Shroud of Shadow: Ugh

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGael Baudino book review Strands Shroud of ShadowShroud of Shadow by Gael Baudino

Natil is the last of the Elven race, and in this novel she takes a runaway nun, Omelda, under her wing during the time of the Inquisition. Natil’s powers are mostly gone, except for her miraculous harp playing, which is the only thing that saves Omelda from suicide. Natil herself is suicidal, and wants nothing more than to crawl under a rock and cease to exist. Obsessed with this goal, she doesn’t do much for Omelda except get the two of them indentured to a selfish rich man, his greedy sons, and his perverted grandsons. Much description of sadistic rape follows.

Natil keeps herself going because she has visions of Elves reawakening in the twentieth century — the only trouble is that these elves are this rather boring couple who spend all their time navel-gazing and talking about how groovy their new powers are. So anyway, they’re the hope of the Elven race, and Natil goes on about her business, bemoaning her own lack of powers and still planning her departure from this world. Natil’s self-pity blinds her to the much more dire plight of Omelda; I was sorely disappointed in Natil over this.

Eventually, all the major characters end up charged by the Inquisition. Description of nasty tortures follows. Some of the characters get a semi-happy ending, due to the fact that money conquers all, but the end suffered by one of the characters is absolutely pointless and depressing.

Overall, the book sunk me into a morass of despair while all the while making me want to throw up. I wanted to wash my brain out with soap afterward. (After I finished the book, I had to read some pages of something else before I could sleep.) Perhaps this is the effect Gael Baudino is trying to achieve. And yes, I know that these atrocities really happened to real people during those times. But there’s no law saying I have to enjoy reading about it in detail. The scenes where Natil actually does something, for example when she plays the harp or when she stands up to the Inquisitor, are quite good, but you have to wade through hundreds of pages of gross-out to find them.

Strands — (1989-1997) Spires of Spirit is a short story collection. Publisher’s Weekly: Baudino sets this engrossing fantasy-adventure in a mythical land that replicates the political and religious tensions of 14th-century Europe. The heroine, Miriam, unwillingly gifted with the power to heal, falls victim to a savage Inquisition that condemns her ability as witchcraft, and to a ruthless nobleman who rapes her after she saves his life. Baudino understands the psychology of the persecuted, astutely motivating the self-immolating rage that consumes Miriam and leads her to undergo a complete, magical physical metamorphosis (she becomes tall, strong and beautiful) so that she can be a scourge for her enemies. Though the plot has its share of exciting sword fights, bold rescues and similar stock-in-trade, Baudino focuses on Miriam’s interior journey — her spiritual (which accompanies the corporeal) transformation through contact with the uncorrupted Elves, with the pagan priestesses known as witches and with simple Christians. Her tale acquires an elegiac power, mourning the loss of innocent sources of wisdom even as it vividly imagines them.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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