Lara's mother Cheryl has just died from a long battle with cancer, leaving her to the care of the Man, her father Larry Ritchie, who Cheryl managed toLara's mother Cheryl has just died from a long battle with cancer, leaving her to the care of the Man, her father Larry Ritchie, who Cheryl managed to track down before she died. He's practically a stranger to Lara, but she warms to this tall, lean, weather-beaten man almost immediately. He takes her home to his own family of hard wife Gladwyn and four children, all younger than Lara: Opal, Pearl, Garnet and baby Jasper. Home is a farm called Willy Nilly out the back of the Bulahdelah Mountains in northern NSW, past Newcastle.
Gladwyn is cold towards her, and Opal is distinctly unwelcoming. The younger children take to her, but between the hard work on the farm, the bully Gowd Gadrey at school who lives down the road, and Opal and Gladwyn's dislike of her, Lara sorely misses her mother. Larry is often gone for long stretches of time, leaving Gladwyn to manage the homestead and fern farm in a tough land and harsh climate.
Lonely, Lara befriends and is befriended by a dog she meets in the bush who comes during a thunderstorm - so she names him Thunderwith. Her only friend, he accompanies her on treks through the bush whenever she can get free, and the only person she tells is an Aboriginal Elder who tells Dreamtime stories at the school.
As the animosity between her and Gladwyn increases, as the heat rises and the bullying intensifies, something has to crack, but the price for gaining a new family turns out to be more than Lara would ever want to pay.
I have read this book countless times since grade 5 and it never loses its power over me - to absorb me, to make me cry. It's like an old friend, comforting and challenging at the same time. It's easily one of my most favoured books of all time.
This is a book that seemed to come at just the right moment in my life, just as Thunderwith came to Lara. It sometimes felt like it had been written just for me. I read this book, about a girl whose mother dies of cancer so she goes to live with her Dad's somewhat unwelcoming and hostile family in the bush, just months before finding out I had an older sister too. This book was my best friend for months, if not years, a surprise gift from my mother because she knew I loved it so much - one of the first books I ever owned.
The beauty of the Australian landscape is captured flawlessly in this novel, transporting me to the wild bush and rugged mountains, the scent of eucalyptus and soil and sheep surrounding me from memory.
It makes me cry every time I read it, makes me sob, and I still come back to it time and time again. I love it on a deep personal level, and it holds a precious place in my heart....more
Jane is a poor, plain orphan girl living with her aunt Reed and cousins Georgiana, John and Eliza. She has no friends or protectors now that her uncleJane is a poor, plain orphan girl living with her aunt Reed and cousins Georgiana, John and Eliza. She has no friends or protectors now that her uncle is dead, and with her active imagination sees his ghost in the Red Room where she is locked up as punishment. Sent to a girl's school in the country where she is promptly forgotten, she makes her first friend in Helen Burns - who is taken from her when typhus sweeps through the school.
Conditions afterward improve somewhat and she becomes a teacher at the school. Desirous of making her own way, though, she puts out an ad for a governess position and secures one at Thornfield Hall, teaching a little French girl called Adele who is ward to the master of the house, Mr Rochester. Rochester is almost always absent but when he does return home they form an unlikely and, for Jane, a surprising friendship.
Her new happiness increases as she finds herself falling in love with the bad-tempered man, only to have it beaten at when he boldly hints at marrying Miss Blanche Ingram, a very pretty but cold young woman who lives nearby. The truth will out, though, in more ways than one, and at the peak of her happiness, Jane's world will shatter irrevocably. Or perhaps not...
This remains one of my favourite books. I first read it in primary school - and right proud I was too of reading such a grown-up book! - and have found that the Jane and Rochester pairing is as wonderful as Lizzy and Darcy, if not better, 'cause let's face it, Rochester is a lot more intense and Jane is such a familiar, shy girl who just needs the right person to notice and appreciate her.
I can read this in just a couple of days, though I like to savour it. The writing is a bit sickly in the scene where Jane threatens to leave - I have a hard time picturing Rochester like that, behaving like such a little boy! The third section where Jane lives with her new-found relatives is the least interesting (I've never liked St. John). I also don't like how she gives St. John the last word. But none of this takes anything away from the overall power this story continues to have over me....more
This month, June, marks the start of the Obernewtyn Chronicles Reading Marathon! Each month we are reading a book in the series, though predictably thThis month, June, marks the start of the Obernewtyn Chronicles Reading Marathon! Each month we are reading a book in the series, though predictably the release date for the final book, The Red Queen, has been pushed back to next year - no surprises there. I decided to go ahead with the read-along anyway, because it has literally been YEARS since I last read them and there's so much going on that I had forgotten about, I've been itching to start from the beginning again.
Forgive my daggy 1993 second edition pictured here, it is the least attractive cover of them all (I believe it has gone through about five covers by now, a new one each time a new book is released) - bear with me and I'll try and convince you how awesome this book, and the series, really is.
Some time in our future, we nearly destroyed the world. After the Great White, and the Chaos, only the farmlands were untouched by the poison that ruined so much else. The farmers rallied against the influx of refugees fleeing the cities, banding together and forming a Council that meted out death to the incomers. To further cement their growing hold on the land and its survivors, they gave power to a fledgling religion, the Herder Faction, which decreed that the creator, Lud, had sent the Great White as punishment for the wickedness of the Beforetimers, their machines and books and meddling. Such things were outlawed. People who spoke out against the Council or the Herders were labelled Seditioners and either sent to Council Farms or burnt.
Such was the fate of Elspeth Gordie's parents. Now she and her older brother, Jes, are Orphans, living in a home in Kinraide. Their future is uncertain, they have no friends, and because of Elspeth's growing mutant mental powers, she has become estranged from her brother who seeks favour with the Herder Faction. If anyone were to find out that she is a Misfit - one of those "deformed" by the taint of the world - she would be sentenced and possibly burned, and Jes' hopes of being independent, a free man, would be ruined.
On a routine trip to collect the highly toxic substance called Whitestick, a task given to Orphans because they are dispensable, Elspeth falls into a stream and strikes her head on a rock. The headaches she experiences are less because of the fall and more to do with a premonition coming upon her, but the excuse serves. Only when a woman from the mountain keep of Obernewtyn arrives, looking for Misfits who the Master of Obernewtyn can practice his cures on, does Elspeth feel in danger. Caught out by the woman, Madame Vega, she is denounced as a Misfit - though she uses her power to make it known that tainted water from her fall is the cause of her Dreaming, not a genetic or hereditary mutation that would cause her brother to be suspected of it too.
Sentenced to Obernewtyn, a place far away in the mountains rife with rumour and a gothic reputation, Elspeth feels for once strangely free. To be finally "caught" and labelled Misfit, something she has always worked hard and struggled to avoid, is like sloughing off an old skin. But the Orphan way to avoid being friendly with others and to always hold your own counsel is harder to do away with. It takes weeks for two boys at Obernewtyn to befriend Elspeth, a loner and a secretive one at that. Matthew and Dameon have their own Misfit abilities: like Elspeth, Matthew is telepathic and can "farseek" - mentally reach out over distance, though he is not as strong as she is. Dameon, a blind boy and the son of a Councilman, is Empathetic, able to feel the emotions of others.
Making friends for the first time in her life, Elspeth is far from relaxed at Obernewtyn: the farm overseer, Rushton, seems to openly dislike Elspeth for no apparent reason; Madame Vega has yet to return from her tour of the Lowlands, collecting Orphans, but in her absence a favoured twelve-year-old boy with an angelic face, Ariel, rules the roost with his haughty arrogance and sly cruelty. A girl about Elspeth's age, Selmar, wanders the halls of Obernewtyn with a vacant look on her pale face; touching her mind, Elspeth discovers she is mentally broken and half-derranged.
Through her new friendship with Matthew and Dameon, they start to piece the puzzle together: that the Master of Obernewtyn is collecting Misfits for some terrible purpose, that they are searching for something dangerous. And it is not long before Elspeth realises that she is the one they are looking for, the one strong enough to unlock the secrets they are after. Knowing that it could only be a matter of time before she too is taken away every night and turned into another brain-dead Selmar, her thoughts turn to flight. Only no one has ever escaped Obernewtyn and lived.
I first read this book in primary school - when I was in, what, grade 5 or 6. So, a couple of years after it came out in 1987 I think. I used to scour the school library's shelves every week, looking for something new to read. Most of the books were old paperbacks from the 70s and early 80s; new books were less common, since funding was so pitiful. But this book, with its unusual cover, jumped out at me. And when I started reading it, I was instantly hooked. It became one of my favourite books ever, alongside Thunderwith and a couple of others that held places close to my heart. These were books that touched me personally, that felt like friends, that seemed to have been written for me alone. Like I was waiting all my life for them. That's what reading Obernewtyn the first time felt like, like being reunited with someone dear to you. Like it was a key that made things click into place for you. You never know what book will do that to you, and it doesn't mean that it will do that for anyone else, but when you come across such a book they leave a lasting impression.
I've since read this book about five or six times now, and it never grows old or stale. It always has the same magic. Now, my edition has some typos, some missing punctuation, and at one point an important piece of dialogue comes after Elspeth's thoughts on it (page 186), but I expect they've been cleaned up in the later editions and I can never hold such things against a beloved book or such an awesome story.
