“Lemma the Librarian – Sucker for a Good Book”


Published: January 30, 2016


For a story in which the bad guy kills like fifty people (off-camera), this one is a lot more fun than its nobody-dies predecessor.

It helps that it opens with a wonderful comic setpiece, Lemma attempting to play damsel-in-distress/bait, very, very badly, followed by some nice Lemma/Iason banter. They’ve actually reached the point where they seem like a pair of (rather snarky) friends. The return of Brea (moderate squee) also helps with this: it’s a callback to where they’ve been already, of course, but also reminds us that Lemma is capable of making friends, and has been doing so rather better since the story started. Another step on her character arc.

The last two thirds of it is a straight-up dungeon crawl, always a fun fantasy trope (and one Lemma doesn’t do elsewhere). The “you can’t resist mind control” curse starts to pull its weight here, since Lemma really, really doesn’t want to be eaten by vampires*, but she loses fast anyways. Brea shows up, Lemma mind-controls her – first time for everything – and then we have a climactic fight where Iason, Brea, and Lemma all play a part in saving the day**. 

Then Iason gets to explain to Lemma, for once, which is as funny as it is infuriating to Lemma, Brea takes the whole being enslaved thing surprisingly in stride once it wears off, and Lemma realizes that Brea touched the super-powerful doombook without harm***. Lemma’s theory is that Brea is an avatar of the war goddess(es), come to help them undefile her/their temple, which is great, but I like Brea’s character enough on its own terms that my theory is a little more hands-off: Brea’s Brea, just (possibly even unbeknownst to her) getting a blessing from the war goddess(es) to help her be the hero she wants to be (and undefile the temple). It’s a pretty great ending****. 

*Unlike the other mc bits, where Lemma merely partially doesn’t want to be controlled. More on this, later, too.

**Given that only Iason isn’t under mind-control by the villain, that must have been a bitch to plot. It works well.

***Also threw Iason’s sword without trouble, although this is less impressive than it sounds. As in D&D, magic here apparently doesn’t leave much time for pushups: real iron swords weigh substantially less than any one of the books that Lemma’s toting around, assuming the books are parchment rather than paper. You gotta be able to swing that sucker fast, after all.

****Spoilers: yes, I know. *grinds teeth unhappily* We’ll get to… that… when we get to it, OK?

When The Fuck Are We? 🤷

We’re in the capital of Mercia, which means, I guess… (*googles around*) Tamworth, Staffordshire? Sure*. 

This is the first story to really directly touch on religion: the Tin Islanders (and Sea Peoples, and Lemurians) are polytheistic, which is not really a stretch when you have documented cases of gods walking the earth. The Tin Islanders have a Triple Goddess of War, which of course suggests the Morrigan, the Irish Triple Goddess of War/heavily war-inflected Three Fates figure. 

Ireland was both the longest surviving Celtic-cultured region in Britain, and the one where the pre-Christian mythology was recorded most thoroughly, so most of our knowledge of British Celtic mythology is really Irish Celtic mythology. This isn’t a huge problem – if the Irish had a Morrigan figure, then it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that the Great British Celts did too. The problem is that we’re in Mercia, ie the Anglo-Saxon half of the island, and the Anglo-Saxons had their own mythology, which was completely different***. Also, just to kick the timeline while its down, the Briton half of the island – Kyrno and Breizh, in particular – should still be Christian in 650 CE, and within a generation so will most of the Anglo-Saxon half, including Mercia.

No Fantasy Christianity is, of course, a pretty common thing, and for perfectly valid reasons (it makes it hard to have morally-neutral magic, for starters, and that’s not even getting to the list of cultural issues as long as my arm that it imports****). But it makes the Seven Kingdoms/Heptarchy equivalence a bit hard to hold on to. Mercia, until the second half of the 7th C CE, was practically defined by being the last and by far strongest pagan state on a Christianizing island; and after that was occupied with the vicious squabbling with the Church that was the birthright of every Christian state down to at least 1648. 

Religion in the Dark Ages was serious business, is my point. The Tin Islanders seem to have a vastly more laid-back approach to religion (we’ll be seeing a great example of that next time), which fits the more syncretic approach of classical and pre-classical Europe. Plus, of course, before the Romans and Anglo-Saxons came, Britain was uniformly Celtic and presumably uniformly Celtic-religioned. So from the religious point of view, at least, 1200 BCE seems like it might be a more plausible date for the Tin Islands.

*Dark Ages polities tended not to have “capitals”, in favour of itinerant courts, since the infrastructure to maintain central control over large areas didn’t exist anymore, and perpetual travel was the only way to keep a handle on all the outlying parts. (Or really, every part was outlying.) Tamworth is just one of the more important Mercian royal residences, probably near the original 6th C core of proto-Mercia. They did have capitals in the relatively centralized late Bronze Age, though, so I’ll take advantage of the bouncing back-and-forth timeframe again to give it an ok**.

**Relatively centralized in the Eastern Med, not distant Britain. Damnit, I’m trying as hard as I can, OK? 😛

***We don’t know a huge amount about Anglo-Saxon religion, actually, for the same reason we don’t know a lot about the religion of Celtic Great Britain (to wit: the Dark Ages lost a lot of recorded knowledge, and the fine details of pagan religion was one of the things Dark Age Christians were mostly not interested in preserving). But we do know enough that “eh, Viking stuff with Odin and Thor and whatnot” covers it to a reasonable first approximation, at least as well as “eh, Irish stuff with fairies and the Morrigan and whatnot” does for the pre-Christian Celts.

****For instance: the use of the word “soul” in this series also seems very un- or at least a-Christian. It seems to be more of a synonym for “will and personality” than “immortal essence of the person themself”. There’s never even any particular reference to an afterlife, that I can recall. Lemma and Iason are horrified about their vampiric bodies wandering around being evil without “them”, but possibly not as much about the soul being destroyed. My feeling is that in Lemma’s cosmology, after death the soul slowly unstitches itself and returns to the totality of the universe or some such new-agey thing; having one’s soul destroyed is very, very bad but not anything like what that would entail in a Christian cosmology.

Next time: The most sympathetic Lovecraftian cultist I have ever met. No, wait, there’s “The Litany of Earth”. Go read that while you’re waiting for the next review. You won’t regret it. 

This was, by far, the single hardest chapter of the series to write. Mostly because introducing the Lemmaverse take on vampires was so important to the Tin Islands arc, but it was so hard to find heat and fun with them around.

On souls: That’s pretty much how Lemma uses the term, yeah. And no, there really isn’t any reference to an afterlife–there is later some stuff about ghosts, but even there I left it deliberately unclear what happens when they “move on”–if they just dissolve or become one with Force or move on to another plane of existence or what.