Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Handful of Easy Reading Fantasies

I've been having way too much fun with these,

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones. Any new book by Jones is a delicious treat, a reason to put down whatever else I'm doing and curl up with a cup of tea. This one, however, came with special poignancy because I received it just after I learned of her death. So I opened the pages with a kind of sadness, not wanting to admit that in many ways, this was farewell. (If there is another book to be published posthumously, I don't know of it.)

And found magic. Within a few paragraphs, her clear prose and unaffectedly direct storytelling had drawn me into a world in which magicians bequeath not only fine old houses but fields-of-care as well. Only in this case, the old magician left it "rather too late," meaning without personal instruction as to exactly what a field-of-care is and how one cares for it. A few pages later, Andrew Hope is struggling not only with his magical inheritance but with the two classically-Jones abrasive and recalcitrant retainers, Mr. Stock (who expresses his disapproval in the form of boxes of gigantic and inedible vegetables) and Mrs. Stock (no relation to Mr. Stock, who expresses hers by waging war as to the positioning of the piano in the living room). By the time young Aidan (the boy on the rainbow-hued cover) arrived, I had become part of the household as well.

In tone rather than details, Enchanted Glass reminded me very much of the first Jones book I fell in love with, Charmed Life. Even when the characters were at risk, I always felt safe in her hands. Even the most eccentric and unappealing personages were treated with respect and often made invaluable contributions to whatever quest was underway. After all, in worlds where a prince can be enchanted into a turnip-headed broom, where spells are woven into cloaks, centaurs attend fantasy conventions, and fallen stars walk among us as dogs, every moment carries the possibility of wondrous adventure.

Carousel Tides by Sharon Lee. Every once in a while, I come across a fantasy that is immensely satisfying on
many different levels. This wonderfully-wrought book by Sharon Lee was one such treat. It falls comfortably within a number of genres: it's contemporary, romantic and in first person; it's got a flawed but passionate and courageous protagonist; the locale is a small town on the Maine coast, drenched in color; it's got some interesting twists on the lands of Faerie, a council of "the Wise," evil magicians, the corrupting influences of power, naiads and selkies and elemental spirits; best of all, it's got the spookiest carousel since Ray Bradbury, complete with a fanged, batwinged horse that's really an imprisoned criminal spirit. Lee weaves together all these elements with a sure and skillful touch.

Demon High by Lori Devoti. We all know the scenario: character (in this case, a teenaged girl) decides to summon a demon: disaster ensues. The adventure lies in how this demon-summoning-disaster tale is different from all other demon-summoning-disaster tales, and Devoti delivers in wonderful and unexpected ways. From the very first, she weaves in details that add depth: for example, our heroine's mother was also a demon-caller but got addicted to it; much of adolescence is about risk, so the lure and danger of demon-calling itself, apart from how treacherous and vile the demons themselves are, becomes a recurrent theme on many levels. Devoti's characters are no cardboard cut-outs, neither the humans nor the demons. Some of them grow, often painfully, and others fall into the "more will be revealed" category. All in all, the sensitivity and thoughtfulness, plus more than a few fascinating twists, make this a satisfying reading experience for adults as well as teens.

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