Monday, June 09, 2008

The Dollmage

By Martine Leavitt, who also wrote the lovely, though perhaps macabre, book Keturah and Lord Death.

This is a story; the narrator is very present as a storyteller, much more so than in Keturah. (Keturah has a prologue and epilogue that act as a framing story, with the storyteller sitting at a fire. It's a great moment when you get to the end, are reminded of the storyteller, and realize that the names of the people she told the story to are also the names of the characters in the story. Makes you think.) The villagers live in a picturesque village full of bridges and sheep in a world full of mountains. This is a simplistic view of the world, but it isn't clear how literally we are to take it: even one of the characters points out that to have mountains, you must have valleys.

The Dollmage is the one responsible for keeping her village's story on track; she tries to protect her people from a bad ending through her magic. But the current Dollmage is getting old and, despite her great wisdom, is blind in some ways.

The trouble starts with her resentment of her distant cousin Vilsa. When four children are born on the day the Dollmage declares her successor will be born, she decides that Vilsa's daughter is not going to be the one. (The Dollmage, asking God why four children were born on one day, is told that it is to make her wise.) Years of petty slights and resentment build up, pushing the villagers' way of life to the brink of disaster.

The inclusion of God is an interesting one. Resentment and forgiveness are definite themes, and the villagers' way of life is based on promises: there are promises they are born into (they may kill only to defend their children) and promises they make. The penalty for breaking either is death or exile. As the dolls have power to affect reality, so do words, and the villagers believe that breaking their word will cause them to lose that power, making them no different from the robber peoples who live in all the valleys around them, stealing their possessions and relatives. But little is said about her God directly, and much about how she is to learn wisdom, something that troubles me a bit.

Pretty good, and fairly short, I'd recommend at least giving this book a try. Be advised that there is a rape, although not in explicit detail.

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