For this is just the beginning. From here it gets ever so complex and stunningly original. You never know where Carmody's imagination will take you, but it always comes together beautifully. When this book first came out in 1987, you didn't really get Fantasy books about kids with mind powers, or even that much in the way of post-apocalyptic fiction (U.S. publishers today would blindly label this "dystopian" but while there is a repressive regime, it's not really about that. It's much more fantasy than anything else). For all the fantasy I've read in my life, this series is still original.
Part of it is Elspeth. She is always a loner at heart, restless, not wanting to be cooped up or stationary. She is always secretive by nature, holding her innermost thoughts and desires close. In this book she learns, to her surprise, that it is rude to read the thoughts of other people, especially if they are Misfits like her. Having always believed she is the only one to have such powers, and that she needed to do whatever it took to survive, she never had any qualms before.
My mind was reeling with the things he had said. In one moment he had changed my life. Not only were there others like me, but there were people who had different sorts of abilities. Surely that would mean we were not isolated Misfits. I realized I had been rude taking a thought from [Matthew's] mind. It was different when they did not know. I would have to be more considerate. I knew then that I had decided to trust the boy and his blind companion. In one sense I had no choice, but my sudden desire not to invade the thoughts of another person was new, and told me that I had accepted something I had previously thought impossible. I was no longer alone. [pp.100-101]
She is about fourteen or fifteen in this book (her older brother Jes, we know, is sixteen), but thinks like a much more mature person. Considering all she's been through in her life, and how suspicion and finger-pointing leads all Orphans to keep their own counsel and grow up fast, it's not surprising. For all that Elspeth changes and grows over the course of the novels and the years, these traits remain with her and mean that her relationship with Rushton is one you'll need a lot of patience to see through - it moves slowly.
Oh Rushton. Another great character who never really has large roles in the books, but tends to steal your attention away whenever he's present. I always had a thing for him, as a teenager, and that never really died. Feeling the chemistry brewing between him and Elspeth over the years (it certainly felt like years and years because each book took such a long time to come out!!), the slow-burning anticipation of something more was enough to keep you reading, let alone all the other qualities of the story.
If you're a fan of Young Adult fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction, dystopian fiction, science fiction or any good genre fiction really, you absolutely have to try Obernewtyn. The book does bear the subtle marks of a first novel, and one originally written when Carmody was 14 - no matter how many times you re-write and edit a first book, it tends to read less smoothly than later works. This is the introduction book to the series, the "setting the scene" book: if the concept and the characters do not draw you in as thoroughly as they do me, you should still read on: every book is better than the one before it. My favourite series from my favourite author, I am of course incredibly biased. But for good reason. Come discover the magic for yourself.
If you have read or are reading Obernewtyn, feel free to stop by the read-along post and join in the discussion....more
**spoiler alert** After getting a hefty insurance cheque because he wagered his wife would have twins (one is still born), Holland buys an almost tree**spoiler alert** After getting a hefty insurance cheque because he wagered his wife would have twins (one is still born), Holland buys an almost treeless property in western New South Wales. His wife has passed away; he has only his little girl, Ellen.
He's no farmer. He starts planting eucalyptus trees on the farm and it soon turns into a hobby, then an obsession. Holland, son of a baker and a boiled-lolly-maker, becomes a "leading expert in the field", and has managed to get a specimen of all the species, and got them to grow.
As Ellen grows up, she becomes stunningly beautiful, her face "speckled" with freckles, moles, so that the eye wanders all over. She gets more and more attention from the lads in town, until Holland makes a decision. The man who can name every tree on the property will win his daughter's hand in marriage.
So begins an amusing charade of suitors failing to get past the first few trees, up until Mr Cave, who names them all. Meanwhile, an unnamed man courts Ellen amongst the trees with stories woven in and inspired by the names of the different trees, and in doing so names them all before Mr Cave.
This is a book of stories within stories, as well as snippets of information, facts, history, and cultural conundrums. One of my favourite stories is about the green grocer in Carlton who makes pictures out of fruit to attract the attention of a pretty but vain woman.
A lot of the stories have connections to people in the town - some made up, some maybe not - and it's almost like a puzzle to figure them out.
Ellen is a slightly disappointing character, almost as if Bail doesn't know how to write female characters, or doens't understand them enough to really flesh them out. The men were so neatly, perfectly described with some simple brush strokes, the short-comings in Ellen were made noticeable by comparison. The ending, too, was not quite as satisfying as it could have been, though it works and fits with the rest of the book.
It is set some time after the Second World War, I think in the 40s or 50s though it doesn't actually say, and so can get away with the main concept, plus some others. I don't think this story could be transferred so well into our current time.
One of the more provoking scenes is where Ellen, coming upon her only tree, E. Maidenii, she finds a nail driven into the trunk. You can guess her feelings there. Then she hears Mr Cave and her father approaching, and hides, only to see them start pissing against the trunk of her tree. Great imagery and symbolism there!
I love this book, regardless of any flaws. It will forever be one of my utmost favourites. But not everyone gets what I get out of it, so I feel the need for a personal kind of context.
I never truly appreciated my native country until I started studying some of our literature at uni. I did two courses focusing on Australian literature, and by the time I graduated (for the second time, as these things are done there) at the end of 2001, I was in hopelessly, helplessly, head-over-heels in gut-clenching love with the land.
When, the following year, I left and went to Japan to teach English for nearly three years, I would suddenly smell the shearing shed on my parents' farm, in the middle of the supermarket. (My boss tells me, whenever I mention smelling something that "isn't there" that I probably have a brain tumour - I call him an alarmist.) I missed the smell of Australia so much, the smell of the land, where all the trees, the plants, the grass, the soil, has such a distinct smell. In Japan, nothing smelt, which means you can smell 3-day-old exhaust fumes, the grime coating the walls of buildings, the smell of ramen and yakiniku and, strangely, snow - but never the trees or plants, because they didn't smell. My first cherry blossom time, I went up to a tree and sniffed the blossoms, expecting the same sweet scent as my mother's specimen in her big, beautiful garden. Nothing. I was supremely disappointed.
I recommended Eucalyptus to my book club and, almost unanimously, they agreed on it. I hadn't read it in several years, but it all came back as I delved in once more. The trees are my favourite characters. Skimming through the reviews on Amazon, written by Americans mostly, I noticed they all said "yes it uses trees as a tool to construct the stories, but that's not important" and "trees don't interest me, but that's not what this is about." (I'm paraphrasing here, don't hit me.)
I beg to differ. The trees are everything in Eucalyptus. You could almost say it's a book about trees disguised as a fairy tale, but I don't think that's the case either. The trees figure prominently, as characters not as background. All the different species, described not just visually but with personality too. The gum trees are described as selfish, offering little shade, and unsympathetic. After reading that the first time, I saw eucalypts in a whole new way.
In the midlands of Tasmania, which you drive through to get to Hobart from the north where my parents' farm is, you can see a quite unique, oddly disturbing but very memorable scene: round, hilly, very yellow, dry farmland, bare but for the grey skeletons of eucalypts, their silvery arms reaching out like a scarecrow, completely leafless. As a child, this view disturbed me, and I still don't know if the Midlands has always been like that or if it is the resutl of excessive farming, as in so many other places. I suspect the latter. In it's own way, it is stunning, beautiful, the stark colours, the dead trees still standing like grave markers, their branches lined with large crows and magpies and kookaburras. The dusty yellow grass, like a dry carpet, cropped short by sheep.
The book is full of beautiful imagery, using words to tell multiple layers of a story, like bark on a tree. I was so surprised and disappointed to find that the people in the bookclub didn't like it and were confused, thinking that Australia was just desert. They had no idea there were trees, bush (forest) and even grass!
For me, I can smell Australia when I read this book - not just the country, but the suburbs of Sydney and other places. I am transported home by this book....more
Oh my. This book, to me, is like chocolate: a delicious, sinful, addictive indulgence which you convince yourself has beneficial qualities (zinc, calcOh my. This book, to me, is like chocolate: a delicious, sinful, addictive indulgence which you convince yourself has beneficial qualities (zinc, calcium, keeps me quiet at that time of the month...) in order to justify your addiction.
By "beneficial qualities", I mean that it's reading, and since when is reading bad? :) Let me say quite clearly that I'm a sucker for romance, especially the intense, passionate, tragic kind. I don't read romance novels*, though, because to me they are lacklustre - Meyer's book has the extra edge I need, though, a great way of keeping doom hanging over the main characters' heads: she's human, he's a vampire.
Sound corny? Yeah, I know, and the only reason Meyer gets away with it as well as she does is because Twilight doesn't try to be anything it's not, and it has such conviction. Only Meyer could get away with giving her narrator the name Isabella Swan. She says in her little bio at the back that she wanted to write believable characters: an interesting choice, then, to write about vampires, but I believed in them, and without such a willing suspension of disbelief, the story would have been a farce. True, a lot of people haven't been able to suspend their disbelief with this book, but that doesn't affect my reading experience :)
Seventeen year old Bella's parents are divorced. She lives with her mum in Phoenix, Arizona, and spends time with her dad Charlie in Forks, Washington State, where it rains almost constantly. She hates Forks, but when her mum remarries a baseball player, Phil, and starts travelling with him, Bella decides to move to Forks.
