Sunday, December 16, 2012

Children's Fantasy: "Lily the Silent" by Tod Davies

Holy social commentary, Batman! Literature has a long history of being used to teach morals and social values, ancient Greek plays and Aesop's Fables coming most notably to mind. Add to that list Tod Davies's new book "The History of Arcadia: Lily the Silent," especially if you're looking to brainwash your children into an extreme left-wing way of thinking long before they're registering to vote.

In this children's book, the beautiful Lily (who will one day be queen) is taken from her peaceful homeland of Arcadia when soldiers from the wasteful and proud Megalopolis invade her country. Taken with her faithful dog Rex to a children's mine, she is eventually noticed by a handsome but spineless socialite and brought into the upper crust of Megalopolitan society. But Lily turns out to be there for another reason: the most prominent socialites know that their used-up land is close to destruction, thanks to a mystical book they found on the moon and an angel that they captured and tortured. Lily, they discovered, is the key to stopping a great cataclysm. They send her into the sea to retrieve a mystical key from mermaids, but when she returns to land, she tricks the socialites and leaves Megalopolis, leading a vast number of women and children into the mountains ahead of a tidal wave that wipes out the rest of the jeering, mocking city. From there Lily leads everyone through a harsh winter in the mountains, has a baby, and brings them all into Arcadia, where she becomes queen.


This was a really random-ass book. Aside from that, something that stood out for me was that it didn't really "show" the reader at all; rather, it "told" everything in more of a "first this happened. And then this happened. But really it was like this," instead of being able to create an image of events through the writing. But as awkward as that sounds, it has the feel of a folktale to it, which fits neatly with the written-by-a-bard thing. The simplistic writing style also makes this a good children's book, without too many complicated writing techniques.

But content? Holy crap. I'm not at all afraid or ashamed to say that I am a very politically liberal person. But Davies overloads this story with an incredible number of black-and-white social critiques of our modern age. There are the general themes of resource management, environmental protection and sustainability, yes. But it doesn't stop there. Davies goes on to condemn video games, blonde people, social media and large-breasted women, equating them purely with Megalopolis and expressing wonder on Lily's behalf at how different things are in Arcadia (which, we can assume, is full of only small-chested brunettes who worship the frequently-referenced Goddess). So much for the image of an idyllic, inclusive society accepting of all people.

Honestly, unless you're raising your kid to be the next extreme leftist nut job who is mostly laughed at but occasionally gets hours on a liberal radio station in the wee hours of the morning, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. Nope, no one. And I'm pretty sure that's a first for me. Just in case you want to see what I mean when I say this is a terrible book though, Tod Davies's book "The History of Arcadia: Lily the Silent" came out in October. I suggest you check it out from your local library, and avoid wasting your money on purchasing a copy. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Steampunk Fiction: "The Dark Unwinding" by Sharon Cameron

Love clockwork and steam punk stories of Victorian England? This, dear reader, is a book for you. Sharon Cameron's first novel is a great adventure full of quirky characters, first love, a detestable villain and a young woman coming into her own.

A 17-year-old orphan entirely dependent upon her entitled aunt's charity, Katherine Tulman is sent from London to her uncle's rural Stranwyne Keep one summer. The occasion, however, is no holiday. Katherine has been charged by her aunt with testifying to her uncle's insanity so that Katherine's useless lump of a cousin can inherit the estate, after a lengthy stewardship by her aunt, of course. But when Katherine arrives at Stranwyne, instead of the Bedlam she expects, she finds a thriving community that wouldn't exist without her uncle's harmless, if unorthodox, way of life. Katherine must make the decision to risk her own position in her aunt's household or betray Stranwyne Keep's inhabitants in a setup that feels familiar but not old.

The writing style is easy to read and Katherine's plight creates a real connection to the reader, especially when you get the feeling that some characters know more about the truth than either Katherine or the reader does. This ties closely into the time period (namely in regards to strained relations between England and post-Napoleon France) and gives rise to the emergence of a good old mystery in the midst of the other plot lines, blended and intertwined to perfection. I'll be the first to admit that I thought the culprit was someone different than I expected, and I've read a number of clockwork mysteries in my time.

The only gripe I have about the story's outcome is that Davy's implication isn't entirely clear to me regarding motivation. Passing details, though, that could have poked holes in the plot were tied up quite neatly, leaving a large sense of unfinished business to imply an intended sequel, which I for one hope will be forthcoming sooner rather than later.

Ask your independently-owned local bookseller for a copy of Sharon Cameron's "The Dark Unwinding" now. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Historical Fiction: "The Imposter Bride" by Nancy Richler

What happened after the "after"? It's a question I think we've all probably asked ourselves after reading some book that left you wondering or maybe even at a loss. In her new book "The Imposter Bride," Nancy Richler foregoes the bulk of the "before" in favor of the "after" of a Jewish family living in Montreal. A young woman by the name of Lily Azerov arrives there in Canada after fleeing Europe in the wake of WWII, where she has arranged to marry into the Kramer family. But like many, Lily is not who she was before the war, although this expression is more literal than metaphorical in her case. Years later, Lily's daughter Ruth tries to suss out the mystery of her mother and her mysterious disappearance when Ruth was a baby. Her efforts drag her through the muck of her family's rebuilding after WWII, their histories, fears, sins, and most desperate memories, but above all the love and commitment to each other that held them together despite adversity.

This was an interesting novel for me, in part because I found some of it quite frustrating. Richler paints vivid portraits of the characters involved, from old Yiddish women to dissatisfied young men in the up-and-coming world of business. But she moves from voice to voice, perspective to perspective, without any indication to the reader. It was unsettling, having to re-read every few paragraphs to put the perspective to the person. This became easier after a few chapters, after the challenge of not only reconciling multiple third-person perspectives with their appropriate characters but also identifying the first-person speaker as Ruth. While difficult at times, this did not unduly impede the unfolding of the story line.

That story line produced its own frustrations in me as well, though. I can't honestly tell you what kept it going, only that for some reason I kept reading. Perhaps I as a reader was just carried on the flow of events and the demystification of how the family members all fit together, before and after WWII, because I can't think of anything else that could be said to hold this novel together. Although the book is entitled "The Imposter Bride," and Lily Azerov's past and identity are what set this story in motion, its trail is really quite thready through the book, only briefly and tentatively following up on itself. While it's the initial hook to the story, don't expect much as far as closure goes. But despite this, the novel itself reads quite smoothly.

 I'd recommend this novel to someone who's looking for something to sit back and ponder, perhaps as a sort of "down time" book for a long week of being snowbound or something to read between harrowing crime novels. It's a good contemplation-type of story.

To find out the "afters" of both the Azerov and Kramer families, and see how this book clings to consolidation with the same tenacity as those two families, look for "The Imposter Bride" at your neighborhood bookstore in February 2013.