Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Book Reviews: March 2015 Picture Book Roundup

Standard

0763666483

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.

****

9780385389259

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

9780736431040

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.

Challenge: Legal Theft: For a Woman (1253 words)

Standard

Here it is finally.  This legal theft piece should have gone up on Thursday September 12, but, my friends, you’ve all been kind and patient.  It is the companion piece to “The Bobbing Spoon” (also “Part II”) by Gwen of Apprentice, Never Master.  I stole her first line.

Thursday morning I told myself that legal theft would be a Tiranvof piece because I have been spending way too little time with my protagonists of late.  Gwen obliged my unspoken desire with this first line, to which Aidan quickly responded that he could get in a bar fight; he wouldn’t mind–so thank you, Gwen.

My piece also carries with it a strong PG-13 rating for violence and adult concepts.  It may also have the potential to be a trigger.  I am sorry.

“How long has it been since we had a good bar fight?”  Before she could answer him, the tattooed sailor shoved the barmaid aside with enough force and brutality that she crashed onto the floor.  The rest of the common room went quiet and still around them, looking at them—the sailor, Aidan, and Darryn—waiting.  No one made to help the barmaid.  The sailor, turning back to Aidan and Darryn, cracked his knuckles.  His lip curled back to reveal yellowed teeth.

Darryn shrank back but Aidan tilted his head back to look with narrowed eyes into the sailor’s leer.

“I don’t think fighting for her is going to win you any of her favor,” Aidan warned the sailor.  His own hands had fisted by his sides.  Aidan was no match for the sailor, but Aidan didn’t seem to notice the man’s muscled arms or the head’s height and twice-breadth that he had over Aidan, who was tall himself, having more than a head’s height above Darryn.  “And unless you can win her favor, I really think you ought to just let her do her job.”

“Oh but I am letting her do her job,” the sailor countered and, sneering, threw the question to the barmaid, “aren’t I, sweetheart?”

The girl pushed herself up into a seated position but didn’t look up at any of them.

“Aidan, don’t fight him,” Darryn begged by his elbow.  “I don’t want—”

“He can’t treat her like that,” Aidan snapped.  “I won’t let him.”

“Not your call to stop me, boy.  Whore!” the sailor called, and he pointed a rod of a finger at the floor before him, signaling her as one might signal a dog.  Down, the gesture said.  Darryn grimaced as, cringing, the barmaid crawled forward, not bothering to get off of her knees.  No one should be condemned to a slave’s life of fear.

“Don’t,” he moaned, walking over to intercept the girl.  He knelt in front of her.  She didn’t raise her head, even when he took her gently by the shoulders.  “Don’t let him treat you like—”

White-hot sparks played against a curtain of nighttime black as Darryn fell and sat up, spinning, blinking.  His head reverberated with hammer strokes where the fist had struck, but the hand that Darryn raised to the ache came away clean without any blood.

Aidan was on the man before Darryn could shout a warning.  Their thuds and grunts and swearing as they pummeled and wrestled one another was backed by a riot of men’s hollers as the common room erupted from its suspended animation, and the tavern’s mistress called, “Please.  Not here.  Take it outside, but not—”

Aidan was below the man before long, victim of the worst of the sailor’s blows and thrust into the defensive.

Landing another blow against Aidan’s head, the man spat, “Have you had enough yet, boy?  Do I have to rip out your tongue to keep you silent?”

“Get,” Aidan said, catching the sailor’s fist against his outthrust hand, “her out of here, Darryn.”

The sailor growled, and kicking Aidan in the chest as he stood, lunged for the girl as Darryn scrambled toward her too.  The sailor caught Darryn’s foot, and Darryn, seeing the hardwood coming to meet him, let out a squeal as he wrapped himself tightly in his arms, and twisted to avoid falling on his face.  The sailor stomped past him, and he grabbed the girl by the arm, yanking her to her feet as Darryn was turning over and scrambling back upright.  She let out a groan, but his arm went to her throat, and he pressed her against him, back to front.

Darryn took a step forward, and the man tightened his hold, forcing the girl’s head up.  “Pretty, isn’t she?” he said, and he forced his tongue between her teeth.  “You should see her with her clothes off,” he said.  Keeping her pinned by the throat, he tugged with his other hand at the lacing of her bodice.

