Delightful Deer: Celebrating Gentle Creatures in Fantasy (also sneak peeks and free books)

I won’t lie: I’ve spent the past couple of days casting about for things to write about this week. It’s the end of the semester for me, which means much madness and burn-out. And while the fact that I’ll be on medical leave next semester (Lyme disease plus probably other things, for those of you just joining the party) is GREAT, since it turns out that doing stuff is basically awful if you’re constantly on the edge of collapsing and blacking out, and also my campus is probably overrun with building toxins or something unpleasant like that, it would really be better not to have to take a medical leave at all.

Anyway, my brain is basically an end-of-the-semester kasha at the moment, BUT since the big launch promo for The Dreaming Land III is next weekend,

TDLIII Front Cover ebook small

TDLIII is going to be free next weekend! But it’s *already* free on Kindle Unlimited!

I want to keep gearing up for it! Raising excitement, and all that! So I thought I’d write about deer.

The things is, I love deer. And all kinds of hoofed mammals (*cough* horses *cough*), but deer just don’t get the love that they should. Humans have this reprehensible tendency to identify with major predators like wolves and lions, even as we do everything in our power to exterminate them. One could write and write about that, but for the moment I’m just going to say that consider my spirit animal to be the deer (what, not the horse?!? you say in surprise), and deer appear at key moments in both The Breathing Sea and The Dreaming Land, acting as physical or spiritual guides.

While Dasha, the heroine of The Breathing Seais overtly very deer-like, Valya, the heroine of The Dreaming Land, is a warrior. Or is she? What does it mean to be a warrior? And are deer warriors, and warriors deer-like? These are questions that Valya wrestles with throughout the TDL trilogy, along with the problem of causing harm and suffering, even for “good” reasons. As she travels across her land in her quest to stamp out the underground slave trade, she is forced to confront the fact that slavery and suffering are everywhere, not just in the slave caravans but in “good” things too. Human society is built on it, and the natural world also has the destruction and consumption of others as one of its foundations. One of the things that Valya must confront is the fact that suffering seems inevitable in the natural world–and the fact that humans use this is an excuse to perpetrate vast amounts of egregiously unnecessary suffering. As Valya would say, doing that and calling it, for example, logic, “is when you tell yourself a bunch of lies that sound like cold hard truth but are really you being scared and selfish, only you manage to hide it away behind your twisty edifice of half-truths.” (Valya rarely hesitates to speak a harsh truth when the moment calls for it).

The problem of taking what belongs to others becomes particularly acute for Valya at the end of TDLII and the beginning of TDLIII, as her magical healing abilities manifest themselves with ever-greater strength–and appear to demand an ever-higher price, not just from Valya but from everyone around her. At one point early on in TDLIII, Valya stops for the night after a very hard day’s ride, and has a significant encounter with a deer:

Doe

When deer do appear in books, they tend to be bucks, but my heroines encounter does. The doe who comes up to Valya in this scene probably looks a lot like this.

I leaned against a tree and poked at the fire. That’s me, I thought. Or rather, that will be me. Nothing but a pile of ash. And no wonder. All I can do is take. My gift—my magical gift, my life—it’s just stealing from others for my own ends. All I can do is take. I’m a killer. A thief and a killer…my gift is in stealing from others, my gift is in stealing from others, my gift is in stealing from others…

The clearing suddenly went silent, even more silent than before. I looked up from the fire. A young doe was standing between the trees, looking at me.

Can you hear me? I asked her. But there was no reply. She was just standing there looking at me with her limpid brown eyes.

“You shouldn’t be here,” I said to her out loud. “You should stay away from humans.”

She continued to look at me with her large clear eyes.

“Even me,” I said. “Especially me. After all, another person would have to shoot you. But I could stop your heart and steal your life with just a thought.”

She stood there, looking at me with what, I thought uncomfortably, was trust shining out of her big eyes. Somehow they reminded me of Ivan’s. There was the same innocence, the same belief that I meant no harm…all the scents, all the sounds of the clearing rose up around me so strongly, as did all the life around me…I could sense it all…it was giving me strength…I was no longer slumped against the tree, but sitting up straight…even the fire seemed to be burning more brightly…Zlata rose to her feet, and then Svetlyak…the doe stumbled and fell to her knees.

“No!” I screamed. She hauled herself back to her feet and tried to bound off, but managed nothing more than a shaky trot.

“No!” I cried again, and I tried to go after her, I tried to give back what I had taken, but despite my strength and her weakness, I was too confused about what I needed to do, what I wanted to do, and before I could fix what I had done, she was gone and I had to come back and throw myself down by the fire and stir the stew before it burnt.

Something dripped off my chin. I must have started crying without realizing it. It didn’t make me feel any better, the way I had always thought it would, all those times when the tears wouldn’t come.

***

I don’t want to spoil the end of the book, but things do work out well in the end for many of the characters. Nature is harsh, and humans are cruel, but one of the things I’ve taken a kind of comfort from in my own experiences with being seriously ill and quite literally being eaten alive by a wily predator (even less fun than it sounds) is that, in the very long run, there is a tendency towards symbiosis. Multicellular organisms like, for example, humans, are symbiotic hosts to all kinds of other organisms; our mitochondria may once have been bacteria, and consciousness itself may be the result of a viral infection. That super-pesky Lyme spirochete can live in stealth mode for months or years in humans, instead of causing instant death like, say, Ebola, and is even more adapted to dogs, deer, and its main host, mice. So maybe, one day, the lion really can lie down with the lamb.

In the meantime, maybe we can all think a little bit about how to be gentler creatures, and give more than we take.

And there’s nothing like reading to entertain different possibilities, is there? So why not check out this week’s selection of free fantasy giveaways:

This is the last week for the Magic and Fantasy Giveaway!

And then there’s the Historical Fantasy and Fiction Giveaway!

And finally, the Myths, Gods, and Ancient Worlds Giveaway!

Bookfunnel Myths Giveaway 2

 

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