I enjoyed . . . The Cursed Child, but not quite as much as I hoped to. I don't want to spoil it for others, so I'll just say that some points convey aI enjoyed . . . The Cursed Child, but not quite as much as I hoped to. I don't want to spoil it for others, so I'll just say that some points convey a strong sense of fanfiction wish-fulfillment. I enjoyed Scorpius' character, though I don't understand how someone with his personality would come out of Draco Malfoy's home. I'm torn about the depiction of Rose Granger-Weasley; it's hard to imagine Hermione and Ron producing such a snobby kid, but she is the daughter of two of the major heroes of the last Wizarding War, so perhaps it's not particularly surprising that she feels entitled to be the among the most popular kids at Hogwarts. I found Albus' character to be a bit troubling. I don't understand how he gets sorted into his House, unless we are supposed to believe that he was attempting to rebel, even from the first. Also, the crux of the story is the complicated Albus-Harry relationship, and I think that the script quickly passes over the source(s) of tension, and, as a result, the conflict is under-developed. I am also disappointed in the lack of any real family connection between the Potters/Weasley-Grangers. Apparently, James doesn't ever really think about, or look out for, his younger brother, and their relationships with their cousins seems largely non-existent. I also think Ron is written too much as mere comic relief. And, like many, I really don't like the Cedric development. The new characters may come alive on stage; on paper, they seem a bit thin. Not surprisingly, this is especially problematic for Delphi. But there are things that I think the play does very well. Amos Diggory's grief and anger feel very realistic, and I can see how Harry and Draco can find some common ground through their concern for their children. I also like Ginny's portrayal. And there is a moment when Albus and Scorpius have a break-though about how they can succeed at their task that is funny but also sad, as it so strongly conveys how isolated and lonely they are (though Scorpius' depiction as a loser is a bit confusing because the play gives the impression that he's a nerd and more like Hermione than Ron or Harry in his study habits)....more
The finale to Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy effectively ratchets up the menace of this fascist England, even if several of its plot devices are notThe finale to Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy effectively ratchets up the menace of this fascist England, even if several of its plot devices are not particularly plausible when the reader steps back from the story. This was a page-turner, and I was engrossed while reading it. Half a Crown—even more than Ha’penny—made me think that this trilogy is less concerned with depicting a convincing fascist England than it is with exploring how easy it is for ordinary people, with little at stake, to acquiesce to oppression and cruelty. Elvira, the female protagonist, is not as shallow as some critics have suggested; she looks forward to studying at Oxford and living an independent life, but she is a 19-year-old who was born either right before or after the Farthing peace that ceded the Continent to Hitler and set England on the increasingly rightward, fascist path that leads to Half a Crown. So her life has been spent in a country increasingly hostile to Jews and homosexuals, one which views them as less than human. And her late father and the man she calls uncle were/are both part of law enforcement for an increasingly authoritarian state. It’s not surprising that she is not disturbed by her fellow Britons publicly humiliating Jews or is appalled by her uncle Carmichael’s homosexuality. It’s also not surprising that she learns to fear the state because of how it has treated her, an “innocent,” and not for how it’s treated oppressed minorities or restricted civil rights for lower classes. This is, I think, a pretty realistic take on how many people—particularly immature people—understand injustice and end up taking stands. But it does point out that almost all of the viewpoints into the Small Change universe are from people who are not obvious targets of oppression. Although Carmichael’s orientation marginalizes him, there’s little in the novels—other than casual homophobic remarks—to suggest that homosexuals, as a class, are threatened. In fact, many of the Farthing set are themselves bi- or gay, and they occupy high-ranking positions in the fascist government. We hear very little from Jews or communists, the other key targets of the government. This is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a weakness because it marginalizes these groups even further; they’re not really important enough for us to hear from them. But it’s a strength if Walton’s focus is what I think it is—the depiction of Normanby’s “willing executioners.” I thought a major failing of this book was the impact of Carmichael’s relationship with Jack. Jack is mentioned, but never seen, in Farthing, we learn more about him in Ha’penny, and he shows up again here. When we see him, he is frequently complaining about the fact that they don’t go out in public, and that weakens his character because Jack comes off as petulant and stupid—it’s a fascist government that supposedly targets gays; of course the in-the-closet Scotland Yard detective/leader of the secret police can’t go out to the theater and restaurants