Dragon’s Green: World-building, Magic and Bookishness…

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dragon's green

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017.  RRP: $19.99

When you churn through as many books as I do during a year (and even I have to admit that my reading is a tad excessive) it’s rarer and rarer to come across a story that feels truly different.  Particularly in the middle grade fantasy bracket, it’s safe to say that many stories follow similar themes, tropes and imaginings.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we all love a story with familiar themes and fantastical worlds whose workings are easy to understand – but whenever I come across a book that feels a little different, there’s always a spark of excitement that flares to life in my stony chest.  So it was with Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas, which we received from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

‘Some people think opening a book is a simple thing. It’s not. Most people don’t realise that you can get truly lost in a book. You can. Especially you. Do not open any of these books without my permission, Euphemia.’

Effie is a pupil at the Tusitala School for the Gifted and Strange. When her grandfather becomes ill she discovers she is set to inherit the family library. The more she learns about it the more unusual it is. Before she knows it, her life is at risk from dark forces from this world and beyond, intent on using the books and the power they contain.

With her grandfather gone and the adult world ignoring her, can her unreliable classmates help save her life?

Packed with puzzles, curses, evil nemeses and a troupe of beguiling heroes, Dragon’s Green is an adventure novel for children about the nature of magic.

This blurb is a little misleading, because it makes Effie’s story sound just like every other hero of every other middle grade fantasy ever written.  There are multiple ways in which Dragon’s Green sticks out from the pack and I will detail them now for you (you’re welcome!).  First up, the blurb makes no mention of the world in which Effie lives.  The story is set firmly in a world very like our own…however it is a speculative world (of the future?) in which a Worldquake – like an earthquake but affecting the entire globe at once – has knocked out the internet and general access to electricity and everyone is now reliant on archaic technologies to communicate (hello walkie talkies!), conduct research and generally get along.  This worldquake and its effects are mentioned a number of times, but we are never privy to its causes or its place in the scheme of this world.  I expect this will be expanded upon in further books.

Then there’s the Otherworld.  There’s the Realworld (our world, Effie’s world, for want of a better term) and the Otherworld.  The Otherworld runs on magic and renewed access to it has some connection to the Worldquake, but this connection is not entirely clear.  Again, I expect this will become more apparent in later books.

The Realworld and the Otherworld exist independently to each other for the most part, unless an individual has the ability to perform magic.  In this aspect, the book takes a bit of a Potter-esque approach, in that magic is known about (on some level) by non-magical people, but not talked about.  The world of those possessing magic is complex.  There are multiple roles or talents that the magically endowed could be born with – mage, witch, hero, warrior, healer, scholar – as well as magical objects (called boons) that can enhance the abilities of the magical.

Finally, the link between the Realworld and the Otherworld has a strong dependence on BOOKS!  (Hooray!)  Books (certain books, not every book) provide a portal to the Otherworld for certain readers and as such are sought after by the Diberi, a sect of magical individuals who wish to harness the power of being the Last Reader of certain books.

Have I convinced you yet, that this isn’t your average “kid-discovers-they-have-magic-powers-and-embarks-on-an-action-packed-and-mildly-humorous-quest-to-save-the-world” story?

Dragon’s Green felt refreshingly grown-up in its approach to the narrative.  Effie is not hapless and bumbling, stumbling upon the answers as she develops her power and a belief in her own abilities.  She is confident, innovative and knows when to delegate.  The four supporting characters, who throughout the story grow to become friends, have backstories that are explored in enough depth to make the characters seem authentic and their motivations believable.  There are multiple plot-threads that interact with and affect each other and far too many puzzles have been raised in this initial book to be resolved by the end of the story.  Essentially, the story feels like it comes with a history that we don’t necessarily know yet…but it will be revealed by the end of the trilogy.

This book was a bit of a sleeper for me.  I was interested from the beginning, but I didn’t really appreciate the originality and complexity of the story until I was deep into the final third.  Dragon’s Green is a book that celebrates thinkers of all persuasions, not those who rush into situations with reckless abandon.  Even the warrior character is clearly a lad with the brains for strategy and a backstory to hint at more depth than one would expect of a rugby-playing troublemaker.  I also absolutely loved the way that another supporting character, Maximillian’s, talents have been revealed here and the hint that good and evil are not necessarily clear cut.

