8.7.14 Alex Reads COUNTING BY 7S

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan | audio book by Robin Miles

first read : 7:15/7:15

Warnings for: cancer, car accident, parental death, traumatic loss, references to child abuse, authorial fatshaming


Very recently, two of the closest people in the world to me lost their stepfather, and it’s really horrible. He was part of my family, too, but he wasn’t my dad; so while I personally am off my normal rhythm, my version of sadness seems to be showing up in the way where all the emotions I expect aren’t always in me when I look for them. So this sad book, which is about very real people, some of whom die and the others of whom have to keep living, and are good at it, and are just good, was a cathartic choice of reading instead of an emotionally catastrophic choice of reading. I wouldn’t hand it to my two close people for a very long time.

I want to be clear about that: maybe you are the kind of person who won’t be personally injured by reading about this kind of sudden, violent, world-rending loss, or about the discovery of being terribly, frighteningly ill, or about being a child who is unable to fit herself into the comfortable shapes other people want out of her, who is suddenly alone. But if you’re vulnerable to those things, it will find you where your heart hurts most.

Willow is a twelve-year-old, adopted, self-identified P.O.C. who is absolutely brilliant. There are untold numbers of genius children in literature, but Willow’s is specifically characterized even if it’s all-encompassing. She loves plants, she loves primes, she is unceasingly logical, she is shamelessly fascinated in human illness (especially skin conditions). (Willow is exquisitely voiced in a thoughtful, sometimes awkward staccato by Robin Miles, who also keeps a firm grip on characters’ Spanish and Vietnamese accents, never descending into racist parody.)

Her parents are killed in a car crash on the way home from a very upsetting doctor’s visit. Willow doesn’t have friends and her family is not close to their relatives or to many other people. They are good but solitary. So when her parents die, it’s kindness, chance (like her last name), and the will to love that will pick her up out of her grief, and give her a new, good home. 

The found family Willow accumulates include a Vietnamese woman and her two children (one of whom sees the same counselor as Willow at school), a Hispanic taxi driver named Heiro Hernandez, and the school counselor, who doesn’t care about much of anything–his job, himself, other people–until Willow and her new caretakers force themselves into his everyday life. 

Some of the things that happen in the story, that are demonstrative of what love and attention and a brilliant little girl can do, aren’t 100% likely. But I really have to think it’s all right that this is the case, because the human heart of the story is unquestionably real, and the idea that things can be okay is good, and the choice to make them more than okay is a dream that maybe sometimes people need to clutch at, to find okay of any kind. 

The only real objection I have with the book–well, there are two. One is a stolen cat. The other is that Dell Duke, the lackluster counselor, is fat, and his weight is observed by Willow and also by the author’s third-person segments, as a negative and dangerous quality associated with sloth and dirtiness. THIS IS NOT COOL. DO NOT DO THIS. I think when it comes to Willow, the presence of this attitude is acceptable, because lots of twelve-year-old girls are taught to think in this way. But if that’s the only attitude you wish to demonstrate in the whole book, I’m less happy about it. I got back at the book for this, though–Mai Nguyen is supposed to be skinny, but she was like a panel of solid, chubby, immovable teen oak in my mental picture, and she will stay that way in my mind forever.

 But with this one failing in mind–I loved this book, and it gave me some of what I needed. I think I cried for about 65% of its total run time–which, by the way, not counting opening and closing credits, is 7 hours and 14 minutes. Just what Willow would like.



Divergent by Veronica Roth

first read : audiobook : 11:12/11:12

 DIVERGENT! It is the thrilling tale of a butt-kicking girl teen for fans of The Hunger Games who have already read The Hunger Games. DIVERGENT! It takes place in a future Chicago. At some point in slightly less future Chicago, everyone got together and decided in an act of consensus that reminds me of nothing that has ever happened on this Earth, that society’s problems are not racism, religious bigotry, poverty, and so on, NO, the problem is Myers-Briggs types. 

