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28 June 2010 @ 02:28 am
Recs from the printed world  

Football? Never heard of it.

The joy of procrastinating is that I have been reading actual books (when not knitting). Since lots of you also read YA fiction, here are two reviews, which will abuse acronyms because they have long titles (and I am in full acronym mode).

To begin with, The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan. This is the second book in her trilogy following on from The Demon's Lexicon in which Mae and her brother Jamie meet Nick Ryves and his brother Alan and discover in short order that there are demons and magicians in the world, that the demons may be the lesser of two evils, and that their dysfunctional family has nothing on some others.

While the first book was told in Nick's voice, this is told in Mae's, and Brennan captures the insecurity and hope of a teenaged girl's voice beautifully. That whole trying on of things: is this someone I fancy? Is this love? Is this being a grown-up? Am I doing it right? Do they love me? -- so much of it is note-perfect. Particularly because Mae's sense of alienation from the adult world is fully justified, she knows secrets she just can't share.

In this book, Mae and Jamie deal with the consequences of the first novel. The fact that Nick is a demon and Jamie is a magician have real repercussions, and many of them are dangerous. On a more mundane level, Annabel, Mae and Jamie's mum, is furious that the kids packed up and left for the weeks covered in The Demon's Lexicon, and Mae must do what she can to rebuild their relationship.

TDC answers many of the questions I had at the end of TDL: in particular, it gives far greater sense of the scope of the Magicians and of their power. One very nice note was the parallel question of what constitutes a family. Both Nick and Mae have real and legitimate questions about the adults in their lives, and Brennan deals with them in ways that respect the adults as well as the sense of abandonment the children feel, allowing that both can be right and wrong, even when they are trying.

To me, TDC is a book about family, disguised as an adventure novel, just as TDL was a mystery with the dustjacket of a romance. The adventure is well constructed and played out, as are the urban fantasy notes, but at the heart of the novel are some of the great questions of life: how do we know when love is real? Who can we trust? And what happens when we trust poorly? And it gripped me -- from the start to the end, I cared very deeply about each of these characters and what happened to them. I wasn't fully satisfied with where we leave them, but that is likely to be because this is the middle book of three, or because I am twenty years older than the target audience.

I know it is traditional for young heroes and heroines to lose their parents and parental figures. YA Urban Fantasy (indeed, much of literature) is filled with more orphans than Mrs Miggin's Home for Foundlings. But I was surprised when Alan's Aunt Natasha said she didn't want anything more to do with either of them. In TDL she is compassionate and gentle towards Nick, until he turns on her. It would be more logical to me that she would try to rescue Alan from him, or at least call the police, given that she has good reason to think Nick a violent lunatic. It was one of the vefew character notes that did not ring true to me, but seemed designed to set up drama.

Similarly, I wish that Annabel had survived the novel. She was a fantastic character who made prefect sense in the context of her children. It was easy to see why they all frustrated each other, and yet loved each other, too. And given the number of fencers I went to school with, I found her skill with a sword wholly credible, even if I always preferred archery (strong arms and good eye, rotten reach, so of course I did). I know that the genre almost demands orphans, but I love a good parent in YA novels and wish she had stayed around.

On a purely practical note, surely someone notices that these people disappear. In the real world, Mae and Jamie would be the subject of a massive police hunt, either as suspected murder or kidnapping victims, or as suspects in the disappearance of their mother. People do not step out of established society with ease. Knowing Brennan's attention to detail, I am sure that she will touch on this in the third book, but I personally would love to have seen her keep Annabel a part of the team as our small force fights against the danger of the Magicians. 

Small quibbles aside, it was a rollicking read that dealt intelligently with all the storyline arising from book 1 and set up a series of good plot points for book 3, without suffering in any way from the curses of Lulldom or Expositionitis that can affect middle books. TDC and last year's Flora's Dare revive my faith in the art of the trilogy!

