Reading Sequence for The Chronicles of Narnia

I have an edition of the complete Narnia series published in the last 20 years or so. Numbers on the spines of the books indicate the intended reading order. The sequence is the within-universe sequence of events. Uh, no. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is not number two in the Narnia series! It’s number one.

Below I set out the two most popular reading sequences, one being the order in which the books were originally published and the other being the within-universe order the publisher is pimping, followed by an alternative possibility. In all this I mean the best order in which to read the series for the first time. The books are wonderful singleton reads, in any order, once you’ve read the whole series at least once.

First, let’s dispense with a possible objection: The copyright page in my edition says that the within-universe sequence represents “the original wishes of the author, C. S. Lewis.” This is not really true, as shown below. But even if it were true, it would merely mean that Lewis had a rare lapse of judgment.

A. The Chronicles of Narnia ordered by publication date:

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2. Prince Caspian
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
4. The Silver Chair
5. The Horse and His Boy
6. The Magician’s Nephew
7. The Last Battle

(I think I’m being pretty self-controlled in resisting the temptation to put an Oxford comma after “Witch” in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (Pats self on back.))

B. Ordered by the within-universe sequence of events:

1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy
4. Prince Caspian
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle

C. Ordered by within-universe sequence except for The Magician’s Nephew:

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2. The Horse and His Boy
3. Prince Caspian
4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
5. The Silver Chair
6. The Magician’s Nephew
7. The Last Battle

Sequence C is simply the publication order, except that The Horse and His Boy is moved from number 5 to number 2. Equivalently, it’s the within-universe order, except that The Magician’s Nephew is moved from position 1 to position 6.

Why should The Magician’s Nephew be in position 6, the next-to-last place? Because this works in terms of narrative structure. It is best to show us Narnia – the stories of Narnia – first. Drop us into an adventure in a strange magical land. Let us encounter fauns, minotaurs, murderous witches, and divine lions. Give us terrible perils, thrilling escapes, and exhilarating bravery. We don’t need a creation sequence distracting us from all this. That way the stories – books 1 through 5 above – are about the stories, not about a creation myth. I’m not dismissing The Magician’s Nephew, and I’m not dismissing creation myths. A creation myth is fine (and of course it’s also a story of a particular kind), but we don’t need that at first.

After we’ve been through several adventures in this land, show us the creation of the land. This doesn’t just avoid distracting us from the adventures: It also works better because after we’ve been through many adventures in Narnia we care about its creation. The creation of a land we’ve never visited before doesn’t have any emotional impact on us. We have no knowledge of it or emotional link to it. In short, we don’t care. You could write a good creation story under those circumstances, but the author would have to write it with the understanding that one thing he has to do is make us care as we read of the creation. In contrast, when Lewis wrote the final draft of The Magician’s Nephew he knew his readers already cared about this land, its creatures, its conflicts, its god.

The Magician’s Nephew is a good story anyway, and a good Narnia entry point, and I’m sure that people who read it first enjoy it. But I’ll bet they enjoy it, and the rest of the series, even more if they read it in position number 6.

So first show us the stories of Narnia, then, when we are emotionally invested in it, show us the origin of Narnia. Last, of course, show us the end of Narnia, the Balancing and Closing of Accounts and the Last One to Leave Turning Off the Lights.

Also:

At one point in The Magician’s Nephew, [SPOILER WARNING HERE] Jadis throws a piece of metal from a London lamppost at Aslan. It bounces off him harmlessly and into the soil of the still-being-created Narnia, and the metal grows into a lamppost before our eyes. This is because everything in Narnia is exploding with creation magic, so even a metal bar plunged into its soil bursts into life. (God, I love that. How did Lewis come up with that wonderful idea?!) And at this moment you get the wonderful shock of recognition of knowing that this is the lamppost. This is it, this is how it started, you think. All along there was a reason that lamppost was there in the middle of the Narnian woods.