with his male lover. Jack has his moments of compassion, particularly at the end of Ha’penny, and there are moments in Half a Crown where Jack in the background illustrates how barren and frustrating an existence he leads (as he plays servant and serves tea to the girl he encouraged Carmichael to essentially adopt in the previous book). So the developments in this book should be powerful, but Walton never (for me) convincingly established Carmichael’s attachment to Jack. Yes, he frequently thinks that he loves him, but you don’t see much of their relationship. So, as the climax approaches, Carmichael’s decisions regarding Jack and Elvira aren’t particularly convincing because Walton has repeatedly shown how much Carmichael cares about Elvira but, over the course of three books, has never effectively demonstrated similar (or greater) devotion to Jack. Like other reviewers, I found the conclusion to be a deus ex machina. Walton does such an effective job portraying the oppression and horror of fascist Britain that it makes no sense that things could wrap up as neatly as they do. To be sure, the world climate is still quite grim. Almost 20 years of Nazi domination of the Continent must have resulted in the genocide of European Jewry, Romani, Slavs, or anyone else “inferior” (in fact, it’s bizarre to think that anyone could have survived long enough to be in a labor or death camp in 1960). And it’s by no means certain that the “new” Britain will restore full civil rights to Jews and other marginalized people. But it is incredible to think that the political resolution would come about as Hitler and the Japanese emperor’s son are in London for a “peace” conference that will divvy up much of the world. I realize that this review must make it seem as if I hated Half a Crown; I certainly did not. I enjoyed it as I was reading it, and I think Walton created a frightening fictional reality that works in the moment. It just doesn’t bear much reflection afterwards....more
After finishing Farthing about a week ago, and while waiting to borrow Ha’penny from my local library, I read various reviews, including ones that werAfter finishing Farthing about a week ago, and while waiting to borrow Ha’penny from my local library, I read various reviews, including ones that were pretty critical of Walton’s tale. Interestingly, while I don’t agree with their conclusions, I understand the criticisms, which include poor characterization of secondary characters (Normanby is generically evil, David Kahn saintly), a surprisingly large number of gay or bi- characters, especially amongst the bigoted proto-fascists, stereotyping (everyone’s sexual orientation can be determined by how they take their tea), and a very quick slide into fascism. Despite these justified criticisms, I enjoyed Farthing and looked forward to Ha’penny. I liked the second book but was disappointed by Walton’s characterization of Viola Lark, the fictional Mitford sister who takes the “ordinary person caught up in conspiracy” role occupied by Lucy Kahn in the first book. I don’t mind Viola’s disinterest in taking a stand against the growing oppression; I think that’s what most people would do. But Viola’s entry into the conspiracy can be explained by her family connections and fear for her own safety without the wholly unconvincing, almost certainly one-sided, love story that Walton depicts. Instead of giving her dimension, it makes Viola shallow. And that’s disappointing because I could sympathize with much of her story, but never that part. I also find it difficult to believe that Inspector Carmichael never for a moment thinks of the consequences of stopping the assassination plot until after it’s occurred. This is a man who professes to be disgusted by Normanby and his coercion, but never stops for a moment to think, “Hey, might things might be better if he’s dead? Maybe I should just let things go?” I could accept Carmichael’s decision if he had wrestled with it and chose the path of law and order because it was the one principle that he could continue to believe in. I just couldn’t believe that, in the course of about a week between his discovery of the basic plot and the result, he never gave any thought to whether it would be better to remain silent and do nothing. What I do think Walton does well is to depict how ordinary people are likely to react to increasingly fascist policies; depressingly, most people are unlikely to stand up and protest when they’re not the ones in the line of fire. Viola is only one such character in the book. Despite my frustrations, I enjoyed reading Ha’penny. Walton writes well and her pacing is excellent; I didn’t want to put the book down. And I immediately started Half a Crown because I looked forward to reading the final story....more
Jo Walton's Farthing imagines an England that, left without any support in 1940, made a separate peace (Peace with Honor) with Nazi Germany. The novelJo Walton's Farthing imagines an England that, left without any support in 1940, made a separate peace (Peace with Honor) with Nazi Germany. The novel is set up as a classic country house mystery, but it is really an exploration of how easy it is to manipulate a populace that seeks its own comfort and safety over everything else. The novel has its weaknesses: the eventual revelation of the plot is a bit neat, and England's slide into fascism is a bit too quick. I don't question that what Walton posits could have happened, I just think it wouldn't have happened quite that abruptly.
