For the first weekend in ages, I did nothing but watch movies and it was GLORIOUS. I rewatched Dangerous Beauty and Much Ado About Nothing and then watched Amadeus no less than three times. On the same day. (I know, I know, I tend to obsession.)
I think my taste in movies can be extrapolated and extended to my taste in books. Why do I love Dangerous Beauty? It’s an intelligent historical chick movie. Also, it has courtesans and apparently whenever people think of “courtesans”, they think of me. Why do I love Much Ado About Nothing? Because it is delightful. No other reason. Seriously, it is CHARMING and the cheer is infectious. Also, a little ridiculous, but I like that sort of thing. Also, this is my favourite of Shakespeare’s comedies.
As for Amadeus, well, this is a little harder to articulate. Certainly I love Mozart and his music, but one can’t help but be gratified by a great story well-told. Revenge, passion, the nature of genius, the pain of mediocrity, humor, tragedy–this movie is wonderful in every sense of the word. I could go on and on about its brilliance, but everything I feel about this film can be summed up in its title: Amadeus, Beloved of God. One of Mozart’s names rendered into Latin (he was christened with Gottlieb, but went by Amadé in his professional life), but also a recurring theme throughout the play/movie: divine inspiration. Oh! Oh! How I love this movie so.
Anyway, despite having watched movies all weekend, what I really want to do in this blog post is was review two very lovely books, GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD by Karen Healey and THE DEMON’S COVENANT by Sarah Rees Brennan. More after the cut.
It feels like it’s been a million years since I last reviewed a book. In fact, the last thing I reviewed was RAMPANT by Diana Peterfreund back in January. Oh dear, oh dear. I have read a great many new releases since, but since I don’t have the time to backlog the ones I have read, I will focus on the two I’ve read most recently.
Review of GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD by Karen Healey
I can’t recall how I first heard of this book, but however I did, I’m glad it came to my attention. At first I was a bit wary because the blurb included the word “fairies”. Cue me groaning. I don’t like fairies. I think I have some residual cognitive dissonance about fairies because despite the new literature about fey people harking back to their tricksy and less-than-sweet roots, there’s some part of my brain that thinks of Victorian twee. You know, glittery wings. Tinkling voices. That sort of thing.
But I’m glad I ignored that sense of cognitive dissonance because I really enjoyed GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD. Possibly because it didn’t really have fairies. (More on that later.) What to focus on first? How about the fact it features a capable, interesting, and likable heroine whose worth is not measured by her looks? Or an actual asexual character? Or how about the fact that the book features a CHARACTER OF ASIAN DESCENT who is, you know, a fully-rounded person instead of a trope?
I loved the mythology in GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD, particularly because it was new to me. It involves some of the myths and legends of the Maori, the native people of New Zealand. I loved this glimpse into mythologies unfamiliar to me, but more than that, I was fascinated with how Maori culture permeates that of contemporary New Zealand. The protagonist Ellie is a Pakeha girl, or white. The fact that a word like “Pakeha” is known and used in everyday New Zealand is really amazing to me, especially as us Americans have a history of repressing our native peoples.
So in many ways, I feel that using the term “fairies” to describe the supernatural patupairehe in Healey’s novel is somewhat of a disservice. The word “fairy” is loaded with many connotations (including impressions of Victorian twee, clearly), but more than that, it is a very Western European word, coming into Middle English from Old French via the Norman invasion. Tricksy magical beings exist in all mythologies, but it bothers me a little to conflate patupairehe with “fairy”. It’s as if someone described kumihos (the Korean equivalent of the Japanese kitsune-tsuki) as “fairy women”. Sure they lure unsuspecting men to ruin with their beauty and foxy ways (quite literally–they turn into foxes), but I run into a bit of an idiomatic brick wall when someone describes them as “Korean fairies”. Because they’re not. Not really.
I have some of that idiomatic block when it comes to the patupairehe. They are what they are, not an exoticized approximation of a known quantity. I think it may have been a marketing decision as Healey never does it–her novel is uniquely and completely New Zealand, somewhat insular, but fascinating. I read everything through the lens of a biracial American, but what struck me about GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD was how it seemed familiar. The mythic qualities of a girl going into the Underworld to save someone resonate throughout all cultures and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. But more than that, Maori myth pings with what I know of Hawai’ian mythology.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Hawai’i, and what struck me about the integration of Maori and Pakeha cultures in New Zealand called to what I know of Hawai’i. Not only do Hawai’ians and Maori share common ancestry, but how Hawai’i's native population and “white” culture (along with East Asian culture) mingle is somewhat similar to New Zealand. Hawai’ian words make their way into people’s everyday speech, from the obvious “Aloha” to the culturally appropriate “hapa”. (“Hapa” meaning “half”, or “half-blooded”, referring to the racially mixed population. I am “hapa” myself.)
Regardless! GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD is an awesome novel! Don’t mind me; I’m dorky in ways that don’t interest people. So, I leave off with a ringing endorsement of COOL MYTHOLOGY! GREAT FEMALE CHARACTERS!
Review of THE DEMON’S COVENANT by Sarah Rees Brennan
I reviewed THE DEMON’S LEXICON a while back, so I won’t bore you with a recap. (Or rather, I won’t bore you with my recap as I tend to be prosaic. Go read the book instead!) THE DEMON’S COVENANT is the sequel to THE DEMON’S LEXICON, the continuing adventures of two pairs of siblings: Nick and Alan Ryves and Mae and Jamie Crawford.
THE DEMON’S COVENANT is told from Mae’s POV and is the third Awesome Lady Being Awesome in my post (the first two being Ellie and Iris from GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD). I will admit had a little difficulty getting a handle on Mae in the previous book. This isn’t to say she was unlikeable or poorly written, but I think it might be a function of Nick’s POV. Unlike her younger brother Jamie–who is titchy and prone to saying funny things when terrified–Mae comes across as extremely capable and therefore narratively less interesting. (Forgive me!)
That being said, I love Mae. I really do. Once we are inside her head, we are privy to all the insecurities and vulnerabilities she cannot and does not show the rest of the world (and Nick, being somewhat of an obtuse POV character, wouldn’t have picked up on these cues). She is very, very real and awesome. And the most amazing thing about Mae is the relationship she has with her brother Jamie.
I cried. This is stupendous because I rarely cry in books. I sobbed my eyes out in Beverly Cleary’s RAMONA AND HER MOTHER and Marcus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF. It takes a lot to make me cry because I’m moved to tears by odd things. Romance usually fails to move me. Deaths, while sad, don’t really make me sniffle either. But the way Rees Brennan writes about love and family just gutted me, especially at the end. Saying farewell to someone, supporting them in the most difficult and dangerous decision of their lives, and being strong despite a breaking heart (and one’s heart can break in situations NOT related to romance)–these are all ingredients that can reduce JJ to tears.
What I love most about Rees Brennan is that she writes about family, an element often missing from YA fiction these days. Parents are either absent, dead, or simply neglectful. While the parents of Nick and Alan, Mae and Jamie fall into one of those three categories, family is never overlooked. Love is a powerful thing, especially when the love that ties you to someone doesn’t have anything to do with romance. Oh, oh, oh. My heart. It hurt.
So, like THE DEMON’S LEXICON I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It has demons! And sexy boys who fight with swords! Slightly Machiavellian “good” guys! Adorably snarky gay brothers! AN AMAZING PINK-HAIRED HEROINE. Go!