I just finished re-reading this book with my kids - it was one of my all time favorites as a kid (my kids loved it too). It was wonderful reading it a...moreI just finished re-reading this book with my kids - it was one of my all time favorites as a kid (my kids loved it too). It was wonderful reading it again as an adult with new insights.
I have fallen in love with Calvin all over again, and I understand Meg in so many more ways now as an adult, with some experience behind me. Especially her struggle with being different, but how Camazotz taught her that being just like everybody else is miserable. I was surprised at how much this book influenced my beliefs and creative ideas, probably at a subconscious level, over all the years since I first read it when I was 9 or 10. (less)
This is probably one of the scariest MG books I've read, but it was wonderful, too. It's also probably my favorite brother-sister relationship since t...moreThis is probably one of the scariest MG books I've read, but it was wonderful, too. It's also probably my favorite brother-sister relationship since the Pevensie kids from Narnia.
The book starts innocently enough with Kenda and her younger brother Seth, exploring their grandparents' farm where they are staying for the summer. There are a bunch of strange rules (like never, ever go into the forest that surrounds the house and gardens), and why in the world does Grandpa put bowls of milk out in the garden every morning? And why won't he say where Grandma is? Then there are the little clues that Kendra finds in the attic playroom. While Seth is off breaking rules and discovering a _________ in the forbidden forest, she's sleuthing in the playroom and discovers a ________.
I loved this book because there are dire consequences for breaking rules, and yet, nobody condemns Seth for it; they just roll up their sleeves and help him resolve the problems he creates. And if you read this book, I'd really be curious to hear your feelings on the ending. It's sort of a "dues ex machina" but not exactly (I liked it and I thought the author set it up really well). Click the spoiler if you want to see what I'm hinting at.
(view spoiler)[Despite her noble intentions, she could not see any way she could succeed on her own. Kendra felt a new sensation inside ever since the idea had popped into her head. The feeling was so unexpected that it took a moment to recognize it as hope. There were no combination locks in the way. She just had to throw herself at the mercy of an all-powerful being and plead for her family. (hide spoiler)]
Here's a few excerpts from my favorite scenes. The first one gives a taste for the kind of fairies featured in this book, and a bit of Seth's little-brother obnoxiousness (but don't worry, he has a way of growing on you, too):
Grandpa became very serious. “None of these creatures are good. Not the way we think of good. None are safe. Much of morality is peculiar to mortality. The best creatures here are merely not evil.
“Do the fairies talk?”
“Not much to humans. They have a language all their own, although they rarely speak to each other, except to trade insults. Most never condescend to use human speech. They consider everything beneath them. Fairies are vain, selfish creatures. You may have noticed I drained all the fountains and the birdbaths outside. When they are full, the fairies assemble to stare at their reflections all day.”
“Is Kendra a fairy?” Seth asked.
Grandpa bit his lip and stared at he floor, obviously trying to choke back a laugh.
Here's another excerpt that made me fall in love with the fairies, even if they were vain little things (and oh!!! talk about consequences - you have to see what happens to the fairy that Seth traps in a bottle!)
The fairies flocked near Grandpa, eager for the next bubbles. He kept them coming, and the fairies continued to display their creativity. They filled bubbles with shimmering mist. They linked them in chains. They transformed them into balls of fire. The surface of one reflected like a mirror. Another took on the shape of a pyramid. Another crackled with electricity.
The fairies are creative and some of them also have creative names - like the Jinn Harp. I loved that name! (and also the fact that she was discovered in the Gobi Desert, of all places!):
Maddox opened the final case. Out soared a dazzling fairy with wings like shimmering veils of gold. Three gleaming feathers streamed beneath her, elegant ribbons of light. She hung gloriously in the center of the room with a regal air.
“A jinn harp?” Grandpa said in astonishment.
“Favor us with a song, I beg you,” Maddox said. He repeated the solicitation in another language.
The fairy gleamed even brighter, shedding sparks. The music that followed was mesmerizing. The voice made Kendra imagine a multitude of vibrating crystals. The wordless song had the power of an operatic aria mingled with the sweetness of a lullaby. It was longing, beckoning, hopeful, and heartbreaking. They all sat transfixed until the song ended. When it was over, Kendra wanted to applaud, but the moment felt too sacred.
Then there are these fairies - guess what type they are:
“In fact, tonight, remind me to leave out some cooking ingredients. By morning, they will have baked us a treat.”
“What will they cook?”
“You never know. You don’t make requests. You just leave out ingredients and see how they combine them.”
Here is a little hint about a completely different type of magical creature you encounter toward the end:
The air trembled. On hot days, Kendra had seen the air shimmer in the distance. This was similar, but right in front of her. The ground seemed to be tipping. Kendra extended her arms and swayed as the ground teetered even more. There was a burst of darkness, an anti-flash, and Kendra stumbled.
