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Blue Magic (Drinker of Souls) by Jo Clayton

Blue Magic (Drinker of Souls) (original 1988; edition 1988)

by Jo Clayton

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Title:Blue Magic (Drinker of Souls)
Authors:Jo Clayton
Info:DAW (1988), Edition: 2nd THUS, Paperback, 333 pages

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Blue Magic by Jo Clayton (1988)



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As is the case with most of my reviews of series, this is going to lean more toward a review of the author and her oeuvre rather than the details of these individual books. Anyway, Jo Clayton is a science fiction and fantasy author with a very distinctive voice, and I appreciate many aspects of her work that keep me coming back over and over.

First, she doesn't rely on some sort of generic northern European cultural and geographical model for her fantasies. Instead, she draws upon many, many different cultures and landscapes for inspiration. Concomitantly, both her protagonists and especially other characters are ethnically very diverse--it's not a white universe with a few people of color thrown in as sparse leavening. No, entire swathes in every world she builds, whether SF or fantasy, feature people of all different colors and beyond the human spectrum, once the various humanoid species she creates are thrown in. We get to see her spectacular, diverse, and original world-building because her stories generally involve the characters traversing the landscape and negotiating many different cultures in the course of their quest.

Second, her characters are more than racially and ethnically diverse. She also has characters reflecting a wide range of ages, physical and mental abilities, sexualities, social classes and so on. In fact, many of her key players come squarely from marginalized populations. So her books are some of the most inclusive and representative of any I've ever read. Moreover, her plots invariably involve a resistance movement to a newly repressive regime, so she explicitly explores the kyriarchy and the nature of oppression, at scales ranging from the individual to entire societies. Rather than ignoring social inequalities in favor of some airy fantasy wish fulfillment, she uses these social tensions to motivate the plot. However, I confess that after reading 20+ of her books, this theme begins to get old, no matter how creatively she explores it.

Third, her stories abound with strong characters, particularly women. No need to consult the Bechdel test, because her protagonist is always a powerful woman working with many other women as well as men in an epic tale involving dozens of characters, and usually shifting viewpoints. Even fairly minor characters have names and personalities that make them individuals--once again, far exceeding the standard treatment in this genre. However, that is not to say that she doesn't succumb to a formula. Nowhere is this more apparent than her protagonists: always a powerful woman with exceptional abilities, usually seriously psychologically damaged by her past, fond of hot tea, long baths, and often sailing men. Brann, the Drinker of Souls, is no exception, though she's traumatized in thebeginning of the trilogy rather than her past, which is unusually wholesome and happy for this author.

Fourth, she clearly has a great love for artisans and others whose livelihoods derive from their labors. Every book I've read features important secondary characters and compelling descriptions of their labors (before the plot sends everything to hell, of course): weavers, potters, dancers, musicians, sailors, goldsmiths (jewelry), herbalists, and on and on. This narrative of daily life and tightly woven society gives her stories a reality and depth that are almost unique in action-driven novels.

Fifth, Jo Clayton is another author who invents an ecology to go along with her invented culture. We meet new animals, crops, trees, and many other organisms, and they aren't always mammals and angiosperms, which greatly please the biology geek in me, who is very unimpressed with the lackluster imaginations of most authors who at best might dream up new names for the same old things.

Sixth, her writing style can also be experimental. In the same way that Stand on Zanzibar introduced new narrative techniques to science fiction, Jo Clayton plays around with text, moving beyond linear prose in some passages, particularly opening material and especially in second and third installments of a trilogy. Often, it is very graphically oriented, reading more like staging directions in a screenplay. Mind you, this isn't necessarily easy to process, but once again, distinguishes her writing from the bulk of the genre.

So that's the general overview of Jo Clayton's works. Drinker of Souls introduces us to Brann, the young daughter of a potter in a remote, mountainous artisan community. She is out in the field one day, along the flanks of their (mostly) dormant volcano, sketching various creatures, when disaster strikes, and life as she knows it is over, and she can never go back home. Soldiers from the oh-so-distant king have appeared to enslave her people, and she is transformed by twin children (Yaril and Jaril) trapped from another reality to be a conduit of energy (souls!) to sustain their lives in this strange world. Adventure ensues as she copes with this trauma and tries to save her people.

Blue Magic takes place maybe a century later. The descendant of one of the secondary characters calls upon Brann for assistance, and someone tries to magically assassinate her. Again, adventure ensues and new parts of the world are explored. ( )
1 vote justchris | Feb 7, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jo Claytonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lee, Jody A.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Hilde saved me from a major error 
so this book is dedicated to her an her sharp wits.
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Broad and yellow and heavy with the silt it carried, late summer low in its banks, the river Wansheeri slipped noiselessly past the scattered mountains of the Uplands, driving to the Plans and the vast city that guarded its mouth, Jade Halimm.
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The Chained God
has peacefully ruled over the land for as long as the people of Owlyn can remember. But now the Chained God has been challenge by the sorcerer Maksim and his cruel and demanding master, the God Amortis. 
With her people enslaved by the evil sorcerer's spell, Kori and her young brother have only one person they can turn  to for help - the legendary Brann, Drinker of Souls, who, along with her demonic shape-shifting companions, had once  been aided by Kori's ancestor and is still pledged to repay the debt.
Yet other forces too are conspiring to draw Brann into this war between mortals' magic and that of the Gods. And, pursued by skillful assassins, fire elementals, and soul-thirsty demons, Brann and some unexpectedly discovered allies must brave the perils of supernatural wrath and immortal enchantments in a desperate attempt to unchain the Chained God's true power ...
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