Book Review: The 39 Clues [The Clue Hunt] #1 – The Maze of Bones

Title: The Maze of Bones
Author: Rick Riordan
Year of Publication: 2008
Series: The 39 Clues: The Clue Hunt
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.83
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

maze of bones

Plot Description: Orphaned at an early age, Amy and Dan Cahill developed a very close bond with their grandmother Grace. Now at her funeral, her will gives her relatives a choice between choosing a million dollars or a clue that will set them off on a curious quest for 39 different clues. Determined to honour Grace’s memory, Amy and Dan accept the quest that will pit them against various family members who all seem to be much better prepared and knowledgeable than the kids themselves are.

In the course of my reading of this series, I have frequently been given to consider the question of precisely what constitutes a good children’s book, and what a good review of a children’s book. It is obvious that the older you are, the less you are likely to relate to a book meant for kids. And it also goes without saying that all this makes reviewing an extremely difficult process.

What complicates this series even further is that each book is written by a different author. Of these, Rick Riordan and Gordon Korman are the only ones I’ve known of beforehand. The writing styles are therefore different, and there are inconsistencies in the tone, and in what kind of subliminal messages are prioritized.

Although I enjoy Riordan’s writing on the whole, in this case, I found that it grated. Particularly in the opening chapter, characterization seemed loud and unnecessarily bratty. Carter and Sadie Kane were a much better written pair of siblings than are Dan and Amy Cahill. Moreover, Riordan’s trademark humour seemed – at least to me – to be missing from this book. His comic timing has always helped me sail through his books before (indeed, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the single greatest thing about The Kane Chronicles).

As far as adventures go, this series seems to follow more along the lines of Katherine Applegate’s writing (or that of Lemony Snicket) than Riordan’s. While Percy Jackson and his cohorts also run into  (and out of) dangerous situations with alarming frequency, those situations seem much more natural and light hearted. Applegate and Snicket, on the other hand, seem to exist solely to bring misery to the lives of their child characters. I suppose The 39 Clues falls somewhere in the middle.

Pet Peeve: Unnecessary use of the world “spaz”, used apparently as a nickname for Irina Spazky, a Russian KGB agent and member of the Lucian branch of the Cahill family. Irina suffers from some neurological damage that gives her an involuntary eyeball twitch, but is never referred to by this particular nickname by anyone in the book. It’s just part of her introductory paragraph, serves no purpose whatsoever, and should really just have been left in the trash during editing.

Next Review: The 39 Clues [The Clue Hunt] #2 – One False Note

TV Recap and Review: Daytime Divas – Pilot

Title: Pilot
Show: Daytime Divas
Season: 1
Episode: 1
Sidereel Rating (Average): 4.17
Sidereel Rating (Mine): 5

Based on: Satan’s Sisters by Star Jones

Notes: Series Premiere

Cast:

  1. Vanessa Williams – Maxine Robinson
  2. Camille Guaty – Nina Sandoval
  3. Tichina Arnold – Mo Evans
  4. Chloe Bridges – Kibbie Ainsley
  5. Fiona Gubelmann – Heather Flynn-Kellogg
  6. McKinley Freeman – Shawn Robinson

Series Description: In a spoof of The View, and with former The View co-host Star Jones as executive producer, comes Daytime Divas. The show is about The Lunch Hour, a daytime talk show led by Maxine Robinson, long time news anchor and journalist. Her co-hosts are Nina, a Pulitzer prize winning war correspondent with secrets in her past, Mo, a stand up comedian who can be unscrupulous when it comes to getting ahead, Kibbie, a former child star struggling with addiction and Heather, a former pageant queen and devout Christian. Maxine’s adoptive son (and biological nephew) Shawn works with as a producer on the show.

