Tag Archives: fiction

30 Cubed – The Seeker

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So, I’ve managed to get myself into a writing exercise for the month of May.  Coming out of a really tough accounting season, it is time to stretch my wings and get back in the habit of communicating words instead of numbers.  There are few rules, speculative fiction (something that is new for me), 30 stories in 30 days based on 30 different characters.  Yes, I know, we’ll call this writing boot camp!  In any case, here is my offering for day one.  I hope you enjoy the journey.

In the early morning the mountain pass was cool and just a bit frosty. We had spent the night dancing close to the raging camp bon fires. Sleep did not come in the close, cramped quarters of the small tents while the smoke from the then smoldering fires burned the eyes and filled the lungs. As unpleasant as the thought seemed, plunging into the cold mountain stream in the early dawn light was a pleasure and did much to clear the head. The question, of course, was whether or not I wanted a clear head on this particular day.

The sun had not yet reached the horizon when we climbed up onto the woolen saddles of our yaks. The trek into the mountains would take many hours and there were those who would need to return. Our caravan included 21 yaks; as it must on any holy mission. Seven animals bore packs of vegetables, cured meats and tanned hides. Seven animals bore those hoping to enter life as ascetics and seven bore the escorts.  As it happens, I was the lone woman among those whose purpose was to seek the favor of the ancient ones.

Why, you might ask, would you risk such a thing? Once the high mountain valleys are reached, the escorts turn back. Those who wish to seek the three cycles of learning are left with nothing but the supplies on the pack animals. No weapons, no utensils, no guides. Few ever returned and those that did were obviously mad. Most ascetics were chosen by lot; sometimes whether or not the choice was their own. There were whispers that the whole exercise was nothing more than an offering to the ancient gods that we as a people professed to have left behind.

Why, I asked, would we sacrifice a human life to a faceless god? My teacher asked me to think more kindly on those less knowing. “Perhaps,” he responded, “it is in hopes the gods will accept our choice and not make one of their own.” I thought on this as we road higher into the valleys. But I was not here to become a sacrifice for god or man. No lot had been assigned me, I was one of the very few volunteers to ever make this journey. I had my own plans. I was here to find the source of madness or joy, to find that creature or being that controlled our daily lives and to find a way to set us free.

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Book Review ~ Walking the Streets of Ancient Salisbury

Sarum, by Edward Rutherfurd, available for under $15.00

So, this week we are back to reviewing books from the library in my head (and in my basement).  Some unknown years ago I managed to acquire a copy of a rather large book (1056 pages) entitled “Sarum.”  At the time I wasn’t really drawn to the types of historical fiction that started with the first cooling rock.  Rutherfurd changed that opinion forever.

The book is written about Salisbury, England and starts not quite at the first cooling rock, but at least at the point that England, destined to become an empire, becomes an island.  What I found intriguing about Rutherfurd is his ability to tell fiction through the eyes of the man and woman on the street (or around the fire).  Yes, all the events and dates we learned in world history are there, but they happen in the parlors and dining rooms, shops and farmhouses of the people of each age.  He is able to engage the reader with each turn of events by building his story using five families whose personality and physical traits seem to follow them throughout history; even as their fortunes change.

I also found his interpretations and presentations fascinating.  One bit of story line starts with an ancient hunter/gatherer who carves a stone into a representation of his beloved wife.  This bit of carving is found during the building of the great cathedral by a worker.  Thinking that it was a precious idol from some ancient ancestor, the worker hides it high in the superstructure of the church where he is working.  A love note from the distance past preserved in a monument ostensibly constructed for love of God in the distance future.  Almost poetic, don’t you think?

Another sequence I found delightful was the great debate over whether or not women have souls as well as the spiritual struggle of many when England began the transition from Catholic to Protestant doctrine.  Rutherfurd describes the heart-rending decisions of a populace well saturated in the teaching of a Roman church taking the first steps toward a different religious practice.  Is one sure to earn eternal damnation if one accepts the Eucharist from the hand of a priest NOT ordained by Rome?  Is it sacrilege to accept the Eucharist from a man who does not believe in transubstantiation; a belief that the wine literally turns into the blood of Christ, the bread into his body?  This argument is again played out in living rooms, dining rooms, and the thoughts of the characters.

