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Posts Tagged ‘Magic’

“Howl’s Moving Castle,” by Dianna Wynne Jones is a magical tale that takes place in the town of Market Chipping; a land where all is possible. The story begins introducing us to our main character, Sophie. As her younger sisters prepare to leave home and seek the fortunes of life, sister Sophie, being the eldest, is assigned to stay behind and run the family hat shop. Unfortunately for her, running a hat shop is incredibly dull; that is, until the witch of the wastes drops by. After a brief confrontation, Sophie is left feeling a bit different – a bit stiff. She soon comes to realize that an awful spell has been cast upon her; one that has turned her into an old woman. This then ignites the fire of the story as Sophie sets off on her own journey; a journey that leads her straight to the eerie castle that looms above the town – Howl’s Moving Castle.

This is one fantasy novel that I’ve been meaning to read for ages. While I never truly forgot about it, I kept putting it off. Part of my reluctance came from the fact that it appeared to be a novel directed toward much younger readers. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with young adult/children’s literature, I wasn’t convinced that it would be something I could connect to. Nevertheless, the description intrigued me, and much of the reviews were quite positive. So despite my reluctance, I picked it up and jumped in. I’ll say right now that I’m pleased that I did. “Howl’s Moving Castle” was an incredibly entertaining and fun read. Here’s why:

To start, the characters were great; so great in-fact, that it was nearly impossible to single any out as favorites. I will say, however, that Sophie was one of the most enjoyable characters I’ve read in a long time. Not only was she strong-willed and brave – but hilarious, witty, and a bit mad. She had a big heart and it really showed. Aside from Sophie, we also had the all-powerful Wizard Howl. As I was introduced to his character, I have to admit that I was actually rather surprised. For whatever reason, I expected something reminiscent of king Haggard from “The Last Unicorn;” someone depressed, mopey, unlikeable. He was quite the opposite (though prone to leaking green slime when depressed). Oh and yes, we can’t forget Calcifer, an adorable puppy-dog-like fire demon; Michael, Howl’s young apprentice; a creepy scarecrow, and the witch of the wastes. To say the least, I was really impressed with Jones’s ability to create such diverse and interesting characters.

In addition, there was also the writing. Well, what can I say? It was equally as impressive. As stated above, when I decided to begin “Howl’s Moving Castle,” I was expecting something crafted for a much younger audience. My assumption however, was quickly destroyed. After reading just a few chapters, I soon found that it was much more; and while kids could definitely get a kick out of it, nothing was dumbed down. The overall language was impressive; the pacing was perfect; the tone was amusing. Diana Wynne Jones is clearly a witty and clever author, and her style in “Howl’s Moving Castle” was both comfortable and easy to follow; yet at the same time, well-written and carefully detailed. Her words were like art, flowing from page to page; her humor had me cracking a smile through-out. This wasn’t like reading, this was like taking a journey.

Lastly, the story itself was refreshing, creative, and fun. From Sophie’s odd predicament, to Calcifer the fire demon, to magic spells and shooting stars, “Howl’s Moving Castle” was jam packed with wonder and enchantment. While reading this lovely tale, I found myself never knowing what would happen next – and with Wizard Howl in the picture (who was a very skilled wizard, mind you), anything was possible. Aside from that, things progressed swiftly, and there was never a dull or boring moment; there was a huge amount of character development, leading all the way up to the final page, and there were even a few interesting plot twists. Overall, this story was spot on, and held my interest all the way up to the end. Oh, and speaking of the ending? I absolutely loved it. I can’t imagine it being any different.

With that said, “Howl’s Moving Castle” was really impressing, and after closing the final chapter and beginning this review, I quickly came to find that coming up any sort of critique was a real challenge. For me, this is one of those novels where nothing should be changed. From the intelligent writing, to the memorable and lovely characters, to the story, and to Howl himself, I found myself completely immersed within each page. While this is indeed considered a young adult novel, and I can certainly understand why, it’s clear to me that people of all ages could enjoy the magic of this novel. If you’re looking for a really fun, well written fantasy, this could be exactly what you’re seeking. Overall, I found “Howl’s Moving Castle” to be a truly a riveting and enchanting tale; one full of wit, heart, and a whole lot of magic.