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Vanessa Williams as Maxine Robinson

Plot Highlights: Maxine and Mo clash on air about a joke made at Maxine’s expense. Mo worries that Heather’s husband may be abusing her. Mo is having an affair with her PA, Leon. Maxine goes into a coma during a routine facelift procedure, something Shawn quickly spins as minor throat surgery. Leon the PA wants to take their relationship to the next level, but Mo dumps him. Nina and her husband Andrew find out that that they cannot have children. Nina and Shawn turn out to be having an affair. In Maxine’s absence, the other co-hosts vie for Maxine’s “left chair.” Brad and Heather argue about their daughter Ella (who is trans). Leon blackmails Mo, resuming their relationship and getting a promotion. Mo finds Maxine’s medical records and blackmails Shawn into giving her the “left chair.” Kibby falls off the wagon and is nearly arrested. Maxine wakes up during the airing of the show and decides to delay announcing the details of her recovery.

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From L to R: Tichina Arnold, Chloe Briges, Camille Guaty and Fiona Gubelmann as Mo, Kibbie, Nina and Heather.

Phew. Who’d have thought that one episode would have so much happening in it?

The episode does a great job of introducing the characters and displaying their various quirks – as if the Lunch Hour introductory sequence alone wasn’t enough to do that. And while the drama falls neatly into the requisite spaces, plenty of space is also reserved for a WHOLE lot of depth. In essence, Daytime Divas is The Lunch Hour plus the dishy backstage deets.

The show opens with Maxine cancelling her appearance at a corporate retreat because: “It’s a boy’s club. I refuse to be paraded around as the token female in a leadership role.” There is no doubt that she’s a diva, through and through – as she walks from her office to the set, she’s seen telling a costume designer to take a jacket out of rotation because she’d already worn it once six months ago. She then goes on to tell the woman to have the jacket wrapped up so Maxine could give it to her cleaning lady as a birthday present. Maxine also seems to have an ongoing rivalry with Oprah that Oprah probably knows nothing about.

Full disclosure: I’ve already watched multiple episodes of this show. Yes, I know the pilot just aired, but I work in closed captioning and subtitling, and we often get new movies or TV shows before they begin airing. Interestingly, this is also how I ended up watching the currently airing final segment of Pretty Little Liars several months ago. (That’s right, I know who A is. No, I’m not telling – I’ll get sued.) But I digress. My point is, I already know this is a very good, very solid show. It’s the whole reason why I decided to start tracking it in my personal capacity as a fan. And while the pilot is a very good representation of what the rest of the show is going to be like, I assure you it gets even better from here.

Having watched other episodes in this season is a major reason why I’m already in love with Shawn Robinson. McKinley Freeman does a great job portraying a sensitive, yet professional young man who is in tune with the needs of a show like The Lunch Hour (especially considering the kind of co-hosts it has). Shawn loves his mom, he also puts his duty to her above everything else. When Heather (catchphrase: “Modest is hottest”) complains about the temperature being too cold, he matter-of-factly calls for nipple covers for her without missing a beat. After Maxine goes into a coma, Shawn is at the hospital dictating a press release when the doctor informs him that he can go in to see his mother. He gestures for the co-hosts to go ahead, and goes back to the press release. When the next episode airs, Shawn chooses to direct the episode from Maxine’s hospital room. With everyone else, Shawn is grounded, responsible and professional; in moments when he’s alone with his mother – or with Nina, he’s emotionally vulnerable.

The first scenes from The Lunch Hour depict a swimsuit segment because Maxine feels it an appropriate way to kick off swimsuit season. Kibbie feels that it will be empowering for women to feel comfortable in their own skin. Mo thinks that the sight of Kibbie in her swimsuit is going to jump start a generation of eating disorders.

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“Hey, hey, careful. They’re real.”

Like with Mo and Kibby clashing over the swimsuits, on air, the co-hosts constantly interrupt each other as they argue their diverse perspectives. None of them can be said to be one-dimensional stereotypes. For instance, Heather worries about being modest and insists on praying all the time, finds it offensive when people take the Lord’s name in vain, and is promoting a book that Kibby sarcastically calls “The Subservient Wife.” [“It’s “The Fulfilled Wife,” Heather snaps back.] At the same time, she furiously defends her daughter Ella to her husband, insisting that the Lord made her the way she was, and the Lord doesn’t make mistakes.

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Heather with her children Savannah (L) and Ella (R).

