World building whimsy

The best part of getting lost in a world (be it through a book or a film) is that anything can happen. Certain storytellers have the ability to submerge their audience in world’s that can be very similar to ours or very, very different. It is not just that full characters are created or that the story line is well thought out and planned, it is that every aspect of the world is notably considered and taken into accordance within the story’s unfolding. A writer who is able to convey the mores of a culture which they’ve created or enhanced without shoving it down your throat via clunky exposition is a talented one indeed. This is most evident of series in that there is so much more time for customs to be laid out and histories to be relayed. Tolkien took up volumes with the detailed history of a whole land as did Paolini. Lewis built his world volume by volume which allowed for a slow expansion and understanding of the world in which Narnia existed. I think this is why The Magician’s Nephew has always been my favorite. This world building is something that I am noticing more and more as I tear through the Game of Thrones saga (I’m currently in book three) and also something I noticed recently while watching the latest installment of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films. I realize I may lose some of you there. What?! The Pirates movies are being thought of in the same breath as GoT?! Hear me out, lovelies.

When considering a fully realized world, we are able to recognize geography and history yes but there is something else that is also important. The rules of the reality of this alternate-verse are very important to establish so that the author knows what is and isn’t possible and so does the viewer/reader. Rules within a world establish these parameters so that characters experience events with logical outcomes, so that there is a reason when crazy events happen, and so on. What got me thinking about the importance of this was watching the latest (and hopefully last (although through my research I see it won’t be the last)) installment of the Pirates movies.

Over the course of the five films that make up this series there are many things that happen that in our reality would not be possible. From the very beginning of the first movie we are let known that curses and magic are real. This is evident even from the title: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Thus begins our education into this world. We are taken in to a time that existed (early to mid 1700’s) and a place that is real (the Caribbean) however the reality is altered from ours. Having Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) as our primary guide through the events of the first film, we learn as he does about the lives of pirates. To start, Turner is pretty landlocked in his life and does not know much about pirate culture. It is only once his love Elizabeth Swann (Kierra Knightly) is abducted by pirates does he get pulled in to the mysteries of the sea. We see with Will that curses are not to be trifled with and that they are indeed very real. Once out at sea, we learn that most of the terrifying tales told by sailors have some sort of basis in the sea’s reality. Monstrous creatures of lore like the Kraken do exist and the boogiemen of your dreams like Davy Jones are real and perfectly able to getcha! As we adventure along with Turner and Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) we almost become used to the fact that, yeah, of course they’re encountering monsters. Because of this I feel we almost become jaded in a sense through to the latest installment in which our leading lady Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is thrust into the mystical world that revolves around Jack Sparrow. There is a point when Carina finally sees something supernatural. She screams and runs out of the water and up the shore shouting that ghosts are real. An appropriate reaction, honestly.

This moment is what really got me paying attention to the world within these films. Because of this moment I realized how prevalent these mystical adventures are in the lives of our leading men and I realized something else too: they all take place far out at sea. We are along for the ride with these men seeing pirate royalty convene for a summit; witnessing undead men, monkeys, and sharks; boarding ships that have been sunk for hundreds of years. These things are very real in this world however there is a whole population who is unawares of their existence. This is a part of the rules of this world. Creatures whose presence cannot be explained shock those who are not used to them (which is again, appropriate). Even when a character becomes used to these things and is part of the pirate life there are still instances where one of them will see something and have wtf moment.

Pirates image

Another saga that I am currently immersed in is that of A Song of Ice and Fire. With five books published and seven total promised, George R. R. Martin has created a whole universe with its own precedence and standards. The history of Westeros and the surrounding lands extends for thousands of years and with one continent and many island countries, the make up of these lands is vast. In fact, there is so much history to cover that in addition to the primary novels that make up the saga ASoIaF, there are also several novellas that give us further knowledge of different times within this world that we come to know so well. Because there are many houses and each of them have their own pasts (in  addition to a global history of wars and times of peace) there is an endless amount of possibilities for characters we already know and for those whom we have not met. But again, it is not the characters that make the rules of the world.

