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5744When the King Comes Home: SPOILER ALERT

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  • Pauline J. Alama
    Apr 5, 2002
      SPOILER ALERT: if you haven't read _When the King Comes Home_, you may not want to read this.

      I would be interested in hearing David Lenander & Alexei talk more about _When the King Comes Home_ -- it might bring out something I may have missed. I felt very ambivalent about it. It drew me in immediately with excellent wordcraft and an engaging narrator with a very distinctive voice. The characters were very well drawn, and there were some beautiful moments, allusive symbols like the brook running milk as the king crosses, that sent my imagination running in all directions. However, in the end I was disappointed with it. None of the glimpses of wonder seemed to add up to anything. It was all for nothing; no resolution emerges. I don't think this was by accident, because it's elaborately foreshadowed: from the very beginning there's a tone of regret, we live in fallen times, things are not now as they were in my youth, etc. But I don't understand why. All these signs and wonders mean nothing. The king came back, but it was a mistake, and now he's gone, which is OK. Also, the end was not believable. They have no king, no priest-bishop, and the infamous lord who tried to use the king also falls. This is what we call a power vacuum, and it would be filled by something. Look at real-life Afghanistan, for crying out loud: there was a power vacuum which was filled by the Taliban. Now the Taliban are goine, and there's a power vacuum, and our country is trying to prop up an approved leader to fill it while a bunch of warlords are jockeying for position. No leader (or leading body) means every strongman sees the main chance, and you have endless war, not peace and decline to mediocrity. I know this is fantasy, but Stevermer declined to solve the problem of kingship by fantastical means (whether the historical king coming back to rule, the ailing king being healed, the new leader drawing the sword from the stone, or whatever), and that ought to require her to produce a naturalistic solution to the problem of government that runs through the plot. If you're not going to offer a magical solution, you have to have a natural solution-- like a war hero becoming the new king, or the people forming a sort of medieval Swiss proto-democracy--or else my suspension of disbelief gives up and goes home. I don't mean to beat up on Stevermer -- she kept me going for a good long time, and it wasn't until almost the last page that I started to think I wouldn't be voting for this after all. But I really don't understand why she brought things around to such a non-resolution of the problem of kingship that is, after all, proclaimed by the title to be a major theme of the book.

      Pauline J. Alama
      (Bantam Spectra, July 2002)
      "Indeed, all creation groans and is in labor, even until now."

      --- On Thu 04/04, David Lenander wrote:
      > Personally, I wasn't that taken with _Declare_, for which I will not be
      > voting unless the other 4 finalists are even worse. Haven't read Bujold's
      > _Curse_, though I was present at a discussion of the book with its author,
      > who lives here in town. I did like her earlier fantasy novel, _The Spirit
      > Ring_, which you might want to try, liking _Curse_ so well. To say nothing
      > of her many SF novels in the Miles Kosigan series.
      > I won't be voting for _American Gods_, by another local, Neil Gaiman,
      > either, though I'd pick it over _Declare_. I certainly enjoyed reading it
      > more than the Powers book, but neither impresses me as much as some of the
      > respective authors' earlier work. I loved the Le Guin, and I'd be open to
      > a case for the Earthsea series as a whole, but neither _Other Wind_ nor
      > _Tales_ stand on their own. In some ways, _Tales_ stands on its own better
      > than _Wind_, but Ellie ignored my attempt to nominate it along with the
      > other books. Despite its problems, I might vote for _Fox Woman_ over
      > these, should it make the final list, or perhaps _When the King Comes
      > Home_, another book sliding in to consideration on its paperback reprint.
      > This is a subtle book, which I liked but needed a hint from Alexei K to
      > better understand and appreciate (see it quoted on my "Enchanted
      > Chocolate Pot" web-page). Of course I haven't started the
      > latest Sun trilogy from Gene Wolfe, one of my favorite living authors,
      > yet, either. (But I mainly like Wolfe's short stories, and his non-Sun
      > novels, like the _Soldier_ books or _Devil in a Forest_). And there are
      > lots of others for me to try to fit in.
      > On the Children's side, Peter Dickinson's _The Ropemaker_ is the book to
      > beat, Laura Krentz and I agreed on a panel discussion at Minicon, this past
      > week. What a fabulous book, and it's just aimed at our sort of audience,
      > unlike anything he's really done before. It's also a book with the heft
      > and world-building needed to appeal to an adult audience. If any of you
      > out there want to give it a try, you might feel that it belonged on the
      > adult list, though I think unlike his wife's books of the past couple of
      > years, McKinley's _Spindle's End_ and _Rose Daughter_, this is comfortable
      > on the children's list. We also liked Donna Jo Napoli's _Spinners_
      > (another paperback qualifier), which I think one of her best books so far.
      > --
      > David Lenander,
      > e-mail: d-lena@... web-page:
      > http://umn.edu/~d-lena/OnceUponATime.html
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