Posts Tagged Welsh mythology

Karen Myers’ “The Ways of Winter” is Interesting, But Problematic

Karen Myers‘ second novel in her Hounds of Annwn series is THE WAYS OF WINTER, a clever pun on how the Fae and their friends move around (via “the ways,” which are mysterious for more than one reason).  As this is the second book in Myers’ series — the first being reviewed here at SBR back in June — it quite reasonably takes up more or less where Myers left off at the end of book one, TO CARRY THE HORN.  Her hero, (mostly) human George Talbot Traherne, is now married to Angharad the Fae artist and living in his great-grandfather Prince Gwyn ap Nudd’s Fae domain, wishing that life would stay slow for a while so he and his new wife could continue their honeymoon in peace.

But that is not to be.

Instead, a crisis of a rather unusual sort crops up: A rock-wight, Seething Magma, makes contact with George while he’s out on a mission of mercy.  She comes in search of her child (yes, rock-wights have children), who’s being held captive by a very unscrupulous Fae overlord by the name of Madog.  Because the ways are literally byproducts from how rock-wights move from place to place, Madog has found it convenient to have his own little way-maker.  And even if Madog knew that he was holding a sentient child (regardless of the unusual form), Madog is the type of evil, devious creature who absolutely would not care whatsoever.

The reason we have to worry about Madog and his evilness isn’t all because of Seething Magma’s child, mind you.  Madog also has isolated one of Gwyn’s villages, Edgewood, by the expedient of blocking the way in and out.  As this particular village is recovering from a long stay by Gwyn’s villainous sister Creiddylad, who’s since been exiled, and is now being ruled by Gwyn’s young foster-son Rhys, Gwyn sees the blocking of the way as an act of war.

Which, of course, it is.

Because George has a talent for feeling the ways (knowing whether they’re working properly or blocked, knowing precisely where they are within a fifteen mile radius, etc.), Gwyn sends George to check the situation out.  Unfortunately, George is quickly captured, then tortured, all because Madog isn’t content to hold Seething Magma’s child.

Oh, no.  Madog wants Seething Magma herself, thank you, and will accept no substitutes.

So what’s to do?  Will Madog get his way?  Even if he doesn’t, what will happen to George?  And will Seething Magma ever be reunited with her child?

All of that’s for you to read, but if you enjoy Welsh mythology and/or Arthurian mythos, you should enjoy much of THE WAYS OF WINTER.

Now’s when I normally try to sum up a book’s strengths and weaknesses.  But that’s a real problem with this novel, mostly because the plot itself — while extremely convoluted in spots — is interesting, but some of what happens within it strains credulity.  Furthermore, the editorial issues I mentioned in my first review for TO CARRY THE HORN are still present, and may have even worsened:

  1. There are paragraphs within the first third of the novel where it’s extremely difficult to figure out who’s speaking because of odd, distracting attributions that may or may not go with the dialogue.
  2. Ms. Myers doesn’t seem to like to use italics for normal quoted thought, which in some ways is understandable due to needing to show how Seething Magma communicates (where Ms. Myers quite sensibly uses italics).  This is very challenging to sort out as a reader, but if you stay all within one style in a paragraph — whether it’s first person quoted thought or third person — it’s usually fine.
  3. However, when you see paragraphs upon paragraphs where someone’s thought is in first person (without a “he thought” attribution behind it), then in the same paragraph there’s a bunch of stuff in third person, then again in the same paragraph there’s another thought back in first person without an attribution, that is incredibly distracting.

Look.  I really like Ms. Myers’ style.  I like how she plots.  I like her characterization.  I like that her Fae world has good people and bad with a wide variety of motivations, just like what we see every day in our normal lives.  I enjoy what she’s doing, but there are just too many editorial mistakes for me to give this the grade it would’ve received without them.

Furthermore, I had a really difficult time dealing with the torture part of the plotline.  I’m not saying Ms. Myers shouldn’t have done it, but the way she did it was quite vexing in and of itself because there was actually a bit of distance between George and the torture that I truly didn’t understand.

Yes, all the screaming you’d expect is there.  There’s some thought of what George’s new wife will do without him.  And I do realize George has an uneasy relationship with Cernunnos, who helps George withstand the torture a whole lot better than someone without that relationship.  But there’s something about those scenes that made my Editor Voice scream loudly, “Barb, something’s not right there!”

Also, without giving spoilers, I will say that I’d expected a whole lot more from the ending in the way of an emotional payoff.  But did not get it.

Bottom line?  Ms. Myers is a promising writer, but THE WAYS OF WINTER is too uneven in tone and most particularly in editing to wholeheartedly recommend despite some true invention and some nice, involving writing here and there.

