Sleeps With Monsters: Revisiting Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife tetralogy never, I think, equalled the popularity and recognition of her Miles Vorkosigan novels or her World of the Five Gods work (Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, The Hallowed Hunt, and the Penric and Desdemon novellas…) but it remains, for me, a revelation about the kinds of stories that it is possible to tell in fantasy, and the struggles it is possible to reflect.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

A King Arthur Tale for the Brexit Era: Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone

The Matter of Britain, the cycle of stories relating to King Arthur and his knights, is as capacious a set of legends as the world possesses, and so the tales have received a staggering range of interpretations. From Tennyson’s pious odes to Victorian Britain, through Mark Twain’s declaration of Yankee independence, from Wagner’s promotion of the German volk and Edwar Burne-Jones’s self-consciously old-fashioned paintings to T.H. White’s tragicomic elegies, King Arthur has accommodated every vision or concern that artists have attached to him. Perhaps each era gets the Arthur it requires.

Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone gives us an Arthur for the Brexit era: A tyrant in lieu of a king, brute violence in lieu of gallant feats, undisguised venality in lieu of chivalric ideals. This is the Matter of Britain become the Matter with Britain.

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Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby: Patriarchy Without Feminism Is Hell

Ira Levin’s bestselling horror novel Rosemary’s Baby is a paranoid fever dream about patriarchy. The main character, Rosemary Woodhouse, is the target of a literally Satanic plot of rape, forced birth, and domesticity. She is, in other words, the victim of the same conspiracy of sexism, misogyny and male entitlement which targets all women in a sexist society. “There are plots against people, aren’t there?” she asks, with a plaintive insight.

But while Levin’s book is devastatingly precise in its analysis of patriarchy’s disempowerment and control of women, it isn’t exactly a feminist novel. In his 1971 book The Stepford Wives, Levin mentions Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and talks directly about the growing women’s movement. But in Rosemary’s Baby, feminist consciousness is notably absence, which is part of why the novel is so bleak and terrifying. The narrative recognizes that Rosemary’s fate is diabolically unjust. But it offers no way out, narratively or theoretically. The devil’s victory is total not because he defeats feminism, but because he rules over a world in which feminist possibilities don’t exist.

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Never Say You Can’t Survive: People Are Only as Interesting as Their Relationships

Charlie Jane Anders is writing a nonfiction book—and is publishing it as she does so. Never Say You Can’t Survive is a how-to book about the storytelling craft, but it’s also full of memoir, personal anecdote, and insight about how to flourish in the present emergency.

Below is the twelfth chapter, “People Are Only as Interesting as Their Relationships.” You can find all previous chapters here. New chapters will appear every Tuesday. Enjoy!

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Series: Never Say You Can’t Survive

What You Need to Know Before Reading Seth Dickinson’s The Tyrant Baru Cormorant

How do you defeat a seemingly insurmountable empire, that overtakes foreign nations through trade with hooks attached, that swallows up foreigners and remakes them in its own image? You destroy it from the inside out.

This has been the rallying cry for Baru Cormorant, since 2015’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, when a bright young child of an island nation watched the Empire of Masks take over her home of Taranoke (renamed Sousward) and kill one of her fathers. Baru threw herself into her Masquerade studies, internalizing the Incrastic hygienic and eugenic disciplines that would condemn her for her womanhood and her homosexuality, proving her brilliance, with the aim to ascend to the capital of Falcrest and make sure no foreign child ever had to suffer like she did again.

But to unmake the Masquerade, she must make herself into one of its agents, burrow deep as a cancer so as to be blameless. To ascend to Falcrest’s inner circle of cryptarchs, she must step upon hundreds of innocent and beloved bodies. Does Baru Cormorant wear the mask, or does the mask wear her? With the third installment of The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, the Empire of Masks’ greatest threat may well prove to be its greatest triumph—and before Baru’s play as Tyrant, we must remember how she became a Traitor and then a Monster.