It's a difficult novel to read because this is an England that seems without hope. The decent people are without power and balancing on the thin edge of the knife. The venal, the corrupt, and the bigoted are at once vicious and complacent. There are characters whose fate the reader does not learn (such as Mrs. Smollett), but whose stories are unlikely to end well. As the novel proceeds, the atmosphere becomes increasingly frightening, but also claustraphobic. There is little to lighten the mood as the novel draws to its grim conclusion.
But she writes compelling characters. Inspector Carmichael is a man who compartmentalizes his life, and does not cringe when his colleagues utter bigoted comments. The choices he makes may not always be admirable, but they are understandable. Lucy Kahn, who introduces herself as somewhat flighty and unorganized, reveals herself to have a clearer understanding of the world than most of the people around her. She ends up being one of the most admirable characters in the book. David Kahn, her assimilated Jewish husband, stands in for all of the Jews who never believed that their countrymen could turn on them with such hatred and fury. And there is a wonderful scene, about two-thirds through the book, when he is challenged on that assumption by one who truly knows. It's not clear that, even in that moment, he appreciates the bigotry that surrounds him. And Lady Eversly could teach Lady Macbeth a thing or two about ruthlessness.
This isn't a perfect book, but it is engrossing, chilling and thought-provoking. I am very interested in reading the remaining books in the trilogy--Ha'penny and Half a Crown....more
Having read reviews of this book, and always interested in a tale of Camelot told from Guinevere's perspective, I looked forward to reading this. I amHaving read reviews of this book, and always interested in a tale of Camelot told from Guinevere's perspective, I looked forward to reading this. I am quite disappointed in the result. First, although I love Mary Stewart's Arthurian cycle, McKenzie's reliance on Stewart went well beyond inspiration. Not only does she track most of Stewart's plot developments, but, at particular moments, she either closely paraphrases or plagiarizes Stewart's description of certain events.
Second, McKenzie's Guinevere is a Mary Sue. Everyone who is virtuous, noble, good-hearted, and kind worships her. Men fall in love with her at first sight and never feel disappointed/disenchanted/less interested upon greater acquaintance. Only the villains dislike her, and they are always motivated by jealousy, either of her beauty or her influence with the King or the respect she receives from everyone who isn't a villain. People who aren't villains but not initially impressed with her are always won over by her intelligence, good sense, wisdom, generosity, etc., etc. Her "flaws" are that (1) she can't understand why Arthur loves her so when she cannot bear him children, (2) she has a hard time reconciling herself to her childlessness (although, ultimately, McKenzie makes that a virtue because it means Arthur doesn't have to share his glory with a child), (3) and she sometimes briefly struggles with jealousy with regard to Lancelot's relationship with Elaine. The first two "flaws" just emphasize how hard she is on herself when she's so generous with others, and the last failing is supposed to make the reader feel sympathetic to her, and then immediately admire her when she (always quickly) realizes that she's being unfair. She is also the most visionary character in the book, seeing a nation where Saxons become British citizens, when everyone else can't imagine such a thing.
Third, the love triangle is very hard to believe in this book. Lancelot and Guinevere love each other passionately and devotedly at first sight, and the intensity of that relationship never changes. They don't feel an attraction that grows into love; it's just there, from the start, entire and complete. And, even though it is all-consuming, Guinevere goes through with a marriage that she does not want, and which both acknowledge she could escape from. Her decision ends up feeling selfish and foolish (a deliberate martyrdom that sacrifices the happiness of four people), rather than forced by circumstance. Then, of course, she ends up falling in love with Arthur, who is passionately devoted to her. But he's okay with her not only loving Lancelot, too, but actually engaging in public displays of affection (I lost count of the number of times she and Lancelot hold hands or kiss before others, or she tells people that she loves Lancelot but it's okay because they won't betray the king). This is 5th C Britain, not 21st C New York City. It's simply incredible to believe that such behavior would not cause a scandal that would force Arthur to put her aside.
In The Once and Future King, T.H. White says that its hard to describe Guinevere because she is a "real person." And White's Guinevere has real flaws; flaws that make her at times unlikeable. But she also has real strengths--courage, determination, humor. McKenzie's Guinevere isn't a real person, and that flaw is fatal for this novel....more
I'm cursed with the need to complete a series once I start it, even if I don't enjoy it. And so I continue to slog through Lackey's Mage Storm trilogyI'm cursed with the need to complete a series once I start it, even if I don't enjoy it. And so I continue to slog through Lackey's Mage Storm trilogy. The only interesting thing she does is to depict the struggles that Karal has to establish himself as a viable ambassador. And even though he doesn't succeed with everyone, he is--with the help of his friends--able to win over the previously bigoted, and absolutely unreasonable, new Shina'in ambassador. Again, Karal's too-wonderful-for-words qualities are shown by the fact that his previous antagonist becomes one of his staunchest supporters after a labored and implausible conversation with An'desha and then a brief conversation with Karal.