Maxine has sort of taken Kibby under her wing, encouraging her to stay off the drugs and alcohol. Kibby is chirpy, cheerful and deeply sensitive, and Maxine’s coma affects her more than anyone else (with the obvious exception of Shawn.) In a hilarious scene, all the co-hosts end up at the hospital and claim they’re there to visit Maxine, when in reality Nina was visiting Shawn, and Mo and Heather came exclusively to make a play for the left chair. Only Kibby turns up because she actually wants to visit Maxine, and is visibly confused when Shawn asks her if she’s here for the chair too. An encounter with her mother also makes it clear that Kibby is still trying to escape a long standing abusive relationship.

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Kibby and her girlfriend Nick.

Heather is a budding fashion designer, and models her own design in the swimsuit segment. When Maxine, while promoting it, mentions that the swimsuit is inexpensive as well as stylish, Nina jumps in with a comment about sweatshop manufacture and child labour, causing Heather to snap back about the unions having “ruined” manufacturing in the US. Nina is pretty standard fare, but she’s also the character I relate to the most on this show. It’s only her affair with Shawn and the news that her husband Andrew is infertile that begins to set her apart.

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Nina and Shawn after Maxine’s accident

Mo Evans does the most to challenge Maxine’s authority and place her outside her comfort zone. She is the most confrontational and unapologetic of the show’s cast, and the opening scenes have Mo making a joke about Maxine’s age (she claims that she slipped on Maxine’s vagina, referencing pelvic organ prolapse). She’s been having a sexual relationship with Leon, her PA, but is disinterested in emotional connections, as is evidenced by the fact that she promptly dumps Leon when he asks to take their relationship to the next level.
Mo gains evidence of Maxine undergoing cosmetic surgery and blackmails Shawn with it to gain the “left chair” position, but loses out to network representative Jason Abel’s demand that Nina take that position. This does nothing to deter Mo, who takes the seat anyway, physically unseating Nina in the process. But her abrasive demeanour doesn’t prevent her from reaching out to those she cares about.
Her complete control over her sexuality is something else I love about Mo. “If you don’t know how to talk dirty, don’t talk at all,” she tells Leon while they’re in the midst of boning. “But don’t stop.” Mo sex is loud, raunchy, questionably ethical exhibitionist sex, and she does it while watching a video of herself going viral.

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“Alright, y’all. Stay beautiful, stay black. Except for the white people. Please stop trying to be black.” – Mo doing stand up.

Body image is constantly referenced in Daytime Divas. Maxine Robinson’s “brand” includes the notion that she’s never had any cosmetic surgery done, but in the course of the pilot it becomes clear that this is patently untrue. Maxine’s lie, which could be seen as being hypocritical, is placed in context in the aftermath of Mo’s viral joke about her age, as she talks about how men at her age are referred to as “distinguished and wise,” while she’s going to be seen as “irrelevant, old and foolish.” But Maxine’s arguments do ring a bit hollow, and it is clear that she has internalized these ideas about appearance to a certain degree when she body shames Mo.

Daytime Divas also addresses race both explicitly as well as in the low key, subtle ways that matter more. A shot of the production team reveals a row of black women. Maxine calls out a man holding a roll of blue gel, reminding him that they have black ladies on camera, and that he should know better than that. (I had to do some research on this one: Color gel is explained here, and this article discusses the nuances of lighting with dark skinned subjects.) When Shawn tells Jason Abel that he wants to put Mo in the left chair, Jason tells him to put Nina instead, because Mo is too “urban.” The conversation is punctuated with a lot of awkward, forced laughter on part of both men, with Shawn attempting to disguise his distaste (“Oh, you did not just say that”), and Jason being obliviously entitled. (Reference: Stop Calling Black People Urban)

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Shawn and Jason Abel

As far as comedy goes, Daytime Divas is gold. This show flawlessly combines the vapidity associated with being a diva with the immense depth and multidimensionality associated with being a human being. Whether it’s Heather and Nina arguing about the economics of textile manufacture while dressed in swimsuits, all the women arguing while standing over Maxine’s comatose body in the hospital, or the show ending in fisticuffs on air, the over the top nature of this show does not fail to elicit laughs.