As an aside, the dustjacket of the hardback edition that I received had a little sticker proclaiming “This Book Glows in the Dark!” so I checked and it does.  When left in a dark room, the cover turns into a delightfully atmospheric green overlay featuring the moon and the book title.  Unusually, this edition has gorgeous illustrated endpapers inside a misleadingly plain purple cover.  Nice touches, I thought, and ones to make this book a keeper.

It took me a while to come to this decision, but I have to nominate Dragon’s Green as a Top Book of 2017 – it’s got too much going on to be left languishing with your common-or-garden middle grade fantasy.

top-book-of-2017-pick-button

Do yourself a favour and grab a copy today! Or, you know, once pay day rolls around.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge: Quidditch Through the Ages…

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alphabet soup challenge 2016

I’m inching closer to completing the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge for 2016 hosted by Escape with Dollycas, with only Q and A left to assign.  Happily, I realised that I hadn’t actually ever read JK Rowling’s faux-text Quidditch Through the Ages, so I grabbed it from the Kindle store and whipped through it to draw a line through the Q part of the challenge.  While reading, however, I got a message from the library that The Mysterious Mr Quin by Agatha Christie was waiting to be picked up, and I remembered that I had actually put that on hold to be my Q title.  Oops.  Anyway, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Did you know that: there are 700 ways of committing a foul in Quidditch? The game first began to evolve on Queerditch Marsh – What Bumphing is? That Puddlemere United is oldest team in the Britain and Ireland league (founded 1163). All this information and much more could be yours once you have read this book: this is all you could ever need to know about the history, the rules – and the breaking of the rules – of the noble wizarding sport of Quidditch.

quidditch

If you are a die-hard fan of the Potterverse, then it would be remiss of you not to read this book.  It’s certainly one that you can fit in to a lunch break or two, coming in at well under 100 pages.  The book was originally penned to raise money for Comic Relief, so it isn’t any deep exploration of the game of Quidditch, but rather a mostly-humorous look over the game itself and how it came to be, as well as dropping a bit more information about the Quidditch league for those Potter fans who like to go the extra mile, trivia-wise.

The most enjoyable part of the book for me was reading about all the different international Quidditch teams and how they came to be.  I was surprised to learn that the Americans have their own spin-off of Quidditch called Quod, which is at least as exciting and deadly as Quidditch itself.

I wouldn’t go out of your way to read this if you haven’t already, but if you’ve got a spare half-hour with nothing to fill it, this would be a suitable way to pass the time.  It may also have kindled my interest a bit more regarding finding out about the new Fantastic Beasts movie/screenplay and deciding whether or not I will bother with it.

Q – I dub thee, completed!  If you ‘d like to see how my Alphabet Soup Challenge is progressing, you can check it out here.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Interview with Bruce regarding Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts I & II)

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I’m not sure whether you’re aware of the fact, but the eighth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts I & II) was released last week.  I had already made the decision not to rush out and buy it, being content to wait until I was in a Potterish sort of mood to invite it into the Shelfish circle….and THEN…a hefty package arrived at the door from Hachette Australia containing the very tome that others were scratching their eyes out to read!  I must convey the Shelf’s deepest thanks to Hachette for sending us a copy of this massively coveted book.

Of course, all thoughts of waiting for the right mood flew out the window and I flew into the story, finishing it in just a few short sittings.  I pondered how I was possibly going to be able to review it for you without spoiling it for those who haven’t yet read it, and I have decided that I will structure my review as an interview with myself, so that if a question looks a bit spoilery for your tastes, you can skip over that bit.  Before we crack on, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

And now, I give you: Bruce’s thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (etc, etc)!

“What should Potter fans be prepared for before launching into this addition to the series?  How does it differ from the previous novels?”

