Reading Backwards

Book reviews by your favorite Git.

With a Tangled Skein

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By Piers Anthony
(Amazon image link)
Stupid plug Amazon.com
Rating: Frabjous
Read: approx. 1998 (age 12), reread August 2005.

I first read the Incarnations of Immortality when I was about 12, and I remember enough to know that I didn’t comprehend nearly as much as I will now, some 7 years later. (Yosh, has it really been that long?) I’ve reread this particular book in the series a few times previously, but haven’t touched it since high school began. I decided it was time.


The concept behind this series is that there are 7 supernatural ‘offices’ that normal humans assume. They carry out the roles of Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil, and Good. Their job is to keep things running smoothly. The holder of each office is frozen at the physical point at which they assumed the office. Death has to be killed by his predecessor. Evil must be outwitted by his. The other incarnations more or less get to choose their successors within certain limits, at such time that they want to step down.

But, we shall begin this volume with a perfectly ordinary woman: Niobe. Around the start of the 20th century, in Ireland, Niobe is the most beautiful woman of her generation, if not the smartest or most accomodating. The first World War has drained Ireland of its virile young men, and so she is married, at the age of 21, to a 16 year old boy with good family connections. At first she is very displeased by this, but she grows to love Cedric deeply… until he is killed- by the actions of Satan, the Incarnation of Evil. When Fate offers her a position, she readily accepts.

And so Niobe assumes the role of Clotho. Fate is actually three women sharing one body. The three aspects are Clotho (the youngest, spinner of thread), Lachesis (middle-aged, keeper of the tapestry) and Atropos (the elderly cutter of threads). Niobe learns the office and its duties, and much about how the entire system works. Satan, however, knows that she is to be a thorn in his side, and tries to confuse her. She is ever more determined to get her revenge for Cedric, however.

I won’t divulge the rest, of course, but it is very, very enjoyable. There are tons of puzzles to figure out, a regular Anthony theme. And everyone can relate to Niobe, who must learn to be clever, rather than having it come naturally to her. Despite that, she never feels slighted or lesser than anyone else. I love Niobe. She is now and will always be my favorite of the Incarnations.

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