Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Case Study No. 1187: Mercy Fane

"Worldsoul" book trailer
0:57
What if being a librarian was the most dangerous job in the world?

Read "Worldsoul" by Liz Williams and find out!

http://www.ama zon.com/Worldsoul-Liz-Williams/ dp/1607012952
Tags: worldsoul librarians
Added: 4 months ago
From: ToonLib
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What if being a librarian
...
...
...
was the most dangerous job in the world?

A great library between dimensions,
where old stories gather to keep their memories alive

But fantastical and terrible creatures threaten their very existence

Can a brave librarian and her companions prevent their destruction?

---

From amazon.com:

Worldsoul
Author: Liz Williams
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Prime Books (May 29, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1607012952
ISBN-13: 978-1607012955

What if being a librarian was the most dangerous job in the world? Worldsoul, a great city that forms a nexus point between Earth and the many dimensions known as the Liminality, is a place where old stories gather, where forgotten legends come to fade and die - or to flourish and rise again. Until recently, Worldsoul has been governed by the Skein, but they have gone missing and no one knows why. The city is also being attacked with lethal flower-bombs from an unknown enemy. Mercy Fane and her fellow Librarians are doing their best to maintain the Library, but...things...keep breaking out of ancient texts and legends are escaping into the city. Mercy must pursue one such dangerous creature. She turns to Shadow, an alchemist, for aid, but Shadow - inadvertently possessed by an ifrit - has a perilous quest of her own to undertake.

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From blogspot.com:

After quite high expectations, I have to say that Worldsoul turned to be a little mixed for me as the novel aligned closer to the UF subgenre than to the SF that remains by far the most interesting of the author's oeuvre to date. It is true that the novel is not quite the usual UF junk as it takes place in a "higher dimension" from Earth, but Earth's cultures, myths, supernatural beings of lore, books and tales are crucial for all that happens.

Worldsoul has great inventiveness and the writing style is the compelling one I have been expecting from Liz Williams with interesting main characters, and action happening in the higher dimensional city Worldsoul of the title, metropolis which is in a bit of disarray as its former rulers vanished a while ago and the various powers to be have started the struggle for domination.

Mercy is a somewhat naive but dogged librarian - though of course not of a mundane library - from a Northern tundra clan lineage whose two mothers have left on a quest to find the disappeared rulers - Worldsoul is a Liz Williams book so expect men to have minimal roles if they are not dispensed with as in her superb Solar System novels like Banner of Souls or Winterstrike - while Shadow is a devout alchemist from a Middle Eastern inspired culture who is compelled by the local power broker, a male Shah, to do some work for him that her ethics code finds distasteful.

A few demons including a duke of Hell - still female - who is the best and funniest secondary character, Disir i.e. Loki's supernatural minions, and assorted supernatural beings play the humans and one another and are occasionally played in turn while the novel moves at a brisk pace and ends at quite a satisfying point solving its main local stories though of course the big picture is just coming into focus as the ending emphatically punctuates that.

Where my reservations lie is in that the whole UF setup is a bit hard to take seriously and the external world lacks focus with the Worldsoul itself more of an abstraction or a stage for our characters than a "real place" with texture and depth.

On many occasions scenes that are supposed to have tension simply lacked it for me as I had no idea what the parameters were (and no idea if the book follows standard UF ones as I heartily detest the subgenre) so the various fights, chases etc read: "well this happened because it happened" with no way for me to realize if it was normal, an act of valor or something unusual.

I would compare my experience in those parts of the novel as with reading about a Wild West gunfight without having any ideas what guns can or cannot do - pretty much everything described can happen as the fact that the sheriff is faster on the draw may simply be so because his gun is a "lawful" one so it comes out faster, the fact that he shoots straight and the villain shoots badly maybe because his gun is an AI that targets itself etc and if the author inserts that the sheriff's gun shot 500 times in succession without recharge, it may seem a little odd but hey, it may be possible after all...

Overall, I think that if you are a UF buff you may love Worldsoul a lot, while personally I found it entertaining and I would definitely recommend it. Not as grand as the author's excellent sf, but I am still looking forward to see what comes next in the series!

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From kirkusreviews.com:

"What if being a librarian was the most dangerous job in the world?"

I would be lying if I said that the tagline above wasn't the only reason I needed to pick up Worldsoul. Thankfully, the tagline is not the only reason to keep on reading. A novel about the power of stories and the value of knowledge, where nightmares, dreams, archetypes, characters and stray tales come to life, or die forever, where librarians are kick-ass warriors from the Good Side of the Force, Worldsoul is an immensely diverting book, albeit not one without its hiccups.

