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An Old Favorite

In the spring of 1989 I read an extraordinary book. I was in my junior year of college, and I expect I read a great many books that semester, but this is the one that sticks with me. It was called The Armor of Light by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett.

At first glance it looked like alternate history fantasy, a fun book about a magical plot to kill Queen Elizabeth the First and the efforts of Sir Philip Sidney and Christopher Marlowe to thwart it. Cool. I'd had Sidney the semester before in literature, and Dr. Faustus and I were old friends. It sounded sparkly, so I bought it.

And then I discovered it was something extraordinary. First, it had a gay hero. Marlowe was gay, a thing never mentioned by my high school English teacher and only in the most passing and shameful terms by the big survey of British literature book for my college class. But Marlowe, in the context of his own time, glowed like a cabochon ruby -- translucent and opaque at once, beautiful and strange and familiar all at once, a denizen of that night world I was only beginning to explore in my own life. Like a Mary Renault character, he didn't belong to our world. Instead, he ruled in his.

But that wasn't the only extraordinary thing about the book. Like Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books, it contained an explicitly Christian system of magic. Sir Philip Sidney, magician, is a Christian warrior who sees no conflict in serving his Queen both with sword and wand. One is no less "good" than the other, though magic is still grossly misunderstood and it is incredibly dangerous to be caught at because The Armor of Light isn't an alternate world. It's a secret history of a world in which Sidney didn't die young, and from that progresses all the changes in events.

That's the third thing -- from one action, from one person having a few more years, comes extraordinary changes because Sidney uses those years to do good. It makes one consider what our world might be if such a small thing were altered.

Three things -- three things done well that made me think, that I found profoundly moving. I read the book twice, put it down and said, "I want to do that. I want to write like that." Unlike the sublime glories of Renault or Tolkien, this seemed attainable. I could write like these women -- not right now, but maybe someday. If I worked hard. If I wrote every day, if I tried to look at the world transformatively every day of my life, if I explored the Night World fearlessly and dreaded no hidden knowledge, but walked forward knowing that I wore the armor of light indeed.

I didn't dare imagine that someday I would write a book with Melissa Scott. Not a book. Eight books and counting. But I have. And this is where it began, where I wanted to, the point where I said, "I can do that."

Right now, as part of the We're Not at Worldcon sale, The Armor of Light ebook is on sale for $.99! There's no better time for me to share this book with you.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
just_ann_now
Aug. 15th, 2014 11:44 am (UTC)
What a lovely, inspiring story! Melissa Scott's books are wondrous. Thank you for brightening my morning (and hers, too, I'm sure) with this!
jo_graham
Aug. 15th, 2014 03:04 pm (UTC)
They really are wondrous. I've learned so much by writing with her.
aishabintjamil
Aug. 15th, 2014 12:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the heads up about the sale. I read and enjoyed this book many years ago in the paper version, but it's nice to have a chance to pick up the ebook too.
jo_graham
Aug. 15th, 2014 03:04 pm (UTC)
Me too! I still have my battered paperback, but it's nice to have the electronic version too.
dncingmalkavian
Aug. 15th, 2014 03:37 pm (UTC)
That is awesome. I'm certainly going to try it.
jo_graham
Aug. 15th, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC)
It's really good. There are some clunky bits of dialogue here and there -- this was one of Melissa's early books -- but the masque at the end is brilliant!
squishydish
Aug. 16th, 2014 09:59 am (UTC)
Sold!
jo_graham
Aug. 16th, 2014 11:44 am (UTC)
I hope you enjoy it! :)
st_aurafina
Aug. 16th, 2014 12:10 pm (UTC)
Ooh, definitely checking this one out!
jo_graham
Aug. 16th, 2014 12:23 pm (UTC)
I hope you enjoy it!
cadenzamuse
Oct. 28th, 2014 01:48 am (UTC)
I know I'm belated, but I just bought the ebook, as this sounds 100% up my alley.

Can you suggest where to start with Katherine Kurtz as well? As you know, Christian magic is Of Great Interest to me.
jo_graham
Oct. 30th, 2014 05:40 pm (UTC)
I hope you enjoy it! I think you will.

I would start with Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris' The Adept. It's a modern setting, the "present" when it was written in 1990, and she does an excellent job of laying out how a lot of things work.

Set in the same world is Lammas Night, which is a more pagan set up, but is absolutely excellent. It's set in WWII, and features the same esoteric problem that The Emperor's Agent does, only from the other side!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )