On Focus

My mind likes to veg out and get deep when I'm in the shower. Some of my best plot inspirations have happened in that oblong white stall with the built-in benches. But I also have other thoughts, about life, the universe, and everything.

Recently, I had a lens analogy pop into my head regarding my views on the world around me. "Focus" was a theme I used when training for my black belt, to help me work on certain aspects of my martial arts. It also encapsulated the whole martial arts experience in a way, so it's become a theme of my life.

While warm water sprayed around me, I realized that my focus has since split in two. One lens is telescopic (yes, I know you need more than one lens to actually achieve a telescopic effect - work with me), seeing far into the future, seeing the broad, wide scope of everything. My cosmic view. The other lens is microscopic, looking very closely at individual situations, and especially at myself and my expression through writing, examining and identifying flaws and faults so that I can make us both better.

Sounds mostly cool, right? The ability to look ahead at long-term consequences, as well as the ability to stop and focus entirely on one facet of myself. But I feel like there's a middle vision, a bifocal, normal vision of the world, that I've lost. I feel impractical, unreliable. I want to wear sleeveless tunics and gauzy pantaloons in January. I want to eat salad that's mostly kidney beans. And I don't mind if my daughter's socks are mismatched on purpose as a representation of her personal style. Don't expect me to pander to you with platitudes. I'm fully capable of a variety of more useful responses, and more inclined to use them.

So much of my earlier life has been unremarkable. I've forgotten years at a stretch. People's names escape me because I wasn't paying attention. Well, screw that! I'm going to take my lenses and turn them to the sun, and set my world on fire, then dance across the coals on bare feet.



Bloody. Awful. -- Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule

I have caught a few episodes of the "Legend of the Seeker" TV show, and I heard it was generally based off this book. I figured I should read it to get an idea what makes for popularized fantasy.

I can now say with full confidence that if this is what it takes to get a book turned into a TV show, I'm going to aim for the quirky recluse writer in the big house at the end of the lane, who wears foreign clothes that smell of odd spices and gives full-size candy bars out at Halloween.

Oh wait. I was going to do that anyway.

I have several issues with the way Goodkind constructs his book. I can only assume that the rest of this series will be in a similar vein, and I'm put off enough that I'm not going anywhere near them. Ever. I'm going to dig a hole beneath my star rating so I can go negative on this one. So many factors in the book made for a frustrating, irritating read. This is not so much a review as a rant, I'm afraid.

I didn't even read everything in this book. At one point, my husband (who had already warned me that this wasn't a "happy ending" sort of book - that's a personal definition, btw; the book does have a technically happy ending) asked me how it was going. I told him I was about ready to throw the book across the room because I'd read, in the last few pages, about the ritual killing of male Confessor infants by their father, at their mother's order, and the gang rape of young girls who had been lucky enough to survive their village being razed by their own lord's army in disguise, just to cement the pretend-enemy's evilness. I've no general complaint against violence in fantasy. Swords and spears FTW. But when you feel it's necessary to stoop to describing violence against children--not necessarily in detail, but in continual reference--I've got a problem with your writing. When you must describe the flying gobs of blood every time there is a battle, the crunching bones and collapsing faces, every time, then you've strayed into violence porn, and you're no better than a 70's mob movie at keeping me focused on the plot you're ostensibly constructing. Some writing style elements just shout too darn loud, and drown the plot out. Excessive gore for its own sake is definitely one of them for me.

Honestly, whatever happened to hinting? I DO have an imagination, you know. It's why I enjoy fantasy worlds in the first place!

After explaining my irritation at the author's choice of details, my husband took the book away and said, "Don't read past when they cross the bridge after the castle then." He marked the place for me, and I skipped a good hundred pages of what he summed up for me as the hero being tortured by sadistic women who are the embodiment of the black widow spider. I didn't feel the loss of reading about a man tortured into Stockholm syndrome in loving detail, just so the next part of the plot could happen. It's the "loving detail" part that irritates me. I've read some twisted works by a misogynist sociopath before--before I realized what he was--and this was little different. Probably due to a good editor. Such things one cannot simply scrub from one's brain afterward. Some things cannot be un-seen.

I have to say, though, that I'm sort of expecting this to be the worst book Goodkind ever wrote. It is his first book, and one usually gets better with time. In this book, I can see other issues with the plot's construction that irritated me on a less personal level than as a mom of living children.

Situational irony got Out Of Control in this book. Sure, you can have the magic box go one way while the heroes are still looking somewhere else for it. Fine. But don't write about it for eighty pages until they realize what happened! After about page 3 of "it's still at the castle, let's get to the castle", and knowing that it wasn't in fact at the castle, I was ready for them to figure it out. But nooooo. In this case, better timing of scene switching, and hurrying up one side or delaying the other so that it balanced better, would have made me much happier.

The other ironic situation was in regards to the traitor who handed the magic box to Lord Rahl. Richard, our hero, is so focused on it being either X or Y that he can't consider anyone else. Meanwhile, the actual traitor had been acting odd from the beginning of the book. It was a no brainer, and caused all sorts of unnecessary conflicts, encounters and confusion until they figured it all out. It added an extra 50 pages to the book to discuss all this uncertainty and its resulting clashes, making the plot limp along with a hop-a-skip to get to the end.

This world is not a happy one. The magic that exists here is based on pain. Sure, there are technically two magics here, and magic has two sides, as they say. That's a cool concept. But the way it's used in the book, I'm fully on the Westlanders' side: I'd move away behind a boundary to get away from those freaky-ass magic users and their bizarre "gifts". There's a fair bit of underworld crossover, and they're always evil/bad/deadly. No friendly ghosts here. No mention of anywhere else for the dead to go, so it seems everyone goes to hell here.

Magic spells, unless you're Zedd, seem to involve manipulating prepubescent boys into adoring you, then killing them with molten lead, or screaming naked in the forest with blood pouring from your wounds, for a couple examples. For Richard, his sword causes him agony every time he kills someone with it, and he can only seem to use it when his anger is merged with its anger, giving him a sort of subjective perspective of righteous rage. For Kahlan, she makes people fall completely in love with her, then commands them to do stuff she wants. Most of the time, this is dying immediately. The original concept of Confessing is so twisted from its stated intent (seeking the truth), that it seems obvious that the wizards who created the Confessors were either psychopaths, or horribly inept. It was nearly inconceivable that her Confessing didn't bring her a small army of fanatics, that she had to kill them all, except Brophy, who wasn't even allowed to remain human anymore. How is that any sort of functioning magic, that the confessed are apparently so obsessive that even the ones you don't order to die on the spot are so irritating that they need to be turned into wolves?

Seriously, Goodkind must eat spicy quesadillas before bed each night to come up with this stuff.

These characters he's created are not merely flawed. They're twisted, shattered, and broken. They're way beyond flaws that others can relate to; they've entered the realm of the grotesque. They don't stand out because their whole world is similar. It's not a happy ending sort of book because it doesn't seem to grasp the concept of happiness. Love (Kahlan's magic) is twisted to bring death. Righteous anger is twisted to become Richard's Seeker magic, and he can forgive people for their actions with it too, but only by killing or hurting them. Rahl is a complete basket case, with the constant licking of fingertips and smoothing of eyebrows, and he's clearly psychopathic...in loving detail. He employs lots of evil people (Demmin, the Mord-Sith) who also get to do evil stuff in loving detail.

It's not the evil I mind. You can't have conflict without evil. You can't have a gripping story without conflict. It's the loving detail that irritates me. I'm generally in favor of free speech and against the banning of books, but when the intent gets out of hand, I'm not cool with that. There are in fact some things that should not be reveled in. Concepts are important for grasping. You can't deal with evil unless you know what it is. But this book reads like a low-key bacchanal of evil fun, where the heroes cry quite a lot, after proclaiming they never cry, bleed more than most books put together, and everyone seems to get tortured or lost or terrified at regular intervals. It's just a bit much, all around, like the volume got cranked to 12.

I've read worse, so this gets a -3 of 5.


Review for The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

Yeah yeah, I had to read it. I had to see if it was up to the hype about how horribly it stank, and if it was on par with the crazy schemes and intricately knotted plotwork of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code.

I have to say, after reading, that it wasn't quite, and it wasn't quite.

Overall, the book just wasn't quite.

There were three plot twists/hidden details that kept this plot going through 133 chapters: who Mal'akh is, why Sato is so adamant in chasing Langdon around, and where the Lost Word is hidden. Because you know there will be a real place with a real thing in it; methinks the symbologist doth protest waaaaay too much about it being metaphorical. Come on, that's totally not a spoiler if you've read anything else by Brown.

I'd figured out the first and third far sooner than I'd have liked to, so most of this book was me waiting to be proven right...and reading a lot of details about Masonic art around Washington, D.C. Sigh. The second twist was so much less than earth-shattering, it was the opposite of irritating: that's right, it was boring.

I'm also not a fan of reading detailed descriptions of rituals that I don't understand. Rituals are meaningful only to the initiated, so it's a sequence of meaningless events to me. If you're not going to explain what the parts mean, why explain the details? Argle. But alas, I forget that Brown enjoys working details into any crack he can get them to fit.

I do, as a puzzle maker, enjoy Brown's interconnectivity within his plots. The way the magic square plays its parts in the beginning and in the end, and the concept of the symbolon becoming a reality in the pyramid's numerous puzzles, were fun to read. It makes me wonder how long he had to search before he found a series of facts that gave him enough layers that he could use it in his plot. An example in no particular order: Benjamin Franklin - Franklin Square, the address - a Franklin square - an order-eight Franklin square - The Order. Etc etc. Pyramids and symbols everywhere! The constant mention of ancient symbols throughout the architecture of Washington made the city take on a truly exotic feel, as if there were two cities there, rather than one. Sort of like the way London has Diagon Alley, but you just don't notice it unless you're the right sort.

The city Brown presents is the coolest part of the book. The philosophy which he gives to the Masons to protect and espouse, which is that there is a wealth of secret knowledge hidden in plain sight among numerous ancient writings that survive to this day, isn't surprising or astounding in any way. That these books have survived exactly because history's brightest minds have sought to decipher this knowledge over the centuries is kinda cool, despite the tang of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I guess the book is sort of a letdown on that end because it doesn't show me anything I didn't generally believe possible in the first place. I'm not into the concept that the earlier civilizations on this planet were dumber somehow, or not interested in the world they lived in. It makes me chuckle when everyone acts all astonished that archaeologists find a simple computer from the Roman Era, or a currently untranslatable document (Voynich, anyone?)full of details no one can fully grasp, or astronomically accurate stone buildings built thousands of years ago. I mean, come on. These people didn't have American Idol and iPods to distract them. They were busy thinking crap up! So yeah, I'm down with our ancestors having figured out a lot of deep thoughts. I enjoy trying the same from time to time. I don't see how this is a big deal. Are there more sheeple in the world than I thought? Maybe in this day and age.

Most egotistical sections: the parts where Brown works scenes into the plot that refer to the controversy and success of The Da Vinci Code. Yes, that's right: scenes. Plural. Hilarious from a "dude, you can't be serious" point of view. Puts me in mind of Clive Cussler's insertion of himself (or at least a character with his name) into each of his Dirk Pitt books. Although I must say the Clives were written in with more fluidity and less plot disruption...possibly because no one ever accused Cussler of revisionist history. Even though that's what he inadvertently, anachronistically did with Raise the Titanic!  I still can't get the screwdriver-in-the-eyeball scene from that novel out of my head. Thanks, Mr. Cussler.

Biggest jolt out of the story: the weighing-the-soul experiment. Duncan MacDougall's experiment in 1907 (weigh a man right before death, and right after death; do math) seemed to reveal that the human soul had a miniscule but measurable weight, but his experiments could never be confirmed by other tests and was considered anything from deliberate attention-mongering to hopelessly inaccurate science to downright ridiculous. Brown decided to use this experiment, ramped up by a hyper accurate scale, for a plot device at the point in the story where someone is shown to die. That's the only reason it's there. And then when things are revealed in the plot to not be what they seem (which was cool, actually, btw, as it was tied back to the plot in more than one way, in typical Brown fashion), that whole flashback to Katherine's experiment is proven unneeded. So...*raises a single eyebrow*...why, exactly, did that need to be there? To mislead the reader, of course. But it felt horribly heavy-handed. No other experiments were flashbacked to.

In the end, the physical side of Lost Word is revealed to be nothing mysterious at all. It's something everyone's seen, possibly handled and owned. More secrets in plain sight, which leave me with the feeling that the whole thing was a wild goose chase for something that wasn't ever physically lost. The downerside of this is that what the philosophical side of the Lost Word is, doesn't feel complete according to the Masonic traditions presented in the books. If you're gonna hide the Lost Word, at least hide all of the Lost Word. But no, they got all prejudicial. Was there really only a tiny amount of space to hide it, considering? I doubt it.

At least the bad guy died. There, now that's a spoiler...or is it? Mwa ha ha.

Overall, I have to give this book a meh. It had good detail, great characterization, and nice puzzlework, as I expected. But the reveals and plot twists were expected, anticipated even, and the end result was a book that was overblown on delivery. The final scene was incomplete, in fact, without the movie version's climactic music.  Two and a half of five stars from me today. That includes a bonus half star for zero noticed typos. :D Mr. Brown has a great editor.

Review for Wheel of the Infinite, by Martha Wells

Alas, I'm skipping books in Ms. Wells' chronological publishing order. Not my fault; blame the library system.

I started off Wheel with another enjoyable splash into another hugely entertaining setting. Monsoon season strikes Southeast Asia, it seems, with roads turned to muddy rivers, and jungles so dark you can't see a thing. I could practically smell it, having never forgotten my sojourn in Thailand a few years back.

Add to that a spirit of slightly antagonistic magic, a nature that fills with dark spirits when its rhythms are upset, and a cast of out-of-Empire guests who make the cosmopolitan flavor of Duvalpore complete. Oh, and a possessed puppet. *nods*

And we're off! Our heroine, Maskelle, has been cursed and banished, but now is being summoned back to her temples and companions: something's trying to destroy the world, and only she can stop it. This turns out to be more true than I expected, due to the deft plot detailing at work. There was a vague sense of details arbitrarily selected, of a spirit randomly out of its mind, until all at once, everything coalesced into excellent cohesion. I very much enjoyed the main thrust of the book's plot. It led me a merry chase through this or that side road, and in the end it delivered beautifully.

Alas, there were a few distractions along the way. The random attachment of Maskelle and Rian, seeming to hook up only so there can be emotional reasons for trying to save the other from danger, could have been explained better at the start to avoid the feel of an obvious plot detail. Again as in City of Bones, the otherworldly plane that arrives is described without attaching meaning, and comes across as arbitrary. If the details aren't important, why are they mentioned? It gives me the sense that there are meanings behind the appearance of the otherworld, but they're not to be shared with the characters. The characters of the current world are supposed to be left in the dark. But that wasn't mentioned either, so the one who was really in the dark was me.

Rian, for all his apparent hotness, didn't do as much as I expected him to. Rather, what he did was get into fights. I got the impression that Maskelle was keeping him around for his flesh rather than his brains, of which he exhibited less than usual. Unfortunately, there seemed to be little mystery in who the bad guys were; it was more a matter of proving it that delayed the plot. There was a sense of detective-novel around this story, combined with history-book from the continual detailed mention of the locations/directions of the canals and the locations of various rooms in the Marai temple. It felt like the author was looking over at a schematic, and was compelled to mention location because she could see it. Yet for all the mentioning, I was still lost half the time; there seemed little reason for me to need to memorize the order of the Marai chambers, courts and galleries. The second half of the book really felt weighted down by facts compared to the light and action of the first half. As if when the characters arrived in the city, they began to be surrounded by stone and darkness, and had to feel their way, confused, through the plot. And lastly, I kept picturing the heroine Maskelle as a Thai woman, despite her name not feeling right on my tongue compared with the other Empire names, because the author never described her skin tone, just her many braids (and why can't Thai have many braids? Huh?). What she does do is describe all the pale people as pale, but those pale people are all from outside the Empire. Yet on the cover art, Maskelle is portrayed as very dark-skinned. So are all of the Kushorit dark skinned like Maskelle, or are they Thai-toned (Angkor-toned?), to match the culture used in the book? It's a nice thought to imagine a world where no one notices anyone else's skin tone, but that's not the world I, the reader, live in. I enjoy the exotic flavors of mixed cultures. Just tell me what I'm looking at, so I can see the characters as the author sees them. All I'm asking.

The use of the sand art as a literal forming of the world was a fabulous detail. Pulled, I'm guessing from the sand mandalas of Tibet. Those just awe me completely, and imagining one turned to the task of drawing the world really held my interest. I enjoyed how it tied into the Adversary's fate; again, very well done plotwise.

Again, Ms. Wells blew me away with her cultural description and her setting. Top notch, 100%. Can not get enough of her settings. How does she do that? I have to read more of her books to figure that out. The character details were a bit flat, and the otherworld plane (is there one in every book?) was a letdown, but I'm still giving this three stars of five, because the beginning of the book was so incredibly strong that I couldn't put it down, even when things got dry.

Review for City of Bones, by Martha Wells

Yea verily, I have stumbled upon awesomeness, and I am heartily pleased. Martha Wells writes the sort of settings that I aspire to: those rich with detail and culture, so well-captured that you feel the dusty heat of the road rising up from the pages.

City of Bones is set in the towering city of Charisat, in the desert, at the fringe of what remains of humanity. Water is so scarce, it is used conceptually to represent wealth. The immensely wealthy have so much water, they have a pool just to drown people in. They have plants and trees all over their grounds. The poor have trickling fountains where rent is paid by buying water for the day or week. Aside from any rent one might have to pay otherwise. The poor have dusty roads and ramshackle ruins to live and do business in. I was surprised there wasn't more corruption among the water talliers. Maybe they're all required to be nice old men who know when not to hang around and eavesdrop.

The main male character of the book is Khat, a non-human krisman from the Waste. He's got a few useful features that make him stand out to observant humans, as well as keep him alive in the monster-infested lava tubes of the Waste.  An all-around useful fellow, Khat takes his lumps and uses his brains, and solves a few ancient mysteries as the book progresses. As a relic-dealer, he's got a more learned perspective on history and culture, and as an outsider, he brings unique views to his job and to the plot.

The main female character is a Warder named Elen. Supposedly weak in actual magic, she's labeled a whiz at political maneuvers and ninja moves. Sadly, neither of these made much of an appearance, and the rest of the time, she was awfully wilting-violet for a kick-ass heroine. Some of this was explained as a purposeful sabotage against her, and that was pretty cool, but I prefer my heroines to be full of awesome personality in some respect or another, and it took Elen the whole book to really discover who she was. This was great character development. But as a reader, I kept urging her to step out a little more than she did; couldn't shake the odd impression that she was pale with enormous, frightened eyes all throughout the book. Which is odd considering that the richest folk in the city (of which she was one) are supposed to be the darkest-skinned, due to their descendance from the Survivors, who had a lot more sun exposure (and a high interest in veils) in their past than the poor people who have to live in the shaded alleys and cul-de-sacs on the lower tiers of the city. More a mental projection on my part, I guess.

So, City of Bones. Where do the bones come in? Ohh, that was entertaining, and occasionally creepy. Burning bone fragments was supposed to reveal the future...but only if you burned the right sort of bone fragments. And creepiest of all, there is more than one interpretation of "right". I loved this part, although it felt a little too tenuous to get the book named after it.

On the flip side of the creepiness coin is the madness that using the Ancient magic can bring to the Warders. Everyone talked about this, and how people used to be executed after going mad, but that whole build-up throughout the story sort of petered out into a disappointment. No one even came close to going mad, and those who were already "mad" seemed to merely possess an alternate politico-magical point of view, as well as a few arcane details unbeknownst to our heroes. A letdown indeed after reading how Lois McMaster Bujold handled madness in her delightful The Curse of Chalion.

It was mentally entertaining to see this post-apocalyptic society, part of a network of trading cities based on water locations, and so fully enmeshed in ancient magic, reach out and embrace "ancient engines" and use steam power and air power for its wagons. It was like watching cyberpunk mesh with a scorched-earth Arabia. Clockwork fans FTW! (For the longest time, I kept trying to picture a circulating fan there, but eventually I realized it must be pendular in motion. Then I felt cool.)

Charisat and its culture were very solidly rooted in their history, and felt real and tangible in good ways. When the book approached the climax, however, the vagueness of the ancient engines exploded into the enemies' territory, and everything got a little psychedelic. They didn't all live in a jar of Tang, but it had that sort of unattached-to-any-reality flavor, and I prefer raspberry. I noted this same flavor in a later book, so I fear it is either a favorite of this author or a flaw in explanation, to present the otherworldly bad-guy plane as vaguely bizarre and leave it at that. If you're going to take me to another plane of existence, let's at least get the nickel tour, is all I'm asking. There was a lot of substance, with little explanation, and unverified information tends to leak right back out of my ears pretty quickly, when it's all made-up to start with.

I guess what I'm saying is that I just want to live in Charisat, where everything's made up and the points don't matter. Oh wait, that's Whose Line is it Anyway. Charisat is the awesome place with tiers, veils, Warders, water prices, and illicit coinage called "days". Sign me up!

Ms. Wells has the most awesome settings I've read in awhile, and they touch deep cultural levels, many-layered with meaning. For this awesomeness which I love to immerse my brain in and marinade overnight, I give this book four and a half of five stars.

Review for The Magic Thief: Found by Sarah Prineas

Boy howdy. I loved this book. Very much the sort of fantasy I enjoy reading. By mistake, I picked up book three, while believing it was book one (not having a memory of book one's cover, I overlooked the significance of the word FOUND on the cover in my book-selecting frenzy - silly me). Once home, I realized by looking at the first pages that I had skipped searching for The Magic Thief and The Magic Thief: Lost, and jumped to the end of the trilogy.

However, happily, Ms. Prineas was kind enough to let Conn have the occasional flashback, and I soon fit right in to his world, gleaning relevant facts from books one and two. I had the oddest impression that the first bit of the story, where Conn lurks in the dark, waiting to pick Nevery's pocket, was perhaps a throwback to the beginning of book one. Whether or not this is the case, I did pick up a lovely sense of cycle and repetition that in no way overwhelmed the narrative, and instead gave it excellent touches of continuity and closure (see beginning and end of book for a good example).

The concepts in this book were amazingly entertaining. What is magic? Where does it come from? How do cities begin? What is Arhionvar, and what is its motive? Why has Wellmet always been so divided? (this wasn't ever stated outright, and might have been touched on in earlier books, but there were plenty of delicate hints in this book to make me believe that there was more than just a cultural divide where the river flowed)

While Conn is the youngest character in the book, he's crucial to the plot, not least of which is in his interconnectivity between various disparate groups of adults. Without him, they'd never speak to each other or learn different perspectives. He is the medium through which the book's plot unfolds, and he personifies communication, despite the fact that he's notorious for not speaking at all.

Conn's character was in full flower in this third book, and I found him amazingly consistent and true to himself. This is a strong point of the author, I see, as her other major characters are easily recognized by their behaviour and attitude as much as by their appearance or location. Strong characters always make me love a book, along with brain-fizzingly awesome magical concepts and strong settings. Kerrn, Nevery and Benet were favorites. The little dragon, Pip, was the least developed, most likely because it couldn't communicate, and thus felt pretty random as an addition to the plot. It struck me as little more than a device to make Conn's magic sporadic throughout the remainder of the book.

The pages that were notes from one character to another were an entertaining addition, and I enjoyed seeing the characters' personalities come through in their own writing. Way to get around the single-perspective limitation that first person POV brings. Personally, I heartily dislike first-person for precisely this reason: it's so limiting, like a baldly artificial attempt to draw out the story simply by withholding information from the only character whose perspective the reader is exposed to. However, the connection with younger readers is fostered by this more direct link to a character's inner thoughts, so there is a positive trade-off. But it's my firm opinion that first-person POV isn't something an author outside of YA/MG/romance genres needs to use. (You see what I did there.)

Happily giving The Magic Thief: Found five of five stars, for including a great set of literary tools, and not overdoing any of them. Excellent balance, superb storytelling.

Review for Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones

I admit it, the cover art pulled me in on this one. While there's something familiar in the slightly-mischievous Harry Potteresque look the protagonist, Aidan Cain, is wearing, it was actually the visible colors pouring through the stained-glass window in the angled ceiling and wrapping around Aidan and the dog that made me grab this book. I can only assume it goes back to my love of all things half-scientific, half-magical: it reminds me of the Northern Lights, which I still have yet to see with my bare eyes.

With the appeal of the cover fresh in my mind, I cracked this book open to see what lay inside. I realized immediately that the inside flap text was slightly misleading: it portrays the central character as Aidan, but the first chapter of the book, and many others, are from the older Andrew's perspective. They are both main characters, and the plot requires both their large contributions to balance out the story.

I liked Andrew from the start. His history and its application to his current position as inheritor of Melstone House were enjoyable to contemplate. Clearly, he was the wizard of the story, in more than one sense, despite Aidan's magical abilities; Andrew, as the adult, was aware from the start of the importance of certain plot details, and grasped the significance of others as the plot progressed. Aidan, an entertaining and powerful character, is generally a boyish boy who plays soccer, meets the giant that eats the unwanted vegetables laid out on the shed roof every night, and rescues the were-dog Rolf from the clutches of Mr. Brown and his mysterious forces.

The book is populated with other highly entertaining characters, as well. Tarquin, the one-legged retired jockey, and his daughter Stashe (short for Eustacia, not Mustache, btw) were my favorites, but Mr. Stock and Mrs. Stock (no relation), the two staff members in Andrew's aging mansion, made a hilarious pair of curmudgeonly caretakers, and their oft-clashing Master Plans for Andrew and the mansion helped drive the plot in excellent ways.

The buildup to the reveal of what "counterparts" were, and why they were a problem, was nicely done. I was quite eager to see what they'd be and how they fit into the world of Andrew and Aidan, and I was not disappointed. The explanation and its subsequent manifestations (as well as explaining prior characters) left me grinning, and the interaction between counterparts became crucial to the plot.

The main thrust of the plot wasn't quite what I expected at the end, and I'm left with the curious feeling that this book will have a sequel. Either that, or the denouement didn't do its job. Most of the book follows the premise that Aidan is half-faerie, a son of Oberon himself. Oberon wants to kill him so he can't take over the faerie throne. Aidan's in possession of a wallet that magically makes money in the exact amount he needs, but Oberon and his minions can trace its magic. This leads to a final confrontation at the FĂȘte, which is resolved, it seems, happily. And then, at the end, Oberon does a one-eighty and proclaims that he's not Aidan's father after all, and claims the boy's an...uncle...of Andrew's instead!

Let's throw some mud on old Jocelyn Brandon and label Aidan's mum a trollop all in one go, shall we, and then we'll leave Andrew on the doorstep with this knowledge at the very end of the book, unsure how to proceed. The end!
Heh. That feels far too much like reality just intruded into this lovely, exciting fantasy world. I can't figure why this was the preferred ending. It might manage to explain Aidan's gifts in that they come now from Jocelyn's bloodline rather than Oberon's. But it honestly feels like someone came in and jotted across the last page of Ms. Jones' manuscript, then submitted it to her publisher without her knowledge. It makes a mockery of the whole book, a case of supremely mistaken identity, and an unnecessary tale in the whole. Such an abrupt ending cannot possibly leave me satisfied. Perhaps that's my fault for not being a child of the British Empire, and not being in the proper target audience. I might be overthinking this, and there could be a cultural issue I'm missing. But personally, I recommend stopping reading on page 290 with the following:

"Oh yes," Aidan said happily. "Everything's all right now."

...and call it a good story.

I'll happily give this 4 of 5 stars, but a logical ending of some sort would have pushed another star on there. Alas.