Tag Archives: myth

UKMG Review: Who Let the Gods Out? by Maz Evans

Who Let the Gods Out?, Maz Evans, (Chicken House, Feb 2017)

Genres in the mix: fantasy, humour, mythology

Age target: MG

Story basics: Elliot’s mum is ill and his home is under threat, but a shooting star crashes to earth and changes his life forever. The star is Virgo – a young Zodiac goddess on a mission. But the pair accidentally release Thanatos, a wicked death daemon imprisoned beneath Stonehenge, and must then turn to the old Olympian gods for help. After centuries of cushy retirement on earth, are Zeus and his crew up to the task of saving the world – and solving Elliot’s problems too?

Review-in-a-tweet: Sharply witty, a brilliant twist on the Greek myths, plus keenly-observed social commentary. Everyone will love Elliot and root for him!

The emotional ride: Elliot’s home life story is deeply sad, but delivered with warmth and gentle humour so it never becomes too much, or treated with sentimentality rather than genuine emotion (a pet hate of mine – I hate feeling manipulated for cheap emotional impact). The humour of the Gods’ less-than-perfect understanding and abilities to function in the modern world also balances this beautifully.

Hot buttons/classroom opportunities: obvious opportunities to follow up and learn more about the characters, places etc referenced from Greek mythology (and readers are likely to be keen to do that), but child carers as an SMSC/PSHE topic could also be explored from here.

Plotting and pacing: plenty of movement and twists to keep the target audience engaged. It’s clearly the first in a series, and there is more of the overall story to tell, but it’s not left with an unfinished feeling.  I definitely want to read the others when they come out.

Hearthfire rating: 9/10 A scorcher!

This is Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month for February, which shows how brilliant it is. As well as writing her own books, Maz Evans manages Story Stew, which runs creative writing workshops in schools. She was here on the blog earlier this month talking about writing.

Who Let the Gods Out? is out now in the UK from Chicken House, who provided me with a review copy.

Accepting a review copy does not affect my view of a book and I only finish and review books that I feel able to recommend.

I’m counting this review for the British Books Challenge 2017, my fourth for the challenge (and this book is the featured debut for this month).

Blog Tour: Flexing Your Creative Muscle with Maz Evans

Today, I’ve got Maz Evans here as part of her Who Let the Gods Out blog tour (see below for more on the fab Greek-mythology-based romp for 9+)

As our heartfelt New Year promises to nurture physical muscles languish at the bottom of a selection box, I propose that now is a good time to turn our attention to a different muscle – our creativity.

No, I’m not high on my gluten-free, alkaline, low-GI protein smoothie – creativity is a muscle like any other. Use it often and it will become more powerful. Let it waste and no amount of supportive underwear can help it.

Think about it. At some point in your life, maybe you’ve learned to play an instrument or taken up a sport? You weren’t born with these skills. You may have had some natural ability, but in order to fully realise it, you had to practice. The more you play the violin, the less your neighbours want to move. The more you practise your penalty shoot-outs, the fewer windows needed replacing. The more creative you are, the more creative you become.

When I run my Story Stew workshops, I always start by asking everyone if they believe themselves to be a creative, or non-creative person. Various hands go up – as does a sigh of disbelief when I tell them there is no such thing as a non-creative person. But you have to be creative to get through a day on planet Earth. You solve problems – creative. You tell stories – creative. You persuade people to do things for you – creative. You probably tell at least one lie – wrong, but creative.

Next time you’re writing a story, force your creativity to work harder. If you’re writing about a man who wants a dog, why not make him a woman? And she’s a hippo. And she actually wants a parsnip. But she lives on Jupiter where no parsnips will grow. And unless she delivers a parsnip trifle by 3pm, the Lesser-Spotted Krinkenshlob will eat her favourite orange stripy hat…

As demonstrated, you may come up with a load of rubbish. Sometimes your first idea is your best. But somewhere in the mental seed-tray, an idea might start to germinate. At the very least, now your brain is warmed up, you will make your original idea more inventive. Your brain is busy and looking for an easy solution – make it work harder.

