Asni: Multimedia Art & Design
The Ghost in the Machine
BRAND NEW MUSIC! Dwarven Dub now available for digital download: CD Baby ** Amazon MP3 * iTunes
Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography
- In this newsletter:
- *** The Ghost in the Machine
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Margaret Mahy
- *** Pirates, Vampires, and Tall Dark Strangers, pt 2
The Ghost in the Machine
Does anybody know a good reliable web hosting service which is run by people who actually know what they are doing and with whom it is possible to communicate meaningfully, and which one can also afford? Please let me know. I mean that. I am in the process of moving this site to a new server, with a New Zealand based web hosting company – but so far the transfer hasn't happened, though I was expecting to be done with it by the middle of last week. It may well be that by the time I get to send out this newsletter, the site will be offline, and I better hope that I'll be able to get it online again speedily. After the experiences I have had over the past year with a selection of other New Zealand based web hosting so called services, I am not too sanguine. So if you click the "read online" link in your email version, and get a "page not found", please try again in a day or two. Meanwhile, we can pray. I suppose.
I would have seen no need to move the site at all, but these last two months I've had a genuinely Kafkaesque experience with a certain well known web hosting provider in Germany, where my site has so far been hosted – though out of fairness, I should perhaps add, that in the ten years I've now had the site, this is the first time there has been a serious problem. I don't want to bore my readers with all the details, but let's just say, I draw the line at getting mystery amounts of money booked from my account which I have never authorized, not being able to communicate meaningfully over the issue, and then being systematically prevented from cancelling my services there. I don't know if it's down to very questionable business practices, or if they've had a bug eating their system, but in either case, I figure it is time to gather my belongings and get outta there quick!
News & Current Projects
CD Baby gave me a coupon to register a single track for their digital distribution programme for free, so I went and uploaded Dwarven Dub – the result of playing around with the audio programmes on my laptop and remixing one of my own tunes, Dwarven Blues, one of the tracks from my Travels in Middle Earth CD. I created this remix a couple of years ago, the first summer I was in Featherston, it must have been. It was originally intended for a sampler of Tolkien-inspired music to be published by an enthusiastic fan in France, but so far the compilation has not been released, or at least I haven't heard about it. They might have run out of money. It happens.
So I thought, heck, time the track was available in some form or shape, after all the work I've had with it! What you hear is the original studio recording of the harp tune (played on metal strung, little medieval style clarsach), without the sounds-of-water track that accompanies it on the CD, but wrapped in an accompaniment of digitally manipulated sounds. The percussive noises are done with a couple of (genuine Middle-earthian!) river rocks I found by the river up the road: looped, and chased through a few filters. The ethereal, flute-y sounds you can hear at the beginning of the track, are the reverb of the harp strings, with the attack noise cut off! I bet you'd never have known that that's what a harp sounds like. I was a bit surprised myself, though I did have an inkling. :)
Then I took this mix – so far, entirely based on acoustic sounds – and recorded some sampled-instrument accompaniment tracks in Garageband – and yes, that big boom toward the end is the sound of thunder! Such a nice toy, a computer. :D
My digital downloads have taken a remarkable upswing this month! They'd been slowly edging up from around $10 to around $ 15 a month, but last time I looked, I'd made another $ 23 since my last $30-ish payment a couple of weeks ago – with downloads from iTunes Europe, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Australia. I hope it's not just because of their billing cycle: let's hope the trend continues! Can't think of a better source of income to have.
So far, the single most downloaded track is Tale as Old as Time from the 700 Years of Pop CD – of course, this *must* be one out of two tracks for which I was told I need to pay for an additional digital download license, to sell them in the US (which eats a good portion of what I'm paid per track), but I've already run out of my first 50 licenses, and at the end of the day I make more money from a track that is downloaded 50 times and pays me 40 cent, than from a track that is downloaded 5 times and pays me 70 cent. You do the maths! :)
What with the sudden need to move my website, and a few other distractions involving possible new sources of income (fingers crossed!) – I haven't been able to finalize the Middle Earth New Zealand calendar designs just yet, but I have made a start, and will continue working on them in the next couple of weeks. I will send a separate notification email when they'll be available – probably around the middle of next month.
