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Cloud & Ashes: Three Winter's Tales by…
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Cloud & Ashes: Three Winter's Tales

by Greer Gilman

Other authors: Kathleen Jennings (Cover artist)

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Three tales set in the realm of Cloud, which seems to be a medieval Europe-like world. Ashes is both a mythic figure and someone that women play at being, or become. It's all very interesting, but also difficult to follow. The book will suddenly start referring to "he" after a long section exclusively about women, with no indication of what man or mythic male character is intended. The writing is beautiful, but tangled. For example:
They are sisters, stone and thorn tree, dark and light of one moon. Annis, Malykorne. And they are rivals for the hare, his love, his death: each bears him in her lap, as child, as lover and as lyke. They wake his body and he leaps within them, quick and starkening; they bear him light. Turning, they are each the other, childing and devouring: the cauldron and the sickle and the cold bright bow. Each holds, beholds, the other in her glass.

Contains a whooooooole lot of sexual assault, which made me give it up after only about 30 pages. I can only deal with so much! ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Actually, it’s “Unleaving,” the third and largest part of Cloud & Ashes, that I read. I’d read the earlier parts, “Jack Daw’s Pack” and “A Crowd of Bone,” so I had developed a method for reading Greer’s stuff. Some people may be able simply to read and apprehend, but I’m not one. If I try that, I think the officious Organizer part of my brain tries too early, too simplistically, and too hard to impose a pattern, and that won’t work. I have—and maybe you have, if you try Cloud & Ashes—to read the way I dream. Just let it happen. Just let the words flow by. Enjoy them (marvel in them), or dread them, the way you enjoy or dread things that happen in dreams, and before you know it, you have the sense of it. The story has opened up for you, dreamwise.

And it’s a real story. It’s not arbitrary or capricious, the way dreams can sometimes be. There is a pattern, but it’s like Celtic knotwork. The story is deep and strong and dark—almost too dark, for me, in ways. Let’s just say the milk of humankindness is not overflowing, here. But that’s not to say the story is dreary or hopeless. It can be cruel or terrifying, but it is never dreary, and there is always hope.

“Unleaving” was much longer than either “Jack Daw’s Pack” or “A Crowd of Bone.” In itself, it’s a novel, though it’s only one of the three portions of Cloud & Ashes. In some ways this made it harder, for me. I felt at some points as trapped in Cloud—the name of the land in which most of the story takes place—as Margaret, the heroine of the third story. Sexual violence pervades all three tales, but “Unleaving” is the longest, and it’s just that much more present in “Unleaving.” Though to say “sexual violence” doesn’t really do justice to the importance of it for the stories. It has to do with generative power, creation, the desire to control or destroy that. It’s not the rape that you get on CSI: Special Victims Unit; it’s the rape that you get in myth. But because Greer makes myth real and immediate, played out by people we care about, it’s painful, awful.

And the full significance of the cosmogony of this world really bore down on me, reading “Unleaving.” It had been terrifying in “A Crowd of Bone,” with Thea, the goddess who can’t escape her fate and dies dreadfully, but in “Unleaving” you could see how it soaked into everyday life for people in Cloud.

But there’s a truth that the cosmogony gets at that can’t be avoided. Nature is beautiful, wondrous—but cruel, too, pitiless: demands death at times.

What made the whole not only bearable but transcendent for me was the climax and the conclusion, as time wove in on itself, and characters wove in on one another—characters from the edges of the world and from the past—and people’s cosmogonic roles and their in-time lives slid together like stereopticon pictures, and the characters changed the pattern of life forever. It was a tour de force, a true marvel.
( )
  FrancescaForrest | May 12, 2014 |
Actually, it’s “Unleaving,” the third and largest part of Cloud & Ashes, that I read. I’d read the earlier parts, “Jack Daw’s Pack” and “A Crowd of Bone,” so I had developed a method for reading Greer’s stuff. Some people may be able simply to read and apprehend, but I’m not one. If I try that, I think the officious Organizer part of my brain tries too early, too simplistically, and too hard to impose a pattern, and that won’t work. I have—and maybe you have, if you try Cloud & Ashes—to read the way I dream. Just let it happen. Just let the words flow by. Enjoy them (marvel in them), or dread them, the way you enjoy or dread things that happen in dreams, and before you know it, you have the sense of it. The story has opened up for you, dreamwise.

And it’s a real story. It’s not arbitrary or capricious, the way dreams can sometimes be. There is a pattern, but it’s like Celtic knotwork. The story is deep and strong and dark—almost too dark, for me, in ways. Let’s just say the milk of humankindness is not overflowing, here. But that’s not to say the story is dreary or hopeless. It can be cruel or terrifying, but it is never dreary, and there is always hope.

“Unleaving” was much longer than either “Jack Daw’s Pack” or “A Crowd of Bone.” In itself, it’s a novel, though it’s only one of the three portions of Cloud & Ashes. In some ways this made it harder, for me. I felt at some points as trapped in Cloud—the name of the land in which most of the story takes place—as Margaret, the heroine of the third story. Sexual violence pervades all three tales, but “Unleaving” is the longest, and it’s just that much more present in “Unleaving.” Though to say “sexual violence” doesn’t really do justice to the importance of it for the stories. It has to do with generative power, creation, the desire to control or destroy that. It’s not the rape that you get on CSI: Special Victims Unit; it’s the rape that you get in myth. But because Greer makes myth real and immediate, played out by people we care about, it’s painful, awful.

