This review contains spoilers for the first two books, but not for this one.
I am pleased to have finished this series! Having the questions of whether Bertie’s parents could or would ever get back together, or even whether she would ever see either of them again; and whether she would end up with Ariel or Nate (or neither? or both?! – as River Song would say, that is a whole other birthday…) in the end were driving me a bit nuts.
And now I know how Mantchev resolved it. And if you haven’t read the books, you don’t. So nyer.
The story opens with Bertie dealing with the aftermath of how she dealt with Sedna, the Sea Goddess, and its repercussions for her father, as well as Nate – whom she has rescued – and Ariel, to whom she is kind of now married… as well as being married to Nate. Um, oops. So, it’s back to the Caravanserai, but not for long because she receives a summons from Her Gracious Majesty to perform before her, and so the journeys of this crazy little troupe continue. They involve bandits, a queen, several tricky journeys, the use of magic, gaining and losing companions, and finally a return to where everything began, the Theatre Illuminata.
The plot is generally well-paced, and there were some clever twists and turns to it. As far as characters go, Bertie did not grow on me further. I really liked her in Eyes Like Stars, the first novel; then she got a little grating in the second, as it didn’t feel like she was quite taking charge enough. By this time, even though it’s only a few weeks after the events in the first story, she has… evened out, maybe? Although she is still being pushed around by the winds of fortune (heh), she feels more balanced, and at the same time more willing to take necessary risks. I don’t think I’m explaining this very well, but the upshot was I think that I like and respect her more in this story, certainly by the end, although I’m still not convinced I’d like to know her in reality.
The rest of the cast don’t change that much, with the exception of Ariel. Nate develops more as an individual because he actually has some page-space, which his kidnapping had largely disallowed for the last book and a half or so, but he doesn’t exhibit any unexpected character traits like sea-sickness or being a mathematical genius. He remains a loyal friend, and a good friend, which is exactly what he should be. Waschbar is probably the most intriguing and underdeveloped of all the characters, with his determination only to steal unwanted items… and just wait til you meet Varvara. But then there’s Ariel, who is developed in this story. We finally get more of an insight into his motivations (aside from lusting after Bertie like nothing else), and that’s unexpectedly poignant (much as I dislike the terminology, I have always been Team Nate).
Finally there’s the fairies, who continue to be awesome and pastry-lusting and crude. Just for bonus marks, there is a marvellous exchange between Moth and Peasablossom on the question of vampire bats: “Don’t be ridiculous… Vampire bats don’t sparkle.” “They do! They’re a great glittery menace!” Ah fairies. So snarky. So true.
In which this Hugo nominated podcast is Hugo nominated and discusses the Hugo nominations while being Hugo nominated. Also, the internet is full of things. Some of those things discuss gender, feminism and equality, some have wide ranging implications for the future of SF awards, and some of them are nominated for Hugos. You can download us from iTunes or get us from Galactic Suburbia.
Hunger Games: Build up to make a hit
The reviews are in:
“But in the real world, the character Katniss Everdeen faces an even greater challenge: Proving that pop culture will embrace a heroine capable of holding her own with the big boys. It’s a battle fought on two fronts. First, The Hunger Games must bring in the kind of box office numbers that prove to Hollywood that a film led by a young female heroine who’s not cast as a sex symbol can bring in audiences. And second, for Katniss to truly triumph, she must embody the type of female heroine — smart, tough, compassionate — that has been sorely lacking in the popular culture landscape for so very long.”
The Clarke Award Shortlist:
Christopher Priest’s original post
Cat Valente responds:
“Because let’s be honest, I couldn’t get away with it. If I posted that shit? I’d never hear the end of what a bitch I am”; and further response
Outer Alliance discussion on Gay YA Dystopia & Paolo Bacigalupi
Qld Premier cancels Premiers Literary Award
“Before the election, the LNP pledged to cut government “waste” as part of its efforts to offer cost-of-living relief to Queenslanders.”
Response of Queensland Writers Centre
The Fake Geek Girl at the Mary Sue
Kate Elliott on the portrayal of women in pain & fear
Tehani on Aurealis Awards stats, gender
BSFA stuff – Actual winners
The first post that raised the problems with the ceremony.
A response (there for historical sake, though I think since at least partly recanted)
how the Tweets saw it
**The BSFA issued an apology right about when we were recording**
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Tansy: So Silver Bright, Lisa Mantchev; Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis; Cold Magic, Kate Elliott
Alisa: The Hunger Games (movie and books), The Readers (podcast)
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Having discovered who her mother is and wanting to rescue Nate, who might be the love of her life and has been kidnapped by the Sea Goddess Sedna, Beatrice Shakespeare Smith – Bertie – sets out into the world with four miscreant fairies and one devious air-elemental. And this is where one really big difference between the first and second books occurs: the setting. Where the casual magic of the Theatre Illuminata kind of made sense because it’s a theatre, and it seems to occupy a space not really connected to a particular time or space, the ‘real’ world is meant to be just that. So the magic of Bertie’s words, and of some of the other characters met along the way, seemed slightly more out of place. Perhaps this is because I was expecting the story to be more grounded in particularity – perhaps Bertie’s ‘real’ (non-theatre) world isn’t meant to be any more ‘my’ real world at all.
That’s maybe a quibble, but it did still sit at the back of my mind gnawing a bit. There were a couple of other things that gnawed, including Bertie’s relationship with and attitude towards both Nate and Ariel. I’m not a fan of the love triangle at the best of times, and this one made me uncomfortable because I couldn’t tell which one I thought she would, or should, end up with! Perhaps silly, but there you go. I also occasionally had difficulty telling whether something was actually happening to Bertie in the real world, or whether it was a dream, or if it was happening for real but in an other place. It may well be that Mantchev was blurring boundaries deliberately, but I found that this confusion threw me out of the story occasionally.
Nonetheless, I did enjoy this novel. Mantchev has a delightful turn of phrase and it’s fast-moving enough that I basically read it in a sitting (helps that I am on holidays). Bertie continues to be an enjoyable and engaging heroine, who develops by necessity as she encounters difficulties and as she considers the holds that people have on her, and how to be her own person. The fairies are still winsome and incorrigible, and have renewed my own interest in pie. Ariel… continues to be problematic. I don’t especially like The Tempest, but should I ever bother to see it again I will certainly have difficulty viewing him without Mantchev-glasses (I will also suffer from Dan-Simmons-glasses when watching Caliban, so maybe I really ought not to see it again. Oh so sad). The plot, as I said, was fast-moving and had some fun bits, but I think suffers with comparison to the first book. That was so tight, and focussed around one really core issue, that it felt utterly of a piece. Here, although rescuing Nate is central, the action feels more episodic and bound together much more loosely.
I’m intrigued that there is a third (and, I think, final) book in the series; it will be very interesting to see where Mantchev takes Bertie et al next.
The premise: a theatre set in NoParticularTime, inhabited by every character of every play, who come on stage to perform when their scene is announced. Also inhabited by appropriate backstage personnel, and Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, an inappropriate foundling who loves the theatre (her home) with a passion and who is followed around by the Midsummer Night’s Dream fairies, who are as crude and rambunctious and loyal and awesome as (William) Shakespeare would have wanted. Also, two love interests. With this sort of set-up it would have been hard for me not to be completely in love. Happily, Mantchev does not disappoint.
Beatrice – sorry, Bertie – is a wonderful heroine, defiant and strong-willed, fiercely loyal and amusingly devious. She causes all sorts of mischief in and around the theatre – enough that eventually, she might have to leave, unless she can prove herself. This is a coming of age story, with Bertie discovering her gifts and talents and likes and dislikes, as well as dealing with how other people react to her and act on their own. She faces loss – new and old – and disappointment, confusion (especially about love) and revelation, and the glory of strong and true friendship. Basically, it’s all the good and bittersweet bits of the classic coming of age, in a marvellous and enchanting package.
I loved the Theatre Illuminata. I love the way the scene changes work, I love the irascible backstage types and their petty feuds. I was delighted by how Mantchev took mostly Shakespeare’s characters and used them on stage but also imagined them as people outside of their scenes (much like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern does, without the loopy philosophising and dialogue…). The characters from Hamlet were especially amusing, playing on and reflecting so many of the tensions that can easily be imagined from the play itself, and that might arise from the people playing those characters day in, day out. It’s just really clever. And then there’s the fairies: Cobweb, Mustardseed, Moth, and Peaseblossom. Pulling hair, mooning important people, eating all the cake… it’s all in a day’s work, really, and there better be cake after, too. Oh, and Ariel. I am not a huge fan of The Tempest, but I’ve read and seen it; I loved Dan Simmons’ play on Caliban in Ilium and Olympos… but I’ll never be able to see Ariel in the same light again. (Huh; this connects with Obernewtyn, by Isobelle Carmody, which I’ve also just read. Interesting.)
How much did I love this book? I’ve just ordered books 2 and 3. I HAVE to know what happens.
Slight spoiler: One thing bugged me. She’s all hung up about her mother, and wanting to find her mother, but she doesn’t seem worried about her father until right near the end. This is a girl who’s grown up around Shakespeare, where half the time it’s the mother who is missing, but the father is present. Surely, when she knows neither, she should be curious about both? Also, growing up around those stories, shouldn’t she be wanting to know the romantic story of how they met?