Publication year: 2002 Genre: Fantasy Time and place: a fictional world, unspecified time Narrated in: third-person limited First sentence: “Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.” Verdict: A promising start to a series.
Eragon is fifteen and out hunting to help feed his family, when all of a sudden a big blue round stone fell from the sky. He took it home hoping he’ll be able to sell it for a big sum, but no one knew how much it was worth, so the stone remained in Eragon’s possession. Not for long though: one night a small baby dragon hatched from it :)
Determined to keep the animal a secret, at least for the time being, Eragon hides the dragon, Saphira, away from the village. As time goes by the two become fast friends, especially since they can read one another’s minds. Not much time later, two mysterious strangers come to the village, chasing whoever had the blue stone. Luckily for him, Eragon was away with Saphira, but his uncle was killed and their house destroyed. Together with the village storyteller, an old man who clearly knows a lot more than he tells, Eragon and Saphira start tracking the two culprits, looking for revenge and having no idea that they will never see the small village again.
Most people say this book is heavily inspired from the Lord of the Rings, starting with the very name of the protagonist, but the similarities I noticed were with Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World1. An orphan boy who doesn’t know his parents and lives in a very remote village goes on a voyage where his party is periodically attacked by horned beings, led by a more powerful magical creature (a Fade in EotW, a Shade in Eragon). There’s also a special sword, a hand marked, the hero discovering magic within himself, a storyteller with a hidden past, and the list probably goes on. Would I go as far as to call the book plagiarism? Of course not. The hero-chosen-to-save the world story has been told countless times; the secret is in the details.
Some criticize this book because the author has started writing it at fifteen, and it was published by the author’s parents’ publishing house. This in itself doesn’t make it a bad book, however. Sure, I wouldn’t go as far as to call it brilliant, but I have enjoyed reading it, and I am planning to read at least one of the sequels. Sure, some times it’s obvious that shortcuts were taken — when it comes to Eragon’s love interest, for example: instead of building a believable characters, with flaws and all, the author has created this perfect, supernatural being that Eragon was instantly attracted to. I would have, of course, preferred it wasn’t so, but on the whole the sum of parts is a positive, and I won’t complain.
The book takes place in the fictional land of Alagaësia — a world where once upon a time ago men and dwarves and elves lived together in peace. Everyone was protected from the forces of evil by the Dragon Riders, powerful people who could wield magic. One of them however has gone mad and turned to the dark side, so he killed his brethren and proclaimed himself king. The dragons were almost extinct (only three eggs remain), the dwarves and elves each hid in their own worlds and wanted nothing more to do with humans.
As the book opens, King Galbatorix has been ruling the land for decades. One of the three dragon eggs has been stolen, and the king has called on the forces of evil to help him get it back. But when the Shade and his Urgals attacked the elf who was transporting it she used her magic to send it in a remote place — which is how it found Eragon, or how Eragon found it.
I liked the world building, and thought most of it is original (although, I know, elves and dwarves were also in Tolkien’s books, and others’). It is not perfect — for example the lore says that the dragon egg hatches in the presence of the one that is supposed to be its Rider; this is why people and elves came to see the egg, just in case one of them will be the chosen one, which implies that the hatching will happen instantly, or very close to that, when the Rider was there; but Eragon had the egg for a few days before it hatched –, but some bits of it were fun, and I really liked it. I liked the werecat, Solembum, that alternated between being a larger-than-normal cat and a shaggy-haired boy. I liked the way magic works, physically tiring one, and even killing one out of sheer exhaustion if one tries doing too much. I liked the way the dragons were connected to their Riders, and how one Rider could technically live a very long time because of its dragon’s influence on him. I am looking forward to exploring more :)
The dialogues are not, perhaps, the author’s forte, and yet I did like most of the characters — even Arya, who’s probably the sum of all cliches2. Everyone has their well established role: Eragon is the hero, Saphira the loyal sidekick (who just happens to be a dragon), Brom is the hero’s teacher, and Arya the hero’s love interest. There’s also Murtagh (the hero’s human companion, so he won’t feel lonely) and Angela (the mysterious witch). The former is my favorite character — a brave, loyal young man, having to bear the burden of his father’s sins. He keeps mostly to himself because of that, which is why I think his friendship with Eragon is so precious: because it’s earned. Brom would probably be a second favorite: a former hero, he’s been through much and knows a lot, and it is for Eragon the father figure he needed at this challenging time of his life.
