Tag Archives: low fantasy

Book Review: The Dark Is Rising: The Dark, the Light, and Christianity

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1513207I found Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence—wow—fourteen years ago? It was around the same time as that I was devouring J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Diana Wynne JonesChronicles of Chrestomanci, after Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

That list alone should give you some idea of the genre and the intended audience—or an appropriate audience.

I don’t think I began to really understand its complexities and nuances until maybe four years ago (at the latest). I had always sort of imagined the Dark and the Light as synonymous with the Christian symbolism with which I was most familiar. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (ESV Ps. 119:105) and “[…] the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall man prevail” (ESV 1 Sam. 2:9). I think it was the last book that I was reading, Silver on the Tree, when I realized that Cooper’s Light and Dark has very little to do with Christian ideology (and I think that I’d read one of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series not long before, which is I think heavily influenced by Christian mythology, and seeing the two book series in contrast may have helped to make this revelation so jarring.)

God—the Judeo-Christian God, that is—or any other god for that matter, except perhaps Herne the Hunter, who might according to some theories have evolved from one of several pre-Christian gods—really doesn’t enter into Cooper’s story at all—as much as this book in the series happens around Christmas and the protagonist, Will Stanton, is raised in a Christian household. In Christian ideology, man cannot succeed, cannot be saved apart from God. In Cooper’s mythology, the Old Ones of the Light and the masters of the Dark are more than men, almost gods, and they rely on their own power and on men for success.  That is the starkest divide between Cooper’s mythology and Christian mythology—the source of might and of salvation and the reliance of men on God or gods on men.

Perhaps had I been raised outside of the Christian faith, I would have more fully understood Cooper’s ideas of the Dark and the Light sooner, maybe even when I first read them in middle school.

For all that I’m talking about this now, realize that as a child, I missed the nuance, I missed the replacement of God or any god with more-than-men-but-not-gods. I don’t discourage Christian parents from sharing this story with their children by any means. It’s an excellent story about the conflict of Good and Evil and demonstrates the perfectly human powers of teamwork, phileo love, persistence, and sacrifice needed to combat Evil, and it gives to Evil both a human face and an otherworldly face that I think is congruent with Christian beliefs.

That, again, being said: You may need to be ready to one day have this discussion with your child. They may like me be rocked to find on a reread that the book series that they loved as a child seems now like not the same series.

But this is a beautiful book series, excellently written, neither too poetic nor too prosaic. This book has been a favorite Christmas story for a long time.  I enjoyed rereading it, and I will do so again, probably come next Christmastime.

*****

Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book 2: The Dark Is Rising. New York: Aladdin-Simon & Schuster, 1973.

This review is not endorsed by Susan Cooper, Aladdin Paperbacks, or Simon & Schuster.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: A Wizard of Mars: My Argument for the BroTP

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By the ninth book in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, the young wizards aren’t so young anymore. I’m not sure that I wholly approve of the latest sign that Kit and Nita are growing older. For at least seven of the previous eight books if not all eight, these two characters have fought within the text against the worlds’ supposition that any male-female partnership has to be sexual if not romantic, and I was all aboard their ship—their BroTP ship. Yet in this most recent book, A Wizard of Mars, the two of them are becoming more romantically attracted to one another. If this pair becomes an OTP, I may just have to jump overboard and head for the nearest desert isle, not because Kit and Nita (Kita? Nit?) are a terrible or even unlikely pairing, but because I was happy thinking that somewhere in the sea of teen fiction there was a ship that did not need a heart-shaped sail.

The world—our world—the literary world has too many romances and too few male-female friendships untroubled by romance. We do not celebrate singleness, and we over-romanticize romance to the detriment of friendship. By doing so we undermine friendships. I have noticed in my interactions with boys, in my friends’ interactions with boys, in boys’ interactions with me and with my friends that we are damaged by this pervasive idealization of love. There are obstacles put in front of male-female friendships unnecessarily. It ought to be as uncomplicated for me to have male-female friendships as it is for me to have female-female friendships, but it is not. We ought not to have to second-guess every action or word when interacting with the opposite sex. We ought not to feel pressured to feel things toward one another that we may not, and we ought not to believe that any positive feeling towards a member of the opposite sex is romantic.

In a world where too early and too incessantly we are bombarded by the ideals of marriage, true love, romance, and sex and our bodies are sexualized too often and too early, Young Wizards’ male-female BroTP was a breath of fresh air—and a very much needed one.

That all being said, this does not feel like a forced romance and if a romance had to be introduced, I think Duane did so skillfully here. It made sense within the context of the novel, paralleling as it did with a Romeo-Juliet (or Oma-Shu) romance that was important to the action of the plot, so that the romance did not seem jarring. The characters’ thoughts about one another seem… realistic and… earthy. Kit surprises himself when he notices that Nita is “hot.” Nita notices Kit noticing other girls. She has touches of jealousy and general confusion as her feelings towards him begin to shift from platonic to romantic. These thoughts follow gender stereotypes that may have at least some basis in our reality—and by that I mean the reality created by eons of societal expectations. I am glad that there were eight books of a male-female friendship without any stirrings of romance, not only because it provides an example of healthy male-female friendship, but because this romance, if I must now live with it, comes then not from a lightning strike, love-at-first-sight cliché, but a real back and forth, friendship, and slow engendering of greater attachment and attraction. At least then, if romance this must be, it is a more realistic romance than some of the fluff pumped into bookshelves.

Diane Duane I have always admired both for her prose and her blending of science and magic and word. In speaking to a coworker about why she was unable to get into the series, I commented that sometimes I feel like I need an understanding of basic physics to understand this series. If you enter into the series thinking it’s a straight fantasy, as she did, it will be jarring. Reading this book, I noticed, having finished George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons just prior, that I had to look up more words used by Duane than Martin. Some of those were scientific jargon, but the majority of words that sent me to a dictionary were not. The vocabulary level in these books is high, and I say that more to their credit than their denouncement. I appreciate authors who push readers, particularly their child readers, because too often that audience is underestimated, if not in fiction, then in the world at large.

This is the first of the books I would hesitate on some level to recommend to a younger child—not because I think them unable to handle the content or the language but because I think Duane’s intended audience is now teens. She all but says so in the final pages of the book when one of the Senior Wizards explains to the gathered young wizards the shift in wizardry and in the manifestation of the Lone One that comes with maturity—and explains that they’ve just faced one of these more mature trials. This being said, there is nothing in this book any more explicit or complicated than is in the fourth Harry Potter book or any of the later books in that series, so if your child is ready for Goblet of Fire, they’re ready for A Wizard of Mars.

****

Duane, Diane. Young Wizards, Book 9: A Wizard of Mars. New York: Harcourt-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.

This review is not endorsed by Diane Duane or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: March 2015 Picture Book Roundup

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Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light. Candlewick, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 2-5, PreK-K. I’m a sucker for dragons—particularly friendly dragons (you may have noticed)—and for the idea that magic could be a little more commonplace than we believe, so I naturally had to pick up and read a book with this jacket. Light’s Have You Seen My Dragon? is a counting book with imaginative and whimsical illustrations, primarily busy, detailed line drawings but with splashes of color that highlight the objects to be counted. The counting book is well hidden within a text that gives the counting book plot, where the narrator—a young child—tours the city looking for his missing dragon, querying various adults at work about him. There’s a lot of room for interaction in this book.  It could be expanded into a color primer as well, and a primer for professions.  The dragon hides among the intricately woven lines of each illustration, making a Where’s Waldo of him, though finding the dragon is thankfully not as difficult. The busyness of Light’s illustrations perfectly match the bustle of a city like New York City or London. I have to admit that I am more enamored of the illustrations of this book than the text, but the text does—as I’ve said—a good job supporting the mission of the counting book without losing plot—and that’s more than can be said for some.