The unknown forebears, determining this, decide that segregation is usually a good option in these situations. So they establish the five Cyberhogwarts houses that will reductively and peculiarly dictate the lives of the people of Chicago for at least several more generations. These houses are Evil Ravenclaw, Puritanical Hufflepuff, Friendly Stoner Hufflepuff, Mrs. Weasley, and EFFED UP GRYFFINDOR.*

In this completely realistic society where no one is sure what exists outside of Chicago but one imagines that internet quizzes are read as holy scripture, you live with your parents until you are 16. Then you and all the other sixteen-year-olds play a VR game with the worst programming of all time and it tells you what you should do with your life. 

The protagonist of Divergent is an Abnegation (Puritanical Hufflepuff) girl called Beatrice. Later, when she becomes cool and starts getting tattoos and punching people’s teeth in, she is Tris. Right now she is Beatrice, because that is the kind of name you have when you’re a white girl future Puritan who will be needing a tough-sounding nick-name later. Beatrice, Roth tries really hard to tell us, us a BAD, BAD girl, who is not nearly giving and selfless enough to stay in Abnegation. She sometimes feels pride. It’s despicable, you can only imagine how despicable is. This is real important setup for Tris not staying in Abnegation, where probably you could not fit fight scenes into the mix until close to the end of the book? 

Tris goes to her super secret test and goes into the VR that will tell her her fate and she has–a choice. The One Choice, from the very cover. The One Choice that will change you forever. I am ready now for the SH*T TO GET REAL. This is a gritty, action-packed, sexy future-story where Tris is A TRUE OUTLIER, A DANGEROUS ANOMALY, A MYSTERIOUS AND ENDANGERED RARITY. That is the PREMISE of the ENTIRE SERIES. TWO BASKETS. TWO OPTIONS. WHO WILL YOU BE? I. AM. PREPARED.

The VR wants Tris to pick between a knife and…a block of…cheese.

Nooooooo there isn’t CONTEXT, she’s just standing there in front of these virtual baskets on virtual pedestals and there’s just this BLOCK OF CHEESE (or you could have this knife, what will it be?) WELL HOW WOULD ANYONE ON EARTH KNOW? Is it to EAT? Is it to OFFER A HOMELESS PERSON? Is it a LIFELONG INVESTMENT, like a knife will probably be more useful over time than a block of cheese…? BUT MAYBE…? IT IS FOR SEASONING SOMETHING? Can I not just USE THE KNIFE TO EAT THE CHEESE?

Apparently Tris and I are the only people to get stymied at this point, apparently everyone else looks and goes OH OBVIOUSLY BLOCK OF CHEESE I WILL TAKE THE BLOCK OF CHEESE, CLEARLY or whatever, because suddenly the whole simulation is messed up in its virtual head, it does not know what to do. And Tris’s results are…IN CON CLU SIVE. Her inability to choose at random between cheese and a knife make her a dangerous subset of humankind, with a computer-defeating superbrain who MIGHT singlehandedly destroy the Myers-Briggs society….somebody…? created. So the test-giver is like HOLY CRAP BEATRICE DON’T TELL ANYONE EVER FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, YOU HAVE SUPERBRAINS AND THEY’LL TAKE YOU DOOOOOOOWN.

Listen. Here is the thing. This means almost nothing for the rest of the book. The test means NOTHING. Because you don’t even have to commit yourself to the faction you come from OR the faction the computer puts you in. You. Just. Pick. One. You pick one by cutting yourself in the hand like everyone ever to take a stupid oath in every book and TV show and movie for fifty years, like your hands aren’t important and delicate appendages that you can completely destroy with that kind of nonsense.

The only reason that your choice matters, aside from your family will hate you forever possibly if you switch factions, is that if you fail your initiation you end up factionless. This is kind of like college admissions where you are forced to stab yourself and move across the country before beginning the admissions process, and oh, if you don’t get in, you will live on the streets for the rest of your life.

It’s both worse and more hilarious because Roth’s idea of Untouchables-style jobs is, like…train conductors. Janitors. You know, normal moderately well-paid blue-collar frequently unionized jobs, so, totally the lowest rung of society ROTH. YOUR PRIVILEGE IS SHOWING. (Then again, you might have known that from the fact that she wanted to write a dystopia only after she’d tossed out all those pesky Real World Issues.)