Some would say that the book can come across as an anthology of sorts rather than a cohesive tale.  I think that Rutherfurd chose what, for him and many others, were the defining points of the place of his birth and wove them into story lines of the many generations, sometime with short vignettes, sometimes with well developed tales.  This somehow echoes the amount of information we have for each era.  He covers such things as the construction of Stonehenge, the building of the Cathedral, the arrival, departure and absorption of England’s many conquerors, royal marriages, World War II, the Reformation, the Black Death and many more momentous and forgotten moments of English history.   To cover this much territory with any sense of consistency is quite a challenge.  I believe the challenge is well met.

Meticulous in his research, skilled in his story-telling, you will find this author will walk you through the streets of Salisbury throughout its long history of else-when.  Say hello to folks when you visit.
How do you like your history served up?  Text book style?  Narrative, but all factual?  Cast in light of fictional tales?  What parts of history have you grown to love?  If there was any other time that you could live in, what would it be?  I really love to hear from folks!  Drop a line.

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Book Review ~ Of Ancient Tombs and Trusted Slaves

The Egyptian Series by Wilbur Smith.  All four are easily available for under $10.00, or less.  The titles include: River God, The Seventh Scroll, Warlock, and The Quest.

Well, it’s time to lighten up a bit and return to our book review corner.  This week I chose a series by one of my most favorite historical novelists, Wilbur Smith.  (Of course I would never burden you with anything less than my favorites)!  Wilbur Smith was born in Rhodesia (Zambia) in 1933.  He studied journalism but was pressed by his father to get a “real job” and thus became an accountant.  After many changes in life that included failed marriages and multiple rejections of his work, Smith finally became what he wanted to be, a novelist.  He writes about the thing he loves most, the African continent.

I have to admit that it is through his descriptive and passionate writing that I have been able to grasp something of the beauty and passion that can be found in Africa.  More than a nature film, his writings provide the background to the many struggles that engulf sub-Saharan Africa in wars and intrigues involving political, religious, tribal and national conflicts.  His ability to draw characters that walk off the page and sit beside you give you understanding of, if not agreement with, some of the deepest desires and hopes of the people who live there.  He also brings unforgettable mental pictures of the lives and tribulations of the creatures that once occupied the continent in uncountable numbers.  In the series discussed today, he steps back even further than his normal haunts and takes us to ancient Egypt during the time of the Hyksos invasion and a period of weak pharaohs.  It was a time of a political and religious struggle that threatened the life of a country that could be known as Egypt.

River God begins the epic with the introduction of a eunuch slave named Taita.  This character is the main character throughout the series, even though in the second book of the series he is an historical character speaking from the past.  You will get to know him well.  River God is the story of arranged marriages and broken hearts that drive two young lovers apart but create a dynasty destined to recapture the Egyptian double crown.  Taita is assigned to look after and teach his lord’s daughter, Lostris, the future queen of Egypt.  When she is forced into a marriage to the pharaoh to protect her father’s position, the only gift she asks for her wedding day is Taita; according to custom her father cannot deny her request.  Devastated she cannot marry the man she loves; she is determined to keep someone she can trust near to her.

The Seventh Scroll is a story set in modern times describing the discovery of the ancient scrolls created by Taita as a record of his mistress’ family.  He speaks of hidden tombs of pharaohs, treasures beyond imagination and the last minute switch of a pharaoh’s mummy for that of the more honored captain of the army.  A man who is the Queen’s lover and the father of the heir to the throne.

Warlock is the story of Taita’s initiation into the ancient occult practices of Egypt.   It is the story of how he trains the grandson of his beloved queen to become the champion of the ancient kingdom of Egypt.  Smith uses exquisite descriptions of Egyptian practices of warrior initiation and battles from one end of Egypt to the other.  Loves found and lost, political intrigue and the recapture of the double crown from the hated Hyksos all form the background of this sweep of history.

The final story in the series is The Quest.  Admittedly this is probably my least favorite of the series.  Perhaps it gets a bit far off point for me as far as historical fiction might go.  It is still a wonderful story about a time when Taita is called back to the haunts of men to help his pharaoh put down an insidious religious threat and to seek out and resolve the source of the failing Nile.  The pharaoh is blamed for angering the gods and causing them to withhold the Nile waters which, of course, throws the country into abject poverty.  Taita takes on the quest to seek out the source of the Nile and to battle whatever force keeps its waters from their course.

Pieces of history, pieces of fantasy, ancient religion and unchanging human heart breaks and triumphs.  All drawn with the skillful hand of a very talented artist.