On her first day at school she notices the isolated group of five beautiful, graceful siblings. Rosalie, Alice, Emmet, Edward and Jasper. One in particular catches her eye: Edward Cullen, with his rust-brown hair and topaz eyes. She is more than a little surprised and shocked when he seems to have developed an acute, profound hatred of her. Her fascination deepens, especially when, after a brief disappearance, he saves her life. She soon figures out what Edward is, and the knowledge doesn't frighten her. The shaky friendship between them develops into something much stronger, and Edward reveals his overpowering reaction to her smell that nearly made him kill her on the spot - hence the look on his face that so shocked her, and the restraint he put on himself during an hour of Biology.
Let's not forget he's incredibly handsome: even though Bella describes almost every glance he makes and every twitch of his lips, not once did I get bored and roll my eyes. My fascination grew alongside hers, until I too fell in love with Edward - in a totally girly, daydreamy way. Yes, I admit it. I don't know if that makes this a girly kind of book - these days those boundaries don't seem to matter so much, and the vampire family is pretty darn cool, what with Edward's extra ability to read minds, Alice's premonitions, Jasper's ability to affect people's emotions, their speed, their invincibility... Bella is at one point compared to Lois Lane, because Edward and his kin really are like Superman.
One of the things I love about YA books: the clarity with which they are written. Granted there is some repetition in Twilight, but to me it's necessary repetition. There's nothing superfluous in Twilight, nothing that shouldn't be there, and the flow, the pacing, is great. It's a fat book, but I read it in two days. I read it with breakfast, on my walk to the subway, on the subway, up the escalator, through the ticket gates, to work, in my lunch break ... you get the picture. I couldn't get enough of it, and it left me with that same craving for more that Harry Potter did (I remember scrounging around for loose change as soon as I finished one of them and dashing off into the city to get my next fix. It helped that four were already out when I started). There's plenty of negative stuff you could say about this book - the writing, the characters, the obsession - but again, I couldn't care less :)
Another thing I loved was all the vampire myths Meyer scrapped. These vampires aren't burnt to ash by sunlight: their marble skin glitters as the sunlight is broken into miniscule shards, like diamonds - hence why they are living in Forks, where the sun hardly ever shines. They are not hurt by crucifixes or stakes through the heart. They do not sleep at all, nor do they eat human food. They drive fast cars really really fast. And they can fall in love. Awwww.
Seriously though, this was one of most fun, most enjoyable, most romantic books I've read in a long time, and I'm so happy there are two more out with a fourth on the way. They are, somewhat predictably, making Twilight into a movie - still in the early development stage - but it's rather fun to go to the author's website and see her own preferences for actors to play Edward etc. Can't say I'm familiar with most of them, but her top choice (now sadly too old), is indeed a perfect match. Who knows who they'll really cast, but as with the book, the characters have to be right or the whole story will be just silly and sappy.
*Since reading this the first time back in 2007, I've started reading some romance novels. Yes I've been corrupted. Or rather, I've always loved romance stories but had trouble admitting it. Now, I just don't care :)...more
Spring is arriving to the highlands, where Obernewtyn - the big sprawling mansion and farm that is home to a large groThis review contains spoilers.
Spring is arriving to the highlands, where Obernewtyn - the big sprawling mansion and farm that is home to a large group of Talented and unTalented Misfits and animals - lies protected by the mountains and a snowed-in pass, but the events of the previous year are still fresh in everyone's minds. Much has changed: understanding their pacifist nature, they have turned to devising ways of using their skills and Talents (Farseeking, Coercing, Beastspeaking, Healing, Futuretelling, Empathy and the Teknoguild) to bringing a more subtle kind of change to the Land. If they can't change people's prejudices towards Misfits, then they'll be no better off when the Rebels strike and the Council falls.
Rushton has left for a sudden and unexpected meeting with the Rebels in Sutrium, the capital, leaving Elspeth, Guildmistress of the Farseekers, in charge of Obernewtyn. She pushes aside her niggling worry that borders on premonition, by focusing on the many demands on her attention. Dragon, the wild girl Elspeth rescued from some Beforetime ruins in The Farseekers, still lies in her coma, locked in her recurring dream of the past that she had sealed off in her mind - only Elspeth now realises that Dragon's powerful empathy-coercer talent is letting her dreams affect everyone at Obernewtyn, and no one is sleeping well. They dreams of Matthew, the Farseeker who was taken by slavers, toiling in a far-off, hot red land, and their details match. And they dream of a dragon, though no one has been attacked by it except for Elspeth. Maruman, the mad old cat who guards Elspeth's dreams, protects her as best he can.
In the half-submerged city built by the Beforetimers under the mountain Tor, the Teknoguild have worked obsessively to uncover the secrets of the past, secrets that connect Obernewtyn to the mission Elspeth is secretly on: to find and destroy the weaponmachines that brought the Great White and nearly destroyed the world, before the Destroyer finds them and activates them, ending life for good. Elspeth has come to realise that her mission and the destiny of Obernewtyn are entwined, and the puzzle of the past becomes an important part of understanding how to find the clues she needs as the Seeker. Her dreams aid her as she witnesses the past, though they are also dangerous, not just from the manifestation of Dragon's insanity, but from the Destroyer himself, who turns out to be Ariel, the beautiful but cruel Misfit who fled Obernewtyn all those years ago and now works his twisted magic on both the Council and the Herder Faction.
Rushton, on leaving Sutrium, is kidnapped, and the Misfits of Obernewtyn have been ordered to join the rebellion or he will be killed. Elspeth has no choice but to set them on the path they had collectively decided not to take. But there are traitors within the Rebel ranks, and many Rebel leaders despise the Misfits, so that they are betrayed more than once. And who kidnapped Rushton, if not the Rebels? And why - who else would want them to join forces? The answer surprises, and puzzles, them all.
Well! I can't believe I couldn't remember a single thing that happened in this massive, eventful volume, from the last - first? - time I read it when it came out in 1999. Unlike the previous three books, I think I must have read this one only once, though that seems unlikely. Maybe twice. How could I have so completely forgotten it all? Incredible. But good, because re-reading it now it was almost like reading it for the first time (I say "almost" because, as things happened, I remembered them - but I still couldn't recall what would happen next, so it was full of surprises for me!).
Elspeth is about nineteen or twenty years old at this point - I'm still keeping track, because if you remember, the only time her age is mentioned is at the very beginning of Obernewtyn, when she's fourteen. Almost the entire first half of The Keeping Place is focused on Elspeth running Obernewtyn, and the dreamtrails. It's busy and richly detailed, fleshing out how the Misfits live at Obernewtyn and giving us some much-needed time with Elspeth away from dire predicaments. She's always been a wonderful and fascinating character to me, and it's very interesting to see how far she's come and how her time as an orphan - isolated, too fearful of being denounced to make an friends, and secretive - has shaped her (as well as helping her face the solitude of her task, one which she doesn't expect to survive). She now makes an effort to empathise and give comfort, though she feels awkward doing it. She's still aloof, and when they get the news that Rushton has been taken, she makes a big effort not to fall apart for the sake of Rushton and Obernewtyn, even while she knows that everyone will think her cold and unfeeling (except the Empaths, I'm sure).
I was always disappointed that this volume didn't have more Rushton in it - like, they finally get together at the end of Ashling, only to be separated again for almost the entire book, here. I always felt so cheated! There's a different vibe to this one, perhaps because of Rushton's kidnapping, but also because after much talk, there is action. There's a subtle kind of tension, a gnawing anxiety that something's not right - Elspeth feels it but doesn't really heed it, though for all her suspicions about the Herders, it's hard to believe that she still can't see them for the dangerous enemy that readers can clearly see. I was also surprised, and disappointed, that she couldn't see that Malik, one of the Rebel leaders, was up to something. I couldn't remember what, until it happened, but I had that sick feeling of dread that he was going to do something really bad to the Misfits, first chance he got. Elspeth had a gut feeling there too, but there wasn't much she could have done about it. Oh except realise that the trap the Misfits were going to lead the soldierguards into was also going to be a trap for them! Remember the lesson from Ashling, that they are nice and compassionate and humane people - bordering on naive at times, because their imaginations fail to encompass the malicious hatred of someone like Malik.
The second half is planning and action for the rebellion, and things move swiftly. I loved that the rebellion wasn't The End that solved everyone's problems: the people are so downtrodden and afraid that, as the Sutrium Rebel leader explains, you have to bring change gradually, and let the people be in charge of it as much as possible, or they won't see the difference between the Rebels and the Council that ruled before. They are putting a democratic system into place - not only does the Obernewtyn Chronicles tackle the rights of animals, or modern warfare, or human greed, or the environment - it also takes on politics, and the motivations behind power machinations. All highly relevant to our time and what our countries get up to. I love fantasy like this, the kind that subtly connects dots and, even, not so subtly waves little red flags over certain issues. I rather think that that's what fantasy is for, in a way - you've heard me go on about that before on other reviews.
This is a complex world, one that is intricately fleshed-out, and not at all predictable. The best thing is, I have reached the end of the books that I had previously read. Next up, in October, I am reading The Stone Key, and in November The Sending (the final book in the series, The Red Queen, isn't due out until late 2013). I have no idea what happens next but I can't wait to find out! It's so exciting! ...more
Re-reading the third book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, I was quickly reminded of why it was my favourite for such a lonThis review contains spoilers.
Re-reading the third book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, I was quickly reminded of why it was my favourite for such a long time: things REALLY start happening, on so many levels.
