Sunday, 5 July 2015

Bold As Love - Gwyneth Jones

This is a book that I have been meaning to reread for aeons. It is also one of those books which seemed to do really well when it was released but now is impossible to find anything about. Seriously, where is the Bold as Love fandom at?

I've been trying and failing to think of some way to coherently describe the plot so I'm going to do what I always forget to do and include the blurb.

It's Dissolution Summer. As the United Kingdom prepares to break up into separate nations, the Counterculturals have gathered for a festival where everything's allowed. Among them is a talented little brat called Fiorinda, rock and roll princess by birth, searching for her father, the legendary Rufus O'Niall. 
Instead, she finds Ax Preston, the soft-spoken guitarman with bizarre delusions about saving the country from the dark ages. And together with Sage Pender, techno-wizard king of the lads, they join the pop-icon team that's supposed to make the government look cool.
Rock Legends. True Romance. A fantasy about England.  
Sounds pretty cool right? I originally read this series when I was probably about 12 or 13, and I've been meaning to revisit it for years. Coincidentally, the year that I have finally gotten around to do so is also the year that this book is set in. Slightly weirder is how relevant a lot of the issues in this book now seem. It is rapidly becoming apparent that we have fucked up the environment, our current government seem quite happy merrily cutting benefits and funding for the most vulnerable members of society whilst happily giving themselves bonuses and colluding with the corporations who want to continue to cause even more damage to the environment, there is a growing movement of British nationalists, the list goes on. And these are all topics that are explored in this book, even though it's coming up 15 years old. Suffice to say, this is not an entirely light book. There are of course light moments in it, but overall it explores some heavy topics. Also some major trigger warnings for this book as there is a pretty major plot arc involving child abuse and rape, plus a fair amount of violence and drug use. I won't discuss these in this review but if you are even remotely triggered by any of these topics then avoid this book.

The thing that drew me to this book in the first place was the fact that it is a reimagining of the story of King Arthur. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am a sucker for Arthuriana. If a book gives even the slightest nod to anything associated therewith I get overexcited and happy about it. This book can essentially be described as if Arthur et al lived in an alternate future Woodstock. I keep using the phrase re-imagine because I don't feel like it's that much of a retelling. It's like Jones took the core essence of the characters but then the rest is all new. Of course Ax is Arthur, the chosen one who they all turn to to lead them into a better time. Sage is Lancelot, the people's champion who is by far the most musically successful and loved member of the Few (who are of course the round table equivalents). And Fiorinda would be Guinevere, who both men love. Except it is soooo much more than that. Ax may be the chosen one but Fiorinda is the character to whom we return most often. This is her book, driven initially by her need to find and confront her father and ending with her defiant Armada concert. 

[Spoilers for the sequel Castles Made of Sand in the following paragraphs.]

By far my favourite thing about Arthurian retellings is the different ways that people choose to subvert the traditional mythos, particularly in regards to the central relationship. If you read my review of the Fionavar Tapestry you will remember how much I adored having my heart broken by the dynamic between the core trio. There is a similar thing at play here. The thing about the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot relationship that I love and that breaks my heart every time is that it is very much a three way thing. Chivalry in Medieval texts goes far beyond the modern idea of it that we have now, where you do courteous deeds for women like opening doors and all of that crap. Chivalry celebrates the bonds between men, especially those between a king and his knights, but chivalry can also trap men into having to perform certain behaviours. In the Morte D'Arthur, the issue is not that Lancelot and Guinevere are having an affair, it is that it is exposed publicly to the rest of the knights, which forces Arthur to have to act against two people whom he loves. If it had remained a private affair, he could have continued to avert his eyes and pretend he did not see what was happening. All of the fall of Camelot that follows and the division of the round table is the result of these contradicting bonds that chivalry causes. I could go into a lot more detail but I'll hold back and get back to the point at hand.

My point is, the bit that tugged on my heart in the Fionavar Tapestry was that it was so obvious that all three people loved each other very much, but they were doomed to repeat the betrayal and downfall over and over for eternity. This book skips this part altogether which makes me very happy. To my memory, this is the only book I have read which takes a potential love triangle and goes "nah fuck that" and instead goes for a three way relationship. The society portrayed in this text is much more sexually liberated and so instead of the relationship dissolving in a mess of betrayal and sadness, it's strengthened by the fact that they all clearly do love each other and they find a way to make that work for them. There's a bit in the book which has stuck in my mind and that is when Dilip is painting the three of them. He's trying to assign them roles in relation to mother/father/prince but he comments that "any permutation of the roles would be equally valid" and that really seems to fit with their relationship. They're all very equal in relation to one another and each person's relationship with the other is as valid as all of the other ones and I just really enjoyed watching that play out.

[end of spoilery section.]

I like the fact that this book presents multiple genders and multiple sexualities. It also explores a number of different religions, but not being a part of any of these I'm not sure if I can really say if these are handled well or not. A particular aspect that I enjoyed was seeing the relationship between technology and magic. On the one hand, the level of technology in this series is more advanced than our own with a lot of immersive reality being used and an exploration of alternative, green sources of energy such as the stuff the Zen Selfers are working on. On the other hand, there is a feeling that England is slipping into the dark ages slightly with environmental and economic disasters happening. It's an interesting mix. Added onto this is the fact that there is a wild card of magic that is currently present but unexplored. Fiorinda's magic is undeniably real but as of this first book, currently still shrouded in lot of mystery and obscurity. I know that this gets explored more in the second book but I can't really remember what happens with it so I'm interested to see how it plays out.

