Archive for the ‘magic’ Tag

A fairy tale’s heroine   1 comment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bear and the Nightingale is Katherine Arden’s debut novel, which
blends a familiar theme in the guise of a Russian folktale.

While this is more fantasy than classic Russian literature, the author does rely                                              on its characteristics, such as the patriarchal society and descriptions of                                                medieval Russia.

Vasya, whose mother died in childbirth, is a rebellious young girl; which
intensifies as she grows older. Yet, she’s sensitive to the world around her,
particularly aspects others either can’t or won’t acknowledge. This includes
woodland apparitions, water nymphs and household spirits.

Vasya’s father remarries and brings his young, extremely religious wife,
Anna, to his home in a remote village near the forest’s edge. Despite her pious
devotion, she is a malicious stepmother. She forbids the family from honoring
or acknowledging their household spirits. This, and the arrival of a priest who
supports Anna, ensures the family and villagers will endure bad luck.

The novel isn’t initially engaging, but gains momentum as Arden’s writing
becomes more vivid and her characters more fully developed. The harsh winter is
a significant element of the narrative.

The title is derived from the combating attributes of the woodland folklore
creatures and Vasya’s ultimate role with them.

It’s necessary to suspend disbelief and remind oneself that fear and joy are
part of fairy tales. This helps in recognizing the absence of nuance: there is
evil or good; magic or reality; but always a surprise.

The Bear and the Nightingale

Almost Four bookmarks

Del Ray, 2017

333 pages (includes glossary of Russian terms, Reader’s Guide and author
interview)

Pervasive Superstition   Leave a comment

Hannah Kent has a gift for describing squalor and the role of superstition among the most vulnerable. This talented writer, whose debut novel, Burial Rites, was set in Iceland, now transports readers to rural Ireland in The Good People. The ambiguous title refers to the name given to evil faeries and those with virtuous, albeit misdirected, intentions.

Set in nineteenth century rural Ireland, Kent’s engaging narrative follows three women: Nora, a recent widow, with a sickly grandson; Nance, known for her curative powers; and Mary, the young maid Nora hires to help care for the boy who can neither speak nor walk, although he once did.

Nora’s shame for her grandson is so extreme she keeps him hidden and is surprised to learn from Mary that the villagers know of his presence. In fact, they have already deemed him a changeling, a creature from another world, that of the Good People. How else can the locals explain the ill fortunes that have recently befallen their community: death, cows no longer milking, illness and more.

Nora unsuccessfully seeks medical help, then solace from the new priest who both believe the lad will soon die.

Imagining that her grandson has been abducted and the withered but breathing body is left in his place, Nora turns to Nance who is certain she has a cure. Young Mary empathizes with the helpless child and is caught in the middle. She’s skeptical of the older women and their motives. Yet, the question regarding Nance’s powers lingers.

The Good People
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Company, 2016
380 pages

Sci-Fi Magic   Leave a comment

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Magic and love are complimentary notions, but author Charlie Jane Anders adds more to the mix: science. Strangely, the menage a trois of genres works well in All the Birds in the Sky.

The novel evolves into an apocalyptic tale from what initially seems like something in the realm of young adult fiction. A lot of sci-fi elements also are thrown in along the way. Nonetheless, it’s consistently a love story.

Laurence and Patricia meet in junior high school as social outcasts. Laurence is a science nerd; no one can quite figure out Patricia. At first their inability to fit in attracts them, ultimately it’s what drives them apart. Laurence views the world through scientific theories/applications. He builds a super-computer in his bedroom closet. Patricia talks to birds and relies on magic. Circumstances separate them until they are reunited as adults in a world soon to face mass destruction.

The development of the major characters is like watching children grow. Sometimes it’s very fast and other times not so much. Still, it’s always interesting.

Anders injects the narrative with humor, which in the face of an apocalypse is impressive. The escalation of events that lead to power outages, water scarcity and death is gradual; Anders creates a sense of urgency, but isn’t heavy handed about it. There’s empathy with fear.

To say the main characters are star-crossed is too much of a cliché, yet … when love, magic and science are thrown into the same dystopia it’s the perfect description.

All the Birds in the Sky
Four Bookmarks
Tom Doherty Associates, 2016
313 pages