The writing is what attracted me to the book in the first place. The descriptions in particular are the author’s strongest point. One of my favorite bits is the first description of Saphira:
“The dragon was no longer than his forearm, yet it was dignified and noble. Its scales were deep sapphire blue, the same color as the stone. [...] The wings were several times longer than its body and ribbed with thin fingers of bone that extended from the wing’s front edge, forming a line of widely spaced talons. The dragon’s head was roughly triangular. Two diminutive white fangs curved down out of its upper jaw. They looked very sharp. Its claws were also white, like polished ivory, and slightly serrated on the inside curve. A line of small spikes ran down the creature’s spine from the base of its head to the tip of its tail. A hollow where its neck and shoulders joined created a larger-than-normal gap between the spikes.”
According to the author, he had spent a lot of time trying to pick the perfect names for his characters. He considers himself lucky to have thought of Eragon, as it’s “dragon” with a letter changed. Also, Angela the Herbalist is inspired from the author’s own sister, also named Angela :)
What I liked most
The first time we meet Angela the herbalist she is described as “holding a frog in one hand and writing with the other“. When asked about it, she said that the frog was in fact a toad, and that she was trying to prove that toads do not in fact exist. I loved the unexpectedness of the answer, and the reasoning that follows is funny too:
“If I prove toads don’t exist, then this is a frog and never was a toad. Therefore, the toad you see now doesn’t exist. And,” she raised a small finger, “if I can prove there are only frogs, then toads won’t be able to do anything bad—like make teeth fall out, cause warts, and poison or kill people. Also, witches won’t be able to use any of their evil spells because, of course, there won’t be any toads around.”
Which pinpoints Angela once and for all as a bit eccentric, if you will. But still I liked that :)
I hope that Eragon will leave you with the same sense of wonder that I had while writing it. I do believe in magic—the magic of stories to give you wonder, awe, and revelations. Such feelings can come from small things; in a fey vision of fairy dust swirling in marble moonbeams, or at the end of an epic where a wave of emotion washes over you, sweeping away the mundane world for a moment. Either way, I hope that you find something special in Eragon, something from the other side of the looking glass.
Enjoy the journey!
What I liked least
The author seems to have a problem estimating periods of time. This is most jarring when it comes to Eragon’s training — the guy goes from zero magic powers and zero sword training to unbeatable hero in just four weeks or so. Now, I can get there’s such a thing as a natural talent, and that helped, but still that was too much. Particularly as afterwards Eragon is the equal of Brom, who albeit older has spent most of his life in battle (and has killed at least one enemy hero, so by all means he was a good fighter), and a bit later Murtagh’s, who also has studied swordplay for most of his life.
I hated that Brom has said all throughout the book that he is not a Rider, only to confess at the last moment that he was in fact scheduled to train with them, and even had his own dragon, who accidentally got killed. I get it that he was not technically lying, but it still felt like a plot twist for mere sensationalism’s sake.
Thoughts on the title
Well, it is the story of Eragon :) So it’s a fitting, albeit unimaginative name. I am looking forward to see how come the 3rd(?) volume ended up being called Brisingr :)
Thoughts on the ending
Darn, knowing that the book was written in early 2000s I was hoping it had escaped the wave of ‘everything should be trilogy’ that plagues us nowadays3. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Not only there are still untied threads left at the end of the book (I for one am very curious about who Eragon’s father may be — probably a Dragon Rider hero, but which one), but a new challenge is set for Eragon in the very few pages. Why yes, I still hate this scheme.
Other than that I actually liked the ending more than I thought I would though. Of course there is a big battle, and of course the forces of good win. I really did like, however, the way this was accomplished: show spoiler
so Eragon was betrayed by the Twins (one of the most predictable plot points ever), and ended up alone in the midst of a huge group of Urgals, and face to face with the Shade himself. And although I was 100% certain, ever since Arya and Saphira were delayed, that something will happen to Eragon and the two girls will barge in and save the day, I was nonetheless very happy to see it happen. Particularly as Saphira chose this very moment to breathe fire for the first time :)
Recommend it to?
People who love dragon stories :)
Publication year: 2002 Genre: Fantasy/Retelling Time and place: 13th century Asia Narrated in: third-person omniscient First sentence: “Once upon a time, there lived a king whose heart was heavy.” Verdict: Four stars out of five.
His wife’s betrayal has turned King1 Shahryar’s heart to stone. Afraid that history will repeat itself, he concocts a plan: on every full moon he will marry a young woman, and the next morning she will be put to death. His decision, of course, was not well received — people ran away with their families, or hid their daughters well. But Shahrazad, the blind daughter of the king’s vizier, thinks that this is the very moment she was born for: her duty is to revive the king’s heart and thus save her people. Despite her father’s entreaties she marries the king, and then on their wedding night she starts telling him a story…
… a story that she does not finish when the morning comes. The king, happy for the reprieve, promises her that she will not be put to death until her story ends. And the story goes on and on and on, for many days.
The king’s people however were less happy with the situation than they should have been. Rumors start circling around, that Shahrazad is actually a witch, and she is still alive because she has enchanted the king. The rumors are planted by the five brothers of the previous queen, who want revenge2. Their army is small and they cannot defeat the king in fair fight, so they send the youngest to the court, disguised as a kitchen boy, to gather info and discover the best moment for a surprise attack.
I have seen that a few reviews criticize the writing style for various reasons; in my case the writing was one of my favorite things. I loved the poetry of it all, with stone hearts, and hearts overflowing with feeling, and everything in between. I loved the idea of having Shahrazad be a cloth reader, who didn’t know the stories beforehand but found them hidden in bolts of cloth. And I loved the very idea of a retelling of the story of the thousand and one nights.
I don’t remember how the original Sheherezad found herself in her unenviable position (whether it was by choice or by design), but I liked very much that the Shahrazad in this story has taken matters into her own hands. Not only she is the one who decides she will take the risk, but she does so before the king has had a chance to put his threat into action (and in doing do she has rescued him from the consequences of his decision). This Shahrazad is the quiet, confident type, intelligent and with a courage I admired more than once. She is no damsel in distress — quite the opposite, she faces danger to rescue her prince.
Shahryar himself is by no means evil, he’s just a powerful man with trust issues and with his heart closed off. I wonder whether he could have gone through with his plan, putting a random girl to death if he found himself in the position to. The author has done a good job in explaining his inner conflict all the steps of the way. As a consequence, the king is never an unsympathetic character, he just feels terribly misguided at times, and I for one have read the book in a single day, so curious I was to see how he will get to know and accept what his heart wants once again.
Another thing I liked is how the relationship between Shahryar and Shahrazad was built little by little. Ever since he was a child Shahryar has been intrigued by little Shahrazad, and now, seeing her for the first time as a woman, the last thing he wants to do is put her to death. He is torn between his initial decision and this reluctance he finds surprising (for hasn’t he already decided on a course? And he’s a king, his will must be steady!), yet still his heart is closed off and unfeeling. Actually, that wasn’t it: his heart was not dead, quite the opposite, but Shahryar, just like the king in Shahrazad’s story, was simply refusing to see what was in front of him.
And the same goes for Shahrazad, in a way, although she is smart enough to realize it sooner: she too falls in love with the king and does not initially realize it. Since it’s a short book, however, this trope is not prolonged for too many pages — another thing that I couldn’t but like.
