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Music Review: Ezra Furman – ‘All of us Flames’

Every once in a while a album comes along that is so overwhelming its almost impossible to review. All of us Flames, Ezra Furman’s latest release on the Bella Union label is one of those records. While her music and lyrics have been creating waves and generating interest for years, All of us Flames pushes her into the category of a once in a generation talent.

That might sound like hyperbole to some, but like Bob Dylan, Joe Strummer, and Bruce Springsteen before her she manages to not only give her personal community a voice, but does so in a way anybody can identify with what she is singing about. Sure her lyrics are queer and trans centric, but you’d have to have a mind rusted shut and a heart of stone not to cherish the ideas and the emotions expressed on this album.

Furman’s last release, Twelve Nudes, was a primal scream of a punk album raising a voice of outrage against injustice. While All of us Flames may not be as musically aggressive as the former, lyrically it takes listeners to places not often travelled. The songs hit on almost a visceral level, making you cry or inspiring anger, without you even knowing why.

There’s something about them that triggers a reaction. Even after the initial listen, when the surprise and the wonder have worn away, the songs don’t diminish in power. It is the mark of just how gifted a songwriter Furman is that not only do the songs retain the impact of the initial listen  but each time you listen to them you find something new to wonder at.

From the opening track, “Train Comes Through”, to the closing “Come Close”, the songs deal with both the heartbreak and anger at being part of marginalized community. This album is a cry of defiance in a world which would prefer trans and queer people would just shut up and go away. 

However Furman isn’t about to go away or shut up. In fact her songs not only advocate for trans and queer rights, they encourage people to fight back. In the song “Lilac & Black” Furman sings, “So now I’m calling out to all the stations ‘cross the underground/Gather all your savages and send ’em out/If you get the signal come defend the crown/That nobody knows you wear/We’re out here on the attack/We wear the lilac and black/We might not make it back/We wear the lilac and black”

Calls to arms come in many forms, not just taking to the streets. There’s also standing up for what you know to be true. In the song “Book of Our Names” Furman sings about shedding dead names and embracing the name that epitomizes your true identity. “And the names will be the real ones that are ours/Not the ones given us by enemy powers/But the ones that we know in our bones and bowels/And they’ll be said out loud and repeated.”

While anger is understandable, what truly gives this album its emotional depth is Furman’s compassion and empathy. She’s not only able to see the marginalized in society, but her own community as well. 

“Come Close” is a beautiful and haunting song about those who are left out of the Pride marches and the corporate rainbow flag decals you now see adorning chain stores and banks. “The desperate ones don’t disappear/We’re all still hanging around/And what do your Rainbows do?And what do your bright flags do?What do your rainbows do here on the ground.”

In All of us Flames Furman comes across like a mixture of a biblical prophet looking to lead her people to a promised land, a street fighter, and a caring sister. For all of you feeling oppressed and hopeless in the face of those who would deny your existence, be it gender identification, skin colour, or anything else – this album was written for you. For the rest of world, listen and maybe learn – even a little – of what it’s like to be on the outside just wanting to be accepted for who you are.

All of us Flames is not only one of the best albums of this year, but one of the best of the past decade. Defiant, proud, and intelligent its the soundtrack we need to fight back against those who would deny anybody their basic rights.


Book Review: ‘Into the Broken Lands’ by Tanya Huff

Into The Broken Lands, published by Penguin/Random House, is the latest book from the imagination of esteemed fantasy and science fiction writer Tanya Huff. Set in the aftermath of the cataclysmic fallout of a wizard war that has rendered areas of the planet uninhabitable the book focuses on two small groups of people.

These so called Broken Lands not only don’t support human life, the wars which created them spawned a variety of mutated creatures against whom humans have little or no defence. However this hasn’t prevented some from making the perilous trek into the devastated area. 

There were survivors from the wizard wars. One group was led away from the Broken Lands by the hero Captain Marsen. Marsen and 5000 refugees established themselves in Marsenport to the north. However, other survivors had stayed on adjacent to the devastation in the town called Gateway. Anybody wishing to enter the Broken Lands must pass through Gateway first.

Once before a party from Marsenport had come to Gateway in order to enter the Broken Lands. They needed to procure the fuel required to maintain the Black Fire which was the symbol of their authority. Led by Marsen’s heir they brought with them a creature created by one of the wizards whom they referred to as “The Weapon”.

Now some years latter another party has travelled from Marsenport to enter The Broken Lands in order to obtain more fuel. However, this time they haven’t brought “The Weapon” as it seems to have now taken up residence in Gateway.

The residents of Marsenport are woefully ignorant of their own past. The only account they have of the previous journey into The Broken Lands are the minimal notes contained in the journal kept by the last group who made the trip. Unfortunately they are lacking in details about “The Weapon” and what they can expect to find when they cross the border into the devastated area.

Perhaps this is why along with soldiers the current group from Marsenport also contains two scholars. Unfortunately they seem to have a different agenda than those who are just trying to get in and out of The Broken Lands with the fuel alive.