A year has gone by since the events of The Farseekers, making Elspeth about eighteen years old (I'm determined to keep track of her age this time, as it's never mentioned since she was first introduced to us at the age of fourteen). There are again rumours of a soldierguard camp planned for the Highlands, putting the secret community of talented Misfits living at Obernewtyn at risk of discovery. If caught by the oppressive Council or the fanatical Herders, they would be Burned. Keeping a low profile is paramount, so when Elspeth rescues a gypsy woman from being burned at the stake for practicing Herbal Lore, she risks not only her own life but that of everyone at Obernewtyn.
That deed sets Elspeth on a new, dangerous path, one with personal implications. The Guildmistress of the Futuretellers, Maryon, has foreseen that within seven days, Elspeth herself must return the gypsy to her people in Sutrium, the capital and the home of the Councilcourt - a dangerous mission. But Maryon has also foreseen that Elspeth must discover the meaning of "swallow" or she will die.
With only her friend and fellow Farseeker Matthew for company, as well as the horses Gahltha and Jaygar and Elspeth's long-time companion, the half-mad cat Maruman, Elspeth journeys quickly to Sutrium on the far south coast, in their usual disguise as gypsies. But as they search for their dying gypsy's people, Elspeth learns that there are half-breed gypsies, despised and hated, and the Twentyfamilies gypsies, the original race who came from over the seas and made a pact with the Council that gives them wealth and prestige, but prohibits them from settling.
Also in Sutrium is the Misfits' rebel friend, Brydda, or "the Black Dog". He has been working on getting the different rebel groups across the Land to unite, and an uprising against the Council seems imminent. Rushton, the master of Obernewtyn, has been hoping for an alliance with the rebels, for when the Council falls the Misfits will just be trading one enemy for another if they can't be allies first. Elspeth finds herself entangled in Brydda's aim to find the elusive man behind the lucrative slave trade, Salamander, and meets with the rebel leaders in an effort to show that she's no halfwit Misfit. Things do not go as planned, and as a select group of Misfits travel with Elspeth to the newly-opened desert land of Sador, there to compete in the Battlegames to prove their worth as rebel allies, everything is at stake, including Elspeth's understanding of her role in the fate of Obernewtyn.
Cover Commentary: I have the first edition - the inscription inside reads "To Shannon, Happy 16th Birthday, Love from Mum and Dad. 30.11.95" - and it has to have the worst cover of all the editions of all the books (and they went through four cover changes). Here's a story for you: only a few months before this book came out in 1995, Isobelle Carmody came to my rural high school to do a workshop with us grade 10 students (can't count how lucky I was to be at high school at this time! One year later and I would have missed out!!), but first she gave a kind of presentation on her writing and the publishing industry, which was fascinating. She held up a copy of the cover design that she'd recently received from her publisher and remarked that she really didn't like it (I can't remember the details of why). I couldn't see it very well at the time, being about two rows back (yes, hiding from my favourite author, that's how shy I was! Still don't know that I'd be able to say anything intelligent, articulate or interesting to her today, either), but once I got my copy for my birthday, I could see why. Two things stand out the most for me: Elspeth and Matthew. Elspeth is wearing pretty cool clothes, but her face is kinda squashed and ugly, and her hair!! She practically has a mullet. I don't know what Connell Lee, the artist, was thinking. Even worse though is Matthew, behind her. He's only a couple of years older than Elspeth, which would make him about 20, but he looks at least 35 in this image. Details like that always bug me. In contrast, the horses are so beautifully rendered! And I'm not entirely sure what the artist was aiming for, with the planets in the sky like that.
This book moves both fast and slow: the pacing deftly balances a busy bundle of plot-lines while also taking the time to focus, think and reflect. This is Elspeth's story, and as the narrator, we get her perspective on it all. Elspeth has grown again: she's colder, more distant, and quick to anger in this book, but she's also learning - learning to temper her words, her tone of voice, to notice how others are feeling and to think about what they might be going through. It's not that Elspeth has been a very selfish person, no more so than any of us. It's that she's always held herself aloof, due to her orphan upbringing (it's dangerous to make friends in an orphanage) but also, especially now, due to the added pressure of the mission the Eldar of the Guanette birds, Atthis, has given her: to find and destroy the weaponmachines that caused the Great White Holocaust, before another on the same path discovers them and releases a new Holocaust, one that will end everything.
I've always loved the philosophical elements of Carmody's storytelling; she skilfully weaves thought-provoking ideas and social commentary into her stories, something that tends to be sadly lacking from a lot of YA these days. This series touches on a great many relevant themes: environmental destruction, proliferation of "weapons of mass destruction", human greed, religious dogma, fear of the Other, censorship, the notion of human superiority, not learning from our mistakes, the welfare of animals, freedom, love, friendship, loyalty, home. Having a home. And that's one of the things that Elspeth learns at the end of this book: that she has a home, and that she doesn't have to cut herself off from everyone because of her secret mission, a mission she probably won't return from, alive.
Which bodes well for a relationship between her and Rushton. The romance in this book is light and delicate, as fragile as what is growing between the two of them. Elspeth takes a long time to own up to her feelings, and to not be afraid of them, and it's handled in such a realistic, believable way, that you can practically hear the gears ticking over in her brain as it catches up to her heart. The anticipation - and the uncertainty that anything would actually happen between these two (or anytime soon) - made their moment of coming together extra special. And tt's not the only kind of love that Elspeth has to grow to understand. Her thoughts on the cat, her protector on the dream paths, Maruman, reflects that:
Was [Maruman] wandering, mindless, in Sutrium? Again, I wondered if I should have restrained him for his own good? Since I loved him, hadn't I the right to stop him from harming himself?
With something of a shock it occurred to me that this was the sort of thinking that had caused Gahltha to try to stop me helping the little mare, Faraf. And which had once caused Rushton to forbid me to go on dangerous expeditions.
I would never exchange safety for freedom, I thought, regardless of the danger. I had the right to risk my life as I chose.
"Truly danger is part of freedom/freerunning," Gahltha sent unexpectedly, sounding as if the thought startled him. "It is easy to forget this when it is not us/me."
[...] "It's easy to have one rule for others and another for myself but there's no honour in such double standards," I sent mildly.
"Honour?" Gahltha snorted. "That is a littleword for a great thing. Funaga have freerunning thoughts. But instead of admiring/joying in them, you would cagethem with words. Some things will not be tamed to words."
[... I]t was not enough for me to admire words and ideas as beautiful abstractions. I had to see how they could be applied. And I knew only too well that what worked in words was often very different when you tried to apply it to a real situation. In essence, freedom of choice sounded a fine and noble thing. But in reality? [pp.245-6]
This is such a subtle theme, slipped in there, but an important one: the balancing act of love and repression, or love and freedom. And I love the "alien" (non-human) perspective the animals give, their different way of thinking, it works so beautifully and feels so believable. Elspeth finds that the animals have decided she is Innle, the one who will free the beasts, and the horse Gahltha is her special daytime protector.
The other concept that really sticks out in this story, as it's meant to, is Elspeth's understanding of what the outcome of the Battlegames in Sador means for the Misfits of Obernewtyn. Because of their compassion and loyalty, they lose the games. But as the templeguardian points out:
"As for the Misfits, if they are truly represented by these before me, they are no warriors. They care too much for life and for one another. They are not stirred by the glories of war, and the shedding of lifeblood brings them sorrow, whether it be of beast or human, friend or foe. All their instincts are for defence and so their great powers are all but useless. They are not cowardly or weak, but their minds appear incapable of allowing their great powers to serve them as weapons.
"Witness that they used the incredible ability which they call empathy to its greatest effect in a song, rather than to turn their enemies' hearts to terror.
"They will never have the rebels' singlemindedness of purpose, nor therefore their driving force, because they cannot see things in terms of simple goals."
He turned in the dead silence wrought by his powerful oratory, and faced the rebels. "We here in Sador value the earth above all life - humans and beasts alike are short lived and unimportant. This you know. We have thought that Landfolk valued their own lives too much, regarding themselves as the chosen of their Lud. But these Misfits seem to value all life and this is strange for us to contemplate. But think you this. You rebels opposed alliance with the Misfits because you thought them monsters and inhuman. Ask yourselves now which team has this day shown the keenest humanity and which has shown itself to be more monstrous." [pp.496-7]
I love that speech. I had wanted the Misfits to win, oh so badly - to prove their worth, but also to show that they could fight alongside the unTalented, and be respected by them. It's exciting but hard to read the Battlegame scenes because they seem so unfair, and because they lose. But Elspeth comes to a stronger realisation: so they're not warriors, but the Battlegames taught them what they couldn't do, "so that we could begin to think of what we can do." [p.514] Which means, indeed, starting again from the beginning, with a new plan. It also means they now have the rebels as enemies, or most of them - and unlike the Council, the rebels know some of what they can do, and the ones that hate them, fear them.
The fun thing is, is that I cannot remember ANYTHING that happens in the next book, The Keeping Place. I'm not sure how many times I've read it in the past, but unlike with the first three books, the entire plot has slipped my mind. This makes me super excited to read it again, from that perspective, but also because I have NO IDEA what path the Obernewtyn Misfits will take, what choices they now have, what decisions they'll take. I am keen to learn about the fate of Matthew - I feel sure he will survive his misadventure, and be wiser for it. There are lots of clues about Dragon's origins and why she fears water, though Elspeth hasn't yet realised that she's discovered this (she doesn't tend to trust her dreams). And Rushton and Elspeth's fragile romance... sigh. They have a long road ahead of them.
