For whatever reason, I’ve never really liked this book. Part of it, I think, is that I often stopped with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as a kid — I couldn’t quite tell you why, except maybe that nothing could match up to how much I loved that book. When I try to be objective, I can see that it’s really no different in quality to the others… and Puddleglum is hilarious! But I persist in disliking Eustace and Jill, and I feel like Rillian is a complete non-entity.
It’s probably also that I really dislike Caspian being old and no longer really a part of things. Okay, the bit at the end helps with that, but still… I’m just not keen on the whole tone of this book: Eustace and Jill are always arguing, Puddleglum is always fatalistic, and Rillian starts off rather patronising and awful (albeit because of the spell). There’s not much of Aslan, and not much faith in Aslan. It feels like Jill in particular doesn’t really understand who he is and why she should obey him, and that changes things rather.
In the end, it’s quite possible I’m making excuses, but… still not one I enjoy, I’m afraid!
In their third outing, Veronica Speedwell and Revelstoke Templeton-Vane (better known simply as Stoker) have to unravel the mystery of a mummy’s curse, to salvage what’s left of Stoker’s reputation. That means hunting for the man who stole Stoker’s wife, dealing with said wife (who turns out to be a real piece of work, the clues about which I felt like I’d missed), and figuring out what exactly is going wrong with the exhibition of the funerary goods of an Egyptian princess. As with the previous two books, it’s a lot of fun, and I read it almost in one go.
The main draw for me is Veronica and Stoker’s relationship. They’re delightfully volatile, and yet you know it’s because they’re alike and are good for one another. Veronica’s unbelievable, of course, but taking that as read I just relax into it. Of course she can do more or less anything, and faces very little censure. Why not? Anyway, now these books are very much about the will-they-won’t-they for me, and I can’t say they made as much progress as I hoped — though at least more of Stoker’s past has been revealed!
The mystery was fun enough; I can’t resist a bit of Egyptological jiggery-pokery, I have to confess. I did work things out ahead of the reveals, in most cases, but it still worked for me. It’s not about the result, but how you get there, and Veronica and Stoker do it in style.
This is probably still my favourite book of the series. Lucy and Edmund get drawn back into Narnia, with the unfortunate addition of a rather odious cousin, Eustace. They’re delighted to find themselves on board ship with Caspian, sailing to the end of the world; Eustace is rather less delighted. There are various little episodic adventures as they face mysteries and horrors, searching for seven lost Narnian lords who were sent away by Caspian’s usurping uncle.
I think my favourite part is probably the island of Coriakin and the Monopods; not for all the stuff with the Monopods, really, but because of the book of spells Lucy has to read from. It sounds amazing and the smell from it sounds delicious… and there must be some really cool spells in there. I also enjoy that it gives Lucy a little more depth — instead of her faults being a little childishness, she almost gives way to jealousy and spite. I loved her as a kid, probably because I wanted to be her, and so it’s nice to find her a little more rounded than I remembered.
The stuff at the very end about the lamb and Aslan’s Country and so on was all a little much for me, after most of the rest (apart from the rescue from the Island Where Dreams Come True) felt just fantastical. I think that’s part of why I loved the book the most as a kid; it touched on some of the strangeness and beauty of Narnia. Dragons and sea-serpents and mysterious pools that turn anything to gold, oh my!
Prince Caspian follows a new hero, son of the last true king of Narnia, raised by his usurping uncle… and now struggling to the throne. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are called back from our world to help him, while Aslan is at work re-awakening dryads and bringing Old Narnia back to life. It’s always been a highlight of the series for me — perhaps because in some ways Caspian is a favourite, because he struggles to win Narnia (rather than just bringing about the victory through lion-ex-machina; alright, Peter wins a great battle, and Caspian is also ultimately aided by Aslan, but he has a difficult campaign first).
I wish Susan were treated with as much sympathy later as she is in this book; here her fears and doubts are understood, whereas in The Last Battle she’s rather dismissed. Not that I enjoy Susan, but sometimes I rather fear I would be like her: grousing and complaining while in Narnia, doubting when I’ve seen the proof before with my own eyes. Both she and Edmund are usually more believable than Peter or Lucy, who find it easy to be good and to believe in Aslan.
In any case, Prince Caspian pretty much stands up to the memories for me. The thing that’s weird to me is how full and busy these books seemed to be, whereas if I try to sketch out the timeline of each book now, woooow the resolution comes at you fast.
