jueves, 4 de febrero de 2016



Here's a genre of stories that I have always <3ed and sought inspiration for. And here are my picks for the genre, meant for Spanish readers. Mind that all of them pass the Bechdel test (yes, the test that female characters talk about other things than men in conversation), and star female characters:

The Academy, Book One, Amelia Drake
Historical setting: late nineteenth century
Geographical setting: Danubia (fantasy counterpart of Vienna)
Noteworthy: all the orphans at the local Kinderheim are surnamed after numbers, and there is a military academy and hussars in their sharp uniforms. Stephen Seventy, the love interest (Twelve, the heroine, is also a character worth noting and loving), wants to be a hussar and winds up as a cadet in said Military Academy (capitalized). The setting verges between monarchy and oligarchy, and there are lots of airships and houseboats so elegant...
This book was my self-gift for my own twenty-fourth birthday, this very week...
Book Two has been released only in Italy so far. And there is the reveal that there is a man in an iron mask in a dungeon... (the king's twin brother, I presume?)

Ada Goth Saga (trilogy, so far), by Chris Riddell
Historical setting: early nineteenth century/Regency
Geographical setting: the English countryside
Noteworthy: Ada and her father are fantasy counterparts of Ada Lovelace and Lord Byron. Lots of other fantasy counterparts of historical figures and literary characters abound. A drinking game of my own invention relies on spotting as many of these allusions as possible. Ada is also a great heroine, like Astrid, Becca, Twelve, and many others on this list... There's also another thing that I like, and it's the Building of Adventure setting: the outside world is mentioned more than once, but the leading characters never leave the vast estate of Ghastlygorm.

La calle Andersen (Andersen Street), Sofia Rhei & Marian Womack
Historical setting: mid-nineteenth century/Biedermeier
Geographical setting: Copenhagen
Noteworthy: This is the story of what happened to Kai and Gerda when they returned home from the Snow Queen's realm. They discover that they've got powers: he retains some magic mirror inside his eyes and can only see people's flaws (this helps him tell realistic automatons from flesh-and-blood humans), while she can somehow communicate with plants and animals (making Gerda an omnivoxa) like during her quest. Kai is the dark boy and Gerda the auburn girl. Then there's Ada, an albino orphan who lives with her ailing grandmother and sells matches on the streets: the Little Match Girl with a Targaryen colour scheme that soon attracts the villains' attention. And Joachim Maximilian Ernst III, a clever and wealthy stripling (eldest son of always absent classical musicians, English-style boxer, and amateur inventor) whose courtesy and refinement impress Gerda, leaving her to decide between this aristocratic young prodigy and her childhood friend. The plot concerns the disappearance of several street children, a snake oil seller who moonlights as an alchemist, an automaton maker whose creations are so lifelike that they can be mistaken for the real thing... There are lots of nods to many different Andersen stories and the Danish setting... the authors love these fairytales as much as I do, so this (last Christmas's self-gift) is next to the Waterfire books on my shelf. Another reason why I give it a plus is the fact that there's a gender-equal ensemble.

Which brings us to the Waterfire books themselves...

Waterfire Saga, Jennifer Donnelly
Historical setting: twenty-first century (in parallel mer-realms)
Geographical setting: several mer-realms, fantasy counterparts of real-life human cultures from the past. Most awesome is Ondalina, the Arctic Northern European counterpart culture.
Noteworthy: This is the series with Astrid Freaking Kolfinnsdóttir in it. That's enough to interest you. Aside from the fact that there are counterpart cultures, fortress towns, grand palaces, fierce dragons, kobolds and other Norse mythical creatures... and that's only the tip of the iceberg. So I'm still waiting for Dark Tide to reach Spain (muttering curses under my breath when it failed to come last winter), and I keep my fingers crossed for this springtime or summer. 

