…He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.
Num. 14:18b (NAS)
I recently reviewed Twelve, the first book in what is being called the Danilov Quintet. In that review, I stated that I thought Twelve was one of the best vampire novels I had read in a long time. So the question to be addressed now is: Does Thirteen Years Later live up to the standard of Twelve?
The answer is Yes. With a slight caveat. This is a different book, not simply a rehash of the previous one, and as a result needs to be evaluated by slightly different standards. This book goes in new places, breaks new ground, and basically messes with you. I can’t tell you exactly what that last phrase means without giving too much away. Suffice it to say there are some unexpected twists. Certain things both the reader and Aleksei Danilov thought were true… well, they aren’t.
I have no intention of including any spoilers from Thirteen Years Later in this review. In a few instances I’ll use some phrases that will have deeper meaning for those who have read the book. If I’m successful, those who haven’t read the book won’t pick up on them. I’ll try not to give any spoilers for Twelve, but I’m writing from the assumption you’ve read the first book. I realize that might not be the case for everyone, so I’ll try err on the side of caution as much as I can. You have been warned.
Thirteen Years Later opens in the late summer/early fall of 1825. Aleksei is now a colonel. His son Dmitry is grown and preparing to go into the army. What Dmitry really wants to do is be a piano player. He’s good but not that good. He knows it; his father knows it. To make matters worse, they each are aware that the other knows Dmitry doesn’t have what it takes to be a concert pianist. Relations between father and son are rather strained. Not surprising since Aleksei has spent so much of Dmitry’s childhood and teenage years away on some type of mission. As we find out, it’s not just in music career vs. military career that the men differ. They have more fundamental differences that will have long term consequences. Kent does a remarkable job of showing the complexity of Aleksei’s and Dmitry’s relationship, with all its mutual love, respect, distrust, anger, and tension. The author shows Aleksei’s relationship with his son in the same depth he showed Aleksei’s relationship with his lover Domnikiia in Twelve, once again treating the relationship as a living, dynamic thing. Too often relationships in novels tend to be static things, with little or no change through life-shaking events or over long periods of time. All of Aleksei’s relationships are dynamic. None of them are the same on the last page as they were on the first page. It’s this, much more than the vampire hunting, that makes Jasper Kent’s novels so compelling.
Aleksei’s mission as the book opens is infiltrating the Northern Society, a group of would-be rebels composed of radical poets and dissatisfied army officers. Aleksei is passing himself off as one of them in order to report back to Tsar Aleksandr the names of those who have been plotting against him. He has also discovered his wife Marfa has taken a lover, but he doesn’t know who. All he has is the name Vasya.
Spoiler Warning: Skip this paragraph and the next if you haven’t read or finished Twelve. The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Maksim Sergeivich, Aleksei’s friend and fellow spy from the first book, is still very much on his mind. Aleksei returns home one night to find a coded message on the walls of his house, telling him to be in a certain place at a certain time on a particular day. There were only four men who knew the code, Maks, Vadim, and Dmitry, the other members of Aleksei’s unit in Twelve, and they’re all dead. The note is signed with the initial Maks used to identify himself. The location of the meeting is where Maks died.
Dmitry comes home to find his father staring at the message. He helps Aleksei clean the message off the walls and accompanies him to Moscow, reporting for duty a few days early. And so Dmitry becomes involved in his father’s world. It’s not the last time their worlds will intersect and at times collide.
And that’s pretty much all I’m going to say about plot details concerning Aleksei’s domestic relationships, except to say there are more relationships than I’ve mentioned here. (You’re probably wondering what became of Domnikiia, aren’t you? Read the book and find out.) The second part of the novel involves Aleksei attempting to protect the Tsar while following up on what he learns concerning the voordalaki in the first part. The third is when all the chickens come home to roost, and Aleksei learns it’s possible to do a job both too well and not well enough.
Twelve was written in the first person, from Aleksei’s point of view. Thirteen Years Later is in third person with multiple viewpoints. While I initially missed the more detailed development of Aleksei’s character, it didn’t take me long to appreciate the different approach. Like I said, this is a different book. The scope of the characters is expanding, as is the threat some of them represent. Events are set in motion here that will definitely have repercussions down the years. Thirteen Years Later is more epic in scope. Both books are very Russian in their tones and outlooks. Especially the final chapters of TYL.