You can pick, let me reiterate, ANY FACTION YOU FEEL LIKE, NO MATTER WHAT YOUR RESULTS SAY. And Tris has already belaboredly informed us that she doesn’t fit in at Abnegation, where action sequences will be limited. So she and her brother both pick other factions, and their boss-Puritan dad is deeply disturbed by this. Brother picks Evil Ravenclaw, which looks good on the surface, but Tris picks Dauntless, and I can’t figure out why. She should have known better. In her defense, knowledge is a spotty thing in future Chicago. Like, Tris knows ALL about how other factions perceive her way of Abnegation life, apparently, and she knows what the Hancock building used to be called even though she definitely like all other future people calls it the Hub. Buuuuuut she does not know that you have to get initiated after you pick a faction, and she doesn’t know not everyone makes it even though her faction are in charge of feeding the Factionless ? ? ?

On the surface, the Dauntless are punk police forces that wear only Hot Topic remainders and do a lot of body-mod. That doesn’t seem great to me. But also, as Tris would probably know if knowledge made sense in this world, Dauntless members hurl themselves on and off the L, which no one else rides and which NEVER STOPS, EVER. (Is this where the factionless work? Why? Who is paying for this train to drive all around future Chicago just so Dauntless can hurl themselves on and off it?) And that I think says most of what you need to know about Dauntless. THEY ARE NONSENSE CHILDREN. NOW TRIS IS AMONG THEM. WHAT COMES NEXT?


*In order: Erudite, Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless.

8.2.14 ALEX READS The Year of the Griffin

The Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones

first read / library book / 178/178

The number of Diana Wynne Jones books I can read for the first time is rapidly dwindling, which is fairly terrible; but one of many good things about Diana Wynne Jones is that you can always read her again, because almost every single one of her books is infinitely re-readable.

Year of the Griffin I put off reading for a long age because I didn’t adore Dark Lord of Derkholm. I don’t know why, and I do adore the Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which spawned it. I think it’s that DLoD is spotted with violence in a way that’s meant to be unnerving, except it unnerves me out of enjoying the book. That’s incredibly subjective, so everyone else should probably go read DLoD immediately.

Point one: Griffin sexuality is weird as heck.

Point two: Year of the Griffin is nothing like Dark Lord of Derkholm. Year of the Griffin is, like Witch Week, partially a critique of British schooling (in this case university) and partially an eventful and good-humored tumble through several interesting young people’s coming into their own.

In Dark Lord of Derkholm, a man with a plan and a demon wreaked havoc over the land with yearly hordes of fantasy-adventure enthusiasts (“tourists”), until he and his demon were overthrown. Eight years later, one of the wizard Derk’s children (a griffin) has started at wizard’s college. She’s in a class along with a number of other somewhat misfit young magical people, most of whom aren’t supposed to be there and some of whose magic has…hiccups. Jinxes and things. But they’re all smart and willing and just need something to jolt them out of their troubles and into KNOWLEDGE.

UNNNNNNNFORTUNATELY, everyone who works at the university was trained by people whose only concern was getting a lot of nominally competent wizards into the field for Chesney’s devastating Tours. So most of the faculty know next to nothing about magic. They also know next to nothing about teaching, so it’s a lot of harshly put down questions and BIG HEADINGS / LITTLE HEADINGS, and Wizard Corcoran REALLY wants to get to the moon but he is completely clueless. And their administrative bungling is directly responsible for waves of angry bandits and assassins and kings and murderous dwarf forgemasters and centurions.

The HEADINGS and the teachers who aren’t taught to anything but train for the exam and the general tendency of university administration to make everything as horrible as possible, beyond even the scope of their offices, is incredibly realistic, and DWJ makes it funny. You can tell that in real life it’s awful because DWJ usually gets the funniest right around the worst parts.

The best part, obviously, is the imminent arrival of a magical renaissance, in the hands of claws of the first year students, who all learn in the course of the book a lot about themselves and about their magic. (The magical problems of which are unsurprisingly personal and not just magical problems.) And it’s event after event, the whole way through, so there is no time to be bored and plenty of time to watch DWJ play one of her best self-acknowledged writer tricks–that is, to take a small idea and blow it up to its ultimate possibility, so it’s absurd and exciting and really does fill your book up with great stuff. She does that trick particularly well in this book.