Aside from the Fio/Sage/Ax relationship, by far the thing I most enjoy about this series is the role that the music has to play in it. The whole time I was reading this I had a quote running through my head. It was said by Leena aka justkissmyfrog, a youtuber who has started a series called Bathtub Busking. I adore this series anyway because I love hearing people do ukulele covers of songs, but I also really like the core idea of it. In this video she says about how music is an "antiseptic that we're not completely using to its full ability" and talks about how it can be used as a way of helping in times of shit and crisis. I feel like this book explores this idea as well. Obviously the main characters are all rock stars and the fact that all the books are named after Hendrix songs should hint at the importance music has within this text. The bunch of rock stars that were originally gathered for meetings by the government end up being referred to as The Few. A lot of stuff goes down in this book and they somehow find themselves at the heart of it all and try to find ways to keep the country together somehow. One of the things they do is organise the Dissolution Tour where they travel the country and play free shows to the general public. Overall I just found the way this book explores the importance and power of music very interesting.

I am definitely planning on re-reading more of this series soon as I am finding it extremely interesting to revisit it now that I am older. There are a lot of aspects of this series that I am slightly unsure of and am definitely going to have to ponder upon to figure out how I feel. I've read 3 of the total 6 books and I'm not sure if I'm going to work my way through the whole thing. From memory, the second book is still very interesting, but I don't think I ever finished the third. If you are a fan of urban fantasy or rock and roll and don't mind dealing with some heavier issues along the way then I would definitely recommend you read this book as a one shot, even if you ignore the rest of the series. I should say that they seem to be pretty hard to source unless you have a kindle, in which case I think they are all available on Amazon. 

Have you ever read this series and if so, what did you think? 

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Words Are Tricky

Does anyone else go through phases of expression? 

I'm not wildly talented at any one thing. I am vaguely creative and enjoying dipping my toe in various forms of expression but I've never had one definite thing that I can hold onto and define myself by. I flit between forms of expression and I muck about with them for a while and then something else will take my fancy and I'll be distracted with that for a while. 

This is kind of what has happened with this blog.

I am still reading. I am still having opinions on books. In fact I have been reading voraciously and have discovered some absolute gems and books that will stay with me forever. I'm just finding it hard to translate all of these into posts at the moment. I have been slightly more successful at using YouTube to express myself, but mostly I have been making lot of playlists. 

So. Many. Playlists.

This is not just an elaborate way of plugging my 8tracks (although y' here if you wanna...) but more of an acknowledgement of the fact that I frequently struggle to navigate between my love of words and my feelings of inadequacy related to them. I feel too clumsy and I just don't know how to express myself in ways that don't feel clunky and rambly, which is okay if you're talking in a YouTube video because you can at least edit together something vaguely coherent at the end of it. If the only way I can express my feelings about a book is to clutch it to my chest and make inarticulate noises then that's a lot harder to translate into blog posts!

But recently I've been realising that I do know how to turn this into a playlist. Which is probably why I've been making such a ridiculous amount of them.

I've mentioned book soundtracks before on this blog but that is something that has been replacing reviews recently. My book soundtracks are more than just songs that I listened to when I was reading a book. They are filled with songs that put into words the things that I am never able to say in a way that satisfies me. Sometimes this happens lyrically, other times it's just the feeling and atmosphere that the song evokes. When I listen through the playlist I am able to transport myself right back to the time when I was reading the book and I can remember all of the feelings it inspired in me. Hopefully when other people listen to them they can get the same thing, but who knows!

Obviously using music as a form of expression and a way of interpreting the world is not a terribly new thing. You just have to look at the history of relationships and see the amount of mixtapes that have been made for significant others to see the role that music plays in our self expression.

Sometimes putting things into words is confusing and the whole thing just falls flat. Whatever the original emotion was it has completely fallen apart by the time I have tried to turn it into a thing that other people can understand. So I guess instead I just piggyback on other people, far more talented people, and I use their words instead. It's like all I have to do is find the magic combination of songs and then you'll get it, whatever "it" is that I'm trying to say, and it'll be way clearer than if I used my own clumsy, half-formed words.

So playlists are where I have been at recently. And I won't lie, I think I've made some great ones recently. Some are just things I threw together because I liked the songs, others have successfully managed to capture feelings and emotions I have about people and books and those are the ones I'm actually pretty proud of. But I think I should try to get back into this again. Because whilst it's really great to be able to listen to a playlist and be like "this totally encapsulates how I feel about that", it would be really nice if I could actually use my words to do this as well. I think I need to stop being so afraid of messing up, accept the fact that I probably will do, and then just do the thing anyway, even if it feels like I am failing utterly.

This is a very long winded way of me addressing the fact that I have been an incredibly shoddy blogger recently. Sorry bout that. I'm hoping to be a bit better from now on.