Friday, October 9, 2015

Retro Friday Review: Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz

by Garth Nix

Retro Friday Introduction:

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be a favourite, an under the radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print etc.

Garth Nix is a decently well known Australian fantasy author, probably most famous for his Sabriel series (which is also fabulous). I think all of Garth Nix's books are more under the radar than they should be (despite him being well-known among young-adult fantasy aficionados), but this little book is probably the worst off. However, it is also among my favourite collections of short stories I have ever read. Perfect book for a Retro Friday.

Story summary: In these three short stories, a young soldier and his magical puppet sidekick* travel the land on their mysterious business, having adventures with giant starfish, duels, beautiful soldier women, cannibalistic pirates, and god-possessed captains.

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • The world-building is amazing and so cool and gives this sense of vast history. Plus it's just fun. I want mooooooore.
  • It has all the adventure and brotherhood and Classic writing style of The Three Musketeers within the world of an epic and original fantasy series.
  • Short stories can sometimes pack a greater emotional punch for me, as everything is concentrated and everything superfluous cut out. So it is with these.

And Why You Might Not:
  • This is written in the old-fashioned, Three-Musketeers-type-adventure style, the worst part of which is the "sleeping with every pretty woman" aspect. Fortunately, the women are fascinating, well-written characters, so this ends up actually being mostly a benefit.
  • I love this book whole-heartedly, so I had to look up other people's reviews to find some possible criticisms for this section. (Apparently not everyone has the same taste as me! Who knew!) Mainly some people thought it was too dark, and some didn't like the format of short stories and thought it would work better with more information and story. Both of which I could see as being legitimate reasons not to like it, if you were a person-who-is-not-me.

Thoughts: There are so many things I love about these stories. I love Sir Hereward, and how much of an ordinary, happy-go-lucky young man he seems, till little details of his past and purpose come out, and you realize he must actually be quite extraordinary. Plus he's amusing, and actually rather tragic in some ways. I love Mister Fitz, who's one of the creepiest things in a book filled with possessions and evil starfish and cannibalism. Yet he's weirdly lovable in his own way. I love the relationship between the two of them, part Jeeves & Wooster and part Three Musketeers. I really want to know more about how they came to be in their current vocation and partnership. I love, love, love the world they inhabit. With the godlings and sorcerous puppets and and ancient oaths from long-dead civilizations. Again, it all makes me want more. I think sometimes potential is more important to me than what is actually present. These stories have potential in spades.

Now for a few comments on the individual stories:

--"Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again" is the first story, and probably my favourite. Although it starts out seeming like a cheerful adventure story, the further you get the more you start to get the impression that there's much more going on here. That there is unusual difficulty and hardship behind the life they lead. And that the world they live in is much stranger and older than anticipated.
I also loved the main female soldier character in this story. I discussed recently in my review for The Lie Tree how I much prefer books that fight sexism through simply casually having women with equal characterization and opportunities as men, as opposed to stressing the past and present subjugation of women. These stories are excellent examples of this.** I wanted to know a lot more about Lt. Jessaye and her life.

--"Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe". Just look at that title! How can you resist reading a story with a title like that? This was definitely the creepiest of the set, and possibly the saddest ending as well. But it was also the high-seas adventure with cannibalistic pirates, so it was quite entertaining all together.

--"A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet" was probably my least favourite, although still plenty entertaining. I found the nun love interest annoying, although props goes to Garth Nix for making her different yet again from the other women. (If you have lots of interesting and realistic female characters, you are going to get some annoying ones. Such is life.) And as the only story with a happy ending and the only story without travel, it gave less of that sense of bitter-sweetness and ancient world building. Instead, it got across a cozy feeling of rest and recuperation and what hospitals should feel like (but don't). As with Sister Lallit, I liked it for its difference.

Really, the main bad thing I can say about this book is that I wish the cover wasn't so murky and hard to make out. I would rather like it if it weren't for that, as Hereward and Fitz both look decent and the clothes are awesome and it gives a proper sense of adventure. But, especially with the glossy version I read, it's really hard to get an idea of what's going on or what kind of book it is.

But yeah... that's really the only thing I can come up with to criticize (considering I'm not going to go into nitpicky detail). I'm totally sure it isn't for everyone, and I don't think I've even recommended it to anyone before. Yet for me and my tastes, it's pretty much perfect.

Grade: 5 stars

*"Sidekick" in the same way Jeeves is the sidekick of Wooster. The point-of-view is Wooster and Hereward, but it's Jeeves and Mister Fitz who do all of the actual work.

**As is Garth Nix in general. For the most part, with the possible exception of Nicholas Sayre, Sir Hereward, and a couple minor characters, I like his female characters a lot more than his male ones. Lirael is one of my favourite fantasy heroines ever, and so many of his supporting female cast are intriguing and make me want to read more of them.

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