Published by Vulgar Marsala Press, July 2009
Review by Edmund Margary, L.O.B.
Nearly eight years ago, I wrote of the forsaking of humankind by our gods. Thanks to author and researcher Shannon Avery, it seems we have one last chance at redemption.
Redemption is a recurring theme in Avery’s new book of poems and stories: The Queen’s Rune and Other Tales of the Sidhe. The “Dirty Little Secret” of Sidhedom is hinted at throughout the book and readers who take the time to explore Avery’s masterful rendering of Sidhe language and culture into a form relatable to humans may just decrypt the puzzle. But even for the Uninitiated, Avery performs a remarkable feat of linguistic and cultural detective work, not to mention a literary high-wire act, as she virtually channels the Fair Folk, balancing razor-sharp analysis with rich imagery.
For those of you new to the Sidhe world, They are humanoid creatures sharing our Universe and our planet, removed from humanity only in our limited ability to perceive them. Their culture is several thousand millennia older than our own and Avery deftly handles half-a-million years of history with an insight that could only have come from a deep devotion to honoring the subject. Her translation of the Ann Amrahn Atraighn, for example, captures the cold, otherworldly arrogance of Our Friends, The El’Ohim, as They attempt to instruct their “most puerile kin” in the mysteries of the Universe as well as the very human-like sense of betrayal and regret the teachers feel when their experiment goes so violently awry. Avery’s translation feels like redemption itself after the travesty that was Hammond Cole’s version of 1649, not to mention the abomination inflicted on the world by the Reubenites in their heretical and error-laden Genesis chapter of the Torah.
Redemption flows through the Sidhe “love” poems as well; Avery’s poetic language—delicate one instant; eviscerating the next—evokes for human readers the depth of Sidhe passion and the core conflicts in all Sidhedom. Like Perceval in the Fisher King, Avery’s Sidhe lovers—Amfortas and Eriu; Rhiannon and Pwyll—kneel in the Temple of Sound and ask “Whom does the Grail serve?” In the Lay of Amfortas, the title character sings: When my body and my harp are ashes/your conjured rage has laid us bare/and I regret it not. True appreciation of the torment of Amfortas and Eriu may still elude humans, but Avery’s eloquence conjures a musical spell that insinuates itself into our all-too-limited flesh.
To assist Avery in weaving her web are illustrator Danae Bentley and performer Lea Ann Douglas.
Bentley’s illustrations run the gamut from colloquially charming to harshly disturbing to enticingly encrypted with delicate high-order mathematics. Her literal, yet hauntingly whimsical, depictions of some scenes in the Kambuzi Massacre left this reader feeling oddly dirty—like catching an accidental glance at a child while he changes clothes. And the imagery of that story—the illustrations and text combined—evoke memories of horrors from my younger days as a soldier and scholar in war-torn Europe: “They are our enemy. They are not us. Their blood is not ours. Their blood is a river. This river will flow across Benue State and out to sea. Benue will be clean.”
Lea Ann Douglas is Avery’s patroness and herself a devotee of Sidhe culture. She combines Avery’s research with her own performance and creative writing background to generate live performances about and in the style of the Sidhe.
Perhaps the only negative aspect of The Queen’s Rune is that, in its emphasis on ancient Sidhe culture, it fails to address the gathering storm of Sidhe-Human relations at this time. Avery’s lyrics evoke the culture of the Sidhe—their complexity, their passion, their devotion, their pain, their playfulness—but gloss over some of more disturbing aspects of Sidhedom. Most particularly, Avery leaves out the implications of the Kambuzi Massacre. The book, for all of its success in creating a bridge of understanding between the two species, fails to warn humanity of just how dangerous our “closest cousins” are and what is at stake should we fail to heed their message yet again. Avery’s Ann Amrahn Atraighn ends with the Loyalist Seth Levian heading forth “to seek mankind’s redemption” but neglects to mention that the sands of time have run quickly these last 5769 years and that our hour is nearly up.
In summary, this collection of Sidhe art, literature and lore is very highly recommended. The poetry and stories will entertain, engage and enchant and, for the reader with Ears to Hear, dares us, in the words of Brother W.B. Yeats, to “Come away, O human child!/ To the waters and the wild /With a faery, hand in hand/ For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”