The Green Man’s Silence – Juliet E McKenna (Spoilers)

The Green Man's Silence - Ben Bova

The Green Man’s Silence is the third book in McKenna’s incredibly popular rural fantasy series featuring Daniel Mackmain, son of a Dryad and a mortal man. In The Green Man’s Foe (review – spoilers) Daniel met and was aided in his battle against a nix by Finele Wicken, a Swan Maiden. Book three opens with Dan travelling to The Fens with Fin at the request of Fin’s mother – although he’s not going for the traditional meet-the-family-of-the-girl-I’m-sleeping-with. Instead, Helen Wicken wants to enlist Dan’s help in establishing what’s upsetting the local hobs and sylphs, who have virtually disappeared from view.

Dan finds his time in and around Ely to be harder than his time at Blithehurst or Brightwell because the Green Man’s conspicuous by his absence – there are very few trees out in the Fens (which makes Dan metaphysically as well as literally uncomfortable). Instead, he has to gain the trust of at least a couple of the hobs and sylphs, and to negotiate with Witta, one of the local nereids (river spirits), to enlist their help in dealing with the all-too-human Doctor Thomas Kelley, who has found himself in the thrall of a Wyrm (one of which Dan first encounters in The Green Man’s Heir). It is Kelley who has upset the hobs and sylphs.

The narrative of The Green Man’s Silence is fast-paced (I read it in a lot less than 24 hours because it was almost impossible to put down!) with lots of action, but it also contains small moments of stillness that I particularly appreciated.

This is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read this year and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can hardly wait for the next book!

Cover Art: Ben Baldwin. The Green Man’s Silence is published on September 2 by Wizard’s Tower Press from whom I received an eARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Pre-order from Amazon UK, Waterstones, Amazon US, Kobo or Barnes and Noble.

The Green Man’s Foe – Juliet E McKenna (Spoilers)

The Green Mans Foe

Last year, Juliet E McKenna published The Green Man’s Heir (Review), which has sold over 10,000 copies in all formats and has twice been chosen for special promotion by Amazon. It is a finalist in the Best Fantasy Novel (Robert Holdstock Award) category of the 2019 British Fantasy Awards. I was not the only person who immediately clamoured for a sequel to this brilliant book, and fortunately its success meant that a second novel featuring Daniel Mackmain, son of a dryad, is out on August 15 (the first day of the 2019 World Science Fiction Convention, as it happens!). I was lucky enough to receive an e-ARC of the book from its publishers, Wizard’s Tower Press, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Daniel is busy at work at Blithehurst, anticipating the start of the season of the house and grounds being open to visitors, when he has a dream about a house where an old man is dying. The dream has been sent by the Green Man, who wants Daniel to go to Brightwell to deal with a particularly nasty individual who has joined forces with a nix, a shape-shifting water spirit that is poisoning the local lake. Aiden has some of the local teenagers in thrall to him, and thinks himself a ceremonial magician of the Aleister Crowley sort. He claims descent from one Mungo Peploe who was responsible for causing a great scandal at Brightwell in the past – Aiden wants some occult books, which the then-owner of Brightwell, Constance Sutton, purchased, and a Hand of Glory, which Aiden thinks will give him even greater powers.

Daniel is invited to become the project manager of Brightwell’s conversion into a hotel, his skills having been recommended by the brother of Eleanor Beauchen, who is a friend of the current owners of Brightwell. Daniel gets Eleanor’s approval before taking the job since it will require him to be absent from his job at  Blithehurst House for three months.

Once there, Daniel finds himself meeting a swan maiden, as well as a couple of locals who are attuned to the supernatural world. Between Finele (Fin) the swan maiden, Rufus Standlake (who is protected by The Hunter in a similar way to Daniel being protected by the Green Man), Daniel, and Sineya (one of the dryads from Blithehurst), they take on both the nix and its disciple, Aiden, and Daniel kills the nix, while Aiden winds up dead as a consequence of defying the Hunter and the Green Man. (Daniel doesn’t kill Aiden – the Hunter ensures he dies in a fire inside his caravan.)

I loved The Green Man’s Heir, and while I expected to thoroughly enjoy The Green Man’s Foe, I did not expect it to be even more satisfying than its forerunner. Which was foolish of me, I admit – I should know by now that McKenna is more capable of outdoing her previous tales in a series.

I very much hope that we’ll see more of Daniel Mackmain in the future modern day urban-rural fantasy very much needs less grimdark and more hopefulness, and McKenna is more than capable of providing that hopefulness.

The Green Man’s Foe is forthcoming this month from Wizard’s Tower Press, and is available to purchase from Amazon and Kobo.

