Hiromi Goto’s Half World is a story about a 14-year-old girl whose mother escaped a purgatorial land where everyone was doomed to repeat all their mistakes because something had gone wrong. Melanie grew up in our world, but when her (now alcoholic) mother disappears she finds her way into the half world to rescue her.
Half World is full of great images, like the bridge of crows and Mr. Glueskin, but I feel like the writing just needed a kick more something to bring it up to the likes of Neverwhere or Un Lun Dun. It felt like the everyday words and sentences were letting the greatness of the story (and Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations) down.
Luka and the Fire of Life is Salman Rushdie’s sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a book I will forever love. Maybe it’s just the glasses of nostalgia looking back at Haroun, giving it more depth than there actually was, but Luka fell a little flat.
There’s still a lot of great language-play going on, and Rushdie is doing his old-school storytelling thing here, which is great. The world of magic that was supposed to be so rich with all the things implied about its vast history was actually rather small and curtailed.
Rushdie also used a video-game device of having extra lives and save points that I understand were an attempt to modernize the tale, to differentiate it from the pre-digital age Haroun, but it felt tacked on and misunderstood and a poor fit for the old-school storytelling on display. In Scott Pilgrim coins popping out of people after he defeats them in a fight works, here the grabbing of hundreds of extra lives at a time seemed to misunderstand the logic behind videogames entirely. I may have complained about Ready Player One being a bit too nerd-pandering, but this is what that feels like when done badly I think.
They also did the whole skipping a bunch of levels in the quest thing, which I’ve seen done more cleverly in Un Lun Dun (and possibly a Neil Gaiman story or two?).
But that’s what I didn’t like and the rest of the book was pretty good. I already mentioned the exuberant language. I loved the Insultana of Over The Top (and could have used more examples of her insults before they soften a bit towards Luka). The use of so many different deities cross-pollinating the World of Magic was great, and Luka’s big speech near the end was wonderful.
Overall I liked the book, but I’d recommend Haroun and the Sea of Stories much more highly.
Un Lun Dun is China Mieville’s book for younger readers. There’s less horriffic imagery than in the New Crobuzon books and the language is much cleaned up. I brought it in for Teen Book Club but no one took it home that day. Le sigh.
The story is about two girls in London who get summoned to the magickal abcity UnLondon (and yes the idea is similar to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere) because the one girl is the Chosen One, destined to help UnLondon fight off this terrible menace threatening blah blah blah. So things go on and along and there are untrustworthy ghost-boys and conductors of air-buses and binjas and everyone avoids the horrible flesh-eating giraffes. Great. Then, the girls find the professor who’ll make everything right again and they get to go home to London. Hooray! Everything’s wrapped up in a nice neat little package.
But we’re only a third of the way into the book.
Deeba, who was not the Chosen One, remembers UnLondon but Zanna (the Chosen One) has had her memories of the place removed because she was injured by the beast down there. The UnChosen One starts realizing that they’d actually fucked up majorly and has to find a way back to UnLondon to put things right. This is where it got awesome, because Deeba heads down without the prophecy backing her up. There are 7 steps the Chosen One was supposed to follow to find the weapon that would deal with blah blah blah but she says “We don’t have time to get each of these 7 things let’s just hit the last one; it’ll be the most important right?” Which is the kind of thing you’d expect someone real to do, someone not bound by “how things work in these kinds of stories.” I loved it.
So yes, Un Lun Dun. Good stuff.