****

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Richard Scarry’s Trucks by Richard Scarry. Golden-Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 0-3. This book is written in the manner of a primer with a noun and then the illustration of that noun, but there’s an element of silliness here, with the inclusion of several absurd examples. Beside the usual examples (bulldozer, dump truck, fire engine), there is also a pickle tanker and Mr. Frumble’s pickle car. Richard Scarry’s world is one where things don’t always go well: Fruit trucks spill their merchandise and Mr. Frumble drives his pickle car into the path of an emptying dump truck. I suspect but haven’t been able to prove that these illustrations were lifted from other stories, mashed here into a new product to sell—much as was done with the Favorite Words books based on Eric Carle’s works. This is probably a book best for fans—parents who are fans—of Richard Scarry’s work already, trying to induce their children to like the same books that they do—and why wouldn’t you? I too have fond memories of Richard Scarry (I think a lot of us do). I would, though, have liked to see more cohesion, more of a plot in this primer. Some of the illustrations tell their own mini story, but I found no story connecting the illustrations.

**1/2

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Princesses and Puppies by Jennifer Weinberg and illustrated by Francesco Legramandi and Gabriella Matta. Disney-Random, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 4-6. This book was something of a disappointment. Each princess gets a page or two only, and the story about each princess and puppy is the same and without much action: The princess receives or finds a puppy and interacts with the puppy in a banal way: Merida gives hers a bath. Tiana’s falls asleep on her lap. The only story that breaks this pattern involves a puppy that performs a trick for Jasmine—and the author wisely or unwisely remains silent about Jasmine giving its ragamuffin child owners money in return for the trick—which is the logical conclusion to such an interaction. The puppies receive at the hands of the text more personality than do the princesses. Perhaps the absence of plot and character development could be attributed to this book being a Level 1 reader, but I hope not. I hope there are Level 1 readers with more of a story.  It’s impossible for me to forget how much more impressed I was by the Level 2 Disney reader, A Pony for a Princess.

**

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Review: The Giggler Treatment’s Clever Absurdity Still Has Me Giggling

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I was introduced to this story and to Roddy Doyle by A. LaFaye in a History and Criticism of Children’s Literature class at Hollins University. I fell in love with it perhaps almost instantaneously, opening its package at the dinner table and promptly passing it around or reading the back cover’s blurb aloud (I forget which). I read it before class, then for class, and several times since term ended (two years ago, but it never feels that long ago).

The story, coming to us from Ireland, solicitously translates the Irish expressions for Americans so that we know that Mr. Mack, a biscuit tester, spends his day with cookies. Also we are ready to translate, “Quick! Quick! My cookie is bleeding! Give me a Band-Aid!” to “Quick! Quick! My biscuit is bleeding! Give me a plaster!” (7).

That’s just a taste of the absurd, tongue-in-cheek humor of Roddy Doyle’s book.

I have always been partial to this style of nonsense.

There’s a lot in this book that reminds me of some childhood favorites of mine: Louis Sachar’s Wayside School books particularly but also Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, all men who don’t underestimate children’s intelligence or their ability to pick up on absurdity and word play.

The chapter titles in particular are wonderful examples of the playfulness with which Doyle treats traditional fiction: “Chapter One,” “The Return of Chapter One,” “A Chapter That Isn’t Really a Chapter Because Nothing Really Happens in it But We’ll Call it Chapter Four,” “Chapter Something”…. Somewhere around “Chapter Sixteen” (which comes after “Chapter Two Million and Seven”), Doyle gives up on numbering the chapters and begins to use the questions that the chapters answer as headers: “How Many Inches Now?,” “Where in the World is Rover? {II}”….

Doyle’s is metafiction. It shatters the 4th wall to such an extent that there’s hardly any wall left.

He is a present narrator and acknowledges the fiction of his story. Doyle speaks directly to the audience about himself as a person and as a writer. He discusses his country and its language and references his grandmother (“I was tempted to put in a dinosaur in a leather jacket who bullies old people, but my grandmother wouldn’t lend me her leather jacket”) (7) and mother, after whom he names a chapter: “This Chapter Is Named After My Mother Because She Said I Could Stay Up Late if I Named it After Her: Chapter Mammy Doyle” (49).

The audience occasionally interjects with a question too, making them a presence within the text if not in the story.

Characters also sometimes interrupt the text to interact with the author.

