Book review: Lord of Mountains

Every time I introduce a Pagan to the Emberverse series by SM Stirling, they curse my name.

This is not an unusual reaction and it’s one shared by non-Pagans, too.  I’ve lost seven copies of the first book in the series, Dies the Fire, because the persons who borrowed them from me lent them out to others.  And so on.  Then they all curse my name for turning them on to such an addictive series.  The series is addictive to Pagans because it spells out one of our fantasies – what would it be like if our religions were dominate in the community we live in?  Or at least one of the dominate religions? If our rituals, our ethics, our Gods were unabashedly the norm and seen as positive and vibrant and diverse.

The series primarily focuses on how the characters survive the loss of 600 years of technological progress after an event called The Change happens, which causes electricity, guns, explosives, and other methods of power production to stop working.  Approximately 90% of the population dies off and small bands of survivors form around charismatic leaders.  Some of those leaders are Wiccans and Heathens. Others are not.  (You’ll be amazed at what a troop of Eagle Scouts turns into)  What was the modern United States is now a splintering of isolated communities that look to the past for inspiration and knowledge of how to survive.

Book review for Tears of the Sun
Authors Books Change Opinions about Paganism

Lord of Mountains, the 9th book in this series, continues to paint our fantasy with likable and realistic Pagan (and many non-Pagan) characters set a generation after The Change.

Book:  Lord of Mountains
Author:  SM Stirling
Publisher: Roc
336 pages, Hardcover

This title will be released on September 4, 2012.

Available in hardcover, Kindle, and Nook, and audio book/CD formats.

Lord of Mountains is structured differently than any of the other books in the series.  Almost 2/3rds of the book is concentrated on a few critical days in the middle of a war for humanity’s very survival.  The remaining 1/3 is filled with short glimpses and vignettes of the aftermath.   Forming a true kingdom out of scattered and very diverse communities.  It’s also, as is often the case in this series, filled with magic.

Wiccan Rudi Mackenzie and Catholic Mathilda Arminger continue to be the main characters in this novel, but like the previous book (Tears of the Sun) Lord of Mountains is expanding on lesser known characters while it advances towards the final conclusion of the entire 10 book series.  It’s also, through dramatic scenes towards the end, opening up the series for two other  possible trilogies.  Most of the book takes place in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which is now called Montival.

After being on the defensive and losing considerable territory, Montival, under High King Rudi and High Queen Mathilda, have won a few battles against the villains of the tale, the Church Universal and Triumphant. Now we are ready for the decisive battle, the one that could drive the invaders out of Montival. If they are successful, the dream of a united realm covering much of Central and Western US has a chance.  If not, it’s not just Montival that will suffer.  Yet even with the stakes this high unity is hard to achieve and some community leaders are willing to put personal ambition and petty arguments before survival.  Rudi and Mathilda solve this by taking part in a ritual ceremony that bind them and their descendants to the people(and the ancestors) and the land.

“The land has accepted us, the ancestors and the Powers,” [Rudi] said.  “Our blood has been bound to the land and the folk, and so it shall remain so long as our line does – unless the sea rise and drown us, or the sky fall and crush us, or the world end.”

This book is the deep breath before the final plunge, but it doesn’t feel like you’re treading water.  The battle scenes are pivotal and you relish the opportunity to get closer acquainted with minor characters who are obviously essential in the final book.  There is also a death that is heavily foreshadowed, and yet hits you like a ton of bricks.  SM Stirling is not as brutal in killing off scores main characters as George R.R. Martin, but he doesn’t shy away from it, either.  Stirling provides a valuable, and confident, service to his readers that I wish more authors would provide – he posts 1/3 to 1/2 of each book he writes online as a sample.  You can try before you buy.  You will buy.

As usual, SM Stirling delivers a rich world readers want to live in.  Fully formed and alive characters you wish you could drink a beer with or follow into battle.  Because of the diversity of cultures you experience in the series, there’s somewhere for every person to dream about, there’s a home for you in the Emberverse.  When Pagans attend festivals attendees shout “Welcome home!” to them.  Because they are home, they are where their people are.  Every time you open one of Stirling’s Emberverse books the characters shout, “Welcome home!”  These books are where your people are.

Editor’s note:  I was provided an advance reader’s copy of the book for the purpose of writing a review.  

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Book Review: Christian Day’s The Witches’ Book of the Dead

By Star Foster, Pagan Portal Manager of Patheos.com

I don’t generally bother to review books I don’t think I’ll care for, especially with a stack of books I actually want to read waiting on me. Not being Christian Day’s biggest fan, I was reluctant to read The Witches’ Book of the Dead but I was intrigued by some of the reviews as much as I was repelled by others. So I read it, and here’s my opinion of it. Make of it what you will.

The Witches’ Book of the Dead
Christian Day
Weiser Book
$14.96
288 pages
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Book review: Walk Like A God

Walk Like A God, by Drew Jacob, sounds like a book that should be on every Pagan’s book shelf.  After all, right on the cover it says “how to have powerful spiritual moments with no church and no dogma,” which is what Pagans do every day of our lives.  The book is not a Pagan book, it’s a book that could be read and utilized by any person, religious or not.  It is also a book that could anger any person, religious or not.  Walk Like A God challenges you, making you face deeply held beliefs you never even knew you had, and challenge is not always a soothing experience.

Title:  Walk Like A God

Author: Drew Jacob

Price:  $8 in eBook format

Available:  Only on-line

The book is short, it clocks in at 86 pages, but it is devoid of fluff and filler that other authors place in their books to up the page count.  The lay-out s spacious and makes good use of imagery.  If you’ve read the Rogue Priest website, than you’ll have a good idea of how the book lay-out feels.    Reading the book I was struck by the way information is presented.  It’s very hands-on with specific ideas, tips, and suggestions on how a person can seek and travel down their own spiritual path.

Notice I am using the word ‘spiritual’ and never religious in regards to Drew’s book.  That’s because atheists will be just as (if not more) comfortable reading Walk Like A God than any theist.  That is the book’s blessing and curse.  The appeal is widened as it is written for a much more inclusive audience than polytheists like Drew, but the idea of living a spiritual life without faith in a higher power of some type pissed me off at times.  I realize that people do live spiritual and ethical lives without being a theist of some flavor and I have no problem with what others do in their lives, but the Gods are the center of my spiritual life.  I can also understand and support the idea that you can live a connected life full of amazing experiences without religion, but Drew’s book goes a bit further and excludes the Gods, not just organized religion.

That concept is the part that will both attract and challenge many Pagans and readers of other religious flavors.  But if you accept the challenge, you will benefit.

Once you stop looking at the book as a guide to spirituality and start reading it as a very practical how-to on living a fuller, richer, and more joyous life, you start to get into the groove and see how the steps Drew leads you through can change your life.  How to become more loving and connected to other people.  You’ll see nature as truly sacred and not just the lip service many of us pay to idea.  You’ll go outside your comfort zone to experience how adventure can become a core personal growth practice.  This book is meant, in short, to transform your life.

Does it?  It can.  If you are willing to have an open mind, an open heart, and are willing to get up off your ass.  Frankly, that puts many of us out of the running.  We aren’t willing to do much of anything other than be wage slaves and allow our time and minds to be sucked away watching tv.  But if you are ready to make serious, deep, and profound changes in your life by taking a walk in the woods – get this book and go live the life you dreamed of when you were a small child and hadn’t yet given up.

As for what Drew is up to next?  He’s practicing what he preaches.  He’s going to walk across two continents to meet the Gods.

Book Review: Tears of the Sun

This installment in the Emberverse series adds depth to the narrative, further develops familiar friends, introduces new characters, and contains a hero’s death. Mild spoilers.

Book:  Tears of the Sun
Author:  SM Stirling
Publish Date:  September 2011
Sample Chapters
Buy the book:  Amazon and Barnes & Noble
Author’s Yahoo Group
Previous PNC coverage of SM Stirling: Author’s Books Change Opinions About Paganism
WitchVox article:  Creating a Wican Tribe

Background on the series:  A mysterious event happens across the globe that results in 90% of the population dying within one year through starvation and disease. Electricity, gun powder, cars, all the things that make modern life possible stop working. These books could have come across as grim, but the author focuses on how humans band together and not only survive, but thrive in this new world they find themselves in. The books contain classic fantasy elements, but the setting and the characters are not. They are your friends and neighbors and is set in towns you live and work in.

