Monday, July 31, 2006

The Final Solution - Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon's The Final Solution features an unnamed elderly man, once famous for his detection abilities. The great detective is 89 years old, retired, and happy simply to take care of his bees. The book is set in 1944 and one day the old man encounters a boy with a parrot. The boy is a mute, a Jewish refugee from Germany, and the parrot is bilingual and frequently repeats a string of numbers, in German. When a man is murdered at the vicarage where the boy is lodging and the parrot disappears, the old man is called upon to assist in solving the murder. He, however, is more interested in reuniting the distraught boy with his parrot. Chabon presents an aging version of Sherlock Holmes who is hampered by his age and almost at the end of his life; juxtaposed against this characterisation is the life of a small boy who is still in the early stages of his life, set against a backdrop of the evils of Nazi Germany and its "final solution".

I've never read a Sherlock Holmes novel (though I've read most of the other great British detectives), and I doubt this book will persuade me to read any of them now, but I do feel more sympathy for "the great man" than I ever did before.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Folk Keeper - Franny Billingsley

Franny Billingsley's The Folk Keeper is another book that I've read as a result of reading The Wand in the Word - so my thanks to Sheila at Wands and Worlds for mentioning Marcus' book !

The story is told in the form of entries in Corinna's Folk Record, which later serves as her journal. Corinna Stonewall is a fifteen year old orphan and a Folk Keeper for the village of Rhysbridge. She lives in the cellar at Rhysbridge and looks after the Folk, who are malicious creatures which can sour milk, hurt animals, rot plants and crops, and otherwise wreck havoc on a household if they are not satisfied. The job of Folk Keeper is a dangerous one, and Corinna must protect herself against the Folk with various charms and such objects as salt, bread and iron nails amongst other things.

Corinna has been hiding her gender for the past four years (everyone believes her name is Corin) in order to be a Folk Keeper as women are never Folk Keepers, and she preferred the job to becoming a drudge. She has some strange talents and abilities too: she always knows the time exactly and her hair grows two inches every night.

One day a dying man named Lord Merton sends his wife to Rhysbridge to fetch her and he convinces Corinna to be the Folk Keeper at Marblehaugh Park near Cliffsend. Once there, Corinna befriends Finian, son of Lady Alicia, whose husband employed Corinna. She also finds out more about herself and her past, discovering that she has even more secrets than she knew.

Corinna is a fiercely independent young woman for whom power is important and she is determined not to go back to the life of drudgery she had before she became a Folk Keeper. She is fairly ruthless - she tells Finian:

"This must be your business," I said. "Discover what those around you love best. Then, if they forbid you from doing as you choose, you have a hold on them. You can threaten their dearest treasures."

She also makes a point of taking revenge on people who anger her, from a valet to Lord Merton's cousin, Sir Edward. But I have to say I found the ending slightly disappointing - it seemed like too much of a romantic cop-out, to me. Otherwise, though, this is an intriguing and interesting book, that is very well written.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe - Penelope Lively

I haven't read Penelope Lively's The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (which apparently won the Carnegie Medal in 1973) for about 30 years, but when I spotted it in the library recently, I didn't hesitate to borrow it and I was pleased to see it has hardly dated at all.

10 year old James Harrison and his family have recently moved to a cottage in a small Oxfordshire village. They find themselves dealing with a series of domestic disasters and his parents and older sister assume that James is causing the problems. However, after finding some notes, James discovers that he is being haunted by the ghost of a 17th century sorcerer who believes James is his new apprentice, but no one will believe James. When the ghost starts causing havoc in the village as well, however, things become more serious and James decides, following a change remark from the old lady who lives opposite them, to enlist the help of a local builder in order to attempt an exorcism.

* * * * * *

I've finally got around to watching the Because of Winn-Dixie movie this afternoon - and I quite enjoyed it, although not quite as much as I enjoy reading the book. It was nice to see AnnaSophia Robb playing someone less obnoxious than Violet Beauregarde in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie !

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The second chapter of Mortal Ghost is online and things are starting to get rather interesting !

Friday, July 28, 2006

David Gemmell

I've just heard the news that Fantasy writer David Gemmell has died at the age of 57. Gemmell's career began with Legend, a tale of a fortress under siege, in 1984. He wrote a total of 30 novels, with the second part of a planned trilogy of historical novels, Troy: The Shield of Thunder No 2, due to be published in September.

You'll find more on Gemmell and his books at Transworld.

Poetry Friday 11

The Kidslitblogosphere has been seething this week in response to the Wall Street Journal's article Literary Losers, about summer reading programmes for children (see for example Jen Robinson's Book Page, A Fuse #8 Production and Liz's A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy), so I thought I would post a couple of poems about the joys of reading and books.

Open A Book

Open a book
And you will find
People and places of every kind
Open a book
And you can be
Anything that you want to be:
Open a book
And you can share
Wondrous worlds you find in there
Open a books
And I will too
You read to me
And I'll read to you.

Jane Baskwill


Lead folks
To other lands.
Bind folks
With friendship's bands.
Tell folks
Of bygone days.
Bring folks
Tomorrow's ways!

Eileen Burkard Norris

And I love this poem by Jane Yolen Read to Me.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Fantastical Adventures of the Invisible Boy - Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander's The Fantastical Adventures of the Invisible Boy (known in the US as The Gawgon and the Boy - a much more interesting title, to my mind !) is a funny, touching, moving and serious book all at once. It is a fictionalised account of Alexander at the age of 11.

