The House of the Stag Hardcover – Sep 16 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Culture clashes resound through this multi-layered coming-of-age tale from fantasist Baker (The Anvil of the World). Shaped in movements like a verbal symphony, the novel follows half-demon foundling Gard from a pastoral childhood punctuated with vicious raids by the savage Riders. Gard's willingness to kill in self-defense leads to a career as gladiator and sex slave under the insatiable Lady Pirihine and his training as a powerful mage, all contrasted with and eventually tied into the Gospel-like story of the Star, a John the Baptist–like figure, and the Child, a young girl who becomes a saint. Somehow this unusual and mostly charming mélange of basic fantasy motifs, fair and feral landscapes, and ironic characterizations ranging from gentle to raucous all comes together harmoniously, like extended variations on the theme that achieving adulthood is not for fainthearted sissies. (Sept.)
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"Kage Baker has a very good fantasy career in front of her if Anvil is a sample. Her style is infused with a subtle humor that had me chuckling. . . . She kept turning me in directions that I hadn't expected."
"She's an edgy, funny, complex, ambitious writer with the mysterious, true gift of story-telling.”
--Ursula K. Le Guin
“An eccentric and often very funny fantasy. . . . Baker piles on such delights for anyone who wants more from fantasy than an epic journey to battle evil.”
"If you’ve liked Baker’s previous work, or even if you haven’t yet seen it, give this a shot. . . . Fun, interesting, nicely characterized and clever.”
--San Diego Union-Tribune
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The House of the Stag is a modern fairytale that chronicles the struggle of a young man after his people, the Yendri, are invaded by a barbaric, horseback-riding people called the Riders. As his people are rounded up and killed or turned into slaves, a strange figure appears called the Star, who takes on the role of a prophet. But Gard refuses to accept the "sit and do nothing" stance of the Star and takes matters into his own hands. When his actions get him accused as a murderer by his own people, he finds himself exiled and flung out into the wider, more dangerous world beyond. There he discovers new cultures and customs, and important information about his past, all while vowing to gain the power and influence he needs to destroy the Riders once and for all and free his people forever.
Baker's novel is an astonishing fantasy tale, with rich detail, fantastic world building, enjoyable, complex characters, and a unique postmodern structure that is as readily aware of its fairytale roots as it is of its emotionally impacted literary attention to issues of (post)colonialism, slavery, and racism. That's a mouthful, for sure, but The House of the Stag deserves such long-winded praise. This book influenced me so much that I actually used it for a second senior thesis during my final quarter at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I now regret having never read anything else by Ms. Baker, because her writing is impeccable, her characters are realistically flawed, and her world is stunning in its design. You can't ask for much more in a stand alone fantasy novel.
The most difficult thing about reviewing this book is trying to find the cons of Baker's story. I loved the book from start to finish, which leaves me with only one complaint: the chapters are too long. A pointless complaint? Yes, but to say that any book is perfect is to tell a lie. The House of the Stag is not a perfect novel, but it is certainly close.
The House of the Stag is the kind of novel for anyone who wants something more in their fantasy. This is not your typical tale of elves and magic, talking animals. It's a modernized fairytale replete with the escapist power of epic fantasy. As such, lovers of virtually any kind of fantasy should enjoy The House of the Stag. Baker's book is, in my opinion, a one of a kind fantasy treat.
Gard gets frozen while trying to climb the mountain and believes he is going to die. Instead he is found and made into a slave by the mages who are bound by magic to live in the mountain.. The mages are evil and decadent and love seeing slaves kill each other in the arena. Gard quickly learns how to maneuver his hosts so they will trust him while he plots his escape. He and the Promised Child known as the Saint are fated to meet and their relationship will change both their worlds.
Kage Baker, author of the Company series, returns to her THE ANVIL OF THE WORLD realm with a dark fantasist parable. THE HOUSE OF STAG is character driven with the spiritual guide and the Promised Child having differing parallels to the Bible. There is plenty of action, the usual trademark wry but desert dry humor, and tons of intrigue. Gard is the prime star as the half demon shows with his risk taking actions he has a heart of goodness in spite of his nasty reputation. The Saint incongruously has the goodness PR spin, but ironically fans will observe some noted discrepancies in her lifestyle. Biblical references aside, readers will enjoy this magnificent tale.