The biggest problem for Lackey is that she ignores the cardinal rule of showing, not telling. She wants to depict events or characters in a certain way but apparently lacks the skills to do so convincingly. So, instead of having scenes between Firesong and An'desha that show Firesong struggling to deal with the magically-improved Shina'in (one pep talk from Karal does the trick), we get An'desha's inner monologue that Firesong can't accept the new him. And then we get an absolutely bizarre characterization of Firesong. He was never a favorite character, but he is a Healing Adept who is supposed to be so attuned to others' pain that he's driven to help them. Instead, he repeatedly imagines killing Karal, almost kills his bondbird, and contemplates making wholly amoral choices so that he can get the relationship he's supposedly always wanted. And after Lackey assassinates his character, she comes up with an excuse for the behavior that's nothing more than a transparent attempt to get her and Firestorm out of the very grim corner she put him in....more
I read once that Lackey's ambition is to be the most prolific writer of the 20th Century; it shows in this trilogy. The storyline is dull, as are theI read once that Lackey's ambition is to be the most prolific writer of the 20th Century; it shows in this trilogy. The storyline is dull, as are the characters. Karal is generic in the first book and becomes increasingly perfect in the following books. Lackey has always had a tendency to create Mary Sue's for main characters; her best protagonist, Vanyel, is not entirely free of this fault. But Karal takes the cake for blandness. And the explanation for how Karse became Valdemar's ally is also quite facile. Lackey's theology is supposedly that gods only intervene after humans have tried everything, but Solaris' rise to power is a true deus ex machina moment. And any subsequent difficulties she may have had to consolidate power are routinely smoothed over by having V'kandis manifest himself.
Elspeth was hardly my favorite character, but I missed the meaningful presence of Heralds. In this book, Valdemar's leaders--who were so creative and visionary in previous books--can't figure anything out for themselves. If not for Karal and An'desha, they wouldn't even think to value the contributions of the "artificers." Which is bizarre, as it's pretty clear that the "artificers" are taught at the Collegium and receive patronage from the nobles, and possibly grants from the government. Yet no Heralds or Valdemaran leaders even consider them as a resource....more
Although I'm glad I read this posthumously published final book in T.H. White's extraordinary Arthurian cycles, I'm relieved that, due to wartime papeAlthough I'm glad I read this posthumously published final book in T.H. White's extraordinary Arthurian cycles, I'm relieved that, due to wartime paper shortages, The Candle in the Wind ends the Once and Future King. The questions raised by White about the nature of humanity are interesting, but the conclusions appear simplistic. What White railed about in the Book of Merlyn is captured in other ways throughout the preceding four books, but in ways that are more subtle and, therefore, more thought-provoking. By spelling out his philosophy, White exposes its flaws.
The most powerful part of the Book for me was Arthur's reaction to the geese and his "friends" failure to understand or even empathize with him until they've put him through a great deal of suffering. I wish the Book had spent less time on naked philosophizing and more time on Arthur, his struggles, his pain, and, in the end, his acceptance of his life....more
I wish I could rate Berger's novel more highly, but, ultimately this is about 2.5 stars for me. When it comes to irreverent and anachronistic takes onI wish I could rate Berger's novel more highly, but, ultimately this is about 2.5 stars for me. When it comes to irreverent and anachronistic takes on Malory's stories, The Once and Future King sets the standard, and Arthur Rex suffers by comparison.
I am most interested in Arthur, as opposed to all of the ancillary characters, so Arthuriana that focuses more on others, with Arthur as a symbol but not a realized human being, is not satisfying to me. This is why I love Stewart's Arthurian Cycle and White's book (because, even though there's a focus on other characters later in White, Arthur's character is well-established and his sensibility and the reader's appreciation for him is what makes the book so powerful). I have mixed feelings about Berger's Arthur--in some ways he's simplistically rendered and a non-entity, but there is power in that simplicity, particularly in the final chapters of the novel, as Arthur's dream begins to crash around him.