And that’s what I meant by judging TYL by different standards that Twelve. It sets out to accomplish different things. And it succeeds. In spades. While different, it’s every bit as good as its predecessor.
|Tsar Aleksandr I|
I opened this review with a quote of a partial verse of Scripture. That verse isn’t in the novel, but the events in the novel certainly brought it to mind. Aleksei set events in motion in Twelve that will have consequences for his descendants for more than one generation. It’s going to be interesting to see where Jasper Kent goes with this.
Part of the plot involves certain things Tsar Pyotr I (the Great) set in motion. Kent, or the publilsher, or someone was kind enough to include a partial Romanov family tree. There are four generations shown (there were roughly five generations) between Pyotr I and Aleksandr I, who is Tsar at the beginning of TYL. There are four generations between Nikolai I, who is Tsar at the end of TYL, and Nikolai II, the last Tsar. The iniquities of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generations, at least in the case of Pyotr and Aleksandr. We still have a few Danilov generations to go, but Dmitry has already begun to experience the consequences of his father’s choices. I suspect there are more consequences to come, and not just for Dmitry.
This book is the second of the Danilov Quintet, meaning there are three more to go. Kent is going to end the series with Nikolai II (make sure you watch the YouTube videos on his website since Kent discusses some of the things coming up). I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do with Rasputin. He will certainly have to carry the story onward with other generations of Danilovs, and by extension, Romanovs. Aleksei is in his 40s in this book, and he’s beginning to feel his age.
The next book, according to Kent’s website, is due out in the UK this August, but I’ve not seen a release date for the US edition. I may have to special order it. I have no idea when the last two are due to be published. Just because a set of books is planned doesn’t mean they will appear in rapid succession, something fans of George R. R. Martin are painfully aware of. No matter, I’m going to buy and read the rest of the books regardless of how long I have to wait. These are books that stick with you. I found myself thinking about Twelve for days after I finished it. It’s been over 48 hours since I closed Thirteen Years Later, and I still can’t get the ending out of my mind. It’s a rare book that has that kind of effect on me.
This one, if you can’t tell, is worth reading.
The next three books will not have 14, 15, and 16 in the titles. Still, I’ll try to continue the theme of titling my reviews with some sort of family relationship. Let’s see, I’ve used daughters and fathers. In the meantime, I’m going to study Russian history.
Congratulations and good luck to all nominees.
I don’t have much to say except I don’t see much in the way of sword and sorcery, at least not that I recognize. I haven’t read nearly as many of the nominees as I should have. A few of the titles I’m not familiar with, so there may be some S&S I’m not recognizing. Disappointing, but not surprising.
The second thing I find interesting is in the short story category. All the other fiction categories (novel, novella, novelette) have five nominees, while the short story only has four. That’s assuming there’s not an error, and one was inadvertently left off. Of those four, only one, “For Want of a Nail”, by Mary Robinette Kowal, was published in a print magazine (Asimov’s, Sept. 2010). The others were published online. All of the novelette and all but one of the novella nominees were published in print venues.
Last week, in part 1 of this interview, Mark Finn discussed his own writing, both biography and fiction. In this installment, he continues sharing his thoughts on other Howard related topics.
The Conan movie’s coming out. I’ll show it at the theater. But it’s not gonna be Conan. I mean there may be more stuff in it. We haven’t seen it, so obviously we don’t know what elements got taken out. But I can tell you right now, if the plot involves him going on a quest for vengeance to get the guy that got his parents, that’s not Robert E. Howard. It’s just not. It may be an entertaining movie. There may be some pieces and parts where you go, “Wow, that’s a pretty Conan-esque type of thing that’s going on right there.” Until they figure out that this stuff works because it’s been around this long and people respond to it on a visceral level, until they figure that out, we’re gonna have this problem. I wish it was different. Moreover, I wish they would fly me out to Hollywood for a week. I’ll take a meeting with them. I can fix this. I just know it. Get the executives out the room and let me talk to the scriptwriter, okay? I’ll even put it in the language of film. There’s a hundred film examples of exactly the kind of thing that can be used for this. Most of the executives are thirty-five and don’t watch movies, so what are you going to do with that? What’s the next question?
