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Book Review: How to Confront Hate and Discrimination with A Tale of Magic

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and excerpt.TaleofMagic

Spoilers.  The one spoiler that is of the book’s ending instead of its beginning is in white.  Highlight between the stars to read.

I have never read any of Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series though it has been recommended to me, so I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened this one to try to prepare for an event at the store. A Tale of Magic… is I think a prequel series to The Land of Stories. I began an ARC of the story in October and didn’t finish it until the very end of December, but I kept reading it past the event, and I finished it, which I can’t say of every book that I begin for an event. There seemed near the middle to be enough parallels between the story that I thought Colfer might be telling and the story that I am struggling to tell that I decided that I had to finish this one, even if the event was long over. (I managed just about 150 pages before the event.)

The book didn’t end up going quite the direction that I thought that it might.

In the Southern Kingdom we are introduced to Brystal Evergreen. Brystal is living beneath laws that are deeply misogynistic. Women are allowed only to pursue motherhood. They are banned from reading or even entering the library. But Brystal has brothers. She has studied law alongside them and reads novels that her younger brother sneaks to her. She manages briefly to hide a part-time job as the library’s nighttime maid, reading through the library’s offerings after close.

One book reveals to her the corruption of the government, the manipulation of laws for the purpose of consolidating the power of the government, and another reveals the existence of good magic, fairy magic instead of witchcraft.

I would actually have liked to have spent more time with Brystal’s family, the dynamics of which I found very interesting, while she slowly picks apart the prejudices that have built her world, but that wasn’t the story that Colfer wanted to tell.

Reading a passage from that second book reveals Brystal to be a fairy, and her magic lands her in a Correctional Center that is really a workhouse, from which she is rescued by a mysterious and obviously magical Madame Weatherberry, author of the book that landed her in such trouble.

The magical community is even more oppressed than women are in the Southern Kingdom. Magical peoples have been pushed to the dangerous In-Between, which is outside of the control of any of the four kingdoms and where resources are scarce for such a large population.

Madame Weatherberry begins a school for magic with the intention of training fairies to do good works for the non-magical inhabitants of the kingdoms and by so doing erase the prejudice and suppression that causes non-magical people now to hunt the magical.

That was the original thought of my own WIP’s protagonist, though recent years have made me more cynical. I wanted to see if Colfer was able to convince me that there was some good to be achieved through such a plan.

Then I thought that Colfer’s characters might begin to see as I have that “Stonewall was a riot!” and that only through revolution is revolutionary change achieved.

Neither was really the direction that the book went.

Instead Brystal * learns to leverage society’s fear of magic by leaving alive a greater threat that only she and her classmates are powerful enough to fight.   She and her classmates attack no one but neither do they perform good works across the kingdom.*

The writing was at times not subtle enough for me, perhaps a little didactic. I was not wholly on board with how easily Brystal accepts the leadership role into which she is thrust nor how adult she acts or how quickly the protagonists pass through their challenges.  The magic system was vague, but it worked, because I never felt that the magic was anything other than a stand-in for other inborn traits that lead to discrimination in our world.

Knowing some of Colfer’s biography, I felt it likely that magic was here a stand-in for an LGBTQIA+ identity, though there was no instance in this book of any romance—which itself is a welcome change.  This book touches too on the dangers of a culture of toxic masculinity with the character of Xanthous, the only masculine-presenting fairy that we meet.

I marked several poignant ideas from the novel, thoughts mostly on how to change the world and why the world is hateful and how to react to the hate in the world.

My ARC is 61 pages shorter than Goodreads advertises that the book is in the final print; I don’t know what was added or what other changes may have been made between the ARC that I read and the final print copy, though I know that mine lacked much of the artwork, most places where illustrations will appear merely held with the phrase “ATK.”

****

Colfer, Chris. A Tale of Magic…  Illus. Brandon Dorman.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2019.

This review is not endorsed by Chris Colfer, Brandon Dorman, Little, Brown and Company, or Hachette Book Group. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Shelfie: July 13-14, 2017: Too Much Time and Not Enough

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I broke my humerus in a fall in July of 2017.  For a few days my view didn’t change as I basically didn’t move from the couch.  Luckily, my cat altered the view somewhat and the view involved lots of colorful spines of books, so at least my view wasn’t boring.  (Shown here is our poetry shelf and the beginning of the alphabet with anthologies stacked on top.)

While I was laid up, I took the time to return to Harry Potter, re-reading The Half-Blood Prince while I recovered.  Do you have books that you turn to when you’re in pain?  Or books that you have been meaning to return to but haven’t find the time?  I hope you do find the time, but I hope you don’t find the time in the same manner that I did.

This week I didn’t find time to finish, though I worked on several, any reviews for you.  I got wrapped up in hunting up gifts for my loved ones.  As we move into December, I wish you time to do everything that you wish to do, whatever it is you may wish to do.

Hopefully by next week, I’ll have something completed for you.

Travel: August 17 & 18, 2018: Swansea Beach and Browsing Bristol

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August 17

Friday was another rest day. It was my last in Wales, so we ran a few errands, ending up in yet a few more bookstores, since I had nearly finished the book that I had brought with me and knew that I had three plane flights between me and home.

