Sythyry’s Journal: A World Tree Chronicle of Transaffection, Adventure, and Doom, by Bard Bloom – review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

9781451562934_p0_v1_s192x300Sythyry’s Journal: A World Tree Chronicle of Transaffection, Adventure, and Doom, by Bard Bloom
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, April 2010, trade paperback $25.00 (626 pages).

The opening paragraph of this dense, 626 pages of small type is:

“My exceedingly old and exceedingly famous grandparent just gave me this notebook as a going-to-school present. Zie says that zie wishes zie had had one when zie was growing up, but of course nobody knew how to do enchantments then, and there probably wasn’t time to do a lot of writing, what with all the fighting cyarr and nendrai and everything.” (p. 5)

Sythyry is a small, pale blue dragonet (actually a Zi Ri) “of impeccable lineage, considerable wit, and overwhelming inexperience, off alone at college for the first time. Zie must face terrible dangers: roommates, friends, courses in enchantment and flirtatious dance, deadly monsters, minor nobility, war, and, most dreadful of all, romance.” (blurb). The Zi Ri are hermaphrodites with pronouns to match, avoiding the “him” or “her” of the single-sex genders. The cover by Tod Wills shows zir at an Academy Buttery party surrounded by zir roommates Dustweed the Herethroy (the green grasshopper-like being at lower right) and Havune the Cani (the overdressed dog-like being at upper left), and friends Oostmarine the Orren (the otter-like being at upper right) and Anoof, another Cani (at lower left).

When Bard Bloom and his wife Victoria Borah Bloom created the World Tree role-playing game in 2001 (its cover by Mike Raabe was a finalist for the first Ursa Major Award in 2001 for Best Anthropomorphic Published Illustration), LiveJournal was just getting started. Bloom explains in his “Author’s Forward” [sic.] that his own life made uninteresting reading. “So I decided to write from the point of view of a World Tree character.” – Sythyry the young Zi Ri. This book consists of Bloom’s LiveJournal entries from 2002 to 2007, as edited into novel format by Victoria Borah Bloom. Further LiveJournal entries to 2016 have been novelized in four Kindle books; Dragon Student, Ambassador to a Monster, Wizard’s Vacation, and City of Advanced Magic.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 3.39.00 PMSythyry’s Journal covers zir notebook entries from 1 Chirreb 4260 when zie gets zir notebook, to 15 Thory 4262. Two years in a college co-ed’s rambling diary are what you might expect. Except that this co-ed happens to be a small blue, flying, fire-breathing dragonet, at a college of magic in Vheshrame, a city-state (of one branch of the World Tree):

“Classes begin tomorrow, and Havune and Thery assure me that I won’t have the seventh part of a second to spare to myself once they begin. I have chosen Ancient Ketherian History, the Study of Differences, Elementary Theory of Tempador Magic, and Current Politics of Aradrueia, and, for the gymnastic requirement, Flirtatious Dancing.

I was going to take Choinxeian Politics, but Thery warned me – and more seriously than that warning about spare time – that Professor Thistro of Choinxeian Politics was a pompous monstrosity who reveled in reciting a hundred kings a minute, and Professor Urastra of Aradrueian was actually worth listening to. Therefore I shall wait for another three months on the Choinxeian Politics.)

In the afternoon, I went flying, then hunting. In Vheshrame, pigeons are plentiful, and, fortunately, not fireproof. I brought a brace of them home, flapping slowly after me from a Ruloc Corpador improvisation. It’s dignified for hunters to carry their catch that way, but not for shoppers to carry theirs. Etiquette is a twisty subject, of which I shall complain further on future days and centuries.” (p. 7)

Classes can be rather exotic:

“Flirtatious Dance is proving to be a good bit of exercise. Not the kind I was hoping for; not yet. The teachers – there are four of them, for it is a rather popular class among the unmarried students – started with a dance to try to scare students out of the class. A traditional Thanish triafrella is a bit of an energetic dance. For a modern flourish, or perhaps for extra humiliation, they made us dance it with apples in our muzzles.

It is hard to flirt properly with an apple in your mouth. It is hard to even pant properly with an apple in your muzzle; the Cani especially were looking rather miserable by the end of the class. I daresay I was looking rather miserable too: not hot of course, it takes a goodly fire to do that, but I’m far and away the smallest person in the class, and they didn’t shrink the set that I have to run around. Yes, run, my hind legs on the floor, my forelegs carrying two glasses of wine, and my wings trying desperately not to tangle anyone’s tail. A proper fool I looked – just like everyone else in the room.” (p. 9)

51BcQJo7P1LSythyry is rather wordy, as readers will have noticed. This is good in terms of bringing the college to vivid life. And zie’s social life can get especially complex:

“Now for some worrisome questions. Shall I be a mysterious cryptic lizard sage, or shall I date other students? Shall I date full-mammals, or, perhaps, Herethroy? How much physical affection is proper, since there is no-one else of my own species in the city except for my half-sibling? How much is dignified? Or consonant with a potent degree of decorum and mystery?” (p. 10)

Yes, there is sex. Eventually. With a mammal:

“It was warm and awkward. And surprisingly sticky at the end.

And that, O monsters who are reading for prurient interest, is all I have to say about the details.” (pgs. 237-238)

Oh, no, it isn’t. Although zie still leaves out the details. This is a comedy of manners, after all.

There are the nagging letters from parents:

“~Mother~ reminds me to take at least half my classes in magic. To my lips this brings a vast and smoky sigh. I have plenty of time to learn and practice magic – I have neither desire nor impulse nor wish to become a great wizard before mid-Surprise, nor yet by Midwinter’s day next year. I can do it by degrees (and not the kind that Vheshrame Academy grants!) over a century or so! I can work as, I don’t care so much, a banker or a book-seller or some such, and bind spells on the side, or cast them for friends, or whatnot. There ae no lack of fearsomely mighty people in the family as it is. I imagine it would take me ten thousand years to get to where Glikkonen is after only four – even if I studied constantly, he invented some of the basic magical techniques, he bickered with gods – those things don’t happen in the modern world!

~Mother~ has the very best of intentions, I do not doubt that for half a moment, but zie’s half the World Tree’s lifetime old, and I doubt zie’s been out of her amber tower two months since I hatched. Zie can’t really understand modern life, can zie?” (p. 14)

A note on Sythyry’s size:

“Now we have a cat. She is named Pazi-Pazi; her fur is very bright blue; she weighs a bit more than I do. She enjoys stalking me. Fortunately she is not fireproof, so if I stoke my bed well enough she does not molest me there – she lurks on mantelpiece, leering at me hungrily or playfully.

I am not the one that she is supposed to hunt.” (p. 23)

Sythyry’s Journal will immerse you in the exotic world of the World Tree in general, and of Vheshrame Academy and environs, and Sythyry’s experiences there, in particular. Familiarity with the World Tree role-playing game is helpful but not necessary. Readers who want a smaller World Tree novel are recommended to try Bard Bloom’s A Marriage of Insects; it’s only 193 pages.

Fred Patten

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