Secondly, there's Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by American writers John Green and David Levithan. It's the story of two boys with the same name, who meet by chance, with each writer providing one Will Grayson and the two appearing in alternating chapters. This could have been a clever-clever disaster, but in fact works really well (you may need to read a few chapters of each to get used to them, a friend only liked the device after 60-odd pages). Will 1 is just trying to get through high school without drawing unnecessary attention to himself. Which he is reasonably successful at, aside from his best friend, Tiny Cooper, who is 'not the world's gayest person, and he is not the world's largest person, but [Will believes] he may be the world's largest person who is really, really gay ...' Despite the fact that he seems to delight in embarrassing straight and shy Will 1, Tiny is a truly brilliant friend, and Will knows it.

Will 2 is clinically depressed (and gay, and against capitalisation, but there's no causal connection), but holds onto hope that things will get better if he can just make it through each day. Alas, his friends are far less shiny than Will 1's, but that's not all bad news -- when a prank sends him off into the city, he runs into Will 1, and Tiny, and life improves dramatically even as it grows radically stranger.

One of the things I loved about this book was the parents. Will 1 has two, Will 2 has one, but all of them love their children and are real people. They leave work early because their child is having a crisis, they grump tetchily when their child is being a pain: there is an authenticity that is satisfying and adds to the reality of the world. Which is for the best, as there are one or two moments that stretch belief. 

The main stretch came with the Tiny arc. Tiny Cooper is one of the most fabulous supporting characters I have seen in years, and his determination to live life unapologetically is dramatically satisfying as well as perfectly credible. But I did lose a little belief in the plausibility of the self-written and scored musical he performs in the climactic scenes of the book. However, even if that came across as fantastic, it didn't matter: it was the fantasy of how high school could be if generosity and friendship were more important than popularity and conformity. And I wonder if perhaps the authors felt they could only deal with that through fantasy, since kindness was not their experience? When we end with more love and more friendship in the world at the end than at the start, how could I seriously grumble at something that was less outrageous than the average episode of Glee or Doctor Who?

The writers really remember what it was like to be a teenager: the insecurities, the uncertainties, the hopes and simple goals. both Wills just want to get by -- the possibility of a girl or boyfriend seems up there with walking on the moon, and the shock to their systems delivered by Tiny Cooper arranging sundry things for them is akin to NASA training. For the reader, it's a sideways lurch to something fresh and unexpected. In a very blokey way, WG, WG is about love and friendship and compassion, while including fake IDs student politics, sport, gross moments of snot and a chorus line. I inhaled it, then went back to the start. Highly recommended!
Shivshiv5468 on June 27th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
I've never heard of it either. Ever.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
Cricket, on the other hand, fine and noble sport!
(no subject) - shiv5468 on June 27th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - blamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Shivshiv5468 on June 27th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
Cricket though....
(no subject) - blamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Although yr antipodean neighbours... - wemyss on June 27th, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Although yr antipodean neighbours... - blamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 04:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Actually, just now - - wemyss on June 27th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Actually, just now - - blamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
I yield to non in my love for lads - - wemyss on June 27th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: I yield to non in my love for lads - - blamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: I yield to non in my love for lads - - blamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. - wemyss on June 27th, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. - blamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Hmph. - wemyss on June 27th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Hmph. - blamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 05:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Actually, just now - - blamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
calanthe_fics on June 27th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
At least we won the cricket, and Mark Webber is okay.

The Germans deserved it. And they didn't even rub it in after the game. Classy.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
I have to say that the Germans have exhibited classy play all the way through the World Cup, which is something. It is bearable to be beaten by a good team who are on the whole good sports.

And Webber! I shrieked, it was embarrassing. But it was like Le Mans all over again! So relieved he is all right, and I do hope that it stops some of the more stupid rule changes that are slated for next year. And Yay Cricket!
winstonmomwinstonmom on June 27th, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC)
After finishing Demon's Convenant I was a bit frustrated with Alan. I know he is a great guy and all that, but I almost died when he offered to take the magician's mark from Sin's brother!
Also I have to say I loved Alan's and Nick's father's diary. I think it was excellent in the way it showed how his love for Nick grew. The camping trip was the best way to see Nick trying to tell his dad that he missed Alan.
Thanks for writing a review.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC)
Alan seems to be playing a very long game indeed, so I am waiting to see if he has a Cunning Plan for this part, too.