And here's a neat excerpt about the housekeeper, Lena, but this one I think this could rank as a spoiler:
(view spoiler)[“What is it like being a naiad?” Lena gazed out the window. “Hard to say. I ask myself the same question. It wasn’t just my body that became mortal; my mind transformed as well. I think I prefer this life, but it might be because I have changed fundamentally. Mortality is a totally different state of being. You become more aware of time. I was absolutely content as a naiad. I lived in an unchanging state for what must have been many millennia, never thinking of the future or the past, always looking for amusement, always finding it. Almost no self-awareness. It feels like a blur now. No, like a blink. A single moment that lasted thousands of years.” (hide spoiler)]
One last thing I have to mention; if you've read the book, you'll know what this refers to. If you haven't read it, consider this one more enticement. "There may still be couple [eggs] in the fridge." Yeah - I know - that doesn't seem very memorable, but when you put it in context you really appreciate the background behind the chicken eggs in this story. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Oh the imagination! When I found out what the Leviathan was - I was blown away! And the Stormwalker and the Herkules were pretty awesome, too. I about...moreOh the imagination! When I found out what the Leviathan was - I was blown away! And the Stormwalker and the Herkules were pretty awesome, too. I about cried when the Stormwalker tipped over.
I loved all the steampunk elements woven into this alternative, fantastical history of the events that started World War I in 1914, as seen form the perspective of two young teenagers on opposite sides of the war.
I loved the last 1/3 of this book SOOOO much. The first 2/3 of it, you follow alternating points of view between Prince Aleksander, who is part of the "Clankers", and Deryn, who is part of the "Darwinists", as they embark on their seperate adventures. Alek is a newly orphaned Prince on the run from his political enemies, and Deryn is a girl disguised as a boy so she can serve in the "Navy" - though this navy is delightfully unique!!
But these two character in their very different worlds have no connection to each other for a long time, and I kept hoping they their paths would eventually collide. Which they finally did - in a most unexpected and satisfying way. Partial spoiler: (view spoiler)[I love stories where enemies turn out to be friends - but I also loved that they didn't become friends right away; that stinker Deryn! And yet she did the right thing too, remaining loyal to her country and her service. I also loved Deryn's vision of the Leviathan as it became a melding of Clanker and Darwinist technology - symbolizing the potential for enemy factions to be strengthened in new wonderful ways when they try to work together instead of against each other. (hide spoiler)]
Dr. Nora Darwin and her thylacine and her eggs were so much fun I could read another book just about her! I want to know all her history. She's my favorite character in the book, though Deryn really grew on me, too, esp. once Alek started turning her life inside out. Again, I'm desperate to know more about Deryn's and Alek's backstories. I know that in Middle Grade books you can't really delve that much into backstory, but you can bet your barking spiders (thanks Deryn) that I will be rushing to get the sequel, Behemoth, to see if anymore backstory gets teased out (and the main story, too, because the ending was a partial cliffhanger).
Oh, and I also loved that scene near the end with Alek and Volger over the gold. Didn't it just make you want to scream "NO!!!!!" --- but it was so noble, too.
Bonus - the illustrations in this book were wonderful and added so much to the overall steampunky feel of the story. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I try to avoid spoilers at all costs, but just a warning: I love to quote excerpts of my favorite parts!
I recommend this book for many reasons, but th...moreI try to avoid spoilers at all costs, but just a warning: I love to quote excerpts of my favorite parts!
I recommend this book for many reasons, but the character of the master mage, Serek, is a big one - I think he has potential to be one of the great fantasy mages, just a step below Gandalf and Dumbledore - if this book turns into a series. Here's just a snippet that gives you an idea of his sarcastic character, and his cool sidekick, a gyrcat:
“What exactly are you doing?” Serek’s deep voice spoke suddenly from the doorway behind him. “I am looking for that stupid – uh, for Lyrimon,” Calen said. “I know he’s in here. I can feel him watching me.” One corner of Serek’s mouth turned up slightly. “Oh, he’s watching you, all right.” He jerked his chin toward the window. Calen whipped his head around to look. Lyrimon was sunning himself idly on the stone wall that ran through the yard. He was watching, though. Even from this distance, Calen could see the evil glint in the gyrcat’s eyes. “How do you do that?” Calen asked plaintively. “Do what?” “Find him like that. You always know where he is. You can see him even when he’s practically invisible. Why won’t you teach me how to do it?” “Now, what fun would that be?” Serek strode forward into the room.
The main characters are Princess Meg and her friend, a mage's apprentice Calen, both fourteen years old. The book alternates between them in first person Point-of-Views, like Shiver and the Red Pyramid and several others I've read lately. Switching first person is apparently more acceptable these days, though you always see reviews from people who say this confused them because it was hard to tell as a new chapter begins who's POV you're in.
I didn't have a problem with the switching POVs though because the characters had distinctive voices.
