Tuesday, 30 June 2009

‘Lords of Misrule’ & ‘Strange Great Sins’ – M. John Harrison

It was at this point, when I last read the ‘Viriconium’ collection, that I came pretty much unstuck. I was expecting something a little out of the ordinary but these two stories seemed to have no link to the preceding ones at all! Even though I eventually finished the book I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had missed something important and that cast a pall over the whole affair...
I’m back though and hopefully a little more savvy than the last time round. I’m not looking for a connection between all the stories so much as what’s in the stories themselves. I’m still not sure what they’re meant to be telling us but they both made for some interesting reading.

‘Lords of Misrule’ takes us on Lord Cromis’ patrol of the outlying regions around the city of Viriconium, stopping off at the beleaguered homestead of the Yule Greave to inspect their defences and also to satisfy Cromis’ curiosity about the buildings themselves. The interesting thing is that we’re never really told who these invaders are. To begin with, I wondered if the Yule Greave was making a stand against the Northmen mentioned in ‘The Pastel City’ but as I read on I found myself wondering if the encroaching enemies were the ravages of time and entropy. The overall tone of the story lends a bit of weight to this. Everything is slowly falling apart and both the citizens of Viriconium and the homestead have given up trying to hold it together. An enemy camp is mentioned but it’s too far away to see anyone there, I wondered if the Yule Greave was being a little flowery in his descriptions of a world where time was running down.
Cromis declares, to his men, that “... the walls have already been breached” in a downbeat ending to a very downbeat tale. It appears that no matter what facet of fractured reality (of Viriconium) that the reader is introduced to, the common element is that hope is a pointless luxury that people cannot afford to have...

‘Strange Great Sins’ is just as downbeat but has a little more life to it in it’s tale of a Sin Eater who feels compelled to tell his life story over the course of a vigil held for a recently deceased little girl. It seemed to me that this tale wasn’t so much about the people (although it was interesting that the good seemed to die while the mentally infirm and other broken people were left to carry on) rather than the setting of Viriconium itself. The Viricionium of ‘Strange Great Sins’ is a place of darkness and swirling mists where it’s all to easy to get lost by the Aqualate Pond and the wharves, by the Yser Canal, are ‘ruined’... It’s very much a place where I was happy to visit, and see the remnants of humanity rail at the inevitability of fate through the arts, but pleased to leave afterwards. The Sin Eater’s life is found to be predestined, through the machinations of the deceased, and his optimism in the face of this is overshadowed by his calling and the strange streets that he must follow. I really got into this story but, in a way, I was also glad to put it down at the end!

There is a link between these two stories (maybe throughout the rest of the book, I don’t know yet...) in the recurring appearance of the ‘Mari’ horse and its religious/spiritual significance. I couldn’t quite make out why these two stories were linked but the overall effect was pretty sinister and unsettling!

The ‘Viriconium’ stories certainly aren’t a light read but I’ve found them to be worthwhile reading so far. Next up is ‘A Storm of Wings’...

1 comment:

quelonio said...

I discovered your blog while looking for the original names of a village and its ruler, both from ‘A Storm of Wings’ (I read a Spanish translation)

So far I have only read your Viriconium related reviews, which I really enjoyed.

I saw a previous comment warning you about the depressing overtone of this series of novels; this is quite accurate in ‘A Storm of Wings’

However, I consider it a worthy sequel to ‘The Pastel City’

The last novella 'In Viriconium' is completely different from the previous two, but I won't spoil you on how.

Keep the good work going.