What I liked most
The prologue, written in the words of a Shahrazad enticing the reader in, to listen to her story :)
Two of my favorite quotes:
“A story is alive, as you and I are. It is rounded by muscle and sinew. Rushed with blood. Layered with skin, both rough and smooth. At its core lies soft marrow of hard, white bone. A story beats with the heart of every person who has ever strained ears to listen. On the breath of the storyteller, it soars. Until its images and deeds become so real you can see them in the air, shimmering like oases on the horizon line.”
“I wished to be the one to truly see, to come to know your heart. At least, I wished to try.”
At her words, Shahrayar felt his stone heart give a crack, and the pain surged forth into his veins, scalding as lava. Too late. Your wish has come too late, he thought.
I so love the imagery in this last one :)
What I liked least
The ending. It had the potential to be great, but then something happened that it seemed to me broke the previously established rules, and I did not enjoy that a bit.
Thoughts on the title
While the title has a poetic ring to it, I don’t think it’s a particularly good fit. Shahrazad’s mother was indeed a storyteller, one of the best in her tribe. But Shahrazad herself was foretold to be the greatest storyteller ever, so she went far beyond being simply her mother’s daughter. “The Storyteller” would have perhaps been a better title, methinks.
Thoughts on the ending
The ending is the reason why I did not give it 5 stars.
So the evil brothers threaten to kill both Shahrazad and Shahryar if she cannot find him in a group of prisoners without touching him or speaking to him (or seeing him, since she was blind). And suddenly Shahrazad develops the ability of seeing people’s hearts(!), and thusly she finds her husband. Thing is, up until now there was very little magic in the book, having to do only with the pieces of cloth where Shahrazad found her stories3. And now, near the end, there is another thing added, seemingly arbitrarily (there was a girl in one of Shahrazad’s story that had developed a similar ability, but that was just a story, right?), and it sort of spoiled my enjoyment.
And then Shazaman (Shahryar’s brother) rescues his brother and his kingdom and everyone will live happily ever after, this I liked. But then Shahryar too develops the ability of reading stories from the cloth (why? how could he? wasn’t this a special trait of some of the people in Shahrazad’s mother’s tribe?) and it seemed both vastly implausible and useless. And then, to top things off, Shahrazad, who has gone blind suddenly after her mother died, got her sight back. While I am glad for her, this element too did not seem to make much sense, so I could have done without it.
Recommend it to?
People who enjoy fairytale retellings :)
he is referred to in the book as being a king, but I would expect him to actually have been a shah. [↩]
…with a rather interesting motivation: first they were angry at their sister, who brought shame on the family, and then after a while they started thinking that it was all Shahryar’s fault for giving her too much freedom. [↩]
speaking of which, I loved the idea that everyone found the exact piece of cloth they needed, with a story addressed just for them. [↩]
Publication year: 2007 Genre: YA Fantasy / Fairytale retelling Time and place: an alternate land reminiscent of medieval Mongolia Narrated in: first-person First sentence: “My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years.” Verdict: Loved it!
Publication year: 2009 Genre: Fantasy Time and place: seventeenth century Ireland and Jamaica / US & Jamaica in the 90s Narrated in: first-person/third-person limited/third-person omniscient First sentence: “Imagine my surprise when, after three centuries of fighting with siblings over a spare furry teat and licking my water from a bowl, I was given a huge human nipple, all to myself, filled with warm mother’s milk.” Verdict: Liked it for the most part.
“If I have no option to be happy and good, then why not be as bad as I can be?”
The day she turned fourteen Emer Morrisey was sent by her uncle far away from her native Ireland. She had been sold to be a wife to a much older man, in Paris. Luckily for her, once she got there she managed to run away from her husband-to-be. After living for a year on the streets, she boarded a ship to Tortuga, hoping for a better life. She was wrong; she sailed again. The ship she was on was attacked, and she fought valiantly. And this was the turning point, the moment that set her on the path of becoming nothing less than a pirate captain.