Here's a snippet of Meg's bossy, brash personality:
Something in his face must have reflected his thoughts. Meg stopped walking, her eyes wide and concerned. “Well, what? What is it, Calen?" He shook his head. “I don’t really know.” She poked a finger at him angrily. “Don’t do that,” she said. “You do too know, and you’re going to tell me.” She poked him again, harder. “Right now.” Calen rubbed his chest. Did she always have to be so violent?
Here's a snippet of Calen's careful, analytical personality - but don't think he's boring because he's not:
Calen backed away from the chair and resigned himself to leaning against a wall instead. After a while, Serek looked up. “What have I taught you about divination?” he asked. “That it’s difficult, dangerous, not always reliable, and that I’ll learn more about it when and if you feel I’m old enough to handle it,” Calen said. “Why?” Serek’s lips twitched slightly into what might have been a smirk. “I suppose I’ve just decided you’re old enough. Come here.”
At this point, you may be wondering where in the world the dragon is in this book.
I wondered the same thing. The dragon doesn't have a big role, most likely because he doesn't speak at all, though he is unique enough to be very pleasing. He shows up in odd spots just often enough to keep you wondering about him.
The world-building and descriptions are well-done. The mages in this story are marked on their faces (I kind of envisioned them like the marks/tattoos on the Romulans' faces in the 2009 Star Trek movie. Oops, just revealed that I'm a trekkie). The marks end up being crucial to the story's plot, which was kind of cool:
“May I ask – is an appointment such as this one, an honor like this – is it recorded in your marks? Forgive me, but I’ve never understood the full scope of what a mage’s marks include.” That was an interesting question. Meg had wondered about the same thing herself. Calen’s face was barely marked, just a few lines and small shapes under his left eye, but Serek had delicate black lines spiraling across both sides of his face, with tiny symbols and dots of color worked into the design at various points. Serek shook his head. ‘No.” For the first time, Meg thought she detected the barest touch of emotion in his voice. “No, the marks are given for years of study, fields of expertise, and accomplishments of that nature, Sen Eva. A mage may serve many masters in his lifetime, but it is the work and the study of magic that defines his life and purpose. Those are the things that set him apart from others, and the reason why no mage may go unmarked, as they show what he is capable of.”
And just because I love Calen so much, here's another few great snippets from his point of view:
Calen was perched on the edge of a table. The chair across from the mage was occupied by Lyrimon, and Calen was too tired to fight him for it. As they talked, Calen fished black olives out of a jar and ate them. He had never cared much for olives, but he was so famished that he would have eaten almost anything at this point, and all Serek seemed to have on hand was jar after jar of olives. Perhaps, once he’d finished the current jar, he’d try some of the green ones.
Calen had never been to a wedding before. Of course, he guessed that even if he had, it wouldn’t have been anything like this one. At first it had all seemed rather boring. There was a lot of watching the members of the different families standing around repeating things back and forth to each other, and about a hundred different people got up to read long passages from various books, and then there were songs, and then possibly some other part he missed because he dozed off, but then finally people were shouting and cheering and he woke in time to watch Prince Ryant lean forward to kiss Princess Maerlie in full view of every living person that had been crowded into the enormous grand hall. Calen wondered if the Prince was nervous. He’d certainly be nervous if he had to kiss a girl in front of an audience! Well, he’d probably be nervous about kissing a girl in any event, he supposed. But the audience would make it even worse.
This is one of those wonderful traditional fairy tales with princes and castles and trolls and enchanted creatures - one of my most favorite kinds of...moreThis is one of those wonderful traditional fairy tales with princes and castles and trolls and enchanted creatures - one of my most favorite kinds of stories. In a nutshell, it's the Scandinavian version of Beauty and the Beast, where Rose, the youngest daughter in a family fallen into unfortunate times, is taken away by a great white enchanted bear under a curse.
There's many things that add a unique flavor to this tale. Rose's father isn't just a merchant, he's map-maker. The Beast's castle is fabulous - and also entirely enclosed within a mountain, with an enchanted entrance only magic can reveal. The beast, the White Bear is under a curse by a Troll King for a very interesting reason, and the Troll Queen isn't what you'd expect at all - tall, pale, beautiful, and hard-skinned. None of the trolls are anything like the monstrous deformed creatures you tend to think of... and this story delves into their mysterious Arctic lives.
I thought the title, East, refered to a land in the east of some fantasy world, perhaps. But East actually refers to a child's birth direction. Rose's mother and father have seven children, one for each of the compass points - except North.
North is unlucky - north-born children are wild, always roaming, and prone to disaster. Rose was born East, a child of the home and hearth, skilled at weaving and sewing. But she also has a tendency to roam - is she East or is she really North? The answer to this question is wonderfully answered at the end: (view spoiler)[She's actually ALL of the compass points (hide spoiler)]. I thought it was neat how the birth direction and the compass points are worked into the story with Father also being a map-maker and famous for the beautiful wind-roses he adds to his maps.