Those that survive The Change (as the event becomes known) band together in small, isolated groups and form new, surprising cultures. After living through the horrors of those early days, people push their immediate past into the land of myths and mine myths for ways to reinvent their lives. A professor of medieval history and his SCA friends use feudal England as a model for a new society. It turns out being handy with a sword is valuable in a world where guns no longer work. A soldier turned devout monk is elevated to Abbot and the abbey becomes a fortress to guard the flock from roving bands of cannibals. Teenagers infatuated with Tolkin grow into serious scouts and caravan guards as the Dundain Rangers. Iowa, due to its ability to feed its population, becomes the most powerful area left in the old United States. Bib overalls and a feed cap become the dress of the upper class and Farmer is a title of respect. An Army officer in Boise dreams of holding the United States together and preserving the Constitution, but instead recreates the Roman Legions. A pseudo-Celtic clan is formed in Oregon when a community coalesces around a Wiccan coven with a Bard and powerful witch as a High Priestess. The Lakota once again follow the ways and Gods of their ancestors and the buffalo number in the millions.

 Tears of the Sun takes place 25 years (and 7 books) after The Change. The main hero, Rudi Mackenzie, has fulfilled his quest to find the fabled Sword of the Lady, but now he has a war to fight and win. The maxim “As above, so below” is lived out as the Gods – all of them – walk the earth and weigh in on the war. After all, the fight is really Theirs being played out among men. The book follows the leaders of the Dundain Rangers as they plan a daring rescue in the very heart of enemy territory and goes back in time a bit to cover the events happening back in the newly formed High Kingdom of Montival (formerly the NE Untied States and parts of the Midwest). Much needed information is filled in and the plot action helps advance the series, but it isn’t the action scenes that steal the show in Tears of the Sun – it’s the death of a main character and the development of another.

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Book Review – A Guide to Pagan Camping

I’m lucky.  I have read Lori Dake’s Pagan camping tips on Livejournal for the past year.  I was one of those who encouraged her to compile all these ideas and suggestions, which she has been writing for over ten years, into a book and get it out there so others can benefit from her experience.  And now she has.

A Guide To Pagan Camping: Festival Tips, Tricks, and Trappings does an excellent job of going beyond the basics of camping and addresses the special needs of our community as we head off to Pagan festivals.  This book would be of most value to anyone who is either new to camping in general or new to Pagan festicals, but readers who are moderately experienced in camping or festivals would be glad of some of the tips.  After all, anything that allows for greater comfort while camping or saves you money is worth checking out.  (see the Not-So Hidden Costs of Pagan Festivals chapter)  I can’t say I’m an old pro at festival camping, but I’ve been to Pagans festivals for just over five years and have been camping since I was a child.  I consider myself an experienced camper, yet I still learned a great deal from Lori.  I can’t wait to try out the recipe she says is a sure-fire for the festival potluck!

Can’t decide what Pagan festival to go to?  Read the section on choosing the right festival for your needs and budget.    Wondering what gear to pack?  Lori will walk you through that.  I appreciate that A Guide to Pagan Camping is also concerned with helping you make your camping area stylish.  Gods, that is missing from so many camping books!  Really practical things like using the prevailing winds to help you decide where to set up your kitchen and packing three pairs of shoes are sprinkled throughout.  Considering being a vendor?  Lori covers how to decide if vending is really for you and tips on how to maximize profit.

Topics specific to Pagan festivals are tackled.  Things like sexuality, nudity, and personal boundaries.  I had to laugh when I read the bit about being kind to your neighbors by realizing that we can hear what happens in your tent.  We’ll try to pretend we don’t, but if we hear (like Lori and her husband did) you yell “Come on, Fuck me, Damnit” and your partner is yelling back “I don’t feel like it” over and over throughout the night, we’ll giggle at first and then lose all patience with you by 4am.  Also seeing ink are ritual etiquette tips and ideas on how to make your camp space a temporary sacred space.  Pagans are individuals and many have …. forthright … personalities.  How do you deal with that in a way that doesn’t ruin your festival?  Lori’s suggestion,  Refuse, defuse, and confuse – which she then explains with examples.   This gives you an idea of her easy to remember problem solving style that is seen through out the book.

I’m a big eBook advocate so I was thrilled that the book was first released in eBook format and is on sale for 50% off until March 12th. The print version of the book is now also available.  If you love Pagan festival camping, or are curious about going to one, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

For a previous interview with Lori Dake about her book, please go here.