11 year old David nearly dies of pneumonia, (or "New Monia" as his Aunt Rosie calls it), but he survives and he discovers that all the bed rest is worth it if it means he can escape the dreaded Rittenhouse Academy and continue to move amongst the gallery of eccentric friends and relatives that passes through his family's Philadelphia home. David (also known as "Bax", "Snicklefritz", "Skeezix", "First Sergeant" or "Skinamalink", depending on which adult is addressing him) decides that he is quite happy to while away his days with fresh air and a little "mild exercise", as prescribed by Dr. McKelvie (who, incidentally, calls David "laddie-buck"). Unfortunately, the mild exercise includes more than just lounging around reading books about pirates and writing clever stories about "the Sea-Fox" ("that devilishly devious scourge of the Spanish Main"); and when he and a friend are caught sneaking into the cinema to see one of the new "Talkies", his parents decide he must have a tutor (or a "tooter" as Aunt Rosie says, to keep him from becoming "an ignoramiss"). David believes it may be a far worse fate than he imagined, maybe even worse than Rittenhouse Academy, when he learns that his elderly Aunt Annie has volunteered for the job. "In a tone that made me think of the Almighty commanding Abraham to sacrifice young Isaac, she said: 'Give me the boy.'" (p. 38) However, it turns out that this horrible old Gorgon (Aunt Rosie's word "Gawgon" gives the book half of its American title) is the perfect foil for David. Annie is an ingenious mentor who so impresses David (whom she simply calls "The Boy" after he lets slip about her nickname) that she begins to co-star in his time-hopping, globe-trotting adventure stories. She teaches him to enjoy learning and he repays her by learning far more than he realises... This is a fabulous book and if you haven't read it, I strongly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mortal Ghost: online fantasy novel for YAs

L Lee Lowe, the author of various short stories that appear at Into the Lowelands is also publishing a fantasy novel for Young Adults, Mortal Ghost online in weekly chapters. I encourage you to stop by and read the first chapter as Jesse (the hero) looks like being an interesting character.

Small Steps - Louis Sachar

Louis Sachar's Small Steps is not a sequel to Holes as such since it is not about Stanley Yelnats (although he gets a passing mention). Instead Small Steps focuses on Theodore "Armpit" Johnson who has finally been released from Camp Green Lake, the horrific juvenile detention centre that was the setting for Holes.

Armpit lives in Austin, Texas, with his parents. He is determined to finish school and makes use of his incredible digging skills by working part time for a landscaping firm. He's taking Speech and Economics classes, saving most of his money, and taking small steps towards becoming a useful member of society. His life is going fairly smoothly until X-Ray, another of the Camp Green Lake detainees, comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme. Young pop singer Kaira DeLeon is coming to town on her tour, and her concert is sure to be a sell out. X-Ray's plan is to buy twelve tickets for the concert then resell them to the highest bidders. He needs Armpit's help (and, more importantly, his savings) to buy the tickets. He promises to share the wealth with Armpit and to make Armpit far richer than he is at present.

It will come as no surprise to learn that the plan backfires badly, and Armpit learns some lessons about economics, ethics and the law. The only good thing that comes out of the plan is that Armpit and his young neighbour Ginny (who suffers from cerebral palsy) actually get to meet Kaira DeLeon. Armpit and Kaira have instant chemistry - he is attracted to her beauty and intelligence, whilst she is pleasantly surprised that he likes her for herself. Unfortunately things don't go as swimmingly as romantics might hope, and both of them find themselves in unexpected situations after Keira arranges for Armpit to fly out to San Fransisco for her concert there.

If you are expecting Small Steps to continue more of Stanley Yelnats' story, you will be disappointed, and if you are expecting more of the tall-tale, mythic (even) quality of Holes' storytelling, you will probably be disappointed as Small Steps is a far more prosaic and straightforward narrative. If you approach the book as a story in its own right, however, you will probably enjoy it; I certainly did. Armpit is an interesting character (especially in his relationships to Ginny and Kaira) and he definitely grows as a person during the course of the book.

Cool Boys and Cool Teachers from Literature

Jen Robinson, not wanting to be accused of either sexism or favouritism, is compiling a Cool Boys of Children's Litearture list over on her Blog Jen Robinson's Book Page. I encourage you to go over there and make some nominations. So far the Boys list is a mere 159 characters long (as opposed to the 200 Cool Girls of Kid Lit list) and Jen wants to close the list on Friday.

In a similar vein, the Blog A Year of Reading is compiling a list of 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature and they are asking for readers' nominations for the list. Again, I encourage you to check out the list-so-far and then add your own nominations.

My own list of Wicked Women in Children's Literature didn't even reach 30 - which I found interesting...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Stormbreaker: The movie

My detailed comments on this film are over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone in case anyone hasn't yet seen the movie but intends to do so and doesn't want to know anything about it beforehand !

I enjoyed it rather a lot ! Some excellent stunts and special effects, and I felt Alex Pettyfer did a good job of playing Alex Rider - it's just a shame he won't be working on the next film; since Alex Rider is still 14 and Alex Pettyfer is now 16, they will replace the actor in a rather Bondesque manner !

The Tide Knot - Helen Dunmore

I had to wait more than a month for the library to get me a copy of Helen Dunmore's The Tide Knot, but it was well worth the wait.

Sapphy, Conor and their mother have moved away from their cottage by the cove, in an attempt to get away from the memories of their father, who disappeared two years ago. They now live in the nearby town of St Pirans but Sapphy can't adjust to her new home and new life, and she can't suppress her memories of her father and his mysterious disappearance. She feels restless and unsettled, in spite of having her dog Sadie to keep her company. Sapphy finds herself increasingly drawn to spending time in the underwater world of Ingo with her Mer friend, Faro. She learns to talk with the dolphins and when one is washed up onto the beach at St Pirans she talks to it, explaining to it how she and the other humans are going to rescue it. Later she goes with Connor and Faro to meet Faro's wise teacher, Saldowr, but the current they are travelling in pulls her away to the Deep, where even the Mer cannot go. Sapphy survives, however, and is helped to reach Saldowr by a whale, with whom she also talks. Saldowr shows Sapphire and Connor the Tide Knot, literally a large stone that controls all the tides in Ingo. Although Connor has been trying to suppress his Mer side, he does notice that there are words on the Tide Knot keystone, but he finds he cannot read them.

One night, however, the Tide Knot is unloosed and a major flood rushes into St Pirans; Sapphire finds herself trapped in her house with her mother, Sadie and a friend (Rainbow). Connor and Faro turn up to tell Sapphire that Saldowr needs both Connor and herself to help him in Ingo. So she leaves her sleeping mother, dog and friend in the loft of the cottage and goes with Faro and Connor to give him their help.

Like Ingo, The Tide Knot is a fast paced read and the reader can easily find themselves swept along on the tide of narrative. However, the ride is worth it !

Firefly Quote of the Week

Kaylee: Hey, sweetie. Don't feel bad. He makes everybody cry. He's like a monster.

("Our Mrs Reynolds", season 1)

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature

The Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature is now available over at Kelly Herold's Big A, little a Blog. Please check out the wonderful job that Kelly's done of organising the reviews (most of them on the theme of witches) - and this in spite of being on a different landmass and about to fly back to the US after five weeks away !

Midnighters series - Scott Westerfeld

In the UK Scott Westerfeld's Midnighters series consists of Midnighters: The Secret Hour (Atom, April 2006) and Midnighters: Touching Darkness (Atom, out August 2006).

Midnighters: The Secret Hour

In the town of Bixby, Oklahoma (13 letters), strange things happen at midnight as time freezes and most people, animals and objects (including cars, rain and leaves) are static. But during that one hour each night the town belongs to the dark creatures, the slithers and darklings that hide in the shadows. A small group of people know about the secret hour and they are free to move about during the midnight time. These people are called Midnighters and each one of them has a different power at midnight. There's the Seer (Rex), the Mindcaster (Melissa), the Acrobat (Jonathan) and the Polymath (Dess). For years the Midnighters have shared the secret hour uneasily with the dark creatures, mostly by avoiding one another. But that all changes with the arrival of a a new girl in town - Jessica Day has the unmistakable aura of a Midnighter, as Rex notices when she first appears at Bixby High School. Jessica, however, seems perfectly normal in every respect: for a start, she doesn't wear black clothing and dark glasses, as do the other Midnighters. Soon, however, it becomes clear that the dark creatures can sense Jessica's hidden power and they're determined to stop her before she can use it to stop them !

The one power that all the Midnighters have in common, is the ability to hurt or destroy the dark creatures by naming metal objects (hubcaps and scaffolding poles, as well as knives) with tridecalogisms (13 letter words) such as abnormalities, splendiferous and indescribable. More potent still is the use of three tridecalogisms, giving 39 letters, such as magnificently instantaneous gratification - a metal object (preferably made from a modern metal) named in such a way has devastating consequences to the dark creatures.

Midnighters: Touching Darkness

The Midnighters are used to keeping their knowledge of the secret hour to themselves, but they have begun to seriously wonder what has happened to the earlier generations of Midnighters, who all appear to have disappeared about 50 years ago. Why are these five teenagers the only Midnighters in town ? As the Midnighters start to uncover mysteries about Bixby's history, they also find a conspiracy that touches both the world of daylight and the secret hour. At the same time, their own secrets start to emerge, including some that were never meant to come to light. These secrets change the fragile dynamics amongst the five Midnighters, and then they find themselves in grave danger of forever losing one of their number.

The Midnighters trilogy closes with Midnighters: Blue Noon (Atom, November 2006), which I will probably receive from Atom around October; I shall be interested to see how the series concludes.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Piratica - Tanith Lee

It's been a piratical week: I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on Friday, but earlier in the week I read a book "presented most handsomely by the notorious author Tanith Lee"; Piratica is "a daring tale of a singular girl's adventure upon the high seas" - at least according to the book cover !

The story takes place in a parallel world in the year Seventeen-Twelvety (roughly 1802) and is more of an historical than a fantasy adventure. It begins with 16 year old Artemesia Fitz-Willoughby Weatherhouse (Art to just about everyone), falling down some stairs and discovering that she doesn't want to remain at the select but dreary Angels Academy for Young Ladies at which her father left her at the age of 10 after her mother was killed. Art longs for the life that her deceased mother Molly led and is determined to live it. Molly Faith was a notorious female pirate who coined and earned the feared nickname, "Piratica".

Art, at her father's suggestions, is locked in a room as punishment for her attempts to rebel, but she escapes via the chimney and heads for Ports Mouth and the unruly inn where her mother's old shipmates congregate to drown their sorrows - in coffee. Taking on her mother's mantle, Art urges them to resurrect their former seafaring career of pirating and to strike out for further fame and infamy. It is at this juncture that Art learns a fearful and completely unexpected truth about her infamous mother's past life. It's a twist so unexpected that I won't say any more about it for fear of spoiling the surprise, but Art gets over the shock and embarks on the career that she desires.

This book was fun and fairly gripping; pleasingly there is a sequel, Piratica: Return to Parrot Island which I will have to try to find at the library.

* * * * * *

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is actually funnier and more exciting than was the first film. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Johnny Depp in staggering-swaggering-pirate mode, and Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swann was terrific (I especially loved her sword play - and she did quite a few of the stunts herself). The only problem that I have is that I want to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3 now !

Talking of films, I'm off to see Stormbreaker on Tuesday - and I can hardly wait to see what they've done with the first Alex Rider book !

* * * * * *

I was privileged enough to meet my editor for the first time yesterday: Kelly Herold of Big A, little a and editor of The Edge of the Forest made a flying visit to Oxford (only to be greeted by floods around Oxford railway station owing to the heavy thunderstorm/cloudburst that was taking place!) Once the rain had stopped, we visited Lyra and Will's Bench in the Botanic Garden - disappointingly it doesn't have a plaque on it commemorating the fact that it's Will and Lyra's Bench, but at least we can say we saw it ! We also discussed Harry Potter book 7 theories, Terry Pratchett, and Helen Dunmore's Ingo and The Tide Knot (which I'm currently reading), amongst other things.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Poetry Friday 10

In a vague attempt to counteract the heatwave we continue to have here in Europe, here are some wintry/snowy poems. This first one is a particular favourite of mine:

The More It Snows

The more it snows --
tiddely pom,
The more it goes --
tiddely pom,
The more it goes --
tiddely pom
On snowing --

And nobody knows --
tiddely pom ,
How cold my toes --
tiddely pom,
Are growing.

