As any other voracious reader, I have favorite series and authors. Angela Roquet is one of them, and her urban fantasy series Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc. is one I consider an instant classic in its genre. Imagine a whole society populating the after life with its own angsts and day to day struggles. Add a few super villains along the way, an intrepid although unwilling heroine, a few angels and demons vying for her attention, and you got the idea. Death Wish is the fifth installment, and there were so many things I loved about the story, but without spoiling it for everybody else, I’ll only say that all the characters have grown a lot. The atmosphere is getting darker and darker, and I love it. If you haven’t given this series a try yet, I would recommend that you get a copy of the first book, Graveyard Shift, which is free. You’ll be hooked in no time, I guarantee it!
While devouring my usual dose of urban fantasy and sci-fi, I have encountered so many mentions about Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tale that I felt I had to read it. I wanted to understand what made The Secret Garden memorable. I downloaded it on my Kindle and read it between books, as a snack before and after meals. I started slowly; I normally need some time to get used to a different author’s pace and style. Especially if the novel was written more than one hundred years ago, when authors fancied to do all the talking, and narrate the story as if they were master puppeteers. The third person omniscient is hard to get used to, and Burnett gave thoughts even to the animals and the plants in her novel. Although I find that a thinking bud is a rather fascinating subject, and that given the right amount of persuasion even rocks can talk, switching between point of views, sentence after sentence, can result in a pounding headache for the modern reader. Knowing everything about everybody at any given moment feels like cheating. It is like leafing through the pages of a thriller and when you can’t stand it anymore, jumping to the last one to discover who is the murderer. Nonetheless there is something about the characters in this novel that made me keep going despite the narrator’s distinctive voice intruding in the flow. Miss Mary and Master Colin are selfish and unlikable kids. Both born rich and used to command an army of servants. Both neglected by their parents from birth. Mary is sent back to England after her parents die of an outbreak of cholera in India. Archibald Craven, Colin’s father, a reclusive widow who is Mary’s uncle, becomes her guardian. He doesn’t care about her and forgets she even exists as soon as Mary set foot in England. After being left alone in India, Mary is left alone, again, in Misselthwaite Manor where she has only Martha, a young servant unimpressed by the sour kid, to help her. Martha teaches Mary the Yorkshire dialect, and the invaluable lesson of being able to fetch things for herself. Mary for once in her life is forced to find amusement without anybody attending on her. She soon discovers that Misselthwaite Manor has two big secrets. Among the gardens there is a walled space where nobody is allowed in by master’s orders. Mary, helped by a robin that has befriended her, finds the buried key to the secret garden. Soon after Martha’s brother, Dickon, starts helping her digging and planting in the garden. Following the first wondrous discovery, Mary meets Colin, the young master who never leaves his room for fear of being a cripple doomed to die soon. It is friendship at first sight between the two. Mary introduces Colin to Dickon, and with his help they start a journey of self-healing and physical and spiritual growth. The three kids work in the secret garden and observe the miracle of life while nature awakes before their eyes. Mary and Colin are taught by Dickon’s actions that positive thinking leads to good things to happen. Even Colin’s father, visiting the Alps, is called back home by a supernatural calling. Archibald Craven can feel that miraculous changings are taking places at Misselthwaite Manor and that is finally time to be a father for Colin. Burnett was a follower of the Christian Science, and the garden, as a central theme of the novel, symbolize both death and life. Destruction and creation. The garden loved by Colin’s mother, and closed after her death by Colin’s father, reunites a family that is on a path of self-destruction. Although the concept of willing anything in life by just wanting it is rather naïve, I enjoyed the simplemindedness of the three kids. Colin decides to get on living, and Mary decides that the garden will grow, and they talk each other to it. Dickon’s character is pure light and goodness because he is one with nature and all its living creatures. He helps Mary and Colin, who have been living in bitterness, to achieve the same enlightenment. It is interesting that there is no villain in the novel, but Mary, Colin, and Mr. Craven, are their own enemies. The negative attitude the main characters have toward life is their own demise. Colin is bedridden because he thinks, like his father, that he is going to be a hunchback and die young. Mary, unwanted by her mother, doesn’t care for anybody, because nobody cared for her. They are what they think they are. Until they discover that they have the power to change what they don’t like. The Secret Garden is a motivational speech wrapped up in a novel, but despite the blatant religious message I ended up rooting for the kids, and the animals, and even the plants. Everybody and everything in the novel got my approval, but Archibald Craven. He remained a little bit of a douche until the end, I am afraid. I can’t find in my heart any sympathy for adult characters who act like spoiled children. It also didn’t help that, apart from a brief appearance in the middle of the story, he suddenly comes back when everything has already been said and done. But that’s just my opinion. A final comment about the third person omniscient is due. It was all the rage back when the novel was written, so I can’t fault the author. And who knows, maybe it will come back like the eighties leg warmers.
