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The Serpent's Tooth by Diana L. Paxson
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The Serpent's Tooth

by Diana L. Paxson

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This is the kind of story that I love when done well, in the tradition of Mary Renault's The Bull from the Sea and Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave, Diana L. Paxson attempts to ground a story out of legend in history. In this case it's the tale of King Lear and his daughters that came down to us in Geoffrey Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, which also gave us the legends of King Arthur. King Lear, of course, was immortalized in the great play of William Shakespeare, and Paxson gives a nod to that in including a character, Crow, inspired by Shakespeare's fool.

But this is above all the story of Cridilla (Shakespeare's Cordelia), Lear's third and youngest daughter, as told by her, starting her account when she's seven years old. Paxson sets the tale around the fifth century before the common era, in the time when the Celts first came to Britain. Lear conquered the lands and sealed his rule by marrying native queens and Gunarduilla, Rigana and Cridilla are the daughters of three different queens. The two elder daughters identify with their mothers' peoples, with only Cridilla loving her father.

It could have made for an entrancing tale, but Paxson's style irked me from the start. I don't know if I can quite put my finger on why. She did have this habit I found annoying of having people speak with "thou" and "thy" and "didst" that I think does nothing in the end to put up in a past era. But it's more than that--the story just didn't flow to me and I wasn't connecting with the characters. It's obviously a very well-researched book. That's obvious from the scholarly afterward and list of sources. And Paxson has written nonfiction books about New Age and Goddess subjects. Maybe that's part of the problem--there's something that feels didactic in her narrative, as if she has to cram every bit of her research into the pages. I found it dull, and just not engaging. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Feb 26, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Diana L. Paxsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Canty, ThomasContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Siobhan,
Bear Daughter
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The Midwinter sky was brightening slowly through the river mist that shadowed the land.
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