A. A. Milne

The next two are by Robert Frost, one of the few American poets whose poetry I have read.

Dust Of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Fire Within; Icefire - Chris d'Lacey

Chris d'Lacey has written an interesting series about dragons: The Fire Within, Icefire and Fire Star, of which I have so far read only the first two books (the third is on hold at the library). Initially I only picked up Icefire from the library as there is no indication anywhere on the book's cover that it is the second in a trilogy (which I consider annoying !). Fortunately I happened to mention to someone that it was on my TBR and they asked what I thought of The Fire Within, to which Icefire is the sequel. So I was spared the annoyance of reading the books out of sequence.

The books feature a Geography university student named David Rain, and the effect on his life that is caused when he takes lodgings in the Pennykettle household. Life there isn't exactly normal as Liz Pennykettle, and her soon-to-be-11 year old daughter Lucy, make clay pottery dragons that come to life and have magical powers. David is given his own dragon, a storytelling dragon (complete with a pencil in one claw and a notepad in the other) whom he names Gadzooks. Gadzooks inspires him to write a story for Lucy's 11th birthday. The story unexpectedly reveals the truth behind an unsolved mystery that lies close to home.

Don't be misled by the dragon on the cover - this is not a high fantasy story - but it IS a page-turning read that explores the relationships between Lucy, Liz and David, and looks at the power of storytelling to change the world around.

In Icefire, a visiting lecturer sets David an unusual essay for his Geography course: he is asked to discuss the existence - or not - of dragons. The prize for the best essay will be a fully-funded research trip to the Arctic. David starts researching the subject and quickly discovers there is an ancient connection between dragons and the Arctic. As he uncovers more about the dragons, David finds himself going down a path from which there is no going back - a path that leads to a time when dragons really did exist, and their secrets were guarded by the polar bears of the Arctic. If David is going to have any chance of winning the research trip, he has to open his mind to the legend of dragons and the mysterious secret of Icefire.

There is more of a high fantasy air to this second book in the trilogy, but the inter-relationships between David and others are still explored in detail. I can hardly wait to get my hands on Fire Star to discover how this trilogy will turn out.

Firefly Quote of the Week

River: Sure, I got a secret. More than one. Don't seem likely I'd tell 'em to you now, do it? Anyone off Dayton Colony knows better than to talk to strangers. You're talking loud enough for the both of us though, ain'tcha? I've known a dozen like you. Skipped off home early, running graft jobs here and there. Spent some time in the lock down, but less than you claim. And you're what? Petty thief with delusions of standing? Sad, little king of a sad, little hill.

("Shindig", Season 1)

* * * * * *

Apologies for the lateness of this one - my brain's still all melty as a consequence of insufficient sleep due to the heat !

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New Blog and new website

This is just a quick note from my sauna - I mean attic - to let you know that Juliet E McKenna has a Blog. You'll find it online at jemck's journal, and the group to which Juliet belongs, The Write Fantastic now has a Write Fantastic community. Just a reminder that the members of The Write Fantastic are Sarah Ash , Chaz Brenchley , Mark Chadbourn, Juliet E McKenna, Stan Nicholls and Jessica Rydill.

* * * * * *

As tomorrow is forecast to be the hottest July day in 100 years (!), please don't expect a post tomorrow - I'm trying to give up the melting thing ! I've got 3 fabulous books for you when I do get back to reviewing, but it may not be until the weekend that the reviews appear.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Dr Franklin's Island - Ann Halam

Ann Halam's Dr Franklin's Island is a sci-fi story for young adults, narrated by Semi. It tells the story of three teenagers who are the sole survivors of a plane crash near a tiny tropical island. They are all science students, on their way to spend time in Ecuador, their prize for winning a science competition run by the Planet Savers TV show. But Semi, Miranda and Arnie are the only survivors when their plane is hijacked and then crashes into the sea. They manage to swim to shore, to crawl up onto the beach and then collapse in exhaustion. The following morning they start to get to know each other whilst trying to figure out what to do next, and how to survive until help arrives.

Unfortunately, they're being watched by a scientist who has his own plans for them. Dr Franklin is a geneticist and he's been working on a transgenics project; which involves the genetic modification of an organism to contain genetic material from another organism. But rather than experimenting on plants, he's been experimenting with animals, birds - and humans. Semi, Miranda and Arnie are going to be his first full-transgenics - he will insert enough genetic material from other creatures into their genetic material to turn Semi into a type of manta ray, Miranda into a bird, and Arnie into a snake. But, horrifyingly, they maintain enough of their humanity to know what's happened to them and then they must try to figuire out how to escape the mad scientist and his island fortress...

I won't say any more because it will spoil the story, but I recommend this book. It's an interesting take on genetic engineering (of which I know little, but Halam explains the scientific terms she uses quite clearly). It's also interesting to see how the teenagers cope - both with the plane crash and surviving on the island, and then with their experiences at the hands of Dr Franklin.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

What's on my TBR ?

Library books I've got on my To Be Read pile include Penelope Lively's The Ghost of Thomas Kempe - a re-read from childhood; an anthology called Centuries of Stories; Icefire by Chris d'Lacey (I'm reading The Fire Within right now); The Devil's Arithmetic - Jane Yolen; The Folk Keeper - Franny Billingsley; The Fantastical Adventures of the Invisible Boy (aka The Gawgon and the Boy) - Lloyd Alexander; these three are all a consequence of reading Leonard S Marcus' The Wand in the Word; Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and The Final Solution (the result of reading Summerland); Tolkien's Roverandom; Louis Sachar's Small Steps (sequel-of-sorts to Holes); and the first two of Chris Bunch's Star Risk series - I've got the third book to read as well, but I own that one as I'm now a reviewer for Orbit and Atom, the fantasy and YA publishing arms (respectively) of Little, Brown. I also have Scott Westerfeld's Midnighters: The Secret Hour and Midnighters: Touching Darkness, Fiona McIntosh's Betrayal (book one of the Trinity series), and Trudi Canavan's Priestess of the White and Last of the Wilds to read. I'm pretty excited about becoming a reviewer for Orbit, not least because they publish one of my favourite "fantasy for adults" writers (Juliet E McKenna) !