Worldsoul is a great city that sits at a point where multiple dimensions converge between Earth and the Liminality, a place of magic woven from legends and myths from Earth. One year before the novel starts the mysterious Skein, those who govern Worldsoul completely disappeared, leaving a power vacuum that many key players hope to fill.

One of those key players is Jonathan Deed, the Abbot General of the Court and a man with a plan, which involves the trickster god Loki. Another is librarian Mercy Frane who, aided by her Ka and with her trusty Irish sword, takes it upon herself to investigate the sudden appearance inside the Library of a creature from the North, an escapee from a tale from Section C. Her investigation leads her to cross paths with Shadow, a female Muslim Alchemist who has become unwillingly connected to the Shah of the Medina, because of his troubles with an ifrit (a type of Jinn).

Incidentally, Gremory, a demon and female Duke from Hell, has also just been tasked with finding this same ifrit. In the meantime, there are those who are trying to find the Skein (like Mercy's two mothers) before it is too late or at least before the lethal flower-bombs that suddenly appear across the city destroy everything. And that's just the beginning.

This might sound like a lot of different characters and plotlines, but one of the strengths of Worldsoul is the author Liz Williams' adroit control of multiple parallel but not unrelated points of view—all without relying on exposition or info-dumps, no less. Although it was a bit confusing and overwhelming to be suddenly dropped into this world without a firm guide, Worldsoul's lack of exposition is actually part of the fun of the novel. Readers are completely immersed in the book, and thus become a part of Worldsoul itself. Since our Earth—its myths, archetypes and stories—are so deeply connected to Worldsoul, it becomes increasingly easier to understand the world and the characters' motivations (not to be mention fun, as we begin to recognize the tales from whence these characters emerged).

That said, I often found myself wondering, if Earth informs so much of Worldsoul and its own peoples and stories, why are there so few of Earth's more negative aspects? Worldsoul seems to have no sexism, no bigotry and no racism, or, if it does, these aspects are neither overt nor preponderant. Mind you, I do find awesome how much this particular story is diverse in terms of race, religion, gender and sexual identity. But considering how everything stems from Earth it feels as though Worldsoul is an idealized version of a perfect Earth where all religious, myths, people, stories coexist almost in complete peace. That is, if you don't count the search for absolute power, which seems to be the driving force behind all different beings. I am not sure yet if this is on purpose as an intrinsic part of the overall arc because there are several pieces of the puzzle that are missing. Or perhaps a better metaphor would be: there are pages missing from this tale.

Worldsoul is therefore very much a first book in a trilogy. Much of it reads as introduction or setup, and many things are left unsaid and undisclosed. It does work as a standalone—barely—but in truth Worldsoul is obviously a tasty appetizer. The possibilities for Worldsoul are infinite, and I suspect that, much in the way that she does with her storybook characters, Williams can take this series anywhere she wants. I will have my seconds, thank you very much.

And if you are wondering how being a librarian could be the most dangerous job in the world, the answer is simple—knowledge is power. If you work at the oldest, most complete Library in the known world, chances are, you will probably need to protect it at one point or another from those who seek to destroy it, corrupt it or to simply take it.

In Book Smugglerish, Worldsoul gets a tentative 7 out of 10.

---

From libros.am:

At dawn, the distant hoot of the Golden Island steamer split the moist air and told Mercy Fane that it was time to get up. Mercy hauled herself out of bed. For an acknowledged insomniac, it was surprisingly difficult to get out from between the sheets, as though she might trick herself into dropping off after all. But work was beckoning; she'd told Nerren that she'd be in early. Big day today.

She dressed quickly in leather trousers and a crisp white shirt; oiled her hair and bound its springy coils in a club at the nape of her neck. She didn't want any stray strands that something might be able to clutch. Then Mercy drew a line of kohl around each eye and inked the tattooed sigil spirals between her brows and around each shoulder-just in case-waiting a moment for each sigil to glimmer darkly, then fade to matte. After that, she fastened the ward-bracelets around her wrists and ankles, slipped a charm into the hole in her left earlobe, placed her sigilometer on its chain in her pocket, and was ready. A quick glance in the glass reassured her: Mercy Fane: Librarian, a chess-piece study in white and black.

She'd think about weapons later.

She went downstairs into the yellow-painted kitchen. Sunlight poured in through the branches of the apple tree outside the open window, the rosy fruit already ripening. Midsummer was past, the year was growing on. As she stared at the apples, the ka leaped in through the window to land on the table below.

"Morning, Perra. Good night?"