The most important difference I noticed when reading this was the fact that, as it isn’t a novel but rather a play script, the story misses all the imagery from the previous novels.  Apart from a few stage notes, the action takes place entirely in dialogue, and this can take a while to get used to and feel quite bereft of substance.  Also, the main characters in this story are Harry’s and Draco’s children and if you haven’t read Deathly Hallows for a while, it can be a bit tricky to remember who belongs to who.  I had some trouble with characters referring to Harry’s children Lily and James, because my mind went straight to Harry’s parents out of force of habit.

“Since this wasn’t written solely by Jo, does it feel like a real Harry Potter book?”

Yes…..and no.  There were moments when I was reading that I was whisked back to that feeling I had when reading the original stories for the first time.  The world, the characters, everything felt just as it always had been.  For most of the book though, certain things felt….a bit off.  I’m not sure whether this had to do with the fact that this was a play script rather than a novel, or the fact that I was journeying with new characters, or the fact that it wasn’t a “Jo” book, or a combination of the three.

“Tell us about the new characters”

The main story revolves around Albus (Harry’s younger son) and Scorpius (Draco’s only son) who, surprisingly, become friends.  Rose (Ron and Hermione’s daughter) read a bit like a hardcore, slightly more uppity version of Hermione.  There is also another new character named Delphi who becomes friends with the two main lads.

“Which familiar characters make an appearance?”

Harry, obviously, who is now the Head of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic.  Hermione, who is now the Minister for Magic.  Ron, who now runs Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.  Ginny, who now edits the sports pages of the Daily Prophet.  Professor McGonagall (hooray!) who is Headmistress of Hogwarts.  Bane, the centaur (who is still a complete asshat). The trolley witch from the Hogwarts Express.  Dumbledore (in painted form).  Then….*possible spoilers here*…Amos Diggory (Cedric’s father), Severus Snape and Old Mouldy Shorts himself.

“Was it as great as you expected it to be?”

Sadly, no.

I certainly didn’t hate it.  But I definitely didn’t love it, or even get anywhere near as excited as I did about the any of the previous books.

After putting the book down, apart from thinking, “Well, that was a reasonably entertaining way to spend a few hours!” the story made no impression on me whatsoever.  After having reflected on it for a day, I really wonder why JK allowed this to go out as the eighth story because absolutely nothing important happens.  There is no Wow! factor in either the characters or the action.  Nothing significant is revealed or undertaken.  It would probably be an exciting play to watch, but in terms of plot, it’s fairly forgettable.  Not to mention a bit convoluted.  And more than a little ridiculous in places.

“What’s your problem, Bruce?  Are you seriously telling me there’s something wrong with this story?”  **Possible spoilers here!***

Not wrong, exactly, just….a bit boring and forgettable really.  Some of the magic was gone.  The charm.  The fun.  The ...MAGIC.

And some of the characters were….well, take Ron for instance.  Ron seemed to be included simply as comic relief.  I know in the earlier books he’s a bit goofy and bumbling at times, but in this book there doesn’t seem to be a line of dialogue where Ron isn’t making an inane comment.  This, it must be said, is probably quite disappointing for Ron fans.  Snape, who makes a brief appearance, was practically unrecognisable from his former incarnation, which was massively upsetting for me, as Snape is clearly the greatest character in the series by a country mile.  Even Hermione seemed a shadow of her former self.

And as for the new characters, Scorpius was …nice.  Kind.  Forgiving.  Funny. In reasonably good mental health.  With a reasonably good self-image.  I know kids can be different from their parents, but it seemed to me a bit of a stretch that Draco Malfoy, himself a traumatised child, would be able, in an atmosphere of post-war backlash, to manage to raise such a well-balanced child.

There were multiple times when I felt like I had somehow got a copy of the script for Back to the Future II bound up in my book, because a lot of the story seemed to be inspired by that very movie.  Don’t get me wrong, we Shelf denizens are MASSIVE B2tF fans from way back, but a HP/B2tF mashup is something I’ve never desired to see in the slightest.  I suppose I’m saying that some parts of the plot descended into the ridiculous and unlikely, which was more than a little disappointing because even though infused with magic, the events of the previous books always had the ring of authenticity (or at least purpose) about them.

“If they haven’t already, do you recommend that Potter fans snag a copy of this book?”

