Tag Archives: Magic

On V.E. Schwab’s “A Darker Shade of Magic” (A Darker Shade of Magic #1)

10 Apr

A Darker Shade of Magic [2015] by V.E. Scwhab

A Darker Shade of Magic [2015] by V.E. Scwhab

It’s the fantasy genre’s bread and butter: our world is a dull, flat, adventure-less universe that only exists to be the lame foil of a whole host of other, brighter, infinitely more magical universes. An adolescent human doesn’t fit into the dull, flat universe, and their life is awful, until one day an owl shows up with some mail. Or one day a wizard knocks on your Hobbit hole door with his wizard staff. Or one day a Jedi knight turns out to be your next door neighbor and you learn there are way cooler things to do than shoot womp rats with your T-16. Escapism may be the simplest of benefits from fantasy novels, but it’s one at which V.E. Schwab excels in her lovely new novel A Darker Shade of Magic, in which a young man and a young woman–both full of beautiful, adolescent angst and dreamy feelings–must find their proper worlds.

Kel belongs to Red London. The city is full of magic powered by the glowing, ruby-hued Thames, and Kel is the last of the blood magicians. His enhanced ability allows him to do something no other has been capable of for hundreds of years: travel between the three Londons. Red London is healthy and flush with magic. Grey London is magicless and dull–the world of the Muggles and the untalented. White London stands on the brink of disaster as the magic in this world sucks the life out of its inhabitants, who in turn grow increasingly and violently power-hungry. And there is one more London. A forbidden London. Mordor. … I mean, Black London. (How many times can I write, “London,” in this post, you ask? So many times. So. Many. Times.) When Kel finds an artifact from Black London, he becomes the unwitting pawn in someone else’s deadly game. But even more perilous than the puppeteer pulling at Kel’s strings is the Black London artifact itself.

Grey London is devoid of magic. It's dull and weak and boring. It's our London, so thanks for rubbing it in, V. (Photo from J.A. Alcaide)

Grey London is devoid of magic. It’s dull and weak and boring. It’s our London, so thanks for rubbing it in, V. (Photo from J.A. Alcaide)

In the boring London, leading a boring life but longing for something so much more, is Delilah Bard–thief and ne’erdowell extraordinaire with an appetite for adventure (as long as “adventure” is synonymous with “piracy”). Delilah, or “Lila,” is the epitome of the spunky genre heroine. Orphaned and living on her wit and deft hands, Lila steals to survive … until she steals the wrong loot and finds herself entangled in the adventure of her life.

“Trouble is the looker …. It keeps looking till it finds you. Might as well find it first.”

-Delilah “Lila” Bard

She is intelligent, headstrong, independent, and mildly damaged. In a word, Lila is familiar. I wouldn’t call her a tired trope, since this world needs all the strong female characters it can get, but Lila hasn’t achieved the depth of character that compels me to love a book. She pales in comparison to other fantasy novels’ protagonists like Seraphina Dombegh or Lyra Belacqua. I can only hope her character–and Kel’s, as well–grows in depth in the future novels of this series.

But speaking of tropes, Schwab’s characters aren’t the only aspects of ADSoM that fall a little flat. Tell me if this plot sounds vaguely familiar to you fantasy readers: an unsuspecting mortal finds herself in the possession of a dark, evil artifact from a cursed land far away; the artifact is hunted by the people who were left to fight back the darkness on their own and suffered great loss because of it; to destroy the evil artifact, said unsuspecting mortal must return it to the dark lands from whence it came, but carrying it has taken its toll! As long as Peter Jackson directs the film adaptation, I guess I wouldn’t mind so much.

Masquerade

Many of ADSoM‘s characters live behind masks, so it’s no surprise that Kell and Lila are headed to a masquerade. And, after all, what’s a fantasy novel without a ball?

The magic system itself, while not robustly defined, provided some wonderful action sequences. Schwab does not disappoint when it comes to building excitement or creating a detailed combat scene. Thanks to her descriptiveness, the intensity of Kel’s blood magic and the horrors of Black London’s power combine to add the freshness ADSoM needs. And, since this is apparently the beginning of a new, promising series of Schwab’s, I’m excited to see the lore and landscape of the Londons develop. Hopefully, Black London will take a more prominent role as a setting to see more of that sweet, sweet darker shade.

“‘I’m not going to die,’ she said. ‘Not till I’ve seen it.’

‘Seen what?’

Her smile widened. ‘Everything.'”

Read It: A Darker Shade of Magic is the perfect fit for the casual fantasy fan. It doesn’t delve for hundreds of pages into a complex world history or throw countless unpronounceable names in your face or require a glossary as thick as a stand-alone novel. The story of Kell and Lila is an age-old tale of adventure and daring, with just enough magic to escape from our own dreary, grey world.

Don’t Read It: Some of us can’t help ourselves. We’re hypercritical, self-righteous little snots who like to go to town on the inadequacies, however small, of entertaining fiction. ADSoM can really rack up the points against it between the shallow characters, mildly derivative plot, and sketchy magic system. So you may not want to pick this up if you’re the type who tends to over-analyze or needs to throw a book across a room because a fantasy author keeps finding new, thinly veiled ways to reference Middle Earth.

Similar Books: They may move vastly slower than ADSoM, but the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien is another story about an unsuspecting mortal with no powers but tons of heart who is tasked with returning a dark and magical object to a scary realm beyond the mildly nicer realms of humankind before it.

On Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell”

27 Jun

Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell [2003] won the Hugo, was nominated for the Nebula, and was named Time's best novel of the year. It's no joke.

Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell [2003] won the Hugo, was nominated for the Nebula, and was named Time‘s best novel of the year. It’s no joke.

What do you get when you mix Regency Era social dramedy with magic? A whole lot of parlor tricks, one would think. Susanna Clarke, though, has written an incredible masterpiece of mash-up fiction, combining Jane Austen-esque commentary and witty dialogue with an alternate magical universe. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is one of the most enjoyable fantasy novels  I have ever read and, despite its 1,000+ pages (and the fact that I took a three-year hiatus somewhere around page 500, for reasons completely unrelated to its quality as a book), it flashes by like a raven in flight and leave you wanting more.

On the cusp of war with Napoleon, Regency Era England has become a divisive nation. A mad king has become the puppet of quarreling dukes, lords, and admirals. Armies of young men fight in the muddy fields of foreign countries. The English is industrializing, becoming tamer, losing its wilder, more pagan heritage. Following so far? Everything is pretty text book, all history and common knowledge … and then comes an understated mention of magic (it’s no big thing), and this familiar England is suddenly transformed into Clarke’s alternate history.

In this new universe, England has long been bereft of practical magic. At the start of the novel, magic is a pastime to study in dusty books by councils of bored, old noblemen. But a magician by the name of Mr Norrell appears on the scene, and he has made it his quest to bring practical magic back to England … as long as he’s the only one to practice it. When he takes on a single, brilliant pupil–a young nobleman by the name of Jonathan Strange–tensions rise and an dangerous rivalry is born. It seems England isn’t big enough for two magicians, but neither Jonathan Strange nor Mr Norrell is going to let their motherland go that easily. Through dark spells, enchantments, political intrigue, and war, the two magicians battle for dominance, and both are too absorbed with each other to notice the encroaching doom they face at the hands of something far more powerful than anything imaginable.

Portia Rosenberg's lovely illustrations add to the eerie settings and familiar-yet-bizarre atmosphere.

Portia Rosenberg‘s lovely illustrations add to the eerie settings and “uncanny valley” atmosphere.

Clarke’s attention to detail and world-building skills are as magical as Mr Norrell’s enchantments. She creates a fluid and absolutely believable alternate history that is firmly founded on actual English history and a host of modified mythology. Frequent footnotes refer to fictional books on magical history or citing ancient myths. Clarke’s meticulousness may extend the book to an epic scale (and literal size), but it pays off in grounding a fantastical tale in an understated style that makes JS&MN digestible for every reader.

