Saturday, September 26, 2015

Thalen Reads The Dreamstone

They will not be wise, who set foot in Ealdwood. - Arafel
This week we take a look at a fantasy story with roots in Celtic mythology. The Dreamstone, by C. J. Cherryh, centers around the last remnant of Faery upon the earth, and it's guardian, Arafel, the last of the Daoine Sidhe.

This is actually the first of Cherryh's books I've read. She's been on my list of authors to try for a while, and I do still intend to get to some of her more famous works in the future. Based on what I've read here, I expect them to be a good read.

The Dreamstone is another of those works which combines multiple previously release works into a full novel. In this case we have two parts which are connected primarily by location and the presence of Arafel. The course of the novel spans some decades and most of the mortal characters from the first section of the book are years dead when the second section begins.

In an unnamed kingdom somewhere in the British Isles (most likely somewhere in modern England near the borders of Wales) a rebellion against the rightful king has recently succeeded and the former lord Niall, who remained loyal, flees his enemies. Taking shelter in the Ealdwood, he draws the attention of Arafel, last of the Daoine Sidhe, who refuses any direct aid but guides him to a protected valley where those who are lost can find refuge.

Years pass, until events lead Niall's villainous cousin Evald to invade the Ealdwood and come into conflict with Arafel. When word of Evald's death comes to Niall, he leaves the valley to retake the lands his cousin had usurped from him. He marries Evald's widow and accepts her son as his own heir.

Decades later, Niall has died and his heir rules in Caer Wiell. The old king's heir has come of age and has launched a campaign to retake his throne. After a great battle is won, a messenger is sent to warn Caer Wiell of enemy forces come to try to take it in an attempt to hold it against the king. His path takes him into the Ealdwood, where he meets Arafel and ultimately brings her to the aid of Caer Wiell, though not without cost to himself.

The Dreamstone is a book that focuses on one small area while great conflicts occur in the background. The old king is already dead by the time the book starts, and we barely meet his heir many chapters later. The kingdom and its fate isn't what matters here; this is really the story of Arafel and her somewhat unwilling part in the human conflicts near her home. Elves in this book are very much in the classic Fair Folk vein; mischievous and given to stealing people away to Faery (though not, in Arafel's defense, from any real malevolence.)

The Dreamstone is also a quiet book, mostly concerned with character interaction and the intrinsic conflict between man and elf. There is a battle near the end of the book, but it's secondary to the conflict within the messenger who convinced Arafel to aid them, and the conflict within Arafel herself regarding mortals and her place in a world where Faery has nearly withdrawn entirely. To anyone with an interest in Celtic mythology I can recommend this as an interesting take on the concepts.

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