Hatching a Gryphon, and a Lot of Chaos

After rereading all of Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series, I think I may finally have a favorite–the final book, The Pinhoe Egg.  It’s a perfect blend of new characters, old friends, and high hilarity.  And a great fit for Once Upon a Time!

The Pinhoe family has been practicing their secret magic for generations, avoiding the eye of “the Big Man,” Chrestomanci, who is a kind of magic regulator for the government. The plot beyond that is…complicated.  When Gammer Pinhoe, clan matriarch, goes insane (possibly cursed by a rival magical family), chaos, upheaval, and magical feuds are inevitable.  And there’s a magical egg, long-held by the Pinhoes, which comes into the possession of Cat, ward of Chrestomanci Castle, and hatches into a baby gryphon.

I loved seeing Cat take center-stage again, even more than he did in the first (written, though not chronological) book, Charmed Life.  Cat in this book still struggles with trust and openness, but has also come into more confidence about himself and his abilities.  It’s a nice development from his previous book, while being remarkably consistent for two books written almost 30 years apart!

Centering much of the book around Chrestomanci Castle also meant seeing more of its other residents, and here was where I was especially glad that I’d read the whole series in order pretty quickly.  I’m sure that when I read this before, I’d forgotten who most of the supporting characters were.  This time I still had everyone in mind and could draw all the connections between books.

Along with familiar faces, there were delightful new characters too.  Marianne Pinhoe is our second major character, alongside Cat.  She has some parallels to Cat in the first book, actually, as someone with strong magic who has never fully realized it.  She’s less passive than Cat was, and spends much of the book trying to deal with problems no one else seems to be able to see.

The Pinhoes en masse (and especially Gammer Pinhoe) are a wonderful group, mixing humor deftly with much more sinister undertones.  They form an interesting contrast to the spell families in The Magicians of Caprona.  In both cases we have a busy, clannish family, full of aunts and uncles, fiercely proud of their magic and having an uncanny ability to know what’s going on with family members.  There, however, the Montanas clearly care about their young family members and want to protect, teach and encourage them.  The Pinhoes seem largely bent on stifling Marianne, or at least forcing her into the mold they consider appropriate.  Parents often come off very badly in Jones’ books, and this is a definite case where that happens.

But even with some sinister undertones, there are still hilarious incidents of magical mayhem, including a runaway kitchen table that rampages through town…

If I have one criticism of the book, it’s that I had to suspend disbelief on one of the central plot points.  The Pinhoes are supposed to be practicing magic secretly–and yet they seem to be very bad at hiding anything.  They’re practically on Chrestomanci’s doorstep, they fly around on brooms, and a cursed table runs down Main Street.  I honestly don’t know how Chrestomanci managed to not notice them.  Possibly they were only keeping their particular method of magic secret, not the fact of doing magic in general…but if that was the point, it wasn’t clear to me.  However…the rest of the book is so good that I’m willing to just run with that one idea and not ask too many questions!

So now that I’m at the end of my chronological reread, I do have some thoughts on reading order!  I think there’s actually a lot of room for flexibility, but the books can generally be looked at in pairs.  Charmed Life and The Pinhoe Egg; and The Lives of Christopher Chant and Conrad’s Fate each pair together and should be read in order–although you could make a case for reading either pair first!  Witch Week and The Magicians of Caprona are much more removed from the series and could be read at any point, although probably not first.  And the short stories in Mixed Magics really are best when read in connection to their relative books (see review for details!)

Got all that?  :)  Maybe the real conclusion here is that it doesn’t matter all that much which order these are read in…because they’re just wonderful books anyway!  My favorites are chronologically at the beginning and the end, The Lives of Christopher Chant and The Pinhoe Egg, but every installment is excellent!

Author’s Site: http://dianawynnejones.com/

Other reviews:
A Journey Through Pages
Charlotte’s Library
Taking a Break
Anyone else?

Buy it here: The Pinhoe Egg

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Star Wars: The Hand of Thrawn

I had an excellent time rereading The Thrawn Trilogy, Timothy Zahn’s landmark Star Wars novels, during the Sci Fi Experience this year.  After that, I decided to finally go on and read his Hand of Thrawn Duet, Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future.  (Warning: some spoilers to follow for the The Thrawn Trilogy.)

So why did I never read these before?  Funny story about that…I actually used to own both of these books.  I had the first one for quite a while but was waiting to read it until the second one came out in paperback.  It finally did, I bought it, I started reading Specter of the Past…and I found out in three chapters or so that they apparently-returned-from-the-dead Thrawn was actually a fake.  I was so disgusted that I stopped reading and gave both books away.  After ten years or so, I felt I may have overreacted…

There was one thing I was right about though–these two books function like one really long book, with what feels like an almost arbitrary break between, so it’s no good reading one without the other, or trying to talk about them separately!