I have been praising Cassandra Clare for so long that it seems just right to finally write something about her latest endeavor, the highly anticipated Clockwork Angel, first installation in The Infernal Devices’ trilogy which is also a prequel for the Mortal Instruments’ series. Clockwork Angel is set in the Victorian London with some steampunk elements. Tessa Gray is a young lady who is forced to leave New York after the untimely death of her aunt, and comes to London to be reunited with her brother Nathaniel, who has sent for her. Much to her surprise, Tessa is welcomed in London by two unforgiving women, the Dark Sisters, who proclaim to be Nathaniel’s friend. Tessa’s fate takes a turn for the worse when she soon discovers that not only her brother is nowhere to be seen, but that the Dark Sisters have set their minds to teach her how to use a power she doesn’t know she has. Tessa endures the tortures and the painful lessons only because the Dark Sisters have threatened to kill Nathaniel. After several weeks of imprisonment, and at the eve of being given in marriage to an obscure entity called the Magister, Tessa is saved by Will Herondale, a young shadowhunter from the London’s Institute. Shadowhunters are Nephilims , a race of human-angel hybrids created by the angel Raziel with the purpose of defending humanity from the demons hordes. Will finds Tessa while investigating a series of murders committed by demons that has left a trail of human victims through London. Tessa is granted asylum at the Institute by Charlotte, a strong willed shadowhunter who is married to Henry, brilliant inventor unaware of the rest of the world, and with different degrees of complacency by the rest of the Institutes’ inhabitants. Tessa will grow attached to the pale sickness-ridden Jem and his kind soul, and she will also learn to tolerate beautiful and spoiled Jessamine who doesn’t want to be a warrior. But she will fall in love with Will, who has a dark reputation and a tormented soul and who seems to care for nobody, but Jem. Tessa is helped by the rest of the shadowhunters to find her brother Nathaniel, while at the same time helping them using her power to find the Magister. In the process of honing her unique skill to change her appearance at pleasure, Tessa comes to understand what entails to be a downworlder, half-human and half-demon. As usual in Cassandra Clare’s works, I enjoyed the character building and the witty dialogues, as much as the plot. Cassandra Clare has an uncanny ability to draw characters who are at the same time funny and tragic. When Tessa at the beginning of the story is being rescued by Will from the Dark Sisters, she corrects him on hell being cold, according to Dante’s Inferno, and not hot as Will has just stated. The whole scene is hilarious because it is inserted in the middle of fast paced action, and the timing is perfect. In another section of the novel, much later in the story, Jem reassures Tessa about her worries of being a monster, the spawn of human and demon. He says to her that she is what she feels she is. “If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. Whatever the color, the shape, the design of the shade that conceals it, the flame inside the lamp remains the same. You are that flame.” The setting of the Clockwork Angel, the prosperous Victorian London, shared by downworlders and nephilims who hide their presence from the humans, deserves a mention by itself. The city is another living character in the novel, it has a personality, and it shapes the story. The clockwork army unleashed by the Magister and roaming the streets of London adds the steampunk element that make the depiction of the city even more interesting. Since the Infernal Devices’ series is set in a complete different and earlier era than the Mortal Instruments’ one, they can be read independently. Although I didn’t do it, since the prequel got written and published after the Mortal Instruments’ series, I suggest to read the books in their chronological order just because there are characters who show up in both series. It also makes easier to understand the complex world Cassandra Clare invented . After having read Clockwork Angel, I am now waiting for the next two books in the series to come out with even greater anticipation. Unfortunately it is not going to be yesterday, as I fervently wished. Clockwork Prince will be released September 2011; and Clockwork Princess, November/December 2012. Meanwhile I still have the City of Fallen Angels, the fourth in the Mortal Instruments’ series, to look forward in exact 106 days.
Keep reading, it’s healthy!
I am always excited to find a great author. As I said in my previous post, I liked a pep talk written by Holly Black for Nanowrimo, and I checked out several of her books. I am overjoyed to announce that White Cat, the first installment in The Curse Workers’ series, is getting a place of honor in my favorite books’ list. White Cat is narrated in the first person/present tense, which is a tough one to pull off, by Cassel Sharpe. He is a lonely teenager, coming from a family of curse workers and aspiring only to fix his sleepwalking problem to be reaccepted at his private school. Cassel refuses to have normal social relationships because he is hiding a terrible truth, and doesn’t think he deserves more from life than misery. Being the only non worker in his family he feels rejected by his own brothers, and would like more than anything else to be trusted by them. With his mother in prison, and a grandfather who doesn’t seem completely reliable, Cassel is left to fend for himself while he tries to make sense of how he could have killed Lila, the girl he loved. The whole story takes place in an alternate universe where curse workers, people born with magical powers, are outlawed and hunted. Everybody is forced to wear gloves, since the curses are worked by skin touching. I particularly like when an author is able to create a universe that is structured by specific socio-economic rules, and Holly Black has done an excellent job with the curse workers’ world. The scene where Cassel blushes at the sight of his sister in law’s naked hands is a perfect example of how deep is said world. White Cat has witty dialogues, a smart plot, and an incredible ending that will make you talk about it long after you have finished reading the book. Waiting impatiently for Red Glove to come out next April.
