Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Gratitude of Kings (1997)

     I had some knowledge of Thieves' World as early as the mid-1980s.  Probably had something to do with the fact that Chaosium did the RPG for the setting and I was purchasing – more properly, my parents were purchasing at my insistence – ElfQuest RPG materials from the same company at the time.  I don't think I read much more than a couple of excerpts from stories from the world, though.  But it didn't stick enough in my memory for me to be searching out Thieves' World material now.  No, I came to read Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Gratitude of Kings (1997) because it was at the library, looked short, and I found out who Bradley was in reading How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction (1987).  Clearly, I should have known who she was as I was familiar with some of her works (that they exist, not that I read them), but it is never to late to get started.
     While The Gratitude of Kings is officially listed as a short story, I have chosen to treat it as a novella.  First, it has its own stand alone hardcover book.  Second, and more importantly, it would still be close to sixty pages as a trade paperback, which I am willing to accept as being just past my comfort zone for a short story.  This information really only means something to me and how I'm counting what I've read this year, but now you know that there are some internal debates when the material can be judged two different ways.
     Jumping into an established setting with established characters isn't always a pleasant experience, but Bradley has an easy writing style and a comforting sense of humor.  It doesn't feel like she is working at explaining what has gone before while allowing the new reader to know that, yes, much has already happened.  If I have a complaint – and I always do – it would be that Bradley has a fondness of fantasy names that are confounding to pronounce and keep happily in one's mind.  I was thankful when she introduced characters like Princess Velvet and the weredragon, Beauty.  Those are names with which I don't have to struggle, but they still keep the illusion of a functioning fantasy world.
     This story is a rather small one, with a spellcaster answering a King's request to be present at a Royal wedding.  There is a cursed magical instrument, a contest of magical arts, a murder, and the general message that a woman can usually count on a man to get the big picture wrong.  That last part doesn't come across as angry or painting with a broad brush, but specific to the situation and in keeping with the humor of the tale.
     Bradley has much more famous and successful work, but I would suspect that I would be happier with her lighter Thieves' World material.  I could be wrong; that wouldn't be the end of the world.  But at least I do know that I need to make an effort to seek out some more Bradley for next year's Reading Project.

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