Thus you have the pleasure of experiencing it both ways: When you read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe you have the pleasure of coming upon a mysterious lamppost in the middle of a woods, seemingly without any reason other than its own purely magical reason. It has its own raison d’etre, which it feels no need to tell you about. Why shouldn’t I be here, any more than any other thing, like a tree? it asks you. Do the trees feel the need to explain their existence to you? Later, when you read The Magician’s Nephew, you get the shock of knowing that there was a reason in terms of cause and effect that the lamppost was there. The cause and effect are magical, but comprehensible, given the premise of universe-creating magic.

The original publication order is also consistent with all this, and indeed, that order has something to recommend it: If we read The Horse and His Boy late in the sequence, we experience the pleasure of plunging into the myths of the world of Narnia after we are familiar with Narnia. That is, The Horse and His Boy not only goes backward in time from The Silver Chair, it also has the character of myth to an extent. This is buttressed by a reference to it as a (true) story in The Silver Chair, according to the interwebs, though I can’t find the references in my copy of Chair at the moment. This also could constitute a welcome pause before we get deep, into profound and sometimes uncomfortable moral conflicts, in The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle.

There is another reason it might be best to read them in the publication order. If we read The Horse and His Boy between Witch and Caspian, we break up the sequencing of the English children. In particular, we break up the adventures of the four Pevensies in Narnia, in which they are central viewpoint characters. The viewpoint character of The Horse and His Boy isn’t a Pevensie or even anyone from England; it’s Shasta. The Pevensies only appear in supporting roles. And more broadly, we break up the four stories (Witch, Caspian, Treader, and Chair) in which English children go into Narnia; Edmund and Lucy Pevensie bringing Eustace along in Treader and then Eustace bringing Jill along in Chair. After those four viewpoint-continuous stories are complete, then we get into the Calormor/Archenland story in Horse, and then it’s off to the beginning and ending of Narnia in Magician and Battle.

Steven D. Greydanus, an advocate of reading them in publication order, also makes that point, and others.

He also shows that the notion that Lewis wanted the books read in the within-universe sequence is very thinly founded on one letter he wrote to a reader, in which Lewis says, “I think I agree with your order for reading the books,” meaning in within-universe order. However, Lewis also says in that letter, “So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read[s] them.” Plainly the author did not have a definite preference!

Greydanus also gives more thorough reasons to read Wardrobe before Magician. Essentially,

Reversing the order of these two books gives us the answers first and the questions second. By answering questions we weren’t asking, and then posing riddles we know the answers to, Magician’s Nephew loses much of its revelatory force and The Lion much of its mystery.

 
So read them in publication order or in order C above. In either case, there are good reasons for reading The Magician’s Nephew next to last.

Dave Barry on Fatherhood

Recently my wife and kids got back from some sort of show. Wife’s summary: “Good, but I should have brought the girl’s glasses.”

My reaction (in my head): “My daughter has glasses?”

Thus illustrating Dave Barry’s observation:

A woman knows everything about her children. She knows about dental appointments and football games and best friends and favorite foods and romances and secret fears and hopes and dreams.
A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house.

 
When my son heard that when he was around 10 he laughed and went, “That’s so true!” Jeez, I’m not that bad!

A la mode: At a picnic with some folks from work, I heard a colleague of mine turn to his wife and ask, about his daughters, “Do they have any allergies?”

LOL.

Seduction for Girls, Part 2

In Seduction for Girls Part 1, I implicitly assumed that the man who was the target of your attentions was only a casual acquaintance. There is a different process if he is a friend and you’re hoping for the two of you to become lovers. (Sheesh, “lovers” sounds so formal. I mean, [Austin Powers] If you want him to shag you baby, yeah baby! [/Austin Powers]) Note to men reading this: Yes, it does happen. The “friend zone” is hard to escape, but it’s not impossible.

The process for bagging a guy you’re already friends with is:

Isolate and dial up the sexual tension.

First, it’s good to lay the groundwork for a day or three beforehand with light flirting to start getting him in the right head space.