I'm still processing the depiction of Lancelot and Guinevere's relationship. I appreciate Berger's take on it as being more about power dynamics and desires to control or be controlled than about love, but those dynamics make it more difficult to be sympathetic to either character or the betrayal of their husband/best friend.
But I'm very glad that Berger gives Gawaine his due. Stewart's cycle focuses on the twisted aspects of the Orkney clan's dynamic, and Gawaine loses much of his charm. It's refreshing to read a portrayal as filled with affection and admiration for the character as Berger's. In the end, however, I think he paints himself into a corner. Gawaine's insistence on confronting Lancelot even as his character acknowledges that the battle will accomplish nothing but death for one of them is not consistent with the development of his character. I understand that Berger is satirizing the aspects of the legend that promote "honor" at the expense of all else, but, in light of Gawaine's character arc, the satire feels shoehorned in.
I first read this novel when I was in my early teens, and I'm glad that I re-read it now, a few decades later. I can't be as enthusiastic about it as other reviewers, but the book has some fine qualities....more
**spoiler alert** Although some find this final book (I've never read the fifth book in the saga, and don't intend to, as it doesn't seem connected to**spoiler alert** Although some find this final book (I've never read the fifth book in the saga, and don't intend to, as it doesn't seem connected to the first four) less satisfying because Merlin is not in it, I love it. Merlin's voice is absent, but his impact is felt everywhere.
One of Stewart's brilliant devices in this series was to focus on three men, all of whom grow up not knowing at least one of their parents (in fact, Merlin is the only one to know his mother's true identity during his childhood). By placing each of them in very different circumstances, she shows how their childhoods formed their characters. Merlin, the bastard, is marginalized when not outright ostracized because, to his mother's family, he represents her shame (or, perhaps, her liaison with a demon). But his gift of the sight gives him a different perspective and brings him into contact with those who appreciate him. His childhood doesn't scar him because his powers set him apart in ways that both isolate and protect him. And he finds love and affirmation in the relationships with his father, his cousin (Arthur), and, eventually, Niniane.
Arthur also grows up without knowing his parentage, but his life is somewhat different. Although aware that his unknown parentage leaves him in a vulnerable position, he is surrounded by love from the beginning of his life and is raised in an environment that provides him with the education and training he will need and, indeed, wants. He is confident, and surrounded by those who love him (Merlin and Bedwyr, in particular), thus the discovery of his true parentage is more important to him as a way to establish his place as a leader than it is to his emotional well-being.
Mordred has the most difficult path to follow. He's lied to from the beginning of his life and spends his early years in an environment that he knows is not enough scope for his talents and ambitions (even if he doesn't know how he knows that). Even when taken into his mother's house, he is left in the dark as to his relationship with her and his half-brothers, and the lies continue until some time after he meets Arthur. Because Arthur is the first (and only one) to tell him the truth, and because he sees in Arthur a man to be respected, they develop a strong bond. But it's never the loving bond that Merlin and Arthur shared, largely because Mordred is not as open a personality as either of the other two. This doesn't make Mordred a villain; in fact, the tragedy of this telling is that Mordred actively tries to avoid becoming the traitor that he is prophesied to become. This makes the Battle of Camlann more painful to read than any other version of the tale....more
I have to disagree with Landon's review of this novel, as I think it misses the point. This is not a series that's particularly interested in the greaI have to disagree with Landon's review of this novel, as I think it misses the point. This is not a series that's particularly interested in the great doings of Arthur and his knights. It is interested in depicting the way people relate to each other within a framework set by prophecy.
The first three stories in this series are told from Merlin's perspective. Although Merlin cares about the outcome of the battles, his powers let him know that they will turn out alright. He's also not worried about Arthur surviving them because he knows that Arthur won't die from those battles. The danger to Arthur resides in the child Arthur fathered with his then-unknown half-sister, Morgause. Thus, Merlin's chief concern in this book is to find out everything he can about the child's fate, and to protect Arthur as best he can.
This book is not Arthur-centric in the sense that the narrator follows all of Arthur's achievements. It is Arthur-centric in the sense that everything Merlin does is prompted by his desire to protect Arthur and aid him. And for me, the greatest beauty of this series is the Merlin-Arthur relationship; the love and respect they feel for each other. There is no question that Arthur is the central figure in Merlin's life, but I believe that Merlin is the central figure in Arthur's, too. Arthur knows that Merlin is the one person upon whom he can absolutely rely, the one person who will never betray him. It makes Merlin's end more poignant, because we understand what Arthur is losing....more