Robert's Reviews > Troubletwisters: Book 1

Troubletwisters by Garth Nix
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May 06, 12

bookshelves: fantasy
Read from May 01 to 06, 2012

This type of book has a number of conventions. They aren't universally followed, but still, I think it's fair to say they exist. One of these is that the kids should prevail through their own efforts. Or put another way, adults can't do it for them. Which leads to a problem; how to get rid of the parents! This is one reason why orphans are a cliche of this type of literature. (Another is that orphans are easy to make into Protagonists with a Hidden Destiny (PHDs).) Another widely deployed method is - send the kids to boarding school. If you are feeling exceptionally unoriginal you could have an orphan PHD at a boarding school! Yes, I'm talking about you, Rowling. It used to be easier, of course: look at the unsupervised, unrestricted autonomy the children in Swallows and Amazons or even The Dark Is Rising Sequence had. Most parents are far too paranoid to allow that these days.

Here, one parent is sent off to a remote location to cover for a short-handed ambulance station and won't be back for days and the other has to go away because he will make matters worse for the kids in some way that is never convincingly explained. Which feels a bit contrived. Still, they go to live with Grandma and she gets neutralised by mistrust and bungling on the part of the protagonists, which is much better, assuming you think the kids can be quite foolish at times. And that leads to another convention: the kids should be fallible. In fact this applies much more widely than just to books for kids. Ever seen a caper movie where everything goes according to plan? Usually it's either boring or about a lot more than the caper. No doubt you can think of other examples. These kids are extremely fallible - much less than half of what they try works and some of it makes things worse. But they are in way over their heads with no clue what is going on so some surrogate parents in the form of two talking cats and an oracular alligator skull have to help. And the roomful of magical artifacts don't go amiss either. But still, the heroes prevail in the end by a method different from that that the kitties and the croc (it's not clear whether it's a croc or a gator) suggest, even if they do tell them what needs to be achieved. So the kids do prevail due to their own endeavors, ultimately. But only when they quit acting as individuals and work as a team...which leads to something that is becoming a convention or at least a common technique: siblings of near age. In this case 4mins difference. Yes, they are twins. I think twins and siblings only a year or so apart as protagonists will be increasingly common in the future. This is because girls have to have positive role-models. But the fact is that up to a certain age, kids don't identify very well with members of the opposite sex. (It took me many years to realise that the reason why I didn't like The Tombs of Atuan and Greenwitch as much as the other entries in their respective series when I first read them was because of the focus on girl protagonists.) So if you have a girl or a boy, you stand to lose about half your potential audience. Hence you need a protagonist of each sex with approximately equal standing for each. The girls can be just as plucky, brave and inventive as the boys you know! And if you didn't, maybe you will learn through reading the book! So siblings are an option for getting protagonists of both sexes.

Of course the kids need an antagonist. There are really two types in fantasy literature; the Externalised Evil and the Evil Dude/Dudette. I don't really like the EE as much as the ED. EEs don't need much motivation; they do Bad stuff 'cos they are Bad! Also they often need a Senior Evil Henchperson to actually get things done - and the SEH often doesn't have any obvious reason for being Bad, either. And ultimately, back in reality, it is people who are Bad and EEs are an excuse. Novels can, as far as I'm concerned, be as fantastical as their authors' imaginations allow but the people in them need to be as real as possible. Even if there's an EE, the people who work for it should have a good (psychological, not moral) reason for doing so.

Yeah, so - about this book...
There's an EE, some contrived plot contortions to set up the situation and some surrogate parents (SPs)to help out. But two of the SPs are talking cats and I am a complete sucker for talking cats (actually just a complete sucker for all cats) and the other one won't help unless you let it bite you...so this book is just about servicable but yet again is a disappointment in comparison to Nix' Old Kingdom series.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Miriam (new)

Miriam But the fact is that up to a certain age, kids don't identify very well with members of the opposite sex.

Actually, studies indicate that this is only true for boys, most girls don't mind reading about male protagonists.


Robert I should have guessed...


message 3: by Nikki (new)

Nikki Actually, studies indicate that this is only true for boys, most girls don't mind reading about male protagonists.

And in a report about it I read, they suggested that this is because boys are socialised not to be interested in girls until a certain age. So it's rather circular, unfortunately.


message 4: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Oh, yeah, I'm sure there's nothing essential about it.

I think the basic socialization is the male individuals and activities are "normal" and female ones are "girly" (i.e. inferior, or at least not for boys).


Robert Miriam wrote: "Oh, yeah, I'm sure there's nothing essential about it.

I think the basic socialization is the male individuals and activities are "normal" and female ones are "girly" (i.e. inferior, or at least n..."


This all seems likely to me. I was a bit facetious/cynical about it but having protagonists of both sexes is probably healthy, so long as it isn't really contrived. The kids of both sexes really do need to see girls and boys on an equal footing but also realistic as humans.


Kelly H. (Maybedog) Great review! I was looking forward to this because of Keys to the Kingdom so I'm disappointed, too. But I've found his books to be hit or miss. I loved Sabriel but the rest of the series was just too depressing and not-in-a-good-way dark. Hopefully this series will improve.


Robert Keys to the Kingdom seemed better than this from the outset, to my mind.

I didn't find Lyrael and Abhorsen "dark" or depressing...I'm a bit surprised to hear you say that. Care to elaborate?


message 8: by Kirkus (new)

Kirkus Interesting points


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