However, this is not just a straightforward adventure story set in a post apocalyptical environment. First, it’s two adventure stories as Huff not only tells us the story of the current journey but travels back in time to the previous one as well. We watch as two separate parties make the same journey and some of the same discoveries. 

We also see how both parties come to see “The Weapon” as not just a creature to use, but a person and treat her accordingly. As we watch the earlier party travel and make discoveries, we also wonder why they didn’t make a record of certain matters in order to warn those who would come after. 

Huff’s books are always filled with interesting characters and Into The Broken Lands is no exception. The story is told through the eyes of the main characters both in the past and the future. While this type of juggling act could lead to some confusion for readers Huff does a great job of both telling the story and providing us with insights into these people. 

Huff also raises a number of social/political issues without us even noticing. They just gradually worm their way into our consciousness as we’re reading the story. They’re like little asides which make us think twice about the action and what we are witnessing.

Of course the adventure is also exciting as the two groups of travellers meet with everything from a dragon to lizard dogs – and those aren’t even the most dangerous things they face. If you like your adventure fantasy spiced with a good dose of introspection and plenty of intelligence then this book is for you. 

Book Review: ‘The Storm of Echoes’ by Christelle Dabos

The Storm of Echoes is the final chapter in Christelle Dabos’ “The Mirror Visitor Quartet”. Over the course of the first three books (A Winter’s Promise, The Missing of Clairedelune,  and The Memory of Babel) Dabos has introduced readers to an amazing world and fascinating characters.

While the first three instalments did a wonderful job of not just creating the world and introducing the characters who populate it, they also introduced us to the terrifying mystery behind the creation and current state of the world. The lead character, Ophelia, and her husband Thorn, have been searching for the mysterious person named God who was not only behind the creation of the Family spirits who rule each Ark – or fiefdom – on the world, but the mysterious Other who seems to be some sort of invisible entity who is God’s mortal enemy.

Ophelia and Thorn are still on the Ark called Babel, as it is the root of all the mysteries. It turns out it was here that God (or as her name should be spelt Goude) created not only the family spirits but divided the world up into its various arks. However, not everything is under her complete control – as the mysterious Other is still at large and is somehow a threat to Goude’s plans for order and good government.

Somehow or other Ophelia’s ability to use mirrors to travel from place to place is tied into the appearance of the Other in this realm. Is the Other some sort of reflection of Ophelia – an Echo of her existence – or is it merely an entity who was trapped in the dimension behind the mirrors? Is it the force causing whole sections of the planet to just disappear into nothingness – or is that happening because of Goude is losing control over her creation?

Dabos has done an amazing job of creating not only an adventure story set in a world that is both alien and familiar, but of populating it with characters readers will grow to either care for or despise. Almost everyone Ophelia meets has his or her own agenda, but there are also some surprises. 

There are people who are genuinely caught up in events beyond their understanding, but still manage to find a way to rise above their own circumstances to have an impact on their world and the lives of those around them. While these secondary characters may not appear as often as the leads, their importance can’t be underestimated.

It’s almost as if Dabos wants to remind us that it takes the efforts of many, not just a few, to enact change. Each person in this series has a role to play in solving the mystery no matter how seemingly insignificant they might appear. 

Of course Ophelia is still the lead characters and she is every bit as intriguing in this book as she’s been in the previous ones. Headstrong, intelligent, and brave she continues to surprise everybody. She is the axis around which the story spins and as befitting the centre of the world she is a firm point for readers to hold onto. Constantly changing and self-aware she has no trouble admitting to herself and others when she’s made a mistake, but also has faith in her abilities.

The Storm of Echoes by Christelle Dabos is a wonderful conclusion to “The Mirror Visitor Quartet”. This is probably one of the best and most original Young Adult fantasy series you’ll ever read.

Book Review: ‘The Memory of Babel’ by Christelle Dabos

The Memory of Babel, the third book in Christelle Dabos’ “The Mirror Visitor” Quartet, published by Europa, delves deeper into the secrets behind the creation of the world her characters inhabit. While the first two books, A Winter’s Promise and The Missing of  Clairdelune, were revealing in that we learned about the world, the stories that take place in it, and met the main characters, this book takes us further into the history and mystery of the planet and its creation.

The book opens with the protagonist Ophelia back on her home Ark of Anima. After the events at the end of the last volume, her husband Thorn escaping from prison and their meeting with the mysterious God who had been threatening Ophelia, she had been whisked back home by her family.

Here she discovers somebody has been directing each of the Arks to erase, or whitewash out less savoury parts of history. The museum she used to work at has been emptied of all the significant historical artifacts it used to contain. The word from the ruling council is people don’t need any reminders of their violent past, and should be focused on the present only.

As she had discovered it was God who had erased the memories of the Family Spirits who rule each Ark, she concludes it must be his, or her, hand behind this latest attempt to erase memories. So when friends from The Pole show up offering her a way to sneak off her Ark and travel anywhere she wants she leaps at the chance. Thanks to an ancient post card her great uncle passed on to her she believes many of the answers to her questions can be found on the Ark named Babel.

