A Great and Terribel Beauty
I had been eying this book off for ages, and finally found the time to read it a few months ago – I know – I’m slack for not writing it up earlier, but what can I say!!!
Beside the fact the author shares my surname (no relation that I know of) I am a sucker for magic and mayhem, especially with a touch of the Gothic. Perhaps because I had been anticipating it so much, I found myself getting frustrated with the characters. At some points, all I wanted to do was slap the characters up the side of the head and tell them to wake up!!!
Gemma Doyle is as good as orphaned. Her mother dies under mysterious circumstances in India. Her father is almost comatose with grief and drugs. Her Grandmother and brother are less than sympathetic and pack her off to boarding school with strict instructions to behave in a ladylike manner. The school is dismal and, if possible, even less sympathetic than her family. Just about every character in the book has a secret to hide and an agenda of their own.
Gemma herself runs hot and cold. On one hand she sticks up for her room mate who is less than beautiful and therefore much put upon by the ‘in’ crowd led by Felicity. In the next breath she falls in with Felicity and follows her faithfully into many misadventures and eventually disaster.
Through it all runs a thread of mystery and past magic as Gemma suffers from sudden visions and follows her strange insights to explore the history of the burnt out shell of the school’s East Wing through her discovery of the diary of young Mary Dowd. Ancient magic is invoked. Old secrets are uncovered and secret cults exposed… all in the pursuit of happiness through beauty – which in the late 1800s, when the book is set, was all a young lady could aspire to.
I enjoyed the book to a point, but doubt that I will read any of the sequels.
The Black Book of Secrets
Ludlow Fitch is a strange character. He comes from the poorest of the poor. his mother and father even tried to sell his teeth for money to buy grog. His escape from Barton Gumbroot, the notorious tooth surgeon, and his parents to land in the small mountain locked village of Pagus Parvus is exciting and fast paced. His dealings with Joe Zabbidou are less action packed but no less strange. As Joe’s name suggests, he is not your run of the mill travelling pawn broker. He buys everything people bring to him; chamberpots, wooden legs, a moth eaten, slightly moldy stuffed cat… it is what goes on behind the pawn shop’s closed doors after dark that changes everything, the villagers’ attitudes to Joe and Ludlow, the lives of the villagers themselves and eventually the balance of power within the village.
Even then, the ending of the story is an eye opener and not at all what I expected. Really enjoyed this book and would recommend it.
An interesting idea, creatures who are part machine, part wild animal.
Nate Wildenstern does not quite belong in his family. He does not want to learn the family business and is not too enarmoured of the family tradition of inheriting through assassination, murder and mayhem. The Wildensterns hold an elevated position in Irish society, being the richest, most tyrannical and self absorbed of the ruling class. They spare little or no thought for the poor, often destroying the lives and livelihoods of their underlings. Nate is too soft hearted by his father’s standards, and an inconvenient stumbling block to his family when his older brother dies suddenly, leaving Nate as the heir to the family empire.
Nate also has a talent for and interest in engimals, a strange wild mix of animal and machine which all to often get caught up in the games and machinations of humans.
I enjoyed this book, but can’t say that I loved it. I found Nate’s ‘woe is me’ attitude wearing after a while. I know he is yet young, but he could have pulled himself together and actually paid attention to what was going on around him. For someone who initially seems quite intelligent, he seems patently blind to more than half of what is happening. Easy to say from the comfort of my armchair of course! The engimals are brilliant but could have been more central to the story, rather than just pets or tools. Perhaps their story will be further explored in the sequel.
I found it interesting that several stores seemed quite confused about which section to shelf the book in – Young Adult, or Children’s. I can understand the confusion, but would probably go more with Children’s as the political and social issues involved in the story are only briefly dealt with and not explored.
On the whole, enjoyable.