influence, I found the melodies and arrangements to be more generally European in their effect.'
David Kidney writes that Stax -- the Soul of Hip-Hop contains 'more than a baker's dozen Stax classics whose riffs, beats, or other aspects have been sampled by contemporary hip-hop artists', adding that 'the liner notes identify the who, what, where, and when.' David is quick to point out that 'these are the original songs in their entirety' and that the anthology 'shows what a wealth of grooves and riffs and just plain funk came out of the Stax Studios back in the day . . . This is some fonky s#$t!'
Iain Nicholas Mackenzie has nothing but praise for The Juniper Tree, a two-act opera from composers Philip Glass and Robert Moran. In his Excellence in Writing Award winner, he writes that the two 'collaborated magnificently . . . Each Glass scene is followed by a Moran scene, and this works a lot better than I expected, though the styles of each composer are quite different and neither surrenders anything of his own identity. If you like Glass, you'll want to hear this opera.' He also recommends listening with headphones for 'a wickedly awesome experience'.
Another recommendation of Iain's is the Peatbog Faeries Live. He writes that it 'does a bloody fine job of capturing what a live gig by the Celtic neo-traditional band is like.' The quality is surprising for a live recording -- 'No pops, no hisses, no uneven sound levels -- just superb music with crowd noise used quite properly.' Also, 'Music wise, it's lovely . . . Perfect in all aspects is the best way to describe it.'
Peter Massey states that An Spealadoir by Bua 'presents a selection of jigs and reels from the collection left by Chief Francis O'Neill' and that the band 'could sit comfortably alongside any of the great Irish traditional bands . . . A fan of the Bothy Band or the Chieftains . . . won't be disappointed.'
Speaking of the Chieftains, Peter takes a look back at two of their albums, The Long Black Veil and Tears of Stone. Though the former helped the band 'move forward and put bread on the table,' Peter was mixed on the result, with Van Morrison and Tom Jones being high points and The Rolling Stones showing 'how limited they are musically.' Tears of Stone, however, 'is a different kettle of fish . . . In truth, there isn't a bad track on the album.' Read more thisaway.
Peter finds vocalist Karan Casey's fifth solo album, Ships in the Forest, an album of mostly traditional tunes, 'a little too dark and tinged with angst' for his taste but notes that 'Karan sings very well' and 'has a huge following in USA and Ireland.'
Peter also praises the re release of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem's 45-year-old live recording In Person at Carnegie Hall. Originally 'twelve tracks on a vinyl LP, the album has been expanded to 'two CDs with a total of 45 tracks', finally including 'the two-hour concert complete with the dialogue (the craic), which makes it all the more entertaining.' Despite a minor quibble, Peter writes, 'This is one CD set I will treasure . . . It's a classic CD of Irish folk songs that stands in a class of its own.'
Robert M. Tilendis praises Jon Balke and Amina Alaoui's collaboration, Siwan, a combination of Moorish poems and the musical cross-pollination called Gharnati. Together with instrumental specialists in various world musics, they have produced an improvisational album 'replete with passages that are, when it comes right down to it, unclassifiable. And that's just fine.'
Robert also covers the Guarneri Quartet's Hungarian Album, which features two Dohnányi string quartets (the melancholic Quartet No. 2 and the very similar Quartet No. 3) separated by a Kodály (his folk-influenced Quartet No. 2). 'The performances are flawless, revealing not only the Guarneri's sympathy and understanding of the music, but also their long career as an ensemble -- it's like they're reading each other's minds.'
Wrapping up our CD reviews, Robert really likes (or may have deeper feelings for) the String Sisters Live -- 'There seems to be something magical about the number '6' when you're talking about fiddles. Maybe that many fiddlers reaches a kind of critical mass . . . It becomes truly orchestral, and it is delicious to hear . . . The energy is amazing, and it all comes through in the crystal clear sound . . . I think I'm in love.'
We should remind you about our special editions which are our way of looking at specific writers and other subjects worthy of exploring in-depth. Of course, we've done several editions on master storyteller Peter S. Beagle which you can find thisaway and over 'ere. Needless to say, we're very proud of the great edition on Charles de Lint we did.
We did one on the ever fascinating trio of Brian, Toby, and Wendy Froud; naturally we did one on master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien who is much loved by our staff; not to mention ones on Christopher Golden, Kage Baker, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente, Patricia McKillip, and Elizabeth Bear
Oh, our Editor just reminded me that we did (as if I could 'ave forgotten!) an edition devoted to the now departed and much missed Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology.
We pulled together a look at the Bordertown series that Terri Windling created -- go here for that article.
Lastly, we have put together a Recommended Series Reading List covering many genres from fantasy to mystery and (of course) is for your reading pleasure. You can find that list thisaway.
For our main page, please go here; to search the roots, branches, and leaves of This Tree, use the Google search engine; every past edition of our fortnightly What's New can be found here; for a detailed look at Green Man Review, go thisaway; and lastly, you report errors over here. Still have questions? Email our Editor here. Provided he's not in the Green Man Pub savouring a fine single malt while listening to a Jack tell fantastic tales, he'll try to answer your question!
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