The Constellation of Sylvie - Roderick Townley

In Roderick Townley's The Constellation of Sylvie, the characters of The Great Good Thing are feeling a little bored as not much has happened since their adventures on the Internet (in Into the Labyrinth). But they will shortly find themselves facing worse danger than they've ever faced before when their book is stowed away on a space shuttle before it embarks on a four-year mission to Jupiter. At first, the characters' main difficulty is adjusting to life in zero gravity, but then the shuttle misses its re-entry window into the Earth's atmosphere, and Sylvie and the others are forced to find a way to help the astronauts survive their additional four years in space. The solution comes in the form of ice collected from one of Jupiter's moons as melting and evaporating the ice provides enough oxygen to sustain the shuttle crew. Unfortunately the ice also contains a compound that has a very drastic side effect: the astronauts' ageing process is reversed until they are only children, and their lives, and the fate of the characters lie with Sylvie, who must reach into the dreams of the astronauts to help them make it back to Earth alive.

I confess I cried at the ending of this book (which I read in 90 minutes flat in bed, because I simply couldn't put it down) - I won't say more because this isn't the Spoiler Zone. I recommend Townley's trilogy - the premise of the characters not only being alive, but interacting with their physical environment, and being able to enter the dreams of people outside the book is an interesting and intriguing one.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Poetry Friday 9

I make no apology for the length of this poem by William Wordsworth, which I post to belatedly celebrate its anniverary.

Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798

FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur. - Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
'Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.
                                                These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration: - feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened: - that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on, -
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
                                                          If this
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft -
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart -
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro' the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. And so I dare to hope,
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led: more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all. - I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye. - That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompence. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,- both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.
                                                Nor perchance,
If I were not thus taught, should I the more
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
For thou art with me here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while
May I behold in thee what I was once,
My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance -
If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence - wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service: rather say
With warmer love - oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!

Those of you who've read my entries for Poetry Friday will know that I'm a lover of the countryside, and although I've never visited Tintern Abbey, I still find this poem evocative. I hope you do too.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature

The fifth Blog Carnival of Children's Literature is coming - with a theme of witches (although you don't have to submit a review that's witch-related !) Contact Kelly at Big A, little a or sign up via the Carnival site before Saturday if you want to participate ! The Carnival will be on July 23rd.

If you want an idea of what a Blog Carnival is about, check out the first four using the links below:

The first Blog Carnival of Children's Literature was hosted by Melissa at Here in the Bonny Glen.

The second Blog Carnival of Children's Literature was hosted by Susan at Chicken Spaghetti.

The third Blog Carnival of Children's Literature was hosted by Sherry at Semicolon.

The fourth Blog Carnival of Children's Literature was again hosted by Melissa at Here in the Bonny Glen.

E Nesbit trilogy

Five Children and It

One summer's day, when four children named Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane are holidaying with their mother and baby brother (nicknamed "the Lamb", because his first word was "Baa") in the country, they discover a Psammead (sand fairy) with the power to grant wishes. Unfortunately, their wishes cause them more trouble than pleasure: they wish that they might be "as beautiful as the day", then discover that no one recognises them or will believe they are who they claim to be; they wish for golden guineas but find that the coins which they receive are not legal tender and therefore cannot be spent; they wish that their baby brother, whom they are finding somewhat tiresome, might be wanted, then have to deal with various people wanting to adopt him; they wish for wings and then find themselves trapped on top of a locked church tower on which they had landed, when the wings disappear at sunset (as all the wishes do); they wish they are in a besieged castle, and find themselves trapped and in real danger; Robert wishes to be bigger than the baker's boy, who has bested him in a fight, and finds himself a giant; they wish the Lamb was grown up, and then find themselves trying to keep an eye on him in case he goes away before reverting back to a baby; they wish for Red Indians to play with, and then find themselves in danger of being scalped and burnt alive. Finally they wish that their mother might have heaps of jewels like those stolen from Lady Chittenden, and when their mother returns from a lengthy absence from home, she finds the stolen jewels scattered about her room and panics that the burglars have hidden them there.

The Phoenix and the Carpet

The children are rather wary of magical things after that. A few months after their adventures with the Psammead, the children are given a replacement carpet for the nursery floor after they set fire to their old one whilst testing their fireworks in the nursery. The carpet, however, is no ordinary carpet, but rather a wishing carpet, and hidden inside the roll of carpet is an egg. This egg hatches a Phoenix after Robert accidentally knocks it into the nursery fire on which the children have coincidentally been burning the stubs of cedarwood pencils, eucalyptus oil and a lump of camphor – the very ingredients (sweet smelling wood, magic gums and essences) needed to hatch a Phoenix egg. The four children then find themselves getting caught up in more adventures, involving nearly 200 Persian cats, a burglar (who instead of robbing them, milks a Jersey cow fetched by the magic carpet to feed the cats !), and trips to France, India, and a far southern shore on which there is no whooping cough. Their adventures end after the carpet falls apart as a result of all their wishing, and the Phoenix decides to "retire" a long way from London.

The Story of the Amulet

Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane are staying with their former Nurse in Bloomsbury whilst their father is overseas reporting on the Russian war, and their mother and baby brother are in Madeira, where there mother is recuperating after an illness. One day the children go out, intending to feed the ducks in St James Park, but on the way they pass a pet shop and Cyril finds himself being addressed by their old friend, the Psammead, who has been captured and is now for sale. They buy the Psammead at its behest after it grants the shopkeeper's wish that they might have the money to pay for it. They tell it about their parents and baby brother being overseas and how much they want them back home. The Psammead can no longer grant them wishes, but it tells them of an ancient Amulet which has the power to grant the possessor's heart's desire. The Psammead knows that half of the Amulet is up for sale in a London shop, and tells the children that if they buy the Amulet half, it will tell them how to find the missing half, by travelling back into the past, where the Amulet was still whole since the missing half was destroyed very long ago.