The magic system Clarke creates is not as elaborate as Gaiman’s or Sanderson’s, and one could point that out as a flaw in her universe. In her defense, magic in the world of JS&MN is dusty, bookish, inscrutable, and an altogether mystery thanks to Mr Norrell’s monopoly of the subject, and with this in mind, I didn’t mind the lack in detail in just exactly how Jonathan Strange can walk through a mirror and into another dimension. The magic Clarke excels in is the magic in creating a compelling alternate universe, complex and conflicted protagonists who are far from perfect (and sometimes far from likable), and a story that makes me want to re-read it immediately. And you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be streaming the BBC miniseries when it comes out.

The Regency Era is one of our most beloved period settings, and you have to attribute that to the tight pants and snug bodices.

The Regency Era is one of our most beloved period settings, and you have to attribute that to the tight pants and snug bodices.

Read it if … you’re looking for a meatier summer read. While entirely entertaining, Clarke’s fantasy novel is more than a romp in the heather with faeries. The depth and breadth of Clarke’s universe, the detail to historical and mythical references, and the devotion to character makes JS&MN one of the most robust fantasy novels I have ever read.

Don’t read it if … you’re intimidated by large books, or you refuse to let go of your misconceptions that period fiction (especially, heaven forbid, anything compared to Jane Austen) is literature lite. JS&MN is a fun read but certainly not frivolous in the context of fantasy novels.

This book is like … Jane Austen, but that’s the totally easy comparison to make, and while Clarke’s novel takes place in the same era, the content is obviously different. Austen tackled social conventions with her subtle wit and dialogue. Clarke’s take on magic and mythology addresses the dangers of polarization, obsession, abuse of power, and a really, really weird bromance, which is all much more in line with a book like The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I haven’t yet read the novel The Prestige by Christopher Priest, but the film adaptation [2006] was a thrilling story of two stage magicians whose rivalry builds to an extreme, violent end.

Susanna Clarke looks a little magiciany herself. She's only written one other book besides JS&MN. Maybe she'll pull a Harper Lee and call it good.

Susanna Clarke looks a little magiciany herself. She’s only written one other book besides JS&MN. Maybe she’ll pull a Harper Lee and call it good.

Tell me in the comments below which literary mash-up you would prefer:

  1. Mark Twain meets zombies!
  2. Kazuo Ishiguro meets vampires!
  3. Charles Dickens meets steampunk!

On Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” (Mistborn #1)

10 Jun

Mistborn (2006) by Brandon Sanderson is the first in the Mistborn series.

Mistborn [2006] by Brandon Sanderson is the first in the Mistborn series and opens up a world of metallurgical magic and fantastically written characters.

As much as I love sci-fi and fantasy, my reading list has been relatively abbreviated. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time carried me through high school, and I only read A Song of Ice and Fire when HBO released shots from filming the first season of Game of Thrones. Then there was that annoying four-year gap called “college” where I read only “literary” fiction. So here I am, still playing catch up on the must-reads of genre fiction. Luckily I have good friends who make sure my stunted education is rehabilitated. Someone gave me Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, the first installation in the famed eponymous trilogy, and it turned out to be one of my favorite books of the year.

Sanderson is particularly known for his elaborate worlds and magic systems, and his little fantasy peacock feathers are on full parade in Mistborn, where he builds a dark world of oppression and a complex metallurgic powers. The Final Empire has struggled and faded under the oppressive burden of an immortal emperor called the Lord Ruler for a thousand years. Ash from a ring of irate volcanoes constantly falls from the sky, killing flora and fauna, muting the colors of the world. Lower class “skaa” are no better than slaves, eking out their livings on plantations or in the sooty, labyrinthine streets of twisting metropolises–looting, begging, and thieving, which is how we meet our protagonist.

The talented Isaac Stewart designed the map for Luthadel, the Final Empire's capitol city and the main stage of Mistborn. And as we all know, every good fantasy series needs an equally good map. Isaac Stewart is up to the task.

The talented Isaac Stewart designed the map for Luthadel, the Final Empire’s capitol city and the main stage of Mistborn. And as we all know, every fantasy series is only as good as its map. Isaac Stewart is up to the task.

