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Wellspring Paperback – June 3, 2015
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About the Author
Mishka Gora is the author of Fragments of War and has written about faith, conscience, and international justice for more than a decade in publications such as Quadrant, Catholic365, and The Times of Israel. An erstwhile historian (trained at Monash, UCLA, Brown, and UTas), she is the winner of the 2007 George Yule Essay Prize and featured in the 2012 Croatian documentary film Udruzena Nepravda (Joint Injustice). Mishka is married with four home-educated children and is passionate about tall ships, sword-fighting, and historical costume and cuisine.
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I have just finished reading a new fantasy novel by Tasmanian fiction and non-fiction writer, Mishka Gora:
In assessing a novel in a traditional genre, it is reasonable to consider it in that context. To my mind, “Wellspring” contains elements of CS Lewis’ Narnia books, something of JRR Tolkien (there is a nod to his most famous work, if I am not mistaken, at one point), and I suppose GRR Martin. But I was pleased to find this book has its own distinctive voice and concerns.
I won’t give the plot, except to say that it is about magical, military, diplomatic and spying struggles among nations occupying two islands. The world depicted somewhat resembles earth, but there are magical elements and animals that can communicate with humans. The main belief system is redolent of the Judeo-Christian tradition and paganism is not much in evidence, if at all. There is a generally conservative tone in the presentation of political philosophy and social practices. I am not much of a reader of modern fantasy, or to be honest of fantasy in general, but I understand that modern fantasy has taken a strongly “progressive” tone of late. This novel is not in step with that.
On the other hand, my daughter read the back cover and remarked that it had a central female character. It does, but she makes a good fixed point in the book. There are numerous characters, but hers is I suspect the one we are supposed to care about most. And we generally do.
There are elements of romance, including the political side of marriage among aristocracies. It is not a “bodice-ripper” but there is the odd heaving bosom. There are battles, most of which are fought at sea, an unusual twist for a fantasy. A warning to the squeamish: we are in a feudal society, and some of the scenes reflect that brutality. (That said, it seems ironic to me that people are troubled by, say, some of the
events in Game of Thrones, when we have ISIS in real life committing worse atrocities right now.)
There is a lot that will, I suppose, appeal to women in particular (discussion of clothing) but there is also a good deal of well-written maritime action and event. The maritime material has an authenticity and immediacy which might bear comparison to Conrad.
The strongest things in the book include the moral reasoning and some of the aphoristic lines. One can see the author’s background in ethical philosophy in this. I feel that simply quoting some of her lines might be a good way to give a flavour of the book:
“‘I think you underestimate her ability to comprehend the dark side,’ I chuckled. ‘She may be a priestess, but she is a human creature with human failings. And she understands that I am a man who thinks like a man.’ “
“When we overcome temptation or cultivate a virtue, there is no applause and no splendid celebration, and perhaps it is best that way lest we do right for the sake of a pretty spectacle. We are not animals to be trained with treats.”
“Anything but impenitence can be forgiven.”
“We are free to live each day, but each day adds up to our fate.”
“We cannot say that my life will not be a cautionary tale.”
” … even conscience can and should be governed.”
“We all have desires that we should not act on.”
” … one betrayal begets another.”
“It wasn’t uncommon for me to take tea with some hermit in the woods and bemoan the extravagances of modern times before returning … in the evening and feasting with my friends.”
“We do not have to be experts in morality to be able to make moral judgements.”
“He exuded power and he had that nonchalance that simultaneously irritates and tantalises women.”
” … the truth I reserve for those I truly esteem. The truth is a far greater honour than titles and pleasantries.”
The book held my attention. There were many delightful touches. A good test of the success of a work of fiction is whether it leaves something in your memory. I believe this book will. Lovers of fantasy in particular should be enthralled.
The writing style is beautiful and goes down like a very smooth whiskey. It rolls off the page so easily that even the mundane, everyday scenes are a pleasure to read.
Written from the point of view of different characters, it affords an in-depth insight into their personalities and motives, allowing for rich character development.
Magic, politics, adventure, sword fights and of course romance. What more could you want!