Monthly Archives: April 2013

Updates From Gef

I don’t think anyone ever reads these, but I’m doing it anyways, because it helps me organize things.

Writing: The Eldermaid is still in the process of being published, because taxes and editing. After some time spent in writer’s fog (an extended period of writer’s block) I managed to write 1/2 a chapter of The Tithe-Boy, yay! If this trend continues, I should finally have a post for you on Friday. I’m trying not to start anything new.

Reading: Been reading a bunch of books, reviews to follow.

Playing: Been playing lots of games. The Last Remnant is trying its best to get me to ragequit, but I REFUSE to ragequit! Ragequitting is for quitters! I need to grind some more in Divine Divinity. I probably should pick up Fire Emblem Awakening but WHY DO THEY ALWAYS HAVE A SHIP LEVEL, WHY??

Stuff: My dog is home from her “vacation” at the kennel. This makes me happy. Oh, and I have jasmine tea. I’m not really a tea-drinker (much too bitter for my palate) but I’ll give it a shot.

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My Own Version of a “Sponge Cake” Offering

Remember awhile back on tumblr how some people were going ballistic because someone decided to give Loki some sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries?

Here is what I’m offering Freyja:

1 strawberry that isn’t rotten (the rest of the strawberries are in various states of decay)

1 slice of whole wheat bread with Nutella

1 cinnamon bun I bought at Walmart

1 serving of unpasteurized cinnamon honey

1 Gerbera daisy (“Midi Dark Fireball”) I was wearing in my hair in place of a May crown–er, April crown.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures since my parents took the camera today, but all of it’s been arranged very prettily on one of my mom’s “playing card” plates (the diamond one, because I couldn’t find the one with the suit of hearts).

Anyone who has an issue with this offering who isn’t Freyja can go fuck themselves, seriously.

Happy (early) May Day! (Or whichever festival you celebrate, if any).

Review: The Sun Goddess: Myth, Legend, and History

If you’ve just recently started following my blog, one of my favourite things to do is post reviews of things I’ve read, played, or otherwise consumed. What you might not know (unless you went back through my other posts) is that I wrote a couple posts on unpacking some of the myths certain segments of our community (particularly feminist Goddess worshipers, but also a very large segment of non-British Traditional Wiccans) tell about prehistory, ancient history, and well, just history in general.

I promise this is relevant, just keep reading.

So I see a few people on Facebook talking about this book on sun goddesses, and I look it up, and it turns out a new copy is cheaper than a used one, and then I read the description and was like “Okay, I’m not expecting much–wait–she doesn’t blame everything on teh kyriarchy overthrowing teh peaceful goddess worshipers?”

And I decided that “Well, even if it is bad, at least it’s a step above most of the other goddess-y books I have!”

As it turns out, I was right.

The book’s argument, in a nutshell, is that the Indo-Europeans (and thus, the cultures descended from the Indo-Europeans worshiped a sun goddess rather than a sun god, and that the obscuring of the sun goddesses is due more to poor scholarship than a kyriarchal conspiracy. To support her argument, the author (Sheena McGrath, who also wrote a book solely on Norse goddesses) profiles several different sun deities from various Indo-European cultures (Sol, Saule, Solntse, Grian, Arinitti, Helia, Lucina, and Suryaa) as well as moon, thunder, and sky deities in an attempt to “reconstruct” the seasonal myth cycle of the abduction of the sun maiden and her rescue by the Divine Twins. There’s also a chapter on mazes (I have no idea why they get their own chapter, TBH), sun symbols in general, and two chapters dedicated to rituals and visualizations.

Okay, where do I begin with this book?

For starters, as I said, this book is definitely head and shoulders over other books I’ve read on the subject because the author doesn’t resort to blaming the lack of exposure (lol pun) for sun goddesses on the Great Kyriarchical Conspiracy to Overthrow Peaceful Goddess Worshipers, she blames it on scholars assuming that sun deities are male and moon deities are female because THAT’S HOW THE GREEKS DID IT! Oh, and she actually gives in-text citations for points she makes.

