Like all of John Norman’s Gor novels, Priest-Kings of Gor is a rehash of Edgar Rice Burroughs more enjoyable Barsoom novels, except with some super uncomfortable ideas about the role of women and some crude and unsuccessful stabs at eroticism.
No, I can’t justify having read this book, except to say that, when I was much younger and prowling used bookstores, this series was ever present on the sci-fi/fantasy shelves.
The protagonist visit the home of Gor’s unseen rulers and learns that they are a race of intergalactic spiders who communicate by scent (I’ll say this much, Norman does a good job of describing and explaining this). He sort of forgets that they destroyed his city and scattered its citizens, including his ‘Free Companion’ (sort of like a wife), to places unknown and becomes friends with the spiders and… well, it’s exciting enough, but you’re better off just reading APrincess of Mars.
Just as a note, there is, apparently, a small Gorean subculture who participate in Norman’s deeply awful ideas of gender roles and sex, which mostly involves a belief on his part that women really want to be ruled by men and to call them master. It’s sort of like someone took an occasional, kinky date night idea and decided to do it every day and not just when the kids are asleep. It’s so weird. It also means that every female character is incredibly shallow and two dimensional.
I liked this book very much. I liked it very much, but didn’t love it. Much of it was compelling and fascinating and, if accurate, gave me an illuminating view into an aspect or segment of women’s lives in South Korea that, arguably, my favorite Korean soap operas are not so likely to educate me about.
Many of the characters (it is a set of women in their twenties living in the same apartment building) are intriguing and draw you, but the author does seem to lose interest in some of them (the poor pregnant and married Wonna gets very short shrift) and become more interested in others, which makes one ask, should she just have written about those two? Also, a non-point of view character goes on to have an outsized (and mostly positive) influence on how things end for everyone and I rather wished we had gotten to hear her thoughts; she seemed pretty darn compelling, more so than some others.
This book was beautifully written, but maybe not written for me, if that makes sense. In some senses, it is a very long fairy tale about two born for each other lovers.
The lovers are both noble (one, technically royal; the niece of the emperor and his heir, due to a lack of children) and both female. This is not presented as being truly insurmountable. I would compare it to being lesbian in the early nineties or eighties. People know ‘it’ exists and maybe even know some people who are queer, but its acceptance is limited and so are civil protections (which is not to diminish the challenges and harms that LGBTQ+ people faced and still face).
There is some kind of a dangerous threat to the empire from demons who are nearly impossible to kill and whose blood can actually transform someone into a demon. Which all should be a bigger deal than it is. I mean, it appears as a trigger for an important plot point, but the presence of incredibly dangerous demons feels like it should be more of an ‘all hands on deck’ situation for any political body than it is treated here.
I have, until now, skipped over the second item for which this book was best known when it first came out (the first was the queer love story). That is that it is not a western fantasy, but takes places in an empire based on China.
And it gets one big thing very, very right. China is huge. China is diverse. China has tropical jungles, freezing mountains, grasslands, temperate zones, steppes… pretty much every kind of biome you could imagine. From this follows there are many different cultures and languages. Generally, when one thinks of China, in a western context, it is of what primarily emerged from Han culture (I say this being not at all a China expert). This books gets it right. The two protagonists are from different cultures. One is from the ‘Han’ imperial culture. The other is darker skinned and from the steppes.
The unnamed narrator, who admits to writing this book (most books written in the first person don’t actually, to my memory, admit that, yes, they are writing a book or something or whatever) is a Korean woman of undefined age (though probably in her twenties) who tried to learn German by living in Germany and who evinces an interest in cold, Teutonic places.
There is no plot; it is the narrator slowly trying to work out the end of a relationship with a woman M (never named beyond that initial; everyone else gets a first name, but no surname). The book begins with her visiting a sort of boyfriend named Joachim who is best described as the opposite of M. Not just that he’s male, but that he is often self consciously anti-intellectual (M being an intellectual of sorts; a writer and researcher on and lover of classical music) and blue collar laborer. It’s not clear how she met him. When other romantic incidents are noted, the other person is a woman (a woman named Sumi, who reminded her of M; and an Icelandic woman who approached her, mistaking her, she said, for her ex-girlfriend).
It took time to hook me, not in the least because it took time for the narrator to finally, honestly grapple with M. As the partner of someone who immigrated to the United States, I also felt sympathy for the challenge of the narrator needing to break things off with M because, well, she couldn’t stay, not legally.