The next step is to get him back to your place on some suitable pretext. The setting should be conducive to what you have in mind. Earlier, you should have arranged for your roommates, if you have any, to be gone. Make sure the lighting is soft, not harsh. Etc.

When you two are alone, do a couple of things that are plausibly but not overtly amorous, that is, about getting the two of you to fool around. E.g., touch his chest and say “That shirt looks really good on you.” That sort of thing. You should start things in a relatively low-key way so he has time to make the mental adjustment to “Wow, we may be having sex tonight.” If you jam your tongue down his throat with no warning, it’s too abrupt. Even men need some time to get into the right emotional state.

As I wrote in Part 1, one thing you want to do at the outset is “make him wonder if you are trying to seduce him… It’s good to get him thinking about it early on; that way it won’t seem weirdly abrupt when you get more overt later.” Also, it will get him thinking about how he might make a move later. That way both of you are thinking about it. We call this “cooperative game theory.” Well, nerdlingers call it that. Normals call it “getting everybody ready.”

After the plausibly but not overtly amorous stage, you gradually get more overt. For example, you take out a coffee table book (or whatever) and look at it with him on the couch, cuddling up to him as the two of you page through it. At some point, if he happens to look at you, return eye contact. A little smile is good here, otherwise you might look like a homeless psycho trying to stare him down on a street corner. Weirdly enough, this doesn’t turn most men on. A woman also can give a man a very sexy look without smiling, but this is an undefinable thing which I can’t explain. It helps if your eye level is a little below his eye level and you’re looking up at him. That reinforces one aspect of the eternal male-female physical differences, that women are smaller. (For obvious reasons, anything that emphasizes male-female differences is very good.)

There’s a significant chance that he’ll go for it right then and there. In fact he almost certainly will if (1) he likes you, (2) he is reasonably experienced, and (3) you have allowed enough gradual heating up before this point.

But if he doesn’t, the game is still very much on.

Try running your fingers through his hair while saying something like, “Wow, you have really touchable hair” or something like that. (You don’t have to say anything clever; this isn’t about witty dialogue. It’s about communicating “Fuck me, stud.”) Or invite him to run his fingers through your hair. “I’m using this new shampoo; do you think it makes my hair more touchable?” Don’t worry about him busting you – why would he? – and anyway you could just say, “Oh, right, I was planning on getting the new shampoo, but I haven’t done it yet.”

As with the wine thing in Part 1, it’s totally unnecessary to actually be using a new shampoo. You don’t care, and neither does he, babe. In any case you can use a variant; “I’m thinking about using a new shampoo, do you think the one I’m using now makes my hair touchable?”

Or try, “Do you like the way my perfume smells?” This is a flagrant invitation for him to lean in so he can catch your scent. If his face is nuzzling your neck or buried in your hair, you ARE about to get laid if (1) and (2) above are true.

NOTE: Obviously neither of you gives a damn whether you’re actually wearing any perfume. If you’re not, don’t worry; he’s not going to call you out on it. (And if he does, you can just laugh and say “Oh right; I forgot to put it on.”) He can’t think at this point anyway, since all the blood has drained out of his brain and into, er, other parts. I.e., he should be getting hard for you by this point. If he’s not, then either he’s just not into you or there was too much alcohol before this.

Which reminds me: I’d avoid alcohol in this situation. The problem is not that alcohol’s effects are always bad; the problem is that they’re unpredictable. One glass of wine for each of you at a maximum. But really, it’s better to avoid it.

(The reason the wine came up in Part 1 is that my example scenario where the process got started was a party or similar social gathering.)

Summary of the more overt stage: The important thing is that you are coming up with reasons for the two of you to move closer and to touch each other. If you’re old enough to be reading this, you’re old enough to think of other ways to suggest this.

If he doesn’t get the point after two hints like the “running your fingers through each other’s hair” hint and the perfume hint, give up. I’m sorry, honey, but you’re not getting laid tonight.

