Book: Son of a Witch

Son of a Witch
Gregory Maguire
Illustrator: Douglas Smith
2005

Son of a Witch is the sequel to Maguire’s wonderful book Wicked. It is the story of what happened to Liir, the son (probably) of Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West). While Wicked had a very broad scope where you were always aware of the world around Elphaba full of political, social and religious depth, Son of a Witch generally has a much narrower view, largely focussing just on Liir and the people around him with little concern for the broader picture. The result of that shift is that readers have much less of a grasp of what is going on in Oz and why certain things might be happening. The political situation is extremely fuzzy and unclear and the religious issues are much harder to understand. This kind of hurts what could have been a very interesting book.

Maguire’s writing is excellent in every book of his that I have read (four in total now), and it remains strong in this book. He is very good at making words sound good together. That skill is impressive and lots of fun to read, but it can’t save a flimsy story. The plot in this book is very hard to follow. The beginning of the book, before we go back into Liir’s memory and find out what has been happening to him since the Witch’s death, seems rather irrelevant by the time you get past it. Nothing is revealed and little of flavour or depth is gained because it focuses entirely on the petty squabbles of the maunts (nuns) in a rather secluded place. Many of the characters are very well written, often with delightfully distinctive voices, but there are also an awful lot of very one-dimensional characters.

The plot is complicated and often changes focus completely. Many plot threads are all but dropped completely and forgotten, while others persist even beyond when it feels like they should. There was a certain amount of frustration in Wicked when information about certain things never appeared, but there always seemed to be a point or statement made by that very lack of knowledge. Son of a Witch does not always have that point or statement for missing information, and so it just feels absent and is, consequently, rather frustrating and irritating. I really missed the deep philosophical ideas about society and human nature that are present in many of Maguire’s other books. The other strange detraction from focus was little references and bits of information that have nothing to do with the plot, but persist in being talked about. The most glaring of this was the strange inclusion of Tip, the protagonist from L. Frank Baum’s second Oz book, who appears for apparently no reason and does nothing of interest. Tip is included momentarily and then referred to often throughout the rest of the book, but it is never explained who he is or why he is important and the changes he made in Oz in the classic books never happen in this one – Ozma never returns. In fact, she is barely mentioned. It was very strange and distracting (and I assume confusing for someone who doesn’t already know who Tip is).

The wonderful woodcut illustrations at the beginning of each section of the book are excellent, as they are in Maguire’s other books as well. The fantastic dragon at the beginning of the third section is particularly impressive. I love the dust jacket cover illustration of the Witch looking out her tower window next to her gazing ball with the image of Liir in it. The illustration under that, however, (on the book under the jacket) is strange and I’m not sure that I like it. It doesn’t feel like the book or the character to me. I love the style, though, and am impressed with the skill required to create those images.

In general, I wasn’t terribly happy with this book. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t recommend it either. Maguire’s other books are far superior and I would recommend them in an instant, but this one I could have lived without reading.

Book: Figure in the Frost

Figure in the Frost
Lana Perez
Illustrator: Emily Fiegenschuh
2005

I had very high hopes for this series when I saw it for the first time at GenCon a little over a year ago. And the first title, Secret of the Spiritkeeper by Matt Forbeck, was excellent. Each book thus far has been written by a different author, so each has a very different flavour. The second and third books were not terribly good, but the fourth was wonderfully creative and well done. The qualities that have made the first and fourth book in the series so good included excellent writing, respect for the characters, a coherent world with realistic people in it, a sense of heroism in the adventures and overall a very Dungeons and Dragons feel to the stories. The second and third books lacked some of those qualities, but neither was anywhere near as bad as this, the fifth book in the series. It is absolutely dreadful and I was actually offended by the time I got to the end of it.