The other thing I feel she does well is how she critiques certain segments of the Pagan community who are so fixated on the sun = male/moon = female thing that they even try to shoehorn deities who have absolutely nothing to do with anything celestial even in cultures where it is absolutely, 100% crystal clear that there is a sun goddess and a moon god. This is something that I (as biased as I am) feel that there needs to be more of (not that it’s not already going on, constantly) and I’m glad that that critique is in there (but then, it would be hard to make a book about sun goddesses if you didn’t intend to buck the “norm”).

Unfortunately, the first major problem this book has is that her research is so very, very dated. If she’s not quoting the late Patricia Monaghan (and I reviewed her book on sun goddesses here), she’s using Rydberg for the majority of the chapter on Sol or (even worse) outright making stuff up in the chapter on Hindu deities (more on this in a moment). She postulates that the sun goddess in Vedic cosmology was called Suryaa. Apparently she marries the Divine Twins, the Asvins, or runs off with the moon god, Chandra/Soma.

The thing is, I checked, and there’s no goddess by that name, only Surya, the sun, who is male, and this is the second major flaw that this book has, the shoehorning, oh gods the shoehorning.

I suppose I should give the author credit, she doesn’t make huuuuuge leaps of logic like other authors who have tackled the subject (once again, see my review of Monaghan’s book linked above).

So this is basically how her “sun maiden” theory works:

1) The sun is usually made up of a mother/daughter dyad, the daughter is usually the morning star or the dawn

2) There is conflict between the moon god and the sun, sometimes he kidnaps/seduces the sun maiden, or else she is kidnapped and imprisoned in a castle/tower

3) The sun maiden is rescued by the Divine Twins

4) Then there is Spring, it is wonderful.

So therefore, every young goddess that has a name that even remotely resembles the sun is REALLY a sun maiden (and thus the *true* sun goddess of cultures that ostensibly have a male sun and a female moon). The moon god is also a skirt-chaser par excellence. There’s even a bizarre comment to the effect that women menstruate because the moon god deflowers them every month (women apparently renew their virginity every month the way the moon renews himself every month). It’s actually kind of hilariously creepy that one of the rituals at the back of the book specifically focuses on asking the moon god for help with conceiving a child. The exact words of the ritual are “Moon, give me a child.”

Think about that for a second.

Given that McGrath spends a fair amount of time talking about what a seducer of women the moon god is and how women in some places are warned to not attract his attention, it strikes me as not the wisest idea, you know?Also, I should note that the rituals in this book are (predictably) Wiccanesque and the visualizations are….kind of terrible….they’re just a paragraph each of the most non-evocative prose ever and there are no instructions to help the reader either go into or out of a meditative state, which strikes me as potentially dangerous.

Overall, this book is at least a step above your typical popular Pagan-y book on sun goddesses, but the research is seriously outdated, the shoehorning is just, no, just no, and some of the ritual suggestions come across as creepy or are just plain terrible.

Also, I don’t usually remark on this, but there are numerous grammatical errors, awkward sentences, and places where I was just plain wondering what the heck the author was talking about. It wasn’t quite the disaster that Hedge-Rider is, but it came close to it.

I would say books like this are definitely needed, but I don’t think this one is worth your time, at all.

 

I Liked Dragon Age 2 and Other Gaming Heresies

[Note: Expect SPOILERS for Dragon Age 2[

This post is brought to you by the videos “Why the Elder Scrolls Isn’t Dumbing Down” and part 2, which is more of the same.

Recently I’ve been hacking away at the kind of PC RPGs that I used to play in the late 90s, starting with Divine Divinity. When I’m finished with DD (most awkward name ever, BTW) I’ll probably go back and play Arcanum and the games in the Dungeons and Dragons Anthology (particularly Planescape: Torment).

The one game I probably won’t be revisiting, though, is Icewind Dale, because I tried playing Icewind Dale, and, to be honest….

Icewind Dale isn’t very fun.

Don’t get me wrong, the environments in Icewind Dale are still really pretty (especially considering how long ago it was made) and the music, I found myself stopping in the middle of town because I was just like “HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THAT TRACK CALLED?! IT IS GORGEOUS.”

I just didn’t think it was very fun.

The reason I don’t think it was very fun is that I just don’t like games where I have to make my own adventuring party. I like running around recruiting characters with names and back stories and personality quirks, characters my MC can talk to and argue with, not a bunch of cardboard cutouts who are basically there because I really need their particular numbers in that particular stat.