London Art College assignment: Colliding Spacecraft
I have to admit that when I first got the course material for my London Art College Science Fiction and Fantasy Art certificate, and read that one of the assignments was going to be "colliding spacecraft", I rolled my eyes heavenward and wondered if I was really cut out to be a science fiction and fantasy illustrator. But in the event, I had a lot of fun with this particular assignment, precisely because it was so out of line with what I would naturally feel drawn to draw. I'm really pleased with how it turned out, and here is the feedback I got:
"Excellent use of perspective to create drama and really nice to see you using harder more metallic forms in contrast to your usual impressive flora and fauna abilities! Also excellent to see you using b/w so well...not every artist can work effectively in colour and b/w...really high quality cross hatching work here, and this could definitely be a suitable illustration for a sci fi novel.....it has enough detail to be illustrative but is also 'grown up' enough to fit into an adult/intellectual book. I like the layers of detail in the backstory....very timely environmental theme too....probably my favourite piece of yours so far in fact. well done!"
The two prune plum trees have safely arrived in a mail bag with their roots (what roots there were) wrapped in straw, and been promptly put in the ground. I hope they will find their new home to their liking! This garden is really taking shape now. I have continued buying useful things from off-shelves: the passion fruit vine has been joined by a second one, for all of dollar two – it had a kink, but was not broken, and after propping it up carefully it seems to be healing itself and continue to grow – at least so far, the leaves haven't dried up and fallen off, and there are a couple of new shoots from the ground up anyway, even should the main vine not survive. I also acquired a sad looking tamarillo shoot, which is even more sad looking after a couple of strong gales, and a few nights of frost we've had, but still hanging in there, sprouting a new leaf or two at the top.
Let's hope the weather continues as mild as it has been for the last week or so! It's hard to believe it is only the second half of July: it's positively hot for the season, and the first of my daffodils have already been blossoming for a week. I haven't had to light a fire during the day for nearly a week now, the sun keeps the house plenty warm, when it shines.
The seedling production is in full swing – I was tempted by the warm weather to plant out my onion shoots already, because they didn't look as if they wanted to be in a seed tray for another month, but of course, the next night there was a frost... still, they don't seem to have all died yet, and judging from the leeks and spring onions I still find shooting up in odd places from last year's planting, those are pretty hardy plants. Besides, I have another pack of onion seeds, so no fear of going onion-less this year! I guess it's about time to start digging new beds for the spring planting, as long as the ground is rain sogged and easy to dig. And find out what I need to do about that garden pond! I want it big enough so I can keep a couple of goldfish. For my emotional needs, and to work my way up to chickens.
Last week, New Zealand lost one of its most cherished writers: Margaret Mahy died on Monday, 23 July, aged 76. I would like to be able to write a proper, personal obituary, but I have to admit that so far, I haven't read any of her books. I cannot think whyever not. Put it down to laziness, or lack of time!
Wikipedia describes her as "a New Zealand author of children's and young adult books. Many of her story plots have strong supernatural elements but her writing concentrates on the themes of human relationships and growing up. She wrote more than 100 picture books, 40 novels and 20 collections of short stories. She was one of thirty writers to win the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, for her lasting contribution to children's literature."
That should be, as the saying goes, "right up my alley". I guess I'll have some more reading to do – once I am done with the M. M. Kaye reading project I have recently embarked on! I'll make sure to report back. Perhaps one or other of my readers will feel inspired to go to the library and pick up one of her books! Sounds like they are well worth it. At least, that's what everyone else seems to be saying. :)
Pirates, Vampires, and Tall Dark Strangers – Part 2
The middle of winter is a good time to take virtual trips to tropical islands: I'm not sure if it was brought on by reading about other people's kink, or simply by the bad weather, but I developed a sudden craving to sit by the fireside and re-read one of my favourite romance novels from way back when I was a teenager. M. M. Kaye's historical novel Trade Wind is set in mid-19th century Zanzibar, which was at the time one of the last bastions of the African slave trade. The novel hovers somewhere in between serious, well-researched historical fiction, and all-out bodice ripper. No 50 Shades of Grey by any stretch, but about as "trashy" as I ever go in my reading habits.
"I like to write books that are like beautiful cakes with files inside – the get-out-of-jail kind of file" – that's a quote from Rebecca Wells, the author of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. But it could equally well apply to M. M. Kaye.
When I wrote, a month ago, that "M. M. Kaye is an author whom I find hard to place on the continuum between literature and trashiness", I clearly hadn't done my homework. Or I was falling for what I now think is deliberate camouflage: much like certain types of fantasy and science fiction are deliberate camouflage, to express ideas which are often far more radical than anything one finds in more "respectable" genres of literature – for those who know how to read between the lines. Having spent another month musing about this article, and trying to unravel all the many and complex layers of levels of meaning on which I suddenly began to perceive one can read this story, I feel like I should explicitly and publicly apologize for ever even mentioning this book in the context of "trash". I feel stupid, because evidently it was me who has so far failed to read it properly.