Vin, an orphaned street urchin abandoned even by her brother, is a lowly member of a guild of thieves. For as long as she can remember, she has had inexplicable abilities. She can exert her will over the will of others or deflect attention away from herself when she wants nothing more than quiet or a night without bruises. That kind of power comes in handy when your boss runs elaborate cons to make a living. Vin doesn’t realize that her strange skills are just the promise of something greater, until she falls in with a new teacher, a mysterious man named Kelsier. Vin learns then that she and Kelsier share something vital in common: they are Mistborn–a rare breed of “Allomancers” who can metabolize (or “burn”) metals to exert physical and mental force on the world around her. As Vin’s abilities grow at an alarming rate, so grows her personality–so long oppressed by her overbearing brother and members of the gang of con men–and her involvement with an underground movement of Kelsier-led rebels aiming to overthrow the Lord Ruler.

Kelsier is the perfect secondary character, the supporting cast member who both acts as mentor and foil for Vin. Between Keliser and a fun plot of intrigue and rebellion that never gets old, you already have a good novel. Mistborn is an excellent novel because of the world in which it’s set and, more importantly, because of a multifaceted, unique, convincing protagonist. In Vin, Sanderson gives us a budding hero, one unsure of her own powers and unsure of her motives. She is also the paragon of teenager behavior: she thinks the world of herself in an pure, innocent way, but suffers from a crippling lack of self-confidence. Vin’s flaws make her human, and overall a fantastic character–a fictional being you want to root for, someone who forces your emotional investment. Props to Sanderson for not being afraid to show a woman with social and moral inadequacies. Too often, women in literature, maybe especially in genre fiction, are either portrayed as angels or demons, while humanity (with all its gray, misty depth) is reserved for men.

jaspersandner dot com

You know you have a good fantasy character and a good fantasy series when it generates a plethora of awesome fan art. (From Jasper Sandner)

Vin’s character is further complicated by her incredible skill as an Allomancer. Eleven different metals produce eleven different results when burned. Vin and Kelsier, both Mistborn, are the rare Allomancers who can burn every type of metal, giving them incredible power and incredible advantage over their peers. Whenever Vin burned iron to pull herself up onto a rooftop or  steel to push an armored guard away from her, when she burned brass to soothe emotions of the people around her or pewter to artificially strengthen her body, I got ridiculously excited. Sanderson’s magic leans toward the scientific side and, while not flawless, is perfectly imaginable. I won’t say Mistborn is perfect, but when a fantasy novel makes me want to leave reality behind, I consider it a huge success.

I know these fan-made fake movie trailers are kind of dorky, but can we please, please have a movie? Or, better yet, can we please, please have an HBO TV series? I’m thinking Nokolaj Coster-Waldau would make an excellent Kelsier, in which case we might as well have Maisie Williams be our Vin. She already knows how to stick them with the pointy end.

Read it if … you know how to appreciate a good book! Sanderson’s writing is not just easily ingested, but it’s entertaining and intelligent. Mistborn takes the cake for modern fantasy, and isn’t written like a traditional high fantasy novel. You do not want to miss out on it.

Don’t read it if … you hate good things like puppies and young love. But really, the only reason I could possibly think of for not liking this book is if you’re not a fan of fiction in general, as in not a fan of made up things. Even people who can’t read will still enjoy its appreciable texture and weight.

This book is similar to … very few things, I imagine, that aren’t also written by Brandon Sanderson. Of his many novels, I have only read Mistborn and The Emperor’s Soul. For other well written, cheeky female protagonists, though, check out Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (just the first book in the series!), or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (and the rest of the Time series).

Brandon Sanderson is currently working on approximately ten thousand new projects, which amounts to approximately ten billion new pages.

Brandon Sanderson is currently working on approximately ten thousand new projects, which amounts to approximately ten billion new pages.

On Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus”

19 May
Magic, true love, and dangerous games. It's all right here in Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus.

Magic, true love, and dangerous games. It’s all right here in Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

Children don’t seem to dream of running away to the circus any more (it’s more like dreams of running away to join a tech startup in the Valley these days) but, after reading Erin Morgenstern’s enchanting novel The Night Circus, they may just change their minds. The Night Circus (or Le Cirque des Rêves in fancy speak) is driven on by mysterious powers, arriving in empty fields around the world seemingly overnight, and bringing joy, amazement, and desire to all who visit. It is the culmination of the dreams of masterminds, and the Night Circus changes the world with its beauty. But within the circus, a cruel game is being played, and not even magic can stop an inevitable doom from falling down around Morgenstern’s enchanted world.

