Friday, February 28, 2014

Surfing the Human Wave: Karen Myers' The Ways of Winter (Hounds of Annwn, Book 2)

When last we left George Talbot Traherne, he had just been pulled from his rural Virginian home into the parallel kingdom of Annwn, where he discovered both his true heritage and his intimate connection to the god Cernunnos. In this week's selection, The Ways of Winter, we follow up with George as he faces new threats from Madog, the villain who attempted to disrupt the traditional hunt in To Carry the Horn.

When I reviewed Myers' first novel, I mentioned problems with the pacing -- particularly in the first third. A few of those problems linger in The Ways of Winter - for example, I feel the denouement was a bit too long, as was the run-up to the first major complication - but overall, this novel was much more effective in grabbing and maintaining my interest. To be honest, I think this has a lot to do with the thematic emphasis. I've never experienced a fox hunt and have no burning yen to do so, so the descriptions of such an event as rendered in To Carry the Horn didn't really speak to me on a personal level. On the other hand, in The Ways of Winter, Myers focuses more on family -- which is, for me, a far more relatable topic.

Speaking of which, I absolutely adored Seething Magma and her quest to rescue her daughter. I was discussing this with my co-author the other day, and we finally concluded that Mag hit my Moya Button. Moya, for those of you who don't understand the reference, is the sentient ship in Farscape whose child is genetically manipulated and eventually kidnapped by a renegade Peacekeeper. Moya is not armed and is thus completely vulnerable to the mistreatment of others. Further, Moya can't speak to the other characters in the traditional way, so the writers have to be creative in conveying her thoughts and feelings. In The Ways of Winter, Myers creates a very similar character in her rock wight. One of the major plot points revolves around the fate of Mag's aforementioned child, who has been abducted by Madog because she, like all the rock wights, can create portals - or "ways" - that enable travel over great distances. As we discover, rock wights can be "claimed" like the ways and forced to do whatever their claimant wishes, which leaves them uniquely prone to exploitation. Additionally, Mag communicates telepathically -- and because only a few characters can hear and understand her, the others must go to elaborate lengths to circumvent the language barrier. Given that Moya is one of my favorite characters on Farscape - and given the obvious parallels between Moya and Mag - it's not at all surprising that the rock wights pulled me right in.

Another thing I liked a lot was the interaction between Benitoe and Maelys. Myers could've resolved Benitoe's loneliness in the wake of his love's death by getting him involved romantically with Maelys -- but instead, she keeps their connection strictly platonic. This acknowledgement that a relationship need not be sexual for it to be profoundly healing is something I deeply appreciate.

As for the main plot -- I won't spoil it, but I do think its resolution is a little too easy. I would've liked to have seen something more significant in re: permanent consequences. Still, I do want to continue reading this series. The dilemma over what should be done with Madog's domain is particularly fascinating to me, and the characters are all people in whom I've remained invested.

Final Verdict: Recommended.

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