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Nine Layers of Sky

Liz Williams's confusing yet enchanting science-fantasy novel, Nine Layers of Sky, is certainly good; maybe it's great, but I'll have to wait a while and then re-read it to know for sure. It brings to mind Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn. Both stories offer delightful combinations of myth and mystery, depth and distance, power and poetry. For example, in Part Two, Chapter One of Nine Layers:

... A hardened soul, Ilya thought dreamily. Russia was full of them, had always been. But a hard soul was almost always the shell for a wounded heart, or so they said. Ilya felt that his head was stuffed full of aphorisms, like a pudding with raisins, the trite detritus of a too-long life. ...

or in the Interlude at the end of Part Two:

... The lake was dim with mist in the early morning light; if Anikova narrowed her eyes, the landscape seemed to blur and swim, as though she was looking through a water-filled glass. Nothing moved in the pines, or among the white-striped birch branches. If she looked at the coils of mist in a certain way, she might imagine that the lost city of Baikal was rising from the water, the oldest place in Russia. ...

Throughout Nine Layers the exotic mixes with the profane. It's a wee bit distracting at times — especially when love-story dips into romance-novel lust zone, when dreams build bridges to alternate universes, and when plot-device ancient technology is explained away as "quantum" machinery. But Williams's use of language is so deft, and the Russian culture throughout the story is so artfully handled — with bogatyr (hero) versus rusalki (ghost) versus akyn (bard) versus volkh (sorcerer) versus ... — that I was quite swept away.

In fact, during a visit to the used-book sale today, as I looked for other stories by Liz Williams I actually managed not to buy a "Teach Yourself Arabic" paperback — I regretfully put it back on the shelf and told myself that I really must try studying Russian again. That's progress for me!

(cf. The Last Unicorn (2007-05-18), ...) - ^z - 2008-04-10


(correlates: LastUnicorn, Kenosis, NorvigLaws, ...)