Next Review: The Blackcoat Rebellion #3 – Queen

Book Review: The Dark Tower #3 – The Waste Lands

Title: The Waste Lands
Author: Stephen King
Year of Publication: 1991
Series: The Dark Tower
#: 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.22
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

You’ve Been Warned: Watch For Spoilers

the waste lands

Plot Description: Roland, Eddie and Susannah travel along the path of the Beam until they meet up with Jake Chambers, the boy whose death Roland had allowed to happen in The Gunslinger. Then they search for Blaine the insane monorail, who might be able to get them to their next destination.

What is it about this book? I almost feel like a failure for not liking it so much. Goodreads is filled to the bursting with glowing reviews. I also have a sneaking suspicion that I might have liked it more right after I’d read it, but since I binge-read the entire series at a go (and these are BIG books), the ending of the series as a whole spoilt most of the books that came before it. The only real exception to this rule is Book No. 4, Wizard and Glass. 

After all of the world building and game-board setting that the reader had to endure in The Drawing of the Three, Roland’s ‘ka-tet’ is almost complete – with the exception of Jake Chambers and Oy the billy bumbler, to whom we are introduced in this book. [The creation of the billybumbler? Pure genius]

The Waste Lands is a roadtrip book. The characters are constantly on the move, and their journey is peppered with notable incidents – gunfights, mental battles, even the odd sexual battle. (Yeah, that was pretty odd). It’s not a bad book, but it’s far too long and could have done with some paring down. It also ends on a cliffhanger, which as I understand it, wasn’t resolved for about a decade after this? That’s awful, and I’m glad I wasn’t a Stephen King fan living in the 90s.  Waiting two years for the next Harry Potter was torture enough, not to mention my current love-hate relationship with G.R.R. Martin. If you can look past the mangled language (or inexplicably happen to love it), and you don’t mind settling in for a long journey, then this is definitely the book for you. I’ve also begun to classify anything strange within the books as the natural consequences of Stephen King’s penchant for horror.

Next in this Series: The Dark Tower #4 – Wizard and Glass

Next Review: Bloodlines #4 – The Fiery Heart

Book Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #3 – Prentice Alvin

Title: Prentice Alvin
Author: Orson Scott Card
Year of Publication: 1989
Series: Tales of Alvin Maker
#: 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.76
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2.5

Watch for Spoilers

prenticealvin

Plot Description: After his adventures with the Native Americans, Alvin finally reaches his birthplace for the long promised apprenticeship. The blacksmith under whom he is to learn is understandably put off by the fact that he’s about a year late. In the meantime, Peggy (the Torch from the first book) is finally ready to stop protecting him full time and get herself a life of her own. The very day Alvin is set to return to Hattrack Town, Peggy runs away. A subplot deals with a runaway slave girl who is determined to ensure that her child is born a free man.

Prentice Alvin is undoubtedly where the Alvin Maker series begins to spiral out of control. For the most part, the plot is boring, dealing with Alvin’s trials under the ornery Smith, who finds it difficult to decide whether to be jealous or greedy. The people around him continue to react to him in predictable ways – unconditional admiration, or jealous loathing, but obsessive in either case.

The runaway girl’s son is named Arthur Stuart, after the King of England of the time and adopted by Peggy Guester’s mother in the place of the daughter she had lost. Arthur Stuart grows up to completely adore Alvin and has a knack of mimicking voices and sounds perfectly, along with an eidetic memory.

I spoke about the theme of white guilt pervading Orson Scott Card’s writing in Red Prophet, and this theme becomes even more pronounced in Prentice Alvin. Card goes out of his way to emphasize the foulness and vileness of slavery as a practice, as if to ensure that the reader is left with no doubt as to Card’s stance on the issue. Unfortunately, Arthur Stuart is a complete nonentity of a character, surrounded by privileged white characters who devote their time and energy to protecting him from danger. He is the first non-white character to have a major role in this series (yes, it took three books) and he barely does anything at all.

