Jo Walton is one of the most gifted, inspired authors writing SFF today. See my reviews of Tooth and Claw, Among Others, Farthing, Ha’penny, Half a Crown, My Real Children, The Just City, The Philosopher Kings, Necessity, The King’s Peace, The King’s Name, and Lent.
BLURB: At its heart, Lifelode is the story of a comfortable manor house family. The four adults of the household are happily polygamous, each fulfilling their ‘lifelode’ or life’s purpose: Ferrand is the lord of the manor, his sweetmate Taveth runs the household, his wife Chayra makes ceramics, and Taveth’s husband Ranal works the farm. Their children are a joyful bunch, running around in the sunshine days of the harvest and wondering what their own lifelodes will be. Their lives change with the arrival of two visitors to Applekirk: Jankin the scholar and Hanethe, Ferrand’s great grandmother and the former lord of the manor, who has been living for many generations in the East, a place where the gods walk and yeya (magic) is so powerful that those who wield it are not quite human.
REVIEW: I was wondering what one of my favourite authors was up to – so got a bit of a shock when I saw this offering had appeared when I wasn’t looking… Researching this one a bit more, it appears that this book won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (2010) when it was published by a small press. And earlier this year, Walton self-published it so her fans could have the ebook available – yay! It’s an interesting premise. This is a flat-world where the further East you travel, the more magic there is, while the further West you go, the less there is. Applekirk appears to be situated about midway between the two extremes, so some of the family members who live in the manor are reasonably well endowed with yeya. Others, not so much. And reading this one, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t want to be one of those who were overly talented.
The manor is generally reasonably peaceful, where an agrarian lifestyle revolves around the harvests. Initially the main protagonist is Taveth, who is married to Ranal, but mistress to Ferrand, the current lord of the manor. Taveth sees people at various stages of their lives whenever she looks at them and is in charge of running the house, while the official Mistress of the Manor is a potter. Their contentment is abruptly shattered when two visitors appear – one is a travelling scholar, Jankin, a beautiful young man with an eye for the ladies and the other one is a long-lost relative – Ferrand’s great-grandmother who reappears from the East very suddenly and rather mysteriously…
Walton’s storytelling, as ever, packs a punch. Events take a much darker turn, as it turns out that spiky, sneering Hanethe hasn’t returned to Applekirk simply to make everyone’s life a misery – she’s on the run from a very, very powerful enemy. This one gripped me and held me far too late into the night, as Walton’s writing always does. And as usual with Walton’s writing, now it’s finished, I can’t get it out of my head. The nature of belief… how people can do a lot of damage by simply being careless… and being thoroughly obnoxious to those around you doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person… And that nothing hurts quite so much as lost love…
Once more – a tour de force. Walton is a towering talent, whose books make me glad I can read and provide me with lots of mental fodder, before I get the pleasure of reading her next offering. I don’t know what it will be – but I can guarantee that it will be nothing like this particular book. Needless to say – very highly recommended.