The plot of The Night Circus flits across the span of several decades, and, as we learn, timing is extremely important to the story. In the mid nineteenth century, two children are selected to participate in a dangerous competition, pitted against each other by ancient and callous magicians. As Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair grow up under their masters’ tutelage, they discover their own powers are being honed for a single cause: a gladiatorial match of magical prowess, and the arena–the Night Circus. The circus itself is something magical. It is a collection of awe-inspiring oddities, illusions, and enchantments. Everything from contortionists to kittens jumping through hoops is presented in the mystifying setting of a circus held only in darkness. Celia and Marco are tasked with outdoing each other by influencing the circus in a delicate game of chess, but not even they know what is truly at stake.

Morgenstern compiled the novel in a series of anachronistic vignettes and short chapters, keeping a feeling of mystery alive, but also preventing any deep character development. With as many wonderful side characters as Morgenstern presents, I regretted the lost opportunity to get to know them. The opportunity was lost, also, to see Celia’s and Marco’s magic systems. A few runes here and there or a flash of a vision paints a sketchy picture of a plot point that should be robust and detailed. Readers are left, instead, with vague impressions of only the products of magic and not its process.

Who doesn't want to believe in magic? The premise of The Night Circus is magical because we want magic to be real.

The premise of The Night Circus is magical because we all want magic to be real. Except David Blaine, because he’s making money from magic not being real.

TNC is, in some respects, superbly original. Subplots and mysteries intertwine in the hauntingly beautiful setting of the circus, where ice grows into gardens of flowers and wishes in a tree full of candles are granted and a tattooed woman folds herself into tiny glass boxes. In the end, though, this is a novel about a love affair (because aren’t they all?), and when Celia and Marco each catch the case of the feels, it is completely expected. Nothing about their tempestuous, taboo tryst rings with the same originality as the circus itself, and any empathy I may have had for their mutual passion is amputated by Morgenstern’s montage narrative style. Celia and Marco’s relationship can just take a backseat to the novelty of the Night Circus as it is seen and lived in and pined over by the novel’s other characters. When the film adaptation comes out (yup, it’s happening), I will be most excited to see the circus in all its nocturnal glory rather than just another pair of pretty people saying the same tired lines of romantic devotion.

The love that sparks between Marco and Celia is as expected as its trials and tribulations are predictable, but it simply can't be avoided in a story like this.

The love that sparks between Marco and Celia is as expected as its trials and tribulations are predictable, but it simply can’t be avoided in a story like this.

Read it if … you are completely prepared to be sucked into an entertaining novel. Between the brief chapters and the vignette style, TNC moves quickly. You are going to miss your bus stops and burn midnight oil on this one.

Don’t read it if … you want a Brandon Sanderson-esque magic system. Morgenstern doesn’t get into the nitty gritty of magic as a science or magic as a logic system. Here, magic just “happens.” Take this as a bonus or a detriment, but there’s some heavy romancing going on this book. It’s what you might call “a kissing book.”

This book is like … Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark, if you prefer magic and the period fiction (but I’ve only read half of it, so take this with half a grain of salt); or Amy Bloom’s Away, if you’re looking for the same style of narrative structure; or, though I’ve never read it all, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, because it is both a romance and a book about a circus, but it has absolutely nothing to do with magic, so, you know, what’s the point.

Erin Morgenstern seems as whimsical and dreamlike as her novel.

Erin Morgenstern seems as whimsical and dreamlike as her novel.

On Kay Kenyon’s “A Thousand Perfect Things”

24 Oct
Get yourself a copy, and you won't be disappointed. A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon combines magic, science, and adventure with a rare talent.

Get yourself a copy, and you won’t be disappointed. A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon combines magic, science, and adventure with a rare talent.

Kay Kenyon is a growing powerhouse in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy community, and an even bigger powerhouse in her native Pacific Northwest. She has published eleven books and was nominated for the Philip K. Dick award for her novel Maximum Ice. At the SFWA October Reading in the Seattle area last week, Kenyon graced the Wild Rover Pub with a reading from a work in progress, an alternate history of World War II where psychic powers may tip the balance between European powers. I’m sitting there completely enthralled, but who has time to wait for a work in progress? I ended up buying a copy of Kenyon’s 2013 novel A Thousand Perfect Things, her first foray into the fantasy realm.