Yeeeeeeeeeeeees.  Yes. I think they probably should.  Simply to satisfy their own curiosity about it.

“So will you be snuggling this one on the shelf next to your hardback copies of the rest of the series?”

Erm.  No.  I don’t think I will.  In fact, I think I’m going to purge this one from my memory as soon as possible.  It didn’t pass muster for me, and actually taints the memories I have of characters from the previous books, so I have decided to become one of those annoying people who doesn’t accept bits of the story that they didn’t enjoy as canon.

“If you could sum up Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (etc, etc) in one sentence, what would you say?”

It is an entertaining way to spend a few hours on a lazy afternoon, but not in keeping with the depth of atmosphere, emotion and growth that was present in the prior books.

So there you have it.  I’m sorry if I have disappointed you by being disappointed with this latest HP offering, but I feel I must be true to my stony, only slightly magical heart.  Have you read this one yet?  Do you intend to?  If you have read it, what did you think? (No spoilers!).

Thanks again to Hachette Australia for providing us with a copy of the book for review.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Litera-tees: Tees for Readers (#3)…

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Afternoon all – I present you with a lazy, consumerist post for a lazy Tuesday afternoon….here are some more tees for the literary-minded, plus some very convenient information on who designed them and where you can spend your hard-earned cash purchasing them. You’re welcome, shoppers!

First up, some Harry-related loveliness:

master-of-death

—we have Master of Death by Catch A Brick, available at RedBubble….

Just-As-Sane-As-I-Am

…and Just As Sane As I Am by the unnecessarily talented Megan Lara, also available at RedBubble…and if you like Megan Lara’s nouveau art, she has produced a whole range of tees in this style with various characters – Hermione and many of the recent Doctor Who companions to name a few.

For the Tolkien fans, apparently it is possible to simply walk into Mordor, if this tee is anything to go by:

simply-walk1

It’s titled Simply Walk, is designed by Tom Kurzanski and is available at RedBubble

For those who like to express their opinions on the classics:

moby dicky…we have Moby Dicky by Budi Satria Kwan available at threadless

For those who like a bit of film with their bookery:

read-a-book

…here’s Vader Read A Book available at WeLoveFine shop…

movies-ruining-the-book1

…and Movies: Ruining the Book since 1920 by Jayson Dougherty, available at threadless

And finally, just because I love it and want someone to buy it for me (Att: Santa Claws!):

grim-readers

It’s the Grim Readers’ Book Club by WinterArtwork, available at Shirt.Woot

Layby now for Christmas!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Stenchblossoms Re-loaded: A Word on Naming One’s Offspring

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Afternoon all.  I come to you on this lazy, rainy Saturday with a lazy, rainy re-post of one of my earliest posts.  I’ve been overhearing a lot about baby names around the shelf lately, so I thought I would re-post a tiny bit of my own brilliance, in suggesting some potential offspring monikers from great fiction-y literature.  Enjoy!

names

**  Please note no responsiblity will be taken for incessant teasing resulting from the infliction of any of these names on your offspring **

A Stench Blossom by any other name would smell as sweet….

Names are important, aren’t they? This is as true for gargoyles as it is for flesh folk. I myself am named after my great-grandfather – a mighty shelf warrior, who only ever allowed books from his shelf to be borrowed on the condition that the borrower left a token as a guarantee that the book would be returned. This token usually took the form of the first-born spawn of the borrower.

I have noticed, from overheard conversations between flesh folk, that there seems to be a trend toward unique and unusual names for newly minted flesh folk. For the greater good of fleshling kind, I wish to contribute some suggestions for names from the world of fiction. These should scratch any itch for individuality that a new flesh parent may feel. “Verily!” these names shout, “Great thinkers they may not have been, but let no one state that my name-givers were not great readers!”

For the unique and unusual male child:

Voldemort (Harry Potter Series/J.K. Rowling) – a name for parents who wish their child to be ambitious, academic, set apart from common folk and great contributors to hitherto unexplored avenues of evil .

Tumnus (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe/C.S.Lewis) – for parents who envisage a child who has a gift for music, and a desire to help lost children…while plotting their imminent downfall.