Much like our world and that of the world in Pirates, there are laws of reality that must be followed. Due to the fact that there are many different cultures that we are encountering, there are several different realms in which people exist. Those who live in the far North have very different lives than those who live in the far South and very different again from those who are Dothraki or Lyseni. While there are many different realms there still is only one reality within which everyone operates. It is established within the prologue of the very first book that otherworldly magic exists but is not wholly understood by persons at large.

Something interesting that Martin has done in this land is to establish that there are old gods, ancient myths that revolve around the First Men; new gods, known as the seven; and a Lord of Light, who is very mysterious [and seems somewhat cultish]. I find this compelling as it is a small similarity to our own world in which many different religions and schools of thought exist. Because of this, we are able to see very quickly that the many different regions of this land operate under different beliefs. Most often the new gods are mentioned. Those who worship in this manner visit the Sept to pray to one god who is represented by seven faces seen as the Mother, Maiden, Warrior, Father, Crone, Stranger, and Smith. Each of these are prayed to for different reasons: to keep a son safe in battle, to keep a woman safe during childbirth, etc. Then there are the old gods, worshiped in the North by the first men and by some who live still. There is a magic in this belief; a connectivity to the forest and all its creatures. The wierwood trees in the forests and in the godswoods of castles and forts create a conduit of sorts for these gods to see through and be prayed to. Lastly, there is the Lord of Light, who is said to show his true believers the way if they stare into the flames of fires. The character Melisandre is who [largely] leads us through our knowledge of this particular religion and because it is not widely known or practiced in Westeros, many men distrust this vein of thought and see it as witchcraft. That last bit is interesting. The fact that the Lord of Light’s followers are mistrusted because of their “devil worship” or “sorcery” draws attention to the fact that magic is not something that is trusted in this land. The gods of old seemed to posses some magic but their times are long gone and there doesn’t seem to be any magic left in the world. That is, until dragons are born and a crippled boy becomes the keeper of knowledge past and present.

Aside from religion, there are other aspects of the world of Westeros that are outlined to establish the world. In battle, men die (whereas as pointed out above in the Pirates world, ghosts exist). There is a hierarchy that exists by which the land is governed. Despite the fact that there is a very large scale war going on for the Iron Throne, there is a system in place: lords, wardens, etc. Culture is explored through songs sung by bards and tales told around the campfire. It is fascinating to me how deep and rich the history of this land is.

GoT image

Getting lost in a world that is not our own is part of what makes reading and watching movies so compelling. We are able to escape our lives for a span of pages/the run time of a film and truly be somewhere else. The greatest storytellers create fully realized settings to further allow for this escape and totally submerse their audiences. While it might be easy to create a tale, coming up with the entire world is what makes the escape successful. Whether it is building the world from scratch (example: Lord of the Rings) or slightly altering our reality to make it their own (example: Inception), an author who takes the time to think out all aspects of their world is a skilled one indeed.

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Atonement – 2007

There was nothing on Netflix starring Audrey Hepburn that I haven’t already seen so I googled, “classics to watch on Netflix, current” and a list was summoned from the depths of the interweb. There were some good horror movies on said list that I definitely intend to go back and watch however that was not where my head was at. Scrolling down, I found what I was looking for: Atonement. Released in 2007, the film was adapted from the novel of the same name, published six years earlier by Ian McEwan. It met everything in my mental checklist: not set in the present, an amazing cast, and not a straightforward-spoon-fed romance. Holy shit lovelies, what a movie. What a journey.

Atonement tells the tale of what happens when a little lie turns into a bigger lie and the impact that has on those in the line of fire. What we learn first hand is that what you say matters and that even if you think you are a reliable narrator, you might not be. That doubt that you feel eats at you through life, through war, through death. Atonement tells us that there is no statute of limitations on taking responsibility for your actions.