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More Than a Boy Leaves Home: Choosing One’s Fate in the World of The Wheel of Time

In my very first essay for Reading the Wheel of Time, I referenced something a writing teacher once told me about stories—that they all begin with either a boy leaving home, or with a stranger coming to town. In that first piece I observed that, when it comes to The Lord of the Rings-style questing narratives, these two types of story are actually one type, in which a stranger (usually a wise guide, sometimes an enemy, and often both) comes to town, and it results in a boy (or a girl, or a group of young people) leaving home.

What I find so interesting about this structure is the concept of change, and the catalyst of that change, within a narrative. Of course, all stories are about change. Sometimes this change takes place over a moment or a day, other times over years or even a lifetime. The change can be small or large, external or internal, but it is always there—without change nothing has happened, and there is nothing, as they say, for the gleemen to recount. Thus, when we categorize a story into “a stranger comes to town” and “a boy leaves home,” we are actually considering where the catalyst for change comes from, and we are considering where the change, the arc of the story, takes place. In the first example, the world of the story has change brought into it from some outside force. In the second, the protagonist(s) go out into the world and both are forever altered by the experience.

[The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Entering the Police State: Toph Beifong, Power, and Authority in Republic City

Toph invented cops.

I have to reiterate that, because it’s a fact. Toph Beifong invented the first and only police system in the Avatar universe, and it’s deeply insidious and bizarre.

We have to examine, first of all, how the police force in Republic City came about, and why Toph was the worst and only person who could have created it; and secondly, why writers of speculative media choose to create endings for characters with great power that continually place them in systemic positions of power over other people.

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Read Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson: Chapter Six

On November 17, 2020, The Stormlight Archive saga continues in Rhythm of War, the eagerly awaited fourth volume in Brandon Sanderson’s #1 New York Times bestselling fantasy series. is serializing the new book from now until release date! A new installment will go live every Tuesday at 9 AM ET.

Every chapter is collected here in the Rhythm of War index.

Once you’re done reading, join our resident Cosmere experts for commentary on what this week’s chapter has revealed!

Want to catch up on The Stormlight Archive? Check out our Explaining The Stormlight Archive series!

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Series: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Understanding and Writing Horses: Creatures of Habit

Horses are creatures of habit. This is received wisdom, and true wisdom. Teach a horse something once, he’ll remember it. Teach it to him twice, it’s set in stone. And if it’s something inadvertent, backwards, or outright counterproductive, he’ll really never forget. It takes many times longer to undo it than it did to do it in the first place.

Horse memory is a remarkable phenomenon. Their long-term memory is at least as good as, and may be more accurate, than a human’s. This study blew a few scientific minds, though the anecdotal evidence has been demonstrating for years that once a horse gets an idea in his head, it stays there. He’ll also extrapolate from that idea to similar situations, and respond accordingly.

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The Haunted House on the Hill Gets a Twist in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic

The timeless story of the gothic haunted house looms in the literary imagination across generations of storytellers, creating a physical and psychic space where the literal and metaphysical ghosts of a home, and a family roam. It is a story that I am drawn to time and time again. I recently found myself gathering my own canon of haunted house stories from book, films and TV shows for my own creative obsession, revisiting the Woman in Black by Susan Hill, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (and obsessing over the beautifully haunting adaptation from Mike Flanagan). The modern interpretations of the gothic haunted house are endless, from the story of the Winchester Mystery House (and the 2018 film starring Helen Mirren), American Horror Story: Roanoke, and many others. The haunted house is a space where secrets and trauma lie, where reality and time becomes blurred, and where who one can trust is constantly under question, including whether the people who inhabit the house can trust themselves and their own senses.

And of course, there is the gothic heroine trying to escape the haunted house or be consumed by it. This is where Mexican Gothic, the latest novel from Silvia Moreno-Garcia, shines.

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