The Obernewtyn Chronicles is some of the best Fantasy-Dystopian-Post-Apoclayptic Young Adult fiction out there, and while some little slips that should have been caught in the copy-editing stage would normally bug me, with this beloved series I just don't care. Start reading it and learn why those of us who began reading the series as children are still faithfully, and with great pent-up excitement and enthusiasm, awaiting the final book. Yes, it's been that long. Eat your hearts out, A Song of Ice and Fire fans!
Note: You can get Ashling and The Keeping Place (books 3 and 4) in a single volume called The Rebellion in the U.S. It's over a thousand pages long. You can get them in separate volumes as well, though....more
Harry's summer with his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon ends badly, with him accidentally-on-purpose magically inflating his uncle's obnoxious sister, MHarry's summer with his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon ends badly, with him accidentally-on-purpose magically inflating his uncle's obnoxious sister, Marge. Fleeing the Dursley's house on Privet Drive with all his belongings, Harry doesn't get far before despair takes over: not only does he have nowhere to go, but he's just used magic outside of school and while the last time he just got a warning from the Ministry of Magic, this time he's looking at expulsion from Hogwarts. And Hogwarts is the best thing in Harry's life.
But the Minister of Magic himself, Cornelius Fudge, has no intention of punishing Harry; quite the opposite in fact. And when Harry overhears Mr and Mrs Weasley arguing about the reason why, it comes clear: a wizard believed to be high up in Lord Voldemort's entourage has managed to escape Azkaban, the wizard prison, and everyone is certain he is after Harry - since it's indirectly Harry's fault that he ended up in prison and Voldemort was defeated. The escaped wizard is Sirius Black, and he does indeed seem to be after Harry when he's spotted inside Hogwarts, the one place everyone thought Harry would be safe in.
I've always considered this to be the book where the series took a turn into a darker realm, a more mature, adult realm. There was always the feel of something rather fun about the first two books, even though they too dealt with a dark plot - somehow, there was still a feel of childlike innocence to Harry and his friends that, by the end of book 3, is no longer there. Perhaps it's the werewolf, and the deeper insight into Harry's parents' deaths, but I'd say it's the Dementors, scary things that can suck the soul right out of you, that give this novel an element of horror and time-running-out for Harry.
Which is interesting, this feeling of time in The Prisoner of Azkaban: time plays a very important role, and the plotting of the book is very clever. I was impressed the first time I read this, and just as impressed now. I will say, though, that I really liked the movie adaptation of this one, and a lot of the scenes and visuals from the film filled my head as I was reading this, which made it feel a little lacking in lustre in comparison to the first two, the films of which I didn't care for and haven't seen as often as this one.
But I do love the third book, a great deal. It introduces two of my favourite characters: Professor Lupin and Sirius Black. I adore Lupin, he could very well be my favourite of the entire series - and the fact that he was played by David Thewlis only makes me love him even more. Same for Gary Oldman playing Sirius. Perfect casting (for all the films, in fact). Really, as a side topic, the movies are a who's-who of British acting, with all the big names nabbing a character. It's quite fun really, seeing who turns up. Anyway, the scene where Lupin is sleeping the carriage on the way to Hogwarts, eavesdrops on Harry's conversation with his friends, drives off the dementor and then offers chocolate - especially the latter - is, strange to say, one of my favourite bits of the book. I know, weird huh? But I find Lupin's presence so utterly comforting and reassuring and warm, never mind how he looks or what he really is, that he puts me in mind of Tom Baker's Dr Who. And later scenes where he rescues Harry from Snape's wrath, and comes to the Shrieking Shack... He's like a guardian, a good one, and I'm so glad he pops up in the other books too.
I find Azkaban to be exciting, and the over-arching plot gets deeper and more details are revealed, both from the past and the present. There's such a great sense of plot control and direction, and I love how Harry, Ron and Hermione continue to mature....more
After another summer spent stuck at his aunt and uncle's house in Little Whinging, Surrey, Harry is chafing and tense waiting for Lord Voldemort to maAfter another summer spent stuck at his aunt and uncle's house in Little Whinging, Surrey, Harry is chafing and tense waiting for Lord Voldemort to make his move. But there's nothing in either the wizard news or the Muggle news. Then late one day he and his cousin, Dudley, are attacked by Dementors and Harry is forced to break the under-age use of magic law to defend them.
Now facing a hearing at the Ministry of Magic and possible expulsion from Hogwarts, he is brought to number 12 Grimmauld Place in London, ancestral home of his godfather, Sirius Black, and new headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. The Weasley family is living there, as is Hermione, but Harry only feels more resentful and angry at being left out and kept ignorant. Isn't he the one who saw Voldemort return to full strength and kill Cedric Diggory? Isn't he the one who battled him and escaped to return and warn everyone that Voldemort had returned?
But now that he's back in the wizarding world, he learns that the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, is denying it all and making Harry look attention-grabbing and even insane: "Potty Potter." Dumbledore, too, is being vilified for insisting the Dark Lord is back and they must be prepared and united to fight him. In their attempt to control Dumbledore and Harry, the Ministry instates one of their own, Dolores Umbridge, in the cursed position of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. While Voldemort takes over Harry's dreams at night, Umbridge is determined to ruin his life by day.
This is probably my favourite of the series. I love how involved and detailed it is, how it gets immersed in life at the school, and how complex the world has really become. It feels so real to me: Harry, his life, his world. It's also, I find, the most emotionally rich (with the possible exception of the final book, but I've only read that one once so far so I'm not sure). Not only is Harry continuing to mature and grow and is very true to his age - Rowling writes with exceptional skill and nowhere is this more apparent than in bringing Harry to life in each book, a whole year older.
This book is all love to me. Yes it's the longest and perhaps the slowest in the series, but it's actually extremely eventful and busy. There's A LOT going on here, and it's a more, shall we say, "adult" plot. One of my favourite lines is when Sirius says to Harry, the world isn't divided into good people and Death Eaters. It's an important distinction for Harry to really learn and understand, especially as in every book he suspects Snape and he's always wrong. Here, he was thinking Umbridge was in league with Voldemort, because she's so awful and cruel, and that's when Sirius tries to explain that the world isn't that straight-forward. It marks Harry's real turning point, leaving childhood and a lingering belief and trust in adults (anyone other than Dark Lord supporters and his relatives) behind. It's not that this wasn't clear to us in the previous books, but until the ministry itself turned on Harry and Dumbledore, he had a naïve trust that the truth always wins. Now, he learns that people can have complex motivations and their own agendas.
Umbridge in particular teaches him this harsh lesson. She's a wonderful character, absolutely horrible with no redeeming feature but with a scary certainty that she's in the right. People as inflexible as Umbridge are always dangerous characters in fantasy, and Umbridge takes the cake. Rowling paints a vivid portrait of her, appearance-wise, and it really sticks in your head. Inherently racist, Umbridge has a fear of half-breeds and an arrogant belief in the superiority of wizards and witches over all humans and non-humans alike; add to this her position of power and she becomes quite the enemy. She may be an obvious character (Rowling clearly had some fun in making her so absolutely horrid), but she's sadly representative.
Alongside Umbridge, who's a favourite of mine (you just love to hate her!), other things in this fifth book that I love include the thestrals, the skeletal winged horses that only people who've seen death can see; the showdowns between Umbridge and the other teachers; getting an intimate glimpse into Neville's life; Snape's memories from his own days as a student at Hogwarts; the battle at the Department of Mysteries; Fred and George Weasley's send-off mayhem; and the DA meetings. In a way, this instalment gives us some breathing space in the series, especially after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in terms of adventure, yet it's also hugely important in terms of not just the over-arching plot (Harry finally learns the truth about his connection to Voldemort), but in terms of Harry's own personal development.
It's also really sad - actually, books 4 to 7 all end sadly, with a death and some hard-hitting stuff. I always felt that the death here was the worst, because it's so personal and so unfair - is Harry never to have family to love?
The violence in this book really struck me - it's not that there wasn't danger and a lot of hexes thrown around in the previous books, but somehow here the stakes are so much higher, the spells that much more vicious. It's not just hexes and jinxes to bring on sudden deformities, like those the students inflict each other with, but grown and experienced Death Eaters directing killing curses at Harry and his friends. Those scenes are filled with tension, suspense, danger, and since Cedric died in the previous book, it feels like no one is safe anymore. And I felt absolutely awful for the "baby-headed Death Eater", especially as I had my own 3-month-old asleep on my lap at the time and since becoming a mother, the cries of the floundering, panicking, scared baby-headed Death Eater was really quite upsetting.
This was also a real "kick me" story, like when Harry unwraps Sirius' present at the very end of the school year to find a kind of two-way magic mirror with which he could contact Sirius - if only he'd unwrapped it earlier and he would never have been lied to by Kreacher!! I also felt anger at Dumbledore for not being honest with Harry: why should he expect a boy to take occlumency lessons from someone he hates - Snape - without telling him why it's so bloody important? At least Dumbledore apologised and told Harry everything at the end; he became human in that moment, and remains a kind of surrogate father-figure.
On a side note, it suddenly occurred to me while reading this big fat book that in all the Harry Potter books, I've never come across a typo. No typos, no missing articles, not even a "ay" instead of "lying" or a "lead" instead of "led". And trust me, if they're there, I always find them. So well-done to the proof-reader, I wish more books were this clean.