The children discover the word of power that controls the Amulet from a learned gentleman who lodges upstairs in their Nurse's house, and they use the Amulet to travel in time and space to Babylon, Ancient Egypt, Atlantis and the Roman Empire (just before Caesar invades Britain). They also travel into the future twice, including to a Utopian time envisaged by H G Wells, where everyone works, all children love to go to school, every house contains a soft room (with padded walls and furniture) in which children can play safely, and London is clean and beautiful. The children finally locate the missing half of the Amulet so that their desire to have their parents and brother at home again is granted; they then give the restored Amulet to the learned gentleman as Ancient Egypt is his area of special interest.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone Update

There's a spoilerish review of Geraldine McCaughrean's Forever X over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone.

Firefly Quote of the Week

Wash: Don't fall asleep now. Sleepiness is weakness of character. Ask anyone. You're acting captain. Know what happens you fall asleep now?
Zoe: Jayne slits my throat and takes over.

("Shindig", Season 1)

Monday, July 10, 2006

New Children's Books

The Independent's Tim Martin comments that writing a bestselling children's book has begun to edge out winning the National Lottery as the fantasy escape route of the stressed professional classes and he notes that The best children's writers of the pre-Potter generation - Joan Aiken, Alan Garner, Peter Dickinson, Diana Wynne-Jones, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander among them - were prose stylists and plot architects as much as imaginative miracle-workers. He then proceeds to review, in disparaging terms four books published this summer (the fifth has praise heaped upon its head).

Martin calls Dean Vincent Carter's The Hand of the Devil (The Bodley Head £10.99) "an overcooked sub-Lovecraftian mess "for older readers" about a possessed mosquito".

He says that Linda Buckley-Archer's Gideon the Cutpurse (Simon & Schuster £12.99) is "a well-meaning yarn, a piece of good, clean, slightly old-fashioned kids' stuff in heavy debt to a string of reference books."

In the meantime, Oisin McGann's Under Fragile Stone (The O'Brien Press £5.99), part two of the "Archisan Tales", says Martin, has just about enough zip and warmth in its characterisation to lift it above the "Zzar raised his war-blade" school of fantasy writing, but it is still fantasy for fantasy's sake.

As for Matthew Skelton's Endymion Spring (Puffin £10.99), Martin calls "a confused marriage of heavily-worn research on early printing practice and a sapless narrative about dragonskin manuscripts and child-eating books." with a child protagonist [who] is a nasty, whining piece of work. Which is a shame, because I enjoyed it !

The only book which Martin liked was Ursula Le Guin's Voices (Orion £10.99), the sequel to Gifts (which I read in December). Martin calls it "a marvellously thoughtful and intelligent piece of fiction" and notes that "Le Guin's writing is spare and humane, her imagination forceful and dramatic", and says that her book is the pick of the bunch. I shall be requesting Voices from the library in due course - and will read it with interest.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Forever X - Geraldine McCaughrean

Geraldine McCaughrean's Forever X features the Shepherd family: mother and father, the pre-teen Joy and her 4 year old brother, Mel. They set off on their annual summer holiday to a caravan twenty miles from the sea, where they always spend their 2 week holiday. The predictability of it all causes them all gloom so when the car breaks down, they find themselves forced out of their routine into staying for the night at the nearest B&B. To their astonishment they find themselves at a place where Christmas comes every day of the year, complete with turkey, presents and Santa Claus. What's even stranger is the girl in the elf costume, the mysterious Mr Angel, and the police who are seeking an escaped criminal. Stranded in this bizarre environment, the children develop unusual friendships and the family relationships which have been so set in their ways are turned upside down.

There are some examples of really beautiful writing in McCaughrean's book (as there so often is in her novels):

There was no garage within sight, no telephone, no roadsides houses, nothing - only a long purple valley and a lake scrawled on, like pale blue paper, by whole sentences of ducks, punctuated by moorhens and exclamations of sunlight. (p. 2)
The willow tree gushed out of the ground like a fountain, creating a shimmering dome of green and fractured sunlight which cascaded almost to the ground. (p. 38)
It seemed to Mel then as is if all his unshed tears were suddenly falling on the ground around him: big dark explosions of wet kicking up the dust. Abruptly, the rain emptied itself over his head like the contents of a bucket. (p. 70)
The little boy had mistaken him for an angel, and that, in the vacant reeling of Angel's rain-soaked head, burdened him with the responsibilities of an angel. [...] Never had his name weighed so heavy on Mr Angel's shoulders: heavy as a pair of rain-sodden wings. (p. 82)
The book also raises an interesting philosophical question - Joy wonders:
Was it the date - 25th December - which constituted Christmas, or was it what people did by consensus on 25th December which made 25th December Christmas ? That is to say, was 25th December still Christmas on uninhabited islands, even with no one to observe it? Or could August 12th just as well be Christmas if, by public accord, the world agreed to have it then? Was it all in the anticipation perhaps? (p. 10)
Joy, it appears, has never been told that Christians took over the date of the Winter Festival from the pagans, making it into the date on which Christ's birth is celebrated since no one knows on exactly what date Christ was born (assuming Christ to be a real historical figure, and not a religious myth). Therefore Christmas could just as easily be celebrated on August 12th as December 25th.

* * * * * *
There's a spoilerish review of this book over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Summerland - Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon's Summerland is a baseball-oriented book, which has always rather put me off reading it before as I know almost nothing about the game. However, I picked it up on a random trawl through the YA shelves at the library a few weeks ago, and finally got around to reading it this week. It's a terrific book - the baseball references actually didn't get in the way of the story, although a glossary of terms such as "double play" and "turn a swinging bunt into a gift triple on a bobble" would have helped ! But I still found the book hard to put down.

