Monday, 24 June 2013

Kim's Review : The Claidi Journals - Wolf Tower, Wolf Star, Queen of the Wolves, Wolf Wing

Tanith Lee is the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award best novel award (also known as the August Derleth Award), for her book Death's Master. Having read the first 3 in her Claidi's Journals series, I was definitely not surprised to learn this.

Tanith Lee, is not an author I had heard about, when I was growing up. However at a recent Strand exhibition, I chanced upon "The Claidi Collection" -  the first 3 of the Claidi Journals. I picked it up to gift to a friends daughter because the series seemed interesting.

We normally only gift books to kids, and mostly they are books and authors that I have already read. However, when I pick up a new author, I do like to skim through the book before gifting it to a child, to make sure that the content is age appropriate.

But once I started skimming through Wolf Tower, I was forced to slow down and read it in detail. I actually read all 3 books at a stretch and finished them in a day and now I'm wondering how to get my hands on the 4th in the series - Wolf Wing, which does not seem to be available in India.

The books are the journals of Claidi, who has stolen a book and sporadically writes in it, in the hopes of corresponding with a reader seperated by time and space.

In Wolf Tower, Claidi starts out as a serving girl to the spoilt Lady Jade Leaf (daughter of Princess Shimra) at the palace-city called "The House" where life is governed by an elaborate series of rituals. Everyone who lives in "The House", believes that the land outside their walls - "The Waste" - is poisoned and dangerous and that is where people who do not respect the important Rituals of "The House" are exiled to.

One day a handsome stranger - Nemian - arrives at "The House" in a hot air balloon and since he comes from "the Waste", he is immediately imprisoned and Claidi's life changes forever. Claidi is commissioned by one of the Old Ladies (the most ancient Princesses) - Princess Jizania Tiger to rescue Nemian and accompany him to his own land. She also reveals to Claidi, that she is actually the daughter of a Princess of the House, who was exiled for falling in love with her steward and having a child with him - Claidissa Star. Her parents were exiled to the waste and the child was sentenced to a life of harsh service.

Claidi, embarks on the journey with a sense of adventure and having rescued Nemian, finally sets foot beyond the walls of the House and the Gardens and enters "the Waste".

Since Nemian's balloon was damaged they have to find new ways to commute and their journey takes them to strange lands. Like that of the Sheepers who communicate in the same language as their sheep, the Feather tribe who worship birds, the Peshambans who worship their clock, Alligator Riders and the bandits.

A large part of their journey is along with the bandits and Argul, the Leader of the Bandits falls in love with her. But Nemian makes a last minute desperate plea to Claidi, to not leave him and continue the journey onwards to his own kingdom - "The City"

However, "The City" is not at all what Claidi had expected and Princess Ironel Novendot tells her that she was brought there for a reason - to be the interpreter and keeper of "The Law" - The "Wolf's Paw".

I'd rather not add anything more about the story line from here, because it will ruin the pleasure for someone who hasn't yet read the books.

Wolf Star and Queen of the Wolves, take Claidi into even stranger lands and she keeps discovering more about herself and her identity.

In this series, Tanith Lee take religion out of its normal real world constructs and creates an entire series of religions for each group of people that we encounter on Claidi's journey. So the debate on religion takes an entirely different twist and its easier to debate without falling into familiar patterns of normal religious debates. This is one of the features that has been praised by critics of the series.

The books are also a great way to start a dialogue on morality. Because not all the characters are purely black or white. Most of them have shades of grey. Tanith Lee gives insight into their motivations and this can further aid discussions on morality.

Even if you do not want to get into such discussions, the series are filled with magic, technology and fantasy, so they can be easily read as just another absolutely fascinating tale. Her attention to details regarding construction of housing, costumes, language just add layers of depth to the story without getting too descriptive - a fine balance to achieve.

What I really loved about the books was that, while Claidi is naive and easily misled, she is also extremely strong willed once she decides on a course of action. So she is quite a strong role model for young girls who are the target audience of this series. Claidi's reactions to events and situations are believable and heroic when needed.

The writing just flows and takes the reader on a fantastical journey, with more bombshells being dropped every few chapters, so it really keeps you turning the pages.

I heavily recommend this book for young teenage girls. There is a little romance in the books, but its dealt with very well, so the books can be read by young teens and enjoyed by older teens as well.

Rating : 4 / 5 (for the target audience)

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