And the full significance of the cosmogony of this world really bore down on me, reading “Unleaving.” It had been terrifying in “A Crowd of Bone,” with Thea, the goddess who can’t escape her fate and dies dreadfully, but in “Unleaving” you could see how it soaked into everyday life for people in Cloud.

But there’s a truth that the cosmogony gets at that can’t be avoided. Nature is beautiful, wondrous—but cruel, too, pitiless: demands death at times.

What made the whole not only bearable but transcendent for me was the climax and the conclusion, as time wove in on itself, and characters wove in on one another—characters from the edges of the world and from the past—and people’s cosmogonic roles and their in-time lives slid together like stereopticon pictures, and the characters changed the pattern of life forever. It was a tour de force, a true marvel.
( )
  FrancescaForrest | May 12, 2014 |
A novel comprising three connected tales: the previously published short works "Jack Daw's Pack" and "A Crowd of Bone", followed by the new, novel-length "Unleaving". Set in a mythic land akin to Britain, complete with fantastic dialect and its own mythology. Which, ahh. Love. So real and flawed. Over the course of the book, several characters take on this mythology and in the end radically alter it: this is the core plot, around which are the lives of various people affected by the Ashes myth.

The two short parts are tightly written: the first flits around the myth of Ashes and the woman Whin's intersection with it, the second concerns Thea, daughter of goddess Annis, and her attempt to flee her mother's influence. However, the pace of "Unleaving" dawdled before running. Too much time is spent on Margaret - grand-daughter of Annis - who, having fled her prison in the myth-world, arrives at a country house and settles there with its owner Grevil and his staff. She helps Grevil with his academic pursuits, she makes a telescope and looks at the stars, she mets the "crow lad", illegitimate child of a woman who was Ashes. This takes a surprisingly long time and is not helped by Margaret's comparative blandness as a character - compared to, say, the rarely appearing Whin, the goddesses Malykorne and Brock, even Grevil, whose academic, kind nature is useless against the sinister powers that later appear. Still, put Margaret under the stars and she comes to life, and her quiet smallness is justified by her life before. (Whin, who featured prominently in the two shorter works, is also manouevred by the goddesses but is a harder, more determined, active character. Whin's just cool and I wish more of the book had been about her. She's also black, because Gilman is capable of writing a faux-Britain and not just making it about white people. My diverse nation sings its thanks.)

Once Madam Covener appears, the plot starts to get going: Margaret is trapped, yet a way out through the myth and practise of Ashes is presented. From Hallows night onwards, I didn't want to put the book down. Margaret at the very end - who suffers and is central, at the same time - is far from a timid girl who sneaks out at night to watch the stars.

I love Greer's myth-making. The Ashes myth, for instance. Each Hallows, a local woman is chosen by chance - her candle is the last to go out, as they all walk across the moors - to be Ashes until spring, telling deaths and choosing her own lovers. It's freedom for some. Playing the role of Ashes hurt Whin and drove an old woman to madness, yet Barbary longed for its freedom and it's said that other women enjoy the sexual release. You're a whore in this world if you sleep around, except as Ashes you're expected to, you're free to choose (although some as Ashes are raped, it's technically very bad to do so), you're even allowed to pick other women. A key factor: any child got on you is to be sacrificed at birth to the fields. Never mind its link to Annis, who got the original Ashes in her glass, a link very potent for Margaret and Whin especially.

Then there's death - the Lyke Road - and what happens to the characters who walk it, but I'll leave off telling too much of that.

Cloud & Ashes is a pleasure to read, not least because Gilman has an ear for language unlike almost any other author - although the style is not, shall we say, transparent - in places you have to pick at it a little, re-read some passages, but for me that's part of the enjoyment. (Could have done without quite so many repetitions of phrases like "There's all to do" and "unleaving", though.) It's clever, the characters real and sympathetic - or horribly sinister, in a couple cases - the world marvellous. If only there'd been less emphasis on Margaret in the house! It made a sizeable chunk of the book a bit ehhhh for me. Still, when I think of the book as a whole, words like "fantastic" and "marvellous" pop into my head over and over. ( )
3 vote alexdallymacfarlane | Aug 29, 2010 |
A wonderful plum-pudding of a book, whose rich and juicy metaphors need digesting slowly. Like its prdecessor, Moonwise, I read this book over Christmas, and it also seems perfect for the dark time of the year. I love Greer Gilman's writings, which speak to my roots in the rural north of England, where the past lies shallow-buried. Like Moonwise again, this is a book which will need much re-reading before I can review it cogently. But this I can say : dark and full of wonders. ( )
  Zambaco | Jan 6, 2010 |
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Greer Gilmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jennings, KathleenCover artistsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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For Deb and Sonya, two of the Nine; and for my mother, my North star
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Cloud & Ashes collects three Winter's Tales ("Jack Daw's Pack," "A Crowd of Bone," and the longest, "Unleaving") centering on folk traditions, harvest rites, the seasons, gods, and trickster figures.

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