Tuesday, July 20, 2010

REVIEW: Ilario (The Lion's Eye) by Mary Gentle

Haven't got a lot of time tonight, but I wanted to take a few moment to post a quick book review.

Looking for something to redeem what I knew would be the vacation from hell, I brought a copy of Ilario: The Lion's Eye with me. My only regret is that I didn't bring the companion volume, Ilario: The Stone Golem, with me because I devoured The Lion's Eye on Saturday.

This is a book about art, gender, family, friendship, and politics . . . and not necessarily in that order.
First of all, let's talk art. The driving force behind the story is Ilario's quest to study the new art of painting the thing itself - the world as it appears to the naked eye, rather than the iconographic representation. It's odd to think of a time when realism and perspective were undiscovered concepts, and it makes for a fascinating story.

Look beneath the art, and the Lion's Eye is the story of a rather unique and unusual friendship between Ilario, the hermaphrodite artist, and Rekhmire, the eunuch book buyer (and, we suspect, Egyptian spy). Their relationship is handled so beautifully, and so naturally, almost as if they were siblings or best friends getting reacquainted after a long absence. There is a lot of good-natured ridicule of their respective gender identities, but it's just that - good-natured and friendly. By the time we're introduced to Neferet, the feminized eunuch book buyer, her gender identity is almost a non-event.

Lastly, this is a book about politics and family. Poor Ilario must contend with the mother who left her 'freak' infant to die in the cold, the adopted parents who raised him and sold him to be the King's freak, and the father who returns from the Crusades to discover he has a son-daughter. If I could have chosen my parents, I don't think I could have even asked for a father as loving, understanding, and fiercely dedicated as Honorius. Oh, and just to round out the theme of family, Ilario must also contend with the fact that he-she is pregnant!

This is not the book I expected it to be, and that is too its credit. I must say, the ending is quite a cliff-hanger, but knowing there is a second volume eases some of the worry for lovely Ilario. Here's hoping The Stone Golem is a worthy conclusion to the tale.

No comments:

Post a Comment