Cover art is by Ben Baldwin.

The Aldabreshin Compass series – Juliet McKenna (Spoilers)

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Aldabreshin Compass Banner 7 - Tayryn

The Aldabreshin Archipelago consists of a number of domains (clusters of islands) which are ruled by a Warlord, who is the absolute ruler there, and who is aided and abetted by his wives – on average there are three wives in a Warlord’s household, although a young man may become a Warlord while he is still unmarried (as occurs in the final book in this quartet).

Southern Fire

In the first book of this quartet Daish Kheda, Warlord of the Daish domain, finds himself facing the worst possible foes, wildmen encouraged by magic-wielders. Such wizards are unknown in the southern reaches of the Archipelago, so far from the wizard-infested unbroken lands that lie so much closer to the northern domains. These wizard-led savages have come out of the southern ocean, where it was believed nothing existed, and Kheda, as nearest neighbour to the beset Chazen domain, finds himself compelled to find some way of fighting back against the magic. He laboriously makes his way north across the Archipelago until he reaches the domain of Shek Khul, where he learns that Khul had been forced to deal with northern magic some three years earlier (as detailed in The Swordsman’s Oath, the second book in McKenna’s first series The Tales of Einarinn). Shek Khul gives Kheda a paste that is known to inhibit the powers of wizards and advises him to locate a man named Dev, whom Khul believes to be involved with wizardry, if he is not a barbarian wizard himself. Kheda manages to locate Dev, with the aid of Rhisala, a poet from the Shek domain, who is far more than she seems. Together they persuade Dev to assist them in dealing with the southern threat to the Archipelago, but having seen off the last of the wildmen, and killed off their wizard leaders, Kheda finds himself rejected by his first wife because of his involvement with magic – to the people of the Archipelago, magic is anathema – the kind of magic practised by most wizards of Einarinn is elemental magic, and the Aldabreshin people believe it corrupts the elements, making them unreliable for the forms of divination which they practice.

Janne Daish encourages Kheda to become the Warlord of the Chazen domain, after the sudden death of Chazen Saril from food poisoning. Since Janne Daish is not a woman to be argued with when she sets her mind to something, Daish Kheda unexpectedly finds himself obliged to turn his back on his three wives and their children, in order to take up the role of Chazen Kheda instead. Little does Kheda know, however, that he has not seen the last of the wildmen and wizards of the south…

Northern Storm

For those who’ve read McKenna’s first series, The Tales of Einarinn quintet, the novels of the Aldabreshin Compass quartet take the brief background of The Swordsman’s Oath and add colour, depth, life, and history in greater measure. They also show the reader the Archipelago from a native’s point of view, instead of from an outsider’s (largely unsympathetic) point of view, and this naturally gives the reader a different perspective on many aspects of life in the Archipelago, particularly the hatred of elemental magic that is felt by the Aldabreshin. Indeed one only has to consider the chaos caused by the wizard Azazir (who is regarded as a madman even by his fellow mages) in The Thief’s Gamble, (the first book of McKenna’s first series) to understand that the disrupting influence of elemental magic on the patterns of nature would be abhorrent to the Warlords who read portents in earth, air, fire and water in order to guide the lives of themselves and their people.

The chief protagonist of the quartet is an Aldabreshin Warlord, and this book opens with Chazen Kheda (formerly Daish Kheda) still struggling to come to terms with his forced assumption of the role of Warlord of the Chazen domain after the abrupt death from food poisoning suffered by its previous Warlord, Chazen Saril, half a year ago.

Kheda is initially engaged in an attempt to round up the last of the barbarian savages who, the year before, had come from somewhere in the southern ocean to wreak havoc with a different sort of elemental magic to that used on the mainland to the north of the Archipelago. Kheda had been forced into an uneasy alliance with the unscrupulous northern mage, Dev (who had briefly appeared in The Swordsman’s Oath as an agent of the Archmage of the northern mages). Dev is now acting (with the emphasis on ‘acting’) as Kheda’s personal slave/bodyguard in order to ensure he gets paid for his assistance in getting rid of the savage wizards who had accompanied the southern invaders, and he and Kheda are visiting the pearl beds of the Chazen domain in order to assess what they will have to barter for the materials and goods that they need to continue the rebuilding of the Chazen domain.

Their plans to round up the last of the surviving savages and get back to normal life are abruptly interrupted by the arrival of a dragon created from elemental magic, a beast that has never before been seen in the Archipelago. Kheda thus finds himself and his domain under threat for a second time, and once again he is forced into an uneasy, but necessary, alliance with a northern mage in order to defeat and destroy the dragon. This time, however, the mage is a woman named Velindre (a character who briefly appeared in The Warrior’s Bond, the fourth book of McKenna’s first series) whom Dev suggests may know how to deal with the dragon.

