Archive for the ‘R.A. MacAvoy’ Category

Death and Resurrection by R.A. MacAvoy ~ 2011. This edition: Prime Books, 2011. Second Printing. Softcover. ISBN: 978-1-60701-286-3. 333 pages.

My rating: 9/10. Probably a bit higher than it really deserves – it’s a far from flawless novel – but I’m just so happy that R.A. MacAvoy is back in the game after a very long hiatus due to ill-health (18 years), and because I really like the way this author thinks.

A few issues with dialogue and occasionally awkward phrasing, and some serious suspension of disbelief issues – I can handle the wendigo/spirit bear thing, and the travelling between life and death, but how do these working people with demanding jobs – veterinarian, psychiatrist – get so much time off, apparently consequence-free?

*****

A very hard-to-classify book. Fantasy, maybe? With thriller and murder mystery overtones. And there’s quite a sweet love story in there, too. And it’s funny. And violent. Death by bamboo! Katanas! Oh – but hang on – the main character is a pacifist Buddhist. Well, maybe things don’t always work out as planned…

You know, except for the messy fight scenes (and the katana) this one really reminds me of MacAvoy’s first novel, the highly regarded and award-winning Tea With the Black Dragon, though the characters in Death and Resurrection are completely different and the story is absolutely original.

And now I am going to completely cheat and steal the reviews from the publisher’s website, because, darn it anyway, it’s been a long, long day, and it feels like bedtime and I need to treat myself with some reading time.

From Prime Books:

The award-winning writer of Tea With the Black Dragon and other acclaimed novels returns to fantasy with the intriguing story of Chinese-American artist Ewen Young who gains the ability to travel between the worlds of life and death. This unasked-for skill irrevocably changes his life—as does meeting Nez Perce veterinarian Dr. Susan Sundown and her remarkable dog, Resurrection. After defeating a threat to his own family, Ewen and Susan confront great evils—both supernatural and human—as life and death begin to flow dangerously close together.

” I love R.A. MacAvoy’s books. Do yourself a favor and pick this up.”—Charles de Lint

“For the brilliantly talented R. A. MacAvoy, no aspect of human life is beyond reach.”—Orson Scott Card

About the Author: R.A. MacAvoy is the author of twelve novels. Her debut, Tea With the Black Dragon, won the John W. Campbell Award, the Locus Award for best first novel, and a Philip K. Dick Award special citation. It was also nominated for the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the Ditmar Award, and listed in David Pringle’s Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she has been married for thirty-three years to Ronald Cain. They live in the Cascade Foothills of Washington State.

Reviews:

MacAvoy clearly  still has the talent for the ingratiating characters and revealing detail that made her first novel so delightful; almost every character is handled with wit and grace…Death and Resurrection turns out to be far less portentous adventure romance than its title implies…and almost inevitably more enjoyable…it’s good to have her back.—Gary Wolfe, Locus

MacAvoy’s expansion of her 2009 novella “In Between” will please fans of her thoughtful hero Black Dragon, though new protagonist Ewen Young goes past philosophical to passive. Ewen, a Chinese Buddhist, just wants to be a painter and practice kung fu, but fate has other plans. He’s always had a touch of the spiritual, whether it’s an empathic bond with his twin sister or a psychic retreat he can share with others. When a brush with death kicks it up several notches, he ends up reluctantly guiding an investigation and a school as well as building a relationship with a strong-willed Native American vet and her body-hunting dog. Ewen’s (and MacAvoy’s) refusal to explore the origins of his powers takes the tone of the book further from most Western speculative fiction and toward magical realism or mysticism, which will delight some readers and irritate others.—Publishers Weekly

What they said. Good stuff. Check it out. More MacAvoy reviews coming in the future – I have everything she’s written to date; they all live on my favourites shelf.

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Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy ~1983. This edition: Bantam, 1987. Paperback. ISBN: 0-553-23205-3. 166 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

My first introduction to contemporary fantasy writer Roberta Ann (R.A.) MacAvoy was through her alternative world fantasy, Lens of the World (1990). That novel was so satisfactory that I went on to seek out the other two books in the Nazhuret trilogy, King of the Dead (1991) and The Belly of the Wolf (1993).