Also, I don’t give a fuck about the “strategic combat” or micromanaging every one of my party members down to what colour socks they’re wearing. I don’t enjoy trying twenty different strategies just to find the one that doesn’t result in a Total Party Kill.

Contrast something like Icewind Dale with games like Arcanum and Planescape: Torment. Both of these games have been criticized for their combat systems (which is more or less “click an enemy, wait until they die”) but the thing is, I like both of them waaaaaay more than Icewind Dale. The reason I like both of them waaaaay more is that they focus more on story and character than hitting things until they die.

I’m just that sort of gamer.

Actually, I should say that my mad gaming skillz run all over the map in terms of games that I find difficult and games that i find easy.

Case in point: Devil May Cry 3 is not hard. I don’t care what anyone says about it being the hardest game in the series. It’s not hard.

The first time I played Devil May Cry, though, I had to load my brother’s New Game+ file to beat the very first boss.

Seriously, fucking Phantom kept pwning my ass.

And then the final boss was ridiculously easy.

On the other hand, I just read about someone who played the first Devil Survivor and couldn’t get past Wendigo when I’ve beaten the game about six times now.

Enough about the older games, though. Let’s talk about newer RPGs, specifically Dragon Age 2.

I liked Dragon Age 2.

This game has been taking a lot of heat from folks. Fans of the original Dragon Age: Origins (which I also liked) don’t like it because it’s been “dumbed down”. They criticize the same-y environments, the combat system, the characters are too angsty, the romance sidequests are stupid, etc. The old skool PC gamers, on the other hand, don’t like it because it’s one of those newfangled RPGS (AKA “not Baldur’s Gate”). You also have folks that hate it because EA sucks, or Mass Effect 3’s ending sucked. (To be honest, Mass Effect 3 killed any interest I may have had in Dragon Age 3).

You know what DA 2 didn’t have? A long sequence in the Fade that I, as a mage, should have been able to skip. I mean seriously, I train my whole life to resist demons, Y U NO LET ME DO MY MAGE THING, BIOWARE? (This is why I loved the “special actions” in DA 2, because I was able to use my class to my advantage.)

Anyways, let’s talk about Fenris, shall we?

This is Fenris:

In case you can’t tell from the pointy ears, Fenris is an elf. In the world of Dragon Age, elves are generally treated like crap. See, humans had this nasty habit of enslaving elves until Joan of Arc Andraste started a new religion and was like “NO ENSLAVING ELVES YO!” so a bunch of nations stopped treating elves like chattel (although they still treat them like second class citizens).

Notice I said “a bunch” because there are still some cultures in the game that still legally enslave elves and other humans, most notably in the Tevinter Imperium, which is basically run by mages. Fenris is an escaped slave of one of these Tevinter mages. The white lines on his face and neck are the result of lyrium (the stuff that you make magic potions out of) being burned onto his skin, because of this, he doesn’t like being touched as it causes him pain.

The other thing that you need to know about Fenris is that he hates mages.

Seriously, he hates mages, like, everything he says has to include at least one anti-mage comment.

My first character in Dragon Age 2 was a mage. She was very snarky, but generally friendly and willing to help everyone. Naturally, she butted heads with Fenris at every opportunity.

And then something amazing happened….

It’s the endgame, and my character and Fenris find themselves on opposite sides of the major conflict between Mages and Templars.

And then Fenris is all like “Sorry Templars, I’m siding with my friend.”

After all the condescension my Mage character got from Fenris, to have him abandon the Templars not only to help Hawke, but to protect the kind of people that he absolutely loathes with the burning passion of a thousand suns, was just….wow….

Don’t get me wrong, though, Dragon Age 2 isn’t a perfect game, and in some (but definitely not all) respects I prefer Dragon Age: Origins (Bann Teagan….*sighs*).

Oh, and I like Skyrim too. I like Skyrim and Oblivion and Morrowind and there were things I liked about each game and things I didn’t like. (Morrowind, your choppy combat makes me sad, Oblivion, your Oblivion gates all look the same, and Skyrim, all your random dragons ruin my day all the time (also, giants are overpowered).

Cry on, fanboys*, cry on.

 

 

*And it usually is the fanboys who cry the loudest, not that fangirls are incapable of poor behaviour.

Clergy and Laypersons

I know what you’re going to say “Gef, why no Earth Day post?”

BECAUSE EVERY DAY IS EARTH DAY TO A VANATRUAR!

Seriously though, you don’t need a special day to think about saving the planet, but that’s not what I want to discuss today.

I see this term “laity” being tossed about in relation to Paganism(s) lately, and it reminded me of a discussion at the Cauldron awhile back about the roles of clergy and laypersons, and why most Pagans felt the need to “be their own priest/ess”.

First, what do I mean by “laity”?

A layperson is someone who is not a member of the clergy or in a specialized profession. Full stop.

And yet, for me (and, I suspect, for some of you) this term carries a lot of baggage. In my birth religion, not only are there strict restrictions on what a layperson can do (and they get very specific on this), but if you happen to be a woman, you can kiss any hope of advancement goodbye, because NO PRIESTHOOD FOR YOU!

But it’s okay, they tell you, because women can be saints! And people pray to saints! Oh, and Mary! Mary is cool! Why do you need the priesthood and it’s weaksauce earthly power when you can be super awesome after you die???

Uh huh.

So you see why I have this gut reaction to the term when I see Pagans, polytheists, and the like toss it around so casually.

The thing is, the divide between “clergy” and “laity” kind of falls apart when you consider solitary practitioners. In a nutshell, here are some of the things the average Pagan does on a daily basis:

  • Set up altars/sacred spaces (in fact, this is often the FIRST THING anyone tells a beginner)
  • Make offerings
  • Commune with deities/spirits/other entities (through various methods)
  • Perform divination (for self and others)
  • Study texts associated with their tradition
  • Create and conduct rituals (at times, even public rituals, depending on tradition)
  • Celebrate holidays

In many cultures, at least some of these items were things that were done by members of the clergy (and most of the time, clergy had particular specialties as well). The average person likely had home-based rites that they performed, but if you wanted to, say, consult an oracle, have some divination done, or someone in your family needed to undergo a rite-of-passage, you may have needed the services of a specialist.

I think it’s blatantly obvious to everyone that most of us don’t have access to clergy in the same way that our ancestors did. Nor do we have the kind of numbers that would support a full-time, hereditary clergy.

And then there are those of us who are just fine doing things on our own.

Most importantly, the deities don’t really seem to give a fuck whether everyone they talk to is a member of the clergy or not.

Now am I saying that the concepts of “clergy” and “laity” have no meaning? Well, as a solitary, I think the distinction is largely irrelevant to what I do. After all, my community is myself. I mean, obviously I don’t have a license to officiate at weddings and such, but nothing’s stopping me from (theoretically) getting one (except that the Canadian government has very Christian-centric guidelines when it comes to deciding who can and cannot legally marry people).

So, I suppose what I am saying is that I am not an ordained clergywoman, even so, I’m not sure referring to your average Pagan as “laity” (or assuming that, indeed, “clergy” and “laity” have universal roles that can be applied across traditions) is really the correct term to use. Of course, this could just be due to all the baggage I’m carrying re: a religious tradition that basically said “BEGONE WITH YE, WOMAN!”

Personally, I think I’m more of a Pagan Beguine.

Expect Delays

So my application to the IRS was rejected, and I have no idea if I can get everything ready for my deadline of the end of June (because it needs to get there, then get processed, then I need to send some crap to CreateSpace).

What this means for you is that there may not be a giveaway after all, because I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not take a 30% cut to my royalties (and I’m sure you want to send more money to me and not the tax man, right?)

Anyways, I’ll try again, but I can’t guarantee that time will be on my side in this. I might still do a giveaway in the future, I’ll just have fewer copies to give away.

In short, I am TRYING, but the tax man’s not cooperating. Self-publishing, folks, she is a very harsh mistress.

My Response to a Racist

(TW: Racism)

So this folkish Heathen (read: racist fuckwit) jumps into a discussion on white supremacy and Heathenry at The Cauldron, and, in addition to having a flag associated with the Nazis as their avatar, starts spewing shit like this:

“Okay say green people live to the left, blue people live to the right. They govern themselves and live by their own set of laws. They don’t try to screw each other over and they still trade with each other. They act friendly when they meet, they sometimes go to each others state or town to eat. Where is the racism?”

