No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, July 10, 2006

#67: Rainbow Bridge -- Gwyneth Jones

I read Rainbow Bridge while laid low with a viral infection, and found that I couldn't think very clearly about it at the time. I put off writing this review, and hindsight hasn't improved my perception very much: but I'll now be reviewing the novel for Vector, so will reread before I write a 'proper' objective review ... which leaves me free to ramble, and to mention minor plot-point spoilers, here.

DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVEN'T READ BAND OF GYPSYS.

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are you sitting comfortably?
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then we'll begin.


Following the invasion at the end of Band of Gypsys, England is settling into subjugation. Thirty thousand people were executed: the Triumvirate -- Ax, Sage and Fiorinda, who've narrowly escaped becoming puppets / corpses / weapons -- are living rough in the Ashdown Forest.

Rainbow Bridge is the story of how they reach an accommodation of sorts with the invaders, whose objective is not to destroy England. "This country has been identified as a human treasure, first class." Even that statement's code, and only by untangling the formal politeness and the elaborate deceptions of the generals and their aides can the deposed rock royalty discover who's really in control.

And it's never that simple. This isn't a two-sided battle, good versus evil. All sides are capable of morally dubious behaviour; all's fair in love and war. Ax, Sage and Fiorinda have as much to fear from their own partisans as from the massive armies of the East. And in the end, as it turns out, what's most important of all is loyalty and love: it's only when something dear to the Triumvirate is threatened -- in a horribly elemental, dark, and yet sfnal way -- that their true potential becomes clear to the new owners of England. That potential cannot be allowed to realise itself. All that can be allowed is to nurture the seed of the Good State.

This is a world where magic is increasingly part of everyday life. Fiorinda, seeing a vision, is resigned to it now:
Things like that would happen more often, to everyone. The aberrant observations had been validated, and their power would grow. Maybe we can erase the superweapon, but the genie's not going to go back in the bottle. She had sweated blood and fought with all her power against the rise of the magic world -- how irrational can you get? She learned acceptance, and made her peace.

There's a wonderful forlorn post-bellum sense throughout, though in some senses the 'war' is still in progress. England endures, in carol-filled woodland churches; in the Shield Ring collective in Cumbria, and their 'appalling economic miracle'; in Ax and Sage's vision of themselves as the Lantern Bearers, keeping the light lit. (The Rosemary Sutcliff echoes are no coincidence: her novel The Lantern Bearers is another rework of the Arthurian myth.)

This is, I believe, the last in the arc that began with Bold as Love -- though there are plenty of loose ends left hanging, like promises or hope. It would be unrealistic to expect a happy ending, but the ending rings true without melodrama.

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