Beyond the hilarity of this play with the traditional narrative style, Doyle’s story tells of a loving family (always a wonderful thing) able to do extraordinary things through their love, like understand the complex sentences of their youngest daughter, expressed using only the word “A-bah.” Well, that’s not perhaps the main focus of the story. The main focus of the story is the dog poo left by the Gigglers, invisible creatures bent on punishing adults for mistreating children. The Gigglers witness Mr. Mack losing his patience with his two sons but not the apology that he later gives them, and so they seek out a big squishy pile of poo and scoot it onto the sidewalk for Mr. Mack to step into on his way to work. The Mack children learning by chance of the Gigglers’ planned revenge set out with their mother and the dog Rover (who provided the poo) to save Mr. Mack from this misplaced punishment. Four steps of Mr. Mack’s encompass the whole of the 105-page story with all of its bunny trails and backstory.

*****

Doyle, Roddy.  The Giggler Treatment.  Illus. Brian Ajhar.  New York: Arthur A. Levine-Scholastic, 2000.

This review is not endorsed by Roddy Doyle, Brian Ajhar, Arthur A. Levine Books or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Sea of Monsters: The Odyssey, Blurred Lines, and a Career

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Spoilers ahead.

Of all of the Percy Jackson books, of all of Rick Riordan’s books, book two of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Sea of Monsters, is probably my favorite. You’ve probably already realized from reading this blog that I am a bit of a nerd. I am particularly fond of Homer’s Odyssey, enough so to have a favorite translation (Robert Fitzgerald’s). All of the Percy Jackson books draw heavily from Greek mythology. The Sea of Monsters draws heavily from The Odyssey in particular, with Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Clarisse seeking out the island of Polyphemus by way of Circe’s island and Charybdis and Scylla, Percy being turned into a guinea pig and Annabeth tricking Polyphemus by calling herself “Nobody.” Reading The Sea of Monsters is a bit like reading a wonderfully rendered crossover fanfiction for me.

Told with all of the usual sass of Percy’s voice and all of the fast-paced action and situational humor of Riordan’s style, The Sea of Monsters is certainly a fun read—and a quick one.

The lines between monster and hero are blurred a little in this novel (though not as much as they will be in later books). Percy has a new friend and half-brother, Tyson, a young Cyclops abandoned to grow up on the streets of New York, but beloved by his father, Poseidon. Cyclopes are by definition monsters, but Tyson is gentle and acts heroically in defense of his friends. Polyphemus, also a Cyclops and Percy’s and Tyson’s half-brother, for all that he is one of the antagonists of this novel is not particularly violent or antagonistic. He uses what resources he can (the Golden Fleece) to keep his island healthy and to lure meals to himself, not outwardly violent or malicious acts. Now, that he happens to eat satyrs does not endear him to the reader, but nor does it make him inherently wicked. What Polyphemus seems most to desire companionship. Likewise, monsters have joined the ranks of Kronos’ and Luke’s growing army, but so have demigods. The black and white battle lines of heroes versus monsters are not in place for this novel.

This book improves too upon the style of Riordan’s first novel, The Lightning Thief. The first had a few moments of preaching that jarred the quick-paced action, as if Riordan could not believe he was getting this chance to talk to the masses and could not imagine being allowed to do so again—let alone… 17 times more (many of these bestsellers) with more books still scheduled for release. Perhaps when publishing The Sea of Monsters Riordan realized that he’d made himself a career and that he could take his time to more subtly deliver his messages.

This book is particularly interesting to read with the 20/20 hindsight of later books. Having read further in Percy Jackson’s timeline, I can appreciate the subtle foreshadowing, and I have new insight into Hylla and the loosing of Blackbeard and his crew on Circe’s island. Particularly the last two of The Heroes of Olympus series, The House of Hades and The Blood of Olympus, point out the consequences of careless actions made in Percy’s younger years, and where I might have thought nothing of the release of the pirates on the villainess’ home prior, now I know what terror it caused for more innocent victims on the island, and I have to take Percy’s heroics with the grain of salt that tainted my palate later.

All this only deepens my appreciation for the book however. Flawed heroes are better characters and character development is too often missed in stories.

*****

Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2: The Sea of Monsters. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordan, Hyperion Books, or Disney.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes Delights

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Ray Bradbury has had a huge effect on me as an writer. I’m not sure I realized how much till I took a break from editing my own WIP to reread Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury’s prose is florid and fantastic in a way that few writers can claim in this century or any other. Maybe that’s a little expansive, but I enjoy it immensely. The man creates vivid metaphors and twists language with the skill and delicacy of a spider in a web.