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“The Innkeeper’s Song,” written by Peter S. Beagle, author of the enchanting “The Last Unicorn,” is a tale of love, loss, and adventure. The novel begins with a tragedy that strikes a young man named Tikat and his love Lukassa. After an unfortunate incident of falling into the river, Lukassa is quickly swept away with the current; lost within the riverbed. After a desperate search, it is soon determined that Lukassa — the love of Tikat’s life — has drowned. Shattered and completely distraught by this terrible tragedy, Tikat has given up — for there is simply nothing left to live for. However, all that changes when something strange happens — something beyond words. Just when all is lost, a strange woman approaches the riverbed, and in a mere moment, pulls Lukassa from the river, resurrecting her. As soon as it occurs, they are gone — leaving poor Tikat behind — confused and alone. This then begins the adventure, as Tikat follows them on a long and desperate journey, hoping to reunite with his true love once more.

In truth, I was really excited upon ordering “The Innkeeper’s Song,” Not only did the description of the book completely grab my interest, but it was by Peter S. Beagle…author of “The Last Unicorn.” Being fairly impressed by The Last Unicorn, I couldn’t wait to jump in and read this — especially after the vast majority of positive reviews it had received. Unfortunately however, after reaching the end of this 340 or so page novel, I can’t say that I was as impressed as I had hoped to be — as I had a lot of issues with it — ranging from story progression, to character development, and beyond. Along with that, no matter how much I wanted to feel and connect with this novel, I just couldn’t.

The biggest issue for me here, was the story. While the idea of the plot was certainly interesting — the resurrection of a loved one — a desperate search to find her and win her back, to resume the life this young couple once had — I couldn’t help but feel that the execution of the story was a bit of a mess. There was so much going on — so many different events, that I never really felt like I knew what the story was really about. Was it about Tikat, and his journey to find his love? Was it about the two women that found and resurrected Lukassa? Was it a battle between two wizards (that was a part of the story)? Was it about the Gash and Slasher Inn, where these people’s lives intertwine? Was it about the Innkeeper and his stableboy Rosseth — a boy with a tragic past of his own? I honestly wasn’t sure, as I felt that the story never really had a solid direction — for it did far too much meandering from one thing to the next.

Aside from the aimless wandering of the plot, I also had issues with the characters. The main issue being, I simply couldn’t connect with most of them — and the ones that I did, really didn’t have very large roles. Written in a multiple point of view fashion, “The Inn Keeper’s Song” follows the momentary lives of several characters…Lukassa, Lal, Nyatenari, Tikat, Rosseth (A stable boy), a Fox, The Innkeeper, and others. While each of these characters surely had potential, the fact is that the multiple point of view — different character different chapter type of style just did not work for me here. I felt as though there were too many characters doing separate things..and while there are a handful of chapters for each of them, it was like I never REALLY got to know or understand them. It was simply all over the place — a little here, a little there, but never enough..

With that said, while I did find the multiple point of view style to be distracting, and the majority of the characters underdeveloped, I still had a few favorites that drew me in. Unfortunately however, they were more “side-line” characters that really didn’t have a lot of involvement — at least, not as much as the three women. Those would be the stable boy Rosseth, The Innkeeper, and Tikat. Lukassa also grew on me as the novel progressed, but I still felt that I didn’t get enough from her as a character. None-the-less, I will say that despite the character flaws, the development for Rosseth and the Innkeeper was excellent, and by the end of the novel, I felt far more for them than any of the others — even though their impact on the story itself was quite small. Strangely, I would have found more enjoyment in this story if it had focused more on them rather than anyone else.

All in all, I found “The Innkeeper’s Song” to be a novel with a lot of potential — yet always falling short. From the wandering story, to the lack of direction — to the underdeveloped characters, I found myself wanting more but never getting it. There were so many times — especially in the middle — where things just dragged on and on..and I kept thinking, “should I really continue?”. In the end however, I did, and as it progressed towards the conclusion, some things came together, and there was an improvement. Infact, there were a few chapters near the end that totally had me, but that doesn’t make up for the rest of it. Despite this.. I can’t honestly say “don’t read this!” because if you look at the reviews on Amazon, clearly others have found enjoyment in “The Innkeeper’s Song.”. I can say, however, that I was immensely disappointed, and after reading the magically beautiful, “The Last Unicorn,” I simply expected more.


(3 out of 5)

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Peter S. Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn” begins as expected, lyrically introducing us to our main character, the Unicorn. The Unicorn, described by Beagle as the color of snow falling on a moonlit night, is alone in her lilac forest when she overhears the words of passing hunters. Upon her eavesdropping, and after being spotted by one of them, she discovers that she is thought to be the last – the last unicorn in existence. After a bit of restlessness and worry, she eventually decides to leave the familiarity of her beautiful lilac forest in a search to find her people. For in her eyes, they simply cannot be gone. This, of course, is where the adventure begins.

Upon first look, I thought the idea of a main character being a unicorn was a bit strange..or perhaps a little too silly for my tastes. However, I can say that I was definitely mistaken, and the Unicorn in this story, was a fabulous and interesting character thanks to the excellent writing of Beagle. While there is a lot to enjoy about this story, and I will go over all that very soon, I can say that the real strength here, at least a good part of it, is in the unique characters. Not only was the unicorn incredibly likable, but the others who come in contact with her were equally interesting.

From Shmendrick, an incompetent wizard working at a bizarre carnival owned by Mommy Fortuna, to a hard edged, yet truly caring woman, named Molly Grue — To lesser involved yet equally interesting characters such as King Haggard – A king whom’ can find no happiness in anything, to a prince who thinks himself a hero. While I really enjoyed all of the characters, I personally found Schmendrick to be the most entertaining, and perhaps one of my favorites in a long time! Not only was his failed attempts at magic humorous, but he truly had heart, and completely had the reader (at least for me), caring for him. His intension were pure, his story interesting, and his personality was excellent. I quite liked Molly as well, and the chemistry between all of them was fantastic..

So in general, I really quite liked the characters in this novel – and that for me, is incredibly important. If I don’t connect with the characters, I just don’t care. Aside from THAT aspect, and equally as important, there is the story, and I thought it was great as well! Not only was this tale about a unicorn searching for her lost people, but it was story of self discovery – love – perseverance. It was a story of magic and beauty. I personally adored the fact that the world Beagle built was so magical. A world of odd creatures.. of talking animals.. of wonder..of strangeness..and oh yes, I cannot forget the poetic butterfly (loved him!), and the witty talking cat. All of these aspects together — the characters, the story, the magic, the beautiful writing – blended together perfectly, creating a truly enchanting read.

With that said, I was very impressed with this novel. While Beagle did throw in the some-what traditional fairytale format, he also tossed in just enough strangeness to keep the story fresh and unique From the bizarre carnival, to the decrepit castle and cursed kingdom – drained of all hope and happiness – to the raging red bull, King Haggards very odd companion – to the beautiful unicorn, everything here kept me interested, and after finishing the novel..I simply felt good. This is the type of book you read, in my opinion, to feel that way. Especially after a long, hectic day in such a busy world. While I won’t narrow down my recommendation for this – as I think anyone with an open imagination can quite enjoy it – I will say that it’s very possible that many fans of Gaiman will get a kick out of this – at least fans of Stardust. Really though, this is a novel that I believe anyone can enjoy..as it’s quite wonderful!

(5/5)

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Patricia A. McKillip’s The Book of Atrix Wolfe is a unique story that centers primarily around an old and (incredibly) powerful mage named Atrix Wolfe, a mute scullery maid who the kitchen workers call Saro, and a teenage mage in the making, Talis. As a brief overview, without giving too much away, I will say that ths one-of-a-kind novel begins on an open field in the midst of a war between House Kardeth and House Pelucir. This is also where we first meet Atrix Wolfe, who is known as, perhaps, the most powerful mage in the world. In a moment of emotion and desperation, and in a time of cruelty and death, Atrix Wolfe gathers his energy and power to put an end to the rampant suffering and horror that surrounds Hunter’s field. Little does he know, what he unleashes on that dark night is something terrible; something beyond his comprehension; something that will haunt him and everyone involved forever.