But it is sold to us like that: the lurid cover illustrations, the synopses which make it out to be a tale of exotic adventure involving dashing pirates, palace intrigues, Arab princesses, ripped petticoats, stacks of cursed gold, ships sailing off into glorious sunsets, and a feisty damsel who sets out to fight slavery but winds up having to "choose her love and unravel her destiny", clearly place this book as "just another bodice ripper". And it is true that Trade Wind, more perhaps than M. M. Kaye's two other historical novels, is full of what seem to be conventional scenes, plot developments, and character types we expect to find in a certain type of not-very-literary-ambitious writing: it is entirely possible to read and enjoy Trade Wind on that level. I have done so for the past 30 years. Though I suppose I must always have wondered what that strange rough metal aftertaste was. Otherwise, I would hardly have felt compelled to read and re-read this particular novel again and again, and number it among my most beloved books. And while I have always found the story very emotionally satisfying in a chocolate-cake-for-the-soul kind of way – much like Jane Austen's or Charlotte Brontë's writings – the plot has never sat entirely easy.
For while the writer expertly juggles the character and plot elements she has inherited from a couple of centuries of romance novel writing, she also questions them at every turn. She twists them around and then laughs at us, defying expectations we didn't even realize we had, daring us to look behind the conventional phrasing and the surface glitter, to take another look at the all too familiar scenes and situations, and telling a story that is so radically different from the usual plot that it took me, who considers herself an experienced reader with a fairly solid level of reading-between-the-lines skills, a couple of months of chewing it over, to even begin to figure out what story it is that this book *really* tells.
The story it tells is one about prejudice and double standards, cultural blindfolds, guilt and what we construe as guilt, forgivenness and what we can or cannot forgive. About freedom, and the price we have to pay for freedom. About getting out of jail – all the jails we make for ourselves, and the doors we could walk out of, if we only realized they were open. It's about the baffling complexity of the relationships between East and West, owners and owned, men and women. It is one of the most bitter denunciations of the Western colonial mindset I have ever read.
And yes, it is also about love – the whole messy, bungling, hurtful, fearful process of two people working out their feelings about and for each other, and what it is they can give each other, that comes with no guarantee of ultimate success. It's the story of a young woman who looses her innocence – in every sense of the word – and who is not punished for it: on the contrary, it makes her a better and fuller person. That makes it a story which hasn't been told (much) since Adam and Eve.
It does not come along preaching and pointing. It does not hand opinions or solutions to the reader on a silver plate. Nothing Is Ever That Simple. It challenges us to come face to face with our own preconceptions, prejudices and cultural blindfolds (as I have found to my shame!), in the very way it is written.
But first, let me introduce M. M. Kaye: Born in Simla, which was at the time British India, in 1908, as the daughter of a well respected British colonial government official and a party loving socialite mother, Mary Margaret – or "Molly" Kaye spent the first 10 years of what appears to have been a singularly happy childhood speaking Hindustani better than English, and assuming she was unequivocally Indian – " just a different caste", as she puts it. That illusion was shattered brutally when she and her sister where sent to England to attend boarding school, were they were the constant subject of bullying, on account of their "foreignness". No wonder, then, that identity crises and questions of cultural belonging play such an important part in her fiction!
M. M. Kaye is the author of several children's books – The Ordinary Princess is the best known by far – as well as a series of Agatha-Christie-esque whodunits, and three historical novels. The other two, Shadow of the Moon, and her best known (and bestselling) work, The Far Pavilions, are set in 19th century British India, which she was particularly well qualified to write about – her family had been living in India and serving the British colonial administration for several generations. In the 1990's she published a memoir in three volumes, Share of Summer.