Something Wicked is a coming-of-age tale with a thorn. Two friends—nearer than brothers—are nearing adolescence at different rates. Jim Nightshade is growing up more quickly than Will Halloway, is more fascinated with the dark and what goes on in the dark: carnal love, the promises of adulthood offered to him by a carnival in possession of a carousel that can carry riders backwards or forwards through the years. Will remains tethered to innocence and youth. He is the grounding force for Jim.

Charles Halloway, Will’s father, has lived through the years. He longs for a return to his youth, but he overcomes the temptation offered by Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show with nobility, reason, and research found in books and dark corners of the library that is more his home than his home. He is the temperance and wisdom of age, the 20/20 hindsight cast onto youth and aging that keeps Will and Jim tethered even more so to reality.

Bradbury’s work here is insightful—about humanity and the human condition, about the bildungsroman genre. It is both within the genre and without. It shares the message that aging comes with pain but also wisdom and knowledge, but it looks backwards more than hurtling forwards at the breakneck pace of teenage exuberance. Will and Jim are narrating characters and certainly they—or at least Jim—hurtle recklessly onward (Will hesitates and teeters on the cliff’s edge), but more of the weight of the narration falls on Charles. Will and Jim and Cooger and Dark create plot. Charles creates perspective.

The plot—uncovering the nefarious devices and deeds and escaping the grasping hands of a demonic carnival—is exciting enough to keep a casual reader interested, I think, but the depth is there, easily accessible for those who want to plumb it, and maybe too for those who would rather just read the adventure, coming hand-in-hand with the adventure so that it cannot be missed.

The triumph of joy and joyful abandonment over darkness add a spark of hope into the novel—and that joy is not only for youth if youth might find it more easily. This is almost a tale to laud never growing up—or maybe more accurately not forgetting the joy of youth for it does not discredit age. In fact the most heroic of the figures ultimately is the eldest of the narrators, Charles, who, with the eyes of experience and the acceptance of his own fears, is able to see the dark creatures as pathetic and frightened and so defeat them with the power of his own confidence and smile and love of son and of Jim.

This book was recently a summer reading book for a local high school. I find it ideal for that age or college students perhaps more so, straddling as it does the line between adulthood and childhood and looking backwards and forwards across it to give a piercing perspective of the two ages. There’s also merit in it for an adult audience, with an adult hero saving youth and recovering his own youth through the acceptance of his age and the through the release of his fears and dourness.

*****

Bradbury, Ray.  Something Wicked This Way Comes.  New York: Avon-HarperCollins, 1998.  First published 1962.

This review is not endorsed by Ray Bradbury, his estate, Avon Books, or HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Island of the Aunts Uses Fantasy to Discuss the Ailments of Mankind and the Sea

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I had read a few of Eva Ibbotson’s books previously to great delight; The Secret of Platform 13 has long been a favorite of mine, and I enjoyed The Star of Kazan too, though less so. So when I found Island of the Aunts at a local Goodwill, I brought it home.

Ibbotson writes for a younger audience (elementary bordering on middle-grade), making her books pretty quick reads, but despite that, this book in particular touches on some very difficult thought- and conversation-provoking ideas.

Ibbotson uses the fantasy genre well in Island of the Aunts to talk about difficult topics, the ailments of a fallen world, with a veil of unreality that invites readers to examine these ideas at a safer distance. All of the creatures that come to the uncharted island where the aunts live are hurting in some way, and in this way Ibbotson is able to introduce a number of physical, mental, and emotional hurts. There is an old mermaid who feels the aches of age. That is a simple problem compared with the others but Ibbotson takes the opportunity to gently remind readers to be conscious of the difficulties of age and considerate towards those who cannot move with the swiftness of youth. A mermaid mother too comes to the island with her three children: The youngest is spoilt and overweight though his mother won’t admit it. One of her daughters foolishly pursues men, exposing herself and her family to danger. The other has been held hostage by a man who fondled her inappropriately, traumatizing her so that she loses her voice. There Ibbotson deals not only with the dangers of lust but also with the symptoms of PTSD. Herbert the selkie struggles with indecision. The kraken struggles with balancing work and family. Minette comes from divorced parents, splitting her time and herself to suit her parents and listening to their complaints about the other. Fabio is forced to deal with prejudice even from his own grandparents who see him as a wild boy from the jungles of Brazil and want him to be a “proper English gentleman.”

