Friday, January 27, 2006

The Sign of the Princess

My husband enjoys military science fiction generally and for some years now has been devouring John Ringo books. Almost literally. The typical scenario is he buys a copy of whatever is Ringo's latest at the bookstore and stays up all night to read it, work the next day be damned. I've been meaning to try some of Ringo's books for some time, especially since I heard the man read from the first of the dragon series before it came out. But somehow I just haven't gotten around to it. (Maybe partly because I just couldn't get into another military sf series Uncle Pookie is fond of, the Honor Herrington series by David Weber; UP says I'd probably enjoy the political wrangling HH books more than the strictly fighting ones.) Until now.

I just read Princess of Wands, a modern fantasy by Ringo. And I enjoyed it. Unusually for any 20th-century or later novel, the heroine is a Christian (Episcopalian) and, perhaps unusually for any novel, her Christianity makes a difference in how she lives her daily life. Also unusually, the heroine is living in Mississippi and the Mississippi (Louisiana too, although to a lesser extent the action there being what it is) we see seems like part of the modern world. Very unusually in fiction, we see a man, probably an immigrant, of Indian extraction in Mississippi; it sounds like a small thing to mention, but I've noticed movies and such set in Mississippi never show the Hindu hotel owners, Chinese restauranteurs, Vietnamese fishermen, etc. that are a part of contemporary Mississippi life.

The premise of the story is this: The government of the US (like many other governments) has a special, non-official branch of the FBI called Special Circumstances that deals with cases with supernatural components. SC operatives have power based on the purity and intensity of their religious faith, and the deity of the faith in question has power based on the number of believers. (Okay, so none of that is very original, but it's still a good story.) Obviously, in America a Christian operative has the potential to be really powerful, but for one reason or another, not many Christians are drawn to this work.

Our heroine, whose name makes me wonder if Ringo browsed some Mississippi phone books, comes onto the scene as a seemingly typical soccer mom, albeit one whose father had been a paranoid, military type who'd insisted his daughters learn a lot of survival skills. And one who happens to have a very strong faith. Someone who thinks Christianity has to do with how you respond to seemingly trivial daily events like someone cutting you off in traffic, not just with whether you show up to church on Sunday morning, and tries to live by her understanding. Long story short, she's drawn to southern Lousiana, kicks some demon and acolyte ass, and is recruited to Special Circumstances, and in the next two parts of the book (it's more like two novellas and a short story than one unified novel), has some more adventures. She encounters some anti-Christian prejudice along the way too; and that's refreshing because so often the fictional picture is one of bigoted Christians stereotyping pagans and secularists, when anti-Christian attitudes are so prevalent inour society they can shut down all of a person's much-touted openness the moment the word Christian hits his eardrum.

A big chunk of the book takes place at a con and that's fun. It's always nice seeing portrayals of cons by someone who's actually been to one and sees fandom as no less valid a way of spending your time than golfing. One of the author characters, Folsom Duncan, seems like a loose self-portrait--other author characters also seem to stand for real people, sort of like the regular characters in Asimov's mystery stories--and it's kind of amusing to speculate about how loose a portrayal it may be.

Yet another item in the plus column is the depiction of Asatruar. It's said that there are a good many--and increasing--number of Asatru in Special Circumstances and one of the major characters is an Asatru woman. I like that. Asatru are a small percentage of the neo-pagan movement, but I tend to think it's unfortunate they're so small a part. Reconstructionist pagan groups are more rigorous generally, and I just plain like Asatru. Although a lot of Asatruar, individually, can act like jerks (them and every other group!) and there is, regrettably, some overlap with racists, I find there is much to be commended there. Asatru people tend to be much more scholarly and intellectually honest, more serious about their religion, and more down-to-earth than Wiccans or neo-pagans generally. (I'm generalizing here, so no complaining about the scholarly eclectic neo-pagan you know.) Asatru people are much more likely to reject moral relativism than Wiccans. They also have fairly satisfying religous practices and, of course, all those great stories about the Northern gods. I almost became Asatru. Although I know I made the right decision and believe wholeheartedly that the Church has the fullness of truth, I have a bit of a soft spot for Asatru and Norse mythology. I liked seeing a positive depiction of it when so many people don't even know what it is and some of those pagans who do know about it have a kneejerk reaction that it must be bad because it's Germanic and more masculine in tone than Wicca.

Anyway, my Asatru aside aside, Princess of Wands was fun to read. Books and movies that have a demon show up usually seem a little cheesy to me--at least in the demon fighting scene--but there's plenty of things here to enjoy, and the fight scenes themselves aren't bad. I'll probably be looking at other of Ringo's books.

1 comment:

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