That’s when the story flashes forward 20 years, and we meet young Talis, who is currently taking residence in Chaumenard to learn the art of sorcery. He also happens to be the son of the king Pelucir, who died on that tragic night on Hunter’s field. After being called back to his home of Pelucir by his Brother, he leaves the mage’s school; though not alone — he takes something strange with him. An odd unmarked book he found one night; a book with no name or label, just vaguely written spells that seem to hold some sort of power. Little does he know, this is a book written by the one and only, Atrix Wolfe. A book which holds words of secret, and undesired meanings; A book that in itself, bears the scars of what happened on that fateful night. A book that holds a terrible power — a power that could respark the horrible entity that ended the battle on Hunter’s Field; a power that will change Talis’s life and disturb the already haunted ruins of Pelicur once again.

Lastly, this is also where we meet Saro, a strange young Scullery made who works and sleeps in the kitchens of Pelicur. For Saro, her only language lay within the scrubbing of a pot or the stirring of a cauldron. For her, she has no words — no voice — the only thing she truly has is her job in the kitchens, and that job defines her completely. While she does respond to her name, which was given to her by the kitchen staff, “Saro”, meaning, “someone’s sorrow”, she has never spoken since they found her on that horrible night; found naked, lost amongst a pile of wood. Though Saro is simply the pot cleaner, a girl who is rarely noticed — she holds a strange secret past — one that no one is aware of, not even herself. Though to the kitchen staff, her existence is simple; she never speaks, and all she knows of life and the world is her large washing cauldron, inside she is alive, aware, simply lost within her forgotten past. A past that will soon be revealed by Talis and Atrix Wolfe, who’s lives all seemingly intertwine as the plot pushes fourth.

To say the least, Patricia McKillip is one talented and highly skilled author! Her writing style is both unique and genuinely her own — it’s deep, poetic, artistic, dream-like, etheareal, emotional. Her use of words is absolutely stunning, and she relies heavily on her atmospheric style to carry her story (and it works). I found this novel to be stylistically beautiful, and I found myself on numerous occasions re-reading what I had just read, only to think “wow..” Some moments were just so good, I had to re-read them. Not many authors do that to me.

Aside from the beauty of the writing itself, I also quite enjoyed the characters, which were all unique and interesting, especially Saro. While Atrix Wolfe and Talis were both great and compelling characters, and I certainly cared about what would happen to them; she was by far my favorite (despite the fact that she never spoke a word until the end of the book)! Some of the most touching and heart-breaking moments revolved around her, and the way McKillip portrayed her character as a mute — speaking the language of the pots, understanding cleaning, food, everything else was drowned out sound, trying to choke up word..struggling.. etc..it was just so interesting. Her interaction between the kitchen crew..what they thought of her, getting an in depth feeling of what was going on in her mind, how she felt..how she saw things..her frustration.. I just can’t praise this character enough. She’s probably one of the most memorable characters I’ve read in a long time.

Though I enjoyed most aspects of this novel, especially her poetic, dream-like style, at the same time, I felt that in some areas it actually took away from the story itself — detaching the reader from certain happenings. For instance, some of the action scenes didn’t quite feel right in the way they were written — almost as if they lacked a much needed intensity. Some were so metaphorically driven, it felt almost as if I were reading a poem rather than an actual moment of danger. Though I generally like this type of writing (hell, I’m a poet), I believe it would have been more affective if the action scenes were toned down a bit, written in a more straight forward fashion rather than the mist-like quality that filled most of this novel. Also, for whatever reason, in the beginning of the book, I had a hard time (for a short period) telling the characters apart. I didn’t quite know who was who. Regardless of this, I felt the writing style helped far more than it hurt, and because of this, I was mesmerized and entranced from beginning to end.

All in all, this is a great book. From the hypnotic writing, to the great characters, to the unique plot — this was an enchanting, well acomplished stand-alone fantasy piece. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind fantasy novel with an excellent story (even mixed with a bit of folklore/mythology), you should definitely pick this up. Though I’ve only read one of McKillip’s novels (SO FAR), I can say that she is a talented writer, and if you’re looking for something a bit different stylistically, you’ll get it from her. I recommend “The Book Of Atrix Wolfe” to anyone who’s looking for a quick (though deep), unique read, that will hold you entranced and compelled straight from the beginning.


(4 out of 5)

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