Here's one of my favorite parts:
I felt like I was working with the spun gold from fairy tales. The dress turned out to be more elaborate than the silver one, and just as lovely. And so I came to the moon-thread. While I was making the fabric, I told the white bear the tale of the Miad of the North and of how Vaina the song maker tricked Seppo the sky maker into going to the frozen land by singing into creation a giant pine tree with a moon and stars in its branches. By the way the white bear held his head, and the experession in his eyes, I could see that he was listening intently.
I marveled as the fabric took shape on my loom. The gold and silver had been beautiful, but this was something extroidinary. It seemed from another world entirely, a world you might glimpse on a frozen, misty winter day with the northern lights blazing above. I remembered the first time I had seen the northern lights as a child. I was breathless with excitement, convinced I was seeing the way into a whole new land, or into Asgard itself, where Freya and Idun and the thunder god Thor lived.
I hadn't understood Father's logical explanation about the phenomenon of the aurora. To me, it was sheer magic. And the fabric I had made looked almost as much like the northern lights as it did the moon. At once moon white, the cloth would come starlingly alive with pearly, rippling color when the light caught it in a certain way.
When it came time to design the gown, I didn't look at any books but let the fabric itself guide me...when I stood before the mirror in this dress, I did not laugh. For just a moment I saw myself as beautiful. And I smiled at my reflection. Dreamily I thought how I might put my hair up and wind a length of moon-ribbon through it.
Then I heard a noise. A gusty, sighing sound like I had heard once before, when I first came to the castle. I spun around and saw the white bear standing in the doorway.
This passage practically screams that the dress made out of the moon-material will play an important part somehow in the story. And oh, it does!
I also loved the fragments of legends and myths that work their way into the story, such as above. Here's another example via the unique story-telling of Malmo, the Greenlander woman, who used stories to keep herself and Rose from going crazy while trapped during a weeks-long blizzard.
... Unlike the snow knife, the story knife had beautiful carvings on the blade, decorative pictures of fish and seals and sea and sun. She gestured for me to sit beside her, and using the blunt side to the smooth the snow in front of us, she then used the tip to sketch a picture into the smooth surface. The designs were simple - stick figures to represent people and and crude symbols for other elements, such as the sun, a tree, and a river. But oddly, I could recognize each thing she drew right away. She spoke as she drew, identifiying and naming the figures and their surroundings.
The first tale she told was about a mother seal that cared for an Inuit girl after the girl's parents were lost at sea in a hunting accident. Malmo was gifted storyteller and I sat enthralled, watching the knife deftly etch out the pictures that told the story. The characters she drew came alive like performers on a stage...
Malmo even taught me how to use the story knife myself. I used it to memorize her stories, telling them back to her, as well as to tell her stories of Njord - the old stories of Freya and Thor and Odin. Some were th same stories that I had (view spoiler)[told the white baear back in the castle, and the memory of that time came rushing back. At such moments I would hand the story knife to Malmo, unable to continue. She understood (hide spoiler)].
I also loved the stories of Queen Meraboo that Sofi and Estelle tell Rose.
East is told from five characters' points of view, mostly Rose's but also her brother Neddy, her father, the Troll Queen and some very short scenes - really only scattered sentences - told from the white bear's point of view. These show so well how he is struggling to maintain his humanity while forced to live in the body of a bear.
Neddy is searching the archives at an old monastery for any hints in history of trolls and white bears - with the hope of finding his lost sister. I loved the image this description evoked:
Hours passed like minutes in the reading room. Blurred shapes of ruby red, emerald green, and rich sapphire blue from the stained glass would dapple the pages as I read the old manuscripts.
I could go on and on with examples. The book builds in steady anticipation, its five characters orchestrated like a symphony, and delivers its final climax like a grande finale. Wow! ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Huge sigh. I loved this book. LOVED it. LOVED LOVED LOVED LOVED. This is going on my all-time favorites shelf. Why? So many reasons.
1) the worldbuild...moreHuge sigh. I loved this book. LOVED it. LOVED LOVED LOVED LOVED. This is going on my all-time favorites shelf. Why? So many reasons.
1) the worldbuilding. The world-building is so good it's as if McKinley has been to the land of the Pegasi, Rhiandomeer, and visited the living caves and slept on a bed of llyri grass. As if she's bonded with a pegasus like her character Sylvi bonded with Ebon so she can tell us realistically what it's like. And these are so, so, so much more than mere winged horses. ...the pegasi were always as graceful as pouring water. The details of Pegasi expression are richly detailed, believable, and ever-changing. She doesn't fall back on a few cleverly invented expressions; she keeps introducing new ones. Niahi, her head over her mother's back, half shouted and half whinnied a noise like cheering, and opened her wings and shut them again instantly, like a sort of applause.