There’s a lot about prejudice—and about acceptance and the beauty of the Other—in this book, between Fabio’s grandparents and schoolmates and then the Sprott’s, Lambert and his father. Lambert is cast as an unlikeable child who cannot comprehend the magical creatures on the island as anything other than monsters and hallucinations. Lambert’s father is cast in an even worse light, and in fact is qualified as “evil,” seeing the magical creatures as nothing more than objects for his profit and being willing to hurt them and their protectors to satisfy his own schemes (251). Ibbotson brings Mr. Sprott’s prejudice too to a more human level by sending him briefly to an island of nudists who could not be kinder to Mr. Sprott but whom make Mr. Sprott supremely uncomfortable despite and whom he treats poorly.

There’s also a lot in the story too about environmental consciousness. The kraken is a beast of healing for the seas. His hum ends violence and stalls greed by influencing the mind or heart (probably both) of the hearer. The aunts’ island is a place of healing too for sea creatures. Creatures come to them having been caught in oil spills.

All in all, I feel like I read an adventure book more than I read any didactic tome. I’ve always thought that the best tools for teaching involve enjoyment of the lessons, so I feel like Ibbotson has here created a pretty effective vehicle for her morals.

****

Ibbotson, Eva. Island of the Aunts. Illus. Kevin Henkes. 1999. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Printed with permission from Dutton-Penguin.

This review is not endorsed by Eva Ibbotson, Scholastic Inc., Dutton Children’s Books, or Penguin Putnam Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: A More Pensive Adventure and a Loftier Ambition for Hiccup

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Click to visit the series' site for links to order, summary, and sample of the 1st chapter.

Spoilers ahoy!

In How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, the seventh book of Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon series, after Hiccup’s quick thinking and smooth tongue creates a tenuous truce between the Murderous Tribe and the already tenuously allied Bog-Burglars and Hairy Hooligans (A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons), Madguts the Murderous invites the three tribes to compete in a Friendly Swimming Race. The point of a Proper Viking Swimming Race is to be the last back, having survived the frigid waters, the Shark Worms, and the trickery of other Vikings, and having had the strength to do so while fully clothed and heavily armored. The last back has to promise that he “did not seek aid by Float or Boat” (240). Caught in the outgoing tide, Hiccup, Fishlegs, and Camicazi are plucked from the water by Raptortongues and brought to the boat of Norbert the Nutjob (How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse), from whom I forgot that Hiccup stole a ticking-thing that is much more than clock or alarm clock (and which gives me some insight into the twelve hands of a Wizarding clock and a strong desire for an analog watch that is also a compass because that ought to be easy to create—ha! and they do exist!). Hiccup manages to evade an immediate death for himself and his friends and buys their safe passage on Norbert’s ship, but along with the three Vikings, Norbert has a cargo of slaves convinced that all Vikings are “vermin, wicked and brutish enslavers” deserving death (98).  To save himself from them, Hiccup makes a bargain with the slaves, promising to free them, but in return, the slaves brand Hiccup indelibly as a slave so that he cannot forget his promise. This mark means instant banishment for any Viking regardless of the circumstances in which it’s acquired, and so Hiccup will have to keep it hidden from now on, but as the elder Hiccup says in the Dumbledore-esque reflection that closes the memoir, “maybe all Kings should bear the Slavemark, to remind them that they should be slaves to their people, rather than the other way around” (250). This, Hiccup says, is the adventure on which he decides that he not only wants to be Chief but King to be able to create a new world with justice, without fear, and without slavery—and I’m going to enjoy watching his journey into the King that drives out all of the frightful things of his world (even if that means the retreat of dragons). That reflection at the end is supremely uplifting, washing away the memories of the book’s darkness and the dangers of the Great West Ocean and the deaths (though I’m not convinced that Norbert will stay any more dead than Alvin has had the tendency to do, though it might take him some time to return to plague Hiccup and the Archipelago). Hiccup, ever forward thinking and never greedy, begins his new world at the end of the book’s plot by breaking an age-old cycle of violence.

