Monday, October 6, 2008

Add Two More to the List

I nabbed a copy of River Secrets by Shannon Hale from the library on Thursday night. It's classic Shannon Hale: lyrical prose, humor, characters overcoming inadequacies…I love her characters. The key thing that sets this book apart from her others is the main character. He's had some appearances in The Goose Girl and Enna Burning. (the fact that a male is the main character should alert you that this is different from her other books). Razo, the funny, fiercely loyal companion from those books takes center stage in River Secrets. Razo is awesome (and Hale says he is her favorite character. It sounds like that's been true since he first cropped up in her writing). I didn't realize that he was so great until this book, though, because his other appearances have been relatively minor. He has a killer sense of humor, he's frank with his insecurities, and he reminds me so much of one of my brother it's almost scary. This brother misses the obvious sometimes, but he more than makes up for that in his amazing abilities to connect with people, to remember people's names, to care about them, to make people laugh and feel at ease. Just like my brother, Razo does all of those things. Since this brother is serving a mission in Mexico right now and I only get an email from him once a week, I miss him a lot. Reading this book was like reviewing all of my favorite things about my brother. It was fabulous.
Razo is short for his age, gets beat up by his older brothers, is mocked by other soldiers because he isn't good a sword play or grappling or looking imposing—all the things soldiers are supposed to be good at. It turns out he does have some amazing skills though…he just needed a chance to discover them. In the meantime, Razo is racing the clock to discover who is burning bodies in an attempt to incite a war between two countries. Hale manages to pull in some the elements of modern (real) life: people who feel so strongly about their beliefs they are willing to hurt others to make a point. That kind of anger, the kind where you are willing to break the law when it isn't on your side, the kind where you are willing to hurt the people who think differently than you just because they think differently, is scary. It's scary because it's unpredictable. It's unpredictable because those people see themselves as above the rules. They decide what is right and wrong and punish their opponents accordingly—not by the schoolyard rules of challenging you to your face, telling you to meet in the parking lot after school, but sneaky, run in an murder
someone in a crowded street while screaming propaganda kind of rules. There's a little romance thrown in too. Would it be a Shannon Hale novel without that? (you'll have to ask her. As a sort of related aside, she does have this great blog, where she reveals how trying it is to be a writer, and tells you real life things about herself. Check it out.)

The other book I read this weekend is The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison. It would be more appropriately titled, The Prince and the Hound. But I guess they were trying to secure female readers, while precluding a lot of guys with the girly title and the girly picture on the front cover. (guys, you could probably enjoy this too. Don't let the cover and the title fool you). It's a pseudo retelling of a famous fairy tale. If the back cover hadn't told me that, I wouldn't have recognized it (well, maybe I would have, but seriously! Why give away something like that when it's cooler for the reader to figure it out themselves????!!!!) Don't read the back
cover or a summary and instead figure it out for yourself. Anyway, it's a fantasy novel. The main character is a prince. In fact, the princess doesn't get all that much time in the book, that's the NEXT book. (Thank you Stephanie Meyer for reviving what Orson Scott Card started when he wrote Ender's Game from another character's perspective. Now, I guess it's The Thing to do.) Like I said, it's a book guys could enjoy because it's not all princessy. Actually, the princess is sort of an odd girl anyway, so she's not frilly and girly at all. But I digress. The prince has animal magic, something that people in his country highly prejudiced against (so much so that they
burn people at the stake for it). So he keeps it hidden. He's bound and contained by the duties of being a prince and the fear that his gift will be discovered. When he consents to marry the princess from a neighboring enemy country, he's doing it out of duty. But he meets her and is smitten. Now, don't expect a goopy, lovey, chic flick romance kind of story. True, it's a romance, but it's not following the traditional pattern (except that there are two people who you want to be in love). The characters are emotionally scarred so they approach love a lot differently than traditional fairy tale romances. And they are both preoccupied by other pressing matters—like running countries and the horrors of prejudice against people who are different. It was a pleasure to read, but not in a comfortable, predictable way.--Lu


the penrods said...

It's Anna (again). I read Goose Girl and Enna Burning and love them. This morning I started River Secrets. I had some doubts it wouldn't be as good as the others, so I'm glad to see you thought it was good.

Amber said...

Ohh I liked that book too. I will have to have a looksy at her site. Thanks for sharing.