Some girls might just give it one hint, but it’s generally better to be patient. Remember, you didn’t give him an engraved invitation saying, “Please come over to my place and have sex with me tonight.” You said something like, “Wanna come over and look at the paintings I’ve done for this cool art class I’m taking?” Or whatever. To him, this is an unfolding situation; he’s not sure what you have in mind. Also, the younger and less experienced he is, the more important it is for you to allow him two chances. On the other hand, if he’s like 25 and doesn’t go for it after one blatant hint like the run-your-fingers-through-my-hair hint, I’d toss him over the side, unless you really like him a lot. But there’s no rule about this; a lot of it is up to your individual judgment and desires.

But if you do feel you have to give up, well, I’m sorry. Things don’t always work out. Now it’s time to fake yawn and say something like, “Whelp, I’m tired, so I guess I’d better go to sleep. Do you remember where you parked your car?” (Don’t say you’re going to bed; say you’re going to sleep.) To make sure he gets that this isn’t flirting, move away from him and avoid eye contact when you say it. (Notice that, not coincidentally, this is the opposite of what you do when you’re trying to heat things up.) If he doesn’t pick up on the blatant hint about where he parked his car, try hitting him over the head with a two-by-four and saying, “You. Have. To. Go. Now.”

But the good news is, if he’s attracted to you, all the above will work with high probability.

Got all that? Good. You’re welcome.

Here’s to many nights of sweaty sheets!

Vive la différence!

Here’s another kind review of The War of the First Day!

From Ankita at Mojito With a Twist.

Some quotes:

Lilta, the protagonist, is the apprentice of a very powerful and dangerous witch, Apandra…. King Brath made a rash decision of ordering his soldiers to destroy the witchland and he paid for his mistake by losing his life by the hands of Lilta. She does not like taking lives but she cannot deny her mistress of anything she asks of her.

Now, the surviving witches are under a constant threat from an unknown witch who might be conspiring to kill them all.

The author has definitely put a spell on the pages of this book since I was drawn to it by an unknown force.

I could not stop thinking about the war of the witches, the riddles that were present, the suspense, and the commotion. How Lilta became an apprentice to Apandra is the most horrifying and yet addictive part of the story.

Another thing that I loved about the book is the authentic manner in which the author has written it. It’s one thing to just tell a story, it’s another thing to plant the seeds of conviction here and there to convince the readers that there is really a place like this and there is definitely magic in that place… I was fascinated by the mention of encrypted languages and theorems among other things. There are many mental treats waiting for you…

Although there are many characters in the book, my favorite one is Lilta. She is not afraid of speaking her mind even in front of a danger… The author has given every one of his characters a diverse personality and power. No one witch is similar to another.

Needless to say, I loved the book from the bottom of my heart. It’s definitely an edge-of-the-seat kind of story. If you are a fan of being truly immersed in another world, then the witchland awaits you in The War of The First Day.

Robert Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer

Robert Heinlein’s The Door into Summer is a time travel SF novel published in 1957.

Syd Logsdon’s recent blog post at A Writing Life got me thinking about it again. One of the stand-out aspects of this novel is the time-travel physics, which is the best thought-out in SF that I can think of. It actually explains why, in a universe with time travel, people are not constantly inundated with throngs of tourists from the future.

But a precis first: The story starts in the future (from the point of view of 1957). The narrator and main character, Dan Davis, is an inventor. In this future society, time travel has not been discovered yet, but suspended animation is well-established, and people can take one-way trips into the future via this method.

Davis and his business partner fall in with a con artist named Belle. She’s vile, but I don’t have space to exposit the details of her perfidy. Long story short, she tricks Davis out of his share of the business, drugs him, and has him involuntarily put into cold sleep for a couple of decades.

There is another element here, a young girl called “Ricky” who doesn’t have much of a responsible adult in her life other than Davis, though they’re not related.

Davis wakes up thirty years in his future and is desperate to go back in time to take care of this child, but of course that’s impossible. Or is it?