I could not resist writing a response to this. Here it is, in full:

Now I’m going to tell you how it works in the real world.
In the real world, a blue person falls in love with a green person, and they have beautiful turquoise babies together. Perhaps the parents decide to raise the children in one culture or another, but let’s say they try to teach their children aspects of both. Perhaps the children learn two different languages, or they have a traditional blue wedding and a traditional green funeral. Those children grow up and marry blue people or green people.

That is, of course, not taking into account the fact that blue people and/or green people travel all over the place, and perhaps, in their travels, they come across purple people, and then they’re like “I’d tap that,” and you end up with aubergine people. Eventually, all these people find themselves in the same place, and they say to themselves. “You know, we might be different colours, but underneath we’re all people,” and they all live together in Rainbow Land.

Meanwhile, the people who advocate for blue/green separatism and “purity” eventually all go insane from inbreeding. The End.

*takes a bow*

If you’re going to make stupid racist analogies, I can take them and run with them.

Please feel free to reblog this.

Deck Review: The Stolen Child Tarot

Something I’ve never really understood about the tarot world (apart from swords being associated with air while flammable wands are associated with fire in defiance of all logic) is why anyone would want a majors-only deck. I understand that the majors represent archetypal forces that include the minors, and many find the majors useful for meditation and such, but I can’t help but think that you’re buying a fraction of a deck for the price of a full deck (I’m talking a full deck with fully illustrated minors, not pips).

So, yeah, The Stolen Child Tarot is the first majors-only deck to be added to my collection. The deck is the creation of Monica Knighton (who also illustrated the Tarot of the Dead and The Healing Tarot)  who was inspired by the Yeats poem of the same name, particularly this passage:

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”

True to its name, there are many children in the deck, but another key feature is that there are no human-made objects in any of the cards. Justice is not represented by a woman with scales and a sword, but by an orderly colony of bees, the Magician is a gleeful child in a fox’s skin. Most of the cards feature children, some of whom take center stage in the action, others have more or less blended in with the environment.

The cards themselves are 3.5 by 4.75 inches, and the card stock is unlaminated heavy archival watercolor paper, quite flimsy, but I’ve held flimsier decks. The backs are non-reversible and have a checkerboard pattern with a diamond in the center with representations of the four elements: a salamander, a fish (looks like a koi fish), a bird (seagull) and a squirrel. The deck comes with two title cards and two cover cards and comes packaged in a portfolio, but you’ll want to have a bag handy to store them in. The majors themselves are also untitled and not numbered. The deck doesn’t come with a LWB but the artist offers a PDF guide for free download.

Generally speaking, I don’t see any particular card that I really dislike, and that’s quite the feat, considering that there’s usually That One Card that I wish didn’t exist in my otherwise perfect decks. The other thing I really like about this deck is that, even though the majors aren’t numbered, titled, or strictly speaking “traditional”, I can tell what each card is just by looking at it (although the High Priestess might be mistaken for the Empress at first glance).

Also, some of the images are downright adorable. I love how the Empress and Emperor cards are set up, with the Empress (a brown bear) looking to the right and the Emperor (a polar bear) looking to the left, and the children in the bear outfits are so SQUEE! I JUST WANT TO CUDDLE THEM! (If I didn’t run the risk of being mauled to death.) I absolutely adore the Strength card (this is a card I usually dislike in tarot decks for no particular reason) which shows a girl hiding behind a bison, one hand gently grasping his snout in a way that almost seems protective, and then there’s the Lovers, and the Hermit, and….

Yeah, this deck, it’s awesome, and unlike a bunch of other decks I own that have children in them, I didn’t find any of the children depicted in this deck creepy in any way.

I suppose now you want to see pictures, eh? Fine, here are some pictures:

The Empress
The Emperor
Strength
The Star – for variety’s sake

Seriously though, these images don’t compare to what the deck looks like in person.

The one sticking point I can see for a prospective buyer will be price. And I will admit that I did get this deck at a discount, and at $40, well, remember what I said about majors-only decks and pricing? Still, keep in mind that this is a limited edition (only 500 will be printed, my number, in case you’re wondering, is 486) and the artist has obviously put a lot of care into the product, but, yeah, kinda’ pricey, I get it.