Another one of those unnatural stillnesses had taken the tavern, or maybe Darryn only had become deaf to the noise.

“Let her go,” Darryn said into the stillness.

“I don’t want to,” the man grunted.  He had gotten the tie loose and was now wedging his fingers down beneath the lacing, working it free from the top eyelets, and unnecessarily groping the girl while he did so.

Darryn glanced back at Aidan, who was pushing himself to his feet.  He had a hand at his chest.  The other had gone to the handle of a knife that he had been unable to reach during the fight.  He didn’t draw it.  One of those blows seemed to have gotten the peril of their situation through his skull.  They were outnumbered by older, more experienced, more heavily armed men in a town that neither of them knew.  And yet—

Darryn looked back at the sailor.  He had gotten the girl’s bodice free now.  His hand was beneath her shirt, too obviously clenched around the girl’s breast.  Her face twisted as his hand did.

“Let her go,” Darryn said again.

He looked back, and Aidan nodded grimly.

Darryn took a breath, reaching inside of himself to stir into fire the embers that burned in his chest.  The fire raced down his veins, pooling in his hands readily.  He opened his eyes, but didn’t look to see if anyone in the tavern recognized the tang in the air that Aidan promised he could.

Darryn lashed out with the pooled fire, aiming carefully.  The man and girl both shouted, and Darryn withdrew quickly, but Aidan was already charging forward.  The knife in his hand flashed as he tugged the man’s head back by a fistful of hair and placed the blade at his neck.  “Listen to him,” Aidan warned.  His voice was low, but it carried across the still tavern.

The man let the girl go.  She stumbled away from him, clutching her breasts.  Darryn went to her, catching her before she could fall to the floor.  “Where?” he asked, still not daring to look around the tavern.  “Where do you want to go?  We’ll take you,” he promised, “take you with us.”

She shook her head, pushed him away, and stood on her own strength.

This left Darryn alone in the midst the room.  He swallowed as he noticed the weight of the eyes upon him. If any of them recognized or guessed what he had done, he and Aidan would be driven from the tavern.  They might be driven from the town.  The consequences might be worse than that even.  “We should go,” he said to Aidan.  Best not to wait for the patrons to regain their audacity.

“Not yet.”  Aidan pushed the knife against the man’s throat.  “You’re going to protect that girl tonight, any night that you are here.  If any man tries to touch her without her consent, you’re going to remember my knife and you’re going to remember that fire in your chest, yeah?  Don’t think we can’t find you.  Don’t think we won’t know if that girl gets hurt.”

Aidan lifted the knife and shoved the man forward then Aidan came around from behind him, turning his back boldly on the man.  He grabbed Darryn by the elbow and tugged him out of the tavern and onto the street.

“I won’t know,” Darryn reminded Aidan as they hurried away into the darkness.

“They won’t know that.  Now come on.”

Book Review: So You Want To Be a Wizard May Be Nine People’s Favorite Thing

Standard

Diane Duane and I were introduced by a friend in my junior year of high school.  I fell in love with her Young Wizards quickly.

I’ve since then read and reread each book in the series up through the seventh (Wizard’s Holiday), and have only failed to continue on because the books (beyond the first few) are difficult to find in bookstores and must be ordered online.

Rereading most recently the first of the series, So You Want to Be a Wizard, I was again blown away by both the power and beauty of Duane’s prose, the intricacy of her world(s), and the beautiful blending of magic and fantasy with (Christian) mythology and science.

There’s a lot that Duane does well and a lot that I love.

1) Duane blends different mythologies (one Power claiming to have gone by the names Athena, Prometheus, Thor, Lugh, and the Archangel Michael) and scientific theories into a single, cohesive myth.  I did not for some time recognize so starkly that what Duane was doing was creating a magic system to work against the background of Christian mythology.  The fifth book, The Wizard’s Dilemma, (if I remember rightly) is the first to name the Starsnuffer or Lone One as the fallen Lucifer and the first to name the One as God.  Many ideas have been shared throughout time by Christians and Christian theologians about the power (or lack thereof) behind other gods: that all gods are God, that those other gods as demons, that they are men’s inventions and powerless.  In Duane’s myths, the other gods are angels (or both angels and the other gods are Powers), servants of God but not God Himself.  I could argue and have argued with myself about this issue, but Duane’s interpretation, though I know she writes it primarily as a work of fantasy, sits well with me—which perhaps is good and perhaps is dangerous.  I choose not to overthink it.  I don’t think that her interpretation has any real effect upon my interpretation other than to exist as another opinion.

