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  • Maia
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on 7 February 2011
This was a very interesting read for me coming after Watership Down and Shardik (though I've yet to get around to Adams' other novels), and a pleasant change in direction somewhat. Maia is an adventure, nothing more and nothing less. What initially attracted me to the book was simply that it was set in the same fantasy world as Shardik, a book which, while I adored the setting and story, was at times a little too dark and unrelenting for my tastes.
Thankfully Maia is a much more pleasant tale, with a far more likeable (albeit less complex) protagonist, helped along in no small part by her whimsical and naive viewpoint through which much of the story is told.

This is essentially the bottom line for this novel; it is simple, yet enjoyable. Certain aspects of the book seem a little off-balance that's for sure. For example Maia's love interest, and her subsequent separation from him, play a big part in the latter half of the novel, however we are expected to believe that Maia is madly, utterly, blindly in love with her man after they spend all of one night together, and is literally willing to lay down her life for his. Maia might have convinced herself of this (and goodness, after a couple of hundred pages she'd even started to convince me) but the romantic thread that drives a significant portion of the novel is explored in very little detail at all, and is largely a plot device that does not feel entirely real for a long time after.

Secondly, and in agreement with an earlier review, this feels like a book that could easily be half, or twice, as long as it is. I personally felt like I could've gone on reading about Maia's adventures forever, but as an unfortunate result the narrative comes to its climax far too early, and the story trails off and winds down for the last two hundred pages or so rather than ending with a bang. All Adams does within the final section of the book is to tie up the many loose ends and unanswered questions left dangling, and even the fate of the primary antagonist is left to be told via a flashback-esque tale in the penultimate chapter. That is not to say the climax of much of what happens in Maia is unfulfilling or dull - it is simply badly structured and paced.

Nevertheless, a great tale is a great tale despite its shortcomings. The glue that holds any good story together, the characters, both new and old (although thankfully Adams avoids making this a Shardik "prequel" by returning to any of his previous creations for too long) are superbly crafted, expansively fleshed out, and loved and loathed precisely as the author intends them. Maia grows consistently from one chapter to the next, and her transition from a scared helpless farmgirl, to a pampered concubine, to a wealthy and outgoing young noble, and finally a contented woman with her own happiness at heart, is a thoroughly enjoyable and exciting journey. It's a long haul, but it's a good one.

Any final thoughts?
Well, just one thing. Maia struck me as a bit of a girly book, for lack of a better word, compared to Richard Adams' usual fare. Aside from of course the vast majority of the central characters being female the story deals far more heavily with character and emotion, in a very down-to-earth sense, than a novel such as Shardik. If I had to put a finger on why I liked this book more than its predecessor, I'd say it was probably due to that.