Velindre knows that her mentor Otrick knew how to summon an elemental dragon, but he is dead, so she is forced to seek out Azazir (who also has this ability) in order to acquire the necessary magical knowledge to create a dragon of her own. Lest anyone think this mere altruism on the part of Velindre, who knows that if her nature is revealed she will killed to save the Archipelago from her corrupting influence, it should be pointed out that Velindre is still smarting from being passed over for the post of Cloud Mistress (Otrick was Cloud Master before his death), and she hopes that mastering this magic will force Planir and the wizards on the ruling Council in Hadrumal to acknowledge that they picked the wrong mage for the job.

Western Shore

The opening chapter of the third book of the Aldabreshin Compass quartet opens with Chazen Kheda sitting with his wife, Itrac, who is about to give birth. Soon afterwards the northern mage, Velindre, arrives back in the Chazen domain bringing news to Kheda. When I first met Velindre in The Warrior’s Bond, I confess to finding her so abrasive I disliked her almost instantly, and I only slowly warmed to her during the course of that book as it became ever clearer that Velindre is very much a square peg in a round hole, and it’s not surprising that she prefers life away from the fabled wizards’ isle of Hadrumal.

I was also delighted to see Naldeth return. The last I saw of him, he was suffering badly from a very painful run-in with pirates during The Assassin’s Edge (the final book of McKenna’s first series), so it was good to see him recovered, to a certain extent, and joining Velindre, Kheda and Risala on their journey south into uncharted (for the Aldabreshin people) waters. Naldeth is certainly a more likeable mage than Dev, and far more conscientious; after his experiences with the pirates, he’s even less interested in having power over others, than many a mage. He and Velindre work well together, and their final battle at the end of the book was intense.

The four of them discover things aren’t as straight-forward down in the southern reaches as they’d hoped, and their venture does not go as easily as they’d have liked when they discover that they cannot communicate with the wildmen they find on the island there – except by demonstration of Naldeth and Velindre’s powers. The presence of both elemental dragons and mages from the far Eastern Ocean (the latter of whom Naldeth and Velindre encountered in McKenna’s first series) further complicate matters, and although matters are somewhat resolved to Kheda’s liking, there is no easy solution to a complicated situation. In the end, Naldeth remains on the island, despite his inability to communicate easily with the natives, in the hope that he can help them and ensure that they aren’t exploited by either Hadrumal’s mages nor those of the Eastern Ocean.

Eastern Tide

The Aldabreshin Archipelago continues to be plagued by dragons and its people live in terror of the coming of the dragons to their island homes. Chazen Kheda, along with the poet Risala, and the Northern mage Velindre, are chasing rumours of a water dragon, since they are the only ones who know the secrets of how to repel these fearsome beasts. In spite of the fact that they have saved hundreds of lives since the first dragon invaded the Chazen domain, they are forced to travel incognito, putting their lives at risk with their masquerade of the poet (Risala) and the zamorin scholar (Velindre disguised as a eunuch), and their slave (Kheda, who is really a Warlord).

The ever-changing political balance between the Warlords of the Archipelago is teetering dangerously as various rival factions seek to gain advantage over their neighbours and warfare is threatened. Kheda finds himself reluctantly drawn into the rivalries as his fame as a dragon-fighter become more widely known. His apparent skill in defeating dragons is a powerful political tool and various Warlords seek to bribe, seduce (via their wives), or threaten Kheda into sharing his knowledge; but the one thing Kheda cannot do is reveal the source of his apparent power over dragons because then the lives of himself and his companions will be at risk for they are tainted by forbidden magic from the Northern lands. If anyone was to uncover Velindre’s true identity as a powerful mage from the feared island of Hadrumal, they would all be killed outright.

Unfortunately for Kheda, his contact with the magic of the northern mages has caused him to have doubts about the very foundations of his people’s ancient beliefs in the reading of omens, which places his future as the Chazen Warlord in doubt, and threatens the future health and happiness of his wife Itrac Chazen and their twin baby daughters.

To add to Kheda’s woes, Velindre is forced to enlist the aid of another mage, Sirince, as they’ve discovered there are more dragons in the Archipelago than anyone had ever guessed or believed possible; two of Kheda’s former Daish wives have married out of the domain, leaving his unmarried son Daish Sirket in charge of the domain with only the support of Kheda’s timid third ex-wife – hoping that Daish Sirket will fail in his responsibilities, thereby proving that the Kheda domain is tainted by magic just as Chazen was; Orhan, the son of Kheda’s hated rival, Ulla Safar, is busy leading an uprising against his father – and he’s proposing to marry Kheda’s eldest daughter of the Daish domain, of which he was formerly the Warlord.