A Thousand Perfect Things is close to perfection itself, at least as far as entertainment is concerned. It didn’t take me long to feel fully absorbed and invested in this alternate retelling of British imperialism and of the battle between Western “reason” and Easter mysticism, or “magic” as it is in this fantasy novel. In this universe, the scientific Anglics have colonized and extorted the India-like Bharata. Kenyon’s protagonist, the young aspiring botanist Astoria “Tori” Harding, is a well-wrought character with realistic flaws: she’s confident in her scientific prowess, but self-conscious of a limp she’s carried since birth; she’s open-minded for the aristocratic circles she was born into, but she’s undeniably naive in all matters cultural, sexual, and magical. When a series of terrorist attacks (in the form of iron lion statues coming to life and giant snakes made from the Thames’ stinking waters) plague “Londinium,” the upper echelons of Anglic government decide a harder hand is needed with the upstarts in the colonies of Bharata. Tori accompanies her military father to a new post in Poondras, where she encounters a world she couldn’t have imagined and can’t empirically analyze. Kenyon keeps a wonderfully fast pace without mincing on beautiful descriptions of the landscape, exotic (to Tori) clothing, and fantastical wildlife.

Among the fantastical animals are "krakens." Not the giant squids we're used to seeing in fantasy depictions, but more like massive sea snakes that plague the oceans between Anglica and Bharata.

Among the fantastical animals are “krakens.” Not the giant squids we’re used to seeing in fantasy depictions, but more like massive sea snakes that plague the oceans between Anglica and Bharata.

Tori’s journey to Bharata is inspired by one thing: the last quest of her beloved grandpapa to find the Nelumbo aureus, the golden lotus said to emanate magical properties. She’s willing to brave the hostile politics, hostile wildlife, and even more hostile bush priests to prove her grandfather’s theory. She and the characters in this novel are pursuing their hearts’ desires. Many will fall short and many will be surprised at what their hearts truly desired.

The golden lotus of A Thousand Perfect Things is an object of scientific discovery for Tori Harding, but it's an object of spiritual revelation to the people of Bharata.

The golden lotus of A Thousand Perfect Things is an object of scientific discovery for Tori Harding, but it’s an object of spiritual revelation to the people of Bharata. (Pic from NatureProducts.net)

The tale in itself is wonderful. Tori’s goal to redeem her grandfather is inspiring and sympathetic. The political scene of an uneasy colony of a patronizing, militant occupier is familiar enough that I wasn’t lost, but different enough to not read like a carbon copy of our universe’s history books. However, I can’t help coming to books such as this without distinctly feeling my non-whiteness, and while I appreciate Kenyon’s attempt to tackle the difficult issues of colonization and racial discrimination, I’m not quite convinced that an opportunity wasn’t missed here. The fantasy and sci-fi genres allow for new perspectives to be applied to age-old, human controversies like these, but the characters in ATPT seem to still exist in a world where Western thought is considered reasonable and Eastern thought considered mystical. With the exception of two characters, all Bharatis are depicted as bitter, violent malcontents, while the atrocities of the occupying Anglic force are downplayed. Tori eroticizes one of the two sympathetic Bharati characters, using him for sexual experience. The protagonist’s objectification of the exotic Prince Jai slightly sours what was supposed to be a powerful moment of sexual liberation. Granted, the protagonist is Anglican, and therefore her biased perspective is expected, but I was hanging onto the hope that Kenyon would find a way to resolve my feelings of otherness by the end of the book. And by the end (no spoilers, don’t worry) I did feel better about the situation, but this is not a story about Bharata–it is the story of Anglics in Bharata.

On a grand scale, Kenyon succeeded with A Thousand Perfect Things. She created a story that felt new, bettered the genre of alternate histories, and was almost entirely enjoyable. I can’t ignore my own albeit mild frustrations and discomfort regarding race, though, and while that’s my only criticism of this book, it’s a legitimate issue for me and worthy of analysis. That being said, I’ll still be reading more of Kay Kenyon, who is a fabulous storyteller, and A Thousand Perfect Things will still hold a special place on my shelf!