When I finished reading this book for the third time, I watched the movie which I hadn't seen since it came out in the cinema. I remembered Imelda Staunton (wonderful actress) playing Dolores Umbridge to perfection, and the DA meetings were captured so well - I loved how the Room of Requirement vanished for those who weren't members of the DA, which it didn't do in the book. I remember thinking, the first couple of times I read the book, that I really really wanted to see Snape's memories in the film, but I had misremembered and thought it wasn't included, so seeing it there - even if it was quick - was a nice surprise. But I wasn't satisfied with Michael Gambon's representation of Dumbledore - he seemed so angry and even bitchy, and not as in-control as he is in the book, nor with the kind of sense of humour Dumbledore's always displayed.
I never expect - or want - book adaptations to be exact replicas of the book; they need to bring something new, and they need to adapt to a different medium. But with a book of this size and scope full of so much detail, it is sad to see what they decided to leave out, or condense, in order to make it work as a film that's not too long. I'm definitely a bigger fan of the books than the movies....more
This is one I've only read once, when it first came out, and I've only seen the movie once too, so there was lots of "neThis review contains spoilers.
This is one I've only read once, when it first came out, and I've only seen the movie once too, so there was lots of "new" details for me on this re-read. This isn't the copy I originally bought back in 2000 (it was first released in paperback; book 5 was the first hardcover edition on release); I had to put that one in the recycling bin and buy a new copy (and I was shocked at how expensive it was: at $32, it's much more than the other children's/YA hardcovers) because it had water damage and black mould on the bottom from the time when my brother stored some boxes of my books under his house - on dirt, on a steep hillside - while I was in Japan. Idiotic thing to do. I also lost my original copy of Philosopher's Stone too, which is why I have the Raincoast (Canadian) edition of it now.
The Goblet of Fire starts, as usual, at the end of the summer holidays before Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts. Because Harry now has a godfather - escaped mass murderer Sirius Black - the Dursleys are being, not nice, but careful not to overtly abuse Harry less this mad protector hears about it. So when Harry is invited to the final match in the Quidditch World Cup by his best friend, Ron Weasley, Uncle Vernon reluctantly agrees.
The World Cup final is between Ireland and Bulgaria, and the Weasleys have seats in the top box. After the game, several Death Eaters - supporters of Lord Voldemort - make an appearance, as does the Dark Mark in the sky. It's just the beginning of the signs that Voldemort is on his way back, and when Harry's name comes out of the Goblet of Fire, making him a fourth school Champion in the Triwizard Tournament, it's clear that something foul is afoot.
I tend to think of this book as the end of Harry's childhood, because things get extra serious, Cedric Diggory is murdered, and Lord Voldemort returns. The next three books are noticeably darker in tone and deed, and unlike in Chamber of Secrets, people - Harry's friends - start dying. I always felt more tense, here on out (in a good way).
The ending of this book always makes me cry. Cedric's death is one of those horrible, senseless deaths. Rowling makes sure you're going to have a personal stake in Harry's drive to defeat Voldemort, after Cedric's death, for Cedric was a genuinely good, likeable boy. Dumbledore's memorial speech at the end is incredibly moving - truly, Dumbledore gets some of the best lines, and is a phenomenal character and role model. To be honest, this series is as good for children learning about right and wrong etc., as the fairy tales used to be. (Fairy tales are cautionary tales using analogies to impart warnings etc.) If children learn morals from books, this series has lots to impart.
Goblet of Fire is a busy book, with a great deal happening over the course of a school year. We also learn more about Snape, though we've barely scratched the surface with this complex character. I love Snape as a perfect example of someone who seems bad but fights for "good" - not black and white, in other words. The introduction of two other wizarding schools - Beauxbattons and Durmstrang - as well as learning about Hagrid's giantess mother, also introduced issues of race and prejudice (further from the Muggle and Mudblood prejudices) into the story, as well as some fun new characters.
We not only get this wider scope of the wizarding world in terms of learning about other schools, we also get a more political novel - ministry officials not only make an appearance but have important roles in the plot, their "adult" politics filter into Harry's world and awareness: that awareness that adult decisions have huge impact on a child's world, their life, and that adults don't always make the right decision or know everything; that it's more than okay to question an adult. Because, just because adults are adult, doesn't make them irreproachable, or wise, or unquestionable. And when kids realise that, they've taken the first step into the adult world of disabused notions, unfairness, hypocrisy and ulterior motives.
And Hermione's determination to make the school's house-elves see that they're slave labour and insist on fair wages and freedom, raises questions not only about workers' rights but also misguided assumptions and placing your own views and beliefs on others just because you're sure you're right, regardless of other "people's" culture and belief system. (Yes they are technically slave labour, but it was more interesting reading it as an analogy for colonialism and/or religious preaching/missionary work in "uncivilised" parts.)
The events in this book make it one of the more exciting ones, as well as its climactic ending, but there's still some very nice character development going on. Ron's insecurities, as coming from a large family that overshadows him, comes out again and you have to feel for him, his reaction is understandable (as someone who comes from a family of five kids, all of whom are much louder than me, I know the feeling!).
One of the things I noticed this time 'round, knowing who the enemy at Hogwarts is (who put Harry's name in the Goblet), was how much Harry learnt off Moody, who, yes, was making sure Harry won the Tournament, but in doing so taught him much, gave him the tools or motivated Harry to get them for himself (all the hexes and jinks he learns, for instance), to battle Voldemort and defend himself. It's quite ironic really. I always felt equally betrayed by Moody/Barty Couch, because I liked him so much as Harry's teacher and mentor! The real Moody I feel you never really get to know, in comparison.
It's funny, I've only seen the movie once too but I was surprised, when reading the book, that it's Dobby who gives Harry the gillyweed and solves that problem for him - Moody plants the information with Neville but Harry never asks around for help. In the movie, Neville does help him in this task, and I loved that. I love it when Neville gets appreciated, he's one of my favourite minor characters and more important than you ever realise. The movie did a good job in changing that around, it worked well for the screen. But I had completely forgotten that it's Dobby who helps Harry, in the book!
Overall, the story becomes more complex and more gripping, with this fourth instalment. Things are chugging along at a fine pace, the stakes are higher than ever, Voldemort is a real threat now and the wizarding world continues to be developed and added to so that it's hard (or simply more fun) to remember that it's not real. Now I'm off to watch the movie again! :)...more
Four years after Cat faked Bones' death and joined the special forces unit that tracks down naughty vampires and kills them, Cat is on top of her gameFour years after Cat faked Bones' death and joined the special forces unit that tracks down naughty vampires and kills them, Cat is on top of her game, lethal and with a reputation among the undead community, but she's not happy. She hasn't managed to forget Bones at all, and when she's sent to kill his sire, Ian, she finds she can't do it. Events escalate into a rescue mission and a showdown, and Cat learns the truth about her boss, Don, and her vampire father.
Even better than the first book, though at first I was a bit worried. Cat seemed so angry and vengeful and I was feeling real sorry for the vampires she was offing. Her anger tones down though when Bones turns up, and then it really sizzles! Gotta love Bones, he's a perfectly balanced romantic hero, with just the right mix of authority, tenderness, power etc., has real feelings and knows when to compromise. I would like to know better exactly why he loves Cat so much, and what Cat feels for him beyond physical attraction. Oh I know she loves him too, but why? Well, even though I thought their relationship progressed quite naturally (especially for a paranormal romance) in the first book, some things needed to be revisited a little.
The pacing is excellent, and there's enough time spent on the characters themselves to keep me satisfied. Exciting and thrilling, I read this in about six hours and I'm very keen on the next book....more
There is a kind of history that gets overlooked, that doesn't get taught in schools or universities aside from a fourth-year optional course that no oThere is a kind of history that gets overlooked, that doesn't get taught in schools or universities aside from a fourth-year optional course that no one bothers to take. It's a history that is fundamental to understanding our world, both past and present and where the hell we're going. It's a history that touches everyone, regardless of class, gender, race or age, but that slips out the back door before anyone thinks to call it to account, put it on trial and expose its heinous crimes. I'm talking about economic history, the history of economics, and the power economics plays in everything that happens in the world.
One of my biggest problems with the current trend in economic theory - what is called neo-liberal or neo-conservative economics, Chicago School economics, Reaganonomics, free-trade economics; whatever you want to call it - is that it's missing something pretty damn big: the human element. They talk about this economic theory not only as if it were the only way to do things, or the best way, but as if it is autonomous of people - governments, business people, workers, farmers, the homeless. That because of this absence of a human element, it is Good, and Right, and acts in Our Best Interests.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It would be impossible for economics to behave independent of any human interference, or action, governmental or otherwise. Impossible, and undesirable. Those that benefit most are the same old villains: the greedy top 2% of the population, that holds more than 50% of "global household wealth". Trickle-down economics is complete bullshit, and always was. What the real result is, though, is an economic theory that is wholly unaccountable for what it reaps.
There are many things I love about this book. Klein puts the human element back into Chicago School economics, detailing with exhaustive research the impact of the policies of this economic theory on the many peoples of the world it has been forced onto (forced is the right word; more on that later). Giving the "ordinary" people of the world a voice is incredibly important, and is like shining a light on the free market's blood-stained hands.
It also exposes the real motivations behind the pretty speeches, the mercenary nature of this kind of economics, and the strings attached to the hands of the men (and few women) manipulating events and making the most money from it. Yes, it always comes down to money, for these people. What a predictable cliché they are! But dangerous too.