2) Duane’s magic is affected primarily by the Speech, a language spoken by all things (or which all things can speak, but some forget).  The Speech is used both to ease negotiations because of its universality and, because one cannot lie in the Speech and promises made in the Speech must be kept, to help to persuade an object or person to change or to remind it what it should be, a wizard’s purpose being to help and to aid Life.  It falls into a category with other fantasies that laud the power of words, language, or secret names.  Especially, Duane’s Speech reminds me of the Old One’s speech from Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence and the way that knowing the true names of things gives one power in Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books and the very similar idea that Rick Riordan borrows from Egyptian mythology for The Kane Chronicles.  Of those, I feel like Duane best uses language (you all can disagree with me; LeGuin’s prose I admit comes very close to having the same power as Duane’s, but LeGuin is writing for a different audience, and I prefer Duane’s speed and immediacy to LeGuin’s epic style).  I feel Duane embodies with her prose what she preaches by giving her words the power that words possess in the Speech.  Her imagery is vivid and poetic so that what should not or cannot be I can see clearly in my mind almost without fail.

3) There is little diversity in fantasy.  Most human heroes and heroines resemble an Anglo race (probably because we are all secretly emulating Tolkien, who was British in a time when Britain was less diverse than it now is).  Kit Rodriguez is a rare example of a Hispanic American in a fantasy where his race is not made into an issue or highlighted in any way.  He simply is Hispanic and his family speaks Spanish mixed with English not as an act of defiance, I feel, against the fantasy-world norm, but as a matter of fact.  Yes, Kit’s ethnicity is more obvious than Ged being copper-skinned but because Duane can include snippets of a recognizable language that is not the language in which the book is primarily written, her fantasy being low rather than high.  (Snippets of a high fantasy language build a fantasy world but can only infrequently be a ready identifier for readers of a race different from other characters of the same world.  For example, without them being labeled as such, would a casual reader recognize any difference between Dothraki, Braavosi, or High Valyrian?  Or Elvish, Dwarvish, and Orcish for that matter?  High fantasies have in some ways to work harder to create ethnicity because the reader knows none of the ethnic identifiers before entering the fantasy world.)

4) This first novel in particular is almost an anti-bullying book, with Nita Callahan deciding to try to befriend her bully at the end of the novel, [SPOILER] having just realized that even the most wicked can be exchange their ways for good if given the chance to do so. [END SPOILER]

This first novel, So You Want To Be a Wizard, reads more than some of the others as a simple, late middle-grade fantasy adventure.  There is a clear villain against which the young heroes must compete for the fate of the world.  The conflict is a simple, primarily external one.  Later novels delve deeper into difficult issues (parent’s death, cancer, autism), but even in this first, Duane creates or borrows a terrifying villain and doesn’t shy from killing protagonists—or rather allowing them to sacrifice themselves for the cause.

*****

Duane, Diane.  Young Wizards, Book 1: So You Want To Be a Wizard.  Orlando: Magic Carpet-Harcourt, 1996.  First published by Delacorte 1983.

This review is not endorsed by Diane Duane, Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt, Inc., or Delacorte Press.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

As a note: this is a review of the original text.  Diane Duane is currently working on updated versions of the stories subtitled as The New Millennium editions, which, I hear, include updated technology and corrected facts and figures.

Title borrowed from the song from [Title of Show], “Nine People’s Favorite Thing.”

Save

Book Review: The Mighty Rivers of The Golem and the Jinni

Standard

Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni is at once easy and terribly difficult to describe.  It fits into many genres and so can be easily classified, but the combination of these genres sets it among few fellows, and its style is something new for me as well.

