I know Maleficent premiered several months ago. However, my best friend and I saw it again a couple of days ago at the local discount cinema. Plus, Once Upon a Time returns this week and I feel the need to reconnect with fairy tales after a summer of absence.
Warning: Some spoilers contained in the synopsis
Synopsis: The retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story from the perspective of Maleficent. Angelina Jolie stars as the title character. Maleficent is a powerful fairy who protects The Moors, a magical land full of mythical creatures. Her homeland borders a country ruled by the cruel and superstitious King Henry. One day, a peasant boy named Stefan trespasses and meets Maleficent. Overtime the two conflicted teenagers fall in love. Several years later, King Henry decides to conquer The Moors and Maleficent defeats him. Henry promises his throne to anyone who succeeds in bringing down Maleficent. Stefan betrays Maleficent. She swears revenge and curses Stefan’s first born child, the Princess Aurora. On her 16th birthday Aurora will fall into a death like sleep after pricking her finger on a spinning wheel. Only true loves kiss will revive Sleeping Beauty from her slumber. Stefan commands the destruction of all spinning wheels and sends Aurora off to be raised secretly in the woods. Maleficent cannot stay away from Aurora and develops maternal feelings, inspiring her to attempt to undo the curse.
Review: Sleeping Beauty is a classic fairy tale. Several generations have enjoyed the animated Disney film. However, the original Sleeping Beauty film lacks depth. While enjoyable, the original does not give the characters any dimensions and Prince Phillip might as well be a piece of cardboard. I love the Disney Princess Films and they fill an important niche in the entertainment industry. However, as an adult, I sometimes crave a more developed fairy tale. Thankfully, Maleficent came along and saved Sleeping Beauty from the curse of one-dimensional caricature.
Angelina Jolie perfectly raises Maleficent out of caricature and into the realm of realism. Ms. Jolie perfectly captures the conflict Maleficent feels about her curse and maternal feelings towards Aurora. Throughout the film, Maleficent matures from villain to complex anti-hero. Sam Riley plays Diaval, the crow sidekick, and steals every scene. My one complaint with the film is the portrayal of Stefan. The climax was overshadowed by Stefan’s manic shenanigans during the buildup. Otherwise the film was amazing. Elle Fanning fantastically portrayed the ethereal Aurora. Brenton Thwaites’s Prince Phillip was slightly too old for Elle Fanning’s Aurora. However, he was rather dashing. The film has a great twist on the “true love’s kiss” plot-line and an uplifting message about redemption.
On another note, the cinematography was fantastic. The visuals pop off the screen and make The Moors come alive. Really, I have not witnessed such mythical visuals since Avatar’s Pandora. I did not see the film in 3D, but I bet it would look fantastic. More importantly, Disney finally realized that audiences crave fairy tales with greater depth. I hope next year’s live action Cinderella film is just as fantastic. If you ever tire of the run-of-the mill Princess Movies, I highly recommend this film. It is appropriate for both children and adults.
Book series appropriate for children between 8-14 years old.
This was one of the first adventure/fantasy series my parents let me read. Follow the adventures of Peter, Edmund, Lucy, and Susan as they explore the mystical realm of Narnia. Along the way they encounter talking animals, evil witches, enchanted islands, lost princes, and the clash between good and evil. Of course there are some drawbacks, such as, disappointment when your own wardrobe does not open up into an enchanted forest. This series also explores the backstory of Narnia, the White Witch, and the origins of the wardrobe. My favorite book is The Horse and His Boy. Also, this series carries universal lessons about the importance of family, perseverance, faith, and the endurance of the human spirit. This is one of the few children’s series that both children and adults can appreciate. I highly recommend the Focus on the Family’s radio theatre drama version of this series. It is a great series to listen to on long car rides. I cannot recommend the movies.
Charlie Bone is an eleven year boy who lives with his mean grandmother. However, Charlie is not an ordinary boy. Through his father, he is a descendant of the Red King. Through his mother, Charlie is related to Mathonwy, a Welsh magician. With both parents coming from magical families, no one is surprised when Charlie develops the ability to travel through photographs and pictures. His grandmother enrolls him Bloor’s Academy, a local school for magically gifted children. This kicks off a series of misadventures and Charlie suddenly finds himself embroiled in an ancient struggle between good and evil. While this series is not as complicated as The Chronicles of Narnia, it is still a fantastic read. Also, the narrative is fast paced and keeps the reader craving the next installment.
Reading Order (American Titles):
Fourteen year old Meg Murry is the oldest child of scientists Alex and Kate Murry. She is the outcast of the family and is unpopular at school. While she is mathematically gifted and extremely intelligent, she rarely utilizes her strengths. She adores her mother and three brothers, especially her youngest brother, Charles Wallace. Her father went missing several years ago and Meg misses him terribly. This series explores the limits of humanity and the weirdness of parallel universes. These books have everything: action, adventure, drama, humor, some romance, and an inspiring tale of two kids flying through time and space looking for their father. Unlike some children’s literature, this series is intelligent, complex, and requires the reader to think about what it means to be human. This is a classic most children will remember years after their first reading. I recommend this for children in the 5th grade and above.
This is a fantasy series aimed toward older children. Instead of following a linear narrative, the books describe different periods of history in the world of Redwall. This includes narrative set in the Mossflower Woods, surrounding islands, and Southsward. Some of the books focus on specific characters that are legendary figure in other books. Most of the stories take place before the founding of the Redwall Abbey. All the characters are animals including: mice, badgers, squirrels, rabbits, foxes, and birds. While this is a fantastic series, the lack of linearity does make the overarching narrative come across as slightly choppy. My brothers and I devoured each book with enthusiasm. There are twenty-two novels.
Chronological Reading Order:
This series follows the adventures of Will, an orphan who is taken as an apprentice by the famous Ranger Halt. Follow Will as he attempts to keep the Kingdom of Araluen safe from fearsome Vikings, traitors, international threats, and invaders. Will is accompanied by his best friend and apprentice knight, Horace. This is a strong series for children looking for a fast-paced adventure fantasy series. The books are not overly complex and there is no overarching message about morality. However, it is action-packed and a good series to hone reading comprehension skills. My younger brother and I both eagerly awaited the release of each book. I would especially recommend this series for young boys who do not want to read about princesses, romance, and icky kissing scenes.
Vampire literature continues to hold audiences in a thrall. In recent decades, vampiric literature drastically evolved beyond the horror depicted in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, few of these novels actually present a semi-realistic vision of modern vampires. Novels today either venture into high drama á la Anne Rice or seem overly angst ridden. One problem I have with modern vampire stories is perfectly summed up in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series or the Vampire Diaries TV show. Why would a centuries old vampire waste time repeating high school? If a person possesses an eternity to explore the world, why hang around a revolving door of depressed teenagers? Thankfully, excellent non-teenage obsessed vampire literature exists. Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy presents a refreshing change from the vampire-teenage drama norm.
Warning: This post does contain some spoilers, though I attempted to minimize them.
Themes : vampire/witch lore, 16th century societal structure, love, meaning of family, personal acceptance, destiny, rising above conflict, death, loss, mourning, redemption, human evolution, Christianity, atheism, eternity, time-travel
All Souls Trilogy Reading Order:
Synopsis: This is a synopsis of the entire series. Diana Bishop is a historian focusing on ancient alchemic practices. However, she is also a reluctant witch who struggles to accept her familial legacy. While conducting research for a keynote address, Diana stumbles across a bewitched manuscript known as Ashmole 782. Shortly afterwards, she meets the mysterious Matthew Clairmont, a fellow professor and a centuries old vampire. Throughout the series, Diana and Matthew race through time in an effort to understand the meaning behind Ashmole 782. Both ancient and modern forces combine together to prevent Matthew and Diana from finding the answers they seek. Over time, Diana and Matthew slowly form a romantic attachment and learn the power of acceptance. However, an ancient covenant prohibits romantic interaction between vampires, witches, and daemons. Matthew’s family and the worldwide witch network attempt to keep him and Diana forever apart. Multiple witches and vampires conspire to kill Diana and glean the knowledge she finds hidden in Ashmole 782. With time running out, Diana and Matthew have to make life-altering decisions in order to survive.
Review: Deborah Harkness teaches European and scientific history at the University of Southern California. She has also published two non-fiction books exploring the history of alchemy and Elizabethan London during the scientific revolution. As a result, the All Souls Trilogy bursts at the seams with historical references and accurate descriptions of past events. These descriptions are most apparent in Shadow of Night, which is the novel where Diana and Matthew travel back to 16th Century London. Ms. Harkness’s glee at describing Elizabethan London pours off of each page. The other two novels describe time periods ranging from the Crusades to the 1920s.
Other than the mesmerizing descriptions, the strength of the trilogy relies on the character development of Diana and Matthew. At the beginning of the series, Diana comes across as a shy historian who does her best to blend in with the crowd. She does this by denying her witch powers. Diana would rather believe in science than in the supernatural. However, Diana develops a healthy respect for her gifts after several near death experiences. The trilogy deals with her struggle to accept herself and believe in her ability to control her gifts. On the other hand, Matthew deals with his tendency to keep his emotions under tight control. While he loves Diana, he struggles to trust her with his troubling past and his current emotional state. Both characters experience personal growth as the trilogy progresses and they have to trust/rely on each other. Without this character growth, the trilogy would merely be another histrionic forbidden love story. Ms. Harkness depicts Diana and Matthew as individuals who happen to be either a witch or a vampire, which make them more sympathetic and believable.
My main problem with the series is the overabundance of supporting characters. Between Diana’s family, Matthew’s clan, and the numerous villains, I almost needed a flow chart to keep track of everyone. This mainly becomes a problem in the second book, Shadow of Night. Ms. Harkness does her best to introduce multiple literary/scientific/political greats from the Elizabethan era. While this fleshes out the story, it also bogs down the main narrative with frivolous sub-plots. However, this still remains my favorite vampire-witch trilogy. And there is not a single mention of high school romance.
As civilization progressed out of the dark ages, a myriad of legends fell by the wayside. Who knows what heroes and adventures remain shrouded in the ancient past. However, one legend continues to grow in prominence and stature. The King Arthur Legend remains a captivating tale of heroism and sacrifice. Over time the King Arthur Legend expanded beyond the rather humble origin tale. Now Arthur’s court contains numerous knights and ladies with tales and myths of their own. Historians struggle to confirm whether Arthur actually existed. If he did exist, he probably bears little resemblance to the man in the legends. Whether Arthur lived or not is inconsequential in the long term. After all, legends and myths exist to inspire successive generations with tales of heroism in the face of villainy. Or to serve as an object lesson about the evils of selfishness, vanity, greed, lust, and a myriad of other character shortcomings.
King Arthur remains my favorite legend. Whenever I have a chance, I prowl through the library and amazon searching for new spins on the Arthurian legend. While I have devoured many such series, my favorite retelling remains Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle. No other series, in my opinion, manages to capture the spirit of the legend and seamlessly weave in Celtic and Gaelic overtones. Also, the Pendragon Cycle perfectly captures the enigmatic character of Merlin. Few other series paint Merlin in such a vivid and captivating profile. I will write a full review of the series at a later time.
While I love reading about Arthur, sometimes I crave diversity. A couple years ago I stumbled upon an independent folk artist named Heather Dale. Heather is a Canadian Celtic performer and writes her own music. All of her music draws inspiration from mythology, folklore, and Celtic history. She has released two albums inspired by the Arthur Legend: The Trial of Lancelot and May Queen. Her songs ensnare the listener and breathe life into the legend in a way books cannot replicate. I highly recommend both albums. My favorite song is Mordred’s Lullaby. The song captures the perspective of Morgan le Fey or Morgause depending which version of the legend you believe.
I am still disappointed that Hollywood had not created a decent Arthur movie. Despite Hollywood’s beliefs, Arthur is a Celtic king and not a Roman centurion.
If Cinderella were an assassin, she would be Celaena Sardothien. This series follows 18 year old Celaena as she maneuvers through the high court of Endovier. Celaena finds herself in this situation after Prince Dorian rescues her from a life of hard labor in the salt mines. However, in return for her life, she must be the Prince’s champion in a competition to find the new court assassin. If she fails, her life is forfeited. In the meantime, both Prince Dorian and Captain Westfall find themselves drawn to the mysterious assassin. The series puts an original twist on the classic “princess” tale. Celaena is complex and conflicted and just wants everyone to leave her alone. Each book paints a captivating picture of a mysterious individual with complicated secrets. She is the perfect heroine: spunky, well-armed, intelligent, feminine, and knows her own worth. The third book, Heir of Fire, hit shelves on September 2.
Prince Ash. Need I say more? This series follows the coming of age adventures of Meghan Chase. Now Meghan is no ordinary teenage, she is the illegitimate daughter of Oberon, King of the Summer Fey. When the Iron Fey kidnap her half-brother, Meghan embarks on a desperate search through the Nevernever to find him before time runs out. The main narrative follows Meghan as she adapts to life in the Nevernever, her role as a fey princess/future queen, and the fight against the Iron Fey. The secondary story arc deals with Meghan’s romance with Prince Ash, the Winter Prince. Summer and Winter Fey are forbidden to socialize, much less pursue a romantic connection. Fortunately, this story has a better ending than Romeo & Juliet. Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck, serves as the secondary male lead and sarcastic sidekick. I like this series because the main characters mature over time. Each character has to struggle with loss, familial hostility, and uncomfortable decisions. Prince Ash is nearly too perfect, not that I am complaining.
Han Alistair is a reformed thief who struggles to provide for his mother and sister. He only possesses one item of any value, a pair of thick silver cuffs around each wrist. However, he cannot remove them and they are clearly magicked as they grow with him. One day, Han and Dancer (his best friend) are confronted by three hot headed magicians. Han manages to steal one of their amulets, setting of a continuous game of cat and mouse. Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna finally returns to court to fulfill her duties as the heir to the Gray Wolf Throne. However, her mother wants her to marry a suitor who stands against everything the throne has fought to maintain. This series follows Hans and Raisa as they both come to terms with their destinies and the expectations of their elders. This series really excels at showing that sometimes the villain is more grey than black; and even heroes struggle with morals. I enjoyed the Seven Realms series because the narrative effectively combines adventure with political intrigue and cultural tensions. And it has a satisfying ending.
Never watch the movie, it is a cinematic nightmare. Eragon is a fifteen-year-old boy who lives in a small village. While on a hunting trip, Eragon discovers an unhatched dragon egg. Flash forward and Saphira emerges from her egg. Under the tutelage of the mysterious Brom, Eragon becomes the second known Rider in Alagaësia. Throughout the series, King Galbatorix moves to conquer the neighboring kingdom and kill/capture Eragon. Meanwhile, Eragon deals with the political wrangling of the dwarves, elves, and humans. The second book, Eldest, deals with Eragon’s training with the elves. The main secondary narrative deals with Roran (Eragon’s cousin) and the human resistance against Galbatorix. This series has everything: swords, magic, elves, dragons, folklore, multiple training sequences, unrequited love, obtuse witches, and a made-up-language. I love this series because the plot is easy to follow and the story is engaging; though the ending was disappointing.
I stumbled upon this series over the summer and it is fantastic. The series is a retelling of the “Naraudh Lar-Chanë”, the Riddle of the Treesong and is set in the mythical world of Edil-Amarandh. Maerad, the main character, grew up in slavery after the sacking of the Bard school of Pellinor. One day while toiling in the stables of her owner, Maerad encounters Cadvan of the Light (a travelling Bard). Sensing that Maerad possesses bardic potential, Cadvan rescues her from slavery. Turns out Maerad has the potential to be the most powerful Bard in history. But she lacks training and is plagued by self-doubt. With an ancient evil rising out of the shadows, Maerad and Cadvan are suddenly thrust into a war torn country. Further complicating things is widespread corruption in the Bardic Schools. Normal countrymen view Bards as harbingers of doom and hardship. What I liked about this series is Maerad’s struggle with self-identity and self-doubt. This struggle adds depth and prevents the character from descending into caricature.