Now actively chasing down MacAvoy’s work, I was more than pleased with her lone science fiction attempt, the imaginative The Third Eagle (1989), and her epic alternative-Renaissance fantasy trilogy published in 1983-84: Damiano, Damiano’s Lute, and Raphael. Then followed the Celtic-themed  The Grey Horse (1987), and The Book of Kells (1985).

Eventually, going back to the beginning at the end, as it were,  I finally read MacAvoy’s 1983 debut novel (and likely her best-known work), Tea with the Black Dragon, and its 1986 companion, Twisting the Rope.

Then, after that creative 1983-1993 decade, nothing, except for a brief 2005 novella, The Go-Between (re-published in slightly different form in 2009 as In Between), both of which I have sporadically searched for but so far have been unable to obtain.

Doing another routine online search this past month hoping to perhaps come across a printed copy of either of those titles, MacAvoy’s name lit up the page. She’s back in the game, with a brand-new full-length novel: Death and Resurrection, December 2011, in softcover or ebook from fantasy, science fiction and “cross-genre” publisher, Prime Books. Death and Resurrection apparently includes The Go-Between as its first episode, so I can now neatly round off my to-date R.A. MacAvoy collection.

Bibliographical introduction over, I will now focus (briefly! – I need to learn to condense these rambling reviews somewhat – I do tend to run on) on Tea with the Black Dragon, which I have just re-read for the somethingth time with the usual quiet enjoyment. It is not my favourite MacAvoy work by a long shot – that position is jointly filled by Lens of the World and The Third Eagle, which I cannot choose between – I love them both equally for very different reasons – but a few hours spent with Oolong and Martha is never a bad thing.

The internet abounds with longer reviews so anything I say will have already been said, and often much more cleverly, elsewhere. Here is my take.

Middle-aged Martha Macnamara, classical violinist turned Celtic fiddler, has been sent for by her grown daughter, Elizabeth (Liz), with an urgent request for them to meet and talk.

Landing in San Francisco after her flight “racing the sun” from New York, Martha is mystified to find that though her own room in a luxurious hotel is booked and paid for, her daughter has apparently vanished. Not sure how to proceed, and not knowing anything of the pressing concern which Liz wanted to share, Martha falls into an acquaintanceship with a mysterious silk-suited, Eurasian-appearing older gentleman staying at the same hotel, one Mayland Long.

An immediate positive chemistry results, and the two are off on a quest to find Liz which results in a delving into the fledgling 1980s’ computer subculture of Southern California, and encounters with several unlikely gun-toting villains.

More of a suspense thriller than a classic fantasy, the world of Black Dragon is instantly recognizable, if somewhat dated by its 1980s’ references. The fantasy element comes into play as we find out that the mysterious Mr. Long is (perhaps?) the human form of an ancient Chinese Imperial Dragon, with unexpected but rather useful abilities.

An unlikely but perfectly satisfying love story is at the heart of this novel, and that is what we are left with, long after the rather forgettable computer-fraud plot and gunshots and car chases are forgotten. Intriguing Zen references (Martha is a zazen practitioner; Mayland has a long history of association with Buddhist Zen masters) added to the quirky tone (in the very best sense) of the story.

Very much a first novel, with the expected flaws, but there is a certain something about this story that keeps it close to the front of the book stacks. In interview, MacAvoy has said that plot does not interest her as much as characterization and conversation. One can definitely see that in all of her books, what gaps there are tend to be plot-related, nowhere quite as evident, though, as in Black Dragon; the plot is decidedly contrived, and it is interesting to see how this author has dealt with her predilection to concentrate on character in her subsequent novels.

This novel seems to have a very strong fan base on internet book review sites; a bit puzzling as there is not much there; it’s a slender piece of  what might be classified as “urban fantasy” mixed with old-style “thriller”. But it shows this author’s strong promise and unique literary voice, more than fulfilled in her later works. A very thoughtful writer, with a strong sense of humour, though she unflinchingly puts her later characters into positions of deep despair and is not afraid to realistically portray tragedy.

For those of you interested in “official” opinions, Tea with the Black Dragon was nominated for the Phillip K. Dick, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. MacAvoy won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction/Fantasy writer in 1984.

Recommended, with the reservation that this is not MacAvoy’s strongest work despite the (sometimes) gushing fan base.

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