I picked up a copy of Marco's Pendulum from a second-hand book store at Christmastime, where it was nestled amongst all sorts of charming titles thatI picked up a copy of Marco's Pendulum from a second-hand book store at Christmastime, where it was nestled amongst all sorts of charming titles that promised of magic, mystery and adventure, and that was exactly what I was after in this short children's read. More importantly, that's what I got.
Marco, a city kid with very metropolitan parents, is left feeling miserable when he's told that he has to spend the summer with the grandparents he's never really known because his parents are too busy with work to look after him. Expecting a dreary summer in the distant, sleepy tourist town of Glastonbury, post-festival, Marco doesn't realise that what he's about to discover is far more interesting as the old legends of Glastonbury gone-by are revealed to him and dark new stirrings start threatening Glastonbury in the present.
Marco's Pendulum is a great read; short, punchy and entertaining. It's not trying to be anything grand; just fun, dark and pacy, and it succeeds at that. It mixes old legends with modern fantasy and it's all tied together by really likeable characters and a sense of genuine threat. The main characters, Marco and Rosa, are fantastic. It's great to see children's and YA characters represented as being commonsensical and having a really smart outlook and sense of humour. It's always nice to find characters in stories who you'd probably want to be friends with in real life if you were their age and I expect that's how most kids feel reading this. The adults are fun, interesting and challenging too, and the way the story pans out is filled with a sense of genuine threat for these characters which makes it a little more dark and compelling than most books in the same market.
The only drawback I had was with the actual nature of the magic - occasionally it seemed like it was the easy answer to the more difficult events in the story and it put a little too much emphasis on blind superstition over logic, which is slightly worrying in a book aimed at kids. But it's a fantasy novel and should be treated as one, so this didn't lessen my enjoyment by much.
If you are looking for a short, enjoyable fantasy read, this will pass the time pleasantly whether you be old or young. And if you're looking for a novel to please a fantasy-loving kid, this should do the trick. It's the first in a longer series, too, so if you like it you can look forward to more adventures to come. ...more
Sunshine is a novel that I want to read again, but I know I probably never will - and that's the sad reason that I knocked a star off what should be fSunshine is a novel that I want to read again, but I know I probably never will - and that's the sad reason that I knocked a star off what should be five-star book. Robin McKinley's novel about Rae "Sunshine" Seddon - a young woman who bakes pastries at her stepfather's coffeehouse for a living in a curiously ordinary world that survived a very not-ordinary magic war in its recent history and who has quite a glorious stream of consciousness going on inside her head (from witty asides to quirky anecdotal digressions) - follows a rather nasty chain of events that bring Rae's world to its edge and forces her to question her identity and future. One night, after a long day at work, Rae feels like being alone so she ventures out to the old lakehouse that her father once owned. This is dangerous in itself, because on that edge of town the magic war was once quite fierce and pockets of darkness are left over. It's been so long, though, that Rae thinks she's safe. Until a vampire sneaks up behind her. And now she's chained to a wall in a crumbling old mansion, with a starving vampire opposite her and no hope of escape.
That's where the story starts and it unfolds apace with a deeply fantasy edge to it that touches on supernatural violence and horror, totalitarianism, prejudice, sexual desire, love, heritage, family and the possibility of destiny. The story is great - Rae is a character who is flawed and who is aware of her flaws and makes for a great protagonist because of that. The relationships are interesting, especially of course that between Rae and Con - but it is subtle enough to retain a mystique and ambiguity that stops it overpowering the narrative. The hints at the magic war and Rae's past are unexpected and interesting and lend a far more overt fantasy edge to the story than most readers will expect from the cover.
The problem, however, stems from one of the book's greatest assets - Rae's stream of consciousness narration. The fact that we are plunged into a fantasy universe with it's own rules and back story is difficult to navigate without prior information, but if McKinley had written a prologue explaining the history of the world the book itself would have suffered and dragged along before even beginning. The alternative, however, is that Rae is forced to explain things every few pages. Every time some event of significance happens, we are clueless until Rae spends two or three paragraphs, if not pages, explaining why it is significant. Sadly, it just kills the tension and suspense in an otherwise great book and makes it very difficult to return to as a re-reader. I suspect that traditional fantasy lovers will fare better reading and re-reading this than those of us used to mainstream genre, but it could still be an issue. Luckily, Sunshine is a likeable enough character that most people shouldn't find this too jarring for a one-off read.
For those of us feeling jaded with the vampire novel - the success of the drab Twilight and the sad decline of the Sookie Stackhouse novels - Sunshine is a great alternative that offers something fresh, as long as you're willing to indulge in something slightly more out there than mainstream genre literature offers. McKinley creates a unique world, with great characters and a really engaging style of narration, that is both sweet and prickly, light and dark. A really enjoyable read....more