2) Ebon's voice. He's completely not human and completely relatable at the same time. And he has a great "boy" voice. Ebon talking to his sister: "Hey bird-face, you don't rear at humans. They're all smaller even than you are! Don't you have any manners?" Someone asks Ebon if the Pegasus King lived in a grand palace too: "Yuck! No way. Who wants to be trapped in the same old stuff up-and-down walled-in thing all the time, where the sun can only come through the same holes?"
3) The bonding experience. I think it's every girl's secret or undiscovered dream to bond with a creature - a dog, a horse, in a pinch anything furry might do; even a human, if that human doesn't turn out fickle. It's a deep longing for a best friend who just looks at you and understands you. No explanation necessary. No needing to be someone or something you're not; you are loved exactly as you are - more than just loved, but admired, sought out, inseperable; someone who stands at your side when dangers and bullies arise and you know they'll stand with you to the end. Of course this fantasy is all the better if it's a magical creature that introduces you to fantasic places or whisks you off on a magical adventure. And add wings to that? Someone who can take you flying? That's the heady deliciousness of this book.
4) So #3 has been done in a lot of books with varying degrees of quality and depth; but the bonding experience in this book is a masterpiece. This is no pony pals book. This is high quality LITERATURE with a high dose of unpredictable heartbreak potential. This book has classic written all over it.
5) The stories within the story. Again, beautifully woven world-building. Here is Ebon telling Sylvi about one of the Pegasi myths, the Night Shaman.
"I think that if you sleep any more the Night Shaman will take you away and make you a star." "The Night Shaman?" "Eah. He gets you both ways - if you don't go to sleep when you're suposed to and if you don't wake up when you're supposed to. Then you're a star away in the sky forever and ever, showing pegasi where to fly."
6) Insight. The author doesn't hammer you over the head with it; but there are great insights in this book: everything from art to politics to growing up insecurities to dreams - and it's expertly woven into the tale. Once you're there, it's - it's almost like dreaming, when you're in your dream as yourself instead of your dreaming self, when you're both nothing and everything in your dream. Another example: Sculptors don't sculpt, you know, Ebon said. They set things free.
7) Sylvi's parents. She's a princess and her parents are King and Queen; but they are quite unconventional royals while still being very royal. Same thing (but different) with Ebon's parents, who are King and Queen of the Pegasi.
8) The magic. Like everything in this book, the magic is unique and realistic and also mysterious. Both the human magicians and the pegasi shamans have access to a subtle magic that is as different as the species are different. Sylvi comments on the Pegasus magic that "it was a soft sort of magic" - not itchy like the sort used by human magicians. Another reference to magic: Imagine learning to swim by being thrown in to a lake in perfect darkness, never having seen water before. And I can't resist, here's another: You will find the Forest and the festival on many other walls here, till it is more familiar to you than if you had been there - because that is what happens in the Caves.
8) the Pegasus language. Not since Lord of the Rings has a made-up language been so well introduced into a story without bogging it down. And the language fits so well with the Pegasi - it's such a non-human language but at the same time it's not too alien. The pegasus sighed. "ebonfffffwahoowhooftha," she said. Ebon is lucky. All the ffff's mean very lucky.
9) Flat out beautiful writing: and she clutched that thought to her as she might clutch an escaping puppy, all legs and wriggle
At first I had a hard time with how the book started. Why would the author start with a bunch of historical notes written in a difficult archaic style? It's unconventional and uncommercial, and I'm sure it's lost some readers, BUT KEEP READING!!!! This author is a great writer and she PULLS IT OFF. She makes it work and makes it all fit together like a grand tapestry.
Another thing: the pacing is slow. Wonderfully slow. At first it takes a little getting used to. I am quick to judge that if I can't put a book down and you have to read it straight through then it's a really good book; if it doesn't deliver that unstoppable experience then it's not up in the same rank. I realize now that is a false judgement.
It took me several weeks to read this book because you can put it down; it doesn't push you. But then you get addicted to lingering in it. I found myself slowing down to re-read paragrahs - not because they were difficult to read, but because they were so worth slowing down to savor.
The ending was a cliff hanger that totally caught me off guard - the best kind because you didn't see it coming but when it happened I sat back and said "that was set up so well. Of course that had to happen!" And the worst kind, because now you have to wait until the sequel comes out, but you don't want the author to rush the sequel and make it less beautiful than the first; you find yourself wishing you had been born twenty years later so that you didn't have to wait but the writer also doesn't have to rush. (less)
A more detailed review will be forthcoming, but for now, let me just foam at the mouth with delight. This is the best writing "voice" I have yet encou...moreA more detailed review will be forthcoming, but for now, let me just foam at the mouth with delight. This is the best writing "voice" I have yet encountered. Harry Potter, move over; Bartimaeus where have you been hiding? A host of amazing, amusing and somewhat chilling characters is topped off by an expertly crafted partnership between a young magician-in-training and the djinni he has summoned, with quite explosive and entertaining results. It is bolstered by a solid foundation of plot and threaded with subtle intrigue that makes me wish I had instant access to the next book in the series. (less)
"Man ask for directions (and other signs of the apocalypse)" is a chapter title from The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan. Just one of many amusing concoc...more"Man ask for directions (and other signs of the apocalypse)" is a chapter title from The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan. Just one of many amusing concoctions that entice you to read one more chapter late at night. The Red Pyramid is the first book in his new series, switching from the Greek collection of gods in the Percy Jackson series to the ancient Egyptian set of psychos. I mean gods.