Princesses of the Realm of Fantasy, (illustrated by) Silvia Bigolin
Historical setting: eighteenth century (in the Realm of Fantasy)
Geographical setting: several allied kingdoms, fantasy counterparts of real-life human cultures from the past.
Noteworthy: There are counterpart cultures here, aside from a cast of ridiculously attractive young people. In my headcanon, the male love interests/princes in this series are so good (the illustrator is a real artist!) that I have used them for a few boys' love AUs (from retelling Othello, Eugene Onegin, and The Snow Queen to historical settings such as the Great War and the Thirty Years' War). They have as much presence and relevance as their distaff counterparts, which is rare in the gender-equal ensemble of a girl-oriented book series.

The Witch's Boy, Michael Gruber
Historical setting: eighteenth century
Geographical setting: shifts between the generic Central European fairytale kingdom (the concept of provinces mentioned, communities of various sizes, a baroque royal palace), the Realm of Fairies (exceedingly beautiful and intelligent, with violet eyes, think Tolkien elves or Targaryens), a warm country-esque land with stately castles and nuns' convents that is obviously a counterpart culture of France, and a rocky coastline dotted with villages and granitic islands (reminds me of Sweden, but could as well have been Scotland).
Noteworthy: period military life, of a cavalryman and a camp follower, implied. The titular witch, who is more of a wise woman, and her cat changed into human form (a slender young man with a Dalí moustache, a powdered wig, and grape-green eyes), go to war and live in camps for a while, and the result is the gem of a following quote:
Falance went for a soldier, and we joined the war. 
"The war?" 
Well, I was what they call a camp follower. I helped with the wounded and robbed corpses. You know, I have always admired the ravens, and it is much the same sort of life. Also battle is exciting, though stupid, like a stampede of elk. As for Falance, you know he loves to kill - it is his nature - and I did not want to deny him. He made a fine-looking soldier too, with a plume, dangling cartridges, and boots to the hip, his mustache waxed to point and his hair in tight braids. We were of the White Dragoons. Seven years we followed the drum, and then some doctors noticed that their patients died while mine lived and kept their limbs, and an accusation was lodged against me, and we had to desert.

The Twistrose Key, Tone Almhjell
Historical setting: late eighteenth/early nineteenth century
Geographical setting: the Sylver Valley, with the village of Sylveros (a Scandinavian counterpart culture), located on the northernmost edge of the Realms of Dream and Thorn, the dreamland of humans, which has a Regency/Biedermeier ring to it.
Noteworthy: The heroine looks and acts like me. Lindelin "Lin" Rosenquist is a riddle-loving, clever, plucky adolescent tomboy from our days' Scandinavia, freckled and golden-haired and honey-eyed. Also, there's the Winterfyrsts, the royalty of the region, raven-haired, ice-blue-eyed, lilywhite, exceedingly beautiful humanoids: Clariselyn, the missing ruler who returns in the end, and Isvan, her only son, a brooding and quiet boy. These three characters reminded me of Gerda, Kai, and the Snow Queen more than usual... There's also the countless shop signs that line the Sylverosi townscape, magnificent ice caves, the warm waffles at the Waffle Heart, where Isvan is a regular, washed down with mulled cider... and the Margrave, Edvard Uriarte, a redoubtable evil overlord with a scarring Freudian excuse (he lost all of his friends and family to the 1918 "Spanish flu")... The Scandinavian inspiration and the pace at which the story moves hooked me as instantly as the quaintness of the setting and the characters.