We enter the lives of the Tallis family in 1935. Briony (Saoirse Ronan) is a young child shown from the start to have an active imagination. The film opens with her finishing a play she has been working on to be performed upon her brother’s visit home; younger cousins staying with the family are her unwilling actors. Having grown bored, said cousins exit Briony’s room. This is where the intrigue begins. Gazing out the window, Briony witnesses an encounter down in the yard, however, not having heard anything that passes between the two people involved, she is only able to infer in her youthful and fanciful brain what it was that occurred. Cut to the same scene, rewound, and told from the perspective of Cecelia Tallis (Keria Knightly) and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy). It is not an argument but instead an awkward encounter between two people who are unable and afraid to admit to their feelings for each other. Passion of a different kind from a different perspective.

Later that day, we are with Robbie as he writes several drafts of a letter to Cecelia; he is attempting to organize his thoughts. Finally satisfied, he puts paper in envelope and off he goes to deliver it. Spying Briony on the road, he asks her to run ahead and hand it off for him. It is only after she is gone from view that he realizes his terrible mistake, the wrong piece of paper had been sealed within. Of course, Briony rips open the envelope and reads the words that Robbie never intended for anyone to see. From this she links the “argument” she witnessed earlier and jumps to a horrible conclusion. There is too much adultness going on for her little mind to handle and she begins to form a very wrong sense of what is going on. We are privy to the fact that Robbie lets Cecelia know of this mistake, we are privy to their professions of love for each other, we are privy to the truth that alludes Briony.

Dinner is a brief and uncomfortable affair interrupted by the realization that the two youngest cousins have run away. The party breaks up to cover the estate’s grounds looking for them. It is during this search that Briony bears witness to the third act of the day that she does not understand and which overwhelms her. A character is molested and Briony witnesses the attacker running off without, as far as we can tell, clearly seeing his face. Again, conclusions are jumped to and when interviewed by the police she points fingers in the only direction she can think to point them. Robbie is wrongly accused of rape. However, due to his low station and Briony’s telling of events, Robbie’s protestations are not believed and he is thrown in prison.

Several years have passed as the next scene opens and we are in the middle of WWII in the heart of Germany. Robbie was given a choice, continue serving in jail or go out and serve for the country. Imagine being forced to war based on the lies of someone who just didn’t understand. It is here that we are brought to see the severe consequences of Briony’s actions and how they are impacting everyone in her life. Her sister has stopped talking to her; their childhood friend is fighting in the war; and she has foregone a classical education, seemingly fearing and cautious of the misery brought upon her by her imagination.

There is of course more to the story than the events I have just outlined. However, in an effort to avoid spoilers, I won’t say any more on the direct plot points of the tale. Instead I would like to touch on the importance of truth and the viewer/reader’s ability to rely upon the narrator. The whole truth and nothing but the truth is a hard thing to muster. Whose truth is it? Yours might be different than mine, does that mean that one of us is wholly wrong? Is truth subjective or objective? How do you know if something you think is true, actually is true? These are all important questions and not all are easily answered. Briony spends the rest of her life trying to make up for (atone for) her grievous mistake. If we had spent the whole movie viewing events from just Briony’s perspective, we would have no reason to think of her as anything but a reliable narrator. Although due to the fact that we also see things from Cecelia’s and Robbie’s perspectives, we know that our primary narrator is not fully knowledgeable about things to which she states with confidence and selfassuredness. We go through the rest of the film seeing the butterfly effect of one lie. We, along with Cecelia, are unable to tell if anything Briony says is “just the truth, no rhymes. No embellishments. No adjectives.”