Card’s worldview as far as Native Americans and African Americans are concerned is similar to the Orientalist perspective on Asian countries. Factors that are considered indigenous to that culture are upheld and applauded, while attempts at integrating factors that were until then unique to white cultures are looked down upon. For example, he decries the decisions of the Iroquois and Cherokee tribes to integrate with the American nation, and in his alternate universe, the Native Americans move away to form their own nation, on which Whites may never set foot. As far as the rest of the country is concerned, the ‘greensong’ has all but died out there, and will never return. That land is considered dead.

The problem with a privileged party taking up the cause of an oppressed party as a means of assuaging their own guilt is that the voices of the oppressed are once again passed over in favour of that of a member of the privileged class. In addition to this, Card’s interpretation of history is still largely white-centric, for all his moral lecturing, and black characters are yet to become a major part of the story of Alvin Maker.

Moreover, I’m one of those people who think that scenes depicting graphic violence towards demographics that have traditionally suffered much violence, and who are still quite vulnerable to violence should be avoided unless completely necessary to the plot. This is one of the biggest reasons why I stopped watching Game of Thrones, and it’s a major criticism I plan to bring up when I eventually review the Alex Cross series by James Patterson. A lot of GR reviews talk about how the adult content in this book prevents them from reading it to their kids, and I think that while the scenes in Prentice Alvin still fall under the heading of ‘Adult Content’ and not ‘Completely Unnecessary Pornographic Sensationalism’ (CUPS?) they were perhaps not entirely necessary to the plot. I can think of a few other ways in which the same information could have been imparted to the reader without using the scenes Card did in this book.

My final criticism of Prentice Alvin (which extends to the rest of the series as well) is how obsessively the story centres around Alvin now. The lives of every character – most prominently that of Peggy Guester – has become about Alvin. In one of the final scenes of the book, Alvin uses his powers to create his journeyman piece – a plow made of living gold. While the fantasy genre is no stranger to wild, weird concepts, it feels out of place in this series which largely rests on an atmosphere of American folk magic.

P.S.: I really don’t like the Alvin depicted on the cover above. He looks awfully smug and arrogant.

Next Review: The Dark Tower #3 – The Waste Lands

Next Review in this Series: Tales of Alvin Maker #4 – Alvin Journeyman

Book Review: Bloodlines #3 – The Indigo Spell

Title: The Indigo Spell
Author: Richelle Mead
Year of Publication: 2013
Series: Bloodlines
#: 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.43
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4

Spoiler Warning

the indigospell.jpg

Plot Description: Having kissed Adrian once, Sydney is now struggling with the realization that she might perhaps return his feelings, even as she continues to follow up on leads that hint towards corruption within her organization, the Alchemists. She also finds herself in danger thanks to a mysterious serial killer witch who is tracking down young magic users and draining them of life and power.

The Indigo Spell begins on a hilarious note:

This wasn’t the first time I’d been pulled out of bed for a crucial mission. It was, however, the first time I’d been subjected to such a personal line of questioning.

“Are you a virgin?”

“Huh?” I rubbed my sleepy eyes, just in case this was all some sort of bizarre dream that would disappear. An urgent phone call had dragged me out of bed five minutes ago, and I was having a little trouble adjusting.

My history teacher, Ms. Terwilliger, leaned closer and repeated the question in a stage whisper: “I said, are you a virgin?”

“Um, yes. . .”

I was fully awake now and glanced uneasily around my dorm’s lobby, making sure no one was around to witness this crazy exchange.

Sydney’s proficiency in spellwork is improving, as is her willingness to engage with her potential for magic. These are two reasons why Jaclyn Terwilliger pulled her out of bed in the middle of the night to help her with a spell. The third reason is her virginity.

This is possibly due to my own personal hang ups, but I hate the idea of virginity holding any special kind of power. It’s a theme that’s inescapable however, turning up in a wide range of subjects from historical virgin sacrifices to modern society’s obsession with virginity.

For one thing, the concept of virginity is highly subjective. We’re given to understand that the historical definition of virginity centres around the heteronormativity of sex – (i.e. where a man, a woman and their respective private parts are involved). This sucks for a lot of reasons – anything that’s not heterosexual is not included, for starters. Even within this narrow definition of sex, one still runs into problems, because people have been using the hymen as the designated virginity marker. And the hymen often… doesn’t exist. Or is lost in ways other than through sex. Or can remain unbroken despite intercourse due to incredible elasticity. In young women, it even shows remarkable healing qualities.