If she had thought life on her home Ark was regulated, it’s nothing compared to how closely the activities of those living on Babel are monitored. Not only are people’s movements closely observed but words are proscribed. You can’t say anything which in any way could be related to armed conflict or violence without being threatened or locked up.

In her attempts to discover more about God Ophelia puts herself in some danger. However she also reconnects with her husband. Thorn had reached the same conclusion as her and has managed to find a position allowing him to discover more about God and the mysterious Other who God is chasing after.

As in the previous two books in the series Dabos not only continues to develop the characters we are familiar with from earlier instalments, but introduces new and fascinating people as well. As we learn more about Babel in particular, we also find out more about how the world was split into various Arks and about the war which precipitated the rupture and all of God’s actions.

What makes these books so wonderful to read is Dabos’ ability to combine action with creating wonderfully defined characters. As we follow Ophelia around this new Ark we meet more and more interesting people. We also watch as how her relationship with Thorn continues to develop. Not only are they united by a shared goal they have grown to genuinely love each other.

The Memory of Babel continues the story of Ophelia and her quest to discover the truth behind her own history and the history of her world. Somehow the two are interconnected. For it was her ability to travel through mirrors that allowed the mysterious Other to enter her world, and cause God to take such a keen interest in her. As it was also God who created the world and the family spirits, it would Ophelia’s fate and that of the world are irrevocably linked.

The Memory of Babel by Christelle Dabos is a wonderful read and sets the stage for what promises to be an exciting conclusion in the the final chapter of “The Mirror Visitor Quartet”.

Book Review: ‘The Missing of Clairedelune’ by Christelle Dabos

People are vanishing from Clairedelune. In the second book of Christelle Dabos‘ “The Mirror Visitor Quartet”, The Missing of Clairdelune, published by Europa Editionsoo, people are mysteriously disappearing from the chateau Clairdelune. The home to the one of The Pole’s aristocrats, its also one of the most secrepalaces in The Pole. 

As we saw in the first book in the series, A Winter’s Promise, our protagonist Ophelia has been moved from her home to a new country, or as they are referred to on this world ark, for the purposes of an arranged diplomatic marriage. In this second instalment not only does she have to continue the work of learning how to navigate this new society and her fiancé Thorn, she also has to deal with very real threats against her life.

She also discovers the reasoning behind her marriage, and why Thorn, in spite of his antipathy for her, wanted her in particular to be his bride. Each of the arks are ruled by a family spirit. Each of the family spirits has their own book. Supposedly this book tells the story of who they are and how they came about. Unfortunately they are all written in a language no-one understands – not even the spirits themselves.

Farouk, the family spirit who governs The Pole wants a reader to “read” his book and tell him its history. (A reader is someone who can pick up an inanimate object and recount everything about it – from who touched it to how that person was feeling at the time they touched it.) Ophelia was one of the most gifted readers on her world and her reading his book would be an obvious solution to this request.

However, Thorn has something different in mind. When a couple are married on The Pole the ceremony gifts each partner with the other’s abilities. So when they’re married, Thorn will become a reader and Ophelia will acquire his skill of being to harm people without touching them.

Thorn has made an agreement with Farouk that if he successfully reads his book he will be named head of his family and elevated to the nobility. He was born out of wedlock and this would bring him the respectability and power to protect the other members of his family.

While all these intrigues are taking place Ophelia continues to receive threatening letters telling her God doesn’t want her here, and members of the aristocracy are disappearing from places of safety. When it turns out each of them have received letters similar Ophelia’s, she turns to the only one she can trust, Thorn. 

Although still cold and distant his walls are starting to break down and they begin to draw closer – perhaps because neither have anyone else they can turn to. When Ophelia’s entire family suddenly announces their pending visit during this crises Thorn wisely whisks them all off to a holiday spot away from the court and its intrigues. Unfortunately they’re unable to escape the mysteries of the disappearances nor the court’s intrigues. For Farouk decides to fly the entire court to the holiday spot and then appoints Ophelia to be the one to discover the culprit behind the kidnappings.

Working under a tight deadline she eventually finds out who was responsible, but not without Thorn being blamed and imprisoned for killing the culprit. However, Farouk allows the couple to be married in Thorn’s jail cell, and it’s there they learn the secret of who is behind everything.

Once again Dabos has crafted a wonderful tapestry of a story. Each character and plot line has been carefully woven into its structure to create a vivid and intriguing picture. The development of each character is a joy to observe, as people readers have come to know and love/despise continue to flourish and plot through out the book’s pages.

Dabos also continues to give readers a better view of the complexities of the world her characters inhabit. Little written asides begin to provide us with insights into the backgrounds of the family spirits and where they came from. 

However, these are only tantalizing clues as to the whole story. As with her characters Dabos leaves readers with just enough information to make us need to find out the entire truth. The Missing of Clairdelune is a masterful second chapter that will ensure readers will keep coming back for more.