What began as a book on the invasion of Iraq and what Klein at first thought was a recent "fundamental change in the way the drive to 'liberate' markets was advancing around the world" (p.10) became, as she dug deeper, something much bigger. She realised that Chicago School economics, and its figurehead Milton Friedman, has been experimenting with many countries over the last three decades, and that the theory is even older.
The theory is one of "radical free-market 'reforms'", of using natural and man-made crises - shocks - to stun a population into a stupor while a government forces these "reforms" onto the country. This is one of the ironies of Chicago School economics, which Klein highlights: Friedman touted it as going hand-in-hand with democracy and freedom, when the exact opposite is true. The kind of economic reforms he advised leaders to put in place were the kind that instantly robbed people of jobs, freedom of speech and movement, even their lives. Their early experiments in South America - Chile, under Pinochet, and also Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil - involved by necessity a dictatorship, or corrupting or manipulating a democratically-elected, often socialist government, and using further "shocks" - torture, imprisonment, disappearances etc. - to stop the people from revolting.
Meanwhile, big international corporations would sweep in and buy up all the newly privatised industries, then dismantle them, fire everyone, and run off with the profits. Opening up a country for privatisation, in these cases, never benefits the country itself. This seems so glaringly obvious it's amazing that so many dictators and other leaders bought into it. Sometimes they had no choice. Often held to ransom by the IMF and World Bank, or even by "aid" money in the aftermath of these crises, these shocks, they bowed down to pressure and did what they were told.
The Shock Doctrine traces the path of the use of Shock Therapy from humans to countries and their economies, from Chile to South Africa, from Russia to Sri Lanka, from America to Iraq. The need to create "clean slates" on which to build "model countries" and "model economies" was never more determinedly tried than in Iraq. Klein successfully shows how Washington's drive to wipe the country of its history, to break it down and then slap this new economy onto it, had in turn helped create the violence, the fundamentalism that wasn't there before - or not widely supported by its population.
After the invasion, when Saddam was dethroned, the Iraqi people were indeed filled with new hope. They almost immediately began putting together their own local elections, democratically - for the first time in a long time - electing their own representatives. The man in charge of the country at the time, Paul Bremer, who was hurriedly writing new laws to open the country up to private investment from America, quickly put an end to these demonstrations of people's democracy. Hypocrites all.
The book does end with some hopeful signs of recovery. South America, a place that has always had a highly politicised population, has come out of its collective shock and is slowly rebuilding, putting their countries back together again, picking up what was so bloodily interrupted all those years ago but this time with shock absorbers in place so that it cannot happen again. I have always highly admired the various people of South America, who - if they had not suffered what they did - would now be one of the most prosperous places in the world. By turning their backs on globalisation and free-market ideology, on disaster capitalism and all the muck that comes with it, they are once again on the path to something quite beautiful: a more ideal third way, a more harmonious structure that is as far from totalitarian communism (think China and the USSR, North Korea and Romania) as it is from disaster capitalism. They are the ones to watch.
The Shock Doctine is not an easy book to read - the prose is inherently readable and approachable, but the subject matter is intense, often depressing, incredibly sad and disheartening at times, and fills you with rage. It has answered many of the questions that have puzzled me for so long, that no one else has bothered to properly explain - like why did Israel suddenly attack Lebanon, and why are they being such bastards with the Palestinians? What the hell happened to South Africa when Apartheid was supposed to end? Why is Iraq such a mess? and many more.
Because the economic theory "began" in America, and was so readily absorbed in that country, a lot of the book focuses on that country and certain people from it - but it is also a victim of its own policies, and I learnt a great deal about the hollow government Bush Jr. and Rumsfeld created, which contracted out (at the cost of billions and billions of taxpayer dollars) so much of its responsibilities that when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it could do nothing. It had no money, no resources, no manpower, no skills. Tragic.
Klein doesn't go into why America, the institution, is so ripe a place for this kind of economic theory, but I believe the book goes well with Ronald Wright's What is America? I would have liked to hear more of what impact other countries, like the UK, had in Iraq, but they got barely a mention. According to the point of the chapter, though, they weren't important.
I've seen elements of this economic theory play out in my own home country, without the use of shock treatment: John Howard implemented all sorts of disastrous and unpopular policies, from cutting funding to Austudy (now Youth Allowance), universities and public schools (my old primary school couldn't even afford a librarian and had to lock up its library for most of the week); he privatised Telecom (many Australians bought shares - it's ironic, because before privatisation they already owned it) and put through a new Minimum Wage law for 15 - 18 year olds, so that MacDonalds could fire its adult workers and hire cheap teenagers for the same job; as well as a law that enabled companies to fire employees and rehire them on contracts, meaning they had no job security (no unions either), no benefits or holiday or sick pay, and were essentially paid less. So sometimes it does happen without shock therapy - and Klein points this out too, though the cases are more rare and the policies are tamed down by the people - but Howard also had a dangerous majority and happily labelled anyone who disagreed with him (including the thousands of protesters) as hooligans and "un-Australian" - his biggest insult.
The Shock Doctrine is important, profound, educational and eye-opening. I would say that you might need to be in the right frame of mind for it - if you whole-heartedly disagree with the importance of government regulations and services, with nationalised education, health care and industry, if you think that free-market economics is inherently "good" for the middle class and poor people, that America is doing a "good" thing in Iraq, if Friedman is your idol and you have stocks in Halliburton or Lockheed Martin or CH2M Hill, you are not going to like this book. Regardless of where you stand, it is confronting.
But if you've ever felt the slightest unease over certain reforms and policies, if the word "progress" and "growth" don't necessarily equate "good" and "inherently right" in your gut, and if you care about the people no matter their country or skin colour, who have slipped further and further into poverty - this is the book for you. You might never look at the world the same way again, and that's a good thing. You might never blindly believe what you hear, and that too is a great thing. You might pause a moment to think "what's really going on here that CNN is smugly glossing over?" and that is a fantastic thing. ...more
Very few books have ever made me cry. Off the top of my head, only two really stand out: Charlotte's Web and Thunderwith. I am now adding The Time TraVery few books have ever made me cry. Off the top of my head, only two really stand out: Charlotte's Web and Thunderwith. I am now adding The Time Traveler's Wife to the list, and to the list of books I can't get out of my head for days after.
This is a highly ambitious debut novel. That doesn't mean it doesn't work. I had my doubts, I truly did. And I can never read a book without also noticing typos, editing errors etc., but although they're distracting they can't ruin a good book.
The time traveler is Henry DeTamble, only child of two musicians, whose mum died in a car crash when he was 5 (he was saved only because, due to stress, he time travelled outside the car - which reminded me a lot of the tv show Charmed (one of my secret, now not-so-secret, indulgences), in which Paige "orbed" out of the car crash which kills both her parents - could Niffenegger be a fan also?!?). His time traveling is genetic, like an imperfection or flaw in his genetic code. He can't control it, and it causes more than a few problems in his life. When he travels, he does so suddenly, and turns up in the past or the future, completely naked, with no idea of where or when he is. But he's not completely vulnerable - he taught himself (in one of those mind-bending scenes that only make you ask, Yes, but how did he teach himself?) how to pick locks, pick pockets, steal, fight, run, anything necessary to survive until, equally suddenly, he pops back into the present, be it a few minutes or several days since he disappeared.
This creates not just problems in his social and love life, but also in his job - he's a librarian and his colleagues think he has some kind of kinky thing for running around naked in the stacks.
When he's 28, he meets Clare Abshire for the first time. Only, she's known him since she was six. How? He starts time travelling to her past after he's met her in "real time". It's a disorientating experience for him, to be confronted with this beautiful, red-haired, 20 year old art student who knows a great deal about him - if not his life, certainly his personality - and, though he doesn't know it yet, even lost her virginity to. It's a bit disorientating for us, too, but it's like riding a bike: after a while, you get the hang of it.
This is a love story, and a tragic one at that. Because I like to be optimistic, I began reading this in the expectation of a happy ending. I didn't get it, but that's not really what made me cry. I cried because I had invested so much of my own emotions in the characters, I had come to care for them, to feel for them and hope for them, that the ending shattered me. I cried for Henry, I cried for Clare, I cried for their passion so early ended and the loneliness with which Clare must now live with, despite the child they managed, after 6 miscarriages, to have.
>Set in Chicago over several decades, up to 2008, Niffenegger is obviously in love with her city. Despite that, I didn't get a strong feeling of Chicago, nor a great mental image of it. Perhaps because Henry is all over the place, and Clare's parents live in a different state, or perhaps because the author fails to really get across the true elements of the city, which I have never been to.
I've read several books lately that kept going long after they should have ended. The Lovely Bones, for one example. Not so here. It's a long book, at 518 pages that just flew by, but in those pages you really get to know Clare and Henry and the characters, friends and family and doctors all, around them.
The time travel element is what makes this an ambitious book. Keeping track of their lives, of the insights and hints and clues divulged in one sequence, with when it happens in "real time". At first, I had a sharp eye, looking for slip-ups. By the end, I had to admit I couldn't find any. Although some things are never returned to, like Henry divulging his secret to Gomez, a lawyer in love with Clare but married to her best friend, because he will help him out a lot in the future (the Henry doing the divulging is from the future, and so knew Gomez a lot better than the 28-year-old Henry Gomez had met just the night before) - but this is never returned to, there is no more clue as to what kind of legal trouble Henry gets into, no trials, no arrests (Henry is often arrested for things like indecent exposure, but always "disappears" before they can fingerprint him and find out who he is).