When people have asked me what I’ve been reading, I’ve replied that it is an adult historical urban low fantasy about two mythological creatures trying to cope with living as humans in New York City at the turn of the 20th century.  There: easily reduced into a single sentence, but what a sentence to unpack.

The Golem and the Jinni is more slowly paced than many of the books that I typically read, and that was somewhat difficult for me.  A lot of this slower pace comes from the construction of its plot.  I have very much struggled with how to describe this construction, and my best attempt thus far is to compare it to a river being fed by tributaries.  Wecker shows us glimpses of the tributaries, separate entities, and then these tributaries will meet and the story will build in power and depth.  There are, I would argue, three main tributaries to the story: that of the Jinni, that of the Golem, and that of the Mahmoud Saleh.  Creeks feed into these tributaries:  Heiress Sophia Winston’s, the young boy Matthew’s, tinsmith Arbeely’s, Bedouin Fadwa al-Hadad’s all feed into the Jinni’s story.  The stories of a retired rabbi; his atheist nephew Michael Levy; and loose Anna all feed into the Golem’s.  Saleh’s storyline is fairly isolated as is Saleh.  The river itself has a source.  This source is yet another storyline.  It begins as a weak storyline, but it is ultimately the one to which all the others are bound, the one which influences them all.

Yes.  That was somewhat cryptic.  It is difficult to explain, and more so when I don’t want to spoil the ending for you.

In retrospect, I respect and am impressed by the rivers of the story’s construction too, however much I found it slow before the two of the main tributary characters met around page 175.

Within these many storyline churn as many themes and questions.  Wecker uses her characters to explore the ideas of independence and freedom and enslavement, nature versus nurture, humanity, free will, belief, religion, magic, reality, living in the past and living in the future and living in the present, friendship, love, honesty and concealment, prejudice, mortality and immortality, the power and danger of knowledge….  Some of these she obviously covers in more detail than others, but she touches upon them all.

Ultimately, the story takes on a romantic element.  It was a quiet and natural romance.

The climax was both satisfying and thrilling.  I loved the ending!

I was trying to read many books simultaneously with The Golem and the Jinni, but The Golem and the Jinni was the first to grab and hold me.  By page 200, The Golem and the Jinni was providing me with the reading that I’d apparently been missing from the others, with the transportation to another realm that reading in any form ought to provide.

****

Wecker, Helene.  The Golem and the Jinni.  New York: HarperCollins, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Helene Wecker or HarperCollins.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.  The review is of an advanced reader’s edition sent to Barnes & Noble by the publisher.

Book Review: City of Lost Souls Rises from the Ashes of Fallen Angels

Standard

Click to visit the author's site for a links to buy, an excerpt, and a review.

I’ve proved myself right:  City of Lost Souls, the fifth book in The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, is far better than the fourth, City of Fallen Angels, though it still lacks the clockwork tight plot and sharp twists of the first three books.

This book never really settled on a protagonist.  We spent the most time with Clary.  Sebastian’s control of Jace rendered Jace’s POV null.  Clare was trying to pull the wool over our eyes and make us believe in a changed Sebastian, so we were denied access to his mind.  Simon ought to have had a grand role this book and was set to be the ultimate hero, but his glory was literally taken from him by Clary so that Clare could further complicate her relationship with Jace and possibly so that Sebastian could escape to complicate the sixth book.

If this battle was merely the first in a second war, the next book’s final battle should be epic because I would have been quite satisfied to see Simon stab Sebastian and end the series in this book—and not just because it would mean heroism for Simon and death for Sebastian and freedom for Jace.  The Mortal Instruments ought to have been a trilogy almost everyone seems to agree, and the plot is beginning to feel stretched like butter scraped across too much bread.

Because Clary has never been my favorite character nor have she and Jace been my favorite couple, their romantic woes cannot sustain the series for me.  And Clare seems to recognize that, though she won’t change the plot to suit; that would too deeply rock her foundation.  Yet we are given a wealth of other couples to root for: Magnus and Alec, Simon and Izzy, Jordan and Maia, and Jocelyn and Luke.  Each one of these couples is almost a separate subplot in City of Fallen Angels, and I’m not sure that that is necessary.  In reality, everyone’s relationships might be complicated all at once regardless of what is going on, but Maia and Jordan seemed superfluous, Luke and Jocelyn were thrust aside, and Alec’s worries over Magnus’ immortality were untimely when we were busily trying to decide if Alec was going to lose another brother to death.  The presence of Camille seemed merely a way to pander to fans of The Infernal Devices.