Years later, having attained everything she wanted, she was planning to retire and start a normal life. She never made it though: not only she was killed right on the beach where she first landed, but she was also cursed to spend 100 lives reincarnated as a dog. And so she was reborn as a French poodle puppy…
Fast forward to the twentieth century. It’s the 70s, and, having finished her due, Emer reincarnates again, this time as a human girl. Now Saffron, she amazes everyone with her knowledge of past events. Everyone thinks she will have a wonderful career in any field she’ll choose. But Emer has a plan and one plan only: once she will turn eighteen she will go to the beach where she died and dig up the immense treasured she has buried there.
Well, the book was a tad more violent than I would have expected (the former Emer relishes imagining various gory ways to maim the ones she find annoying; which is basically everyone she talks to). I get that Emer had lived a violent life in violent times; I get that after being around for three hundred years she has very little patience with the people around her. And yet this part seemed to me a bit overdone.
The story is told in alternating chapters, some telling the story of Emer’s life and others narrated by Saffron. There are some pages dedicated to a third character, Fred, the modern-day owner of a house on the beach Emer is interested in; there are also small stories, now and then, about some of Emer’s lives as a dog, complete with lessons learned. Each of these has a different point of view, yet they manage to come together as a whole quite nicely. I wasn’t too fond of the contemporary bits, mostly because I didn’t much like the characters involved; Emer’s original life however kept me on the edge of my seat more than once.
I was sad to see that Saffron doesn’t really suffer any effects after having spent so many years as a dog. It would have been interesting/quirky to see her having trouble adapting to being a human again (after all, she has been a human for less than 50 years, and a dog for six times that). She has some memories left, of course, but it would have been interesting to see more of a “cultural shock”, if you will. If anything, modern day Emer, although she has now lived such a long time, feels even more immature than she ever felt before, and I didn’t enjoy that.
The story of Emer begins when she is five, a happy child in the middle of a happy family. By her sixth birthday she loses everything, as her village is destroyed and its people killed by Cromwell’s army. Emer has to go live with her uncle’s family, in a very poor area. The uncle is aggressive and beats everyone; the cousins aren’t particularly friendly either. Emer’s new life is anything but happy. And it’s not going to get much better for a long, long while. Under these circumstances I have to say I was quite fond of Emer, and the way she grit her teeth and powered through the adversities that life threw at her. I liked that she had a fiery personality and she wasn’t afraid to fight for what she wanted. Sure, she does enjoy killing people a bit too much for my taste (her signature move was tearing people’s eyes out of their sockets), but I do get that this can (sort of) be put down to the fact that almost everyone in her life has treated her bad.
Emer reincarnated however is nowhere near as interesting. Perhaps because her appeal consisted in her piratey ways, and of course she can no longer act as a pirate in the 20th century. She’s just… bland. Sure, she knows a lot, due to her having witnessed a lot of history first hand, and she has that quirk of maiming people in her mind; other than that however there is not much that can be said about her. The fifth child, she isn’t particularly close to anyone in her family, despite the fact that her parents were pretty okay people throughout her childhood. I sort of resented that about her — the way she thought of everyone, her parents included, as being her inferiors (now it is true that they weren’t particularly bright people, but up to a point they were doing their best, and I was sorry to see that Saffron/Emer did not appreciate their efforts).
Another character is the guy owning the house on the beach, Fred Livingstone. Kudos to the author, as she has managed to create the creepiest and most unlikable character I have ever read about until now. Even as I write this, a day or so after I finished the book, thinking about him makes me shiver a bit. It’s not just the way he treats his (good natured, albeit not very bright) dog, although just this and made me despise him and dislike him on the spot. It’s in the way he thinks about women around him. Ew. And to think that people like that do in fact exist.
The rest of the cast consisted mostly of placeholders, unidimensional people that play a single role and have no complexity at all. Take Seanie for example, the only man Emer has ever loved. He was just there. He has no trait of his own other than the fact that he loves Emer and is loved by her. The same goes for David, Emer’s first mate. He’s there to take care of all the jobs Emer, as a female, cannot do, and in the process he of course falls in love with her (since she is so very beautiful and courageous and one of a kind). And that’s all there is to him. When Seanie comes back and there’s no more need for David, the latter disappears without a trace. Emer’s uncle was abusive and treated her bad, to provide for a challenge in her early life. Saffron’s parents become addicted to pills, to provide for a challenge in her new life. And so on, most of the characters being there as plot devices and nothing more.