As ever, this How to Train Your Dragon book is fraught with adventure, excitement, danger, and proof that brains and heart can make one just as heroic as brawn and brutality and trickery if not more so.  I was more caught up in the adventure and the lessons learned by Hiccup than I was in stitches from Cowell’s wittiness.  While I was attracted at first by her humor as much as her hero, I think the series is becoming more serious.  I’m not displeased.  I’ve always been fonder of books in a series (books about a character or characters between which and through which time passes and the characters mature and grow) than a book series (a series without progressive character growth from one book to the next, something like The Boxcar Children written under the pen name Gertrude Chandler Warner or The Pony Pals written under the pen name Jeanne Betancourt).  Cowell has struggled somewhat with the books in a series concept, often dropping characters (where is my lame Windwalker since book 5?) or objects (the ticking-thing hasn’t been mentioned since book 4.  I notice that the bracelet from book 5 is back, though, after missing from the illustrations in book 6) as she has found them unnecessary.  I’m really hoping to see her improve, but I’m willing to enjoy the books despite that inadequacy.

****

Cowell, Cressida.  How to Train Your Dragon, Book 7: How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2011.  First published in the UK 2008.

This review is not endorsed by Cressida Cowell, Little, Brown and Company, or Hachette Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: What Really Happened in Peru is a Romp and a Lot of Cheek

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Magnus Bane is one of my favorite characters of Cassandra Clare’s easily, so when she announced that she would be writing with Sarah Rees Brennan a series of stories where he is the sole protagonist, I was excited.  Then she announced that it would be released only as e-books, and I mourned because I have yet to catch up to that technological advance.  Then, wonder of wonders, Simon & Schuster announced that it would be offering the first book free for a limited time, and for free, I was willing to take the chance that the download might not work, and miracle of miracles, the download did work, and I was able to find out What Really Happened in Peru.

During her Mortal Instruments series, it is several times mentioned that Magnus is banned from Peru, and the implication is always that he has done something absolutely awful, requiring metaphorical acid to wipe it from the mind.  I can’t say that I really yearned for the details of his crime, as apparently I was supposed to do.  In fact, I don’t think I’d really have noticed the throwaway lines if they hadn’t been culled from the texts to inspire this new text.  Perhaps that is because Clare’s (and Claire’s) characters are so often flippant that a throwaway line I usually take to be mere cheek.

I began this book in August and partially I’m sure because I forget that there is reading material bookmarked on my computer and because I tend not to consider with the same gravitas anything that I can read in digital form (which I recognize is completely unfair and is merely a lingering bias that I have from the days when I read fanfiction; more on that here) I did not finish it till February.  I would not have guessed that it is a mere 65 pages.  It’s broken up into four chapters, and sometimes those chapters themselves are broken up into smaller segment, certainly each chapter but sometimes each break a complete tale of another adventure of Magnus’ in Peru.  The frequency of such breaks made it very easy to put the book down and return to it months later with no ill effect.

Magnus’ adventures for the most part are excuses for him to be drink, love, and be cheeky.  The introduction of Ragnor Fell, le petit chouchou, as Magnus’ wingman, really his Rory, there to be the voice of reason if he was sometimes petulant and had tales of earlier debauchery to share, was welcome.  Without that grounding, I think there would have been too much frivolity (save for that one time in 1890 when things turned more serious).  Fell is a character of some mystery in The Mortal Instruments series, having been sought out and discovered to be dead.  So far as I have read in The Infernal Devices he does not appear either.  If the mystery of Magnus’ banishment could not be answered—and it is not with any surety—then at least that mystery has been solved by the book.

These tales were a good break from any serious reading.  The book could be read as a standalone, which I worried it might not be able to be, but it would not have any more weight as a standalone than it does as a spinoff series.

***

Clare, Cassandra and Sarah Rees Brennan.  The Bane Chronicles, Book One: What Really Happened in Peru.  New York: Margaret K. McElderry-Simon & Schuster, 2012.

This review is not endorsed by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Margaret K. McElderry Books, or Simon & Schuster.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.