The Woman Who Loved Reindeer, by Meredith Ann Pierce (1985) E

Date Read: 6.10.09 (fourth[?] reread)
Book From: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

Caribou is a dreamer of dreams, a solitary figure isolated from her tribe ever since the death of her father. One day her sister-in-law comes to her, bearing a strange golden child whom she begs Cari to conceal and raise. At first unwilling, Cari is nevertheless struck by the child’s beauty and takes him in, naming him Reindeer – for as she reluctantly comes to realize, he is a trangl, one who can take the form of both human and stag. Though she longs to keep him by her side, his blood will always call him to run with the wild deer that course the land. As the years pass, stirring spirits and strange upheavals in the mountains and hot springs send the tribespeople to Cari’s door for advice. From Reindeer, she learns that the world is being remade, and that if she is to save her people, she and Reindeer must guide them over the Burning Plains to the safety of the lands that lie beyond the Pole, where only the wild deer have run before.

Of all the authors I’ve read, I’ve most deeply identified with the work of Meredith Ann Pierce, for the longest period of time. I first read her books when I was eight or nine, and though there were many literary loves before then, and have been many, many more since, I always think of Pierce’s books – particularly her Darkangel Trilogy – as The Milestones. She’s most often written tales about strange, wise girls who become strange, wise women, fall in love with transfigured or supernatural lovers, and have adventures in worlds of beautifully realized mythology. Mythology, because her books often read to me like myths from alien planets: her images and language have a timeless, jewel-like purity to them, coupled with deliciously archaic diction and – this might be the part that most gets me – a deep, deep sense of yearning that encompasses both human and immortal desires.

This was the first time I’ve re-read one of her books in about eight years, and since a lot has changed in that time, this doesn’t have quite as immediate an emotional impact on me as it used to. I used to get a lot of vicarious rage and anguish on Cari’s behalf. The older me is both slightly more phlegmatic (though really not that much less romantic), and slightly savvier: this time around, I was a little squicked at Cari having a relationship with her foster child, despite Pierce’s care in emphasizing his inhuman nature and unfamilial relationship with Cari.

Regardless, I was still deeply affected by the wondrous and joyful imagery: gambling trollwives, rivers of silver caribou running, a sledge with belled harness and golden runners, firelords with lava-seamed palms… And while the younger me fumed (again on Cari’s behalf) when she read the inconclusive ending, the older me was pleasantly surprised to recognize its maturity and realism. This will continue to be a story, and a world, that I treasure, and that I suspect will still surprise me every time I re-enter it.

Meredith Ann Pierce’s works will very likely appeal to fans of Patricia McKillip and Robin McKinley; I’ve never entirely understood why she hasn’t become more well-known and widely read. Not that I’m biased or anything.

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Meredith Ann Pierce

Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb (1995) E

Date read: 4.10.08
Read from: Public Library
Reviewer: Emera

The kingdom of the Six Duchies is stricken with shock when its beloved king-in-waiting, Chivalry, is forced to acknowledge the existence of an illegitimate child. In the wake of his abdication, his bastard son, Fitz, is delivered to the castle at Buckkeep, where he is put into the care of his father’s grim stableman. Despised and half-forgotten, Fitz grows up among the castle’s hounds and horses, and in the streets of Buckkeep’s bustling seaport. Inevitably, though, he is drawn into the affairs and intrigue of the castle itself. Facing mounting unrest and the threat of invasion, King Shrewd seeks out new means of securing his power, and calls upon Fitz to serve the throne as an assassin.

When I picked up Assassin’s ApprenticeI’d been meaning to read Robin Hobb’s work for a Really Long Time – most recently because I’d been craving a return to epic fantasy, but also because I remember being fascinated by the covers of the Farseer Trilogy, of which this is the first book, in an airport bookstore at least ten years ago. Luckily, it met my expectations. Hobb’s prose isn’t particularly stylish or striking, but it clumps along solidly. She does have a particular talent for conveying the rhythms and concerns of everyday life, which is refreshingly grounding in a genre that’s often plagued by grandiosity. Her settings and characters are believable and absorbing (if not terribly complex, in the case of the latter), and the book keeps a meditative pace appropriate to a coming-of-age tale without dragging.

Overall, I found it a consistently enjoyable read, with the bonus – if you’re into that kind of thing – of boundless homosocial/homoerotic undertones*. There’s also a good dose of character-driven angst, and the promise of lots more to come. I will say that as a first book this isn’t a showstopper, thanks in large part to the tight circumscription of Fitz’s life in Buckkeep; I was actually undecided at the end as to whether I’d continue the series. (Hobb’s lackluster prose was the other major detractor.) But that promise of higher stakes in the future, along with my quickly growing love for many of the characters, kept me reading, and indeed, the plot and emotional payoffs in both the second and third books are immense. Basically, if you try the first book and like anything at all about it, stick with it, because all that momentum-gathering is worth it in the end.

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