The first and most glaring problem with the book is a fundamental lack of respect for the central characters and for the readers. The characters were most definitely not the same people they were in the first four books (throughout all four they were fairly consistent in character) and many things made me wonder if the author had even read the first books. Moyra, the rogue, was decidedly not rogue-like and somehow became exceedingly girly between the last book and this one. Driskoll, who had begun to have distinctive bard skills in the last book, lost all useful skills, all useful intelligence and most of his personality. The three children not only couldn’t figure out what was going on when the answers were dropped in their laps, but they also seemed oblivious to the most obvious clues. And the adults were totally useless. Throughout all of this there was the implicit understanding that the readers would make the same nonsensical leaps of “logic” that the children made and be just as clueless. Nothing was presented well or with really any sense.

The plot really has potential. It is interesting, connected to perfectly interesting and valid historical information in the series world, and full of danger and potential adventure. The mysterious parts could have been a great treasure hunt. However, it doesn’t work the way it is written at all. The plot is confusing, it feels very random and contrived and the reader is kept totally and completely in the dark until the very end of the book when the adults return to save the day. Where exactly is the heroism in that and why would I want to read it when it assumes I’m so dumb? Even if I were the target audience, kids aged 9-13 or so, I would have been offended by the lack of respect for the readers. None of the first four books had that little respect for their audience.

The high point of this book was the wonderful illustrations. There weren’t many, but the ones that were fit the story exceptionally. This illustrator has been excellent throughout the series and her work remains wonderful in this book. The characters look very appropriate and very Dungeons and Dragons and the backgrounds are wonderfully done. Each picture is clearly drawn to match a particular part of the text, and the illustrator clearly read the whole book. The pictures match each scene in nearly every detail, from clothing to setting to little background details. I am constantly impressed with Miss Fiegenschuh’s work for this series.

One peculiar thing about this book that I feel bears mentioning is something from the author’s bio inside the back cover. It says “Lana Perez is the pen name for an author of novels for older teens”. I have not been able to discover who Lana Perez is, but she has written this book and two “Star Sisterz” novels for Mirrorstone under this pen name and nothing else. I’m not sure that I would want to read her “novels for older teens” if I did know who she was, but I do wonder if the lack of respect is a problem she only has for children. If she is used to writing for teenagers, perhaps she is so used to their mindset that she can’t imagine younger people having any intelligence to speak of. But then why did she decide to write this and her “Star Sisterz” books? I really wonder if she is too embarrassed to take credit for this book, because that is really the only thing that I can think of! But then why admit that it is a pen name and she writes “real” books under a different name? That seems odd to me.

This book is terrible and insulting. Don’t read it. In fact, don’t read anything with “Lana Perez” on it. The pictures are wonderful, but they are just as wonderful in the better books from the “Knights of the Silver Dragon” series. Hopefully Mirrorstone will realize the mistake this book was and publish better children’s books in the future!

New Quiz: I’m Batman!

Stolen from Viv.

You scored as Batman, the Dark Knight. As the Dark Knight of Gotham, Batman is a vigilante who deals out his own brand of justice to the criminals and corrupt of the city. He follows his own code and is often misunderstood. He has few friends or allies, but finds comfort in his cause.

Batman, the Dark Knight

79%

William Wallace

63%

El Zorro

58%

Indiana Jones

54%

Maximus

54%

Lara Croft

50%

James Bond, Agent 007

50%

Neo, the "One"

46%

Captain Jack Sparrow

46%

The Amazing Spider-Man

42%

The Terminator

33%

Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with QuizFarm.com

Superstupidity

Ok, as most of you are well aware, I like comic characters and their stories. I love stories about the lives of Barbara Gordon, Dick Grayson and Clark Kent. I watch superhero movies regularly and dutifully tune in to “Smallville” once a week. I just really enjoy looking at the lives of people with super powers. I’ve enjoyed it since I was a kid reading old “Wonder Woman” comics at the library and watching “Batman: the Animated Series” on TV.

