12.18–The Lady of the Rivers

I am such a huge fan of Philippa Gregory. I just think she is the bee’s knees.  The Lady of the Rivers is the third book in The Cousins’ War series, which follows the War of the Roses. This novel is the prequel to The White Queen–the first of the series.

Jacquetta is a descendant of Melusina, a river goddess, and therefore possesses special gifts–namely the second sight.  An early experience with Joan of Arc and her untimely demise gives Jacquetta a life-long fear of using these gifts, though she is occasionally ordered by her sovereign to do so.  Her marriage to the Duke of Bedford and her early widowhood yield her great privilege throughout her life, but also put her in great danger as England’s political cauldron boils over into chaos.  Standing by her side through all of these troubles is her second husband Richard Woodville, who she married for love, and her innumerable children.

Philippa Gregory does extensive research on all of her novels and this one is no exception.  Jacquetta was a real woman whose life occurred right at the beginning of the War of the Roses. Gregory became fascinated by this relatively overlooked woman and expounded on her story.  As ever, I am astounded by Gregory and her capacity for creating beautiful stories out of minor characters from history.  Jacquetta is an easy heroine to love.  She does all she can to protect her husband and children during this dangerous period in English history.  She is a close friend and confidant of Margaret of Anjou, the wife of King Henry VI.  Henry comes to the throne as a boy and never quite becomes a man. He is always naive, and Margaret is no help in that vein.  Jacquetta and Richard attempt to herd them in the right direction, but the monarchs’ petty quarrels with the Duke of York evolve into all out war within their lifetime.  Jacquetta, thrust very close to the throne by circumstance and some family meddling is caught in a vise from which she cannot escape.  Her instinct for self-preservation and diplomacy make her one of the most admirable women in the court of Gregory’s creation.  She is gentle and loving to her husband and children, and sweet to a fault with the queen.  The fact that she’s descended from a goddess and possesses supernatural powers is just a bonus.

The love between Richard and Jacquetta had me burning with envy throughout the entire novel.  As with Gregory’s other books, The Lady of the Rivers spans a very long period of time–from Jacquetta’s childhood to her twilight years.  Richard loves Jacquetta from the moment he sees her as his lord the Duke’s new bride until his death decades later. Though they spend much of their life apart, their passion never fades and neither of them strays from the other.  Each time they are separated, Jacquetta is frantic for his safety, and they fall into each others’ arms like young lovers on his return, even after she has borne him 14 children (ouch!).  In a genre in which it seems like everyone sleeps with everyone (at least according to our favorite juicy historical fiction) it is really refreshing to read about a couple that is still happily devoted to one another.

Gregory’s novels can sometimes be a bit repetitive, especially in this time period.  She does a lot of jumping forward in time, and skims over events that she deems less important to her stories.  During this war, the power switches sides a lot, and everyone accuses everyone else of treason.  Though a lot of people cry foul on each other and it can seem rather trivial and petty, Gregory does a fine job of reminding the reader that this situation is constantly life-and-death for Jacquetta and her family.  It adds tension to the story and keeps the reader engaged despite the repetition.

This is by far one of my favorite Philippa Gregory novels.  Though I try not to read books in a series right next to each other, I may have to go pick up The Kingmaker’s Daughter, just because this novel left me craving more of her writing style.  Definitely read it!

12.17–A Clash of Kings

This novel, in case you don’t know, is the second in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.  By no means as interesting as the first, much of it feels rather like filler.  It takes a very long while for the events to get moving. For a novel that’s 969 pages long, reading through 400 pages in which mostly nothing happens is pretty difficult.  Still, the events of the latter half of the novel make pushing through the first part worth it, and I very much look forward to starting the next novel.

As ever, the story of the Seven Kingdoms is told from multiple third-person points of view, following a large number of different characters.  One of the most frustrating things about this series is the sheer number of characters (I believe I read somewhere that throughout the series of five books so far there are over 1,000 named characters).  Their names are unusual and some of them are very similar, making it extremely difficult to keep track of everyone.  At times I only followed the story based on some vague concept of a person’s character–this man is bad, this woman is benevolent, this man can’t be trusted, this one can be bought for gold–instead of attempting to memorize all the names. It helps to read the appendix at the back, and keep referring to it as the novel progresses.

I will say this for Martin: with his main players he takes a great deal of care, crafting them into multi-faceted, many-sided characters.  My favorite in this novel is Tyrion Lannister, a witty man whose lack of brawn has turned him into a clever schemer–the man who really controls the country, though from the shadows so that no one knows it. Arya, my favorite in the last book, lost most of her spunk for this one, though she gained it back at the end to reclaim her place in my heart. Sansa, whom I hated in the first novel, certainly earns the reader’s sympathy in this one, as her mad betrothed, Joffrey, abuses her horribly, both emotionally and physically.  Cersei Lannister and her son Joffrey are both evil to the core–Joffrey a spoiled, mad child who has been given a crown, and Cersei the mother who will do anything to protect her son and see him hold on to the Iron Throne.  Each of these characters, and the others, evoke specific emotions within the reader, and once the chapter ends and we don’t know how soon we’ll see them again, there is a little bit of disappointment.  I’ve considered skipping ahead to the next chapter belonging to a character I’m particularly interested in, but I know that by the time the novel gets around to that next chapter, so many things have changed that nothing will make sense.

The plot moves swiftly and the fortunes of characters change in a flash.  In this novel, as in its predecessor and presumably its sequels, nothing is certain–life or death, good or evil, victory or defeat.  Even when it looks as if a battle can have only one outcome, Martin surprises us with some new trickery.  With five kings vying for one throne, and two more self-styled monarchs eyeing the throne from a distance, there is no well-defined line in the sand, no clear hero for which to cheer.  In this, Martin creates realism far beyond what most authors will do.  These people could be walking around in an alternate universe, where fate does not always favor the noble or the good.  Though the world he created is very thorough, complete with topography, geography, history, religion, language, culture, and the previously spoken-of characters, it is this ability of his to not give us the happy ending we want that truly brings the story to life and makes it believable.