Leo Page is, in the simplest terms, a spy. He’s sent to a sleepy English village that could come right out of Agatha Christie’s novels, where he meets a young doctor with PTSD who (coincidentally, even though I half-expected this to become relevant) knows a little about who he is and what he does because he patched him up under secretive conditions during World War II. The story is both about solving the mystery, and also about unravelling who Leo wants to be.
I felt that James (the doctor) is rather less developed than Leo; we see his PTSD and his eagerness to love and be loved, yes, but we don’t really see him finding any peace with the PTSD or settling into himself as he could be. There’s plenty of room for that in sequels, though! What we do see is Leo’s development as he slowly becomes sure that, actually, he’s done with being a spy and directly or indirectly dealing death. It takes him time to realise that and time to decide that a life with James is worth a try.
In terms of the romance between the two, there’s a happy-for-now at the end of the book, but it’s something I could see being shaken by future books — they’re not secure in one another yet.
The mystery… eh, I was less interested in that, I’ll admit. It’s weird reading a book with such modern sensibilities and then also reading an Agatha Christie mystery, really. On that level, this fell down a bit for me, not helped by the fact that (as was traditional for Golden Age crime fiction) the victims were both unlikeable. The character of Wendy causes a certain amount of mystification, and I found her a little too much; a little too clever, a little too omnipresent, a little too obvious.
That’s really a small quibble, though it doesn’t sound it: I was here for James and Leo. Their sexual connection doesn’t boil off the page, but there are several lovely moments of intimacy which I rather prefer.
The Horse and His Boy is the third book in the Narnia sequence, chronologically, and that’s the way I’ve always read the books. It was one of my favourites as a child: Calormene was so different to Narnia, and Aravis is so badass, and there’s so much adventure!
As an adult, it kind of felt a bit hollow, though… it feels like an afterthought: most of it doesn’t even happen in Narnia, and the events aren’t super-significant to Narnia as a country. It does give a bit more depth and breadth to the world, insofar as you find that rings true, but it’s also a mess in terms of yanking stuff from real-world cultures and demonising the fictional result (to some degree or another — I acknowledge that the existence of Aravis makes it more complex, and e.g. Lasaraleen isn’t actually terrible as a person).
It’s still a fun adventure, and there are some lovely descriptions… and I wish there was more of the Hedgehog and the Rabbit and the other talking animals Shasta meets when he arrives in Narnia, to be honest. The dwarves he was staying with get rather dropped, despite their kindness to and care for him!
Alas, though, I think this one I’ve just sort of grown out of, on the whole.
The second book of Narnia is perhaps the most famous: Lucy Pevensie walks through a wardrobe and finds herself in a mysterious land, shrouded in snow, and she and her three siblings get drawn into a deathly struggle against the Witch — that same Witch who entered Narnia at its very beginning in The Magician’s Nephew. In many ways this is a favourite, even if it totally lies about Turkish delight being tasty, and despite the heavy-handedness of the allegory.
This time, I couldn’t help but notice the little details that delight me: the titles of the books in Mr Tumnus’ cave, Mrs Beaver wanting to take her sewing machine on the run, the descriptions of the onrush of spring after winter is defeated. I do cringe a little at the bit about Father Christmas, though — it totally breaks the mood for me, though most of Lewis’ other mixing and matching of legend and mythology doesn’t bother me.
In the end, of course, Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund, who is really a stupid human boy who has barely grown up… and actually, the allegory here works really well for me. Religion is a complicated subject for many, and I don’t really want to get into the personal stuff here, but the way it demonstrates the story of the crucifixion (and of why Jesus died) is really well done, in my books. It’s not just about Aslan sacrificing himself for Edmund, necessary to the prophecy as he is: as a child, that’s all I really saw (despite understanding the allegory), but this time it made me think of the fact that Christianity says Jesus sacrificed himself for everyone, petty and childish and ignorant about the world as we are.
I don’t like to pick Narnia apart too much, because in terms of worldbuilding and consistency and so on, it doesn’t bear much picking at. But that part worked for me, this time in particular.
It’s sort of surprising how quickly these books are over, reading them as an adult. They took up such a large chunk of my imagination as a kid, it felt like they were huge. But there are still worlds to be found here, even as an adult.