A detail that I liked
Emer’s first ship was called Emerald :)
Something I did not understand
If Saffron is Emer reincarnated, how come that as she arrives in Jamaica she complains about losing Emer?
Thoughts on the ending
The ending was the part that sort of ruined the whole book for me. I liked it that it was a nice, happy ending, but I thought that its plausibility left something to be desired. show spoiler
So Fred was the Frenchman reincarnated (has he too spent the last 300 years as a dog?). This actually made sense, particularly seeing as he was slightly crazy and kept hearing voices — I don’t get why Saffron hears Emer (as they should be one and the same), but whatever the reason is it also makes Fred hear the voice of the original Frenchman, and so it’s no wonder he ended up worse for the wear. Also, we are told that the dust used to curse Emer (the literal dust of 100 dogs) has spread on the Frenchman too, so, again, it does make sense that we meet him again (although having “the original” still alive on the beach after Emer has taken his eye out and pierced his brain doesn’t).
He knew about the treasure and he has stolen it long ago, cool. I liked that (very believable), as I liked the little twist at the end (all that’s left of Emer’s treasure are her capes, but its okay because, unbeknownst to anyone else, she had sewn lots of gems in them). But then Emer/Saffron goes to the airport and there she meets the love of her past life. Looks like he has reincarnated too! But… how? Why? How come he is there at that precise moment? I would have understood it better had they met on the beach (the place where they saw each other last), but at the airport? And this guy, Seanie, has he too spent three hundred years as a dog? Too many questions.
Recommend it to?
People who enjoy YA books and are not afraid of some gore. There isn’t anything too graphic but it’s not overly tame either.
Publication year: 2010 Genre: Fantasy/Fairytale retelling Time and place: the contemporary Arctic, mostly Narrated in: third-person limited First sentence: “Once upon a time, the North Wind said to the Polar Bear King, ‘Steal me a daughter, and when she grows, she will be your bride.’” Verdict: Loved it!
Publication year: 2012 Genre: YA fantasy Time and place: contemporary US + the world between the pages of a book Narrated in: first-person First sentence: “Once upon a time in a land far, far away there lived a brave king and a beautiful queen, who were so much in love that wherever they went, people stopped what they were doing just to watch them pass.” Verdict: Liked it, but it did not live up to my expectations.
Once upon a time there was a prince in a fairytale. He was smart and loyal and not very brave. And he was merely playing a part.
For as long as he can remember, Oliver has been forced to act out someone else’s words each time someone opens the book he lives in. However, when the book is closed, he and everyone else in the kingdom is free to enjoy themselves as they please and according to their own temperament. Oliver feels the pull of the “otherworld”, the place where the readers live in, a place where all the choices will forever be his own. But… how is he to ever get out there?
Enter Delilah. A fifteen years old loner, the only things she finds solace in are stories with a happy ending in general, and Oliver’s story in particular. She’s read the latter so many times that she knows everything in it by heart — which is why she’s quick to notice that one day one of the illustrations has subtly changed. This leads to her actually communicating with Oliver, and she promises to help him with his seemingly impossible quest. And still the question remains… how?
A very promising idea :) The fact that the book was co-written by an acclaimed writer and her daughter also made me quite curious — Jodi Picoult is able to write compellingly about complex characters and issues, and I was very looking forward to see this ability of hers translated in a fairy tale world. In this case however, she seems to have let her daughter take the lead: while the story has its charm, the very complexity that I was expecting and looking forward to enjoying is lacking. I have seen reviews written by young adults (the very target age) and they too were complaining that the book is too simplistic, and would have been better off marketed to an even younger audience.