In addition to the beautiful unfolding of the plot of this movie, the sound design is breathtaking. The film won an Oscar for best original score and rightly so. There is more to it though than just the music which is a mixture of compelling classical tunes relying heavily upon the piano and one or two note themes and the ambient sounds of everyday life. The twitter of birds in a wide open field. The hum of a plane far overhead. Most importantly and keenly throughout the film, the tap tap of a typewriter. This specific sound sets the tone in many scenes, either speeding up or slowing down to highlight the pace of the moment. Never before have I felt more aware of character’s surrounding due so heavily to the sense of sound. Hearing what they hear in a moment of otherwise silence pulls you farther in to the scene with them.

There is a scene on the beach of Normandy which is one long shot and the sounds that you hear as you follow Robbie and his fellows through the ravaged shore draw you so directly in: the shooting of horses that they can’t take with them, the cry of men and the silence of men, the songs being sung in loud chorus to comfort each other and get through to the next light of day. I realized by the end of the panning that I had been holding my breathe because I was feeling the same sense of hopelessness and dismay that had overcome those on screen. In addition to setting the emotional toll for the scenes, the music was also set nicely to match up with the changing of shots so that the pace your eyes kept was the same as the pace your ears kept.

The storytelling found within this movie is absolutely captivating. From the amazing cast to the heart-wrenching tale, Atonement is a movie that should surely be added to your must watch list. Be prepared to watch it though, not only is it heavy on the mind, it is also heavy on the run time clocking in at just over two hours. It is worth it my friends, oh is it worth it.

Penny Dreadful – Showtime

published penny dreadfuls

Gothic literature is a beautiful thing. So easily identifiable and so filled with hidden meanings, psychological and supernatural intrigue, and lessons to be learned. My undergraduate degree is in English Literature and I took more than one class on specifically Gothic Lit. My most frequently recalled example of the genre is The Yellow Wallpaper published in 1892 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Not only is the story itself a trip but it is also a work published by an American, proving that the genre is not solely ruled by the Europeans. Gothic literature has a rich history that spread across many countries in the mid to late 1800’s. Classic conventions of the genre include horror/supernatural elements, death, and the macabre. It often times includes a female protagonist who is dealing with some sort of psychological disorder. Many female writers of the time used the genre to have their voices and perspectives heard on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug. There is typically a setting in these stories that takes on more characteristics than just a normal scene. Embodying histories and feelings and usually certain architectural elements, these settings become as much characters as the people within the stories. The literary scene in the 1800’s was booming with tales of the supernatural. From Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1818) to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890) there was no need to look far for tales of monsters who walk among us. In these times, printing and publishing were very expensive and so stories were often serialized and published in magazines on a weekly or monthly basis. The stories would be eagerly anticipated and provide a brief escape from the world around them. In addition to these works, there were also shorter works published for pennies and made available to even the poorest of the poor. These penny works became known as penny dreadfuls for the gruesome and dreadful tales depicted within. Beginning in the 1830’s, penny dreadful tales included reprintings of classic Gothic literature such as The Castle of Otranto as well as new pieces of horror like Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. 

Fast forward to the new millennium and people are still enraptured by tales with these dark and classic elements. Enter Showtime with their series Penny Dreadful. For three seasons we are taken through a classic Gothic tale all the while pulling in more and more of the characters that were made so famous in the 19th century.

Penny Dreadful cast

While this tale is being spun, we are introduced to Ethan Chandler (Josh Harnett), Ser Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), and Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) as our three main characters. While these people individually are not part of the established canons of the tales from which the show draws, they make up the central ring of the spider’s web. Malcolm Murray’s daughter was Mina, a name that should sound more familiar to you. Mina has been missing for some time now and Vanessa, in the first season, begins getting these visions and feelings that Mina is trying to reach out to her. Thus begins the supernatural quest in this Gothic tale. Ethan Chandler becomes their gun for hire as Ser Malcolm and Vanessa begin to explore what is happening to Vanessa. Together, the three of them delve deep into psychic connections, seances, and the biggest quagmire of them all: the fight between good and evil. As our guides become more entrenched in this world, it is clear that they will be unable to unearth truth and answers by themselves. When Vanessa becomes fully possessed and in need of medical attention, the good doctor is called for. Enter Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadway). As the realization of other worldliness enters, so does the famous hunter Van Helsing (David Warner). The spider’s web broadens and so too does our scope of the supernatural in London. Between demonic fits, Vanessa is a part of high-ish society in London and one of her social circles brings her close to a beautiful and charming man. Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney) does not get much interaction with the other characters in the beginning aside from Vanessa however in the latter part of the series his immortality is matched by that of another character’s and the tragedy that unfolds in that story line is heart wrenching.

