Next up: “The Dreaming Tree” by C.J. Cherryh.
Aaaaaaw yeeeeaaaah. So happy to get to this book; I love it so. It’s actually two books re-released as one (“The Dreamstone” and “The Tree of Swords and Jewels”). I’ve never seen the books separately, though, so this has always been just one book in my mind.
Arafel is the last of the Daoine Sidhe, having remained on earth when all her people have faded and gone. She keeps the Ealdwood, the last untouched place… guarding the tree upon which her people had hung their swords and memory stones before they left the mortal world.
Her peace is broken with some separate instances of Men trying to seek safety from enemies in her Ealdwood. Niall, a kingsman, who flees the men who killed his king. And Fionn, the king’s harper, who is pursued by the usurper king. Arafel, against her better judgement, helps both men, entering into the intrigues of Men. Generations pass, and often draw Arafel into their lives and wars.
One of the Men that crosses paths with Arafel in fact turns out to be a halfling, a man with elfin blood. After he uses the sword of the elf prince Liosliath, Arafel gives Liosliath’s dreamstone into his keeping, and helps him against his enemies. Years later, she returns to him to ask for his help. Darkness is overtaking the Ealdwood, a darkness that comes from greater enemies than simply Men.
I love this book. The tone is more solemn and dry than what I usually read, but it has a beautiful storyteller quality– like old fairy tales. And actually, it takes from old Celtic legends of the Daoine Sidhe, the bright ones. I have always loved Celtic fairy tales, taken great interest in fae creatures, some of which make appearances in this story. The book also includes the most prevalent beliefs about the fae– the power of names for instance.
The plot is kind of slow, but I personally was never bored with it, since I’m used to a sort of slow, quiet tone from the old translations of fairy tales I’ve read. It’s almost dream-like, flowing comfortably. It bears some similarity to Juliet Marillier and Robin McKinley’s works, though I think Cherryh’s work is a little more melancholic. The style that this book is written in (and I’ve not read any of Cherryh’s other novels so I don’t know how it compares) fits its contents wonderfully, I think, feeling quiet and slow and dark and mysterious. It gives a great atmosphere to the story. You feel the woods of Eald around you as you read.
Being a story of Celtic legends, it uses a lot of names that are Gaelic (or Goildelic if you prefer), which can be difficult to know how to pronounce (Daoine Sidhe, for example is pronounced ‘thena shee’ or ‘deena shee’). The book provides a key to help, if readers want to know the correct way to say the names. I really appreciate whenever books do this, particularly for Gaelic, and I really like when names aren’t ‘romanized’ too much– Cherryh could have spelled ‘Liosliath’ the way it’s pronounced (‘Leslie’) but that hardly fits the aesthetic, does it? The visuals of the names written the way they were is just as beautiful as the story.