Perhaps it did get a bit melodrammatic toward the end. My perception is clouded, now. I don't want to give too much away, so suffice it to say that certain events leading up to the end were so raw and tragic, I lost myself to the book completely, and went with the flow, no longer trying to find slip-ups or inconsistencies or judging the writing style.
Speaking of which (sorry about this "review", it's all over the place), it's written in present tense, which works well since the time frame is, like this review, all over the place. One line, or description rather, that I particularly loved, was when Henry from the future and Alba, his daughter, from the future, meet and spend time together in 1979 at the beach.
"Tell me a story," says Alba, leaning against me like cold cooked pasta. (p.512)
"like cold cooked pasta" - ooh I can feel it! That clammy feeling, a perfect description for after you've been swimming.
In general, though, Niffenegger's style is not "high brow" literary. I found it easy to read, with a good flow, excellent pace and those philosophical, thoughtful insights and asides you get from a layered writer. She made an effort to get the "voices" right for young Clare and young Henry, though Clare's was more convincing than 5-year-old Henry's.
Really, here, I'm just trying to get all my thoughts down. If they appear a mess, and out of order etc., then that means my brain will be less so, and that works for me. Essentially, having been lucky enough to find "the love of my life", the idea of losing him rips my guts apart. And since I actually want to invest in fictional characters, whether they be in books or in movies etc., I felt their pain, as well as their love and happiness and all the feelings in between. There's a strong story here, told by characters who may not be out of the ordinary in any other way, but who feel and, in feeling, live....more
I've been a fan of Heyer's historical romances since I first read my mum's old copy of Beauvallet when I was a teenager. If you've never read one youI've been a fan of Heyer's historical romances since I first read my mum's old copy of Beauvallet when I was a teenager. If you've never read one you don't know what you're missing! My edition is very old, actually it's the First Australian Edition from 1948, it has no dust jacket, and the pages are brown and brittle. I have 39 of her romances (she also wrote about eight detective books with the help of her detective husband, but I've not read any of them); there are about three or four I don't have, though I've read almost all of them.
It is 1586 and Dona Dominica and her father, the late governor of the island of Santiago, are returning to Spain by ship when their vessel is captured by a British pirate - by the infamous Sir Nicholas Beauvallet, no less! Dubbed "Mad Nick", he is a dashing figure, tall and dark with a "neat" head of curly black hair, bright, mocking blue eyes and a pointy beard as was the fashion, friend of Sir Francis Drake and pet of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. He's a bit of a devil and laughs at everything. Finding the beautiful Dominica on board the Spanish galleon is a surprise, but Beauvallet commits himself to taking them safely to a Spanish port despite how incredibly dangerous and reckless it is. He's fallen in love with the spirited Spanish woman, and pledges to come back for her within a year and "make an Englishwoman of her".
Dominica doesn't believe him, but despite everything finds herself wishing it were true. Once Beauvallet decides on a thing, he doesn't waste much time, but getting into Spain isn't an easy matter for any Englishman, let alone an infamous pirate whom the Spanish believe has witchcraft on his side. Circumstances see him and his valet, the finicky, chatty Joshua, enter Spain from France with a Frenchman's papers, and the disguise is a tenuous one. He has to fool the king of Spain, the French Ambassador, and the many Spanish nobles while locating Dominica and planning how to bring her out.
Tense with looming danger, Beauvallet is a rollicking ride of romance, sword fights, mad dashes across country, midnight escapes, scheming aunts, dastardly cousins and one very engaging, lovable hero. Dominica is spirited, fiesty and intelligent, quick-witted and interesting - it is not hard to see why Beauvallet would fall for her so quickly.
One of the most remarkable things about Heyer's work, of which most are set in Regency London, is the historical accuracy with which she writes. You could learn more from reading one of her books than from one written in the time it was set! From the details of the clothing, to the etiquette and social graces, types of equipage, dances, food, liqueur, sentiments, current affairs and manner of speech - Heyer has it all nailed down, and with effortless ease. Her prose is never stiff or self-conscious, but full of wicked humour and confidence. Her skill as a writer is especially manifest in her ability to write dialogue, which I've always wished to emulate, and her great cast of supporting characters. Reading Beauvallet is a bit like watching Blackadder the Second for me, from references to men's plate-sized ruffs to sneaky asides about Raleigh and here and there a "beshrew me!", making it one of the most comforting, familiar books for me to read in a day :)...more
This has been on my shelf, unread, since uni, when I picked it up second-hand after reading and loving The Day of the Triffids, recommended to me by mThis has been on my shelf, unread, since uni, when I picked it up second-hand after reading and loving The Day of the Triffids, recommended to me by my mum. I can't believe I waited so long to read this amazing book, and if there is one book you should read in your life it is this one.
It has been a long time - how long no one can say, though surely centuries - since God sent the Tribulation to the Old People (us), near destroying everything we had built and learned. The Tribulation continues: the wilderness - vast tracts of land covered in what looks like black glass - and the Badlands beyond the Fringes, absorbs most of the world. Pockets of civilisation, such as it is, survive with their own form of understanding the past. Genetic mutations of plants, animals and people continue, and everyone has their own idea of what the "true form" should be and focus their energies on zealously destroying the Deviations.
Davie lives in Labrador - at least, that's what they think the Old People called it - and at birth passed inspection. The Bible and a book written after the Tribulation, the Repentances, clearly outline what the True Form should be, and that Mutants are an abomination to God and Man. Even at a young age when none of this is really understood, though, he instinctively keeps his ability to think-speak with several other children in the area, including his half-cousin Rosalind, a secret. It is only as he grows older, especially after he loses his friend and playmate Sophie, whose parents have done all they can to hide the six toes on each of her feet, that he really begins to understand the dangers of being a Deviant.
This book is beautifully, subtly, skilfully written. For that alone it is worth reading. Characters are rarely described yet vividly portrayed through their words, their speech-patterns, their reactions. The feeling of suspense and danger overshadows a Little House on the Prairie kind of lifestyle, and the small-minded bigotry comes across clearly in the small details as much as in the story itself.
What is even more fascinating, though, is the world Wyndham has created here and the philosophies grounded in it. That everyone has their own ideas of what is right, that Davie's people are studiously trying to recapture the Old People's way of life without understanding the significance of that way of life being visited by climatic and genetic destruction, speaks loud and clear. Davie is taught that:
"...mankind - that was us, in civilised parts - was in the process of climbing back into grace; we were following a faint and difficult trail which led up to the peaks from which we had fallen. From the true trail branched many false trails that sometimes looked easier and more attractive; all these really led to the edges of precipices, beneath which lay the abyss of eternity. There was only one true trail, and by following it we should, with God's help and in His own good time, regain all that had been lost. But so faint was the trail, so set with traps and deceits, that every step must be taken with caution, and it was too dangerous for a man to rely on his own judgement. Only the authorities, ecclesiastical and lay, were in a position to judge whether the next step was a rediscovery, and so, safe to take; or whether it deviated from the true re-ascent, and so was sinful." (p.40)
Davie himself begins to question this wisdom, after hearing from his Uncle, an ex-sailor, that other societies in other parts of the world have a different understanding of the True Form; he also feels scared and troubled by his Aunt's baby, who because of a tiny blemish will be taken away and never spoken of again, while his Aunt will be expected to do penance and pray not to have a mutant baby again, or will even be replaced, de-certified and cast off (it's always the woman's fault, isn't it?).
Another interesting (and damning) perspective comes from one of these other societies, called Zealand, one that has advanced and re-built and where think-speaking is treasured and encouraged - a utopia, in fact, for Davie and his friends:
"...we can make a better world than the Old People. They were only ingenious half-humans, little better than savages; all living shut off from one another, with only clumsy words to link them. Often they were shut off still more by different languages, and different beliefs. Some of them could think individually, but they had to remain individuals. Emotions they could sometimes share, but they could not think collectively. When their conditions were primitive they could get along all right, as the animals can; but the more complex they made their world, the less capable they were of dealing with it. They had no means of consensus. They learnt to co-operate constructively in small units; but only destructively in large units. They aspired greedily, and then refused to face the responsibilities they had created. They created vast problems, then buried their heads in the sands of idle faith. There was, you see, no real communication, no understanding between them. They could, at their best, be near-sublime animals, but not more." (p.156)
Aside from the disparaging remark about animals, whom I tend to respect more than I do humans as a species, this is such a damning view of us Old People, yet so spot-on. Even written in the 50s, it's clear that we as people and societies and other groups, are not learning. Most post-apocalyptic fiction, that I've read anyway, is entirely plausible (though Day of the Triffids is a bit odd in that respect): it's easy enough to follow the path we are on, all the paths, to their worst conclusion. What the people of Zealand are really saying is that communication leads to understanding leads to co-operation and can avert catastrophe.
Despite the religious overtones and the philosophising, this is not a lecturing book, it does not try to tell you what to think or judge you. As the blurb says, it is "A terrifying story of conformity and deformity in a world paralysed by genetic mutation" and, in true fantasy/sci-fi form, every reader will take something different from it, or nothing at all. I personally was thoroughly engrossed in this classic, and find it broadens and strengthens my understanding of the dangers of taking things too literally, in strict interpretations. Freedom of thought and debate is one of our greatest strengths as a species, and without it we wallow, stuck, on the same path, repeating the same mistakes again and again, blinded by our own arrogance and lack of imagination. ...more