The King Must Die

kingmustdie If all you remember about the Greek myth of Theseus is that he killed the minotaur, this book will remind you of his more evolved story.  Born of a princess, Theseus was told all his life that his father was a god and when he finds that his father is actually the king of a distant land, he journeys to find him.

Along the way, he not only encounters the thieves and ruffians but (in the true Greek legend way) overcomes the obstacles to make his way to his father in distant Athens.  After narrowly escaping Medea in his father’s court, he find himself  part of the yearly tribute to King Minos as part of the sacrifice to the city’s Minotaur, a half man/half bull.  As legend has it, Theseus befriends the daughter of the king who gives him a ball of string enabling him to find the best within his lair and kill it while still escaping with his life and his lady.

He make his way back to Athens where, when failing to display the appropriate colored sails, he causes his father to believe Theseus killed, leading to his own suicide.  Thus, Theseus returns to Athens as the proven heir apparent and hero but loses his father in the undertaking and becomes the new King… where he goes on to have other adventures.

*****

Now, I know it seems like I just totally spoiled the whole plot.. but I didn’t.  First, you should already have a working familiarity with the basic story if you are going to get much out of this book because Mary Renault tells the story in a very different way.  And I’m really trying to spare you any of the “wait, what?” moments that I had while I was reading this.

What she’s done is take the basic myth and make Theseus flesh and blood with his own insecurities and strengths and real world problems.  She’s used the legend as an outline to the book, but transforms it into a story that has the main elements while making the story realistic for the time.  Since I don’t want to give away too much of it, I will just say that you have to trust me that it works, although it’s a bit strange at times.  I guess it’s sort of like how the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou? tells the story of Odysseus, although this time she didn’t bother to change the names and it’s in the same time period and I’ve searched and searched and there is no George Clooney anywhere in this book.

If you like Greek mythology, you should consider picking this one up. In fact, if I were a High School English teacher, which thankfully I’m not, I’d make my students read this as a great example of the reworking of an established plot line into something literately more.

The King Must Die by Mary Renault, 338 pages  (and if you get this particular copy, there is a short write up of the Theseus legend in the back)

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Published in: on April 17, 2009 at 11:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Starring: Thursday Next

Okay, so I went on a vacation and then got a cold and in the meantime I finished a SERIES of books.  Now, I could list them all out in a strange sort of backwards posting like I did for the Phoenix Guards one, but that kind of annoyed me so I’m going to throw them into one MEGA POST!

Here we go, grab a tea and a scone or something because this is going to be long.

*****

lost Lost In A Good Book is the second in the Thursday Next series that started with The Eyre Affair (I did that one back near the beginning of the year).  Our protagonist, Ms. Next, lives in a world that’s evolved parallel to ours – where ducks are something theoretical and dodos have been brought back from extinction.  She works in Special Operations (SpecOps) as a Literary Detective – responsible for checking out things like forged Shakespeare works and other literary crimes.

Her first book brought her into contact with the Goliath Corporation, the megalomanical world conglomerate that wants to own and control everything and, surprisingly enough, they aren’t through with Thursday yet.  In Lost In A Good Book, Goliath is back to its old tricks of manipulation and has “time-slipped” Landon, Thursday’s husband, in order to “convince” Thursday to a) retrieve their agent from The Raven where he was left after the last round of adventures and b) reveal the secret to entering books in the first place.   In order to get her husband back, Thursday not only learns to read herself into books, but also joins up with Jurisfiction – the quasi-police force inside books.  Oh, and there’s also mammoths, a jar of lentils which indicate entropy levels, Ms Havisham, the Cat Formerly Known As Cheshire and a new enemy who has the ability to make you forget things to contend with.  Seems that Thursday’s got her hands full.

*****

well

Thursday’s back; preggers and tired and in need of some down time.  It’s hard when everyone is out to get you, you know?  What’s a girl to do except join the Character Exchange Program and have a little downtime in the Well of Lost Plots – a place where book ideas are made and die.  Still a member of Jurisfiction, but on the lamb from Goliath, Thursday fills in for “Mary”, a supporting character in a crime story that’s not being read and not really going anywhere.  Meanwhile, she can’t help feel like there’s something or someone that she should be remembering but it’s probably not that important, right?

All is not well in literary world, however.  First, people are being murdered, the Minotaur has escaped and “UltraWord” (the newest version of the Story Operating System) seems to have some flaws.  There are also some issues with the Generics (“blank” characters, just waiting for spots in a story) and the nursery rhyme and Oral Tradition folks aren’t happy.   Looks like this isn’t going to be much of a vacation after all.