MF: I think Howard scholarship is alive and well. I think we’re in a lull right now because a lot of people’s projects are coming to an end. And the may be the end of the second Howard boom’s scholarship push. The internet has helped since we can react to things that are on there now, that’s been useful in keeping things alive, but until all of Robert E. Howard’s fiction is in print in some form or fashion, we won’t have Rusty and Patrice for the big stuff. That’s what they’re doing. That’s the job they’ve set themselves. As a task, as fans, we should be grateful for that. They’ve had eleven Del Rey books come out. And even though it won’t be the funny stuff. The funny stuff is what’s left, and once that’s done, and they take a mental break, I’m sure both of them are gonna dive into the biography. It’s not that they haven’t wanted to work on it, it’s that they haven’t had time. So I think we have one more big push yet to have happen, and I’m not sure yet if it’s going to be during this big push, this third age of Howard scholarship that he won’t join the American literary canon in the way that Lovecraft has and Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler, and all those guys. I think that’s an inevitability, and we’re already moving in that direction anyway. The next five years is when you’re gonna start seeing Rusty and Patrice come out of the cave and start talking about stuff and the biographical debate comes up again. I think it’s around that time, either just before, during, or just after, is when he goes in the Library of the Americas. At that point you’re gonna see a lot of people back off and go “Ahhh. Now I can go read this and enjoy it again.” It tends to be a singular focus when you’re working on this stuff. There’s just one problem you’ve gotta just tackle and tackle until it’s dead and you look up and find another thing. I think of it like that, and I don’t begrudge what anybody is doing. Like I’ve said before, it’s important to have those authoritative texts out. The Foundation has made all the poetry available for the first time ever. Now we’ve got the wonder three volume set of the letters. Essential. So they’re setting up for the next wave. I think that’s what all this is right here. And if the academics continue to come to this, as we’ve seen starting with last year, with a couple of very strong academics, Justin and Diedre, I think they’re going to be instrumental in leading some more academics to Howard. I think that’s when the real interesting stuff will begin.
Kull: Exile of Atlantis
trade paper, 317 p., $17
This is one of the shorter Kull stories, only three and a half pages in the Del Rey edition. In fact it’s more of vignette or a philosophical meditation than an actual story. In it Howard reflects on some of the philosophy he’d been reading and meditating on.
The story, to the extent that it is a story, consists mostly of a dialogue between Kull and an old man. Kull finds himself in darkness, a great throbbing in his head. He’s not sure where he is or how he came to be there. He rises to his feet, sees a light, and begins to walk towards it.
Encountering an old man, Kull inquires as to where he is. The man tells him he’s come through the Door. Kull is able to recall that he heard a gong striking and then he woke up in the darkness. What ensues is a discussion about life and death and what constitutes either. Universes within universes are considered, as well as the rise and fall of races and kingdoms. “Time and space are relative and do not really exist,” the old man declares. He continues by saying, “The ‘everlasting’ stars change in their own time, as swiftly as the races of men rise and fade. Even as we watch, upon those which are planets, beings are rising from the slime of the primeval, are climbing up the long slow roads to culture and wisdom, and are being destroyed with their dying worlds. All life and a part of life.”
Some of the discussion echoes one of Howard’s letters to Harold Preece in early 1928. “The fact is that life is simply a passing phase of this planet, not the real reason for the planet’s existence, but simply a result of its growth. Life, and especially man’s life, is simply result then, and not a cause. There may be, may be, I say, a real reason for the existence of matter and energy, but whatever that reason, that purpose is, man is no more essential to its culmination than any weed or tree.” [Collected Letters, v. 1, p. 198]
Kull then comes to his senses to learn that he was attacked by an assassin and suffered a head wound. The whole conversation, and the moving of the stars that Kull and the old man watched, took place within a matter of minutes.
This is by far one of the most philosophical Kull tales, if for no other reason than the philosophy takes up most of the story. For some reason, Howard didn’t submit this one to Weird Tales, perhaps because Farnsworth Wright had already rejected some of the Kull stories. I don’t know if Wright’s rejections of those stories still exist. I’m not aware that they do, but I have to wonder if he rejected them on the basis of too much philosophy and not enough action. For whatever reason, Howard chose to send this one to Argosy. They didn’t accept it, either, and “The Striking of the Gong” remained unpublished (in its original version) until 1976, when it was published in The Second Book of Robert E. Howard.