Though I did not enjoy this novel nearly as much as the first, I still had difficulty putting it down, especially the nearer I drew to the end.  The simmering pot of the Seven Kingdoms explodes into a boil, and it gets to be a very exciting read.

12.6–Matched

Matched by Allie Condie is an interesting story that I enjoyed reading, but it is by no means creative. In fact, it seems to be almost a carbon copy of The Giver, just updated for the 21st century. The technology is definitely more advanced, and there is the added detail of the romance, rather than a relationship between an old man and a young boy. But the similarities are too many for this to be considered a unique novel.

Cassia is a teenage girl living in The Society in a time not given to the reader. The novel opens with her Matching Banquet–the night on which she will discover who The Society had decided is her perfect marriage partner. Cassia’s situation is unique in that her Match is someone she knows; it is her beat friend Xander. But that night when she is alone, another face appears on her screen as her perfect match–the handsome and quietly mysterious Ky. After this revelation, Cassia must decide if she will follow the will of The Society or break all the rules and attempt to be with a person who is not considered her match.

Aside from the romance and Cassia’s struggle to decide who her man should be, the book is basically The Giver. There is a government that decides who owns what, who marries whom, how many children one may have, etc. each house is identical. Clothes are identical. There are “ports” in each house which resemble the screens in 1984, and they are a way for the government to monitor people and communicate with them.

Cassia has always believed that the government makes no mistakes and knows exactly what is best for everyone. When she sees the mistake made in her Match he begins to doubt their wisdom and her perfect world begins to crack. Unfortunately, Cassie is not a very well written character and the reader struggles to empathize with her dilemma. I wish I’d been able to like her more, but she just wasn’t deep or fascinating enough to make me care.

Despite its lack of creativity, it was an enjoyable, fast-paced read. Despite it being a romance, I didn’t want to kill anyone like I did when I read Twilight. As flat as she was, at least
Cassia was willing to fight for what she wanted.

In summary, not the most brilliant novel I’ve read, but I liked it enough to finish the series.

Week 10, Part 2–Revolution

All I can say is wow. Wow wow wow.  Jennifer Donnelly’s book Revolution is absolutely fantastic.  This fine work of young adult fiction is an example of the quality of writing to which all YA novelists should aspire.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0385737637&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrIt is a story within a story. Story the first: Andi is a troubled high school senior at a prestigious prep school in Brooklyn, one where every student is told they are a genius and are therefore held to rigorously high standards.  Her brother dead, her father errant, and her mother mentally unstable, Andi feels that there is nothing left to live for, and is apathetic about everything in her life, save one thing: music.  When her father returns after hearing news of how bad life is for Andi and her mother, he takes her away to Paris, where he is doing work with a friend and where he hopes he can keep an eye on his tormented daughter.  In Paris, Andi finds a diary hidden away in a secret compartment in an ancient guitar case.  The diary is that of Alex, a young girl who lived during the French Revolution.  Here begins story the second.

Alex is a player, her family a troupe of actors who struggles to find work in the period of political unrest that is France in the late eighteenth century.  When her antics make the young, sad prince Louise-Charles, son of King Louise and Marie Antoinette, laugh, the royal couple takes her on to entertain their children.  As the turmoil grows more heated, Alex comes to love Louise-Charles, and is as protective and jealous of him as if she were his true mother.  When the royal family comes to danger and Louise-Charles is imprisoned, Alex takes on the identity of The Green Man, and sets off brilliant displays of fireworks to remind the ten-year-old prince that he is not alone.

Andi becomes increasingly immersed in Alex’s story, until she somehow actually enters Alex’s world of eighteenth century France.  Whether this time-warp is reality or a drug-induced hallucination, the reader is never given to know.

Ok, so it’s a long book and there’s a lot going on, hence the long synopsis.  But, though the plot is creative and fascinating, that’s not what I really loved about this book.  There are several things that really set Donnelly’s writing apart for me.  The first is the intense emotion in the book.  One thing about young adult writing is how raw it is.  Often times an writer for adults seems more concerned with making creative, deep, or unique analogies and similes, and in the process fail to actually convey the emotion.  Donnelly does not make this mistake.  The agony felt by both Andi and Alex is deep and powerful, as is the love they feel for those dear to them.  Also, I love the web of interconnectedness that everything in this book belongs to.  No detail is too insignificant to be included in the grand picture.  Donnelly even includes something analogous to this in the book–Andi’s senior thesis.  Her thesis is something she refers to as musical DNA, which basically means that certain musical themes can act as a gene in human DNA does–it gets passed down from one composer/musician to another, influencing the generations to come. Andi focuses on one composer (who lived during the time of the French Revolution–interconnectedness) who started using a certain chord in his work that was previously considered taboo.  Due to his influence, this chord began to appear more and more frequently in quite unexpected places, being passed down from generation to generation, until it reached the present day (in the form of a little band called Radiohead, among others).  It’s really cool reading all this research, knowing that everything is connected and that things will eventually resurface in unexpected places.  And this “musical DNA” represents perfectly what happens in the novel, between all the characters and the little details–everything is either a parallel or has some influence on another part of the story. Brilliant!

Ok, enough raving.  I highly recommend this book.  It’s an absorbing read, and though it’s pretty long for a YA novel, once you’re immersed in it you hardly realize how long it is.  Andi and Alex are both beautifully written characters that I feel you will enjoy reading about, and possibly identify with.