A theory I like more these days is that virginity is more psychological than physiological. If you feel like you’re a virgin, then you’re a virgin.

Whoa, I’ve gotten slightly off track. Bloodlines is not the first universe to attribute magical qualities to virginity, and I don’t doubt that it won’t be the last. Even Terry Pratchett’s Discworld makes allusions to this trope by contrasting the unmarried and virginal Granny Weatherwax against the thrice married and happily promiscuous Nanny Ogg. But yes, the idea still makes me uncomfortable – partly because of the horrendous mess ‘virginity culture’ has become, and partly because I’m afraid it might be true.

Ms. Terwilliger’s spell reveals the location of a powerful witch – one who she worries is going after young witches for their youth and power. Once again, she’s pushing for Sydney to actively learn more magic – for her own protection if nothing else.

On a much lighter note, Bloodlines provides us with happy Vampire Academy cameos in the form of a Royal Wedding (Sheesh. Does there have to be so many of those?) Queen Vasilisa Dragomir is getting married to longtime boyfriend Christian Ozera, and it’s all very cute. Of course, the Queen is still in college, but when you’re a monarch, I’m guessing such mortal concerns go out the window. Sydney is attending the wedding as part of an Alchemist contingent who are there to ensure that they don’t accidentally insult the Moroi by not turning up. Adrian manages to create quite a lot of controversy by asking her to dance – a proposition that horrifies the Alchemists, and shocks many of the Moroi (including – get this – Abe Mazur).

Ha! Got you, old man.

Sydney’s boss implies that she’s got to take one for the team because they don’t want to look ungracious (or repulsed) by declining. And so we get our first Sydrian dance.

Told you it was cute.

He was unconcerned. “You’ll make it work. You’ll change clothes or something. But I’m telling you, if you want to get a guy to do something that might be difficult, then the best way is to distract him so that he can’t devote his full brainpower to the consequences.”

“You don’t have a lot of faith in your own gender.”

“Hey, I’m telling you the truth. I’ve been distracted by sexy dresses a lot.”

I didn’t really know if that was a valid argument, seeing as Adrian was distracted by a lot of things. Fondue. T-shirts. Kittens. “And so, what then? I show some skin, and the world is mine?”

The Sydrian plotline converges neatly with the rogue witch plotline as Sydney and Adrian go roadtripping. Their objective? Track down young women in the neighbourhood who might be in danger and ask them to be on their guard.

Sydney finally manages to track down Marcus Finch, an ex-Alchemist who rebelled and has been in hiding from his former employees ever since. Marcus is the one that finally reveals the secret behind the golden lily tattoos worn by all the Alchemists. The tattoos are made with Moroi blood and have bits of compulsion infused into them, making it impossible for the Alchemists to reveal the secret of their occupation to anyone not already in the know. It also makes them compliant and unquestioning, and might even promote the revulsion for vampires that they all seem to share. The good news is, Marcus has found a way to break the compulsion in his tattoo by means of an indigo coloured ink.

The teenager subplot drags alongside the main plot, being neither so interesting as to catch my attention, nor so boring that I’d completely skip over those parts (which is what happens to me every time something romantic turns up in a James Patterson novel). A love triangle turns into a love quadrangle and eventually resolves itself to mutual satisfaction. Sort of like in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but with gender roles reversed.

Mead’s humour and comic timing is as ever on point, which makes the occasional hiccup in her writing style so much more bearable.

It was hard for me to talk. “It’s instinct. Or something. You’re a Moroi. I’m an Alchemist. Of course I’d have a response. You think I’d be indifferent?”

“Most Alchemist responses would involve disgust, revulsion, and holy water.”

The overarching story line continues to be paced off well, with Sydney and Adrian finally taking their friendship to the level of a tentative relationship, and with the appearance of a new antagonist more powerful than any Sydney has faced up until now.

“Are we going to run off to the Keepers?” he suggested.