Scattered through the book are references to her other series, The Infernal Devices, The Bane Chronicles, the first of which Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan will publish online on April 16th (those I will probably devour because Magnus), and even the new series, The Dark Artifices, that Clare has promised is coming.  While I know that the series are interconnected, it almost seems as if Clare’s mind is meandering throughout time and space, though I might appreciate these references more were I a greater fan of The Infernal Devices or if the references were subtler.

Several gut-punching lines and scenes shine in this book, and Simon and Izzy’s budding relationship is touching and well-handled as are the foreign cities to which Clary transports the readers.

In the end, The Mortal Instruments are snarky, steamy teen fluff with some hacking and slashing to keep the plot lively and because Clare recognizes that girls love action movies too.

***1/2

Clare, Cassandra.  The Mortal Instruments, Book Five: The City of Lost Souls.  New York: Margaret K. McElderry-Simon & Schuster, 2012.

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

I’ve reviewed the third book in the series, City of Glass, too.

Book Review: Hatching Magic Lacks Finesse

Standard

The dragons of Hatching Magic by Ann Downer (now Downer-Hazell) I found to be no more than catalysts.  I did not particularly feel that Wycca or her hatchling added much to the tension or interest of the story, despite their apparent importance and Wycca being one of the main narrators.  I believe it could as easily have been any other creature or object that the wizards went chasing without the change detracting from the story.

This is a story about wizards running amok in modern Boston.

I wasn’t wonderfully impressed by Hatching Magic.  While conceptually enjoyable and while Downer’s magic was intricate and well described, I found the writing overall to be rough.  The tale is told in multiple third persons, but while scene changes are always marked with a break in the text, changes in point-of-view are not, and brief dips into such minds as Frankie the cat’s made it seem as if Downer would have preferred an omniscient third.

Yet despite many close narrators, too often the characters were able to come to correct conclusions without me as a reader being able to see how they came to that realization, which I found irritating.

The use of one too many tropes further detracted from the story (though parts of these back-stories Downer was able to nicely make ultimately important).

The story was overall a little slow, but not to the point of fault.  Whenever two of the three main, humanoid narrative sets met, the action and my interest piqued.  When Kobold finally showed his cruelty, the story picked up tremendously—though [SPOILER] Gideon’s near-fall to Kobold’s trump spell seemed out of character and broke my suspension of disbelief.  I needed him to moon more prior to this spell for it to seem in his character. [END SPOILER]

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Downer’s story was the descriptions of 21st century technologies by characters from the 13th century.  Using terms that would have been familiar to 13th century magical beings, Downer was able to convey to this 21st century reader what the 13th century characters were seeing, and did so without it seeming awkward or cliché.

The final chapter sets this book up as the first in a series.  [SPOILER] Kobold speaks of a master, but this master never appeared nor was he further described in Hatching Magic. [END SPOILER]  I would have liked to have seen more of the grander evil come into play in the first book if only because I don’t think that the first—even with its final teasers—was enjoyable enough to make me read the second in the series except by chance, particularly as the jacket description of The Dragon of Never-Was makes me think that my favorite characters will be left behind in favor of heroine Theodora “Dodo” Oglethorpe, who just wasn’t as interesting to me as—well, almost anyone else in the tale.  I think I might continue to read the misadventures of Gideon and Kobold and cheer to see Iain Merlin O’Shea return via letters from the future, giving me updates on Febrys (who I would like to see returned from her new form into something again capable of speech, because she really was the character with the most growth through the book), but of Dodo?  Not so much.

**

Downer, Ann.  Hatching Magic.  New York: Scholastic, 2004.

This review is not endorsed by Ann Downer-Hazell, Scholastic, Inc, or Antheneum Books or Simon & Schuster, the original publishers.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Don’t Fear This Boggart

Standard

I have been a fan of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence for a long time.  The Boggart is the first of her other books that I’ve had the opportunity to read.  The Boggart, like The Dark Is Rising Sequence, blends ancient legends—frequently lesser-known legends—with a modern world.

