Death Singer -- a review by Susan Price

Mythic and Magical by Katherine Roberts

'On my one-hundredth birthday my father made me a present of a mortal man…’

So we’re told by Kryssa, the heroine of ‘Rubies’, one of the stories collected in Katherine Roberts' Mythic and Magical.

‘Rubies’ reminded me of Bradbury’s tales of supernatural families, not only in its subject, but in its sensuality: ‘Her hair, black as mine, glittered with diamonds that outshone the early stars…’  And later, as Kryssa, her hair threaded with rubies, looks at her reflection in a lake: ‘Yes, I could see myself. Or…I could see moon-pale flesh shimmering with gold, and the pinpricks of red stars surrounding me: Grandpa’s rubies blurred with the millions of worlds above…’
          ‘Rubies’ is romantic, lush, Gothic, and its theme, like the other stories, is that of rebelling against the rules your society insists you live by. And, in these stories, at least, the rebels mostly gain a kind of victory.
          Roberts imagines other worlds and other ways: her characters spirit-travel and meet singers whose voices can heal or kill, savage unicorns and soul-leaders. There is horror, and humour, and beauty.
          ‘Mars Take Seed Make Man’ is the closest to science-fiction, set in a Martian colony where soldiers are grown to supply Earth with fodder for its wars.  But the peaceful women farmers of Mars have found a use other than killing for their 'man-roots'! - and the roots themselves are not quite the vegetables Earth's Generals took them for.
 One of my favourite of Katherine's stories,
‘Empire of the Hare’ is now available as a 'Kindle Single' for 99p -- it would churlish not to download it at that price. It's historical-fantasy, and I like it because it features the most audacious take on Boudicca I’ve read in a long time: and possibly one closer to the truth than the usual druid-hugging, noble freedom-fighter. As in her wonderful book, I Am The Great Horse, Katherine  demonstrates that although she mingles fantasy with history, she is sharply aware of the machinations of politics, both ancient and modern, giving her stories a cynical edge.

'Climb on my back, if you dare, and let me carry you into the battles that changed the world...'

So speaks Alexander the Great's bold black stallion Bucephalas, one of the most famous horses of the ancient world, as he recounts their epic journey from Macedonia across Persia and over the Himalayas into India, straight from the horse's mouth.

In the tradition of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty and Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, this mixture of fiction and history will appeal to readers looking for a lively account of the legends surrounding Alexander of Macedon and the men and women who followed him to the ends of the earth.

“A major work of historical fiction.” John Newman - Bookseller’s Choice, Publishing News.

“A funny, informative and highly original historical novel.” The Times.

“Roberts wears her considerable research lightly, and you never question for a minute that this was how Alexander came to rule the Mediterranean and the east… but it is not romanticised; you feel the glory of victory but also see how it ultimately corrupts the victor. And the ending, for both king and horse, is as moving as anything I’ve read.” Mary Hoffman, The Guardian.

“Seen through the eyes of Bucephalas and his groom, Alexander is admirably shown… Given that Alexander’s life is one long series of battles, Roberts sustains extraordinary tension, variety and surprise. This is a wild, surging, enormously readable narrative. Bucephalas joins Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty and Richard Adams’ Traveller as one of the great equine storytellers.” Books for Keeps (5 star review)

“Relish this gallop through history and give “flat ears” to anyone who threatens to disturb your reading. This book is a tremendous achievement… a truly epic adventure story with masses of factual detail and sympathetic insights, not least into the psychology of warfare. What more can I say? Encourage your students to read it!” Alison Hurst, School Librarian magazine.


Ann Turnbull said…
Thanks for this review, Susan. Like you, I love Katherine's books - and the wonderful covers that she designs. Off to order Empire of the Hare now...
Umberto Tosi said…
I'm ordering now! Thank you for reviews Katherine's latest magical offerings!

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