Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

December 10, 2010

Best of 2010, and Christmas Giveaway – Erekos by AM Tuomala

Filed under: meta — Tags: , , , , — Sam @ 1:49 pm

Now closed! Congratulations, Penelope Friday!

This year’s Best Of post is early, because I’ve managed to arrange a special treat for you! But first, the results. I’ve read enough Really Good Books this year that I’m splitting the nomination in two, for Best From Large Publisher and Best From Small Publisher. (Er, that’s “large” as SF&F imprints go, which is not “large” in absolute terms.) NB: I’m including self-published pieces, and pieces only published on the web, under “small publisher”. Any suggestions for a better name for the category gratefully received!

Out of all the good books from large publishers, Catherynne M Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed utterly blew me away, and sails away with the nomination to some fantastical shore. In second place, if I were awarding second prizes, we have The Meat Tree, a re-envisioning of the story of Blodeuwedd by Gwyneth Lewis.
Honourable mentions also go to Pennterra by Judith Moffett, and to Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey.

I’ve read fewer from small publishers this year, and that’s something I want to remedy in 2011. On the other hand, there have been a couple of books that were absolute standouts by any measure, and the winner is Erekos by AM Tuomala. Second prize would go to Akačehennyi on a Diet of Dreams, by Kayleigh Ayn Bohémier, a blog novel published by the author under a Creative Commons license.

Erekos cover

I liked Erekos so much, I want to share the love—and the publisher, Candlemark & Gleam, agree with me, so they’ve donated a copy for me to give away. It’s a digital-only book, and you’ll get your choice of either direct digital delivery (ePub, PDF, or mobi format) or a special gift package with all three formats on a CD, so you have something to put under the tree this Christmas. This is a worldwide offer, but if you choose the CD option we can’t guarantee getting it to you by Christmas unless you live in the US. We’ll try our best, though!

The competition will be open till midnight GMT on Wednesday 15th December, and all you have to do to enter is comment below and tell us who your favourite goddess is. Mythological or fictional, we don’t mind. You can also enter by Twitter, if you use the hashtag #erekos—please spread the word!

October 29, 2010

A.M. Tuomala – Erekos

Erekos is A.M. Tuomala’s first novel, and also the first offering from independent digital publishers Candlemark & Gleam. You can read the first chapter, or buy it for immediate download, at the publisher’s website here. (250pp, PDF/ePub/mobi, US$10) There’s also an interview with the author over at Bibliognome.

It’s an intricate, thoughtful jewel of a book, with rich gleams of meaning, translucent depths, and sharp-edged facets, which opens with a magical spell as swamp witch Achane tries beyond hope to resurrect the sister she couldn’t heal. Magic in Erekos—this country of forests and swamps, between the mountains and the sea—is very much a thing of words and sigils, of ink and papyrus and answered prayers, and Tuomala neatly manages that all-too-rare feat of showing us viewpoint characters who use magic themselves without trivializing or demystifying the spells.

Achane’s spell works, after a fashion, and her dead (decayed, rotting, vermin-infested) sister returns as a zombi. We aren’t spared the details, but nevertheless we always see people treating Shabane as primarily a person, rather than as a type or an object of revulsion. The one exception is the king who captures Achane, dreaming of a host of zombi soldiers so that no more living men need die in the war against Weigenland.

Erekos is a colonized country; hundreds of years ago, a pseudo-Greek people came from the sea, and conquered the dark-skinned natives. By the time of the novel, their peoples have melded into one, and so have their mythic cycles, stories colliding and finding a mutual accommodation.

Look closely—can you see the place where two stories collided long ago? Can you see the jagged edges of one ideology grafted messily onto another, justification of war meeting a more nebulous ideal? These edges still grind together today; in places where their shade of skin marks the local people as particularly unmixed, where the colonist or the indigen is particularly close to the surface, the two pieces of the story do not mesh until one has broken the other to fit.

Our other main viewpoint character is Erlen, a young Weiger anthropologist turned mountain commando; we follow him and his lover Jeiger through several battles against the Erekoi invaders. The text is very good about humanising each side, and showing us a fascinating take on the “war god” trope so common in fantasy: The devoted know that Loukaros is only the god of war because war is the swiftest way to change the world. Loukaros is also the god of storms, and water imagery is associated throughout the book with war, but also with healing.

This is clearly epic fantasy, from the map at the front (beautifully drawn, too, with iconic cities and shrines and even a lighthouse) and the pronunciation guide that follows it. Unusually, though, both of those clearly show competing sources of authority—the map has both Germanic- and Greek-derived placenames, and the pronunciation guide takes care to note several regional accents for each language. Tuomala’s prose shows—and assumes—a lot of familiarity with some standard fantasy tropes:

The priestesses of Terīchone are seldom slender waifs who grow into tall and ethereal women; they have never worn robes of purest white silk. They know that the most powerful mystic pools come after the rains that rip the world apart, and they lie deep in the forest—not ensconced in marble, where the waters cannot touch the land.
No, a priestess of Terīchone is a firm, comfortable sort of woman with serviceably ruddy arms over which she has always pulled up her sleeves. This sort has reaped the rewards of her hard work in the gardens or with the hogs or out on the boats, and she is often heavy in the solid, maternal way of good cooks.

Tuomala’s style is clear but multilayered, showing strange translucencies and currents as the reader looks deeper, with the occasional sentence that chimes like delicate wooden bells, and a strong focus on people usually disenfranchised in epic fantasy.

She looked into the eyes of a beautiful, thick-set woman with her grey hair pulled into a bun; the woman had an age-wrinkled face, nut-brown but with cheeks as red as hands long lent to laundry, and she wore her skirt pinned over the knee and her sleeves rolled up over her broad, hairy arms. Nothing in this woman must seem beautiful, for beauty is too often defined by delicacy. But for those who understand what compassion and love look like when they are ingrained into the fiber of a body—when every muscle is filled with love so that every gesture and step becomes an act of goodwill—for those people, this woman was the most lovely woman alive.

Again in the tradition of epic fantasy, the text has quite a bit of mythology interwoven with the action, and this is also done well—partly, of course, because Tuomala is using it to make the very Tolkienian point that our adventures are others’ stories, and that all the stories came from somewhere. This is not just epic fantasy in the purest sense, but epic fantasy with many characters of colour, competent older women, and a very touching gay relationship. Very much recommended.

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