I want to read this but have been reluctant due to the similarities I see between it and my Millennium Man series. I certainly don't want to feel inflI want to read this but have been reluctant due to the similarities I see between it and my Millennium Man series. I certainly don't want to feel influenced by it, but I won't be able to resist its allure forever....more
I couldn't stand this book the first time I read it. I usually agree with the consensus with regard to award winners. Will have to give it another tryI couldn't stand this book the first time I read it. I usually agree with the consensus with regard to award winners. Will have to give it another try....more
Not as riddled with commentary and digressions as Peter Pan and not as thin as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (two books I appreciate for their place in cNot as riddled with commentary and digressions as Peter Pan and not as thin as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (two books I appreciate for their place in child fantasy history, and continue trying, but failing, to finish), but somewhere in the middle. The middle is not necessarily a good place to be, depending on your surroundings. Sitting between a sweaty man and a screaming child on a cramped subway car is not an ideal location. I'm sure both have fans and for some the halfway point between the two would be a delectable assault on the senses (screaming sweaty man?). Not in my case, I'm afraid.
According to the afterword the book did break new ground--it was the first to introduce fantasy aspects in the Real World rather than transporting characters to a different, magical land, as in the case of both Peter Pan and Dorothy Gale. So, if you're an urban fantasy fan looking for an opportunity to do some archaeological research on the root of your Harry Dresden fandom: Dig Here. A word of caution, though, as with most digging in dirt, you may find yourself numbed by the effort before you find anything of value.
This book proved a slog. Even as a childish adult, I had a difficult time relating to the characters, and in many cases had trouble sympathizing with them, even though the author did not. The plot meandered along without much in the way of overall direction, so I had little to look forward to or expect. There were few events I found eyebrow-raising, considering this was a magical fantasy--most proved anti-climactic and resolved of their own accord. The most jarring moment of the story proved to be an episode in which a character smeared themselves with grease to appear Indian--which would probably be... frowned upon today... and a disguise I didn't expect any observers to find convincing. The writing was fairly tight, though I found the intrusions of the narrator more distracting than entertaining.
Of all the scenes they might have chosen to illustrate, this...
Most frustrating was the absence of explanation for the things that seemed most significant: where the ring came from, from who did it come, how was it enchanted, on and on along that thread. The most information they can gather is that its enchantments work in increments of seven hours. Not until the very end do these questions begin to be answered. Until then we are forced to follow the children as the try to unwind every predicament in which they entangle themselves because they can't stop using the word "wish" and voicing absurd thoughts as they're holding it ("I wish I was invisible", "I wish I was tall", "I wish these mockup people were real", "I wish I was old and wealthy", etc.).
The book is very 19th-century, upper class English, meaning much of the awe of the story might come from the children having minor adventures outside of eating and behaving properly. These particular children are obsessed with meals or, at the very least, the narrator was. The book covers several days and I don't think Nesbit missed an opportunity to describe a meal, or preface a meal through the childrens' hunger or excitement about food, or the prospect that they might buy treats, or the possibility of the baker showing up at the door at random.
There's a rule that you're not supposed to do grocery shopping when you're hungry or you'll buy more than you need because your brain thinks you're going to be in this same state of hunger forever. This same rule can be applied to writing. Nesbit apparently wrote this book on an empty stomach.
What I did appreciate were Nesbit's penchant for littering the work with wry remarks supportive of the children. All of their efforts are considered worthwhile as evidenced by her tone. There is no criticism or cruelty or condescension from the narrator, though the children can prove critical of one another. When the children put on a play using household components for scenery, despite the crudeness of the production, any derision is implied as malevolent:
A big sheet of cardboard, bent square, with slits cut in it and a candle behind, represented, quite transparently, the domestic hearth; a round tin hat of Eliza's, supported on a stool with a night-light under it, could not have been mistaken, save by willful malice, for anything but a stove.