The world of The Boggart is a smaller world of smaller problems and lesser fates than that of The Dark of Rising, however.  The modern world of The Boggart is also more modern than that of The Dark Is Rising, in fact having been written 15 years after The Silver on the Tree.  Technology and specifically computers evolved rapidly between the late 70s and the early 90s, and this evolution is reflected in the worlds and plots created by Cooper.

The emphasis on technology in The Boggart does date the book, as I have read other reviews complain, but I do not think that this is a fault of the book, however much I giggled at the Gang of Five’s excitement over the new font Garamond that they had pirated, and told them, perhaps aloud, “Just wait till you see Papyrus;” a dated book is not an irrelevant book.  As we grow more and more dependent on rapidly changing technology our books are going to be more and more rapidly dated, but we can still cheer Odysseus’ triumph over the suitors as much as we can Salander’s revenge on Bjurman (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, 2005).

The Boggart was a little slow to start.  I really wasn’t grabbed by the book till the Boggart started wrecking havoc in Toronto; then the Old began to mix with new technology and modern explanations and philosophy, and I was hooked.  A psychology student and fantasy-lover, I was especially interested by Dr. Stigmore’s misinterpretation of the Boggart as a “poltergeist manifestation,” a troubled child who develops telekinesis, an explosion of pent-up energy.  I’ve never heard this theory before but was glad to hear someone mention poltergeists as Cooper’s depiction of a boggart really read more to me like a poltergeist from all I know—but all I’ve known of boggarts previously is from Harry Potter, and that may not be the most reliable source (a quick bit of research makes me think that neither Cooper’s nor Rowling’s depictions are entirely true to legend, though Cooper’s, as I would expect, seems closer).

I was a little upset by the inclusion—however minor—of a romantic subplot.  It seemed unnecessary, there simply because a boy and girl can’t meet and be friends in fiction without feeling or wishing for something more.  However my own work might conform to this same idea, I wish it was a stereotype that we could overcome, and I think Cooper had a great opportunity to do so here.  However, romance and romantic feelings are a fact of life and young people are curious.  I will let the romantic subplot slide.  While Emily and Tommy might be interested in one another, at least no one accuses them of sexual practice, which is a whole other depth to this same stereotype.

As ever, Cooper’s command of language is wonderful with stunning imagery and well-chosen details that add to the story’s depth.

****

Cooper, Susan.  The Boggart.  New York: Scholastic, 1993.

This review is not endorsed by Susan Cooper, Scholastic, or Margaret K McElderry Books, or Macmillan Publishing Company (the latter two of these own the original copyrights).  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen May Be Not the Fairest of Them All, But It’s Still a Pretty Story

Standard

I finished Delia Sherman’s The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen with some interesting insights into writing and into Harry Potter’s success, ironically.  In this sequel to Sherman’s Changeling, Neef, the girl stolen from her crib by the Folk of Central Park, is sent to Miss Van Loon’s School for Mortal Changelings.  School stories mean a huge cast, many of whom will interact in some way with the main character but who will also live separately and grow independently from the main character.  Here, I think, is where The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen was not as strong as I should have liked, and Harry Potter succeeds.  The carried over cast from Changeling are all strong characters with motivations, desires, and clear personalities.  The new cast of characters in The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen—Neef’s school friends—is not as strong as even the cast of Changeling was when introduced.  I feel, sadly because I very much want to love Sherman as a writer as much as I love her as a person, that Neef’s school friends exist as Neef’s entourage for the most part and largely not as individuals with their own stories and motivations.  In fact, they seem to have nothing to do but to help Neef in her quest, and I find that unbelievable.

Interestingly, in Changeling Sherman writes a large, lively cast, but this cast wander into the story and out of it.  They come in with what characteristics and details of their history that they need to illuminate in those moments that they share with Neef and Changeling, but do not need to be changed by their experiences or grow over time as do the students of Miss Van Loon’s in The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen.