While the new cast of gods and mythic creatures is probably less familiar to most readers, there are still a lot of familiar elements: a pair of kids accompanied by a not-quite-human sidekick, trotting around the globe to various fascinating places (Paris, Cairo, Washington DC, Phoenix) and being pursued by various frightful monsters. And also, lots more of the humor we loved in the Percy Jackson series.
Carter pulled out several lengths of brown twine, a small ebony cat statue, and thick roll of paper. No, not paper. Papyrus. I remembered Dad explaining how the Egyptians made it from a river plant because they never invented paper. The stuff was thick and rough, it made me wonder if the poor Egyptians had had to use toilet papyrus. If so, no wonder they walked sideways.
Our pair of heroes in the Red Pyramid are Carter and his sister, Sadie. They've been raised separately, but are thrown together in a quest to find their father after his rather explosive disappearance at a museum early on in the story. Carter is 14 and a couple years older than Sadie, but she has more than enough attitude to hold her own with him. The book alternates between their points of view, and they have different enough "voices" to be distinct (and quite quarrelsome). Sadie was raised in London, and has some delightfully British habits and mannerisms, and Carter is basically American, though he's been dragged all over the world by his archaeologist father, and as a result he's an Egyptology nerd. To make the sibling rivalry a little more interesting, Sadie takes after her white mother, and Carter takes after his African-American father. Here's just a sample of how Riordan captures the voice of the two siblings, and the tension between them:
I’d been to the British Museum before. In fact I’ve been in more museums than I like to admit - it makes me sound like a total geek.
[That’s Sadie in the background, yelling that I am a total geek. Thanks, Sis]
Anyway, the museum was closed and completely dark, but the curator and two security guards were waiting for us on the front steps.
“Dr Kane!” The Curator was a greasy little dude in a cheap suit. I’d seen mummies with more hair and better teeth. He shook my dad’s hand like he was meeting a rock star. “Your last paper on Imhotep - brilliant! I don’t know how you translated those spells!”
“Im-ho-who?” Sadie muttered to me.
“Imhotep,” I said. “High priest architect. Some say he was a magician. Designed the first step pyramid. You know.”
“Don’t know,” Sadie said. “Don’t care. But thanks.”
The basic plot is our heros must team up with an Eygtian goddess, Bast, to find their father and along the way also save the world from the destructive plans of another god, Set. In the process, Carter gets googly-eyed over a beautiful Egpytian magician, Zia, and Sadie - well, Sadie has the misfortune of having the hots for the god of the underworld, Anubis (yeah, it's a long shot). The plot also meanders a bit at times as the author tries to tie in various other ancient Egpytian myths, but he did the same thing frequently in the Percy Jackson series and still kept us entertained.
One thing that I think was overdone, though, were all the dream sequences, where either Carter or Sadie's soul, or ba, would travel outside of their body and convienently get to overhear critical conversations between other characters. Okay, Riordan used that technique with Percy quite a bit, too, but maybe he needs to find a new technique: this one is feeling too overdone.
However, here's a couple things that really stood out to me in this book, in a way that I haven't yet seen in the Percy books. There were some lyric-ly beautiful descriptions, such as this description of the sky goddess Nut:
... her skin was dark blue, covered with stars. I don’t mean painted stars. She had the entire cosmos living on her skin: gleaming constellations, galaxies too bright to look at, glowing nebulae of pink and blue dust. Her features seemed to disappear into the stars that shifted across her face.
Another thing I think was really well-done was the interplay of the spiritual elements of ancient Egypt into the plot. The Egyptians viewed the world at various levels: the regular physical dimension, and several spiritual dimensions, one of which is called the Duat. The different levels are beautifully and frightfully described here:
The scene would’ve been frightening enough, but now I saw it as Isis did. Like a crocodile with eyes at water level - seeing both below and above the surface - I saw the Duat intertwined with the regular world. The demons had fiery souls in the Duat that made them look like an army of birthday candles. Where Carter stood in the mortal world, a falcon warrior stood in the Duat, no avatar, but the real thing, with feathered head, sharp bloodstained beak, and gleaming black eyes. His sword rippled with golden light. As for Set - imagine a mountain of sand, doused with petrol, set on fire, spinning in the world’s largest blender.
