Black Sun – We Aren’t in Narnia Anymore

Black Sun is the first book in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Between Earth and Sky fantasy series, and it does exactly what it’s supposed to do: make you want to read the second book. The story opens with 12-year old Serapio being blinded by his mother – yeah, no Mother’s Day roses for her. She tells Serapio his blinding is necessary because “Human eyes lie. You must learn to see the world with more than this faulty organ.” Fair enough. But isn’t there an easier way to teach this lesson? Apparently not in the Meridian – the world where this story is set. Especially when the mother’s ultimate goal is to turn Serapio into a god. She’s not interested in roses.

This is 10 years before the Convergence – a “day when the sun, moon, and earth align, and the moon’s shadow devours the sun.” Order moves to chaos and back to order again. But during this transition, order is vulnerable and chaos can overthrow it. The Watchers are tasked with maintaining the “balance between what is above and what is below.” However, rumor has it they are corrupt and weak. Seeds of rebellion have been thrown on fertile ground.

The story jumps to 20 days before the Convergence, and a daughter of the sea, Xiala, has been tasked with transporting Serapio to Tova (the Meridian’s holy city) in time for the Convergence. It’s an arduous journey across water, and the crew is disgruntled. But Xiala has mystical powers. She should not be trifled with.

Serapio has been trained as a warrior and now has magical powers of his own. His destiny is to battle the Watchers. He will be formidable. The story ends on the day of the Convergence. The battle is beyond bloody, but the outcome is unclear.

Black Sun is stellar. It has all the elements of a traditional epic, but it also pulls from many myths outside Western Europe. Ms. Roanhorse’s the Meridian is no Camelot, Middle Earth, or Narnia. In those fantasy worlds, there is an obvious divide between good and evil. In Black Sun, it is opaque. The story is told from several points of view. Some characters think Serapio is a hero, while many consider him a villain. So are these constructs meaningless because they are subjective? Such a thought would cause C.S. Lewis to crap his pants.

Near the end Ms. Roanhorse writes: “tell me your stories so that I might know who you are and what you value.” She clearly values an expansive epic – one that includes matriarchal societies, gender fluidity, and bisexuality. She also treasures interesting world-building, complex characters, and great story telling.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Cloud Cuckoo Land – Going Cuckoo for the Classics

Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land is a book about a book. Yawn, you say? But, wait, it is also about the love of books. Still yawning, I see. But a big section takes place in a library in Idaho. Whose point are you proving, you ask, while stifling another yawn.

Well, quit yawning, because Cloud Cuckoo Land is a delight. The story involves 3 timelines and characters separated by continents and centuries. They are connected only by a book supposedly written by Diogenes in the first century. That book (also called “Cloud Cuckoo Land”) is about Aethon, a shepherd who lived 80 years a man, 1 year a donkey, 1 year a sea bass, and 1 year a crow. It is an unbelievable comedy but that doesn’t make it a lie, because some stories “can be false and true at the same time.”

Diogenes’ book (really a codex) surfaces in Constantinople in 1453, during the Sultan’s long siege of the city. A 13 year old girl named Anna discovers the book and endeavors to protect it.

In the early 2000s the book is found in the Vatican’s archives. Major theme alert. “Sometimes the things we think are lost are only hidden, waiting to be rediscovered.” Age, water, and mildew have been cruel, making parts barely legible. It is published on the internet, and scholars are invited to decipher what they can. In Lakeport, Idaho, Zeno (who is not a scholar) is in his 80s and lonely, so he attempts to translate the story – perhaps realizing that he has a lot in common with Aethon. Seemingly ordinary people making great (though unrecognized) contributions to humanity is a second major theme.

Zeno’s translation eventually is discovered by Konstance circa 2130. She appears to be the sole survivor on a spaceship traveling to a distant planet.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is part epic poem, part fantastical quest, and part science fiction. And while the characters and events are convincingly depicted and the narrative is absorbing, the novel is really about the miraculous survival of Diogenes’ story.

Doerr writes a love letter to all the ancient myths, legends, and folktales that somehow survived when so many others did not. “In a time . . . when disease, war, and famine haunted practically every hour, when so many died before their time, their bodies swallowed by the sea or earth, or simply lost over the horizon, never to return, their fates unknown . . . Imagine how it felt to hear the old songs about heroes returning home. To believe that it was possible.” Times haven’t changed that much.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor