A lot of the gender-swapping issues weren't as thoroughly examined as one would like, though it was certainly interesting to see an author do this toA lot of the gender-swapping issues weren't as thoroughly examined as one would like, though it was certainly interesting to see an author do this to her own work, outside of the fanfiction community where this type of thought exercise is common....more
VAMPIRES. Who doesn't love them? However, in Butler's mythology, vampires are a non-human species, called Ina. Ina live in groups with their same-sexVAMPIRES. Who doesn't love them? However, in Butler's mythology, vampires are a non-human species, called Ina. Ina live in groups with their same-sex relatives, and each Ina has several human symbionts, who voluntarily feed the Ina. Ina venom is pleasantly addictive, and extends the life of the humans who feed the Ina. The relationship between Ina and human is described in the book as "mutualistic symbiosis," with the humans gaining the advantage of extended life and protection during the night, and the Ina gaining the advantage of readily-available food supplies and protection during the day. The relationship between the Ina and humans also appears somewhat emotionally codependent.
To be perfectly honest, I read this book only because I'd first read a fantastic AU/crossover fanfiction using an approximate version of Butler's vampire rules. The plot of "Fledgling" isn't terribly thrilling: the main character, Shori, awakens with amnesia, and has to slowly find out that she is a vampire, what the 'rules' of her vampirism are, and eventually, who killed her family. Shori, it turns out, has been created with genetic engineering to be part human, and unlike the rest of the Ina, looks like a black human rather than a white one. Racism, and/or speciesism, becomes an obvious plot point, and the motivation of the villains is paper-thin. I'd have been thrilled if Butler had been able to live long enough to write sequels exploring the interpersonal relationships between various characters within this mythology. Shori eventually discovers that other Ina live in single-sex groups (of themselves, i.e. male Ina with their fathers and sons, female Ina with their mothers and daughters) with their human symbionts (who can be of any gender), and the huge compounds where various Ina families live seem ripe for "Big Love" type drama. Butler describes the peaceful living between the various symbionts and Ina as a given, but for a reader used to monogamy, the clearly partly sexual relationship between an Ina and a symbiont couldn't be easily shared. There are some discussions of free will: humans addicted to Ina venom will die without it, and an Ina has emotional or psychological control over a human whom he or she has bitten. But the 'rules' of the Ina would, in a great novel, foster interpersonal character exploration, and there isn't much of that in this book. No human rejects Shori, either, though it seems that any human who'd heard the full details of what being bitten would mean would certainly have reasonable doubt about the risks (essentially mind control) versus the rewards. Shori's development as a character mostly consists of re-learning what she's lost due to amnesia, and few other characters in the book grow or change much at all. Shori is described as irresistible by other Ina and humans, despite the fact that she looks like a ten-or-eleven year old girl (she's 53). For me as a reader, I didn't actually come to care for Shori as an individual much at all; I gave up trying to visualize her, because she explicitly has sex in the book, despite looking so young. I was far more interested in the 'rules' of the Ina world than I was in Shori as a character. I think this could have been rectified in future books, but alas, that's not an option.
tl;dr - Read this book for the cool vampire rules, then write some fun fanfiction with characters you actually care about....more
This book was recommended to me by the owners of a gaming store (the Magic-and-Warhammer type), and I was eager to read it based on the premise of “va This book was recommended to me by the owners of a gaming store (the Magic-and-Warhammer type), and I was eager to read it based on the premise of “vampires are ‘out’ and taking over.” I knew that Dracula would be a character, and I didn’t mind that the rest of the Dracula cast appeared as well (in this version, Dracula’s invasion of England was successful, and he has married and turned Queen Victoria). What ended up bothering me was the ridiculous proliferation of spot-the-reference vampire appearances. Lord Ruthven is there, Carmilla gets mentioned, Lestat appears, and there are repeated litanies of vampires that include movie, novel and television characters large and small. Similarly, Jack the Ripper, Fu Manchu, Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes all appear (though not the good doctor or his detective friend; of course they would have solved the case too quickly). There are two major original characters, Beauregard the human spy and Dieudonné the vampire charity nurse. Unfortunately, neither of the two has much appeal or charisma. Dieudonné, of course, still looks 16 but has been a vampire for some 400 years; Beauregard spies for the British government on multiple continents. In fanfiction, Dieudonné would certainly be labeled a Mary Sue, and Beauregard is kept from Gary-Stu-ism by a mildly creepy engagement to his dead wife’s cousin.
In the story, the Jack the Ripper killings are reconfigured to be murders of vampire prostitutes, and though the reader knows the killer’s identity, the main characters’ search for the killer drives the plot. The concept that vampirism has spread to the lower classes, and that there is a class divide between vampires as much as there is a species divide between humans and vampires, is essentially interesting. But we come to know the lower-class vampires only through Dieudonné’s patronizing eyes (she is of a different ‘bloodline’ from Dracula, and refers to his blood as polluted), and given the rather disgusting afflictions that the poor vampires suffer (a half-bat child looms large), it’s hard to feel much for them beyond polite pity. Vampirism in this world does not always go well (the aforementioned afflictions), but again, there is little discussion of the potentially rich topic of risk versus reward; Beauregard discusses it only briefly with his fiancée. The Ripper murders are deemed important by virtue of the fact that they threaten the vampires’ façade of immortality, and indeed near the end of the story there are anti-vampire demonstrations by some humans. But all-out warfare never emerges, and the ultimate goal of the Diogenes Club (hey, another reference!) in sending Beauregard to investigate ends up being... kind-of flat.
In the end, my problem with this book is twofold. First, it isn’t coherent. It takes too much delight in name-checks of characters from older works, which may delight the well-read, but unfortunately annoy those of us who have not the massive mental bookshelf (and DVD rack, I suppose) of the author. Too many characters pass through the story with a bit of a thrill of recognition, but no development or plot movement. Dieudonné and Beauregard don’t grow as people, and their attempts to solve the ‘mystery’ are frustratingly slow and stupid, doubly so in that the reader already knows who it is. The book can’t decide if it is a political novel, a spy novel, a society novel, a murder mystery or something else, so bits of each are flashed before the reader and passed over. My second problem is that the book has so many nice opportunities for something interesting, but it drops the ball every time. Vampire class warfare? Totally fascinating! Any old schmoe can become a vampire? Give me a schmoe to care about! Vampirism: not all it’s cracked up to be? Refreshing! But none of these threads pan out satisfactorily. For the first time ever, I found myself wishing I’d read a Charlaine Harris novel just so I’d have some comparison for the ‘vampires-are-out’ trope.
Neil Gaiman is quoted on the cover praising the book, and I’m not surprised, in that he does a lot of work in the similar arena of revising-mythology. I’m not a huge fan of Gaiman’s more recent adult works, but little in modern literature visual or otherwise can compare to the beauty of the Sandman series. Though I didn’t get the references to comic book characters in that series, I did catch the mythological and literary references, and the repurposing of characters never bothered me. Gaiman’s own unique mythology of the Endless, and the persuasiveness of Dream as a character, were strong enough to make the other characters serve Dream’s story, rather than simply guest-starring. Newman’s narrative in Anno Dracula, and his original characters, just aren’t strong enough. I don’t give a shit about Dieudonné and Beauregard. I was rooting for Jack the Ripper’s character almost all the way through the book.
Finally, I think this book is interesting in that it has made me question the nature of fanfiction. Fanfiction is frequently derided, and often its reader-and-writership is described as predominately female. But Anno Dracula is, in my opinion, clearly a work of fanfiction (alternate-universe crossover with original characters), and its author as well as the people who recommended it to me most highly are all men. Does this mean that men are willing to read fanfiction if it isn’t described as such (alternate-history books always felt like fanfiction to me...)? Could there be a wider market for the ‘tamer’ types of fanfiction, or for fanfiction in longer form? There’s been a long tradition of writing new cases for Sherlock Holmes, and Gaiman repurposes Shakespeare and Aeschylus, all clearly in the public domain. Under the anxiety of influence, is everyone just writing fanfiction anyway?...more
**spoiler alert** I came across “James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing” while looking for other fanfiction. Lippert’s website threw me off rig**spoiler alert** I came across “James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing” while looking for other fanfiction. Lippert’s website threw me off right away, on two different points. First of all, he asserts that when he sat down to write his Potter fanfiction, he had never heard of the term “fanfiction.” I doubt that anyone with much experience of the Internet, even the Internet of three years ago, could imagine that they were ‘alone’ in anything, including the obviously huge Harry Potter fandom. Regardless, once he *had* written his fanfiction, the idea that he didn’t take the time to look for more of it on the Internet before making his website and putting out his novel is also fairly ridiculous, and leads one to believe that Lippert constructed the website and faux-naïveté to gain attention. Lippert will certainly always protest that this is untrue, and as it likely impossible to ‘prove’ his intentions either way, I’ll set this argument aside. To put it simply, Lippert published a piece of fanfiction from outside of the fanfiction community, and whether that is a positive, negative or neutral attribute is for the reader to decide.
The second issue that disturbed me is the dismissive attitude that Lippert takes toward a certain section of his readers, whom he dubs the “Canon Police.” He admits to some faults, then claims “I was usually glad for the notes of correction, although I was dismayed at the ones that were accompanied by the verbal equivalent of Howlers about my abysmal writing, occasionally adding that I had ‘ruined Harry Potter.’” Frankly, if you were glad for the notes of correction, you wouldn’t complain about the readers who offered them. The downside to Lippert having come from outside of the fanfiction community is either, politely, that he had no beta reader to help him fix these errors, or, rudely, that he had no idea anyone would bother to criticize him and couldn’t handle it when someone did. For me, it is a personal pet peeve when any author criticizes his or her readers. In a professional author, it is as disgusting as criticizing one’s customers, and ensures that they won’t come back for another product. In a fanfiction author, it’s just petty. Furthermore, when writing fanfiction, an author has to deal with the fact that he or she is playing in someone else’s sandbox. No pooping, no throwing sand, and no smashing the castles that the owner of the sandbox has built. Fans of a work who are seeking out fanfiction to read are bound to be the most devoted type of fans, the ones who care deeply about the characters, and who are hurt to see their conception of the characters misrepresented. This is why people get so crazy about their “OTPs,” and why Potter fans will find various problems with Lippert’s book.
Some of Lippert’s errors were annoying, and some failed basic logic tests. For example, he has Zane and James taking a Technomancy class (kind-of like magic crossed with Physics, and it is interesting at times, especially when Lippert considers how apparition occurs, but at other times, again, annoyingly wrong) with a boy called Murdock, who is old enough to apparate. Of course, that means that Murdock is seventeen. How often do 17-year-olds and 11-year-olds take classes together in the real world? Rarely, because as humans, one’s brain is at a very different developmental stage at 11 than it is at 17. School is divided into grades partly to help put in order the process of learning, to show the learner the steps that are taken to understand a concept. It’s hard to take Physics if you can’t do algebra, for example. Similarly, there is a stigma on students who “skip” or “fail” years of school. Lippert has forgotten these basic rules of humanity in several places, including other classes. His Gryffindors share bedrooms with students of various ages and seem to have many more cross-year friendships than do Rowling’s wizards (though I did often find it unbelievable when Harry didn’t know the name of an older student from his own house, like Cormac McLaggen). He also has students taking classes as first-year students that didn’t begin, in Harry’s time, until third year (Ralph takes Arithmancy, if I recall correctly).
Quidditch takes place on a school day in Lippet’s book, even though in the canon it’s always on a Saturday morning. Again, a little common sense might have averted this one: teenagers today play sports on weekday afternoons, but they don’t go to boarding schools where they’re locked up together all weekend anyway. Any good teacher knows that game days are the worst days to teach class, as all of the athletes are distracted (or worse, dismissed early) and the rest of the kids are nearly as wiggly and ready to leave. Even if Lippert forgot the canon, he ought to have considered the effect of scheduling a game on a weekday, and for the educational benefit of the imaginary students, shifted the game to the weekend.
Finally, Lippert makes a big hullaballoo about magical art in Technomancy class, asserting that imaginary characters can move into other pictures, including portraits of real people, but the subjects of portraits cannot move to any other pictures save other instances of their own portrait. This is a major plot point, as James eventually discovers that Snape has painted small, disguised portraits of himself into the backgrounds of paintings around the castle, so that he can observe from multiple viewpoints. Oh, and Snape doodled similar portraits into his old Potions book, even though that’s never mentioned in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” either. Lippert went to a bunch of trouble to have a teacher teach something that was plainly wrong. In at least two places in the canon, it is made clear that the subjects of portraits can travel to visit their portraits in other buildings, *and* can travel into the other pictures hung around them in a single building. It happens in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” when Everard, a former headmaster, goes to visit his other portrait in the Ministry of Magic, and says that, while in the Ministry of Magic, he “ran along to Elfrida Cragg’s portrait to get a good view as they left.” It happens again in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” when Harry goes to Dumbledore’s office and uses the Penseive to see Snape’s thoughts. The office is changed because, “The portraits that hung all around the walls were empty. Not a single headmaster or headmistress remained to see him. All, it seemed, had flitted away, charging through the paintings that lined the castle so that they could have a clear view of what was going on.” (Please forgive any slight misquotations, as I have only the audiobooks to go on at the moment.) Had Lippert simply gone back to check what canon had to say on the matter of portraits, he would have found the two instances I mention, and wouldn’t have needed to go to the trouble of having Snape paint himself all over the castle, an action that seems highly out of character. Snape never shows artistic interests during any of the books. Furthermore, and this bit is more open to interpretation, I don’t think he would have *bothered* to do so during his lifetime. Either way, it simply wasn’t necessary: Lippert could have had Snape darting all over the castle in disguise on his own.
To what extent a reader is willing to set aside these incongruities in a piece of fanfiction is up to the individual reader. They bothered me quite a bit, but, then again, I listen to the Harry Potter audiobooks as background noise all the time, and have subsequently absorbed a lot of information into my subconscious (for example, I remembered those two instances of portrait-travel without looking them up, though I did have to check for the exact quotations). However, if a reader criticizes only the errors, he or she falls into Lippert’s trap of being “Canon Police,” and is thereby dismissed. Again, as I said, I think that canon errors are a legitimate issue, but having described them, I’ll set them aside and look at the book on its own merits.
“James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing” also struggles as a book on its own. There is, essentially, ‘too much’ going on, making each sub-plot seem less wholly relevant. There are a few different strands of events, which I feel fall into three categories. One category is just “the presence of Americans.” Lippert has three teachers and several students from the American school of “Alma Aleron” show up for “a year-long international magical summit.” Or, no good reason at all. And one of the teachers is Ben Franklyn. That one. But he spelled his name differently for the Muggles. On one hand, this argument could easily be dismissed by the anti-Canon-police as being too centered on Rowling’s conception of Hogwarts. Again, though, I think logic is against this as well. Students in college, or sometimes high school, do sometimes study abroad for a year. Teachers do, sometimes, go teach for a year in a different school. Even canon has students visiting in order to participate in the Triwizard Cup. The reason I struggled with the presence of Americans is that there wasn’t a unifying reason for them to be there. It did give Lippert a reason to add a “Technomancy” teacher, but otherwise, it wasn’t clear what the other teachers and students were really doing at Hogwarts. They felt incongruous.
The other two strands form the two different antagonistic forces faced by James. On the one hand, there are the “Progressive Element” students, who believe that Voldemort wasn’t evil, and that the Wizarding community is discriminating against Muggles by assuming that they can’t handle knowing about the existence of wizards. It’s an interesting conception, and certainly the idea of arguing over historical interpretation has its appeal. At the same time, there are forces working to recall Merlinus Ambrosius, the legendary “Merlin” of wizard exclamations and human mythology. In order to recall Merlin, one must gather his three relics and put them in a specific place during a specific astronomical event. In the book, this is connected to the Progressive Element, as those attempting to recall Merlin are Progressives who want Merlin to lead their revelations to the Muggle world. However, the two antagonistic strands fight against each other rather than being complementary, and each has a sort-of separate climax. The Progressive Element succeeds in leading a Muggle newscaster into Hogwarts, and the Merlin-recalling Progressive Element succeeds in recalling Merlin. Each event is more than enough climax for one book, but Lippert crams both into his story, diminishing the importance of each. The way that the Hogwarts staff deals with the Muggle newscaster is charming, but it didn’t require Merlin’s participation. Similarly, Merlin is a somewhat interesting character, obviously a Dumbledore analog, but with enough differences to make him potentially intriguing. However, his presence wasn’t really necessary to pull off the Muggle distraction, and summoning him could have had other consequences than pulling off the Muggle distraction. In my opinion, a more condensed story with only one of these antagonistic strands would have been great. Indeed, Lippert could have focused on the Muggle newscaster, while still dropping hints about the recall of Merlin, and set himself up tidily for the next book. I’ll forgive Lippert for borrowing Merlin, as he does tangentially show up in the canon (Merlin’s pants!), but now that he’s stuffed both threads into one story, I’m not really sure where his next book can possibly go. The Harry Potter series is created with an end in mind: to defeat Voldemort. James Potter doesn’t have his own villain; the Progressive Element is shaping up to be interesting, but that’s a battle of the minds rather than a battle of men, so it isn’t clear how Lippert will drive the plot for the next books (he’s already written two more).
Rowling’s writing style was never the strong point of the Harry Potter books; she can be repetitive with her adjectives, for example. Lippert’s writing style doesn’t stand out particularly, which, for a children’s book, is an advantage. Eleven-year-olds are just barely beginning to understand “style,” so to have an overly unique one would not be beneficial. The few poems and songs he has included are awful, lacking an even meter (though I guess that the Gryffindor Quidditch song could be awful on purpose, as it was written by teenagers? A stretch). Most of the characters are relatively flat, but consistent (save for the canon characters, -would McGonagall really reduce her teaching load just to go on dates with a Muggle policeman?- but that’s a separate issue). Several moments in the book are rather funny, such as when Zane makes a James Bond joke, or when James encounters the Fat Lady for the first time, and doesn’t know the password.
Most of the times when I had difficulty relate to a combination of characterization and plot: the story has so many new characters, as well as most of the old ones, so it can be hard to remember details about any given person, or care. Ted seemed to be spending most of his time with a Hermione-ish brainy character, Petra, only to be spotted holding hands with Victoire, who lacked characteristics beyond “pretty” and “pretty snotty,” at the end of the book. Indeed, though Lippert makes the Draco-ish Slytherin villain a girl, Tabitha Corsica, he doesn’t spend much time at all considering the female characters. James’ “trio” includes Ralph and Zane (both Muggle-born, and Zane an American as well), and though they encounter some other girls (mainly Petra), there isn’t a sympathetic female student who gets more than a passing treatment. Granted, the Hermione of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” wasn’t a hugely likeable character, either, but at least we got to see lots of her. Connected to this issue, Lippert fails to tie up his loose ends. James gets advice from Snape’s portrait, but never goes back to see him again. Tabitha acts as a Progressive Element mouthpiece in a debate, and suffers an attempted broom-theft halfway through the book, but she never reappears to be angry that the Muggle newsman was thwarted, or to hassle James on the train (though she is much milder than Draco, I admit). Again, this lack of thoroughness comes from the fact that too much is going on; with one antagonistic plot at a time, readers might come to know the characters better.
Overall, “James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing” has one very serious thing going for it: it’s a novel-length fanfiction that is already complete. Though there are many fanfiction writers, and good ones, complete novel-length works are thin on the ground. I’d love to say that I disliked Lippert’s first work enough to not read his second and third, but that’s a lie. I didn’t like the first James Potter book, but I’ll probably read the rest simply because they’re there, and I love the world of Hogwarts enough to go back as often as possible, even if I’m only going to an erroneous imitation of the place. In that way, perhaps, Lippert can serve the community: by inspiring those who are capable of doing better to get off their butts and do it!...more
I feel like this book started to make a really good argument for a certain response to the sudden information that Magic Is Real, but then dropped itI feel like this book started to make a really good argument for a certain response to the sudden information that Magic Is Real, but then dropped it and sucked. Um, more details later....more
As adorable as Howl's Moving Castle. I mean, what book nerd doesn't dream of having a father who is a baker, excellent metabolism, and a magic uncle?As adorable as Howl's Moving Castle. I mean, what book nerd doesn't dream of having a father who is a baker, excellent metabolism, and a magic uncle? Um. Well that's what I dream of. I mean. Yeah....more
At times, this book made me a little uneasy the way "The Horse and his Boy" made me uneasy, though to a much lesser degree. Overall, though, it was cuAt times, this book made me a little uneasy the way "The Horse and his Boy" made me uneasy, though to a much lesser degree. Overall, though, it was cute and well-paced....more
I read this not-slim children's novel in a morning, curled up in bed. Though the movie is charming, this novel is much more moving. The characters areI read this not-slim children's novel in a morning, curled up in bed. Though the movie is charming, this novel is much more moving. The characters are more rounded; Howl is not just evil, Sophie not just crotchety, etc. Plus, the "mystery" of how Howl will defeat the witch makes much more sense, and is more pleasant to pick apart. For readers about 7th grade or above; comprehension is more difficult than decoding here, because many intimations are not blatantly spelled out....more