All three of her historical novels are based at least in part on her own original research into areas of history which are not generally given much weight in the history books. For he two Indian novels, she was able to draw on childhood memories of places where some of the significant events of the Indian Mutiny took place, and being told their history by the local people, from the Indian point of view – as well as memories handed down in her own family (one of her ancestors co-wrote the authoritative British history of the Mutiny). She also seems to have made a habit of seeking out and reading obscure and half-forgotten history books she found on local library shelves in far flung places: Trade Wind is based, among other sources, on out-of-print books on the slave trade, the Arabs from Oman, and eyewitness accounts of the 1870's cholera epidemic, which she found on the bottom shelf of the library of the British Club in Zanzibar, and on the memoirs of Emily Rüte, aka Salamah bint Saïd, Sayyida Salme, Princess of Zanzibar and Oman, a daughter of Sultan Saïd, who eloped with a German trade representative, Heinrich Rüte – he died in an accident a few years later, leaving her stranded in Hamburg with three small children (she features as a character in the book – and these days, her memoirs are available on the internet).
M. M. Kaye started her artistic career as a painter – she trained at art school, and worked as an illustrator with an artist collective in London in the late 1930's, selling Christmas card designs and doing book illustrations to supplement the more than meagre government pension she received after her father's death. She began writing because she felt she could do it at least as well as some of the books she was given to illustrate, and it paid more money! With the pay cheque she received from her first published novel, she bought a one way passage back to India, where her sister was married and living in Simla. There she began writing whodunits, set in various interesting and exotic locations she had the opportunity to visit during her well-traveled life.
In her autobiography, M M Kaye writes at length about the many balls and social occasions she had attended as a young girl living in 1920's British India, where the explicit expectation was that she would use those opportunities to find herself a "good match". She writes derisively about what she calls the "Fishing Fleet", young British ladies who came out to India with the explicit purpose of finding a well-to-do husband – and the detailed instructions she herself was given by one of the fleet's members, on how to accomplish this! Molly herself, being desperately shy and possessed of a very poor self image – and also, one might assume, rather too independent minded to make good wife material in that vein! – failed to live up to this expectation, and remained unmarried until, in her early thirties, she fell madly in love with a man called Goff, a British army officer whom she met in Kashmir. He was married at the time but subsequently obtained a divorce, and married her. It appears that the couple did not wait for the divorce papers to come through, though, and their first child was born before they could marry. The (scarce) biographical information about the author which one can find on the internet is, understandably, a bit coy on this point, and gives different dates for when the marriage took place. I mention it here because it does cast an interesting light on some of her plot developments – not to mention her attitudes toward conventional morality, or at least the type of "propriety" we now all to easily associate with women of her nationality, age, and class – quite forgetting all about where and when this whole feminist thing got started! :)
Financial success came late in her life – she was 70 when The Far Pavilions went bestseller in 1978, and was made into a TV mini series, first broadcast in 1984. Subsequently, all her other historical novels and mysteries were revised and re-published. She continued to write until well into her nineties, and died only fairly recently, in 2004. She did get to return to India, which she has always considered her home, in the end: according to her wishes, her ashes were scattered in Lake Piccola in Udaipur – a place she had visited in the 1970's while doing research for The Far Pavillions. In 2005, a West End musical version of The Far Pavillions premiered in London, starring Bollywood playback singer Gayatri Iyer as Anjuli. The book has also been turned into a BBC radio play, and there are rumours about a Hindi language film version being in the works, this time produced in India. That should please her!
I first read Trade Wind when I was about fourteen, and it must have been one of the first, if not *the* first, adult romance novel I have ever read. I was living in São Paulo, Brazil, at the time, and a friend, who had got hold of a pre-release copy of the German translation of the 1981 revised re-edition, lent it to me. It struck an instant chord, for its inside-knowledge descriptions of the idiosyncracies of the small society of 19th century European and American diplomatic and trade representatives in Zanzibar, which was so uncannily similar to the German expat society I was living amongst then. And for the character of the heroine: at the time I was just as naive, and just as full of well-meaning intentions to save the world, and just as pampered and protected, and probably just as obnoxious, as Hero is when she sets out for Zanzibar. And I saw events and other characters very much through her eyes.
I'd spent those years in Brazil reading myself through every science fiction and popular science book on the shelves of our school library, as well as a range of "young adult fiction", mostly of the fantasy kind, which I picked up at the German book store in Brooklyn: visits there were always a special treat for us. Generally, these were books where adventure was more important than romance, though a few of the science fiction novels did contain a bit of interesting inside-sleeping-bags action once in a while. They tended to embarrass me. I hadn't quite graduated to "adult reading" just yet, and was sublimely uninterested in most of the, what I thought of as soppy, boy-meets-girl soap opera stuff some of my classmates were reading. A teacher once thought he did me a favour by setting me one of those books as an assignment. It was a punishment. I would rather have read Buddenbrocks. (Actually, when I did read Buddenbrocks, I thought it terrifically boring, and only dogged persistence carried me through to the end. Thomas Mann's short stories are fascinating stuff, though. Especially the ones about incest and pedofilia – all of it highly artistically sublimated, of course :P).