So this February, resolve to tone up your creativity and whip your ideas into shape.

Because let’s be honest. It’s got to leave a better taste than this smoothie…

@MaryAliceEvans

Maz Evans runs creative writing workshops for all ages. For more info visit www.maz.world.

Elliot’s mum is ill and his home is under threat, but a shooting star crashes to earth and changes his life forever. The star is Virgo – a young Zodiac goddess on a mission. But the pair accidentally release Thanatos, a wicked death daemon imprisoned beneath Stonehenge, and must then turn to the old Olympian gods for help. After centuries of cushy retirement on earth, are Zeus and his crew up to the task of saving the world – and solving Elliot’s problems too?

Who Let the Gods Out is Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month for February and is out now from Chicken House.

 

UKYA Review: The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce

weight-of-souls-bryony-pearceThe Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce is YA urban fantasy with a brilliantly original premise and a very cool, outsider-type hero. It’s also great to see a main character of Asian origin.

Taylor Oh, aged 16, bears a curse passed to her from her mother. If the ghost of a murder victim touches her, she gets a black mark on her hand which gradually darkens while she finds their murderer to pass on the mark. If she fails, she will be dragged into the Darkness in their place. The novel follows her on the mission to find out who killed Justin, one of the ‘cool kids’ (who bully her) from school. And as if that weren’t twisty enough, she is lead into various dangers as she seeks out a mysterious society with plenty of conspiracy, as well as dealing with her feelings about Justin and his allies.

I really enjoyed this, particularly for its strong MC and its usage of Egyptian mythology, which makes a nice change. It is also unusual to see parental involvement – although her mother is dead, her father is actively involved in the story as an interesting counterpoint: he does not believe in the curse and focuses on the appearance of the dark marks as a physical disease. This adds yet another conflict for poor Taylor to deal with, as well as a dash of realism (surely if you could see ghosts, people around you would struggle to believe you?)

All in all, this is a book which is definitely worth picking up. It’s a solid UK urban fantasy (strong MC, great premise, twisty plot) which combines various unusual aspects (Asian MC, Egyptian mythology, conspiracy theories, parental involvement) with strong writing.

Bryony Pearce has another novel coming out soon (around Easter 2015): Phoenix Rising, which sounds really interesting (text from author’s website) If this book is anything to go by, Phoneix Rising is sure to deliver!:

After the fuel crisis the world changed and became filled with unusable junk; technological relics of a world long dead.

Toby is the son of a pirate Captain and he has spent his life on a converted cargo ship.

The Phoenix travels a sea clogged with rubbish in search of a mysterious island. Said to have risen from the ocean following a volcanic eruption it has enough natural resources to keep the crew in comfort for the rest of their lives. The ship is chased by Governments desperate for his father’s inventive mind and rival pirates, keen to strip the Phoenix of everything useful.

When The Phoenix is attacked by a rival ship and forced into port, Toby has to grow up, and fast.

Review: The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond

woken godsFabulous use of mythologies to create a world where the gods of various pantheons are alive and well and seriously dangerous. I found Kyra’s quest gripping and was quickly invested emotionally.

I enjoyed Gwenda Bond’s first novel, Blackwood, and as a sucker for a bit of interesting mythology, I was really looking forward to this. It did not disappoint and I raced through it, keen to know what disaster would befall our heroine next and how on earth she would make everything alright.

Kyra is 17 and pretty normal. She’s easy to relate to as a reader and her messed up family helps this – emotionally distant and somewhat boring workaholic dad and a mother that all her friends think is dead (because that’s far easier than having to talk about her madness). Poor Kyra.  Thankfully she has good friends – and we quickly warm to them too.

Then it all kicks off when Kyra is accosted by not one but two of the giant trickster gods that act as intermediaries between the gods and the humans. Cue danger, a high stakes quest and a generous helping of secrets to be revealed.