One of the cultures in this world (from which one of the students comes) is a sort of generic fantasy Arab country, and this is just a statement of fact and preparation, because it made me somewhat uneasy but I couldn’t gauge its efficacy/appropriateness. If you happen to have an opinion on that I would love to hear it.

7.26.14 ALEX READS: The Castle of Llyr

The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

Photo on 2014-07-26 at 11.16 #2

first read : 170/170

Oh, Eilonwy, Eilonwy! Is it your fate to be a girl character who is massively underserved even by a great writer whom I generally respect a lot? In the third book of Prydain, our same set of characters–Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, Prince Gwydion, Fllewddur Flamm the half-bard-half-king, Gurgi the personage that’s like a not-evil Gollum, and Princess Eilonwy–all return Eilonwy to her island home, where everyone suggests she is going to be made Properly Princesslike.

These kinds of proclamations, and the protestations that follow, always turn themselves into an instant tight knot at the middle of my gut. Why? Because almost always when they’re meant to subvert the highly gender-specific “taming” of opinionated young women characters, they don’t end up being that subversive at all. And you know who I really love, in my whole heart, more than anyone else in any given story? The temperamental, imperfect, but ACTUALLY PERFECT rough-at-the-edges and sometimes just opinionated girls these things are said too.

Now, this has as much adventure in it as the last two, and, as in the last two, Taran (who I guess is the main character after all) learns some lessons about his pride. But this book is about Eilonwy’s return to her kingdom. It’s about the witch who imprisoned her as a child, who is now once again a rising threat. It’s Eilonwy’s story, it’s handed to you as a reader and a writer to be about Eilonwy. On the island, Eilonwy disappears. And what happens?

Well, for Taran and co. it’s a frightening rollicking adventure with giant cats, mysterious caves, magical books, new friends, and Taran’s important internal struggle with his new romantic feelings for Eilonwy, who (I mean, not according to what she knows, but what does that matter?) is apparently going to married to some doofy prince who doesn’t know how to do anything. Taran develops into MORE OF A MAN, although in my opinion his growing process is basically the same growth he did in the last two books.

Also I don’t care about Taran. This is Eilonwy’s book. I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT EILONWY. She gets to have an adventure, right? She gets to tell everyone off at the end for trying to reduce her to a prize or try to win her back just to flatten her out into something they consider appropriate? You get an absolute promise that she is going to be left as the perfect character she is, or at least be REALLY MAD if she’s not. Right? And she won’t be in cuddly love with Taran at just the right moment just because it’s tidy?


Eilonwy’s part of the book is this: offscreen, Eilonwy does something characteristically brave and gets kidnapped. She accidentally–not cleverly, but ACCIDENTALLY–leaves a trail for her friends by dropping her golden ball. The kidnapper brings her to Achren the evil enchantress, who immediately brainwashes her, and then they hang out together until THE MEN turn up and Achren makes Zombie Eilonwy try to kill them. Eilonwy wakes up just enough to help defeat Achren and then tries to get swept out to sea. She is rescued by Taran. She suggests that she would not like to give up her personality to be “princesslike” but oh well she will if she has to. She poutily suggests that she is prepared to be the love interest. The end.

That’s right, she gets TOTALLY damseled.

I love Lloyd Alexander, I do, but if I could just throw this book against the wall and start from scratch with Eilonwy in charge of the story, I would! I would throw it A LOT of times, actually. It’s a very nice cover, but I don’t care. I would throw it over and over!

Taran I do not care about. I JUST WANT EILONWY TO BE KING. I do NOT think that is a lot to ask.