I have a signed thing! It was a joy to meet Kay Kenyon at the SFWA reading, and she graciously autographed my book. Equally joyous was her reading from her novel-in-progress, At the Table of Wolves.

I have a signed thing! It was a joy to meet Kay Kenyon at the SFWA reading, and she graciously autographed my book. Equally joyous was her reading from her novel-in-progress, At the Table of Wolves.

*** MINOR SPOILERS ***

My other disappointment came at the very end of the book. Don’t read this book if you don’t like happy endings. Having just finished the novel, I’m still feeling sore about this, but an ending so neatly wrapped up doesn’t feel right to me, especially after the heart-wrenching, gory climax Kenyon constructs. I felt a little let down.

On Diana Wynne Jones’s “A Sudden Wild Magic”

9 Oct
I highly suggest becoming addicted to Diana Wynne Jones, and A Sudden Wild Magic is a good a place as any to start.

I highly suggest becoming addicted to Diana Wynne Jones, and A Sudden Wild Magic is a good a place as any to start.

When you think about genre fiction, you think of rock star authors like James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Stephen King. These are authors who are so prolific that they define the genres they write in. Diana Wynne Jones is a different kind of author. With a quieter celebrity and armloads of skill, Jones influenced the fantasy genre in ways most readers don’t know. She creates unique universes and often humorous and lighthearted plots, and ends up with timeless novels with a lot of influence in the fantasy genre. Her non-fiction book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, in which Jones explores the tropes and pitfalls of cliché in fantasy stories, started a cult following of critics and genre writers alike. Studio Ghibli’s production of Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle brought a resurgence of attention to the late author’s works, and I decided to pick up the 1992 novel A Sudden Wild Magic to become more familiar with this lesser known legend.

Jones received extra attention after Hayao Miyazaki adapted her novel Howl's Moving Castle to a Studio Ghibli animated film.

Jones received extra attention after Hayao Miyazaki adapted her novel Howl’s Moving Castle to a Studio Ghibli animated film.

In ASWM, Earth is quietly managed and kept safe by the Ring–a secret collection of mages and witches–but everyone in England, possibly the entire universe, is at risk. A young mage makes a discovery: Earth’s alternate universe has not only been spying on but subtly sabotaging this one. The only course of action seems to be a preemptive attack, and a small task force is shipped off in a game of kill-or-be-killed. As they learn more about this foreign landscape, though, the members of the task force must reevaluate their methods and their goal.

Jones creates a host of characters who quietly push against stereotypes and cliché: Zillah, a young single mother with a dark history, manages to be strong and resourceful without being emotionless or masculine; Tod, a man from the alternate universe, is a balance between good and detestable characteristics; Gladys is a leader character because of her power, but has very few leadership qualities and is probably more than a little insane.

As the fabulous and sometimes terrifying characters become tangled in a plot of intricate conspiracies, the magic takes a turn for the darker. Suddenly, wild magic is everywhere, untamed and violent and hateful. People start disappearing, transmission towers come to life and start trampling things, characters are trapped in the deepest ether, and who out of the flawed, insecure pseudo-heroes will step forward to save the universe(s)??

If these mofos came to life in my universe, I think I'd just give up.

If these mofos came to life in my universe, I think I’d just give up.

ASWM is the quintessential fantasy novel, because it has all the elements: strong characters of both genders, a logical and unique magic system, interesting plot twists, and high entertainment value. It’s no wonder that Jones was good friends with the inimitable Neil Gaiman and Robin McKinley. You can’t get any better than that triad of fantasy domination.

These two were buds. If I could be a fly on the wall during their hang outs, I could die happy.

These two were buds. If I could be a fly on the wall during their hang outs, I could die happy.

This particular novel of Jones’s flies under the radar of her more popular How’s Moving Castle and Derkholm series, and it seems like it may be difficult to track down a copy, but if you need a novel of pure, delightful fun, A Sudden Wild Magic is the one for you. I will definitely be reading more Diana Wynne Jones in the near future.