This got recced at some point when someone on Twitter was asking for romances set in bookstores, and it was on Kindle Unlimited, so I figured I might as well. I don’t think I had a good look at the plot, because if I had I might’ve run away screaming… Alfie Carter is a mechanic, and he spends his off time listening to audiobooks and talking about how awesome Jane Austen was with ‘LLB’, his online boyfriend. Leo runs a second-hand bookshop and spends half his time talking to his online boyfriend, ‘Camaro89’. Alfie and Leo hate each other after Leo’s less than graceful putdown of Alfie not long after arriving in town… and obviously LLB is Leo, and Camaro89 is Alfie, and realities are gonna collide at some point.
To my infinite pain, the whole thing is a series of miscommunications and lack of communication; Relationship Advice Dalek (“COMM-UNI-CATE! COMM-UNI-CATE!”) was out in a big way for reading this entire thing. But… it feels kind of nice to read about totally normal stuff right now, and this stupid situation has normal idiot humans all over it.
For my money, Leo’s putdowns of Alfie feel like too much, though. If you put those aside, it’s cute, but the putdowns are hurtful and mean-spirited, and they make Leo not a person I want to hang out with. Obviously as LLB he comes to see the better parts of Alfie, and when they start dating offline it makes sense… but geez, Alfie, Leo wasn’t just being a bit of an asshole, he was being a lot of an asshole! And that never really gets explained enough for me to feel quite right about liking Leo.
Laying that aside, it’s cute, and the epilogue is extra cute. I don’t buy Leo’s character, though, and it makes me a little bit wary to try Malcolm’s other romances, based on the synopses of those. Sounds like a lot of potential for stupid miscommunications and asshole characters. I guess I’ll try one sometime, and see how it goes!
It’s been a while, I think, but often when I’m feeling crap, I come back to the Narnia books. I always saw the Christian allegory when I was a kid, so I never had the moment of betrayal that a lot of other people seem to talk about; I always kind of took them as they were, and went off with the bits that suited me.
The Magician’s Nephew follows the start of Narnia, its creation myth, but it starts smaller than that with a little boy and a little girl in London, when “Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road” (I’ve always loved that opening, somehow). Polly and Digory become friends very quickly, partly because there’s nothing much else to do. It starts with childish play when they try to get through to the deserted house further down the row, by climbing through the connected attics — but it becomes a little more serious when they accidentally find themselves in Digory’s uncle’s study, and he gives Polly a ring… which immediately makes her vanish away to another world.
I always rather enjoyed the little character studies of Uncle Andrew — his silliness, and greed, and overall cleverness-that-is-also-stupidity. He’s just rather delightfully mediocre, the delight being in the way he doesn’t know that and yet the reader can see it so clearly. I also enjoy the idea of Charn, the oppressive breathlessness of the time the children spend exploring it, and just imagining coming out into the long room full of images of people… It helps that my edition still has the same black-and-white sketch illustrations my childhood copies did.
In the end there’s a lot of magic in this book, a breathless wonder at creation and at Aslan’s love for it, but there’s also a lot of humanity in Digory’s struggles, in his stupid fights with Polly, and yes, in Uncle Andrew. It was still worth coming back to, for me, though this rating is no doubt half nostalgia.
I liked Miranda in Milan more than I expected from the reviews I saw around before I read it — I was curious, but not wildly interested, and mostly just picked it up now because I’m reading a lot of short fiction because that’s what’s working for my brain. And it turns out… I really liked it. I started reading it and figured I’d have to stop halfway through for work; halfway through, I damned work and carried on until I was finished.
It’s a semi-retelling, semi-sequel to The Tempest; a retelling because it plays with some of the facts and embellishes them, a sequel because it’s set after the play. It follows Miranda after she and Prospero return to Milan. The servants whisper about her, and she’s forced to wear a black veil to hide her face, but luckily a young Moroccan servant is happy to talk to her and explain things to her. They quickly become close, and this develops (fairly quickly) into a romantic relationship. I’m a little nonplussed by reviews feeling it came out of nowhere; I didn’t actually remember this was f/f, and was hoping for the romance to happen from the first hints of it.
It’s probably a good thing I read Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban quite a while now, because the prose would suffer in comparison! As it is, I found it worked well for me: I wouldn’t say it’s going to stick in my head for beauty, but it succeeded in conjuring an atmosphere for me.
It all resolves a little simply and in the way I kind of expected, and I do appreciate the criticism that Prospero has no complexity and is basically a big evil bogeyman — though I also appreciated the way Miranda had to go over her memories and figure out where the lies and gaps were. It’s a little realistic hint of an abusive relationship that rang very true. Agata could have been just completely horrible, too, so I enjoyed that we got to see another side of her and understand a little of her bitterness and fear.
All in all, it worked really well for me; I thoroughly enjoyed it.