But I do have one giant pet peeve with nearly every superhero out there right now. I absolutely don’t understand the necessity superheros see of keeping your powers and identity a secret from the people closest to them. I’ve heard over and over the excuse “if he/she knew who I was, villians would use them to hurt me”. Ok, first of all, that doesn’t even make sense! The logic doesn’t connect without a lot of wobbly explaining. Second of all, in all cases I’ve seen, not knowing their superhero friend’s identity has done absolutely NOTHING to protect someone from being targeted by villians! Seriously, how many times was Mary Jane Watson or Jana Lang or Lois Lane or Steve Trevor kidnapped or otherwise hurt by a villian, despite having no idea that they were friends with a superhero! Wouldn’t it be safe to assume that if Lana *knew* she was dating a superhero she would work on better taking precautions to protect herself? Maybe carrying a panic button to call Clark in the event of that inevitable kidnapping? Or how about some self defense classes or something? I mean, seriously, the “I’m protecting them” excuse doesn’t work!

The episode of “Smallville” from last week brought the issue up again when Clark was infected with silver Kryptonite and made paranoid. Not knowing about his powers, Lana tried to help. For her troubles she ended up in the hospital… again. She should have a room with her name laminated to the door given how often she needs to be there! “Smallville” has come up with sort of a new excuse. They planted the fear deep in Clark’s mind that Lana won’t accept his powers and will blame him for her parents’ deaths. Besides the fact that even Lana hasn’t shown herself to be anywhere near this dumb, not knowing who Clark is has created so many problems that it’s starting to seem like Clark not telling her is evident of him not really loving her. If he loved her, he would tell her so that she can act accordingly. Instead, he ignores pointed comments from Cloe (sorry, no idea how to spell her name) and his parents to tell her and instead comes up with so many flimsy excuses that one has to wonder what love spell he has to keep her so unable to see through them! Maybe her own powers and her lies negate his and make her unable to see what is going on.

Even Batman, a hero who usually acts fairly rationally, pulls out the “my enemies will hurt anyone I love” excuse sometimes. In “Justice League Unlimited” he used that excuse to justify not having a relationship with Wonder Woman. Come on, it’s Wonder Woman. Sorry, but she can totally take care of herself against pretty much anyone, especially Joker or Penguin!

I know that superheros are almost required to have lots and lots of drama and angst (that’s how Marvel got so powerful), but seriously, this is just stupid. Notice at the end of Spiderman 2 how learning about Peter’s identity didn’t cause Mary Jane to spontaniously die? My guess is that now, knowing who he is, she will be more aware of dangers, more likely to call for his help when she needs it with no fear of him not showing up, and more willing to fight for herself secure in his back up! Not to mention, it makes all the crappy stuff that has heppened to her over the past few years make a hell of a lot more sense! If I were her (or Lana or Steve or anyone in that position) I’d certainly want to know why every supervillian who blows into town chooses me as a victim! Especially with all of New York or Gotham or Metropolis to choose from!

But maybe I’m just missing the point. I would totally welcome any help in understanding, so if you can explain it to me please do!

Fun Blog

One of the blogs I read every day is Conditional Reality. I think I’ve linked it here before, but it has been particularly amusing lately, so I decided to mention it again. It is a blog with one entry a day of about 100 words (maybe exactly, I don’t know since I don’t actually count the words). Each entry is a fairly self-contained little story. They are generally delightfully bizarre. Yesterday’s was about politically rejection the law of gravity. Today’s is about tatoos revolting. There was a good one a few weeks ago about robots who want to understand death. They are always good and often contain interesting ideas. I highly recommend it! And it’s only 100 words a day, so it’s not a big chunk of time out of your life or anything.

New Bill in Congress

A new bill is being presented in Congress that would call for support services for pregant and parenting students at colleges and universities. It is S.1966 in the Senate and H.R.4265 in the House. The bill would provide grants to encourage colleges and universities to provide councelling, medical care for children and pregant women, access to day care and other care services, access to needed supplies (baby food, clothes, furnature, etc.) and general support for families, pregant women and their husbands/whatever, and students considering adoption.