Turns out a brilliant physicist has, in fact, proven that “temporal displacement” is possible, and has constructed equipment to move objects through time. The military has classified it and he’s not allowed to talk about it, but it does work, and Davis finds out about it. But there’s a catch. Oh my goodness, there’s a hell of a catch:

Time displacement is subject to quantum indeterminacy. You can decide on the length of your trip… but you can’t control whether you’ll go forward or backward! Want to set the dial for 50 years? Okay! Have fun in 2067… or maybe 1967.

Oh, sweet damn, that’s good. Ponder what Heinlein did here:

First, this is broadly consistent with the way the universe works on the quantum scale. I don’t mean that Heinlein learned quantum physics and worked it all out; I just mean that many quantum-level events have this kind of randomness to them. A given particle has a 50% chance of decaying or not in a certain span of time (its half-life), another particle, moving through a certain experimental apparatus, has a 50% chance of going thisaway and a 50% chance of going thataway, etc., etc. It’s so plausible, at some level, that I feel myself half believing it.

Second, as noted above, it actually explains why people in the fictional universe aren’t constantly inundated with hordes of time tourists. Who’d take this risk?

Third, this time travel physics has excellent dramatic possibilities: If you’re desperate, if you need to go back in time, you could just risk it. Just bite the bullet, push the button, and hope you go in the right direction.

[SPOILER WARNING!]

Davis does this, and gets lucky: He gets back into the past. There are some great scenes in which he watches himself get drugged by Belle, etc. At any rate, he gets to solve all his problems and save the girl (and his cat – this is Heinlein after, all). The story is good – I’ve stripped off most of the dramatic turns and emotional hooks for brevity, but I recommend it as entertainment. And I’ve always loved what Heinlein did with the physics.

And there was one cool little moment that popped up in the comments at Logsdon’s site, linked to above:

Davis is talking with the physicist, Twitchell, who had a younger colleague who wanted to chance it. Twitchell recounts to Davis that he demurred at first, but the colleague was insistent, and eventually Twitchell gave in. An adventurous sort, the colleague wasn’t content to take a journey of a few hours; he wanted to be displaced several centuries. So Twitchell sent him on his merry way. Which direction did he go? There’s no way to know. Or is there?

The subject’s name was Leonard Vincent. As he recalls this story, Twitchell says to Davis, “I’ve sometimes thought… no, just a chance similarity in names.”

Davis narrates, “I didn’t ask what he meant by this because I suddenly saw the similarity, too, and my hair stood on end.”

And I just got goose bumps as I recalled this scene, even though I know it’s fictional!

If you don’t catch the reference, think about it, or check out the comments at Logsdon’s site.

Where Have the Guitar Gods Gone?

Inspired by this Washington Post story, blogger Pam Mandel weighs in:

Guitar sales have dropped by a third over the past decade… Maybe it’s because we don’t have guitar gods anymore. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, that sound is — well — it’s old. And the new crop of stars don’t inspire the pursuit of guitar god status the way someone like Carlos Santana did…

Yeah, I miss the era of the guitar god too, Mandel. But seriously, no mention of Eddie Van Halen? Come on.

She continues:

Sir Paul McCartney has a similar take on the decline in the guitar’s popularity.

———————— BEGIN QUOTE FROM WAPO ARTICLE.
“The electric guitar was new and fascinatingly exciting in a period before Jimi and immediately after,” the former Beatle says wistfully in a recent interview. “So you got loads of great players emulating guys like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, and you had a few generations there.”

He pauses.

“Now, it’s more electronic music and kids listen differently,” McCartney says. “They don’t have guitar heroes like you and I did.”
———————— END QUOTE FROM WAPO ARTICLE.

Something Edgers doesn’t address in his article? Uke sales have doubled in the same period in which guitar sales have declined… And the forgiving little axe serves well as a stepping stone to the guitar. The next generation of wanna-be guitar gods could well be out there; they’re just taking a different route to blazing, finger-blistering stardom.