“Of course not,” I scoffed. “That’d be cowardly and immature. And you’d never survive without hair gel – though you might like their moonshine.”

The Indigo Spell is a comfortable middle ground for a series – ferocious action combined with cheesy and heart warming romance and serious character development. And my favourite parts about the Bloodlines series are yet to come.

Next Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #3 – Prentice Alvin

Next in this Series: Bloodlines #4 – The Fiery Heart

Book Review: Dark Tower #2 – The Drawing of the Three

Title: The Drawing of the Three
Author: Stephen King
Year of Publication: 1987
Series: The Dark Tower
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.21
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

A Few Important Spoilers Here and There

drawing of the three

Plot Description: In this sequel to The Gunslinger, Roland of Gilead must meet three strangers who will help him on his quest – the Stranger, the Lady of Shadows and the Pusher. Together with new characters Eddie Dean and Odetta Holmes, Roland journeys further along the path that he hopes will eventually lead him to the Dark Tower.

At this stage in the series, I was still pretty absorbed by the plot. This was despite the fact that the writing remained dry and cramped, and the whole time I was reading this book I felt like I was eating something completely tasteless out of some weird compulsion.

Fascination might actually be a better term for it, because in The Drawing of the Three, King actually introduces a few characters who are far more likeable and relatable than his Cowboy With An Extra Helping of Hero. The problem with Roland is that he’s presented as practically flawless – his only flaw is his singleminded determination to reach the Tower no matter what, and since that’s the whole point of the series, it’s not really considered a flaw. On the other hand, Eddie Dean and Odetta Holmes are both extremely flawed characters who must balance their personal struggles with helping Roland on his quest. This is despite the fact that both of them were pulled unwillingly out of their respective lives – lives which take place in different decades in our modern world – by Roland the Selfish Hero.

Roland was last seen waking from his conversation with his old enemy Merlin, only to find that ten years have passed since he sat down to talk to the wizard, and that the wizard is now dead. I mention these facts because they are completely out of line with the story presented in later books (plothole alert!) where it says that a hundred years passed while he was talking to Merlin, not ten, and that Merlin isn’t dead after all. As an afterthought, Merlin’s continued existence is ret-conned and we’re told he faked his death. What purpose was served by this entire rigmarole is something we readers will forever remain in the dark about, unfortunately.

Eddie Dean is the Prisoner represented in the first of the tarot cards Merlin draws for Roland during their ‘palaver’. (Old fashioned terms like this one are overused to the point of exasperation throughout this series). Eddie, it turns out, is not a conventional prisoner, but a junkie – a prisoner to heroin. Roland first encounters him as he’s endeavouring to get a couple of bags of cocaine through customs as a drug mule in 1987, and he eventually pulls Eddie out of our world and into his, where Eddie begins to experience withdrawal and is taught in the ways of being a gunslinger by Roland.

Odetta Holmes is a crippled civil rights activist from 1964 who suffers from multiple personality disorder brought on by multiple traumas in her life – including the accident which caused her to lose her legs. Odetta is educated, soft spoken and non violent, and thus the complete opposite of her alter ego, Detta Walker. Detta is extremely violent and dangerous, harbours a burning hatred for white people – especially white men, is delusional, and speaks in an exaggerated caricature of the stereotype of an uneducated Afro-American. Just as with Eddie and his drug addiction, Roland helps Odetta and Detta confront reconcile their personalities, thus creating Susannah Dean.

Both Eddie and Susannah (who have fallen in love and consider themselves married) prove to be ‘natural gunslingers’, picking up the knack of fast shooting and other gunslinger characteristics extremely quickly. This is despite the fact that neither of them have ever trained for any sort of active physical life, and considering it took Roland and his childhood friends a decade before they could be considered trained gunslingers, I find this premise unlikely (and therefore an example of shoddy and lazy writing). Eddie and Susannah are ‘natural gunslingers’ only because the plot demands it of them.