"The House of the Stag" is a prequel, explaining the background that ultimately becomes the setting for the rollicking "Anvil of the World". (If you haven't read "Anvil", "The House of the Stag" stands rock solid on its own. But don't cheat yourself out of reading "Anvil", too.)
I don't know what I like best about Kage Baker. Her world-building is logical and satisfying. Her adventure keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Her characters are fascinating, wonderful, unforgettable, all of them worthy of stories of their own. Baker may not use clay and lightning to bring them to life, but she does an equivalent job with paper and pen.
Her romance grabs your heart and never lets go -- without a single cringe. (Think Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons in "Spartacus". Or Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn in "Terminator".) And she's got the Elizabethan aptitude for describing sex oh, so salaciously -- without battering you with the technical details.
Best of all, she has a talent for humorously laying bare human foibles without ever being preachy. Like Twain, she draws you into subtle social commentary that is wickedly spot-on, but you won't notice because you're having so much fun.
If Kage Baker's name is on the cover, I will always plunk my money down. I save her books for long weekends when I know I'm going to be able to read them through at least twice. Her books are definitely "re-readers."
(And if you are like me, reading anything else right after one of Baker's books is always a letdown, so you might as well read it again.)
If you don't buy this book, get "Anvil of the World", or start the Company Novel series with "In the Garden of Iden".
If you'd rather first dip your toes into Baker's short stories, I recommend "Mother Aegypt and Other Stories". All of the stories in it are top notch. I also adore "Empress of Mars".
Excellent, excellent stuff, all of it.
In this novel, Ranwyr is the son of Ran and Teliva of the Earthborn. He was born near a pool high up the Mountain.
Gard was found by Ran and Teliva near the pool. He was all alone in a spill of blood and is different from the Earthborn.
Star -- the Beloved -- is an Earthborn who performs miracles with his Songs. He states that a Child will come to free all his people from the Riders.
Grattur and Engrattur are demons. They are slaves of the mages of the Mountain.
In this story, the Beloved sings his Songs to walk unseen down to the slave pits of the Riders, to heal the sick slaves, and to free some of them from their chains. He takes newly freed slaves back to their home in the forest on the Mountain. He also trains some Earthborn as his disciples to sing the Songs.
Ranwyr and Gard have been raised as brothers, but they disagree about the Beloved. Ranwyr hears Star and becomes a disciple. Gard hears the man and thinks him to be a fool. Gard stalks the Riders and kills them when he can.
Ranwyr continues to follow the teachings of the Beloved, but he cannot master the Songs to work miracles. When Ranwyr neglects his family to practice the Songs, Gard becomes angry with him. They quarrel and Gard lashes out in his anger and gives Ranwyr a death blow.
Gard is berated by the disciples, but Star refuses to let them harm or kill him. Instead, Gard is banished from the people. He walks up the Mountain to discover a way to the other side.
But Gard is defeated by the snow and ice. Then he is rescued by the inhabitants of the Mountain and is made a slave to the mages. He is treated for his frostbite and eventually recovers the use of his legs.
Apparently Gard is half demon and half something else. Grattur and Engrattur welcome him as a brother. They tell him that they have been enslaved through their names, but Gard cannot be bound by his name. No one -- even Gard -- knows his true name.
While Gard is living within the Mountain as a slave of the mages, a slave is miraculously freed from the Riders. Climbing the Mountain, he comes upon the Child nestled within a great lily. He takes the Child up the Mountain and Star comes down to meet them.
This tale describes the demise of the Riders, the escape and spread of the Earthborn, and their contact with the Children of the Sun. Gard plays many roles in this story before becoming Master of the Mountain. At crucial points, a stag appears as his spiritual guide.
This novel has normal narrative interspersed with various insertions. Each insertion consists of translations of different types of media, including painted rocks and text written on leaves. One suspects that the author is trying to convey a sense of antiquity.
These two volumes are much like Vance's The Dying Earth series. It evokes a very similar feel as we follow Gard in his travels. However, this series is pure fantasy rather than the highly advanced science of ancient Earth.
Naturally, this story sets the stage for the first volume. Other novels have not yet been announced in this series. Hopefully one will come eventually. Read and enjoy!
Highly recommended for Baker fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of armed combat, magical powers, and persevering half-demons.
-Arthur W. Jordin