Jedi Apprentice #2: THE DARK RIVAL by Jude Watson

Library : Reread : Finished

I FORGOT TO TAKE A PICTURE OF THIS ONE TOO. And then I returned it to the library. And then SEVERAL weeks passed. I did not do good on this one. But I mean, the short version is, if you’re ever looking for Batman fanfic about how Bruce has not fully accepted Tim in the aftermath of Jason’s death and then Jason shows up and everyone’s emotions are kind of sketchy and uncomfortable but truly, in the end, it seems like Jason is all not that redeemable despite being sad and competent and fairly smouldering in the looks department, and even Bruce comes to admit perhaps only out of his own weakness Tim is a safe bet for adorable sidekick duty–WELP. LET ME TELL YOU. THAT FANFIC IS LITERALLY THIS BOOK but with Jedi, obviously, and in space, and XANATOS has a circular scar on his cheek instead of a dashing hank of white hair. But remember the time Jason bullied the organized criminal element and in becoming MORE BATMAN THAN BATMAN, BECAUSE BATMAN WAS TOO LENIENT AND WEAK AND HAD NO IMAGINATION he just like…murdered people a lot and was kind of a scuzz?

Basically just swap the names, is what I’m saying. At least Jason didn’t have a satin cape.


7.26.14 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Library : First Read : Finished.


Warnings: alcohol, death, racism / xenophobia, homophobic language, violence, gun violence, loss of family

I forgot to take a picture or write down how many pages there were in this book before I finished. I should have, if I’d timed it right, I would have ended up finishing on the commute home, and landed with my computer and my crappy computer camera and there would be some fine details. But what I did was get to work, see I could get away with working a little later, and finish it at my desk.

In advance–this is a book about one experience of being an American Indian. I’m white. This isn’t my life. This book is one voice amongst an uncountable number of American Indians whose experiences I have no personal access to. This post is about what one book said to me. Let’s be clear: this book is good but IT’S NOT ENOUGH. It’s not ~*~*~the full indian experience~*~*~. You can’t read it and like, Get It, Man. It’s one story, so you listen to it, and then you listen to another, and you never stop listening. Listen, listen, listen, to every story. Listen forever. There have been billions of people in the world. This is just one book.

That said–I am sorry I waited so long to read this book. (Maybe I would not have needed it as much if I read it in 2007.) This book I would sit down and read a second time right now if I had it in my hand.

Junior (or Arnold Spirit Jr.) is a Rez kid with a brain disorder who likes basketball and learning stuff. He decides to escape the violence (against his own person) on the Rez and transfer out to the school in the next town, 22 miles away, where all the white kids go. The story follows his attempts to determine how and where his life should be lived, and who to be, between environments that all carry their own toxic burdens as well as their own joys and triumphs. In the midst of school stuff and basketball stuff and friend stuff, death, poverty, alcoholism and tragedy play a constant backdrop to his life.

Absolutely True Diary reads a lot like Alexie’s essays and his twitter: clear-sighted, compassionate, funny, and angry. He’s writing from experience about peoples who have been driven into the ground for centuries. One of most crucial points of this book is that the longer someone drives you down, the harder it is to imagine you should even want to get up. It’s about the self-replicating process of oppression: hit someone hard enough, long enough, they’ll stay down, and they’ll also start hitting each other. Arnold Spirit is trying to find hope for himself without betraying the people he loves. As it turns out, trying to be brave for yourself can have costs, even when those costs are not truly your fault.

The thing about this book is that it’s honest in a particular way lots of books about true, real things are not. I mean it doesn’t rely on the reader’s intuition. It doesn’t just show you that injustice is deep-rooted, devastating and endlessly destructive (though it does); the narrator, this kid who’s watched people suffer and die his whole life because that’s the system white people set up for Indians, turns to you. He says, people on the Rez forget we were originally put here to die. That’s why it’s so hard to improve our lives. That’s why it’s so hard to stay alive. It’s because we’ve been put somewhere that was designed to kill us.

Sometimes “show don’t tell” produces amazing work, and Alexie shows plenty. But it’s incredibly refreshing–it’s hopeful for a character to understand how unjust and poisoned their own situation is. It’s amazing for this character to be allowed to say right out of his own mouth: What the fuck did you do to us so that we do this to ourselves?