Ten years after The Thrawn Trilogy (and 15 years after Return of the Jedi), the Empire has been beaten back to a tiny fraction of its former strength.  Supreme Commander Admiral Pellaeon believes they have no choice but to surrender to the New Republic.  Unbeknownst to him, Grand Moff Disra has a plan afoot–he’s found a conman who can pose as Grand Admiral Thrawn, the brilliant tactician who nearly reversed the Empire’s fortunes before; and a member of the elite guard with enough tactical genius to support him.

Meanwhile, the New Republic is struggling to hold itself together, especially when revelations come out that an unidentified group of Bothans contributed to a world’s destruction (like Alderaan, but not) some 50 years ago.  With many worlds demanding vengeance be taken on the entire species, and others using it as an excuse to fight their own battles, the New Republic is swiftly on the brink of civil war.  Leia, Han and various friends try to put out fires and find answers at home.  Luke does his own investigating, around the galaxy and using the Force, until he’s eventually drawn into a rescue mission of Mara Jade.

Looong plot!  There’s a LOT happening, and I think that’s both the strength and the weakness of the books.  So many cool things are going on–but so many things are going on!  Zahn moves the point of view around with every different plot thread, so between the two books we spent time with Leia, Han, Luke and Mara (together and separate), Lando, Talon Karrde, two different mercenary female warriors (it’s complicated), Wedge Antilles of Rogue Squadron, General Bel Iblis, and no less than five separate groups of Imperials.

To Zahn’s credit, all of these people had interesting things going on, and I had surprisingly little trouble keeping it all straight.  At the same time, I still felt like I was frequently being sidetracked from the couple of plotlines that I liked best, or from the characters I most wanted to see.  I think I might have liked these two books better as one book with half the subplots.

However…these were still solidly engaging books.  I did overreact about the fake Thrawn all those years ago.  While I am still a little disappointed that it wasn’t the real Thrawn (such a cool villain!), the con turned out to be pretty brilliant too.  I especially liked the way it sent all the other characters into a tailspin, second-guessing themselves because they think Thrawn is manipulating them.  So some of the best aspects of Thrawn-as-villain still came through.

Luke had a particularly good thread here too, especially in the second book when he connects with Mara.  Those two play off each other so nicely, and they both underwent powerful character growth in the second book.  There’s some intriguing examinations of the Force as well, as they each explore their abilities and limitations.

The Thrawn Trilogy are probably the best Star Wars books I’ve ever read, and while The Hand of Thrawn didn’t manage to equal them, they’re still solid installments in the continuing saga.  Now I just have to figure out what to read next!  All the various sites about Star Wars books are surprisingly difficult to decipher, but I think the next one I want is Zahn’s Survivor’s QuestStar Wars fans, feel free to weigh in on the subject! :)

Don’t forget, you can win a signed copy of my fairy tale retelling, The Wanderers! Just put #WanderersGiveAway in your comment to enter.

Other reviews:
Speculiction
Mathachew
From the Mind of Tatlock
Anyone else?

Buy them here: Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future

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Guest Post: Favorite Fairy Tale Retellings

 You’ve seen me write about my favorite fairy tale retellings many times, but today I’m happy to present someone else’s opinion!  Today we have a guest post from Katy, who writes at A Library Mama.  Some of these are favorites of mine as well, and some are ones I am definitely going to have to explore!  Links go to Katy’s reviews, if you want to find out more.

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Fairy tales made into novels are some of my favorite types of books ever, and I promised Cheryl this list oh, months and months ago. I’m finally doing it in honor of the Once Upon a Time challenge (hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings.)

These are not by any means the only fairy tale retellings I have read and loved – but in the interests of keeping it manageable, I’ve limited myself to an even dozen. I hope you enjoy!

Beauty by Robin McKinley. (1978, Middle Grade)

This is the book that started it all, first checked out regularly from the library, then bought with Christmas money so that I could carry it in my suitcase when traveling. This retelling of Beauty and the Beast started both my adoration of Robin McKinley and my search for great fairy tale retellings.

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. (1991, Adult. “New Adult” might be perfect)

This was the first book I found in the Fairy Tale Series, edited by Terri Windling, though I went on to track down the others as well. I was in college when I discovered it, and despite the marked difference in technology between my college and the college of the story, the college life is so vividly described that it took me quite a while to realize that it was set in the 1960s rather than the present. The magic weaves its way into the story subtly at first, gradually coming to a crescendo.

Jack the Giant Killer by Charles deLint (1987, Adult)

Jacky is stumbling through the streets of Ottawa, reeling from a tough break-up, when she finds that grief and alcohol have blurred the edges of reality so that she can now see its faerie denizens – and the growing conflict between the Seelie and Unseelie courts. This is another Fairy Tales series entry, and my introduction to deLint, as well as a great story in its own right.

Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia Wrede (1989, Adult)

The author of the beloved Enchanted Forest Chronicles doesn’t disappoint in this Elizabethan retelling of the story, featuring a manipulative John Dee. Also part of the Fairy Tale series.

Kate Crackernuts by Katharine Mary Briggs (1963, Middle Grade)

Kate Crackernuts (the original, traditional) is a wonderful story of stepsisters who are loyal to each other even when the stepmother thinks they should be enemies. This lovely retelling moves the whole story to the Scottish Highlands. I got a dusty old copy through interlibrary loan to read it, but it’s now happily available in paperback as well.

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (1997, Teen)

It’s Beauty and the Beast again, but different – I’ve read both of these retellings multiple times. Beauty feels more down-to-earth, and has more about Beauty’s love of books and her relationship with her horse. Though of course there’s magic in both stories, the magic here feels more fantastical, and there is a lot more about the magic of roses in particular.

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli (1996, Middle Grade)

A mystical, reflective retelling of Rapunzel, told from the points of view of Rapunzel, the witch, and the prince. I fell in love with it in library school.

Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (2003, Middle Grade/Teen)

The book that first brought Shannon Hale to my attention, the story of Princess Anidori’s struggle to survive and reinvent herself after she’s betrayed grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go.

East by Edith Pattou (2003, Teen)

“East of the Sun, West of the Moon” set in rural Norway. When Rose discovers that, contrary to what she’s been told, she was born facing north, the direction of adventurers, she is both outraged and excited. Then, an enormous white bear offers to save her sister’s life and her family’s fortune if she will come with him. Strong characters and a strong sense of setting make for a wonderful retelling.

Ash by Malinda Lo (2009, Teen)

A Cinderella that puts the chancy Fair Folk back into the fairy tale, and takes the assumptions that a heterosexual romance is the path to happiness out. It’s all done in the context of an utterly compelling story.

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (2007, Teen)

A beautiful and terrifying, if not straightforward, “Twelve Dancing Princesses.” This particular fairy tale is one where I tracked down every novel retelling I could find – I’ve picked this one as my favorite for this list, but there were so many other good ones, too!

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (2011, Middle Grade)

Confession: Hans Christian Andersen is not my favorite. It’s greatly to Ursu’s credit that she turned “The Snow Queen,” a quite disturbing story, into a novel that I really enjoyed. Breadcrumbs has a modern-to-magic setting that works very well, and deals well with deep issues of identity and friendship.

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Thanks for sharing so many great titles, Katy!  Personally, I’m thrilled by a “Jack the Giant Killer” retelling from Charles deLint!  Anyone else see something they want to pick up?

And don’t forget, you can also enter to win a signed copy of my fairy tale-inspired novel, The Wanderers!  See Katy’s lovely review here, and include #WanderersGiveAway in your comment to enter. Contest open until April 30th, and you can comment around my blog and enter as many times as you like!

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Mixed Magics

Being a completist, I had to include the four Chrestomanci short stories in my reread of the series by Diana Wynne Jones.  Fortunately, they’re conveniently gathered together in one book, Mixed Magics.  All four stories are excellent fun and well-worth the read!

“Warlock at the Wheel” – This story follows directly on Charmed Life, focusing on a very minor character from that novel.  The Willing Warlock comes off very badly in a confrontation with Chrestomanci, and decides that the answer is to travel to another world.  All seems to go according to plan–until the car he steals in this new world turns out to have an enormous dog and a very demanding child in the backseat.  Soon, the hapless Warlock is being bullied by the dog, the child, and even the car.

This is a funny little story that is definitely best read immediately after Charmed Life.  Personally, I would have had trouble making the connections otherwise!  The Warlock is a great character who intends to be villainous, but is rather too woebegone and put-upon to be very successful…

“The Sage of Theare” – In the very well-ordered world of Theare, the gods are horrified by a prophecy regarding the Sage of Dissolution.  They try to get rid of the recently-born Sage by sending him to another world, but Chrestomanci and company return him to his proper place.  When the Sage grows up, unaware of his destiny, Dissolution (and serious timeline muddling) are in store.

I can’t think too hard about this one, because it makes my head hurt.  There’s a lot of “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” business going on, with events happening in reverse and the Sage on the hunt for himself…yeah, don’t ask, just read it!  Chrestomanci only has a small role, but all the same, his arrival at the Court of the Gods in his dressing gown is one of his best moments ever!

In terms of the larger timeline, I haven’t the slightest idea where this fits in among the others, as there isn’t much to place it in time!

“Stealer of Souls” – This story, on the other hand, belongs directly after Magicians of Caprona.  It’s the most Chrestomanci and Co. focused.  Cat (of Charmed Life) is deeply displeased by the arrival at Chrestomanci Castle of Tonino (of Magicians of Caprona), but they have to work together when they run afoul of a nasty magician intent on stealing souls.