This bill is a big deal because as it is, it is nearly impossible for many women to be mothers and students at the same time. Many student health care providers will pay for an abortion but not for a pregnancy or infant care. Many student councelling services will discuss abortion, but not adoption. Women are discouraged from carrying pregancies to term because it is assumed that it will adversely affect their status as students and schools don’t want to deal with that. Women are passed over for grants, jobs and even class spots because of being pregant. Many women are pushed into “special education” programs due to pregancy (despite it being illegal) or hassled about absences, even when they provide doctors notes stating that they couldn’t attend because they were giving birth (this is illegal too). Many schools won’t allow parents to miss class due to a sick child, even if the parent never misses any other class session.

This bill would encourage schools to support these women, and the men and children in their lives, as they persue their degrees, but undergrad and graduate. This is a big deal and could be a wonderful thing if it passes. I’m going to keep an eye on this one and I hope that it passes easily. It is a bill that both parties should support and it should have lots of supporters from all sides of the abortion issue. It doesn’t deal with abortion, just families. No matter what your view on other issues, you should want to support families and a woman’s right to choose to have her baby even if she is a college student.

In the meantime, Girl-Mom has a good page about the rights of pregant women and mothers (and fathers too) in education as well as who to contact if you or someone you know is being descriminated against.

New Comics News

Two bits of news:

Neil Gaiman is planning a graphic novel version of Coraline. This could be pretty cool, as it is his story to begin with and he is a skilled comic writer.

The other bit of news is that Joss Whedon is planning to write an eighth season of Buffy as a comic series and, more interestingly, is considering other projects, including an ongoing “Serenity” comic series. That would be very cool.

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Edit: For some reason Movable Type deleted a trackback for this entry that is very worth reading. Check it out at Acephalous.

Lots of Updates

Ok, I have lots of updates for the site today.

First, I have four new dolls. One is Velma from “Scooby-Doo” in honor of the Whately game this past weekend. I’m working on Daphne too. Velma can be found on the Cartoon Characters page in the Dollz section. The other three are new Mini Barbie Dolls.

The next new thing is some Book List updates. The lists that were added or expanded are:
African Stories
Asian Stories
Ballet Stories
Bedtime Stories
Cat Stories
Cow Stories
Dinosaur Stories
Dog Stories
Dragon Stories
European Stories
Fairy Stories
Fairy Tales Retold
Father Stories
Grandparent Stories
Horse Stories
Mother Stories
Mystery Stories
Native American Stories
New Sibling Stories
Pirate Stories
School Stories
Science Fiction Stories
Sports Stories
Teddy Bear Stories
Winter Stories
Books Without Words

There are three new TV Snippets. The theme songs from Scooby-Doo and Firefly as well as Jayne’s Song from the “Firefly” episode “Jaynestown”.

Last but not least, there are several new Movie Lessons from the movies “Braveheart”, “Titanic”, “Jurassic Park” and “Sherlock Holmes and the Silk Stocking”.

That’s it for today, but I’m working on a few other things that will hopefully be up in the next few days.

Church supports Evolution

The Vatican has stated that the Bible is perfectly compatible with Darwin’s theory of evolution. They voiced strong criticism of the fundamentalist movement in the United States that rejects evolution in favor of a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Snow for Charity

There is a wonderful charity auction for cancer research going on right now called Robert’s Snow. They are auctioning off wonderful snowflakes decorated by some very talented children’s book illustrators. Many of my favorite illustrators participated, Graeme Base, Tomie de Paola, Tony DiTerlizzi, Jane Dyer, Brett Helquist, Betsy Lewin, Patricia Polacco, Ruth Sanderson, Mo Willems, and Jane Yolen to name a few.

My three favorite snowflakes are:
Susan Gaber
Shadra Strickland
Paul O. Zelinsky

Check out the auctions here.

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