Bottom line: The Stolen Child Tarot is a gorgeous deck and now I’m really sad that the Kickstarter for the full deck didn’t work out, because I think a full deck would be amazing, but if you have the cash to spare, are in the market for a majors-only deck and you really like nature-y decks, you really can’t go wrong with this one.

Review: The Scorpio Races

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

How’s that for an opening line that punches you in the gut?

To be honest, I’m not sure how I ended up with this book, because I don’t think the back cover does a good job of selling it. See, it mentions a race and the fact that people die in it, and something about water horses.

What it doesn’t mention is that water horses have a taste for human flesh.

I mean, seriously, when you talk about a book, are you like “So it’s about a race and people die in it?” or are you like “It’s about a race–with carnivorous people-eating horses! Seriously, CARNIVOROUS HORSES THAT COME FROM THE SEA, HOW COOL IS THAT!?”

I thought so.

The plot is as follows: Every November the island of Thisby holds the Scorpio Races, a deadly contest in which riders attempt to keep hold of their capaill uisce (pronounced “copple ishka” according to the book) long enough to cross the finish line. The water horses are as deadly as they are beautiful, and no one knows them better than Sean Kendrick, who really only wants a life with his capall uisce stallion Corr by his side. Puck Connolly is different, driven by a desperate need to keep her family together, she enters the Races–the first woman to do so–with the goal of winning it all….if she doesn’t die trying.

The Scorpio Races that leaves me with a bunch of competing emotions. Now, as I sit here just after finishing it, I’m still not sure whether I love it because it’s different or if I hate it because it’s as slow as molasses. Or, to put it another way, the book is as slow as molasses, and although this would usually be one of the most annoying things for me as a reader, I still ended up liking the book overall.

Actually, I think that perhaps I was a bit misleading about the carnivorous horses, because while they are present, the book definitely reads more like the kind of fiction I was forced to read in high school than your typical fantasy book (or your typical YA fantasy book). In fact, I would almost say it’s closer to magical realism except that it really isn’t that realistic. It’s one of those odd books that doesn’t fit neatly into a genre (I would say that it transcends genres, but I’m tired of that phrase). Those of you who have been here awhile know how I feel about the books I was forced to read in high school so you can imagine what it would take for me to admit that I actually enjoyed something that reads just like those books.

I gather that the title was chosen simply because “The Scorpio Races” sounds much more dramatic than the title “Life in Thisby” even though the bulk of the “action” (so to speak) takes place in the weeks leading up to the race. This isn’t The Hunger Games, where you’re thrown into the action fairly early (comparatively) what you do find is a story that focuses mainly on the island and its inhabitants, an island where carnivorous horses come out of the sea on an annual basis.

The book switches back and forth between two first-person P.O.V.s: Sean and Puck. At first, I was finding it difficult to pin Sean down, because he seemed very much to be a man of few words–and then I figured out that that’s exactly what the author wants you to think. I actually found him to be a bit of a dick at first, but I warmed up to him eventually.

Now let’s nudge Sean aside and talk about Puck.

Puck (her real name is Kate) is an orphan living with her two brothers, Finn and Gabriel. She is the first woman ever to enter the Scorpio Races.

I know what you’re thinking: “Another Katniss, right? Let me guess, she’s a spunky tomboy type who hates ‘girly’ things?”

No, and that’s what I found so refreshing about her. She’s not trying to prove anything, she’s not entering the Scorpio Races to spite anyone, she enters because she doesn’t want her brother to run off to the mainland, and if she doesn’t pay up, they’ll lose the house. She’s not particularly “strong” in the way that characters like Katniss are strong, she’s just an ordinary girl who is trying to do what’s best for her family.

Oh, and she does deal with sexism, both subtle and not-so-subtle, as in this quote: “The women are the island, and the island keeps us. That’s important. But the men are what drive the island into the sea bed and keep it from floating out to sea. You can’t have a woman on the beach. It reverses the natural order.” (p. 196)

Does this sound at all familiar?

