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The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the LaneUnknown-1

by: Neil Gaiman

Harper/Collins New York, NY  2013

ISBN:978-0-06-225565-5

The latest novel from Neil Gaiman continues the theme of searching for identity common to MirrorMask, American Gods and many of his other works.  It has the same mythic scope and the ability to make us question the boundaries of our own reality.

The story is told in the first person and is written almost as a memoir.  The main character and narrator is back in his childhood haunting grounds “escaping” from a funeral.  He wanders back to an old friend’s farm and sits by the small pond she called her ocean.  The body of the story unfolds as he remembers back to his seventh year.

I was charmed by this book, even in its darker moments.  I too had a childhood landscape that was marked by pathways leading to “other” places and objects that appeared different than what I knew them to be.  The child in this story is led through the landscape by his new friend Lettie, who is eleven to his seven.  Lettie lives on the farm with her mother and grandmother where they have lived forever.  The farm is listed in the Domesday Book and occasionally Lettie makes a comment that leads the reader to wonder if forever isn’t literally descriptive.

Unlike American Gods, the mythology Gaiman draws upon isn’t laid out in neat pieces.  Unlike Mirror Mask it isn’t hidden away in the magic and mirrors of carnival entertainment.  These are the figures of the land and if you know the land, you know the stories.  Otherwise they are just those folks who’ve always been there, forever.  The things that become so familiar no one but the children ever look twice.

When we return in the tale to the day of the funeral the memories that have been reclaimed stay with our narrator, at least for a moment.  He recognizes the woman who greeted him, not as Lettie’s mother aged but rather as the Grandmother just as she always was.  He wonders if, when Lettie comes back to the farm, she will still be eleven.  It’s the question he asked her as a seven year old, not just how old was she but “How long have you been eleven?”

The dedication to this book is to Gaimen’s wife and performing artist Amanda Palmer.  The implication is that he wrote the book because she wanted to know something about his childhood.  Indeed Gaiman drew heavily on his childhood home and the country where he grew up.  He leave us to wonder how much of the mythic was a part of his childhood as well.  Especially since the main character is left with a scare where his heart was touched by the “other world” that would never quite heal over.

This too is mythic.  Those who wander into the realm of Fairy and who survive to find their way out often spend the rest of their lives searching for a means by which to return.  For Gaiman, clearly his means is in his writing.  Thankfully he seems willing to take some of the rest of us with him as he goes.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Fantasy, Memoir

 

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The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel – the seriesimages

by Michael Scott

The Alchemyst, The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer, The Warlock and The Enchantress all refer to the group of immortals who are engaged in the battle between the Elder Powers who either want to allow humanity their independence or to return and rule the Earth.  It is an amalgam of mythology and history inter-dimensionally and across time.  At its core the series explores the good within evil and the evil within good.  It is a treatise on what it really means to be a member of the human race.

I reviewed the first book, The Alchemyst, and said that I hoped the teenage twins grew up soon.  The entire series takes place over just a few short weeks so aging, at least for the teens, is not an option.  Luckily they are given dramatic and life-shifting experiences.  As they develop new skills they leave behind the teenage angst for life and death problems.  The writing improves as Scott worries less and less about making them seem “typical” American teens.

The character development of the teens remains slightly awkward.  For instance Sophie acquires knowledge of a number of current and obscure languages in a short time.  In one scene she is translating and in the next she doesn’t seem to understand what is being said around her.  Their shifting alliances and questioning of authority is both their weakness and their strength.

As I said in an earlier review, Michael Scott knows his mythology.  He has chosen his Gods and Immortals well.  These characters are not dependent on a readers knowledge.  They are well fleshed out, each with their own personalities and agendas.  It was never clear what happens when one of the Elder Powers is killed, if they really die forever, but there are certainly repercussions across the dimensions.

Even the mythological beasts are carefully chosen, both for their violence and perhaps for their obscurity.  Scott has his own take on vampires and the were clans, which has a historical basis.  He writes a pre-historical Atlantis and admits to an authors indulgence when he credits the Tuatha De Danann their origin there.

As his characters and eventually the story runs back and forth in time, Scott never addresses directly the typical science fiction time line paradox.  Apparently in this world everyone, including the Gods, believes that going back in time you can change the future.

Each one of the books in the series explores a little of the background of one of the Immortals involved with the teens.  The titles do not explicitly identify which immortal they refer to, but the stories make strong suggestions.  It’s a clever contrivance and yet another way to keep the reader engaged in the series.

I remained throughout more interested in the other characters than I was in the twins.  By the end I did want to know what happened to them both in their future and throughout history.  I got the answer directly about one of them, but had to make some guesses about the other.  The Flamels question their own righteousness in the end but they believe they truly did their best and they did it together.

I am not sorry I worked my way through the whole series.  They were enjoyable rainy day books.  Scott does have an occasional “lost story” published about some of the immortals that were not as well developed in this series.  Maybe on another rainy day I’ll pick them up.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Fantasy, Teen Fiction

 

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The Alchemyst

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas FlamelUnknown

by: Michael Scott

Delecort Press New York, NY  2007

ISBN:978-0-385-73357-1

This is the first in a long series of fictional books about the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.  Nicholas Flamel and his wife Perenelle are historical characters.   Nicholas Flamel was born in Paris in 1330 and the records show that he and his wife died in 1418.  He was an alchemist of note and his tomb was raided for his “secrets”.  The tomb was found empty.

Dr. John Dee is also a historical character.  He was the magician/advisor to Queen Elizabeth I.  He would have been familiar with Nicholas Flamel and probably had many of Flamel’s works in his extensive library.  In these novels Dee serves as the counterpoint to Flamel and they battle over whether or not to encourage the return of the Elder Race to power in the world.

The premise is that all of our myths and religions, all of mankind’s Deities had some initial source in reality.  The truth of the novels being that the world and humanity are much older than we ever imagined.  It is clear that Scott knows his mythology and he draws from a wide range of myths and legends to people his otherworldly characters.  I did have some question about how they line up on either Dee’s or Flamel’s side of the argument.

The story is framed as good against evil.  The prophecy that the story fulfills is a little more ambiguous.  I suspect my confusion about which Gods and Heros line up on who’s side indicates that the viewpoint of good vs evil is more truthfully Flamel’s interpretation of the best outcome vs Dee’s.

The story involves two teenage twins.  The reason this series didn’t take off the way Rick Riordan’s series or even the Harry Potter books is clearly because the primary point of view is not the teens’, but Flamel’s.  In fact the teens are not particularly well written.  I’m kind of hoping they grow into adults quickly in the series as I suspect that will make them more interesting.  This book also ended with a little too much undone to truly stand alone.

I am going to work my way through the rest of the series.  The premise intrigues me and I am contented with Flamel’s point of view rather than that of the teens.  I think the series has promise and I enjoy this kind of modern exploration of mythology.  I don’t know that you’ll get reviews of every book, but I will try to remember to write a review of the entire series when I finish.   This series is already written so I don’t have to wait for the next book.  My favorite kind!

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Fantasy, Teen Fiction

 

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