I would recommend this to fantasy readers, especially if you’re partial to urban fantasy. Those who are already mythology fans will lap this up, but the novel doesn’t assume a vast knowledge of different pantheons. Gwenda Bond has woven the necessary information in cleverly, so you can easily learn what you need to without feeling like you’re doing research. This is a key strength of the novel – the fantasy world is built effectively and believably, drawing on existing mythology without the dreaded info-dump.

From the Book Description:

The more things change…

Five years ago, the gods of ancient mythology awoke all around the world.

The more things stay the same…

This morning, Kyra Locke is late for school because of an argument with her father.

Seventeen-year-old Kyra lives in a transformed Washington, D.C., dominated by the embassies of divine pantheons and watched over by the mysterious Society of the Sun that governs mankind’s relations with the gods. But when rebellious Kyra encounters two trickster gods on her way home, one offering a threat and the other a warning, it turns out her life isn’t what it seems. She escapes with the aid of Osborne “Oz” Spencer, a young Society field operative, only to discover that her scholar father has disappeared with a dangerous Egyptian relic. The Society needs the item back, and they aren’t interested in her protests that she knows nothing about it or her father’s secrets.

Now Kyra must depend on her wits and the suspect help of scary Sumerian gods, her estranged oracle mother, and, of course, Oz–whose first allegiance is to the Society. She has no choice if she’s going to recover the missing relic and save her father. And if she doesn’t? Well, that may just mean the end of the world as she knows it. From the author of Blackwood comes a fresh, thrilling urban fantasy that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, and Rick Riordan

************

Out now from the marvellous Strange Chemistry

My grateful thanks to the publisher for allowing me a review copy via NetGalley.

Midweek Magic: The Moon

This post was originally here at the Hearthfire two years ago, in January 2011. I’ve dusted it off and brought it back out in honour of this week’s lovely Full Moon.

Symbol, deity, influence: people believe the moon to be many things.  This flexibility as a literary or filmic metaphor or motif allows it to be used and re-used again and again.  For me, the moon is mysterious but beautiful.  She (there’s no possibility, for me, of a masculine moon) has subtle power, less direct than the sun, but all the more interesting for it.  Contemporary representations tend to be ‘spooky’ however: a full moon on screen practically always indicates danger to come.

In the Tarot, the Moon card is the Unconscious, the unknown and the unpredictable.  For some, it represents falsehood (since we see more clearly by sunlight, the moon is thought to be deceptive), but I cannot square that view, personally – it feels like a relic of more openly misogynistic times when women’s wisdom was inherently mistrusted.

Women are related to the moon perhaps because of her liminal nature, waxing and waning, which seems to be mirrored in the lives of human women, most clearly through our menstrual cycle, but also through the longer cycle of girlhood, fertility and post-menopause.   Lunar deities, however, are often virginal – e.g. Diana, Artemis – although the moon’s phases are also associated with aspects of the wiccan Triple Goddess (maid/waxing moon, mother/full moon, crone/waning and dark moon).  Perhaps it is the relative ‘coldness’ of the moon’s light which leads to its association with virginity, especially in the case of the Roman Diana and the Greek Artemis, both of whom are depicted as strongly protective of their single status.

Plath and The Moon
In teaching Sylvia Plath’s Ariel collection, I often find myself having interesting discussions with students about the ‘meaning’ of the moon.  For me, “The Moon and the Yew Tree” is a beautiful poem about the failure of the church to satisfy Plath’s desire for truth, while the moon, although (or perhaps because?) she is “bald and wild”, is ultimately more appealing to her as a symbol.  In that poem and elsewhere she associates the moon with her mother, which complicates her use of the symbol, ascribing it negative qualities as well as the ‘wildness’ which I suspect she admires.  It is largely because of this negative association with her mother that some find “The Moon and the Yew Tree”‘s moon difficult to read positively.  Personally, I think this is symptomatic of the complications of the mother-daughter relationship.

image by Graur Codrin from freedigitalphotos.net

Family Friday Review: The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon

Fab mythic fantasy drawing on the Norse sagas for kids 8+.