Another part of ancient Egypt that I really like how Riordan embellished was the use of hieroglyphs. In the Red Pyramid, hieroglyphs are not just written characters; they sort of have life and a magic of their own, that really puts a new spin on "the power of the word
For writing techniques, I admire how Riordan can turn description into humor with his quirky anologies. Here's one of them:
Far far below, red liquid bubbled. Blood? Lava? Evil ketchup? None of the possibilities were good.
Finally, how can I end without mentioning Bast? - the cat goddess that befriends Carter and Sadie. She was my favorite character from a great cast of colorful, quirky, scary, unusual characters such as an albino crocodile, a basketball-playing baboon, an animated clay doll (sort of the Egyptian version of a voodoo doll, with its own attitude) and many others.
But Bast, like a cat, is part fickle and part loyal; part haughty and part foolish; part noble and part coward; and always entertaining. Here's a snippet of Bast that doesn't really do her justice, I'm afraid:
“Oh, you two look delicious,” Bast said, licking her lips. “No, no, er - , I mean wonderful. Now, off you go!”
I spread my majestic wings. I had really done it! I was a noble falcon, lord of the sky. I launched myself off the side walk and flew straight into the fence.
“Ha ha ha” Sadie chirped behind me.
Bast crouched down and began making weird chittering noises. Uh oh. She was imitating birds. I’d seen enough cats do this when they were stalking. Suddenly my own obituary flashed in my head: Carter Kane, 14, died tragically in Paris when he was eaten by his sister’s cat.
This is one of my childhood favorites and now I'm reading it to my kids. My copy is seriously old - I think 1960's - and I was THRILLED to discover th...moreThis is one of my childhood favorites and now I'm reading it to my kids. My copy is seriously old - I think 1960's - and I was THRILLED to discover that it's not only on Goodreads, but there is a sort of small cult following for it!
Do you know the difference between a gryffin, gryffon and a gryffen? Where sea monsters like to sleep? How a banshee can be quite helpful for repelling Scientists? How to out-race a witch on a new broomstick?
This book is a treasure trove of little adventures, but the best part is the persnickety, vain, adorable lovable Phoenix.
If you love mythical creatures, you absolutely must track down this little gem! I'm enjoying just as much as an adult as I did when I was a kid, and my kids clamor for the next chapter every night. (less)
A story written about wizards and their familiars from the animals' point of view - great idea. But at first, unremarkable. Aldwyn, our alley cat hero...moreA story written about wizards and their familiars from the animals' point of view - great idea. But at first, unremarkable. Aldwyn, our alley cat hero, passes himself off as a magical animal so he can be adopted as familiar. I did like how the familiars refer to their human counterparts as loyals, because the humans will risk their lives for their familiar.
But my first hint of something really intriguing didn't happen until page 46, when a group of eyeballs swim past Aldwyn.
Swimming eyeballs? Creepy and kinda cool.
Then about 1/3 of the way into the book, the author throws in a twist that completely took me by surprise and changed everything from fun-but-predictable to scarily unpredictable. WOW!
Little details like this I loved: "On a nearby nightstand, a pear-shaped globe was slowly spinning on a needle, showing the lands of Vastia and beyond." A pear-shaped globe??? As a great lover of maps and globes, this odd-shaped globe tickled my fancy. Another fun thing related to maps was Scribius, the enchanted pen, who loved to draw maps.
The action scenes were really well done, with some interesting magical creatures such as tremor hawks which cause dangerous skyquakes. Other monsters were more conventional, but to make up for it, their scenes packed a little bit of Potteresque humor:
Marianne sent a shower of sparks flying from her hands. "Starburst, send your worst!" she incanted in a firm voice.
The sparks solidified into a bright beam of light that shot into a vulnerable spot in the gundabeast's thick gray skin...stopping it in its tracks and causing it to let out a high-pitched squeak.
"Be gentle," said Kalstaff. "It's just a baby."
The beast swung its arms aimlessly, severing one of the forests's trees in half with its forearms.
"A very strong baby," said Gilbert.
The lightning snow was scary fun too, especially Skylar's assessment of it: "A rare and dangerous phenomenon. We could get fried and frozen at the same time."
So I've mentioned Aldwyn (a cat) and now I've mentioned Skylar (a blue jay, with impressive powers of illusion), another familiar, so now I've got to mention Gilbert, the third in the memorable little trio of familiars-on-a-quest: Gilbert, the tree frog, who is supposed to have the magical ability of puddle-viewing or telling the future by seeing into a puddle. Puddle-viewing! Love it! However, his skill is somewhat - under-developed. It's absolutely hilarious when Gilbert has to take Aldwyn and Skylar to meet his froggy family who are all considerably more talented in soothsaying than Gilbert.
Another fascinating familiar is Edan. I'll tell you what he does, but I won't tell you what type of animal Edan is - too much of a spoiler!