The diary was one of my favourite parts! It was such an elegant device to get all that backstory in and really consolidate and make sense of the sense of family we had with Nick and Alan, while at the same time helping Nick to consolidate it, too. And it was just lovely in itself.
pir8fancier on June 27th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)
Will Grayson, Will Grayson got mentioned in an article last week in Salon. Apparently, it's one of the top YA sellers in the U.S. I'm going to try to pick up a copy this week.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on June 27th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
That's fantastic news! Though given how very readable it is, I shouldn't be surprised. Do pick up a copy, I feel fairly certain you will enjoy it a great deal.
(Deleted comment)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on July 7th, 2010 01:39 pm (UTC)
HEHEHEHEH! I love the way you look at the world ... Do any of your local libraries have copies? Otherwise, if you're prepared to risk it, see if they can order them in. From what I know of your taste, it is a safe gamble!
anna_wing on June 29th, 2010 04:52 am (UTC)
Rees Brennan does excellent adults! I was really sorry about Annabel, but she was such a strong character that I think her presence in the third would have been a very serious distracting factor for the plot, bearing in mind that she is the adult responsible for Mae and Jamie. And her presence would inevitably have brought in the mundane world authorities (to investigate Jamie's kidnapping, for instance) with further distractions. So I can see why she had to die, sad though it was.

I am starting to think of this whole trilogy as actually being Alan's story, since he is the major plot-mover (not to mention plotter) for the first two, and I see no reason why this should change in the third. It is rather fun to have the mundane human be far and away the most dangerous person around, and not to have anyone quite realise it, including all the super-powered villains. Though I think Mae does, semi-subconsciously, but she is distracted by hormones and not actually wanting to consider the implications of having someone around who while being both selfless and compassionate also has the mental capacity, strategic vision and ruthlessness of Moriarty, Fu Manchu, Servalan and Artemis Fowl combined.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on June 29th, 2010 07:12 am (UTC)
I can't decide if she would be all 'Call the police! Celeste has my son!' or 'I AM GOING TO SKEWER YOU ALL ON MY BLADE!!' Quite possibly a bit of both, but you're right, she would lead to a very different story.

AND YES YES YES! It is so Alan's plot! One of the things that has fascinated me is the fact that we have seen demons be kind and be merciful, and humans be cruel and merciless: it seems to me that Alan grasped a very important truth during his childhood, it was never the demon trying to kill him, only ever the magicians. Which means that both humans and demons act to their nature, and we know exactly how bad human nature can be.
(no subject) - anna_wing on July 7th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - blamebrampton on July 7th, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
trichinopoly ash: dean: reading is sexyaldehyde on June 29th, 2010 05:47 am (UTC)
i was extremely unimpressed with TDL, but i've been thinking of picking up TDC to see if i feel differently. i was just so incredibly BORED by mae in the first book that the idea of reading an entire story from her pov is...not appetising. but i've been hearing good things about it so far, so i think i'll give it a try.

been hearing a LOT of good things about will grayson, will grayson and your recap of it piqued my interest further - definitely checking it out soon :D thanks for the recs!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on June 29th, 2010 07:34 am (UTC)
TDL had two significant diffculties: the narrator was someone who was incapable of empathising, for reasons that become obvious only towards the end. I found this intriguing, but it was very unusual and could easily have been offputting to the reader. The second was that the marketing team seem to have been drunk that day and played up the romance side of it, when it was always far more of a mystery, so the tenor worked against the expected reading, too. And yeah, many of the other characters came across skewed because we saw them through Nick's very biased eyes, so I can see why you could have been bored by Mae.

The good news is that as a central character, Mae is FAR more exciting! She is nervous, but brave, and she really does want to do the right thing rather than just be a Cool Rebel TM. I think you would find it worth the effort, but maybe borrow it from the library if you want to play things safe!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson was a massive surprise. I picked it up because I am always on the lookout for queer-themed YA that I can toss in the direction of some of my friends' older kids. The first few chapters had me doing a tiny bit of eye-rolling (no capital letters, Will 2? how ee of you ...), but before I could really get cross, I was so thoroughly sucked in that they could have had an elephant chorus and I would have read it.
(no subject) - aldehyde on June 29th, 2010 01:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)