Rainy Monday! My choice for the week is an absolute masterpiece, Archangel by Sharon Shinn. This novel is one of my favorite books. I have a list of ten books that I compile every year,and Archangel has been there for a good while. I read it several years ago, and I have been rereading it at least once a year. It’s my comfort reading. Archangel is the first in a series of five set in the imaginary planet of Samaria. A complex array of human beings populates the variegated geography of the planet. The Manadavvi are sophisticated landowners from Gaza. The Jansai are greedy merchants from Jordana. The peaceful Edori are composed by nomadic tribes hunted by the Jansai and forced to slavery. Above them all reign the Angels, superior human beings who can fly and communicate directly with the god Jovah by singing. The angels sing to Jovah to keep Samaria’s erratic weather pattern under control. They sing to ask for medicines that fall from the sky. The angels live separated from the humans in three hosts that divide Samaria in as many regions. Raphael, the current Archangel, is also the leader of the host in Windy Point. Ariel is the leader of the host in Monteverde. Gabriel is the leader of the host in the Eyrie, and the next appointed Archangel. The story is set in motion when Gabriel seeks the Oracle Josiah to ask the god for the name of his bride, the Angelica. Gabriel has delayed the task as long as possible, but the mass gathering singing of the Gloria is only six month ahead. To his surprise, the god Jovah has selected for him an Edori slave. Rachel is headstrong and not at least awestruck by the arrogant angel who proclaims to be her chosen spouse. She refuses to believe Gabriel, even when her “kiss” (the colored piece of glass most of the Samarian children get implanted during the Dedication Ceremony) illuminates to match his own. Rachel, daunted by her feelings toward Gabriel, runs away from him at every turn, looking for the comfort of the Chievens, the Edori tribe that adopted her when she lost her family. At first Gabriel is forced by the circumstances to follow her. It is his duty to make her listen to reason. Without the Angelica by his side during the Gloria, the annual gathering where everybody in Samaria must sing in harmony, the life on the planet will be annihilated by Jovah. In his journey across Samaria Gabriel realizes the depth of his sentiments toward the renegade bride. He understands where she comes from, and what she has endured to become who she is. Gabriel and Rachel united will save Samaria from the destruction caused by Raphael. What I liked the most about the cosmos Sharon Shinn has created is the absolute coherence of the characters and their environment. While I was reading the book I found myself more than once imagining about the places Shinn described. The blue city of Luninaux, where the craftsmen live, vibrant with life and shining with art. The white city of Semorrah, built on a small island in the middle of the river Galilee, where Rachel is brought as a slave to serve a family of river merchants. Gabriel’s beloved Eyrie, a place where celestial music is sung day and night, perched over the busy city of Velora. The bleak peak of Windy Point where Raphael commits his acts of hubris against the divinity. And as detailed is the description of the geography in Samaria, so is the description of each character. From the two protagonists, Gabriel and Rachel, who are both strong and weak at the same time, to the secondary characters who propel the story. Nathan and Magdalena are a good example of the quality of the subplot in Archangel. They are both angels, respectively brother and sister of Gabriel and Ariel. In Samaria angels, both men and women, are strongly encouraged to bed as many human partners as possible to ensure angelic progeny. Angels are difficult to be conceived, and the union of two of them is prohibited because it doesn’t normally end up in healthy babies. Nathan and Magdalena fight their sentiments, but their “kisses” come alive the first time they kiss. Every character in the novel has a story, and all the stories come together beautifully in rendering a well drawn picture of a whole universe. Sharon Shinn commented that the first scene she envisioned when writing Archangel was when Gabriel shields Rachel in his wings. It’s the same scene that makes me come back to the book again, and again. Rachel wakes up, after a traumatic experience, fully embraced in a white cocoon of feathers. The scene is breathtaking because of the two characters involved. Sharon Shinn is very good at creating conflicts that transform a mere embrace into something more. Something that makes you read a novel several times. Each book in the Samaria series can be read as a stand-alone, but I suggest to read them following the chronological order of the story line (even though is not the order Sharon Shinn wrote them). Angelica would be the first one, set one hundred years before the events narrated in Archangel. Archangel would be the second one, followed by Angel-Seeker set few years after it. Jovah’s Angel is set one hundred years later. And finally the truth about Samaria and it’s vengeful and mercurial god is uncovered in The Alleluia Files. A final consideration is due about John Jude Palencar, who is the artist behind the ethereal covers of the Samaria’s books. Before I bought my copy of Archangel, I picked up one at my local Library simply because my eyes were caught by the clean beauty of the art cover. Love at first sight. It exists serendipitously.
Have a glorious reading.