I look forward to trying to read this to my kids to gauge whether their reaction is different, but I'm concerned the slow-burn nature of books from this era, which have a droll rather than snappy beginning, is more appropriate for older, more patient readers, and will disenchant them before they have a chance to get into it. Nor am I sure they hold food in the same high regard as the author.
In defense of the story, given its uniqueness at the time, this was just a cautious foot in the door. As with all things, there's a slow acclimation process that must be taken before proceeding to the next step. We can't go from Jane Austen dryly discussing the viability of suitors on a fabulous Spring day to Harry Dresden battling demons in seedy downtown Chicago after dark. Well, maybe we can (we're currently working backwards, now *sigh*), but credit must be given for that first step forward into a new realm. This was it. I hope it sold well enough so Nesbit could spend the rest of her writing career well-fed....more
Damien Knight’s first book is a Hero Tale that passes through a few disguises before revealing its true identity. First as a family drama, then a famiDamien Knight’s first book is a Hero Tale that passes through a few disguises before revealing its true identity. First as a family drama, then a family tragedy, and finally the hero tale promised by the synopsis. It just takes a little while the roll the boulder up the hill.
Imagine opening the blu ray case for Cheaper by the Dozen and finding Superman inside. Believe me, this is a victory.
Main character Sam’s trials of being a teenager, in a foreign country no less (though the primary language remains the same, so the barrier is relatively narrow), soon give way to those of being a form of Kwisatz Haderach that allows him to access to the future and to return to the past to prepare for forthcoming. It’s similar to Peter Parker’s experience with the discovery of his powers (because he's a teen and a hero and he just happened to pop into my head first), which I appreciate, though Sam doesn’t possess any additional skills or abilities that complement his newfound powers in the same fashion as Peter's scientific, or sewing, acumen. With exemption to empathy, which is an excellent place to start for anyone with special powers that puts them at a distinct advantage over their fellow humans.
Everyone knows what happens when sociopaths find themselves blessed with phenomenal cosmic power.
It isn’t until about a third of the way through the story that the plot develops into something demonstrably more than a teenager’s coming-of-age story. At this point we jump back in time to a character we’ve visited in the past, Michael, a teenage casualty of the Vietnam war, to learn more about his, and Sam’s situation.
I found Knight’s book strangely compelling. One won’t read the book and jot down individual passages to wear on t-shirts (that’s not true—you might). It won’t change your life or make you a better person (I suppose this is also not true—it might). The writing didn’t possess a voice of profundity or ingeniousness, but it told the story effectively without taking the reader out of the tale. And the ability to tell a story without overwriting, that doesn’t distract from itself, is a significant accomplishment. Many writers, including myself, have difficulty with this sort of achievement.
Despite the added color provided by the perspectives of the various characters associated with Sam, my preference would have been to stick with a smaller number of viewpoints, ideally those of Sam and Michael. These characters were the central and most interesting characters, so I naturally wanted to come back to them most. However, Knight was able to use these extra perspectives to provide exposition and insight Sam and Michael could not have offered so easily.
Nevertheless, the plot was a slow burn that proved rewarding in the end. If this book was a Marvel film it’s likely half the story would have been excised and relegated to flashbacks. Or, sweet heavens, like The Gunslinger, in which there were flashbacks inside of memories inside of flashbacks. But that’s the advantage of the printed word and what is sacrificed in cinema is often sorely missed when character development is replaced by action. Thankfully, Knight has no such restrictions and takes his time developing his story.
Time travel is a hard plot device to work around. Paradox is tough. But Knight handles it effortlessly and plausibly. In most books/films in which time travel plays a role one can usually point to at least one incident or inconsistency that would have fouled up the entire story. The method in which Knight approached this subject never caused concern or threatened my suspension of disbelief, which is the single largest concern the synopsis created for me. To get through the book without my suspension being violated was very gratifying.
Knight has a sequel in mind, so it’s possible, with the Hero Development out of the way, he might focus on a more action-oriented rather than character-development plot next time around. Or he could run off on a completely new tangent. Whichever he chooses, I’m confident my sense of paradox is in good hands....more