I enjoyed seeing Cat again, and seeing Tonino from an outside perspective, after mostly being in his point of view in his book.  There are also some nice ties to The Lives of Christopher Chant, with a few of those characters returning.  And besides that, there’s a wonderfully sinister plot afoot, and some excellent mayhem and humor.

“Carol Oneir’s Hundredth Dream” – Carol possesses the wonderful ability to not only control her dreams, but to bottle, syndicate and sell them.  When she finds herself unable to dream her one-hundredth dream, her parents take her off to meet with Chrestomanci, who packed up his family after the previous short story for a vacation.  We follow Carol into her dream world, where we learn she has several principle characters, and they’ve gone on strike.

I love the whole concept of this one.  The idea of bottling dreams just fascinates me.  As a writer, I’m also intrigued by Carol’s struggles.  Essentially, she has writer’s block!  Even if most writers don’t have characters who literally mutiny, I think we all know what that feels like…

This is a quick little read with only the four short stories, but it has all the charm of Jones’ novels, and offers some nice extra pieces about the characters.  It feels sort of like a bonus to the rest of the series!

Don’t forget, you can win a signed copy of my fairy tale retelling, The Wanderers! Just put #WanderersGiveAway in your comment to enter.

Author’s Site: http://www.dianawynnejones.com/

Other reviews:
Calmgrove
Aelia Reads
I am sad I couldn’t find many reviews…anyone else?

Buy it here: Mixed Magics

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Enchanted, Movie Edition

EnchantedposterI recently reviewed Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, and by complete coincidence, I also just watched the Disney movie Enchanted.  No connection besides the name!  But dare I say it was…enchanting? :) It’s also a great fit for Once Upon a Time!

I’ve seen Enchanted at least twice, but it loses none of its charm on repeated viewings.  The movie is essentially Disney poking a bit of gentle fun at Disney.  Starting with an oh-so-sweet animated sequence about Giselle, her forest friends, and her handsome prince Edward, everything changes when the wicked queen banishes Giselle to “a place where there are no happy endings.”  Giselle finds herself in the middle of Times Square, and in live-action as Amy Adams.  After scrambling through New York a bit, she encounters Robert (Patrick Dempsey), who reluctantly tries to help her at the urging of his six-year-old daughter.  Meanwhile, Prince Edward (James Marsden) comes to New York to find his lost love, accompanied by Giselle’s chipmunk friend Pip, and pursued by Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), who secretly is working for the evil queen (Susan Sarandon).  Chaos, hilarity, romance and a dragon all ensue.

This movie is so much fun on so many levels.  There are fairy tale and Disney references galore, with poisoned apples, a wicked queen resembling Maleficent, and of course a dropped slipper.  Giselle’s forest friends seem to include animals from several other Disney movies, like mice, racoons, rabbits and deer.  The themes are in some ways even better, taking trends from the early Disney movies (like the incredibly rapid romances of, say, Snow White and Cinderella) and stretching them to absurdity.

The characters are really brilliant as well.  I love the way Giselle and Robert start out as complete opposites, and then both influence each other for the better.  Giselle believes unreservedly in true love and romance, and sees beauty and goodness everywhere.  Robert is jaded and cynical, practical to a fault.  Together, Giselle begins to tap into deeper, more meaningful emotions, while Robert finds unexpected romantic depths.

And then of course the supporting cast is hilariously funny.  Edward is beautifully, blissfully oblivious and self-absorbed, and charges about through New York in a wonderful way.  One of my favorite moments may be when he stabs a bus, mistaking it for a monster.  Nathaniel, on the other hand, begins to question the nature of his relationship with the evil queen, and I love it when he calls into a radio show to pour out his problems.  As to the evil queen, Susan Sarandon appears to be having a wonderful time camping it up, fantastically villainous and over-the-top.

There’s really an enormous number of funny bits though.  Pip’s efforts to pantomime messages when he discovers he can’t talk in New York…the ridiculously large skirt on Giselle’s wedding dress…or Giselle’s summoning of New York pigeons, rats and cockroaches to help her clean Robert’s apartment (“oh well, it’s always nice to make new friends!”)  And I love the musical number in Central Park.  It’s a great song, there’s beautiful scenery, and I love Robert’s practical asides in the middle of it all (“wait, they know this song too?”)

All in all, Enchanted combines lots of my favorite things in fairy tales–clever references to spot, lots of humor, characters with complexity, and of course, an acknowledgement of all the wonderful strangeness of the original versions!

Don’t forget, you can win a signed copy of my fairy tale retelling, The Wanderers! Just put #WanderersGiveAway in your comment to enter.

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