In the end, it’s probably a matter of my expectations being too high. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book at all, of course, because I definitely did.
Growing up without a father and with a mother struggling to make ends meet, Delilah feels the need to escape her own life now and then. She is very unpopular in school since she accidentally broke a cheerleader’s knee, and has almost no friends at all. One of the few pleasures she has in her life is losing herself in a story and being able to believe in a happy ending. If we add to that the fact that the story-Oliver has grown up without a father too, it is no wonder that Delilah spends so much time reading and re-reading that particular tale. Sadly, there is not much more to her than that. We know that she is quite resourceful and she doesn’t give up easily, despite hitting all sorts of roadblocks on the way. I liked that about her, of course, but she still felt like a blank canvas with no depth at times. I would have loved to see her be a teensy tiny bit more complex, perhaps.
Oliver is even more of a mystery. While his in-story persona is described in a fair amount of detail1, he insists that this is not who he actually is, that Oliver is just a part. To me however the line between the two was sort of blurred — I thought that the real Oliver too was smart and loyal and while he may be brave he lacks an opportunity to prove it. And then he insists that he’s nothing like the other Oliver and this sort of confused me to no end, because if we subtract the story Oliver’s traits from the real Oliver’s list of traits that I could see there would be very little to nothing left.
Anyway, I found the idea that the characters in books are nothing like their story counterparts quite original and interesting2. As Oliver explains:
When we’re not acting our parts, we’re all just free to go about our business. It’s quite complicated, really. I’m Prince Oliver, but I’m not Prince Oliver. When the book is closed, I can stop pretending that I’m interested in Seraphima or that I’m fighting a dragon, and instead I can hang out with Frump or taste the concoctions Queen Maureen likes to dream up in the kitchen or take a dip in the ocean with the pirates, who are actually quite nice fellows. In other words, we all have lives outside the lives that we play when a Reader opens the book.
And there is more: the villain of the story is actually a butterfly collector, Oliver’s trusty steed has self esteem issues and the marriage-crazy mermaids are in fact quite jaded about love. At least the wizard is still interested in magic experiments :) I liked all of this, and I would have liked to see it played with a bit more; as it is, this felt mostly relegated to the background, and I was sort of sad to see it so.
Since Oliver and Delilah are about the same age, it came as no surprise to me that they sort of fell in love with one another. It did came as a bit of a disappointment though, because in the context it felt like their feelings were born out of desperation rather than a mutual liking for one another. I may be wrong, of course, but look at it this way: Oliver is obsessed with the world outside his book — is it any wonder that he falls for the first girl he sees in that world? Not to mention the only girl available to him other than Seraphima, whom he despises because he finds her delusional and dumb as a brick. On the other hand, Delilah is obsessed with that particular fairy tale — is it any wonder that she falls for the main character, who’s also the one boy that has paid any attention to her in quite a while? Which is why the love story bit fell sort of flat for me. I wasn’t emotionally invested in it almost at all. Although I do agree that a love story was sort of expected to happen under the circumstances :)
The plot was a linear and a very simple one: throughout the book Delilah and Oliver try one way after another to release the latter from his book. However, while that’s all that there is to it, I have to admit that it did manage to keep me interested :) It was quite cool to see them coming up with all sorts of ideas and then, when those didn’t work, coming up with new ones. I definitely liked that; I would have liked it even more though if the reasons why some things did not work would have been more expanded upon, instead of just having to accept that it is so. Ah well, nothing is perfect.
What I liked most
The way the things taken out from the book reverted to words (e.g. the pearl necklace turned into the word “pearl” written over and over again on Delilah’s neck). I think it was an original and a nice touch.
Also, I liked the way the book’s opening is sort of like a window to our world. The characters can and do see not only the reader’s face looming huge over the horizon, but also the things around him or her (which is how Oliver gets to learn a few bits and pieces about our world).