Shush, a guy can prefer girly stories if he wants to.
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'Tolkien meets Barbarella' was a thought that crossed my mind after wading through a couple of hundred pages of this lot. There is a very Tolkienish map in the inside cover, and none other than Sauron himself was actually a Maia - (I wonder how well Adams had been remembering his Silmarillion). Powers other than human do not actually figure in this book until it suddenly hoists itself on to a startlingly higher level with the penultimate scene in the Streels of Urtah, but we have had to get through 1000 pages and more before we reach that.
Airport-bookstall doorstoppers of books about Fabled Imaginary Empires always run a risk of self-parody, particularly when they contain a generous lacing of fleshly detail about vile slave-masters and their able-bodied retinues, and I find myself genuinely sorry that Adams saw fit to squander his great talent on a pot-boiler like this. Many of his familiar virtues are still here, to be sure. He has real and exceptional gifts for natural description for one thing, he does very well with giving individuality to a very crowded cast of characters, and he is a born storyteller. Nevertheless he lets his storytelling ability run away with him here. The plot is held together in a very competent way, but really the book could have been half as long as it is, or even, (heaven forfend), twice as long. There is no real reason, other than the limits on human stamina and longevity, why this succession of tableaux might not have gone on to infinity. However the basic trouble with this book is the lack of a sense of humour. Adams takes himself desperately seriously - he would hardly have been flattered by the comparison, but I honestly felt myself starting to think at times that Clark Ashton Smith, who is delightfully tongue-in-cheek whatever his shortcomings, handles lost-empire scenarios like these better in his lightweight way. In particular Adams seems to imagine he has particular insights into how women think and feel. Without trying to assess him in detail over this, which would just be falling into the same trap myself, I suggest some scepticism may be in order regarding the astonishing adaptability of a 15/16-year-old girl subjected to a major series of what we would these days think of as emotional traumas, to say nothing of implications that women secretly like the gross erotic proclivities of even the most grotesque and loathsome males such as the High Councillor, a kind of proto Mr Creosote. It's not precisely prurient (Adams is too solemn for that) but the mentality is pretty unattractive all the same.
The quality of the writing is good, although too much of it is of the formulaic kind that one expects in books like this from less distinguished hands -
'What is it, Harpax?'
'My lord, a messenger from the Sacred Queen; one of her attendants'.
'Admit her' -
and similar tosh throughout. One feature of Adams's style that has definitely deteriorated also is his fondness for inventing his own names for places and people, together with an imaginary vocabulary, in unknown tongues. The seagull talking in a Norwegian accent and the mouse in an Italian accent in Watership Down were delightful, as were the names of the rabbits and the special terms they used. The predecessor of this particular book is, of course, Shardik, and he carries the process further in that, but still quite successfully I thought. In Maia it is starting to be ridiculous, only the author doesn't realise. Maia's friend Occula is made to talk in some accent that appears to consist mainly of dropping the final g in present participles: Maia herself talks in an amorphous country-girl patois: plants and birds sometimes have their proper names and sometimes phony names: there are rude parts of the body called tairth and zard; the expletive commonly deleted in modern English is inscrutably substituted by 'basting'; and I wonder whether Adams knew that there actually is such a word as 'prion'. By at least page 500 I had got well and truly tired of the tedious half-hearted charade, all the way from Airtha to zard.
The book is definitely over-long for me, but others may have more staying-power, and I finished it for all that. Nevertheless Adams is not just some pulp author - there are real flashes of what he can do at his best even here. The characterisation of Queen Fornis is vivid and memorable for one. For another, any reader of Shardik will surely recall the evocative and tantalising reference to the sinister Streels. I had seen somewhere that they feature in Maia too, and from page 750 if not earlier it was only the hope of coming to that bit that was keeping me going. I got there by about page 1010 or so, but it was a terrific episode, and not just as a relief from its context. Another of Adams's endearing little foibles is showing off his Greek untranslated. There are a couple of lines of tragedy at the start of The Girl in a Swing, and there are two passages here, one translated and one not. It doesn't seem to me that I'm spoiling anything by revealing that the untranslated excerpt means
'To be healthy is the best thing for mortal man,
And second to be comely in form.
Third is just simply to be wealthy,
And fourth to come of age with one's dear ones'.
I suppose I enjoyed the book a little despite myself, but after all the display of languages I think it can be fairly characterised, with due regard for decorum, by the two members of the call-sign alphabet that I have taken for my caption.
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on 19 April 2015
Before Game of Thrones, there was Maia. Dynastic struggles between warring provincial lords? Check. Armies marching out to die in the dust? Check. Central degenerate city jam-packed full of slaves, whores, dodgy fat spymasters and noble bastard sons? Check. Feisty women on the run? Check. Plenty of gratuitous sex and acts of barbarism? Check. A really difficult-to-cross river? Check. There is no equivalent of the Freys or the Boltons, thank goodness.
I loved this book as a teenager and am thrilled it's now out for Kindle (I already have the hardback first edition). Maia, Occula and Bayub-Otal are like old friends and despite the occasional ludicrousness of the plotting and the very old-fashioned gender politics and social stereotyping, I still love it. Vivid, memorable characters and locations, sumptuously depicted set-pieces like the Rains Banquet, two heroines you really care about, and a doomed and haunting romantic subplot featuring a captive noblewoman.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 September 2013
Maia may have shocked in its day due to the section detailing a young girl's use as a sex slave, but I don't recall any mentions of it at the time. This is set in the same world as Shardik, the Beklan Empire, closely based on the Roman Empire except that there are no horses.
Teenaged Maia is sold into slavery and along with an athletic and experienced coloured girl is used as a sex slave by a grossly fat old man. A woman in his household is saving up gifts and tips and is able to buy her freedom - that night the city riots and the villa is threatened by fire.
Maia through some bravery is set free and given a small villa of her own, and lives a much happier life. But soldiers are on the march and she eventually comes to the attention of the leader - who has to decide if this girl from another land is being loyal or not when she provides information.

I liked a few details and characterisations and there is plenty of adventure. Maia is a great swimmer and feels at home in the water. One soldier has an infected arm wound and complains that the old women always tell you such disgusting cures involving spiders' webs and mouldy bread. But anyone would know to at least break the scab and let the pus out, which doesn't happen, to the man's detriment. We see horses at the end only, arriving from another country, and I thought Adams might have wanted to return to that world in a later time and detail changes, but he didn't. This is an interesting adult book and readers might also like The Girl In A Swing, his tale of modern suspense.
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on 6 May 2016
This really is one of the greats. A lighter simpler book, almost an early game of thrones "type" book, with a way smaller cast, situated around Maia, a peasant girl sold into prostitution. Written with the beautiful language and description of Richard Adams.
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on 23 January 2003
Another wonderful saga from Richard Adams. This is set in the Beklan empire (of Shardik fame) but pre-date the events there. It concerns the story of Maia, a beautiful peasant girl, seduced by her step father and then abduced by slave traders to be sold as a concubine. She is fortunate to be befriended by Occula, an exotic but tough and worldly black girl and both move into Beklan high society as a result of their sexual allure.They enter a world of political corruption, espionage, love and warfare. Despite Fornis, the scheming, sexually predatory Sacred Queen, Maia finally discovers her true roots and destiny.
This book keeps you entertained all the way through, with plots, sub-plots and intrigue
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on 20 July 2013
Read this book in my late teens.... Loved it..... It's an excellent story.... Very long and intricate

The book was as described by the seller and came almost immediately - very happy with the service and the price of the item
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on 15 January 2015
Read this as a kid and really liked it. Very interesting story, and well crafted world. Enjoying reading it again as an adult - from the author of Watership Down.
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on 13 February 2015
great thanks
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on 18 May 2015
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