Thursday, March 19, 2009

Island Of The Blue Dolphins Meets The Admirable Crichton

Nation by Terry Pratchett is set in an alternative nineteenth century world where an enormous wave washes away all the residents of an island except for a young boy, Mau, who had been about to pass his manhood ritual. He is now alone. Until, that is, he finds Ermintrude (who, quite understandably, decides to rename herself Daphne). She is a young member of the British royal family who is washed onto Mau's island home, the only survivor of a ship that was destroyed by that same wave. Daphne brings with her orderly so-called civilization. She is well-mannered and ladylike, as one would expect from someone of her station, but she also has a trained, scientific mind. She is familiar with both Darwin and Agassiz.

Mau's tremendous loss triggers a crisis of faith. You could say that Daphne helps him find another belief system.

This is a novel about the place of religious belief, something I don't think I've seen a lot of in YA fiction. (That might be what His Dark Materials is about, but I couldn't understand the second two books in the trilogy.) Occasionally Mau's spiritual quest got a little deep for me, too, but the humor and terrific characters got me past those points.

For a while I was concerned that this was going to be a rant against evil Europeans destroying other societies. Not that there isn't plenty of historic precedent for that, but it is a subject that has been done before. Pratchett, however, goes in another direction.

Nation is one of this year's Printz Honor Books

Today's Training Report: I fell behind on the 365 Story Project so I could immerse myself in the never-ending story. So today I tried to bring myself back up to speed with that by trying to track a character I want to do something with soon. I also made a hard copy of the draft I finished yesterday. I always edit a hard copy. I'll leave that for next week because drafts should sit like stews and sauces.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 05, 2008

And This, My Little Lads, Is How You Handle Stereotype. Or Archetype. Or Whatever Those Types Are.

One night at dinner I described Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett to a couple of family members.

"This girl wants to find her brother who had enlisted in the army so she disguises herself as a guy and enlists, too," I began.

A family member said, "That's been done."

"There's this really tough sergeant," I went on.

"That, too," he said.

"And an officer who doesn't know what he's doing."

"And that."

All of which is true. These are all elements that have been used in fiction before. It's what Pratchett does with them that's so terrific.

Monstrous Regiment is one of Pratchett's Discworld books, but you don't need much knowledge of that series to enjoy the book. (That's the difference between a series and a serial, my little lads.) I didn't totally understand the politics of the war that was being fought, but it didn't matter. What was going on in young Polly's regiment was engrossing enough that I didn't care about the bigger picture. Polly is in a regiment of brand new recruits, among them a troll, a domesticated vampire, and an Igor, which appears to be a zombie of some type. The zombies here are very adept at sewing and medicine, meaning they are a whizz at sewing body parts back on. They're even good at sewing on spare parts.

Are these "monsters" what make the regiment monstrous? Hmmm.

Polly's sergeant, Sergeant Jackrum, assures his recruits over and over that they are his little lads and he will take care of them. It appears that ol' Jackrum has been taking care of little lads for decades. Generations. This guy goes way past your run-of-the-mill screaming and spitting sergeant to become the stuff of myth and legend. At one point while I was reading the book, I wondered if he didn't have some kind of connection to hell. He should have been forced out of the army because of age long, long ago, but he's fought everywhere, knows everyone, and more than a few people owe him.

He is one incredible character, and Pratchett is always revealing something new about him.

Our lieutenant is as inept an officer as you could ever wish to find in a book, but he's saved from becoming a one-dimensional stereotype by his flashes of compassion and technical knowledge. Of course, it's not military knowledge, but you have to give a little respect to a man who knows anything at all and isn't afraid to put on a dress.

Except for the trolls, domesticated vampires, Igors, and the occasional werewolf, Monstrous Regiment reminded me of the historical fiction I enjoyed as a teenager. I read an array of hissyfic (none of it of an improving nature) but what I really liked were books about long ago young women who had adventures. The American Revolution and Civil War were good periods for girl adventures, but nothing beat the Napoleonic Wars for a time period when a young woman could find herself stumbling onto battlefields, fighting off stray soldiers, or doing a little spying.

Monstrous Regiment seemed like a takeoff of the books I was reading years ago, with a far better heroine who has no interest in ending up with a guy, the way so many of the heroines in my old books did. Oh, no. Our Polly can do way better than that.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, July 02, 2007

Welcome To My Nightmare

I have to knock this off in a hurry because I have an evening class today. Let's see what kind of godawful editing error I can make and have to correct first thing tomorrow morning.

I finished The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, which I did like. Love them wee free men. But I did think that without the wee free men the book would be...kind of run-of-the-mill.

I'm a Reading Fool said in a comment that her reading group felt the last third of the book took a strange turn. I think what she might have meant is that at that point The Wee Free Men turns into one of those alternate world books with hidden doorways and people passing back and forth. Dreams and controlling dreams begin to figure prominently in the mix. It's sort of formula stuff.

Except for the wee free men.

I'm not a fan of the alternate world scenario. For one thing, I always get confused. For instance, in The Wee Free Men when Tiffany makes Granny turn up in a shepherdess outfit--what was that about? Granny didn't seem to do anything. And the doorways between worlds always seem a little mumbo jumboish to me.

But the wee free men saved the book for me.

I do have a question about the audience for the Tiffany Aching Adventures. In this first book, she's only nine years old. But, come on. She doesn't act nine by a long shot. Do nine-year-olds get this? Will teenagers read it when the main character is only nine years old?

I'll certainly continue reading, for the sake of those wee free men. But I do wonder how kids respond to these books.

Labels: ,