So, who are your favorite historical authors?  Do you like to read a bit about history with the characters fully developed?  Do you prefer textbook sorts of stories with dates and times, who shot who and where the bodies are buried?  Let me know what you think, I’m happy to poke around and see what I can find that will interest my growing blog family.

 

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

Book Review – What a Tangled Web We Weave

The Visitant, The Summoning God, The Bone Walker, by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. Available for approximately $8.00-$15.00 each.

This week I am doing something a bit special – a triple hitter!  Actually a series written by the award-winning archaeological team Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear.  This couple has an incredible talent for bringing their field work on North American aboriginals into vivid focus.  They develop their characters with such style you become certain you would know them if you met them on the street.  Each book they have written draws a story around their own archaeological finds in such a way that they take you back to the fireside councils and the raging battle fields of peoples that lived on the continent nearly a millennia ago.

In this series, the Gears develop a modern day story around an archaeological team involved in trying to unravel the mysteries of sites known to have been inhabited by the Anasazi, including which ones might actually relate to the Anasazi, and the meaning behind their art and artifacts.  Rulers of an empire, there was a point in their history when drought drove them to despair so deep that they turned against their own gods and their own people.  This is not light-hearted reading.  As the modern day scientists try to fathom the disaster they have found in an ancient kiva, the past tugs at their reason and their emotions forcing them to reassess what they may or may not believe about the ancient gods they study.  The books are written using side-by-side story lines of the past and present.  The two interact to solve both central mysteries as well as several conflicts between the characters and their own past histories.

I found this series truly “devouring.”  It makes a statement about the assumptions and presumptions we take with us when we study those who came before us.  Through the study of those that preceded us, we may be able to understand a bit more about ourselves.  Sometimes it is easy to forget the power of belief and just how far it will drive the human spirit.  It is best to remember…

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Book Review – Enjoying History as a Mystery

Book Review: The Charlemagne Pursuit by Steve Berry
Paperback readily available for around $10.00

Admittedly I love a good intrigue novel.  Sometimes I catch myself reading faster in hopes of letting the hero (or heroine) know about some lurking danger so, perhaps, I don’t always trust the author to protect him or her. I was introduced to Steve Berry by a used bookstore owner familiar with my tastes in history and intrigue.  I am grateful for his astute assessment of his clientele.

Steve Berry is the type of author that researches little known or unexplained aspects of history and builds a story around that piece that involves modern day villains and heroes chasing each other from continent to continent in a quest to find, or protect, the answer to some historical puzzle.  Some of the reviews I read before preparing mine indicated that there were far too many threads wrapped into this story line.  In part I might agree, and, as it happens, I don’t agree with his final conclusions on either the civilization his main character discovers or on the source of the primary key; the Voynich Manuscript. That issue aside, the book brings the non-historian into a world of tangled clues that academics in the humanities deal with on a daily basis: who knew what when and why did they pursue certain lines of investigation?  Berry’s version is, of course, far more exciting and dangerous than most researchers’ experience.  Mr. Berry always adds an “Author’s Note” to let you know what is “real” and what is part of his story.  Nice source of research for an historical addict such as myself.

I won’t go into plot details here; that is for the reader to discover.  The basic story line involves research into the life of Charlemagne through the writings of his traveling companion, Einhard.  In his journal, The Life of Charlemagne, Einhard describes events and, perhaps, thoughts of Charlemagne, that are not all that clear.  This provides plenty of source material for the historical mystery.  Berry ties a document known as the Voynich Manuscript to Charlemagne.  The copy that is now extant is dated to the early 15th century and has a rather interesting provenance. It is considered “the world’s most mysterious manuscript” and has defied translation by persons and organizations known for they ability to crack ciphers and ancient languages.  The manner in which Charlemagne acquires something like the manuscript is an interesting (and to me) plausible scenario.  It’s the interpretation of that event and the source of the manuscript on which Mr. Berry and I diverge.

I had run across the manuscript before.  Berry’s version of its history sent me back to the Internet for more information and I found a complete digital file of the actual manuscript.  Someday I will, hopefully, find a linguist to collaborate with me and, perhaps, my own version will get introduced to the world.  Let it suffice to say that finding fiction writers who really do their research and present us with a world of possibilities we had not at first considered is not that common.  Mr. Berry and his wife support the investigation of the lesser known aspects of our history on their website http://www.steveberry.org/.

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