Because my letter grade must reflect the editing problems, the final grade for THE WAYS OF WINTER is a C.

— reviewed by Barb

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Karen Myers’ “To Carry the Horn” Is a Solid Read

The first novel in Karen Myers’ The Hounds of Annwn series is TO CARRY THE HORN.  It stars George Talbot Traherne, a whipper-in from modern-day Virginia, his Elven grandfather Gwyn ap Nudd, and a cast of thousands rotating around these two.

The story starts with George out riding one day with the Rowanton Hunt.  However, he gets distracted by a huge white stag and ends up veering off course, ending up in the Fae Otherworld on the very day Gwyn’s own Master of the Hunt has been murdered.  George quickly realizes he’s in a different place (though the land is much the same), but rather than becoming discommoded by this, he quickly immerses himself in working with Gwyn’s hounds.  This quick immersion isn’t as jarring as it sounds, however, because George is obviously a man of action rather than one of introspection.

Anyway, Gwyn’s hounds are not your normal run of dogs by any means, as they’re actually the Hounds of Hell (most are half-demon, half-dog), which makes Gwyn far more than just any Fae overlord.  And there’s only two weeks to go before the next edition of the Wild Hunt must take place; if it doesn’t come off, ancient God Cernunnos, who set Gwyn up as Lord of his own establishment long ago, can take the rulership away from Gwyn again.

Now, you might be wondering how a normal guy from Virginia, albeit a huntsman and whipper-in, can possibly control the Hounds of Hell.  Well, in Ms. Myers’ conception, it comes down to two things: George genuinely has a gift when it comes to animals (most particularly dogs), and he also has an extra ability gifted to him from his non-human — and non-Fae — grandparent, who appears to be none other than Cernunnos himself.  Because of these two rather exceptional grandparents, he can handle the Hounds of Hell.  And because George is somewhat at loose ends in his life — thirtyish, athletic, smart enough to own his own computer company and pragmatic enough to make more than enough money to live on with it — he definitely is ready for a new adventure.

Once George takes charge of the pack of hounds, he quickly realizes that he’s going to need allies.  The Elven teenager Rhian becomes George’s apprentice along with the lutin Isolda, while Rhian’s older brother Rhys continues on for a short time as the most experienced person left who’s used to dealing with the hounds.  This is important, because George never led a hunt by himself before, much less with these particular hounds.

But George also needs allies in Gwyn’s court, which is why his nascent friendship with two Elves — Edern, a lord, and Angharad, an artist — is so important to the plot.  These two help George get up to speed quickly with regards to the overall political situation with the Elves, much less the major scandals in Gwyn’s past that may or may not come back to haunt Gwyn in the near future, and often function as quasi-infodumps.

Then George realizes that the more time he spends with Angharad, the more he wants to be with her.  Yet he still has a home and business in our Virginia, and he’s been told it won’t be that difficult to go home again.  He doesn’t want to leave his grandparents behind (this grandmother is Gwyn’s daughter and George’s reason for close kinship to Gwyn in the first place), but he certainly doesn’t want to leave Angharad, the dogs, Rhian, Isolda, or any of the others in this strange new place he’s come to love.

So what’s to do?  And will he ever figure out who, exactly, killed the former huntsman?  Much less why?  And is Gwyn’s rule really as endangered as all that?  All of these questions will be answered, but most of the answers in turn raise more questions.

This is a good story that I found both engaging and absorbing, but it does have a few flaws.  This is a first novel, and because of that, there are a number of minor issues that distracted just a touch and interfered with the reading trance.  These small things mostly were in the way inner monologue was presented (most of the time, it’s easiest to show that with italics), or in a few areas where our hero, George, was led to the right answer rather than reasoning it out for himself.

Overall, TO CARRY THE HORN is a solid fantasy that is interesting, well-plotted, and held my attention through several re-reads.  There are many nonhumans in this story (much less Cernunnos), and their motivations are sensible, logical, and well thought out.  Ms. Myers’ knowledge of Welsh mythology, up to and including the Mabinogion (perhaps the first-known collection of Arthurian tales), served her well in the creation of this novel.

Bottom line: TO CARRY THE HORN is a solid introduction to the Hounds of Annwn series.  I liked George quite a bit as a hero, can’t wait to see how his relationship with Angharad develops, and will be interested to follow his future adventures.

Grade: B-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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NOTE: Book two of The Hounds of Annwn, THE WAYS OF WINTER, will be reviewed here at Shiny Book Review in the next few weeks.

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