I went out to the beach that night on my own, just to enjoy being near the water while I could be.

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View towards the Mumbles

August 18

The next day we took a bus out of the country to Bristol, England. I had a cheap jumper flight from Bristol to Dublin, where I was going to spend the night in the airport before flying to Charlotte, NC.

The night before our trip, I had discovered that Bristol is home to a cat café, You&Meow, so that was where we headed first, using the phone for directions. We managed to get ourselves let in without an appointment and enjoyed delicious drinks while the cats played and stalked and lounged around the room. One of the younger kittens really seemed intrigued by our shoes. The rule of the cat café is that you can’t pick up any of the cats; the cats have to come to you or be resting comfortably when you approach them. The atmosphere of the café resembles that of a spa.

 

After that, we let ourselves loose in the city. While in the city, I had my eyes peeled. Bristol is Banksy’s hometown, but I didn’t spot any of his work in the wild, not that I recognized. We found the aquarium and the amusements of Anchor Square, but we decided that we didn’t want to pay the aquarium entrance fee.

The city hosts a series of locks and canals and, you probably know by now, I enjoy being near the water. I got to ogle tall ships at dock here too. I had heard rumor that visitors could climb into the rigging on the SS Great Britain, but we were already a ways from the bus station, on the wrong side of the lock to reach her, and didn’t want to wander too far. We turned back inland when our path seemed to dead-end.

 

After wandering a ways and picking up takeaway for lunch, we ended up at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery because museum entry is free in the UK.

We whiled away the rest of our time in its exhibits: Egyptian artifacts, dinosaurs fossils, rocks and gemstones, pottery from around the world but especially from Bristol, paintings including La Belle Dame sans Merci, taxidermy including a tiger shot by King George V and a Tasmanian tiger too, and a Romani caravan built in 1900 and in use until maybe 1953. And yes, there is a Banksy piece in the hall.

I don’t have a lot of photos from inside the museum, although photography is allowed.  I was too busy ogling the collection and reading the plaques.

 

Bristol is another city I should have researched more before visiting. On the bus to the airport I started spotting old, crumbling castles, and looking at maps, I spy things sites that I think would have been interesting to see.

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This is the trail more or less that my sister and I took across Great Britain.  I couldn’t get GoogleMaps to let me include our Irish travels in the same map.  That map is here.

And speaking of doing better research, I should have read the fine print for RyanAir. My jumper flight ticket was fairly inexpensive, but then I ended up having to paying a fee because I missed the email reminder that I had to check in online to avoid a £55 airport check-in fee, and I was struggling to get my phone or the airport computers to connect to wi-fi to be able to check in online while in the airport, so I missed the window to check in online at all. Learn from my mistakes.

I had also assumed that once I got to Dublin I would be able to check in and pass through security and get to my gate and wait out the night there. I foolishly didn’t realize that airports close overnight, even though flights get into the airport late. I had had a reservation for a bed in a hostel in Dublin that I decided to cancel because I didn’t want to have to deal while sleep deprived with the stress of getting to the hostel (you might remember that my sister and I struggled a little to find the right way to get to Dublin from the airport) then getting to the airport on time the next morning.

I think I was foolish.  I think I ought to have kept the reservation.  But there’s no turning back the clock after a thing is done, and my worst fears might have come true had I kept it.

As it was I couldn’t check in at the airport until the next morning, so I stayed in the lobby. Only one convenience store was open to get anything to eat or drink. I slept a little bit on the bench of a fancier restaurant in the airport lobby. It was not dark. It was not quiet.  I didn’t sleep well. I hardly slept.

After checking in, there was another hour or so wait until security was open, so I could not immediately go through that line either.

I made it back to the US though, safe and sound, and on the plane that I had intended to be on. I landed just before a torrential, summer rainstorm that sparked this odd rainbow that barely bridged the highway.  What is was promising, I’m not sure, but it seemed significant, and I took its photo for the friend who was driving me back home.

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And that’s it, all. I’m home now, back in the US, and not sure what my next adventure might be.

What have been some of your greatest adventures?  Where should I go next?

All photographs are mine.  Click to see them larger.  Map created using GoogleMaps.

Shelfie: June 9, 2017: Exhausted

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It has been a WEEK.  I can’t even begin to describe to you the horrors of this week (well, I can, but you all are better left in ignorance of the horrors and failures of humanity; you’re here for books—and cats, I hope!).  I have two reviews nearly done, but instead I’m drinking my second glass of Arbor Mist.  My cat here is demonstrating an approximation of my energy level.

Do you enjoy the knickknacks and artwork on our shelves?  Do you keep anything but books on your shelves?

Shelfie: May 20, 2017: Sometimes a Mess

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There are a lot of books in this picture, and not all of them are where they are supposed to be.  The house is a bit of a mess, a bit like my week has been, but my cat is in a box and looking adorable, and I can’t deny you that for all the other faults in this photo.  Oftentimes perfection is unattainable, and a house that looks occupied and loved can be as comforting as a worn and yellowing favorite can be.  It looks like I was reading Andrew Peterson‘s The Warden and the Wolf King in this photo; that’s the topmost book left out on the coffee table.