Enter into Neth Space and you will find thoughts and reviews of books and other media that fit the general definition of speculative fiction. This includes the various genres and sub-genres of fantasy, science fiction, epic fantasy, high fantasy, hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, new weird, magical realism, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, slipstream, horror, alternative history, SF noir, etc. Thoughts are my own, I'm certainly not a professional, just an avid reader avoiding his day job.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Review: The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington
reason I still manage to be surprised when the book I’m reading tends to fit in
with whatever conversation is currently going on in the SFF-intranets world.
The conversation of the moment is all about grimdark, the term that seems to
have emerged to describe the ‘gritty’ fantasy that maybe even could be called
its own sub-genre (hereareafewlinkstogetyoustarted on the discussion).
But, I’m not going to quibble about the definition of grimdark, how appropriate
it is attach the label to author X or Y’s books, or any of that. But, the book I
am here to discuss – The Folly of the
World by Jesse Bullington (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) – arguably
falls right in with the new kid dressed all in black at the back of the genre
party who is buy angrily staring down everyone while (s)he trims his/her
fingernails with a large knife.
The Folly of the World was wholly unexpected for me – I had heard good things about
Bullington’s writing, but really didn’t know anything about it when I started
the book (I hadn’t even read the back cover). So, it took me quite a while to
figure out how felt about the book – honestly it took until after I finished reading
it. The first thing that literally slaps the reader in the face is the very
coarse language of the book, particularly in the first half. In the context of
the book, it works, though it is above and beyond the coarseness of 99% of the
books in fantasy. The dialogue is harsh, ugly and offensive. The descriptions
are dark, evocative and unpleasant. And there are graphic descriptions of sex –
man on man sex – that is needfully violent rather than sensual and loving.
adjusting to the ruthless writing style I began to wander just where this novel
was going. First, it’s not epic fantasy or even second world fantasy. It’s
really much more historical fiction, or gothic horror (if gothic horror can
apply to a setting in medieval Holland), with only the barest hints of the
supernatural. In fact, I have no idea if there really is any supernatural
element in the novel – and it doesn’t matter. The hints serve to increase the
horror, set the mood, and relentlessly drive home the inevitable and hopeless
end – or at least the perception of an inevitable and hopeless end.
this review I’ve used words like ruthless, horror, relentless, hopeless, harsh,
coarse, dark, and …grimdark. The world is violent. There is death. There are
battles. Horrible things are said and done. One could choose to describe things
as tragic, and they wouldn’t be wrong, though I think folly is the better
choice as the title itself clearly alludes to. The story shown, the actions and
thoughts undertaken are often far too absurd to be anything but folly. The
story at its heart is about a bastard seeking his noble birthright. Or perhaps
it’s two highwaymen working a con to become noble. Or maybe it’s a rags to
riches story. As expected, things don’t go as planned, but one of those cons
does become noble, a peasant is lifted to the heights of society, and the fall
from the edge is precipitous.
that Bullington chooses to tell his story through is important. The two conmen
I mention above are front and center, though the real story is that of a
peasant girl who is literally bought and paid for to help them recover a lost
object. These three make up a motley trio representing the worst of the worst
in society and genre alike. The two men are homosexual lovers, one is a bastard
and the other is severely mentally ill. Both are killers. One will do and say
anything to achieve his goals while the other is madly unpredictable. The girl
is an uneducated peasant sold into service. She is harsh, violent, and a
survivor. Horrible things happen – yet the girl is never raped and remains ‘pure’
through to the very end. It’s all gritty, dark and grim. There are very real conflicts,
there is betrayal and death. Characters are wounded and they rise and fall from
tragic archetypes to simple folly, though the usual, the obvious, doesn’t
happen. There is much that can be said to all this – Bullington’s writing is
layered with thematic depth and historical context. And frankly, I didn’t get it
(at least not all of it). I typically consider that a good thing as it shows
the book has deeper context and meaning than can be easily gained. And for that
context, I recommend reading Indrapramit Das’s review over at Strange Horizons,
it goes farther and deeper than I could ever hope to.
So far this
review has meandered, only hinted at plot and character, and gained and lost
momentum. In this, it mirrors The Folly
of the World. The Folly of the World
starts out fast, slows in the middle, only to pick up pace again toward the
end. In all honesty, I almost did not finish this book. I kept waiting to see
where the book was going, when that twist would occur. One twist occurred, and the
second I kept waiting for felt like it never happened. Yes there were events
and happens of importance to the story, but not at the level I was expecting
(or hoping for?). With less than a hundred pages until the end I put the book
down and seriously questioned whether I should bother continuing. I wish I
could say that I felt that I had to know the end, but really I only continued
because I felt that I had put in a lot of time already and just a bit more to
finish it off made sense. I simply didn’t care – the title indicates that it’s
the folly of the World, perhaps indicating a story of great significance to the
world itself. It’s not. In fact it’s barely even significant in the dusty
forgotten historical context it’s presented in. It’s only significant to the
actual characters of the book.
I think this fits with the book. The book is folly, it’s the folly of humanity.
It’s about unexpected love and dedication. It shows that what is important and
significant varies greatly by perspective. It’s a book that the reader must
love to hate and hate to love. It’s a
book that works best when one can’t decide if it should be finished or not.
That’s the folly of the book as well as the story within.
Did I enjoy The Folly of the World? That’s an answer
I’m still searching for, but overall I think I can only say marginally. Do I appreciate
The Folly of the World? Yes, Yes,
YES. What Bullington does in this book is masterful, especially in the context
of the conversation occurring in genre right now around grimdark, what it is
and what, if any, value it brings. It’s a harsh truth, it’s a lot of harsh
truths, it’s folly, it’s no easy journey to take, and not everyone will finish
it. This only increases the ultimate value, if not necessarily its overall