Saturday, January 7, 2012

Third Culture Kids in fantasy

I love books release days! The Serpent Sea, the second in the Books of the Raksura series, came out this week. Since I don't want to miss a single detail, reference, or allusion in it, I'm rereading the first one, making it the perfect time to write a couple of blog posts about this amazing book.

The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

Genre Fantasy

How it starts Moon is kicked out of yet another community for being different. This time, his former neighbors poison him and stake him out for the wild animals. Moon is snatched up by a creature he's certain had tried to eat him earlier that day.

General premise Moon's learned the hard way not to trust anyone. In his flying form, he looks too much like the Fell, who destroy cities and eat their inhabitants. Stone is the first person he's met who looks like him, can answer all his questions about himself, and truly wants him around. Intrigued, he agrees to move to Stone's settlement. But looking like his kind doesn't mean Moon fits in. He doesn't know the things he should, doesn't do the things they do or like what they like. Worse, Stone led him to believe he was a warrior-type, but Moon finds out in an epic showdown that he's actually a consort. The reigning queen hates him for tipping the balance of power in her young rival's favor, and the challenger keeps leaving gifts for him that he's afraid will mean he owes her something it will cost him too much to repay. Moon isn't interested in power struggles - he has enough problems of his own. But the Fell intrude on his new life, too, and fighting them is the only option.

Third Culture Kid

I'm going to leave the spectacular world-building for another post and concentrate on Moon. Moon is pretty much a Third Culture Kid, illustrated in the dramatic way only fantasy fiction can do. Briefly, a TCK is someone who grew up either in a culture different from that of their parents, or in several different cultures. Missionary kids. Military kids. Kids of business expatriates. Kids of first generation immigrants. TCKs tend to be a product of several cultures, and therefore don't fully belong in any.

That's bad enough, but Moon has it worse than most TCKs. He's completely alone, and has been since childhood, when his family was killed. No matter where he goes, he's always a foreigner who looks like the enemy. Every time he thinks he's finally found people who accept him, they do something that reminds him they will always look at him and see someone "different".

It's particularly poignant when Moon finally finds someone who can mentor him. Someone like the father he's never known, like the mother he lost. (I love mentor characters, BTW. There just aren't enough fictional characters like Allanon of the Shannara books, or Moiraine of Robert Jordan's WoT series. Someone who can answer all your questions, guide you so you don't go too far in the wrong direction, and always be on your side? Sign me up!) Of course, Stone turns out not to be perfect, but that tends to be the way that goes.

Other stories where people definitely don't belong:

Wolfblade by Jennifer Fallon
Genre: fantasy

Okay, I don't think Elezaar is the protagonist in this story, but he's definitely someone who always stands out as a target. Elezaar is a dwarf (not the mythical fantasy being normally found in books that also include elves, orcs, and wizards; I believe he's actually a "little person" of the physically disproportionate variety). He's also a slave who witnessed a political assassination, and needs protection, fast.

The protagonist is young Marla Wolfblade, who is being married off to seal a treaty. In keeping with their culture, she goes to choose a courtesan who will, um, train her so she knows what she's doing (and no, I don't think there are any sex scenes in the book). Rather than go for the hot guy with the vacant expression, she chooses Elezaar, because he convinces her he's the only one interested in helping her navigate the political morass she's about to be thrown into. This is the first of about a million times Marla shocks everyone by doing the one thing no one anticipates.

On a complete aside, I LOVE the names in this series. I normally take no notice of names at all. I can love a book, read it six times, and a week later not be able to tell you any of the characters' names (though I can describe the plot in detail and tell you everything I loved about the personalities). But the names of the powerful houses were just so epically awesome. Hawksword. Eaglespike. Ravenspear. Foxtalon. Krakenshield. I love you for using these names, Jennifer Fallon. Seriously.

Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale
Genre: fantasy

Kiram is a mechanist prodigy, and the first of his people admitted to the prestigious Sagrada academy. Because he's not a native, he's bullied and ostracized, and also forced to room with a popular guy everyone else is afraid to sleep near - Javier Tornesal, whose family is powerful and rich, but cursed. Kiram is instantly attracted to Javier, and Javier seems to return the sentiment. But the relationship, acceptable in Kiram's land, is forbidden in Javier's, and it could get them killed - if the White Hell doesn't kill them first.

It's been a while since I read this, but I really, really liked it. Stellar world-building, danger, adventure and forbidden love. And of course, not belonging.

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