I am sorry, dear readers, I have been remiss: I did not forewarn you that I would be away for some days. I am still away – photos and stories upon my return, of course – but let me leave you with a tantalizing glimpse of what I’ve been up to:
First sentence: ‘While the ruler of the ancient city of Ombria lay dying, his mistress, frozen out of the room by the black stare of Domina Pearl, drifted like a bird on a wave until she bumped through Kyel Greve’s unguarded door to his bed, where he was playing with his puppets.’
Ombria is the oldest city in the world, the most beautiful city in the world, the most powerful city in the world, and when its prince dies his young son is left an orphan. As his regent, the ancient great-aunt Domina Pearl rules the court and its city with an iron fist and dark magic. With the other claimants to the throne half in their graves already with age, and his only cousin the illegitimate son of a dead princess, Prince Kyel is in danger of forever being the Black Pearl’s puppet. She has spent too many lifetimes scheming to rule Ombria to let a mere little boy stand in her way.
But behind the walls of the palace is a secret palace; under the city is a secret city; behind Ombria is a shadow world with a life of its own. It seems that there is no one in these two worlds who cares for Prince Kyel — none except the illegitimate cousin, Ducon the artist, and Lydea, the prince’s mistress thrown out to the streets to be killed for the jewels in her hair and her dancing shoes made of sapphire. A girl of wax who swallowed a heart finds herself meddling in the spells of both the sorceress under the city and the Black Pearl’s, bringing Ducon and Lydea together to save the child prince of Ombria, and them all.
I love Patricia A. McKillip, and I loved Ombria in Shadow. I discovered Patricia A. McKillip several months ago when I was looking for Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier — the cover art for these two authors is very similar in style. Last September, I read Kelly’s copy of Od Magic and fell in love — where has Patricia A. McKillip been all my life? I told Kelly I would read anything by McKillip, and because Kelly is a wonderful friend, I received six (6) books by Patricia A. McKillip for Christmas. I have since read The Changeling Sea, and The Book of Atrix Wolf, and now Ombria in Shadow, and what can I say? I am still smitten with this author. Her stories are dreamlike, enchanting; her characters unassuming, natural, and real; her prose lyrical, musical; her descriptions as beautiful as a pre-Raphaelite painting. Sadly, I only own three more books of hers to read, but fortunately she has written lots, lots more.
Should you read Ombria in Shadow? Yes, you should, and other books by her, too.
Things that visitors do that never cease to baffle me:
- Attempt to enter the museum before it opens. The museum’s opening hours are posted on no fewer than four signs. These extra keen visitors ignore the fact that the gates are closed and enter into the courtyard anyway. Then they try to open the front door — which, being that the museum isn’t open to the public yet, is locked. But these visitors are not deterred by a locked door: they will simply continue to yank on it and shake the door until I or my colleague are interrupted from inspecting the cases or unlocking the galleries to go and tell them, no, I’m sorry, the museum isn’t open yet, please come back in fifteen minutes.
- Sense of entitlement. When these early visitors are then confused and put out that no, we will not open the museum early especially for them.
- Smudging the glass. Really, why do you need to touch the glass cases? Why do you need to push your nose against the glass? I have to clean up after you.
- Leaving through the Emergency Exit Only door. I know it’s confusing. The door you entered is the same you are supposed to leave through, and right next to it is another door with a push-bar. But this other door has a big red sign on it that says, ‘EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY’. If you open it, it will not close behind you. I will have to get up and shut it. We can’t alarm it because too many people open it. Too often I find myself saying, ‘It’s the door on the left-‘ only to have the visitor ignore me and open the door on the right instead.
These are not rare occurrences; on the contrary, they happen every weekend when I work. I just don’t understand.
Miss Kitty is not my kitty. She belongs to one of our neighbours, I suspect: she’s incredibly friendly and in good health. But we’re friends even so. We first met a year ago when my mom and I were putting up the bird feeder in our garden — all of a sudden this beautiful, grey and silver tabby was bounding across the garden, asking what we were doing, and could she have pets, please? Since then I’d see her a couple of times a week while working in the garden; less during winter of course. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, the first time I was out in my garden this spring she was there investigating my handiwork. She’s grown into her ears since last year, but still she has big beautiful golden eyes. I started calling her ‘Miss Kitty’ to avoid giving her a name, but then that of course became a name in itself. Something about her colouring and eyes makes me think of Takver from The Dispossessed, but that isn’t a very good name for a friendly miss kitty. I’m very glad that Miss Kitty has chosen to visit my garden from time to time — this will suffice until someday, someday, I can have a cat of my own again. If Ursula K Le Guin can say that a cat is the soul of a house, then pretty Miss Kitty can be the soul of my garden.
When one wakes up in the morning in pain in all of one’s joints; when after an hour even the pain killers aren’t helping; when one doesn’t have a bath in order to soak in and one is not well enough to stand in the shower, what does one do?
One eats chocolate. One drinks hot chocolate. One especially drinks hot chocolate in one’s magical ‘I solemnly swear I am up to no good / Mischief managed’ mug. One drinks hot chocolate out of this mug while watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and one eats chocolate whenever one sees a dementor and whenever Professor Lupin gives Harry a piece of chocolate. ‘Eat this. It helps, it really helps.’
Rheumatoid arthritis is frustrating, painful, annoying, draining, tiring. I’ve spent most of the day in bed. I’m about to take more medication, and then I am going to eat chocolate ice cream. Remus Lupin was onto something: If I am going to be miserable, then I am at least going to eat chocolate.
First sentence: ‘”Jess?” Her mother’s voice sounded through the hallway, mixing with the mustiness around her so well that the sound almost had a smell.’
Jessamy is a 9-year-old mystic, daughter of a Nigerian mother and English father. She doesn’t quite fit in anywhere — at home, at school, in England, in Nigeria. When visiting her mother’s family in Nigeria she makes a new friend unlike any other friend she’s had before. Tilly understands her, likes her, is strong and brave and likes to have fun. To Jess’s delight and surprise, her new friend moves to England. But all is not well with Tilly, nor with Jess, and things start to go terribly, terribly wrong.
The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi was fascinating to read. Oyeyemi seamlessly weaves a child’s imagination with Nigerian and English spirituality, creating a work of magical realism that compels you to keep reading. To be honest, I found The Icarus Girl to be rather creepy, sometimes disturbing. Perhaps I related too much with Jess; perhaps I am so adept at suspending disbelief that I forget to take it up again. But as creepy as I found it, I also enjoyed it. I really liked Jess, and was impressed by how Oyeyemi tapped into a precocious 9-year-old’s mentality. The writing is smooth, effortless. I will definitely keep an eye out for more of Helen Oyeyemi’s novels.
Swans and the sea:
For those who are tuning in or have forgotten: The ‘Favourite Things Friday’ posts are in response to being asked what is my favourite place or thing around Town. I couldn’t decide on any one thing, so instead you get a weekly snapshot of something I particularly love about the town I live. Sometimes they are things I intend to take a picture of, and sometimes, like this one, they happen by pure serendipity.