Author: Francesca Simon

Title: The Sleeping Army
Genre: Fantasy (children’s)
Publisher: Profile Books
Published: Oct 2011
Source: purchased on my Kindle
Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says:
Freya is an ordinary girl living in modern Britain, but with a twist: people still worship the Viking gods. She’s caught in her parents’ divorce, and shuttling between bickering adults is no fun. One evening, stuck with her dad on his night shift at the British Museum, she is drawn to the Lewis Chessmen and Heimdall’s Horn. Unable to resist, she blows the horn, waking three chess pieces from their enchantment; the slaves Roskva and Alfi, and Snot the Berserk. They are all summoned to Asgard, land of the Viking gods, and told they must go on a perilous journey to restore the gods to youth. If Freya refuses she will be turned into an ivory chess piece but, if she accepts her destiny and fails, the same terrible fate awaits her. Brilliantly funny, original and a wholly new take on the Norse myths – and the travails of contemporary family life.

My verdict: Flawless world-building in this marvellous fantasy. Highly recommended for myth and adventure fans of 8+
This was a bedtime read with my 8 yr old which we both greatly enjoyed. The world of the novel is exactly like ours, but with the small detail that Christianity never caught on and the established religion is Norse. This shift was accomplished thoroughly and seemingly effortlessly with little details like the days being called ‘Wodensday’ and ‘Thorsday’ etc and people saying things like “oh my gods”. The story begins in the British Museum, which (as well as being integral to the story of course) allows Francesca Simon to integrate details comparing the two religious systems without it ever feeling dry or lecturing. My sleepy 8 yr old happily accepted this world and learnt loads about Norse myth without getting bogged down, confused or losing sight of the story. I particularly enjoyed the idea that the Norse religion had reached the point that modern Christianity in Britain has with relatively few actual believers, but being embedded into the culture. The idea of Viking gods being seen as part of some dry, dull institution is somehow especially amusing!

Freya is a great character. A normal modern girl dragged into an adventure with children from the Dark Ages and a berserk, she’s really out of her depth and seen as slightly pathetic by her co-adventurers. The narration focuses on her perspective, although it is third-person, allowing us insight into her thoughts and feelings as she undertakes the extremely daunting challenge set her by Woden.

Aspects of myth are used and incorporated extremely well – even to the point where it is clear which parts of the story deviate from the canon of Norse myth. This is where the set-up of a world based on Norse belief that has become fairly stagnant works best, as Freya is able to question the myths she’s been brought up with and compare them to the reality that she is now experiencing. As the blurb above indicates, Freya’s quest is all about restoring the gods to youth, but her knowledge of mythology tells her that they don’t age. Effectively, the established myths have been PR for the gods. This detail ensures that any readers who aren’t greatly familiar with Norse tales will clearly know ‘real’ myth from what has been added for this story. This demonstrates the respect with which the novel treats the myths and, like so many other aspects of this book, is very clever indeed.

Overall, this adventure is a great addition to a child’s library. Although the main character is a girl, there is nothing in the story (or the cover) to spoil boys’ enjoyment of it. I would heartily recommend this to lovers of fantasy adventure stories and those who enjoy mythic tales.

Magical Monday: The Corn King

Today, 1st August is Lammas or Lughnasadh – the ancient festival of the first harvest (corn and grain). Stories and rites of this time therefore centre around sacrifice, death, rebirth and abundance. In old stories, this is the time when the Corn King (or John Barleycorn) is cut down in order to feed the people. Although there is sadness in the death of the king, everyone understands that this stage is necessary. Harvesting the corn allows more to be planted and allows the ground to regain its fertility. If the corn were left to die on the stalk, there could be no future crop either.

