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on 3 December 2003
If I was a woman i think I'd want Eddison to be the wooer. This is the ultimate in fantastical literature. But like all love affairs you must accept the rough with the smooth.
Mistress of Mistresses is a work of genius but for modern tastes it not an easy reader - take Webster, Shakespeare, Homer, Sappho and the Norse sagas - mix them with your own metaphysical philosophy, decorate it all with lush prose - you create a world of such enduring colour and intrigue that the initiated never want to leave. But to get into the garden you have to accept that the door is a little stiff and you are going to have to work at opening it.
Once read, never forgotten - but read The Worm Ouroborous first or you'll never forgive yourself.
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VINE VOICEon 4 August 2001
I've given it 4 stars only so that I can later give 5 to the sequel, A Fish Dinner In Memison. (The third book, The Mezentian Gate, though there is enough to be well worth reading, was tragically incomplete when ERE died. It's bits in the middle that are missing.)
ERE's first fantasy work was The Worm Ouroboros, utterly wonderful, but these Zimiamvia books soar to new heights, not only in things such as prose, intrigue, characterisation, but also and more importantly in their phenomenal ambition. ERE creates not just a world but, as is gradually revealed, an entire philosophy underpinning the universe. He's the closest thing in fantasy to the visionary Olaf Stapledon, able to steal your breath away with IDEAS alone!
The writing is intense, lyrical, dense, archaic and just UTTERLY fascinating. This is not straight entertainment a la David Eddings, it requires you to engage with it in both mind and soul; but for the serious reader it is uniquely rewarding. (Though John Crowley's even better!)
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on 27 December 2012
I so wanted to enjoy this book, after having read the magical `The Worm Ouroborous' by the same author. Unfortunately, this is only the second book ever that I could not finish. It was utterly tedious and devoid of any kind of plot. I struggled through one page after another, waiting for something (anything!) to happen. Don't get me wrong - I wasn't demanding all-out action from beginning to end - some character portrayal and development would have been just fine. So after reaching half way, I reluctantly and sadly admitted defeat...
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on 2 June 2016
I think Eddison was the inventor of the Swordplay and Sorcery genre, and he certainly did it better then some of his successors, for here the characters seem to be real people, rather than plaster models covered in muscle. A good read, as are the two sequels.
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VINE VOICEon 12 May 2008
Here you have what those of us who devoured Tolkien in the very early sixties fell on ravenously in our search for more of the fantasy fix, along with Mervyn Peake, David Lindsay, Charles Williams, Lord Dunsany et al - all only available then in battered volumes long consigned to the stacks of public libraries and dusty corners in second-hand shops.

You cannot read this volume in isolation - it's part of the Zimmiamvian trilogy and if you embark on it be warned that Eddison did not live to complete the third volume "The Mententian Gate" - parts of it only exist in outline, interspersed with those chapters he did complete. The language and style are overwrought and luschious and the psyche of the author Edwardian and nostalgic for a world as it should have been and never was.

It's my reading of the trilogy that the main protagonists are in fact the prototypes of the old classical gods who can take on the various personas, human and animal, that they create and wear them as garments as they play out their actions in this and other worlds for their own amusement. In fact they can inhabit several characters at the same time. The main character seems to inhabit personas both in this world and Zimmiamvia, both worlds being created for his amusement by his mistress Aphrodite, who is both Fiorinda and the Duchess. In her guise as Fiorinda she also creates our universe in a bubble during the meal in "A Fish Dinner in Memison" for the pleasure of the guests and that as the meal ends she bursts the bubble, remarking that this flawed world is not worth saving. In this I think she reflects Eddison's view of the modern world - in all his books one has the sensation that he is creating worlds he would rather have lived in - aristocratic and ruthless societies where men could be endlessly macho and conniving and women beautiful and manipulative and no-one ever had to cope with the mundane business of daily life.

Having republished this volume I can't understand why Gollancz hasn't reissued the other two volumes or even combined them into a single volume. Copyright issues perhaps? The others are still out there in second hand and charity shops and they are worth searching for - and if you enjoy this one you will have the added thrill of the chase in searching out the others.
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on 15 December 2008
...he'd have written stuff like this.

With all the lowest common denominator, easy to swallow, fantasy fiction that comes out today, it is great to discover a book like this from the past. From a time before Tolkien ruined things by making people think that fantasy is all about orcs, evil overlords who live in volcanic mountains, and innocent, warm-hearted goodies who always triumph in the end.

Tolkien may have read his nordic myths and stolen all the good, exciting bits, but Eddison has seen into the soul of the European storytelling tradition, its poetry and majesty, and produced a timeless work of fiction.

Read this book if you like the language and characters of Shakespeare or the atmosphere of Arthurian legend (especially in the Excalibur film), or the storytelling of the Gawain and the Green Knight poem.

Its majestic and beautiful and gripping to the end. And unlike most fantasy books I had no idea how this was going to play out. Don't read this book if you want to finish it in one night and then go on to the next. This novel is a rich experience to savour slowly. Reading this novel i would stop every couple of pages and reflect and digest on what i'd just read, just as i do when I read a Shakespeare play or any great work of literature, which this is.
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on 27 July 2004
The characters appeared to have no internal motivation - they all felt like paper thin place holders. That wouldn't have been too bad if the plot had any depth, but it didn't. Compare the plot depth of a Niven, for example, which arguably also has wafer thin characters.... The "fantasy" seemed to consist mostly of self indulgent extended descriptions of rooms and clothing. I was so bored with it that although I was on a 12 hour flight, I just stopped reading it half way through and left it on the plane.
Maybe I just don't like fantasy - but I loved "Little big"...
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on 25 March 2009
It took an immense test of will to finish this book. The novel is over-written with ornate descriptions which just get in the way of what story there is. To call the characters cardboard is to insult the many practical uses for that substance. The central figure, Lessingham, could only be loved by its creator and I have seldom come across a case of a writer being so in love with one of his own characters.
It is easy, but unfair, to criticise Tolkien but Eddison shows how good JRR was by being so self-indulgent and incompetent himself.
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on 16 January 2015
A lush and complicated classic.
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on 18 April 2003
I'm sorry to say that this book is only for those linguists out there who have the time and are prepared to ponder and assimulate the meaning of every archaic paragraph. I just couldn't get into it - slow, ponderous and dull. Did I miss something?
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