The ka yawned, stretching small leonine paws. Its grave golden eyes regarded her, from a human face. "Good enough."

"Anything of interest?"

The ancestral spirit blinked. "Rumours. But there are always those. I have visited an astrologer, a friend. She says that there are curious configurations in the heavens."

"There are always those, too."

The ka nodded and sat back on its haunches. "Portents of change, throughout the city. Planetary alignments, signifying shifts of power."

"Oh dear," Mercy said. "Maybe the Seal is up to something again?"

"I do not know."

"I don't expect you to. I know it's one place you can't go."

"They experiment on my kind," Perra said.

"They experiment on everything," Mercy replied. Bloody alchemists. It was different in the Eastern Quarter, where alchemy was a different, and honourable, science. Not so with the Seal, who regarded everything as grist for its sinister mill. She left the ka curled up on the couch and headed off to work.

Outside, the morning was already warm. Mercy walked along the canal bank, glancing down occasionally at the shoals of small golden fish whisking, in amoeboid commas, through the clear water. The city had known days when these canals ran red with blood-a long time ago now, but not quite long enough. And now there were these new attacks, the lethal flowers falling from the skies and bursting like bombs, the petals deadly shrapnel.

Mercy had only been a small child, but she still remembered the last days of the Long War, before the Quiet, and then the bloodspill of the Short. She felt a prickle at the back of her neck but the morning seemed peaceful enough.

On the Street of the Hunter, the caf├ęs were already doing a roaring breakfast trade. Mercy stopped under an awning and bought a bun, eating it on her way to the Library. The way to work took her up the hill. As she climbed, she looked through the gaps in the buildings to the blue arc of sea, fringed with mimosa and oleander. Ahead, she could already see the Library and the other buildings of the Citadel, the gold-and-cream domes butter-bright against the morning sky, the gilded spell-vanes of the Court of the Bond glittering in the sunlight. She fancied for a moment that she could almost hear them creaking in the wind, turning on their spires to catch every whisper and breeze of passing magic and siphoning it down into the bubbling crucibles of the Court. But the roofs of the Court itself were darkly tiled: it sat like a jackdaw among doves, upon the hill. Black and bright-eyed, stealing anything shiny…

Still, it all looked so quiet from down here.

When she reached the steps of the Library, the bun was finished and Mercy's monochrome outfit was covered in crumbs. She took a moment to brush them off. Why could she never stay tidy, unlike the many chic women she saw coming out of the Citadel buildings first thing in the evening, their chignons intact and free of escaping tendrils, their shoes as polished as beetles' wings? Mercy felt as though her clothes and hair were perpetually escaping from her control, in spite of a reassuring glance down at her now crumb-free shirt. Sure that her hair was coming loose, too, she checked it. It seemed smooth enough. For now, anyway.

At the top of the Library's steps she paused again and looked out. From this height, you could see as far as the Eastern and Southern Quarters; although the Northern was blocked by the towers of the Citadel and the looming darkness of the Court, Mercy could still feel the blood-tug, the pull of ancestral tales. A very long way away, she could see the billow of the flags that flew from the Eastern minarets, marshalling winds to the burn of the Great Desert beyond. An azure banner, fringed like a centipede, snapped and sang above the distant dome of the Medina. Below, the faint rumble of the monorail slid up between the buildings, a low thunder. She caught a flash of brass and bronze as the little carriages whisked along it.

A long way, to the south and to the east. Longer than it looked. Mercy thought she could taste rain on the wind. She turned, pushed open the Library's heavy bronze doors, and went inside.

There did not seem, at first, to have been any crises during the night. Good. The Elders had planned an inspection this morning and Mercy, Nerren, and their colleagues wanted everything to go smoothly. Things were quite unstable enough, Mercy thought, without the poor Elders having a conniption-at least, not more of one than they were having already.

However, the huge, echoing foyer of the Library was as austere and tranquil as ever; the smoke-dappled marble columns rising out of a floor so polished that it looked like a pool of grey-green water. Touches of silver-on lecterns, on the spine of the Great Book that stood on its plinth in the centre of the hall, on croziers and the Librarian's Crown-caught the sunlight filtering in through glass that was stained black and white and grey; the windows being one of the few parts of the Library that were really new, untainted by ancient fire. Above, soaring above the motes of light and dust, flew the ghosts of birds.

"You're early," said Nerren, bustling out from behind the reception desk.

"I said I would be. Did anything-?"