Arnold Spirit wants to be a cartoonist. I think that kind of sums him up nicely. He can’t really be summed up because he’s complicated and multi-interested and (perfect, I want to say perfect)–but that desire, and the fact that he does it, he draws constantly, he draws everything, that is a perfect trait for this particular kid. He draws thoughtful figure sketches when people aren’t looking and then when something is funny or awful–when its really, really awful, he draws cartoons instead. Because cartoons are unreal and funny and exaggerated and personal, because you show them to the wide world, because they’re frequently hiding terrible things behind their playfulness, because sometimes they’re the simplest way to say this is just how bad it is. But they also show that you’ve met the monster, you’ve met the bad thing, and you’ve got it in a chokehold, and you’ll make it into a joke if it kills you. You’ll surpass it. You really get the idea about Arnold Spirit, Jr. that he’s going to do all right, even when the world isn’t fair enough to just let that happen.

7.13.14 Hexwood

Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones

Photo on 2014-07-13 at 07.09

reread : 446/446

I wish I could tell you that I now thoroughly understand this book, after reading it like, five times, and that this post was going to be a perfect chronological explanation of everything that happens so that future readers and past readers alike could come here and go OHHHHHHHHHHH I SEE. UNFORTUNATELY, Diana Wynne Jones worked in mutated layers, not scattered pieces of a single picture.  Her books are also puzzles, but rather than being puzzles where every piece snaps neatly together (see: Megan Whalen Turner) they’re more made out of bits of cloud. You can smoosh them into one big cloud at the end but GOOD LUCK seeing a perfectly clear picture in all that.

Warnings: forced pregnancy, death, gore, torture, child harm/death, brainwashing, forced cyborg life, murder, violence towards women, a woman who really hates other women in a way I find unnecessary.

First of all, wow, that’s a gritty sort of DWJ novel, that doesn’t happen very often! I actually forgot how disturbing some of the disturbing parts are, mainly because I can’t keep all of this book in my head over time. It slips away, carrying bits of OH GOD WHAT IS THIS? with it.


The plot seems to be this: an English girl called Ann, on her first jaunt into the world after a nasty illness, goes into the local patch of woods in Hexwood Farm housing estate, and finds that it’s a lot bigger and more magical than she remembers. She meets a scary-looking guy with a killer smile, called Mordion, and they make a kid called Hume out of their blood, AS ONE DOES. As Ann returns to the wood over and over, though, it becomes clear that time and reality are not working the way they normally do. It seems a machine has been turned on that is called a Bannus, able to play out scenarios in full reality until a decision about a course of action to take in real life.

Of interest to a terrifying group of space aliens called the Reigners are the scary-looking guy and the Bannus, and these incredibly bad people who have been ruling the galaxy for thousands of years one by one descend to Earth to try to deal with it.

Everyone has pretty strong feelings about their place in the universe, but it’s not clear when exactly anyone really arrives in relation to anyone else, or why maybe some of them are kind of King Arthur, or where they got a super intelligent robot called Yam. IT IS A GREAT BOOK.


Here is kind of what happens, I am pretty sure.

(These are definitely spoilers and if you have not read the book it is much, much better DWJ’s way around.)

A long time ago in a galaxy which may or may not be a version or this galaxy or may be far away from us (or a version of us), there were a group of Houses that were…capitalists, basically, that ruled stuff. To keep balance between these powerhouses, they invented THE HOUSE OF BALANCE, which took one person from each of the other five houses to rule together for ten years. This, Reigners one through five, was called a hand of Reigners.

At some point along the line, the Reigners took some robot parts and some previous Reigners’ brains and torturously forced them into being the Bannus. (Later known on Earth as Yam the robot.) The Bannus was used to fairly select new hands of Reigners. Eventually there is a Reigner One called Martellian, who starts breeding children to make and train a “Servant”–someone who will do his dirty work for him, basically, a sort of knight in Martellian’s case. He is particularly successful a few times, as apparently our own records show. (See: Fitela in Beowulf, and King Arthur and his half-sisters.)

This relatively okay guy Martellian is ousted, however, by 100% scum Orm Pender, who puts himself in power, locks Martellian, Arthur and Fitela up on Earth, and also banishes the Bannus there, where it will keep them in stasis. Then he promotes his girlfriend to the position of Reigner Three. With nothing to compel them to retire and a lot of technology on hand, they procede with some other jerks to rule for thousands of years.

