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Lyonesse, Book 1: The Well Between the Worlds
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What's the story?
In the strange world of Lyonesse, monsters are fished up from wells that lead to another world, then cut up and burned to provide the intense heat needed for various medieval industries. Idris Limpet, son of a fisherman and falsely accused of being part monster, is rescued from execution by Ambrose, a powerful magician. While being trained as a Monstergroom, he learns about the political struggle between captains and knights, the evil Regent and her noxious son, the destruction of the land through sinking and poison, and his own strange destiny. Includes map and Author's Note.
Is it any good?
This brilliant and utterly engrossing fantasy is a unique rethinking of Arthurian and Celtic legends, set in a mashup of medieval and industrial-age worlds that offers commentary on our own. Each of these four elements is exceptionally well-done. As a fantasy-adventure it is both exciting and satisfying, though those who don't like unresolved endings may want to wait until the next volume is released before reading this one. As a sort of warped retelling of the story of King Arthur, it is completely original, and Arthur fans will have fun finding the altered forms of the various characters and events.
The combination of a Middle Ages setting with an industrial complex fueled by slicing up and burning intelligent telepathic creatures from another world introduces in the grittiest possible way the kinds of ethical dilemmas that usually lead to corruption of both government and soul. And finally, all of this, along with the sinking and poisoning of Lyonesse caused by the industries related to capturing the creatures and using them as fuel, has obvious parallels to problems we face today, though mercifully the author avoids getting at all didactic or preachy. From King Arthur to the effects of industrialization -- it's quite a ride.
From the Book:
Drowning was not at all what he had expected. He had assumed that when you fell into water you would sink, and the air in your chest would keep you going for a bit, but only until you got that panicky feeling you get when you hold your breath for too long in a breath- holding contest, after which you would take a gasp, which would not be of air but of water so you would sort of strangle. Then the horrible bit would start, with your life passing before your eyes and a very nasty struggle, the kind a caught fish makes in the basket.
There was the smash of the water. There was the panicky feeling. And a question: Why don't we learn to swim, like the seals or the fish?
And an answer: Because what swims is beast, monster, or Cross.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many connections between this story, Arthurian legend, and modern civilization. How do the various characters and events relate to the story of Camelot? What, if anything, is the author saying about the modern world and the ways of mankind? What metaphorical meanings can you find in the monsters, captains, knights, wells, and poisoned waters? Children may be interested in learning more about the real Lyonesse, and its connection to the Arthurian cycle.