Since I was thus utterly innocent of the conventions of romance novels, I was glued to the pages of Trade Wind, not even sure which "happy end" I was supposed to hope for – but desperately needing to find out if the heroine really was in love with the man I thought she was (or should be) in love with, even though she kept saying she hated him. That was a new concept to me. Ever since, I've hoped to meet a man I'd hate at first sight. ;)
Hero Hollis is a beautiful, wealthy, well connected, and very spoilt young heiress from Boston, who takes a strong and active interest in reform, in particular the abolition of slavery. She sets out for Zanzibar, a place she has dreamed of going to since a child, and where her uncle now happens to be the American consul: ostensibly in order to marry her good looking cousin-by-marriage Clayton Mayo, but in reality, with plans to singlehandedly rid the island of the problems of poverty and bad sanitation, and put on end to the slave trade, of which Zanzibar, mid-19th century, was one of the last strongholds.
Hero is also strongminded and determined, and serious enough about her purpose not only to read up on and inform herself about the pertinent topics as thoroughly as she is able, but also to acquire some hands-on training in nursing, by volunteering at a local charity hospital (much to the dismay of her family), before she sets out. These qualities, along with an utter lack of feminine pliability and flirtatiousness, have ensured that despite her fortune, social position, and outstanding beauty, at the ripe age of 22 she has had no other suitors besides Clayton: and even he hasn't so far been allowed to kiss her properly!
Had I first read the book at a more ripe and experienced age, I would likely have seen Hero as other characters in the book see her: as a little bit obnoxious, and very, very, *very* innocent and naive. Re-reading the book now, my memory of my previous reading got in the way, and it took me a while to realize that what Hero sees and thinks, is not always at all what the author sees and thinks, or wants us to see and think – especially when it comes to Hero's perceptions of the male protagonist! We are offered the option to see things Hero's way, though – and I am sure I am not the only reader who took that option, at least initially. It meshes far more comfortably with the preconceptions of what I assume would be M. M. Kaye's largest readership, than what the author is meanwhile gently and unobtrusively showing us about the character and actions of her main man.
A more experienced reader would have realized instantly, that the primo uomo was going to be not Clayton Mayo, but Rory Frost, the convention-defying, black sheep former slave trader who fishes Hero out of the ocean when she goes overboard in a storm, entirely due to her own lack of cautiousness. But for the best part of the novel, he is pitched as the antagonist, representing all the evils Hero has come to fight – and my 14 year old self was most definitely fooled!
Rory fits the pattern of the morally ambiguous, potentially dangerous stranger who tries to tempt the ingenue heroine from the path of virtue, in many ways, but unlike the Mr Rochesters and Heathcliffs of old, or our modern day vampires, he is not a gloomy, tormented soul, and he is not dark: physically, he is described as tall, wiry, and fair haired, with conspicuously pale eyes. Not unattractive, but not remarkably handsome, or strong. He's also a good deal older than Hero – in his mid-30's – and has lived in Zanzibar for many years: an advantage in experience which is one of the major points around which the plot revolves. Rory isn't Prometheus or Lucifer, revolting violently against society's moral constraints and the torments of his own guilty conscience – but rather a relative of Koyote, and a great grandson of cunning Ulisses: He simply doesn't take them, or life, too seriously. Very much unlike Hero! The very first thing she notices about him, is that he laughs a lot, and, to her mind, always at the wrong moments: For instance, when he and his crew pull her on board, half drowned, and Rory, shouting with laughter, remarks that they have caught "A mermaid!"
But in the venerable tradition of the romance novel, Rory Frost is also a damaged soul, and a disinherited prince: the son of English gentry from Kent, he suffered through a loveless childhood, subject to all kinds of gratuitous cruelty at the hands of those given charge of his upbringing: especially his uncle, who cheats him out of his inheritance, and drives him to run away, at age 15, to go to sea and live by his own wits. He manages to recover a small portion of the family fortune for himself by stealing it, with the aid of Batty Potter, an experienced professional thief whom he picks up on London's Cheapside, and who becomes his surrogate family, "Uncle Batty" – along with the multicultural crew and household he assembles around him, all fiercely loyal to him and to each other. They include Zorah, an Arab girl whom he once bought from a slave trader in a fit of pity when she was still a child, and who was brought up in his household and eventually became his mistress (one of Rory's more questionable life decisions!) – and Amrah, their little daughter.