I must object that the ukulele just doesn’t have the sheer attitude of the guitar. But maybe the uke is a gateway drug to the axe; that gives hope. And when the guys get older and they realize how much cooler they look slinging a guitar than playing any other instrument, it will pick up. (News flash: 16-year-old boys like to do things that help them get attention from girls.)

And the WaPo article has some more optimistic thoughts later on:

———————— BEGIN QUOTE FROM WAPO ARTICLE.
Paul Reed Smith, the Maryland-based guitar designer, says the industry is just now recovering from the recession that struck in 2009. He points to PRS’s sustained revenue — the company says they’re between $42 million and $45 million a year — and an increased demand for guitars.

“This is a very complicated mix of economy versus market, demand versus what products are they putting out…” Smith says. “But I’ll tell you this: You put a magic guitar in a case and ship it to a dealer, it will sell.”

Then there’s Henry Juszkiewicz, the biggest and most controversial of the music instrument moguls. When he and a partner bought Gibson in 1986, for just $5 million, the onetime giant was dying.

“It was a failed company that had an iconic name, but it really was on its last legs,” Ash says. “[Juszkiewicz] completely revived the Gibson line.”
———————— END QUOTE FROM WAPO ARTICLE.

Not all is lost!

The acoustic guitar is light and requires no amplifiers or other powered equipment. It’s easy to learn the basic idea of playing it and it’s very versatile. In its electric version it looks damn cool; see foregoing remark about 16-year-old boys. It’s basically the workhorse of popular music in the western world, and for good reason. Thus the quote above, “You put a magic guitar in a case and ship it to a dealer, it will sell.” So yes, the era of the Guitar God is probably over for good – that era involved technical innovations that were surprising and wickedly cool when they were new, but are now standard technique. But the guitar as an instrument in western music is not going to disappear.

A Miracle in One Hundred Years of Solitude

Was just flipping through the first chapter of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. At one point, the protagonist tries to convince his wife to travel with him by regaling her with tales that traveling gypsies have told him, e.g., of a magical liquid such that you only have to sprinkle it on the ground and fruit-bearing plants will grow.

That sounds miraculous.

And it is miraculous. And it’s true over most of planet Earth’s land surface, and the magic liquid is water.

This isn’t taking a cheap shot at a foolish character. It’s a neat way of looking at things, and Marquez perhaps did this on purpose (though it’s hard to be sure).When you phrase it that way – a magical liquid such that you only have to sprinkle it on the ground and fruit-bearing plants will grow – it sounds magical, and awesome, and a miraculous promise of immense bounty. Then you frame-shift, and you realize that is the situation! It is magical, awesome, and miraculous, and we are given immense bounty! Wheat, strawberries, watermelon, potatoes, blueberries, apples, oranges… and on and on and on and on…

What a wonderful thing Marquez does here: He makes the reader see things in a new way, a way that makes us stop taking something important for granted, to stop failing to see the miracle, and makes us appreciate the gift it is.

We live in an exotic magical world in which there’s a supply of a magic liquid – so plentiful that it falls from the sky, it literally falls from the sky! – such that you need but sprinkle it on the ground and edible plants will grow!

Review of The Forever War

The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting SF book that takes relativistic time dilation seriously, instead of trying to get around it with “hyperspace,” “subspace”, “N-space,” etc. While there are wormholes in the fictional physics, they only exist in collapsars, so are not a general way around Einsteinian physics. The time dilation effect is used well because it allows the narrator to encounter a series of increasingly alien Earth cultures, as the people back home change much faster than he ages.

View all my reviews

Review of The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook (The Checquy Files, #1)The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dear you,
The body you are wearing used to be mine.

So begins The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. The best things about this book are that it gets off to a good start, the setting is great (lots of interesting supernatural threats), and the amnesia plot line is handled well.