At the conclusion of the fourth and final book Kheda resolves to remain a free agent rather than taking up the role of Warlord of Chazen again – fearing that he is too mired in the magic of Hadrumal’s mages to be a sound bargain to Itrac Chazen, who has already lost one husband to the taint of magic. He leaves Itrac in charge of the domain, despite the fact that such a move is wholly unprecedented, sees his daughter married to Orhan, and is free to take Risala as his lover since he does not have a wife any longer.

These is a deeply satisfying quartet of books – and I encourage you to read them, particularly if you’re looking for a less Westernised take on the epic fantasy genre (and it’s worth noting that most of the characters are people of colour).

 

(IMAGE CREDITS: Wyrd and Wonder Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash

Aldabreshin Compass banner by tayryn)

 

(I apologise for a lack of reviews of late – real life had its teeth in me and finding time and mental energy to write reviews wasn’t easy.)

The Green Man’s Heir – Juliet E McKenna (Spoilers)

The Green Man's Heir

I have been a fan of Juliet McKenna’s works for a long time, and I was delighted when she offered me an e-ARC of her newest book as I had been anticipating it ever since she announced it was coming.

McKenna is best known for her secondary world fantasy series, beginning with The Thief’s Gamble, but she has written short stories set in our world too, including the precursor to this novel (‘The Roots of Aston Quercus’ in The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity). The Green Man’s Heir is a thoroughly engaging, at times almost impossible to put down, tale which, despite its titular character being a man, is peopled with an impressive array of interesting and intriguing women.

Daniel, the eponymous Heir, is the son of a dryad and a human man. He has a talent for woodcarving, a peaceable nature (except around murdering bastards), and peripatetic tendencies. He can see dryads, naiads, and all manner of other supernatural beings, including the Green Man himself.

One day, while looking for fallen wood to use for his carvings, he gets caught up in a police investigation in the local woods after a young woman is found murdered. He soon learns that there is a second dead young woman in the woods, thanks to Tila, the dryad whose home is in that particular wood. He learns that the murderer, a human man, is in thrall to a Wood Wose, and he finds himself pitted against the creature in a fight to the death.

The Wood Wose isn’t Daniel’s worst enemy, however. He learns from Kalei, the local naiad, that there are more dryads at nearby Blithehurst House. The dryads there are kin to Tila, who is murdered at the instigation of the Wose, so Daniel goes to see them, to pass on the news of her passing, and also to see if they can put him in touch with other sons of dryads.

Daniel also meets Eleanor Beauchene at Blithehurst. She runs the house as a tourist attraction on behalf of her family, and like Daniel, she can see dryads and other supernatural creatures. She can also hear things – supernatural creatures such as a wyrmling* that’s lurking underground in the undercroft within the mediaeval manor at Blithehurst. Daniel is forced by events into killing the wyrmling, then into trying to kill the full-grown wyrm that had been making trouble for him in her guise of a human woman, but not before it makes trouble for Eleanor as well.

Daniel is an interesting character – a thoughtful, intelligent man who’s very in tune with Nature thanks to his dryad heritage. He’s also capable, both as a carpenter and a wood-worker, and considerate – a nice example of non-toxic masculinity (something I very much welcome these days). But Daniel’s almost the only really well-fleshed out male character in this novel as McKenna has peopled her tale with a number of interesting female characters: four dryads, one naiad, one Wyrm (who takes on a female human form to cause trouble for Daniel), and one actual female human, Eleanor Beauchene. The latter somewhat reluctantly manages Blithehurst Hall: she’d like to go and do a doctorate in mediaeval history, having already done a degree in the subject, but the dryads won’t agree to it – since she’s the last of the family who can see them, and has ‘greenwood’ blood, they’d rather she settled down and started producing heirs to the estate to ensure that their trees and pastures are properly cared for (rather than, for example, being sold off/cut down for profit). Eventually, after the wyrmling’s been killed and the Wyrm itself has escaped, Daniel and Eleanor come to an arrangement, with the approval of the dryads – he’ll live and work on the estate, and Eleanor will mostly run things remotely while she takes a doctorate at Durham. They don’t immediately jump into bed together – but there’s a possibility they might get together at a later date.

All in all The Green Man’s Heir is a compelling, engaging tale that delves deep into British folklore while being bang up-to-date. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am hoping that there’ll be a sequel.

(*See Lambton Wyrm for more on this particular specimen of British folklore)

The Green Man’s Heir is forthcoming this month from Wizard’s Tower Press. Links for places to buy The Green Man’s Heir can be found here.