By the time we meet Rory, he is the captain and owner of his own trading vessel, the "Virago", and owns two houses on Zanzibar: his town house, the "House of Dolphins", and the seaside retreat Kivulimi, the "House of Shade", a gift from the previous Sultan, Saïd: Rory once, rather accidentally, saved his life. He has quite a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and for accidentally saving people's lives, without any dashing heroism on his part: Hero got entangled in his ship's torn rigging after she fell overboard from her own ship, and he just had to haul her in. There is an air about Rory of being Fortune's favourite child, or even a little bit blessed. He probably knows what it means to dance on the garden paths of the sun.
He is more of a rock star, and a gambler, rather than a hardened criminal. He lives life to the hilt, and he takes delight in provoking the stiff upper lip of the white society which treats him as a pariah, but he sticks to a moral code of his own design – informed, no doubt, by his wide-ranging reading habits: the books Hero finds in his ship's cabin include three different translations of the Odyssey (of course!), the Koran, Talmud, Apocrypha, and the writings of Confucius, the works of Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott, and several well-perused volumes of Elisabethan poetry. These days, he would probably have been a fan of Doctor Who!
He is certainly a notorious character – Hero is first told about him on her voyage out, and immediately casts him in her mind as a "pirate", which is pretty much the way the rest of the white community also regard him: They've let their imagination run wild with regard not only to his alleged crimes, but his dissolute lifestyle. When Hero finally arrives in Zanzibar, she finds that she is in danger of being regarded as "having lost her virtue" on account of simply being on his ship! But Rory's main aim in life is rather a bit more humdrum than the lawless romanticism other people's imaginations have endowed him with: He wants to make enough money so he can go back to England and sue his uncle and cousins out of the family estate – and he isn't too concerned about the means by which he achieves this goal.
We are told that in the past he has bought and sold slaves, though we never see him do anything of the sort during the course of the narrative. The local representatives of British authority regard Rory as a blotch on their national pride, and dog his heels relentlessly, hoping to catch him red-handed. They consistently fail to succeed – be it because of Rory's elaborate networks of mutual assistance and concealment among the local trading community, or because he does not in fact do most of the things he is being suspected of. We do see him smuggle a consignment of rifles, but later learn that there was an ulterior motive behind this transaction, besides the huge profit it brings: unfortunately, due to Hero's unknowing intervention, Rory's best laid plans backfire, and the consequences are disastrous.
While the white "high society" on Zanzibar regards Rory as an outcast and untouchable, he has won the respect of the rest of the local trading community (comprised of Arabs, Africans, Indians, and various other Asian nationals), and the personal friendship of the current Sultan, Majid, who turns to him for advice, as well as plain companionship. Rory is also, throughout the book, presented as someone who is very aware of, and compassionate about other people's physical and emotional needs, and who is capable of getting furiously angry when witnessing injustice or random cruelty – even though he does not always act considerately towards others himself. He is certainly not involved in piracy, for all we can tell! On closer inspection, one gets the impression that Rory's chief crime, in the eyes of the white community, is that he chooses to live like an Arab.
In The Ordinary Princess, M. M. Kaye writes about a princess who at her christening, has been given the gift of Ordinariness by one of her fairy godmothers, so that she will be more happy: she is plain and freckled, and when her parents want to hire a dragon so that a prince can rescue and marry her, she hides away in the woods, and eventually takes on a job as a kitchen maid in another castle, where she makes friends with a man-of-all-works, who turns out to be the king of the castle – but they marry anyway.
There are echoes of this plot in Trade Wind: in her own way, Hero is as much an outcast as Rory. She insists on getting involved in reform projects and active benevolence, rather than enjoying the privileges of her station, and rather than "observing propriety", and playing the part of future wife and mother her relatives expect of her. She will find those constraints increasingly chafing, and come to realize that it is Rory who can – and does – offer her a way out. At a price.
If The Ordinary Princess playfully reduces fairy tale stereotypes to absurdity, Trade Wind does the same with the stereotypes of romantic fiction. It's as if the author takes all the most hackneyed story elements and asks, how can I make sense of that in terms of what real people would actually think, feel, or act like? What kind of people would my characters have to be, in order for that to make psychological sense? How would a real person react, when these things happen to them?
To be continued ...
Arohanui, from Asni