Amnesia plots have been done before, of course, so what matters in this day and age is how such a plot is executed. O’Malley executes it well, IMHO. One reason is that he handles the pacing well. That first sentence rockets you off on the journey. The second reason is that due to magical prophecies, the original version of the heroine, Myfanwy Thomas, knew she was going to lose her memory before she actually lost it. This allows her to leave helpful notes for her new self, something I’ve never seen done before in an amnesia story. You might think these notes would make it too easy for the new Myfanwy to cope with her challenges, but it’s not so, principally because she is a member of a top-secret organization – the Checquy – that deals with a bewildering profusion of supernatural threats to the UK in particular and the world in general. Dragons, sentient mind-reading mold (yes, sentient mind-reading mold), teleporters, distributed hive minds, vampires (wheat-market-manipulating and non-wheat-market-manipulating), future-foretelling ducks, etc.

A few reviewers have objected to “infodumps” that the original Myfanwy has left in the form of those explanatory notes for her future self. These notes didn’t bug me in the least, and I never had a feeling of being subjected to infodumps. In fact, it didn’t occur to me to notice any “infodumps” until I skimmed a couple of other people’s reviews after I’d finished the novel. What they really are is clues in a murder mystery.

Some minor deficiencies:

An American character who works for the U.S. analogue of the Checquy is introduced around Ch 15. She has no essential role in the story and I wonder, in retrospect, why she was included.

Also around Ch 15, the style decays suddenly and mysteriously. Dialogue suddenly becomes clunky, though this has not happened noticeably before that point. E.g., dialogue might contain unnecessary and/or silly attributions. Here’s a (made-up) example:

“I’ll hate you forever!” Jane said angrily.

The “angrily” is redundant, of course. This could simply be,

“I’ll hate you forever!” Jane shouted.

Or even just

“I’ll hate you forever!”

if it’s clear from context who’s speaking.

The verb “snapped” is also used profligately. This is an over-used verb in modern dialogue. People don’t actually snap at each other that often, and generally when they do in fiction, the words themselves, perhaps with an accompanying exclamation point, can usually convey the snapping without the author having to belabor the point. E.g.,

“Don’t touch my coffee cup!”

No “he snapped” is necessary.

Speaking of dialogue, commas that are usually present in English-language fiction are absent in much of this book. E.g., consider

“Call the police,” Jane said.

The comma just after “police” is standard in English-language dialogue. But it is absent in many lines of dialogue in Rook. So we get

“Call the police” Jane said.

which is jarring to the reader’s eye. Is this an error by an inexperienced copy-editor, or is the publisher trying to save money on ink by eliminating commas?

But overall, The Rook is a fun “summer read,” as people say, and I can recommend it on those grounds, though not on “this is a classic for the ages” grounds.

Miscellany:

There are a lot of characters, and they have a bedazzling array of supernatural abilities. It’s kind of like X-Men meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets The Bourne Identity. Page 123 (of the hardcover edition I read) has a list of all the people at the Court, which is the governing body of the Checquy. I referred to that list frequently after that point, and I suggest you bookmark it when you come to it for easy reference later.

I hope that in the sequel, which I am certainly going to read, the original Myfanwy Thomas is revived and melds with her new personality. Otherwise we have a murder that is not sufficiently avenged. After all, your memories, personality and skills, etc., are you. When those were destroyed, the original Myfanwy Thomas was killed. Not metaphorically killed, literally killed. (This novel is a murder mystery as well as lots of other things.) I want not only revenge, but the original murdered girl to be reanimated to do the avenging. Here’s hoping.

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Review of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles

After I posted a brief review of The French Lieutenant’s Woman at GoodReads, GoodReads created some html and suggested that I copy and paste it into my web site, so I’m trying it out. Let’s see what this mysterious html does, here goes:

The French Lieutenant's WomanThe French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A rather odd novel. It’s historical dramatic fiction set in the late 19th century in England, written with touches of 20th-century meta-fiction. It seems the author was unable to decide what it is, so it ends up being neither fish nor fowl.

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