Witches appear, a wolf man is present, and a darkness is descending on London.

The ability of the writers to bring all of these characters from different Londons into the same time and place is really well done. With three seasons to complete their tale, the overarching plot is well paced and there are not really any loose ends by the time it wraps. What I loved most by the end is that you as the viewer are so clearly able to see that this is a tale of tragedy for everyone involved. There is love and there is death and everything that comes between. Part of what makes the tales of love so great is that they are not all strictly between one man and one woman as a conventional love story might portray. For example, Vanessa is not related by blood to Ser Malcolm however he loves her like a daughter and is supremely concerned with her well-being. Dr. Frankenstein shows a deeply reckless and morbid sense of love for his creations (of which there are ultimately three). His love is not responsible or ethical yet it is deep and honest and earnest. Frankenstein’s moral journey through the three seasons plays out without the knowledge of the three main characters and so his evolution is largely just between him and his creations. Vanessa’s love for and belief in Christ is a very important thread in this web as it allows for the entry point into our story of the war between God and the Devil. Dorian Grey’s love for himself and all things beautiful brings into the story questions of being comfortable with and loving yourself. He is alone even when in the midst of a crowd and there is a woman who enters who helps him relearn this lesson and realize the importance of self. Lily (Billie Piper), the woman I just mentioned, is an amazing and breath taking character. Her strength and will inspire women around her, who she draws in like the spider I keep referencing. She comes to us in season one as a whore, lowly and taken advantage of, and by the time she is reborn and brought back in to the world with a strike of lightening, you are able to see the layers and layers of trauma that haunted her in her past and shape who she is in the present.

Then there is death. Lots of it. Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s monsters, they are all in the city at the same time and woe is the human who gets in their way. The vampire feels no remorse for his kills. He is above humans and views them as pawns and food. However, the other two monsters I mention are creatures with deep awareness of and remorse for the kills they chalk up. One of them is unaware of his monster as the wolf takes over the human, blotting out the humanity which guides the man and letting in the animal instincts which make him a wolf. As we get deeper into the lore and backstory of the wolf and how he came to be, elements of American Indian histories are included and explained. This to me was very interesting as it was such a sharp deviation from the Victorian lore that had been the backbone of the story thus far. Frankenstein’s monster (Rory Kinnear) names himself John Clare after the poet and is a beautiful soul of a soulless creature. His journey is largely apart from the main tale as Dorian Grey’s is. We know nothing at the start of his tale of this man’s past. Who he was and how he had died is as much a mystery to us as it is to him. John Clare does some killing of his own out of rage and necessity of certain situations. Through his rage he learns that this ability to “turn in to a monster” really scares him. He looks enough the part, he doesn’t want to play it too. Deep down, he is a gentle soul who likes to read and loves poetry. We are able to see the hurt he feels when people are scared of him, the pain he feels when someone reels at the sight of his face. He is a walking tragedy in and of himself.

Penny Dreadful is one of those shows that seemed aware of it’s time frame and conscious of the arcs of each character. Thus, the story is a complete one with a defined beginning, middle, and end. A beautiful tale which breaks down how well we know ourselves, how we care for those around us, and how events in our lives effect those around us. Vanessa Ives’s awareness of everyone in this universe (she is the only character who has verbal interactions with every single other character) is a way for us all to see the chain reactions our actions have on those around us; she is the female protagonist with the psychological issues after all. The light and dark pull felt throughout the show is a constant reminder of the forces of good and evil at work within us all. Additionally, there are metaphors out the wazoo in this series, such as many scenes being shot in mirrors, the allusions to spirit animals, and the divine at work through humans. All of these elements make it a very successful telling of many Gothics we are already familiar with. What an amazing show, you guys. A definite must watch.

