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

Sunday, January 17, 2016

2016/1-5: the Bold As Love sequence --Gwyneth Jones

Bold as Love
Castles Made of Sand
Midnight Lamp
Band of Gypsys
Rainbow Bridge
'We're not their political leaders, we're more like their gods. That's what rockstars are to their public... objects of superstitious devotion. And most of them are clueless, docile cashcows, getting well fed and making the priests rich, same as most of all the gods you ever heard of. Except for the ones who are also criminally insane. It's fair enough. People choose to worship lumps of wood, they're only as fooled as they want to be.'[Bold as Love, loc. 5479]

Reread because I noticed that a new book in the same future (The Grasshopper's Child, review soon!) had appeared, and realised that I hadn't reread the original novels for quite a while. Checked bookshelf: some volumes lost during recent move(s). Luckily, it turns out they're available as ebooks now (though with some typos / formatting issues). And 2015-16 is, I think, approximately when Bold as Love is set ...

It's interesting seeing what feels right and what feels dated. On the one hand, homewrecker floods, refugees, politicians with unsavoury habits: on the other, Fiorinda being called 'babe' -- not just informally, but in printed media. That felt like something that wouldn't happen now.

The 'Bold as Love' sequence tells the story of the Rock'n'Roll Reich and its aftermath: nine years in which three rock musicians (Ax, Sage and Fiorinda) act out a rather Arthurian love story set against the decline of civilisation. For the majority of the series, England is cut off in various ways from the rest of the world, emphasising the Dark Ages ambience. (There are several references to the works of Rosemary Sutcliff, not least The Lantern Bearers, which is set just after the departure of the Romans from England.) Magic -- and / or very advanced technology -- is on the rise. The first two books focus on England (the UK has been dissolved): the third is set in California, and by the fifth the Reich has fallen, the world has changed almost beyond recognition, and England has been designated a 'Human Treasure, First Class'.

I find Bold as Love and Castles Made of Sand the most emotionally and intellectually satisfying of the series: they can be read as a self-contained diptych, even though the personal and political stories continue in the subsequent books. Perhaps that's simply because of the almost mythic feeling to the finale of Castles, where an enemy is vanquished by the last-minute reappearance of a hero, and the three protagonists are reunited after dire trials. It's the closest to a happy ending that Sage, Ax and Fiorinda can manage. But it's not the end.

The future Jones presents is, despite the rock'n'roll glitz and the whole crowd-pleasing socialism of the Counter-Culture, neither glossy nor utopian. Bad things happen to good people (and to bad): murder, rape, genocide, torture ... History repeats, and not just recent history. Science may look like magic, but real magic is less predictable, and more dangerous. It's notable that Fiorinda, who may be the only character to possess 'traditional' magical powers, is frequently imperilled: her power doesn't save her, or those dearest to her, and she doesn't regard it as a gift.

I still love the series: I still find it by turn funny, romantic, horrific, and sheer fun. And I still harbour a romantic fondness for Sage, Ax and Fiorinda: they are complex, likeable characters with realistically flawed interactions.

I'm older than at our first encounter: they're not.

Maybe I'll reread again in another decade's time.

NB: I wrote about Bold as Love for a critical anthology on winners of the Arthur C Clarke Award: The New Dark Ages.

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