The final person Roland comes face to face with is Jack Mort, a lowlife criminal sociopath with murderous tendencies. Throughout his life, the Pusher has attempted to kill numerous people, either by dropping heavy things on them from above, or by pushing them – into traffic (as in the case of Jake Chambers) or into the path of an oncoming train (as in the case of Susannah Dean). When Roland realizes that Jack Mort is responsible both for Jake’s initial death in The Gunslinger as well as for the loss of Susannah’s legs and the development of her Multiple Personality Disorder, he kills Jack in revenge, and to prevent him from killing Jake (again). Roland’s actions here also set up for the return of an alternate version of Jake Chambers in the next book, The Waste Lands.

The vibrant and unique personalities of Eddie and Susannah Dean are what saved this book as far as I was concerned. Indeed, the further this series progressed, the more it became clear to me that of the eventual quintet, Roland was the least interesting, the least worth saving.

While The Drawing of the Three is still pretty good as far as novels go, the series is fast approaching decline, which is why I’d never recommend it to anyone. Unless they were stuck in Mid World with Roland of Gilead and had nothing better to do.

Next in this Series: The Dark Tower #3 – The Waste Lands

Next Review: Bloodlines #3 – The Indigo Spell

Book Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #2 – Red Prophet

Title: Red Prophet
Author: Orson Scott Card
Year of Publication: 1988
Series: Tales of Alvin Maker
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.77
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4

There’s Bound To Be A Few Spoilers

 red prophet

Plot Description: Following the events of the previous book, in which Alvin was injured severely and had to learn how to heal his own leg, he’s now been pronounced well enough to go back to Hatrack River, where his father has arranged for him to be apprenticed to a blacksmith. While he’s travelling with his brother Measure, they’re kidnapped by ‘Reds’ – Native Americans – who are purportedly feuding with the settlers. This is how Alvin eventually reunites with the ‘Red Prophet’, whom he had previously met in the first book.

This book might just be my favourite out of the Tales of Alvin Maker series, but that being said, I have two words that come to mind when I think of this book: “White Guilt”.

Any story set in Frontier-era America would have to feature Native American tribes, and the interactions of the settlers with them. Alvin Maker is no exception, set as it is against a backdrop of constant fighting between the white settlers and the ‘Reds’. In addition to their battles with Native American tribes, the white settlers themselves are multicultural – English, Dutch, French etc – in origin, and engage in battles amongst themselves as well.

Red Prophet features two famous historical figures in Native American history – Tenskwa Tawa and Ta-Kumsaw. The two are depicted as brothers, the former a pacifist and the latter a warrior. Tenskwa Tawa briefly appeared in Seventh Son as Lolla-wasiky, an alcoholic Native American whose addiction held a debilitating hold over him, and who was cured of the same by a chance encounter with young Alvin. Red Prophet expands on his journey and history, and his relationship with his brother, as well as his future as a ‘prophet’ for the Native Americans – one that counsels that they stay away from alcohol.

In its essence, Red Prophet is a revisionist history of the Battle of Tippecanoe, recounted from a Native American perspective as a massacre of pacifist Natives led by Tenskwa Tawa. Tenskwa Tawa and his brother also take on roles as spiritual mentors to young Alvin, to better help him understand his powers.

Stories about the Native Americans have always fascinated me, because it refers to a whole world of people I’ve never met. And that’s why I like Red Prophet. It is commendable that Card’s revisionism allows for an alternate history told from the perspective of the loser, and not the winner. The fact remains, however that Card is not Native American.

It’s always difficult and problematic to write from a perspective that is not yours. It’s not to say that one shouldn’t, but one should also remember to add the caveat. To remember that the subjects of your writing may resent you for attempting to take over their voices and tell their stories on their behalf – again (Because lets be real, that’s what happens when the winners write history).

As for the rest, Red Prophet is perhaps one of the better (or the best) books in this series. It’s decently written, suspenseful in all the right places, and has only minor plot holes. The subplots involving Governor Harrison, Tippecanoe, the curse of bloody hands, mystical whirlwinds that exist outside the time and space paradigm all fit right into the story. There are few, if any elements that jar the reader out of this world of magical fantasy and into reality.

Next in this Series: Tales of Alvin Maker #3 – Prentice Alvin

Next Review: Dark Tower #2 – The Drawing of the Three