Slartibartfast (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy/Douglas Adams) – sure to satisfy lovers of interesting spelling everywhere, this name would be best suited to the child developing an early and keen interest in fjords.

Mistoffelees (Old Possum’s Practical Book of Cats/T.S. Eliot) – Another for the you-neek spelling brigade…and there’s hardly likely to be another kid in the same class with this one, is there?

Oedipus (Corduroy Mansions Series/Alexander McCall Smith) – it goes without saying that this is the perfect choice for the quintessential “Mummy’s boy”.

For the different and diverse female child:

Narcissa (Harry Potter Series/J.K. Rowling) – any teen girl child spending hours in front of the mirror will no doubt be accused of loving herself on at least one occasion….why not take the sting out of the barb and acknowledge this tendency at birth?

Pestilence (The Bible, The 13th Horseman/Barry Hutchison) – traditionally a male name, I’m hoping this one can make the leap across the gender gap and be taken up by trendsetting parents of girls…it has a charming ring to it, don’t you think?

Verruca (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Roald Dahl) – the perfect appellation for that child who is always underfoot.

Tofu (Scotland Street Series/Alexander McCall Smith) – another name that I hope will bridge the gender gap, it acknowledges the tendency of the majority of folk to be blandly average. On the other hand, this name could suit the child who has a gift for making up the numbers in any social situation.

Shelob (The Lord of the Rings Series/J. R. R. Tolkien) – admittedly a strong name for a young lady, possibly best suited to a tomboy. Or a lass who is fond of the number eight. Or who has an affinity with arachnids. Or prefers the hairy-legged look.

While this list should provide any prospective parents with a wealth of names to choose from, further inspiration may be drawn from the following two tomes that I have come across in my bookish wanderings:

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Readers Represen’: Tees for lovers of literacy…

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As a gargoyle, I have little need for clothing and while this has its advantages, it also means that I cannot outwardly express my likes and interests through fashion.  You can though. So here are some of my favourite book-related tees…laybuy now for Christmas!  You can find the links for where to purchase these tees at the end of this post!

Tantalised by Tolkein?  You don’t have to go to Mt Doom and back for these, precious! Wild about Harry? These might be right up your (Diagon) Alley! Hungry for the Hunger Games? These might make a nice tribute!  Want something a little less…commercial?  Here are some tees that are sure to gain you looks of obscurity and the occasional appreciative glance indicating that someone else gets the reference…

So, my fleshling friends, now you have no excuse not to cover your fleshy hides with fashionable attire, while also promoting the wonders of reading.

Until next time,

Bruce

Find these tees here:

The Prancing Pony: http://www.redbubble.com/people/thehookshot/works/8450059-the-prancing-pony?p=t-shirt

The Green Door: http://shirtoid.com/78440/the-green-door/

Baggins Family Jewellers: http://www.fivefingertees.com/baggins-family-jewelers-t-shirt.html

I Just Nevilled Up: http://www.redbubble.com/people/synaptyx/works/7543019-i-just-nevilled-up

Join Dumbledore’s Army: http://www.redbubble.com/people/perdita00/works/9278391-join-dumbledores-army-today

A Seeker’s Quest: http://www.redbubble.com/people/beware1984/works/9017933-a-seekers-quest

District 12 Fightin’ Jays: http://shirtoid.com/64340/district-12-fightin-jays/

Hunger-lympics: http://www.redbubble.com/people/winterartwork/works/8441899-hunger-lympics

Farewell District 12: http://www.redbubble.com/people/famousafterdeth/works/8101014-farewell-district-12-full-logo

Where the Wild Adventures Are: http://www.redbubble.com/people/drawsgood/works/8900865-where-the-wild-adventures-are

Slugworth: http://www.bustedtees.com/slugworth

Tollbooth Adventures: http://shirtoid.com/61325/tollbooth-adventures/

Sherlock is my Holmesboy: http://www.redbubble.com/people/swissarmyshark/works/7886326-sherlock-is-my-holmesboy

Elect Zaphod Beeblebrox: http://www.bustedtees.com/electzaphodbeeblebrox