Every now and then I decide to explore genres outside of fantasy and science fiction. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation Series, a regency romance. Now when I say romance, I mean: well-written, plot driven, believable heroines/heroes, and minimal R-rated content. Willig’s writing style is fun and fast paced, she focuses on characterization and plot development. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is the 11th entry in the Carnation Series.
Themes Explored: independence, Halloween, the supernatural satire, societal conventions, grief, romance, love, letting go
Synopsis: It is October of 1806 and Sally Fitzhugh quickly tires of another year of London high society. Mainly she despises the insipid commentary about the bestselling novel The Convent of Orsino, which has sparked a vampire craze. Soon rumors begin swirling that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire. Sally cannot resist a dare to prove such accusations false. While attending a ball at Belliston Square, she boldly walks into the Duke’s gardens and meets Lucien.
Lucien, his grace the Duke of Belliston, has returned home to seek answers regarding his parents’ death. According to society, everything from sorcery to high treason contributed to the scandalous murder. His fearsome reputation as a nightwalker serves him well in this pursuit, until a young woman is killed. And on her neck is a set of fang marks. Is Lucien really a vampire or something more nefarious at work?
Review: The Pink Carnation Series is similar to the The Scarlet Pimpernel series by Baroness Emma Orczy. Both follow English aristocrats defying convention and becoming involved in spy rings/revolutions. Ms. Willig uses a split narrative, each book follows an aristocratic spy and charts the romance between Eloise Kelly and Colin Selwick. Eloise is working on her PhD and the dissertation is about English aristocratic spies during the Napoleonic Wars. Each book follows whatever spy Eloise happens to be researching. Colin is an English landowner whose ancestors are the spies Eloise is investigating. They hit it off (eventually) and each successive book builds upon their relationship. Anyways, I will not review their part of the story as it will ruin the previous 10 books.
Sally has a pet stoat named Lady Florence Oblong. As a fan of ferrets, I fully approve of any heroine with a similar pet. Some historical/regency novels tend to have either stilted or formal language, which drags down the plot. Lucien and Sally come right off the page thanks to some lively exchanges. Ms. Willig always makes me feel like I am experiencing the narrative right next to the main characters. I ended up reading the book in one evening because I had to know what happened next. Also, I love spoof novels. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla reminded me of Northanger Abbey. Both novels poke fun at two prolific literary trends: vampires and Gothic thrills. As with the rest of The Pink Carnation books, the novel is well paced and the characters are highly relatable.
Colin and Eloise only had a handful of chapters. They deserve a standalone novel, or at least a novella. I hope Pink XIV contains more “modern” scenes. While I appreciate the heavy character development, I felt the plot was a little thin. The story was excellent; I just think it needed more substance. Some of the supporting characters-Lucien’s former tutor- came across as thinly veiled vehicles for information dumping. Not that this is a problem, I just would have liked more robust minor characters. If your looking for some light hearted diversion, I highly recommend checking out the Pink Carnation Series.
The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, NAL Trade, 2014, ISBN: 9780451414731
Every Monday I will either review a movie or an album/music group. To start things off is a review of Strange Desire.
A couple days ago, my brother and I ventured downtown to attend a Bleachers concert. Bleachers is Jack Antonoff’s (best known as the lead guitarist of the indie band fun.) new project. The first album, Strange Desire, was released on July 15 of this year. First of all, I am not a huge fan of fun. I have heard Some Nights and We Are Young one too many times. So I approached Bleachers with trepidation. Fortunately, the album pleasantly surprised me. One of the problems I have with modern pop music is that most artists sound identical. When I hear a song I would like to recognize the artist without having to google the lyrics. Thankfully Bleachers has a unique sound (too me at least) and I am able to recognize them anytime a song plays on the radio/Pandora.
Like its name suggests, Bleachers deals with themes everyone struggles with, especially in high school. Most of the songs evoke feelings of loneliness, confusion, sitting alone behind the bleachers; however, the choruses are catchy and upbeat. The lead single, I Wanna Get Better, has an earnest and optimistic feeling. My favorite lyric is: “I didn’t know I was lonely ‘til I saw your face, I didn’t know I was broken ‘til I wanted to change.” It is distinguishable from most other pop songs and memorable.Click here to listen.
My favorite song off the album is Like A River Runs. The chorus begins with this lyric: “When I fall asleep I can see your face, what I lost in you I will not replace, I could run away I could let them down, but I will remember your light.” The song echoes the rest of the album in that it is full of vigor, sweeping vocals, and a satisfying buildup. Click here to listen.
Strange Desire is one of the few albums where I have enjoyed almost every song on the album. There is this one duet with Yoko Ono (I’m Ready to Move On) that I did not care for. However, the rest of the album is fantastic and I hope that there are many more album releases in the future. Even better the band sounds the same live as they do on the album.
I am obsessed with fantasy fiction. This addiction probably arose from childhood. Growing up I wanted to either be a Jedi Knight or a dragon rider. Unfortunately, neither of these fields is currently hiring. I am eternally disappointed. Anyways, it has taken me about three years but I have read three-fifths of my local library’s fantasy/sci-fi collection. So I am obviously an expert by now. What I find frustrating is that fantasy and science fiction have been merged into one unwieldy genre. Fantasy and science fiction are incredibly unique genres. I know there are sub-genres- like science fantasy-which merge the two, but there are intrinsic differences.
For instance J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy series and Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series is a science fiction. What is the difference? After all both genres do not seem rooted in reality. I am glad you asked! Science fiction and fantasy both explore alternate realities; however, science fiction expands upon our reality and fantasy is generally pure make believe. Science fiction logically projects modern technological and societal trends into the distant future. The pioneers of this genre include Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Orson Scott Card, and Robert A. Heinlein. While there are various sub-genres, the main two are “hard” and “soft”. The narratives in “hard” science fiction are driven by fictional advances in:
“Soft” science fiction tends to rely more on the social sciences:
Well-known authors of this sub-genre include:
On the other hand, fantasy narratives tend to rely upon magic and the supernatural. The majority of fantasy novels and novellas take place within imaginary worlds or sometimes, parallel universes. Fantasy is distinguishable from science fiction because scientific advances rarely influence the primary plot device. For the most part, fantasy worlds romanticize the medieval time period. Common fantasy elements include:
Well-developed fantasy worlds explain the presence of magic-or lack of- and rarely utilize modern society as a plot point. Some of my favorite fantasy authors are:
Science Fantasy is a genre which utilizes motifs and themes from both science fiction and fantasy. For instance, both Star Wars and Star Trek can be classified as science fantasy. Calling them purely fantasy denies the scientific elements. Lasers, droids, ray guns, the Millennium Falcon, black holes, red matter, pod racing, intergalactic travel, warp speed, hyper-speed, and light sabers all fall under the heading of science fiction. However certain elements-the force, Vulcan mind reading, Ewoks, Wookies, Klingons, Khan, the Borg, Jabba the Hut- fall under the fantasy genre. This particular meshing of science fiction and fantasy is really a genre unto itself. The most popular subgenres are: urban fantasy, Gaslamp fantasy, planetary romance, post-apocalypse, steam punk, space operas, cyber punk, dying earth, and interstellar exploration.Some of my favorite authors in this genre include:
I picked this book up after I heard it was going to be adapted into a screenplay. Generally I prefer to read the book before seeing the movie. The Queen of the Tearling is Erika Johansen’s debut novel.
Warning:This review does contain some spoilers
Themes Explored: coming of age, ethics of ruling, loyalty, love, family, loss, illiteracy, insecurity, trust, religion/lack of, self-destructive cycle of humanity, and slavery
Synopsis: The story begins with nineteen year old Kelsea Raleigh Glynn returning to her kingdom. Due to threats from Tearling’s powerful neighbor, Kelsea lived in exile in order to protect her life. For the past nineteen years, Kelsea’s uncle has ruled in her stead. However, the Red Queen, the sorceress queen of the neighboring Mortmesme, controls Tearling Regent. Most of the plot deals with Kelsea’s attempt to reclaim her throne, earn the loyalty of her subjects, obliterate the memory of her ineffective mother, and keep the Red Queen from conquering Tearling. Along the way Kelsea also deals with the realities of growing up, the ethics of ruling effectively and fairly, and adapting to life as a Queen of an impoverished and illiterate country.
Review: In a market saturated with dystopian themes, The Queen of the Tearling presents a fresh perspective. Instead of taking place in a dystopian society, Ms. Johansen is exploring civilization after the fall of an advanced society. Initially the setting feels medieval but the novel actually occurs in the future. After an environmental disaster destroyed the known world, a group of idealist flee and start anew society free from technology and modern society. The main narrative deals with how this civilization has matured since the founding. The secondary subplot deals with the ramifications of an illiterate society. Few of the original founders brought the written word to the new utopia. As a result, the society depicted is one where fewer and fewer people value the written word. Ms. Johansen’s motivation derives from the modern trend of people not bothering to voluntarily read. The novel merely takes this trends and projects the logical conclusion.
This novel works because of the fantastic characterization of Kelsea. Normally I find fictional teenage girls to either be excessively whiny or unconvincingly pragmatic. However, I felt that Ms. Johansen managed to find the right balance between teenage insecurity and the emerging self-confidence when fleshing out Kelsea’s character. The supporting characters were developed enough to be compelling, but not overly distracting. However, it would be nice if future installments fleshed out the characters of Lazarus and The Fetch. Both have the possibility to be excellent secondary primary characters. Furthermore the plot did not have any glaring holes and moved along at a nice pace. I was not bored and could not put the book down until I finished the final chapter.
I know Ms. Johansen is writing a trilogy and needs to keep some plot points undeveloped at the moment. However, there are several parts in the narrative where I would have preferred answers to questions. For instance, is Tearling on Earth, and if so, where? Also, where did magic come from? I am pretty sure that modern society has yet to develop anything remotely similar to fictional magic, so where did this wellspring of magic spring up from?
The Red Queen is the main villain of the story, yet her motivations are not articulated. A villain is only compelling if we actually see them plotting and manipulating events. Standing around philosophizing is not the best way to develop the antagonist. I hope the next book deals more with her rise to power, or else I will be highly disappointed. I can only support the hero/heroine if I fully understand the villain. While the first book established Kelsea’s rise to power, I hope the next couple of books delve more deeply into the world of Tearling. I think The Queen of the Tearling is one of the better Young Adult fantasy books published this year. I have high hopes for the next installment.
The Queen of the Tearling, Harper, 2014, ISBN: 9780062290366
The Vanishing (2014) is author Wendy Webb’s third modern Gothic novel with a supernatural tinge. Like The Tale of Halcyon Crane (2010) and The Fate of Mercy Alban (2013), The Vanishing is about a young woman exploring a mysterious event from the past.
Warning: This review contains spoilers
Synopsis: The book begins by depicting a séance gone wrong in 1875. Then the story flashes forward to present day Chicago. Julia Bishop is without friends or prospects after her husband, Jeremy, commits suicide after his Ponzi scheme collapses. One day Adrian Sinclair shows up on Julia’s doorstep with a job offer. Adrian offers Julia a job as companion to his mother. Julia hesitates over the offer until Adrian mentions that his mother is gothic novelist Amaris Sinclair. The catch is Amaris supposedly died 10 years ago. So Julia travels to Havenwood, the Sinclair Estate located near Lake Superior in Minnesota. Julia becomes deeply unsettled by her uncanny resemblance to a portrait of the medium who visited Havenwood in 1857 and disappeared. Strange events follow Julia as she races to untangle the past before it it too late.
Review: As with Ms. Webb’s previous books, The Vanishing moves at a relatively fast pace. The narrative is enjoyable but not overly deep. However, I felt that the story could have been infinitely better. Ms. Webb hinted at several facts and then never followed thorough. This is incredibly frustrating as I hate having more questions than answers at the end of a novel. I have three major problems with The Vanishing.
First, while I am a fan of split time narrative, there are not enough scenes depicting the events in 1857. Ms. Webb continually made veiled references to this fated séance and never followed through. How long had Andrew McCullough and the medium Seraphina been in a relationship? Did Andrew ever try to leave the estate? If so, then why? Did he ever try to find Seraphina? All of these questions could have answered if the novel was about 200 pages longer. Without this back story, the modern parallels lack the needed emotional and dramatic depth.
Second, is Drew a ddescendantor the original Andrew? Throughout the story Ms. Webb makes hints that Andrew is actually immortal. Then she draws attention to the fact that Drew never leaves the estate and looks exactly like Andrew’s portrait. So are they the same person or descendants? Frankly I was quite annoyed that this was never fully explained. I thought Drew had the potential to be a compelling character. Yet he was shortchanged in the development department. Another parallel Ms.Webb draws is that Julia is nearly identical to the medium Seraphina. Low and behold the old Andrew fell head over heels in love with Seraphina. So it is no surprise that Drew and Julia have an instant attachment. Also turns out that Julia is a descendant of this mysterious Seraphina. So if Drew is the supposedly immortal Andrew, he apparently just bided his time to wait for Seraphina’s lookalike descendant to arrive. How romantic. Instead of chasing the love of his life, he just waited for the newer model to arrive. I found this very frustrating. I just want some answers! Is he or is he not immortal?
Third, there was this very weird back story about Julia being in an insane asylum. Apparently Amaris Sinclair decided to have a séance in order to finally banish the evil entity that Seraphina had summoned back in 1857. Turns out that Julia was the medium Amaris hired. When she first arrived, she and Drew fell in love and everything seemed to be going dandy. Then the séance occurred and the evil turned out to be more powerful than Julia thought. It attached Adrian’s daughter and nearly killed Julia. This resulted in Adrian’s wife divorcing him and Julia having a complete mental breakdown. Julia ends up in the asylum with no memory of her life. She ends up befriending a fellow patient named Jeremy. They get married and leave the asylum. Flash forward ten years and Jeremy is dead and Adrian comes knocking. Turns out the Sinclair family has been tracking Julia’s movements all this time and paid her health bills. They did this because Julia had become “just like family” after staying for one week. In the present, Julia is at the Sinclair residence and is experiencing severe déjà vu because everything feels familiar and everyone treats her like a family member. Julia does not know that Adrian and Amaris brought her back home in an effort to restore her mind. Anyways, Julia keeps hearing voices and seeing ghosts. Once she finds out that she is a medium, she decides to take on the resident demon, which conveniently only haunts two rooms. After spending a decade without knowing herself or practicing magic, Julia suddenly becomes an expert medium and banishes the demon forever. She then regains her memories, declares her love for Drew, and decides to stay. Oh, and Adrian’s daughter inexplicably returns and to declare her love for her father.
The ending was bizarre and incredibly rushed. All throughout the novel there is this intense build up and hints of suspense. Then the climax arrives and it feels incredibly underwritten. Julia defeats this “powerful” evil in about three pages. And then everything is tied up in a neat little bow. The Vanishing could have been a decent novel if Ms. Webb had drawn out the mystery a little more and elaborated on the events in 1857. And I really wanted to know more of Drew’s backstory. I really dislike it when one of the romantic leads is little more than a card board cutout. Also, I am disappointed because Ms.Webb had a compelling narrative but poor execution.
The Vanishing, Hyperion, January 21, 2014, ISBN 978-1401341947
Musings on Books and movies
Musings on Books and movies