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Elisabeth Vonarburg - Dreams of the Sea (Les Rêves de la Mer) Legolas Send a noteboard - 06/06/2011 10:26:49 PM
At some point last year, after having become an admin at this board, I got the idea of reading some non-English-language fantasy or science fiction and review it here, to introduce people here to good authors they might not easily encounter or hear about, who might perhaps have a different take on some things than Anglo-Saxon authors. Or of course to discuss those books with others who had read them.

Now, it's probably fair to say this project of mine is progressing at a rather glacial pace. I managed a single review of the kind last year, and the book in question - Markus Heitz' The Dwarves (Die Zwerge) - was decent but hardly that spectacular or exotic to people used to Anglo-Saxon speculative fiction. And it took me until June this year to get around to number two. I'm rather more enthusiastic about this one.

Elisabeth Vonarburg (born in 1949) is a French-Canadian science fiction author and translator to French (most notably of fellow Canadian Guy Gavriel Kay's books). I haven't read any of her other books yet, but Dreams of the Sea, Les Rêves de la Mer in the original, and its four sequels in the Tyranaël series are probably her magnum opus, considering she seems to have been working on them for much of her adult life - the book mentions "1965-1996" as the time of writing.

The basic premise of the story - the remaining inhabitants of a 22th century Earth ravaged by undefined catastrophes encountering a new planet to colonize - is standard enough for a science fiction novel. As is the fact that this new planet, Tyranaël or Virginia as the humans call it, has a number of unsolved mysteries, chief among them the disappearance of its entire highly-developed civilization, referred to as the "Ancients", and the strange "Sea" that covers much of the planet - some of the time. But Vonarburg manages to make a gripping story of it, helped in no small part by the special structure of her story.

The narrator of the book, Eïlai, is one of those mysterious "Ancients", the original habitants of Tyranaël/Virginia - and what she narrates, the story of the human colonization of her planet, is no more than the sums of her Dreams and those of others, with a dash of her own imagination thrown in. This may sound like a cheap gimmick to some, and in the hands of some authors it might have been, but Vonarburg makes it work admirably, weaving Eïlai's life through those of the humans she Dreams of, and showing us enough of the Ancient civilization to bring it to life, but not enough to answer the many questions stumping the human colonizers of the planet. And while the various human characters struggle to build up their lives on this foreign planet, or to uncover its mysteries, Eïlai struggles with the heavy burden of knowing that her entire planet is changing inexorably on account of her Dreams, without knowing if or when they will ever come to pass.

The non-linear and meta-story aspects of the novel are a bonus to many readers here, I would imagine, those who like having to figure things out for themselves in books, but others may be turned off by them. In terms of character development, these aspects have some obvious downsides, as some characters don't get enough space to become three-dimensional, while others are fleshed out and then thrown by the wayside. I suppose that many of the characters will be brought back in the four remaining books of the series, possibly resolving both of those issues, but that's hard to say without knowing if those other books use a comparable structure.

Now that I've finished this book, I must say I enjoyed it a lot and I look forward to reading the next books, but I do still have some reservations that I hope the next books will dispel. Vonarburg has proven to me that she can create a fascinating world and build a complex but effective story structure; I am withholding judgement on her characters and the quality of the overarching plot.

Note on the translation: Those interested in this series should be aware that only the first two of the five books currently exist in English translation. I have no idea if it's any good, I read the original version; but Aeryn has read the translation, and can comment on that.
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Elisabeth Vonarburg - Dreams of the Sea (Les Rêves de la Mer) - 06/06/2011 10:26:49 PM 7945 Views
It sounds mildly interesting. - 06/06/2011 11:36:16 PM 1282 Views
Do let me know what you think of him. *NM* - 07/06/2011 06:07:02 PM 706 Views
I finished the first two books already - they're quick reads. - 10/06/2011 03:20:13 PM 1377 Views
Nice pace, that. - 10/06/2011 07:57:03 PM 1360 Views
It does sound interesting - 07/06/2011 07:00:33 AM 1341 Views
Hm. Confusing. - 07/06/2011 06:11:38 PM 1421 Views
A few infos - 07/06/2011 04:54:01 PM 1392 Views
Born and raised in France, according to Wikipedia. - 07/06/2011 06:06:42 PM 1474 Views

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