Ethan Feld is the main protagonist of Summerland and is known as "the worst ballplayer in the history of Clam Island"; Clam Island is just off the coast of Washington State. His team play on the Ian "Jock" MacDougal Regional Ball Field is on the one part of Clam Island where it never rains, Summerland. One day Ethan is recruited by an old Negro League scout, Ringfinger Brown, as a potential hero, rather than as a baseball player, to help to save the world from Ragged Rock (which is akin to the Norse end of the world, Ragnarok. A werefox named Cutbelly explains to Ethan that the universe is a great tree, known as the Lodgepole, which has four main branches, each of which is a worlds. A "shadowtail" like Cutbelly can leap from branch to branch to travel between three of the worlds - the Summerlands, the Winterlands, and our world (which is called the Middling). The fourth world was closed off thousands of years ago. When branches between worlds rub against each other, they form a gall and this acts like a wormhole between the two worlds. One day it rains on the baseball field and everyone knows something is going wrong, although only a few beings like Cutbelly, know just what is wrong. He tells Ethan that the rain is the work of Coyote, who is trying to destroy not just the galls, but the Lodgepole itself.

Then Ethan's inventor father is captured by Coyote, who wants to use Mr Feld's talents to poison the roots of the tree and bring an end to the universe. Ethan and his fellow Roosters players, Jennifer T. Rideout and Thor Wignutt, set out in the old family Saab (pulled by Ethan's father's zeppelin) across the worlds to rescue Mr Feld. They travel with two small Ferishers (who should not be called fairies), a gentle female Sasquatch named Taffy, and an undersized giant. They must play repeated games of baseball, the universal sport in all the worlds, against various groups in order to continue their journey to the Murmury Well, which they hope to reach before Coyote can poison it. It's a race against time to save the world, played at the speed of a baseball game.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Poetry Friday 8

Today I offer two poems by Hugh Sidgwick, who was killed in the First World War, and one by his brother Frank, who survived the First World War to become one half of the old publishing firm Sidgwick and Jackson.


Is it because that lad is dead

My eyes are doing a double duty,
And drink, for his sake and in his stead,

Twice their accustomed draught of beauty;

Or does the intoxicating Earth

Ferment in me with stronger leaven,
Because, for seeing the year's rebirth,

He loans me eyes that look on heaven ?

Frank Sidgwick (The poem is thought to be about his brother Hugh.)

The Aeronaut to his Lady

      Why ?

                  Slow !'

Hugh Sidgwick

The Examinee

SHUT up the note-book, away with the pen,
Back with my books to the shelf:
Off with respectable clothes and a collar,
Off with the manners and ways of a scholar,
Back to the natural self.
For examiners all have done their worst
And the first shall be last, and the last get a First:
And the facts and dates that plagued so long,
The few that were right, the many wrong,—
Shall dance away to the sound of a song
Spurned, forgotten, despised, dispersed.
I know a spot in the Cumberland Hills,
Shady, secluded, cool;
There, like a prodigal son returning,
There I shall wash me clean of my learning
Deep in a grass-edged pool;
And the tangled questions that never were clear,
And the tangled answers, never sincere,
And the worry and fret and cares that cumber,
The faults and failings beyond all number
Shall wane, and weave themselves to a slumber
Down in the meadows of Buttermere.
What if I mixed up Athens and Rome,
Dated Achilles A. D.,
Said that St. Luke was imprisoned at Zenda,
Never agreed in number or gender—
What does it matter to me ?
What does it matter ? For I shall be gone
Soon from the haunt of the questioning don.
And there on the hills as the day is sinking,
Free from the trammels of abstract thinking,
There I shall win my rest by drinking
Draughts of the river Oblivion.

Hugh Sidgwick, 1903

Thursday, July 06, 2006

1st Blogiversary

I suddenly realised late yesterday evening that owing to my melting state, I missed commemorating my first Blogiversary on July 3rd ! I can scarcely believe it's more than a year since I started my Blog - and even less can I believe how convinced I was that it wouldn't last ! I was sure I'd struggle to find the time (I still do occasionally) or books to write about (odd, that one, given the terrific rate at which I read !), but here I am, just over a year later and going so strong I started a second Blog only two months ago to accommodate my spoilerish reviews !! Thanks to everyone who reads my Blogs - and especially to those who take the time to post comments and enter into conversations with me about the books I've read. The reason I chose to start my Blog was that I missed talking daily to my best friend Margo about the books I read and I missed bouncing my ideas off her. Although no one could replace my soul mate, my regular readers have done a fair bit to fill the gap that she left behind, and I am glad that I made the decision to start my Blog last year on what would have been Margo's birthday.

* * * * * *

Talking of my spoilerish Blog, I've added a review of Louis Sachar's There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom to the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie - Holly Black

Holly Black's Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie comes with an Adult Content warning (on the back - although I felt it should be on the front !).

17 year old Valerie Russell runs away to New York City, to try to escape from her boyfriend and her mother's joint betrayal of her (her mother and her boyfriend have been sleeping together). She shaves her head and falls in with a gang of young squatters who live in the city's extensive subway system. Her friends are a bit strange, though: Lolli talks of there being monsters in the subway tunnels they call home and shoots up a shimmery amber-coloured powder that makes the shadows around her dance. Her friend, Luis claims that he can make deals with creatures that no one else can see - faeries. And Luis's brother, Dave, makes the mistake of allowing Val to tag along as he makes a delivery to a woman who turns out to have goat hooves rather than feet. When a bewildered Val allows Lolli to talk her into tracking down the hidden lair of the creature for whom Luis and Dave have been working, Val finds herself bound into service by a troll named Ravus. He is as hideous as he is honourable, yet as Val grows to know him she finds herself feeling affection for him.

