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Retro Friday Review: The Claidi Journals by Tanith Lee

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my post every week.

Just over six years ago I walked into this little bookstore called Books of Wonder for the first time in my life. And on the front end cap, directly facing the revolving door, on the middle shelf, was a thick book with a purple cover and a gold spine entitled The Claidi Journals. I had heard of Tanith Lee before, but never read any of her books, and I had her sorted in my mind as a dark fantasy/horror writer. As I picked up the hefty volume and examined it, it appeared it was actually an omnibus collection of three novels: Wolf Tower, Wolf Star, and Wolf Queen. A fourth and final installment--Wolf Wing--was subsequently published. I usually prefer to start with the original volumes themselves and then invest in an omnibus edition if I like them and if it's a particularly attractive edition. In this case, however, something about the collection grabbed me. DH and I were stopping off in New York to visit my sister-in-law and her family on our way to Italy to visit my parents, and I was in need of some good trip reading to take with me. Then I made the mistake of opening the book and reading the first few lines.
Yes.

I stole this. This book.

I don't know why. It looked . . . nice, I suppose, and nothing has been nice for years.
That right there sealed the deal. I loved how she sounded both defiant and utterly lost at the same time and I simply had to know who she was, what was in that book she stole, and why things had gone so badly for her for so long. So, like Claidi, I made up my mind to take the book with me. Only I decided to go ahead and pay for it first.


Claidi is a servant and has been her entire life. In the House of Lady Jade Leaf, she spends her days and nights forced to wait on the ridiculous princess hand and foot. Tempers are short and punishments abundant in the House and Claidi chafes against the ties that bind her, physically and emotionally. One day she comes across an empty book and decides--despite the no doubt painful consequences--that she will take it. It turns into a journal of sorts for the lonely young woman, in which she records her thoughts, and later her adventures. For soon after she discovers the book, a stranger walks inside the walls of the House. A stranger from beyond the desert, with golden hair, and an escape route in his hands. And before she knows it, Claidi is off with the enigmatic Argul on the adventure of a lifetime. Trouble is, she's never quite sure where they are headed or who might be after them. It's a rough and tumble journey, full of misdirection, aborted weddings, and not a little abduction. There are palaces whose rooms refuse to stay put, monstrous creatures, and princes who look too much like people they are not. And all of it leads to the mysterious Wolf Tower, which seems to hold in it the secret of who she is and who she might become. Claidi spends much of the time confused and near panic, but she is a resourceful young woman, and her frequent journal entries chronicle the unfolding story in engaging detail.

These books are a wild ride. Claidi has something of the Tamora Pierce heroine about her. Adventure seems to be in her blood, though she's not quite as devil-may-care in her approach to it as some of Pierce's girls. She is thrust forcefully into the outside world after living an extremely sheltered, though awful, life and having the story told in her own words in journal format brings her quickly into the reader's affections. Her growing relationship with Argul is quite sweet and a bright spot among all the subterfuge. This is another case of people not always being exactly who you think they are and, over the course of the four books, there were several times I came perilously close to washing my hands of most of them. All but Claidi, really. But at the same time it served to cement my loyalty to the main character and remember to question each new character that arrived, which is really not so bad a thing after all. Each book expands on the world they live in and these revelations come as just as much a shock to Claidi as they do to the reader. At times, it can be a bit frustrating  to be so in the dark. But the world Lee paints is so foreign, so innately other that I found myself awfully intrigued to find out what particularly rabbit she would pull out of the hat next. There is definitely a strong thread of science fiction running through the fantasy and I found the blend unusual and refreshing. All in all, a highly entertaining series featuring a heroine I never tired of and who becomes much more than she would otherwise have been because she stole a book and took a chance on a stranger. Recommended for fans of Garth Nix and Sherwood Smith.


Reading Order: Wolf Tower, Wolf Star, Wolf Queen, and Wolf Wing.


Retro Friday Roundup
In Bed With Books reviews The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy


Linkage
tin heart tomes review

Comments

  1. Oh yes, excellent recommendation. I believe when these books were coming out, I was rather *obsessed* with finding out what happened next. I think I made it a MISSION to get WOLF WING after I found out there was ONE MORE.

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  2. These are already in my TBR pile and I'm so glad to hear you liked them. I have read one other Tanith Lee book and enjoyed it.

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  3. Janicu, see? Look at me not adding to your TBR at this very moment. ;) Love that story, btw. I can see you on a MISSION to get that last book.

    Rosey, I keep meaning to try some of her other stuff. I'm glad to hear you liked what you read.

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  4. I read these! I don't know that I ever read the last one though, so I might have to revisit them!

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  5. I loved these so much. I remember being frustrated when they started coming out in hc and I had to wait for the pb.

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  6. I wrote a Retro Friday review here.

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  7. I've seen these books around and I was wondering if they were any good. Now that you gave them a good review, I might have to pick up the first book soon. I've never read any of Tanith Lee's books.

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  8. Oh Angie, I've secretly been waiting for you to do a review on these books. I found them back when I was in Jr. High and found myself rooting for Claidi almost instantly---especially with those lovely first lines.

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  9. Lu, oh yeah, might be worth it just for some closure. :)

    Livi, ugh, that is hard waiting. I hates it. I was lucky to get to start with the first three all out. Thanks for the RF review, btw! I love reading about these beloved books that deserve more attention.

    Chachic, this would probably be a good place to start then.

    KIKA, no way! Yeah, those first lines are enough to seal the deal. I'm glad you enjoyed them, too.

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  10. I've never heard of this author, thanks for bringing her to my attention as these books sound wonderful. Isn't it funny how your perceptions of characters change throughout a series, but then in some cases you change your mind right back at the end.

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  11. I've read a few of Tanith Lee's books but have yet to read this series, even though it's been tempting me for so long. She definitely has an interesting way of writing, which I like. Very off the beaten-path I think.

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  12. Jodie, my pleasure. And that really is an interesting phenomenon. I've had it happen more than once but can never tell for sure when it's going to happen that way.

    PolishOutlander, do you have any you recommend? I'd like to know where to go next.

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  13. Piratica was where I started with Tanith Lee and that's YA, along with her followup to that called Piratica II. No. Wait. Scratch that. The first book of hers I read was Black Unicorn, and then the Piratica books. Both books were fun reads, and just so different from what's out there now, especially the writing and language that she uses. I also read White as Snow, which is a retelling of Snow White. Definitely an adult book. I have her Secret Book of Paradys sitting on my shelf which is a beat of a book and also an adult book.

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  14. Anonymous4:24 PM

    Ironel speared me with her sad, cruel eyes. "What else is any of it? Yes, Claidi, you truly rid my City of the Law, and made it dull for my grandson Nemian. But there are other laws. Everything is subject to a law or a rule. How many will you break before you give up?"
    And i heard myself say, "Every one I can."

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