Ah, and another small detail that I thought was sort of cute, albeit insufficiently explored: Delilah’s mother hears her repeatedly talking to the book and actually takes her to see a psychiatrist. While in many fantasy books the main characters wonder about the probability of imagining things and/or what would other people think if they only knew, I liked how this book went a bit further and actually made it happen. Sure, there is no actual consequence3, but it was a novel and somewhat unexpected detail nevertheless.
Last but not least, one of my favorite fantasy tropes is having the prince be in need of saving, and someone else (usually the female character, which makes it even better) be the one doing the saving. In this book Oliver is the trapped one, and as such he can only be “saved” by someone else — whereas Delilah, far from being a damsel in distress, does her utmost to make his dream come true. I couldn’t not like that :)
What I liked least
While the book is/feels a tad simplistic at times, and some things are needing more suspension of disbelief than others, there is only one element that has really bothered me: it’s been specified more than once that the book characters can only act out the story when the book is open, they can do nothing else — and yet Oliver is able to freely interact with Delilah after they make that first contact. It’s like something in the world building doesn’t make sense. Also, why is Delilah the only one who can hear Oliver4 ? I kept feeling like there was something, some rule, some explanation that I am missing, and this kept pulling me out of the story.
Thoughts on the title
A great title and probably the best one for this book. This being said, the fact that the story of Oliver was also named Between the Lines felt a bit forced, considering that there is nothing remotely related to any lines, literal of figurative, in there (show spoiler
unless we take into consideration that the book was written as an encouragement to the author’s son during a dark time of their life, so he was supposed to be reading between the lines and recognize the connections; but even so it still doesn’t feel right — after all, the general public had no idea of the hidden meaning of the book, so the title made no sense for them
Thoughts on the ending
The ending felt somewhat incomplete (or maybe I was missing something?), as we are not told exactly how Oliver manages to get out of the book. After spending all those pages trying to find the solution to a problem, it’s rather unsatisfactory to have it solved “just like that”, without the actual solution being given.
Although I must admit that at first sight the idea of having Edgar and Oliver switch places was brilliant (I have spent about half the book wondering that OK, when they do manage to get Oliver out, how will he live in the modern world with no papers? and this is a non-problem now), I can’t imagine that Edgar will agree to live in the fairy tale world, without his mother and anyone/anything else he loved, forever. Especially as the book world is rather small, so one would get bored of it pretty quickly. Imagine having him switch back places with Oliver after the latter has married Delilah or had a baby or anything else like that.
Recommend it to?
YA fantasy lovers with low expectations. It’s a fun book, but one of the authors was a teenager at the time of writing and sometimes it shows.
my favorite bit: “Oliver was smart and loyal, but he was a complete disappointment when it came to bravery. In an effort to make his mother happy, Oliver overcompensated, spending his teenage years trying to do everything else right“. [↩]
although to be fair I’d rather believe that a happy ever after is “real”, and the characters in books really are who I think they are even after the book closes [↩]
if we don’t count that the psychiatrist will probably end up being Delilah’s step dad [↩]
I know that in the book he — very annoyingly — refuses to speak when anyone else is around, but he says that he has tried contacting others before and to no avail. While I can fully get the idea that people only see what they expect to see, I have trouble believing that a reader, any reader, could have missed a radical change like for example his writing stuff on walls. [↩]
Publication year: 2011 Genre: Young Adult Time and place: US, 1996 Narrated in: first-person First sentence: “In 1996 less than half of all American high school students had ever used the Internet.” Verdict: Disappointing.
Publication year: 2008 Genre: Fantasy / Juvenile Fiction Time and place: contemporary Washington (mostly) Narrated in: third-person omniscient First sentence: “Norbert Johnson had never met such strange people in all of his life, much less two on the same day—within the same hour even.” Verdict: Kids would love it :)
Publication year: 1998 Genre: Epic Fantasy Time and place: The Wheel of Time Universe Narrated in: third-person omniscient First sentence: “Ethenielle had seen mountains lower than these misnamed Black Hills, great lopsided heaps of halfburied boulders, webbed with steep twisting passes.” Verdict: Could have been shorter.