"No." Nerren's brow creased. The Senior Librarian wore a man's suit: narrow tapering trousers, cream silk shirt, a frock coat. A black curl of hair had been coaxed to rest on her brow; it looked varnished against her brown skin. Sigils glowed dark-bronze on cheeks and throat, in the manner of the Southern Quarter, but southerner though she was, Nerren had eyes like Mercy's own; the same shape, the same shade. Dark and disapproving. Mercy sometimes wondered whether being a member of the Order of the Library had endowed her with a permanent frown. Now Nerren was frowning, too. Nerren added, in that beautiful musical voice with its accent of the Islands, "At least, not that I'm aware of. But I haven't checked Section C."

"I'll do it."

"Are you sure? Do you want some help before the Elders get here?"

"No, it's all right. I'll do it myself." Mercy had entertained doubts about Section C for some weeks, and had not mentioned the extent of them to Nerren. The Senior Librarian had quite enough on her plate. But now she wondered whether Nerren knew anyway.

"There's more. Bad news." Nerren's fluid voice was not suited to staccato, but it obviously matched her mood. "We're due for a Citadel inspection as well. They'll be coming on Third Day."

"What, this Third Day?" Mercy stared at Nerren in dismay.

"Yes. That's the whole point. Not to give us time to cover things up. I suppose we should be grateful they haven't just showed up this morning. At least we've had some warning."

"Two days," Mercy mourned. "Doesn't give anyone much time."

"We haven't been doing anything wrong, Mercy." Nerren's voice was sharp.

"No. We haven't done anything wrong," Mercy echoed, as if repeating it would make it true. And in a sense, it was true. It was just that they hadn't been entirely… forthcoming.

Nerren gave her a beady look. "Section C. Do you want a coffee before you start?"

"Perhaps a stiff brandy." She hadn't meant it to sound quite so sour.

In the weapons room, Mercy stood considering her options.

The bow: taut as a razor's edge, sensitive as the antenna of a moth. The bow, all gleaming silver-black, called to Mercy and she whispered to it, "Wait. Not long. I have to be sure."

There were other bows, but only one that spoke to Mercy and of course, one could take none other.

It must be strange, Mercy reflected, to be someone to whom no weapons spoke. But then again, such people probably didn't become Librarians.

The sword: a thin-whipping rapier, also in black, also in silver, with a curling intricacy of guard fretworked in Kells-coils. Old Irish, from the look of it. Mercy had not seen this blade before, it was newly arrived from the lands of Earth, and its slender length sparkled with stories. It spoke to Mercy of moorland, peat-dark under a new moon, of bogs of sooty water into which horses vanished, of cold high cliffs and seas like thunder. A broch, rising out of the heather, grey as an old bone, haunted by the ghosts of the warrior dead.

"You," Mercy murmured. "Might take you."

A knife: short-bladed, stoical, with little to say. Mercy passed it by, but not because of its relative silence.

She paused before the guns, but guns boasted too much for Mercy's liking. They were not quite a woman's weapon, she always thought, though she knew those who considered differently. They shouted to her of their kills: street kills, Northern Ireland, in Spain, the islands of the Small Realms, Nicaragua, Los Angeles. They had their own legends and she did pause before a musket, speaking of blood and bayou.

"Not in this day and age," Mercy said aloud. She'd probably blow her hand off if she touched the thing. She was almost at the end of the armoury now, by the high windows that looked out over the Citadel as if the presence of the weapons alone was sufficient to protect it. The rows of weaponry and munitions stretched back to infinity-point, the armoury far larger from within than from without, as befitted the nature of the Library. Mercy walked back to the Irish rapier, said, "I'll take you, then." To the bow, she said, "Next time." The bow acquiesced with grace; she would have expected no less from it. But she had a feeling that the sword was right for the day, without knowing why. If she knew why, the story would be over.

The sword had a scabbard-ebony leather, slightly worn but carefully tooled. She strapped it around her waist, slid the sword inside and walked from the armoury, taking care to bolt and bar and spell-ward the door as she did so. Things had been stolen before and not just weapons. The sword tapped lightly against her boots as she walked, a deathwatch clicking.

Section C was located up ten flights of stairs, the winding steps giving a panoramic view of the Library entrance hall below. She could see Nerren's bent head, an ink blot against the marble of her desk. From this height, she was level with the bird-spirits: their shadowy wings beating in ceaseless rotation. They did not appear unduly concerned, but this meant little. Nerren and Mercy had long since given up using the bird-spirits as a barometer of danger, their canaries in the mine.

Finally, she reached the tenth floor landing and paused before the door. Moving with great care, one hand on the hilt of the Irish sword, Mercy leaned an ear to the door.

Inside, something was whispering.

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