This is the second and final tale of Prince Raynor that Kuttner wrote. I don’t think it’s quite up to the standards of “Cursed be the City”, which I discussed earlier in the week. But it’s still a good yarn.
The story opens with Raynor and his Nubian servant Eblik coming upon a dying archer in the forest. He’s part of a group of refugees they, along with the warrior maid Delphia, had put together after the close of the previous story. Prince Raynor’s horse had gone lame the previous day, and he and Eblik had fallen behind the group. The archer is the only survivor except for Delphia, who has been kidnapped. Raynor and Eblik set out in pursuit.
While waiting for the moon to rise, they are approached in the forest by an old man in a robe. From his description, he sounds a lot like Gandalf, and his name, Ghiar, isn’t that far off. Only this story predates The Lord of the Rings by a number of years.
Ghiar tells them Delphia has been kidnapped by Baron Malric and gives them a talisman by which they can recover the girl. There’s a lot of talk about the zodiac, but it’s a different zodiac from the one today. The signs are different, and there are only seven of them.
Raynor and Eblik go to Malric’s castle and in the commotion of rescuing Delphia, Ghiar shows up and takes off with her. Seems he needs her for a sacrifice in order to renew his youth. Things get nicely weird when they arrive at Ghiar’s castle, which is on an island surrounded by black flowers. Of course they’re the kind that induce sleep. It’s only the thought of Eblik in danger that enables Raynor to overcome their effects.
Once inside there are several fights and eventually they overcome Ghiar. The manner is a little unconventional in that both magic and strength are used. Ghiar’s motivation and actions don’t always make a lot of sense unless you remember his early speech about signs of the zodiac and which ones are in ascendance.
I liked the weird elements in this one, especially the battle with the serpent inside Ghiar’s castle and the consequences of that. The black flowers were a nice touch, if not particularly original. Both of these elements reminded me of Robert E. Howard (which is probably why I liked them). It’s an established fact that Kuttner was influenced by Howard, and many of his early stories show the influence Howard as well as other writers in their contents. Still, if you’re going to copy another writer, always copy from the best.
While the influence of Howard is definitely here, Kuttner by this time was too good of a writer to simply cut and paste another author’s style. Kuttner shows a greater depth in the interactions between Raynor and Eblik than in “Cursed be the City”. Early in the story Raynor calls him a fool and orders him about, something that would be entirely appropriate for a prince to do to a servant. Still, when Eblik needs his aid, Raynor manages to find the motivation to save him where he wasn’t finding the motivation to save himself.
|Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore|
The Raynor stories were both published in Strange Stories in 1939, which implies, given the delays between composition that were common in the pulps in those days, that the first of the two had to have been written in 1938. Kuttner was beginning to transition at this time to science fiction, where he would ultimately write in collaboration with his wife C. L. Moore some of the great classics of the field such as “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”, “The Twonky”, “The Proud Robot”, and “Vintage Season.” Just to name a few. We’ll look at some of these in an in-depth post I’m working on.
It’s easy, and perhaps oversimplifying things, to say that Kuttner wrote no more Prince Raynor stories because the market folded. Strange Stories only ran for 13 issues between 1939 and 1941. But Weird Tales was still going strong. I’ve seen somewhere, and I don’t recall where or I would say, that Dorothy McIlwraith didn’t like the Elak stories and wouldn’t buy any when she became editor of WT. If I’m recalling correctly, the author of that statement was offering it as speculation.
I have a different idea. Kuttner was trying to establish a professional writing career. Weird Tales had a reputation, much deserved, for being slow in paying. And not always paying that well. There were a lot more science fiction markets than there were fantasy. Kuttner didn’t restrict himself to just fantasy and science fiction, but also wrote weird menace and mysteries, and he continued to write fantasy for a number of years, especially for Unknown. However, he had his greatest success in science fiction. It seems to me, and this is just speculation, that Kuttner began to focus on writing more science fiction because he could make a better living at it. The timing of the two heroic fantasy series ending coincides with an increase in Kuttner’s science fiction output and makes the possibility one that should be considered.
“The Citadel of Darkness” ends with the three companions, Raynor, Eblik, and Delphia, riding off together, one supposes to have more adventures. It’s a shame Kuttner never recorded them.