This alerts me to the dangers of writing school stories.  It seems a genre that should not be attempted unless you can and do maintain a great number of living, breathing characters.  That here J. K. Rowling has succeeded magnificently makes me cheer Harry Potter.

Do these weaker characters earn The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen the condemnation it has received?  (It is no longer in print.)  Perhaps not.

The story, apart from those sidekicks, is an exciting one, and towards the end at least, Airboy emerges as a strong character to quest beside and breathe beside Neef.  The story is lighthearted fun, for the most part, though too it explores the dangers of fairy godparents’ expectations and meddling with powers that you don’t understand.  The book teaches acceptance of different people, different cultures, different subcultures without being too heavy-handed.  Sherman, a resident of New York City herself, well-captures its diversity and its attitude towards life.

The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen to analytical readers and writers explores the uses of, abuses of, reasons to break, and the reasons to follow rules—particularly in the fairy tale, though these lessons I think were stronger too in Changeling because Neef and Changeling less frequently challenged and more purposefully used the rules in that story.

Lovers of folklore will also enjoy the numerous, clever interactions of Folk of all countries.

***

Sherman, Delia.  Changeling, Book Two: The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen.  New York: Viking-Penguin, 2009.

This review is not endorsed by Delia Sherman, Viking Books, or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: City of Fallen Angels: Still A Better Teen Vampire Romance Novel. SPOILER ALERT!

Standard

Spoilers for City of Fallen Angels and City of Glass abound.  Read at your own risk.

When I read City of Glass, it seemed the stunning conclusion to Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series; I never expected City of Fallen Angels.  Hearing of a 4th book, I was a little hesitant.  What was left but to tangle their poor happy love lives?

Clare did.

Simon is two-timing with Isabelle and Maia.  Clary and Jace, finally relieved from their supposed sibling relationship, passionately embrace and kiss frequently, despite Jace’s attempts to stay away.

Having seen Jace and Clary together, I think that a lot of the tension of the previous 3 Mortal Instruments books came from their forbidden love.  Clare recognized this too, I think, and was sure to complicate matters, possibly beyond reconciliation (though I might have just thought of one possible resolution), at the end of this book.

Too, NYC seems like a letdown descriptively now that we’ve been to Alicante.  But Clare has beautifully painted NYC before.  I wonder if writing in Mexico did not backfire on Clare, if she could not describe what she couldn’t see with such clarity as has before impressed me.

The book suffered too from a severance from the politics of the Clave, which had been so central to previous books.  I love seeing the workings of fictional governments.

There are several “saving graces” in City of Fallen Angels:

  1. The Mark of Cain:  It’s always interesting to fill in the gaps of the Biblical narrative.  The Mortal Instruments series does so finely.
  2. Praetor Lupus:  I’m highly intrigued by this secretive society of Downworlder protectors.  Unfortunately, the group did not play a large role, but I look forward to learning more.  Please take note, Miss Clare.
  3. The resolution of (most) of the romantic problems:  I’m a sucker for happy endings.  Finally, everyone is with whom they should be (I hope)!
  4. The cliffhanger ending:  Oh no!  One?  They can’t be.  Jace can’t be.

The action finally picks up in near the end of this book.  The tightly woven tapestry of Clare’s writing that I have always admired seemed absent for most of the book as no one had yet made fabric of all the threads.  Perhaps, I ought to have assumed a connection between Simon’s hunters and Jace’s dreams, but I did not, and could not have guessed at the connection as it was eventually revealed.  Something needed to have been said earlier of demons being able to infiltrate Shadowhunters’ dreams.  If I had known that, I might have seen the thread and might have walked the maze with less hesitancy.

One more gripe:  This story is incomplete.  Such emphasis is put on Stephen’s hunting dagger that the absence of its story seems like a hole in the plot.  I hope that too returns later.

Overall, book 4 is a bridge; it almost had be; with Valentine and “Sebastian” dead, The Mortal Instruments was problem-less.  My recommendation?  Wait for book 5.  Then read the 4 and 5 together.  I’m sure 5 will be better.

**

Clare, Cassandra.  The Mortal Instruments, Book Four: City of Fallen Angels.  New York: Margaret K. McElderry-Simon & Schuster, 2011.

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