Lamplighter (Monster Blood Tattoo, Book the Second), D.M. Cornish
Historical setting: mid- to late eighteenth century
Geographical setting: the military academy of Winstermill and its environs, on the far reaches of the monster-infested Half-Continent
Noteworthy: The premise, penned by an Aussie who has showed their fricking worth, is instantly addictive and completely my catnip: Hogwarts (AKA Extranormal Boarding School Academy of Adventure) with cadets at a military academy in an eighteenth-century setting? BRING IT ON!!! It also features one of the most touching and lifelike relationships between mother and daughter EVER written in flintlock/fairytale fantasy, between dark-haired noblewoman Lady Syntychë Vey of Herbroulesse and her fiery daughter Threnody (the girl above), both of them badasses, a conservative marquise and her rebellious child who remind me of Queen Elinore and Princess Merida in Brave, respectively. Carrot-topped ace markswoman Threnody, my fave leading character in the book, is also an esper (telepath) and the leader of an all-female detachment of monster hunters... as well as the token girl at an all-male military academy (a first step to making Winstermill gender-equal) and a sarcastic black sheep of the clan à la Tyrion Lannister <3 <3 <3 (blowing her some kisses).
In Sweden, this novel was broken down into two books (so there's Book the Second Part One and Two). I got them second hand on the island of Tjörn and now they are on a sacred place in my bookshelf.

Oh, and, in France, different illustrations, by LACOMBE himself, are used for this series, there called Terres des Monstres. Here is Lacombe's redoubtable rendition of Tedronille (Threnody's French name!)... <3 <3 <3 

Il visconte dimezzato (The Cloven Viscount), Italo Calvino
Historical setting: mid-eighteenth century
Geographical setting: the shire of Terralba, somewhere in northern Italy
Noteworthy: Here we've got another premise that still haunts me every day. Long story short: a young lieutenant, heir to the count of Terralba, is struck right in the middle of the chest by an enemy cannonball on his baptism of fire. Both halves catapulted each to a side of the battlefield, left half saved by wise old lady of the woods, right half saved by regimental surgeons. Both half-men survive, against all odds. Self-centered right half returns to Terralba, causes his father's death, rules the shire with an iron fist, imprisoning his old nanny and burning French Protestants at the stake, to mention only some of his cruelties. Enter his left half, who sets right everything that the tyrant has done wrong, but has no concept of self, and thus, does more harm than good by completely meddling in the lives of others. Neither Lefty nor Righty want to reunite with their respective other halves. And then... Enter love. A village maiden of middling descent, whom both half viscounts adore: Righty threatens her at gunpoint, Lefty showers her with poetry and wildflowers. She does not want either of the half-men to ruin her life, and thus, she decides to marry both of them, with neither suitor knowing that she has also accepted the other!!! Naturally, they challenge one another to a duel and severely injure one another: stitched together by the household surgeon of the Terralba lords, now one person, neither too selfish nor too selfless... the viscount and his clever damsel live happily ever after. 
This is a whale of a fairytale, that speaks volumes in the metaphor at its core... Naturally, Villazuk made a song about it, and here is the song for those who wish to hear it...
Three paths lead up the Hill of Difficulty:
  1. The path to the left is beautiful and easy, yet treacherous and fraught with Destruction.
  2. The path to the right is beautiful and easy, yet treacherous and fraught with Danger.
  3. The middle path, straight up the hill, is steep and straight and narrow, yet it leads to a Pleasant Arbour where the weary find repose.
This is an illustration of the Golden Mean and shying away from extremes (in ethics as well as in any other field of life). There's no "right is good and left is bad" symbolism, but rather "both left and right are the wrong paths," the middle one, the third one, right in between the extremes, is the one most recommended to choose. And The Cloven Viscount (Il visconte dimezzato), a superb fairytale fantasy by Italo Calvino, illustrates the same value. Neither a completely self-centered person nor a completely altruistic one can be considered human, and Lieutenant Viscount Medardo di Terralba learned this lesson firsthand.
Once upon a battlefield, this young lieutenant, this viscount, shot down in the middle of the chest by enemy fire, was literally split in twain. His right half (completely self-centered) became a dreaded iron-fisted tyrant, while his left half (completely altruistic) became an insufferable silk-gloved goody-two-shoes. Neither one wanted to be reattached to his other half. Until the same young maiden won both the half hearts of the righthander and the lefthander, knowing that both of them would ruin her life, and decided to marry both of them without each other knowing the other's betrothal. The bridegrooms clashed at the altar and challenged one another to a duel, they drew steel at unison and seriously wounded one another with their rapiers, only regaining life after a long convalescence, having already been stitched together. And, of course, he and his bride married and lived happily ever after...
I leave you with the song by Italian band Villazuk, which sums up the story perfectly and is one of my favourite songs in the language of Dante:

Cavalcava la pianura tra gli stormi di cicogne 

munito d’un cavallo e uno scudiero

in Boemia era diretto e li la guerra contro i turchi

gia cosparso avea la terra di carogne

al mattino successivo cominciava la battaglia

pensava al nuovo grado di tenente

scintillavano i suoi occhi tra paura ed entusiasmo

era giovane Medardo di Terralba
e dall’alto della sella scorse due artiglieri turchi
puntare contro il fuoco d’un cannone
l’inesperto cavaliere che copriva l’obiettivo 
fece un salto in aria con un colpo in petto
alla sera lo raccolsero sul carro dei feriti
mutilato interamente alla sinistra
ed il giorno successivo dopo sconce operazioni
con stupore dei dottori respirava 

Al ritorno in terra propria nel mantello nero avvolto
portò con se malvagia e cattiveria
fece un torto uccidendo un volatile del padre
che seguì nel sonno il povero animale
gli abitanti del castello se ne accorsero in quel tempo 
che l’uomo aveva perso ogni bontà
incendiava gente e case di ugonotti ed appestati
coronando una miriade di condanne
solamente una gran donna la sua balia Sebastiana
rimproverava tutti i suoi misfatti
ma l’insana crudeltà giunse presto e la sua sorte
fu l’esilio nel paese dei lebbrosi
l’abitudine a quel male di brutalità e follie
facea vegliar la notte sentinelle
mai nessuno compativa la sua giovinezza offesa
che temevano anche i cari più vicini

Ma un fanciullo che dormiva sopra il bordo d’un torrente
sentì la mezza ombra sulla testa
mentre un ragno scivolava sopra il collo del ragazzo
quella sola mano ne procurò il morso 
sotto il suo mantello nero con il suo mezzo sorriso
salutò affettuosamente suo nipote
che si accorse sbalordito di quel nuovo atteggiamento
e che la mano gonfia era la sinistra
dopo un po’ fu noto a tutti l’altro mezzo è ritornato
a portare aiuto a chi era disperato
a soccorrere i più poveri regalando carità
a fermare le violenze ed i peccati
ma la virtù del buon mancino era troppo disumana
predicava ai vecchi di non lavorare
disturbava le abitudini e le vite della gente
che non sopportava neanche il mezzo buono

Questa storia prende svolta come tante volte accade
per mano di una giovane fanciulla
che riuscì a farsi contendere da due metà divise
da quell’uomo che portava cuori opposti 
era scalza grassottella e vestiva sempre rosa
rifiutava le due anime contrarie
l’uomo buono era pietoso quanto l’altro era crudele
non voleva rovinarsi l’esistenza
la ragazza era scocciata e con un gesto d’imprudenza
decise di sposarli tutti e due
ma di farlo all’insaputa dei due mezzi cavalieri
che incrociarono i due occhi sull’altare
si lanciarono una sfida in un duello regolare
con entrambe mani armate d’una spada
così l’uomo combatteva contro la sua stessa parte
e poi cadde a terra in un bagno di sangue

Ora il corpo dei feriti sotto ardue cuciture
sottoposte dal dottore del castello
dopo giorni di pazienza tra gli sguardi sempre incerti
sotto gli occhi dell’amata prese vita
la sua vita fu felice molti figli e un buon governo 
e per quello che gli accadde fu il più saggio
più non c’era cattiveria più non c’era troppa pena
ma di tutt’e due portava l’esperienza.

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