Would I recommend it? I suppose I would. If you like slow, slightly dreamy, yet also quotidian books operating almost but not quite in stream of consciousness style, you might like it. Best I can offer. Also, it’s quite short.
The gleeful eroticism of an early scene, when the narrator (and reader/audience stand-in) looks through a hole in a wooden wall and sees the back of a woman is simply delicious. He can, he says, count the soft, fine hairs on the back of her neck. The whole feeling is heightened by the feverish nature of the novel, driven partly by the more than slightly unstable trust fund man-child who drags the narrator into the mystery.
The ‘mystery’ moves so quickly, that there is no time, really, to puzzle it out. We depend on the deductions of our friend’s fevered mind and his musings on the sexual perversions of women that drive them to kill (we really do get a front row seat to his obsessions).
You may have noticed that I put the word mystery in inverted commas earlier. That’s because it is not a mystery, but a very freaky psychosexual drama wherein a man is willingly conned out of all of his money in order to participate in his thanotic/erotic desires.
My mother loves Agatha Christie and I was raised on the Masterpiece Mystery broadcasts of BBC shows featuring Ms. Christie’s most famous creations, Miss Jane Marble and the admirably mustachioed Belgian, Hercule Poirot. Though, I must now confess, this was my first Poirot novel.
Rather than dig deeply into the mystery, I will remark upon something that struck me: Murder on the Links directly posits Poirot as the anti-Sherlock.
Sherlock Holmes is never mentioned, but is unsubtly referenced several times.
Near the beginning, Poirot notes that he has no knowledge of different kinds of cigarette ash nor any interest in learning the subject. In A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes mystery, the great detective notes that he recently wrote a monograph in types of cigar ash. The contrast is made clearer when a French stand-in for Holmes, a French detective, Giraud, appears. He is deeply interested in (physically) small clues, a la Holmes. Poirot shrugs away his crawling on the ground, looking for dropped matches and cigarettes and focuses on his non-Sherlockian technique of psychological investigation into witnesses and suspects.
Of course, this is a misrepresentation of Holmes, who was as keen an observer of people’s minds and motivations as he was of physical minutiae. But it was interesting to see Ms. Christie tackle her rival head on (and also to see an example of Bloom’s theory of anxiety and influence).
This is by the best of the three Witcher novels I have read. Much better.
Sad, wistful, hopefully. Emotionally satisfying, is what I think I’m trying to say.
Like The Last Wish, it is a short story collection, taking place before Blood of Elves, but leading up to it (and also contains some of the stories upon which the Netflix show was based). There is a novella that takes up a good portion of the book and it is that novella and a story about the relationship between Geralt and Yennefer (and the failure, thereof) that gives the book its heart (and that also tug at the heart’s strings).
Anyway, now I get why people love the Witcher stories.
Magic schools or science fiction academies almost always make for good reading. JK Rowling made a billion dollars out of writing novels that almost never left the grounds of Hogwarts. Probably because the next step is almost always the hardest. I would argue that only Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea novels every featured stories taking place after the magic university was finished that match up to (and even surpass) that time in college. Maybe it’s like real life. Nothing really beats those school days.
Credit to Kuang for trying and for writing a non-western themed fantasy. But she didn’t stick the landing. She struggled mightily and came close in this final book, taking the logical conclusion, while still giving her protagonist redemption… but it didn’t quite work.
I suppose I must have read about this book and added to my list at the DC Public Library system because of the Japanese mystery novel rabbit hole I fell down. However, this is not a mystery. I’m not sure what it is, to be honest.
There is a narrator, who talks about ‘we,’ but about 85% of the way through, it occurred to me to ask: who is this person? It’s hard to see who it could be.
Which leads back to the central theme, which is a certain voyeurdom. The narrator is a voyeur onto this wealthy Japanese household. Specifically, onto the maids. The events and descriptions are not particularly erotic nor lascivious (indeed, most of the maids are described as being relatively plain-looking, country girls), but their is an erotic frisson within the nature of his deep dive into some thirty years worth of maids who came in and out of this particular household.
Perhaps if I were better versed in the history and culture of middle 20th century Japan, I could also see some issues of class and bourgeois culture in there, but in the end, it all feels like a bit of a mystery.