Orm Pender, new Reigner One, decides also to breed servants, but he does so by coercion and rape, kills the children’s mothers, and isolates, tortures, trains, brainwashes and occasionally sweettalks the kids until there is one left and that one is unswervingly loyal and completely messed up. He does this over and over, but scary-looking guy Mordion is the relevant one here.

When Mordion is young he has a sort of mental contact with three other people–real or fake, he’s scared to know–called Girl Child, Boy, and King. They get wiped out in the brainwashing, except for Girl Child. Keeping her part of his mind for himself while doing everything the Reigners make him do (largely, kill people).

The Bannus is rightly not happy about this, so when it is turned on, it begins to exert itself to bring all the Reigners to Earth, end their reign, and elect a new hand.

The Reigners have some vested interest in distant Earth because Earth unwittingly exports something incredibly valuable: flint. A peculiar disturbance on earth, at Hexwood Farm in England, is brought to their attention. Reigners go one by one to sort it out, turn off the Bannus, and get rid of any problem people who may now know too much. Reigner Two brings the Servant (Mordion) with him. But they all keep disappearing into the Bannus’s field of influence (which is also the Wood’s own field of influence, but no one can tell the difference).

At last Orm Pender and his woman-hating ex-girlfriend Reigner Three go to Earth themselves. Reigner Three brings Vierran, the girl from the House of Guaranty who manages the offworld wardrobes for traveling officials, along as a maid. This irritates Reigner One, who knows she and her family are rebels, and that he’s just had most of her family exiled to Earth, but he accepts the intrusion because he wants to breed her with Mordion and it’s easier to do that on Earth than bring Mordion back in stass and do it before killing him.

However, even Orm Pender can’t control the Bannus. Not surprising–he cheated it to become a Reigner to begin with. In the Bannus’s and the Wood’s field, time starts to repeat, and a motif of the Arthurian court is laid over everything because the Bannus was started up by a local Raynor-Hexwood clerk who told it he wanted a D&D adventure, basically.

On arrival, Reigner Three integrates into castle life, which already includes the maintenance team, Reigners Two and Four (as the fisher king with a bruise and Sir Fors, respectively), and some of the other levels of management who have been sucked in before the Reigners started arriving. Vierran’s arrested cousin Siri is also there. They worship the “bannus”, whatever they think it is, and worry about bandits in the woods (that would be Vierran’s family members etc. who Orm Pender banished). Sir Artegal is King Arthur, out of stass.

Orm Pender turns into a dragon and immediately flies off into the woods and starts eating people.

It seems very straightforward: the Bannus is expanding the wood, and the wood is the range of its field. Actually that is the wood’s field. The Bannus’s field expands all the way into the village. So when a girl called Ann who gets three voices in her head (Slave, King, Boy) gets up from an illness and ventures into a magical wood, she’s venturing from another illusion. She’s not Ann, but Vierran. At some point, the bannus tricked her. Her greengrocer parents are anything but. Her little brother is Fitela, also out of stass. Half the people in their cozy little town aren’t from Earth.

Ann doesn’t know who she is for quite awhile. The first time she goes into the wood, she meets Mordion (for what she thinks is the first time, but Vierran has talked to him for ages and researched him like crazy as a somewhat incompetent rebel), and they make the boy Hume together out of their blood. After that time swaps around over and over: Hume grows and shrinks, Mordion finds a robot and repairs it, but it seems to know too much in every piece of time the Bannus puts them in.

Things do come to a head, because the Bannus (Yam all along) nears its decision point, and all excellent plot conclusions aside, everyone finally sorts out who they are–including the four people, who are the King (King Arthur – Sir Artegal), the Girl Child (Vierran – Ann), the Slave (Mordion) and the Boy (Fitela – Martin). And those four, plus old Martellian, who was apparently decent enough the first time around and hates to go back so much that the Bannus is making him anyway.

And that is about how that book goes, which is the first time I’ve really understood what is happening at all. Remind me to check back here when I FORGET again. (Isn’t that just like the Bannus?)