Corn dollies (as seen in the picture above) are related to Lammas celebrations and seem to have different meanings in different communities. To some, they celebrate the corn (symbolic of the whole harvest) and remind us of the abundance around us. To others, they are used in ritualised slayings of the Corn King or God (who sacrifices himself willingly for us). For others still, they are a kind of offering, a way of setting aside the last bit of the harvest rather than consuming it. Safeguarding the corn dolly through the year is sometimes seen as a way of protecting next year’s yield, showing gratitude for the harvest and thereby proving we deserve another one. Yet another belief is that the corn dolly houses the spirit of the corn over the winter. For those following this final system, the dolly would be buried when the new crop was planted, sometimes quite elaborately, or driven into the newly-ploughed ground in the spring. Either way, this ensured that the corn spirit was never lost.

For the original version of the picture above, along with others and instructions on making one design, visit this site.

Who’s Afraid of the Date?

Apologies for the repost, I was trying to fix some glitches with the labels. This was a post that was removed when Blogger had a fit last week.

So, this month we have a Friday the Thirteenth. Does this worry you? Will you be unable to leave your house in case of disaster? They do say that more accidents occur in the home than anywhere else, though, so that might not be the best plan.

Far from being an ancient piece of folklore, this one seems to be most definitely a more recent phenomenon. Snopes has the earliest reference in the US as 1908 and in the UK 1913, although there are plenty of earlier references for Friday and the number 13 being independently unlucky. Many sources link these to Christian events, such as Christ being crucified on a Friday, Judas being the thirteenth at the Last Supper, Eve tempting Adam on a Friday and so on. I’ve also heard that thirteen is a number associated with witches because a year holds thirteen full moons (or any other stage of moon cycle, of course…).

Interestingly, I also read that in some places, Friday the Thirteenths see fewer accidents than other days – and this is ascribed to people being extra careful because of the date. So perhaps it’s a good thing after all, and we should be worried every day. Or perhaps not.

April A-Z: Taliesin

From TreeCarving.co.uk 

Just a quick thought today!

I have always found the story of Taliesin fascinating. I’m referring here to the all-knowing bard created by magic (as related in the Mabinogion), rather than the historical bard. People of legend are often more exciting than those of history, aren’t they?

What I find interesting now is the part of the story where Ceridwen is pursuing Taliesin, and they’re turning into different creatures to escape from or catch each other. It’s a motif found elsewhere in British folklore – in ballads like “The Two Magicians” (Child ballad 44), folktales like the Grimms’ Foundling-Bird (Aarne-Thompson type 313a). It is also used later in children’s books such as T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone and Julia Donaldson’s The Princess and the Wizard, although in the latter the Princess is allowed to transform in order to hide from the Wizard, while the Wizard doesn’t transform and chase her – he just has to find her.

April A-Z: Succubus

The succubus is a female demon who visits men in the night and traps them in lurid dreams. In some versions of the myth, this is in order to gather semen, so that other demons (incubi) may use it to impregnate women, since demons are (obviously) sterile themselves. In other tellings, this temptation of men is an end in itself, or it may be a way of harvesting souls.

The succubus is a motif I’ve seen used in various ways. Sometimes the night time ‘excitement’ is enough to prevent a man from having normal relationships, or to destroy his existing relationship. Sometimes it’s used as a kind of morality tale, leaving the man physically weak, due to his, er, energy being spent with the succubus. Clearly, succubi have been used as an excuse for wet dreams (‘but the demon visited me …’). On occasion, a man visited regularly by a succubus is being gradually killed.

Interestingly, there is a kabbalistic legend about Lilith (first wife of Adam) being a succubus who uses human men to reproduce (in some versions) or simply seeks to waste the seed of men. This legend, being so old, has diversified into different strands: Lilith may be a succubus and/or a vampire; she may seek to steal or kill children (especially boys); she consorts with demons/fallen angels; her offspring may be generic demons, succubi, djinns or other evil beings.

In searching for an image to accompany this post, I discovered an urban fantasy series featuring a succubus was Richelle Mead’s first series. Book 1 is “Succubus Blues” – covers from two different US editions shown right. From her website:

Succubus (n) – An alluring, shape-shifting demon who seduces and pleasures mortal men.

Pathetic (adj.) – A succubus with great shoes and no social life. See: Georgina Kincaid.