It has been a while since my last book review and it is time to add a few new ones to the mix! Since I’m very much still a fantasy/science fiction reader and a fan of YA literature; the book I just finished is called The Arkadians, by Lloyd Alexander.
Actually I had to laugh as I went to flip through the book to find a description given for the characters because there is a perfect sum-up of the tale right at the first few lines:
“This is the tale of a jackass and a young bean counter, a girl of marvels and mysteries, horsemen swift as wind, Goat Folk, Daughters of Morning, voyages, tempests, terrors, disasters. And the occasional rainbow. But all this is yet to come, and our tale begins with King Bromios and Woman-Who-Talks-to-Snakes.”
The world is set in a greek mythology-esque time and place. The Bear Clan men and Lady of the Wild Things women manage to co-exist in a strained manner in the land of Arkadia until the cloaked and hidden voice of the pythoness (Woman-Who-Talks-to-Snakes) gives King Bromios a prophecy of dire proportions which sets him into a rage; making all the more susceptible to his conniving advisers’ plots to wipe the worship of the Lady away (and thereby “put women back in their place”). All healing women are hunted down, worship of the Lady is banned and a world-wide woman-hunt is engaged; trying to find the escaped pythoness: giver of the unfavorable prophecy.
Lucian, the young bean counter, is too intelligent for his humble post and when he unwittingly reveals that he has discovered discrepancies between the palace accounts and the stores in the cupboards he finds himself quickly needing to leave the city before he becomes a sacrifice to the greed of two unscrupulous men.
Along the way Lucian meets up with a talking donkey and Joy-in-the-Dance; who also happens to be daughter of Lady of Wild Things and the current pythoness; the one who gave the prophecy of ill-fate to Bromios.
Hijinks ensue, voyages made, adventures had, friends and love are found, life ambitions met and career decisions made. And along the way a poet turned donkey turns human once more.
In all the story was fun and fast paced. The characters are interesting enough to hold your attention and want to know more about them. The character of King Bromios, for example, even ends up being a rather likeable fellow by the end, despite his rather bumpy start. Many references are made to adventures characters have had or heard of in the past which bear a likeness to and poke a finger towards many greek myths in a knowing, “wink, wink” sort of fun way.
As for viewing this in a diversity aspect it does do a fair shake-down against the creed that “women have one place: at our (that is to say, male) feet” and has a range of character sizes and descriptions, though of course the main lady is slender and fair, but none of the descriptions were of a “He was fat and therefore lazy” sort. There are unfortunately no other real diversity barriers of any kind breached though; except perhaps that of talking species diversity thanks to the token talking donkey.
Some fun descriptive bits to share:
“Lucian was a large-framed, long-legged young man, mostly knees and elbows, and more by way of ear size than he really needed.”
Joy-in-the-dance: “…gray eyes…a slender, long-legged girl, her braided hair the color of ripe wheat.”
King Bromios: “He was a heavy-fisted, barrel-chested man with a big voice and a hard head”
“And a sweetheart. A plump, lively lass: Mirina was her name.”
In the end I gave the book 4 stars out of 5 on Shelfari for being a fun, engaging and quick-to-read tale with some good characters and a distinct lack of “make fun of a fat character for a few lines or a scene or an entire book” aspect. It is also worth noting that this was published in 1995.
If you’re looking more for a tale with the leading character being some sort of woman or at least female character of note then you could also (or instead) try the book Alanna: The First Adventure, by Tamora Pierce; reviewed here*.
*If this doesn’t go anywhere I’m still working on the review and shall post it soon!