So yeah, Puck has to deal with this up until pretty much the end of the book. What I also found interesting during that particular scene was how Puck reminisces about how her mother taught her how to ride, and draws strength from that to call out the men on their BS (she does have some help from Sean).

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the more Pagan-y aspects of this novel, not just the lore around the care of the capaill uisce (namely, the use of iron, bells, magic circles, and tying their manes in knots a specific number of times). There is one particular part of the novel that is strongly reminiscent of The Wicker Man, complete with the suggestion that human sacrifice was once a part of the pre-race festivities and the presence of a mare goddess, and one wonders if, in Thisby’s past, the present day Scorpio Races are a vestige of a ritual in Her honour.

Or maybe I’m just overthinking things. Still, there is definitely conflict between “Old Thisby” beliefs and Christianity, particularly Catholicism. Puck is Catholic, and Sean seems to be a bit more spiritual, just shy of Pagan himself. There are other themes that I could discuss: poverty, despair and isolation that comes from living on an island, but then I just wouldn’t stop talking.

In case I’ve gotten some of you all excited because I referenced The Wicker Man up there, let me just burst your bubble by saying that all of the good bits are sandwiched in between long stretches of Puck being poor and Sean’s troubles with his wealthy employer’s son, respectively. There are a handful of interesting side characters: George Holly is an American (and the text constantly points this out) who has come to buy horses and is basically there to be sympathetic to Sean and be a total player (who has a bit of a thing going on with a blind woman, which I thought was interesting since people with disabilities are often thought to be incapable of expressing sexual desire) but the reader is so focused on Puck and Sean that there isn’t really space for them to develop.

Also, there is a romance, it is not a mushy-gushy romance and there is NO LOVE TRIANGLE, it’s just kind of there. Moving on.

Ultimately, I would say that this book’s biggest flaw is that it’s way too slow. I feel like the author could have cut out a large chunk of the novel and it would have still been great (especially since the chapters are so short). As it is, it has some very interesting ideas and it does manage to pull from several genres to do something different, but the slowness is, I think, what really stops it from being truly awesome and just being, well, different. Then again, as I said, I have this thing about there being too much literature in my genre fiction, I do not like it.

I think my overall point is that if you go into this expecting a “typical” YA fantasy novel, you will be very disappointed. I would say it’s definitely worth a look, if only because it’s a nice change from the vampires-and-faeries fare that’s popular in YA (even though the water horses are faerie creatures, they aren’t really the focus of the book). Oh, and it is a stand-alone novel, which is pretty special.

Also, the paperback edition has a recipe for November Cakes. They are buttery honey-glazed cakes, and they are buttery. Did I mention they’re buttery?

Things You DON’T Have to Be to Be Vanatru

  • white
  • vegetarian/vegan
  • Gay,  Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans*, Asexual, Questioning, Intersex, however-many-letters-are-in-this-thing
  • sexually active
  • polyamorous
  • a particular political affiliation (although Vanatruar tend to be more liberal-to-moderate, in my experience)
  • someone who exclusively honours the Vanir to the exclusion of all other deities
  • a farmer, a sailor, a baker, a butcher, a candlestick maker
  • a homesteader
  • someone who lives in a rural area
  • a godspouse to two deities and a godslave to one
  • no, seriously, you don’t have to be a godspouse
  • or a godslave
  • or even particularly god-bothered
  • a reconstructionist
  • a drinker (yours truly does not drink, it gives her headaches)
  • kinky
  • or vanilla
  • at least, not all the time
  • someone who practices magic (sex magic or otherwise)

I think I got most of them.

And now, here is something you absolutely MUST HAVE to be Vanatru

  • love for the Vanir

All of that other stuff is good to have, but love for the Vanir trumps everything. Do you hear me? It’s bigger than your skin colour or what you eat or who you love, SO MUCH BIGGER!

Now, for me personally, I do think that being Vanatru involves giving more than two shits about the environment, but I’m not going to dictate to anyone what that means. For some, it may be as simple as not using pesticides on one’s land, or voting for political parties that make the environment a priority, or giving to organizations that protect endangered species or forests or whatever. Other people may go completely “off the grid”, if that’s what you want to do, go and do it.

But all that other stuff I mentioned? Nothing wrong with any of it, but it’s non-essential.