*****

rotten

It’s time to get out of the book and back into the real world.  And this time, Thursday’s not alone.  She’s bringing her son Friday, Pickwick the dodo and her son Alan… and Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark.  Which is probably good, seeing as how Ophelia isn’t happy with her current role and Hamlet’s wishy washy inability to make decisions and she’s busy making some changes.

Thursday is determined to get Landon back this time and she gets her time traveling, half non-existent father to help out.  Amongst her mother’s incessant baking, Thursday manages to get entangled in the Hamlet mess, a disgusting prophet, a gaggle of Shakespeare clones and the world’s most important cricket match.  The Minotaur is still holding a grudge and Landon keeps flickering in and out of existence – just another day in the life…

*****

sequel And thus the first is the end.  Or something.  Or maybe not!  But we are to the last in the series.  Thursday and Landon and their kids, Friday, Tuesday and Jenny are all living mostly happy lives – Tuesday is a genius, Jenny is at a slumber party somewhere, and Friday is your typical surly teenager.  The problem is, Friday is supposed to be out inventing time travel or something and his parents can’t get him to get up before noon.

Thursday has left SpecOps and is running a carpet business with some of her old colleagues… except that the carpet business is a front for SpecOps work.  Which is a front for Jurisfiction work.  Which is just as crazy as ever.  This time, Thursday is responsible for training some new recruits: Thursday1-4 and Thursday5.  See, Thursday licensed her story and now there are books where she is a character… just let your brain bend a bit and accept it.  And don’t worry, Goliath is still lurking and the Minotaur is still trying to kill her.

So, once again it’s up to Thursday to save the day.  Can she stop Thursday1-4 from exacting revenge on her creator, can she help Landon write a great book and can they make Friday actually get motivated to fulfill his destiny?

*****

I told you it was a lot of words.  Okay, here’s my wrap up.  I love these books.  Fforde is painfully clever and twists and turns a story in such a charming way that you can’t help but want to read these back to back.  I put the last one down and really wished for another one.  Some things that I thought were completely genius (in no particular order)

1)  the idea that Thursday considers and rejects that she is a character in a book

2)  the rational way that The Big Over Easy works into this series

3)  the literary cameos, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Anna Karenina in footnote gossip, are brilliant

4)  the carry over from book to book, although each story is also stand alone

I have to say that these will stay on my bookshelf.  And now I’ve read everything that he’s released and need to wait for the next one… poop.  There are lots of really great series out there, but if you like something intelligent like English class and yet irreverent like Terry Pratchett, you’d do yourself a service to check these out.

Perfectly delightful.  Plock.

Lost In A Good Book, by Jasper Fforde, 432 pages

The Well Of Lost Plots, 416 pages

Something Rotten, 416 pages

Thursday Next: A First Amongst Sequels, 384 pages

The Fourth Bear

fourth-bearDetective Jack Spratt and Mary Mary are back in action!  This time, they have to find the psychopathic Gingerbread-man and keep him from ripping anyone else in half as well as try to discover just what happened to Goldilocks.  Amongst the burning questions are “is the Gingerbread-man a cookie or a cake?”, “How can porridge be too hot, too cold and just right if they were all poured at the same time?” and “Was there a fourth bear?”

Once again it’s up to the Nursery Crime division to get to the bottom of it all while trying to preserve their own threads of sanity and, in some cases, reality.

*****

I really enjoy Fforde’s work.  His irreverent style and crazy imagination just tweaks my funny bone in all the right ways.  I love his characters and I think that the idea that nursery rhyme inhabitants live and work among us us borderline brilliant.

This series started with The Big Over Easy (scroll a couple pages, it was first this year) and Fforde doesn’t disappoint with this second book.  He brings back the characters that we know and love and puts them in the same ridiculous situations we expect.  It doesn’t seem strange to see Jack break up a porridge ring, for instance.  After all, everyone knows that bears can’t control themselves and it’s a highly regulated substance.  Also, you forgive him puns (like the cringe worthy arguments over the ‘right to arm bears’) because it’s just so damn believable and seems to work.  Right to arm bears.  Eek.

So, once again, I have to recommend this guy.  I just think his work and characters are charming and I am looking forward to the next one on this series.

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde, 378 pages

The Eyre Affair

eyre-affair7 Great Britain, 1985.  Time travel is a reality?  Check.  People clone dodos as pets?  Check.  There is an entire Special Department dedicated to literary detection and crimes?  Oh yeah, big check.

In this Great Britain, Thursday Next is a Special Operative, working to hunt down forgers and desecraters of books.  And when someone starts entering historical works of fiction and kidnapping main characters, it’s up to her and her fellow operatives to seek out and capture the culprit before the stories are changed forever.

*****

First, I want a cloned dodo as a pet.  Especially since they apparently say “plock” a lot.  How awesome would that be?  Okay, now the story.  It’s not clear if this particular Great Britain is the same Great Britain of The Big Over Easy, but I’m going to guess yes.  Which means that this is a world that takes i’s literature VERY SERIOUSLY.

In this book, we get a bit larger view of the world as it is.  There’s a war going on and it’s in the best interest of the Goliath Corporation – the largest and most definitely influential of businesses – to keep it going.  There’s also a lot more going on in Special Ops than people want to get into, including time traveling parents and a vampire here and there.  This book had a much more layered story than The Big Over Easy, and it’s almost hard to get into the main gist with it all.  Still, in the end, it adds to the feel of the story rather than weigh it down.

This particular set up is ripe for a series and, what do you know, it IS the beginning of one!  I have a couple more on order so we’ll see how the series progresses as it goes.  This book also made me realize that I don’t think I’ve ever read Jane Eyre and so I’ve ordered that one too.  This was a fun book, pick it up if you ever wished you could actually be in one.  Not that anyone ever felt that way… heh.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, 374 pages

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Wicked

wickedOnce in a far away land, a house fell out of the sky onto a woman – a witch – killing her and freeing her people from her rule.  Theyd called her the Wicked Witch of the East, and her ruby slippers were known throughout the land.

The Witch had a sister in the West – a green, intensive woman who, perhaps more than she wanted to avenge her sister, wanted the damn shoes.   We all know how this story ends.

But what of this “Wicked Witch of the West”, Elphaba?  Who was she?  Was she always a witch, did she have a family, go to school, love anyone?  And what the hell was up with this shoe obsession, anyway?  Gregory Macguire gives us a view into the making of a witch – mixing a backstory of family and school drama with a highly intelligent and forward thinking life and covering it all in a bit of “it’s not easy being green.”

Macguire doesn’t paint us the rosy singing Munchkin Oz.  He tells of a real world, where the threat of political upheaval weighs over the land and prejudice exists.  In the telling of Elphabas life story he shows us that the weak may be swayed, the powerful can be corrupt, having morals and strength doesn’t always mean you win, and makes us question what it really means to be Wicked after all.

*****

Okay, unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard of this book.  I originally bought it in a bookstore in Boston back when it was still in hardcover in 1996 or so.  I recently saw it in Costco (where all good things come from) and thought that, since I couldn’t find my hardcover copy, it was worth $5 to reread.  I was right, I forgot how much I like this story.

It’s not the Wizard of Oz, in fact, Dorothy is hardly in this one.  And you know how it ends so it’s not like that’s a surprise… except it is.  It’s a really fascinating way to look at the Oz world.  It’s sort of like if you see someone’s Mexico vacation pictures with the nice beaches and floofy drinks and then go there yourself and see some of the poverty once you’re away from the resorts.  Macguire really has made it a real world with real people living in it and it’s dramatically different from the Baum telling.

I don’t expect everyone to like this book, and I think it may be a bit of a hard read if you’re expecting some fantasy.  This really reads almost like a character study.  All the reviews (and even the back of the book jacket) will mention the notion of “good” vs “evil” and it’s worth bringing it up again.  This book does make you think about it, but never goes over the top and screams “SO IS THIS PERSON REALLY GOOD?!  THINK ABOUT IT!  I CHALLANGE YOU!”.  It grabbed me at various times while reading, that slight pause that makes you rethink your assumption.

All in all, I have to recommend that you try this book out, pick it up, see if it grabs you.  It’s not an easy read only because it does make you think a bit and at times the plot gets a bit convoluted.  Or maybe I was just on too much cold medicine and too little sleep this time around.

Uh.. anyone want to go see the show if it comes back to town?  😉

Wicked by Gregory Macguire, 519 pages

Published in: on January 9, 2009 at 8:18 am  Comments (2)  
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The Big Over Easy

big_over_easy

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the King’s horses

And all the King’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again

What if it wasn’t a simple fall?  What if Humpty was murdered?  And what if there was an entire (albeit small) department, lead by Jack Spratt and Mary Mary, dedicated to investigating and solving crimes involving nursery rhyme characters?

Well, if that were the case, you’d be living in the world that Jasper Fforde created.  And it’s a pretty funny one.  So what if Humpty was a bit of a shyster?  And if aliens who speak binary happen to be living with us?  Fforde’s built a fantastic but believable world where anthropomorphic pigs are held responsible for the tragic death of Mr. Wolfe and the detectives with the most street cred are the ones who can write the best true crime stories for the papers.

*****

(more…)

Published in: on January 1, 2009 at 3:34 pm  Comments (5)  
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