"Edan is one of the last remaining time stoppers," said the Alchemist. "Within this shell, time will move at its own pace, while outside it, nary a moment shall pass until the shell is removed. Whether time passes faster in the bubble or the world outside it slows down is a puzzle for great thinkers - a true philosopher's dilemma."
So remember how I said Aldwyn passes himself off as a magical animal? I just love how his deception creates a character arc that had me constantly wondering when and how he was going to get "found out". I figured it would turn out he actually was magical - but the authors overturned (or rather, mislead) my expectations and handled this in a surprising and devastating way.
The authors also tried another surprise at the end of the book that did make me roll my eyes a little. It really was a great twist, but the type of animal they used to pull it off made me groan.
Even so, I definitely have to give this book 5 stars for good twists, lots of humor, some surprisingly severe devastation, and great characters. (less)
A synopsis of the Magic Thief can be found in its first four sentences:
A thief is a lot like a wizard. I have quick hands. And I can make things disa...moreA synopsis of the Magic Thief can be found in its first four sentences:
A thief is a lot like a wizard. I have quick hands. And I can make things disappear. But then I stole a wizard's locus magicalus and nearly disappeared myself forever.
A great beginning... in exactly 31 words we get a plot, two characters, a hint of voice, and we're hooked.
The second half of the book also really shone as the stakes started to rise. And the ending had a really, REALLY, cool surprise. Here's a just a little teaser (sorry, you'll have to read it fill in the blanks - it's too cool to give away!):
"Here _______," I whispered again. Within the tank, the ________ stilled, shifted, and focused itself on my locus magicalus, on me. It was like looking up at a night sky full of stars and having the stars suddenly look back.
Why did I wait so long to pick up something by Tamora Pierce?
Maybe because I thought it would be too much of a "feel good" book, a light and smarmy f...moreWhy did I wait so long to pick up something by Tamora Pierce?
Maybe because I thought it would be too much of a "feel good" book, a light and smarmy fantasy. I feared that the fantasy land of Tortall would be just another world patterned after medieval Europe, like so many others.
I love it when a book smashes my expectations in a good way.
This is not a light fantasy. I knew that within the first chapter when Keladry encounters one of the evil creatures of Tortall, a spidren (half spider, half human) and fails to save a litter of kittens that the creature has stolen. The spidren bites one in half right in front of her, to spite her.
But this event really frames the kind of person Kel turns into. She wants to become a knight and a protector, at any cost. However, as the only girl at a school full of boys being trained to become pages, squires, and eventually knights, she has many enemies, many classmates who don't think she has any business being there.
The training master, Wyldon, only accepts Keladry on probation, with many misgivings. And I liked that his misgivings really are valid. Of course Keladry proves herself worthy of being a page as far as her skills and bravery, but since this is the first in a series, we're forced to wait to see how she'll tackle some of the more complicated problems of being a woman training to be a knight.
This girl is TOUGH. She has a few extra skills that help her even up the odds. But she also has one weakness that could be her undoing.
I loved how she handles the bullies among her classmates. It wasn't particularly clever, but it was brave and it avoided the trap of becoming spiteful or vengeful, which I appreciated. For this reason alone, I think every kid from grade school to high school needs to read this book, so they have a better grasp on how to handle bullies.
Another thing I liked about the fantasy elements was how there was a reversal in the mythical creatures. Tortall has vicious centaurs and killer unicorns, which are traditionally portrayed as wise and beautiful creatures. The basilisk, on the other hand, is usually treated as a wicked serpent but in this book Tkaa the basilisk is one of the most admired and trusted teachers.
Another reversal that I loved in this book is that Kel (the only girl) is so practical and unromantic and it's Neal, the boy assigned as Kel's sponsor, who is the drama-queen!(less)
My kids adored this book - we read it together. I loved the concept of a land outside of time and the steampunk elements mixed in with intelligent din...moreMy kids adored this book - we read it together. I loved the concept of a land outside of time and the steampunk elements mixed in with intelligent dinosaurs that are willing to partner with humans in many endeavors.
However I couldn't help wishing that this book had been developed more, with a stronger plot and some sort of antagonist! There are no bad guys in this book - not even the Tyrannosaurus Rexes. Early on one of the characters hinted at being an antagonist, but then he never showed up again.
What this book ended up being was exactly what it was intended to be: an illustrated journal of a fantasy world. I just wished it had been more. However, it left some fascinating threads - such as why the dinosaurs won't go into the World Beneath - which I suspect will be given more detail (and maybe more plot) in the subsequent books.
The dinosaurs' perception of time - so cool!!! some people perceive time as linear, some perceive it as circular. Dinos perceive it as both - what shape is that? Helical - love it! And their language and writing... so perfectly dinosaurian.
I also loved how one type of dinosaur has taken on the role of nanny for young humans.