Even before Val runs away from home, she's hardly a model student: she's thrown off the lacrosse team for punch the captain on the same day she discovers what her mother and her boyfriend have been doing. Although, to be fair, she has a dysfunctional family (even leaving aside those shenanigans) - her mother and father are divorced, and her father has a new partner. Val seems to rely a great deal on the friendship of Ruth, her lesbian best friend who comes to New York looking for Val when she doesn't answer any of Ruth's calls or text messages.

Valiant (Dave's nickname for Val at their first meeting) is a very modern version of Beauty and the Beast; it contains not only a great many references to sex, drugs and stealing, but also references to cellphones and computer games (such as Final Fantasy).

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Daymaker; Transformations; The Skybreaker - Ann Halam

I apologise for the lack of reviews since Saturday, but we're in the middle of a heatwave here in southern England - and the temperature in my tiny attic room was rarely below 30C for much of the weekend - too hot to write and almost too hot to read either (I spent most of the weekend watching DVDs in fact).

* * * * * *

Ann Halam's "Daymaker" trilogy (The Daymaker, Transformations, The Skybreaker) is eco-friendly fantasy, as the prologue to Transformations explains:

Once, long ago, the land had been different. The towers of light marched across its little hills and valleys, almost without a break: trees of light stood outside every door and lined every road. There need be no night, it could be daytime always. In those days the human world was served by the strange unnatural tools the scholars of the new land called "machines", and ordinary people called "makers". One maker would do the work of a hundred hands, but greatest of all were the Daymakers, the centres from which power flowed to all the lesser kind.
Then one day the people of Inland decided to dispense with electricity and machines; and "magic" took the place of the machines. This new magic functioned via an agreement made by all the people, and it was called the Covenant. This magic calls on the mental powers of everyone, young or old, educated or uneducated, to work - thus: The Covenant is in the mind and heart of every individual who lives by free will in What Is and with What Is. So long as that free will operates, animals, plants and even the weather, obeys humanity.

In each community there exists a "meeting" of the Covenant, led (usually) by a woman Convener, who is strongly talented in the magic of Inland. She is responsible for channelling the power of the free will of the community to "shift and hold" all living things, and to control the weather.

However, in The Daymaker, a ten year old girl named Zanne, daughter of the Convener of Garth, was found to be strong in Covenant magic, but also a lover of machines. She had the facility to see machines as a part of the natural world. She is sent to Hillen Coven, the school under the mound in which magic talented girls (and occasionally boys) are taught all there is to know about Covenant magic. When Zanne is 15, she goes on a journey into the wilderness to find a Daymaker (a power station), intending to bring it back to life and restore the towers of light. However, Zanne discovers that there is someone else, more powerful and far more ruthless than Zanne who wants the power of the Daymaker for herself, and Zanne is forced to "kill" the Daymaker with her magic (ie. make it unable to function ever again).

In Transformations, Zanne is sent to find a maker in the mountains of Minith; instead she finds a cache of poison which is infecting many of the young people of Minith so that they turn into "werebeasts". Unlike the people of Inland, who wanted the Daymaker destroyed, the people of Minith believe the sickness of some of their young people is the price they must pay for their mining and metal-working, and they oppose Zanne's intention to destroy the poison and the makers.

In The Skybreaker, Zanne, and a young man named Holne of Minith who, unusually, has the magic talent, are sent to Magia, the land across the sea. Hillen Coven has learnt that a skybreaker (a rocket) still exists in Magia and they are sent to destroy it before it can destroy Magia and all of Inland. Ostensibly, Zanne is tutor to King Temias, the 10 year old boy who rules Magia, and who appears (at times) to be insane. However, although Temias is King of Magia, the country is effectively ruled by Mage Monkshood, the most powerful Mage of Magia who, like Zanne, loves machines and who wants to use the skybreaker. Zanne and Holne must make the dangerous journey to Endemunde, which is known as the end of the world, because of its remote location, to stop the Great Mage from using the skybreaker, otherwise it really will be the end of the world.

Firefly Quote of the Week

Jayne: Time for some thrilling heroics.

"The Train Job", Season 1)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Marianne Dreams - Catherine Storr

I've just re-read Catherine Storr's rather spooky Marianne Dreams for the first time in nearly 30 years (now that's a scary thought !), and found that it was no less spooky for me as an adult reader than it was for my child self.

10 year old Marianne suddenly falls ill on her 10th birthday and finds herself confined to bed for several months. One day her mother brings Marianne her workbox (which was Marianne's mother's originally) to tidy up and Marianne finds a rather nice looking pencil in it. She draws a picture of a house with a fence around it, and some grass as well, and then that night she dreams about the house she drew. She discovers that she can add things to her drawing and then they appear in her dreams after she draws a figure at one of the upstairs windows and then she finds a boy in the house in her next dream. In time she discovers that the boy is Mark, a polio victim who is being taught by the same governess (tutor in modern parlance) as Marianne herself. They find themselves caught up in an adventure which sees Mark trapped in the house and struggling to find a way to escape from the mysterious one-eyed Watchers (simply referred to as "THEM").

Storr has some nice moments of description in the book:

And immediately Marianne felt her eyelids closing by themselves. She didn't just go to sleep - she dropped thousands of feet into sleep, with the rapidity and soundless perfection of a gannet's dive. It was completely satisfying and quite inescapable. (p. 70)

The blood pounded in her ears so that she could hardly distinguish what was in and what was outside her head, and she felt that her lungs would burst with each breath she took. (p. 161)

I've been told there is a sequel to the book (Marianne and Mark) which isn't a patch on the original, so I'm not going to bother hunting for a copy !

* * * * * *

I don't know if everyone else has seen the news about the film of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights, but a 12-year-old girl named Dakota Blue Richards has been selected to play the young heroine, Lyra Belacqua. Pullman has said he is "delighted" with the casting of Dakota. "As soon as I saw Dakota's screen test, I realised that the search was over. Dakota has just the combination of qualities that make up the complicated character of this girl, and I very much look forward to seeing the film take shape, with Dakota's Lyra at the heart of it." Filming will start in September.