The Jackaby novels by William Ritter

** Tiny bits of spoilers lie beneath this sentence. **

There are times, lovelies, when a series seems harmless, there are times when a title sits on your shelves for months maybe even years and you give no second thought to it. There are times when you finally pick up one of those books and it is just as boring and uninteresting as you had thought. As avid readers, we get used to the spines on our shelves and whether we have read them or not, they are our trophies, our scores and finds, our prizes. Then there are other times, where you finally crack one of those spines and it sucks you in like spell has been cast. You are able to think of nothing but the characters and their adventures and when you do not have it open in front of you the book is still on your mind and in your head calling out to be reopened and dived into once more. The Jackaby novels are very very much the latter of those scenarios. I don’t think there are enough positive words in the English language for me to gush enough about how much I loved this four part series. But, for your benefit, I will try.

Abigail Rook (mentioned in the previous post regarding female leads) is our narrator over the course of these tales. As the series opens she is fresh off the boat from a failed paleontology dig and is in look of a fresh start – immediately establishing her as an adventerous woman. One of the first people she meets in New Fiddleham is Jackaby himself although it is not until a few chapters later that we are properly introduced to him. By the time he officially hires Ms. Rook to be his assistant we have already visited a crime scene with him and seen that Abigail is not as prim and proper as many other ladies of the time. She is incredibly observant and determined and as readers we get the sense very quickly that she is going to be a good and reliable narrator. R.F. Jackaby is a paranormal investigator and the world’s current Seer. It is his duty to use his Sight to keep the peace between [mostly] oblivious humans and the magical beings who secretly populate our world and exist among us. He has been at it for about 20 years and has made quite a name and life for himself in New Fidddleham. His offices and housing (as well as Abigail’s once she is hired) are in the house of a deceased woman named Jenny Cavanaugh. Jenny still presides in the house as the resident ghost and her emotional journey is really amazing. (More on that point in a bit.) These are our three main characters and their relationships to each other and with the magical community at large become central to the story…or is the story central to them?

One of the things that I think Ritter does so well in this work is that the overarching plot from start to finish is so cohesive. It is bananas! Something so simple and well structured makes the storytelling so amazing. As readers we first get hints of this larger thread that connects everything in book two. We are able to see that the events in book one weren’t the beginning and that strings have been being pulled puppet style for years. This type of tight knit, no lose ends story telling is refreshing in it’s simplicity (as I’ve already mentioned and will probably mention again). There are red herrings and twists and turns and if you really pay attention it is easily figured out but that is not the point. The point is that Ritter takes this tale as old as time of good and evil of us versus them and gives it a positive female perspective and makes it engaging for young readers. So far, all of these books (with the exception of 4 because it is brand new) have topped Year’s End lists and have been super positively received.

While there are many supernatural points in these stories, there are also parallels for very real issues. Many of our other worldly characters have glamours on themselves so that they appear human to the untrained eye. One character who does not have to do this is Charlie Cane/Barker as he is able to transform at will from a human to a (not naming his creature as it is a spoiler). While this ability allows him to lead a fairly undetected life, events in book one make it necessary for him to reveal his true self during which time townspeople see him and demonize him. The hatred and fear exhibited towards Charlie is only a prelude to the racial prejudice that many of the townspeople have once they find out there are many more fantastical beings among them. In a scene in book four, all of the jail cells are full of creatures who have done nothing wrong except not being human. There is no way to not draw a parallel to the segregation of our races here in America and the fear that many have of people and things who are different and unknown. What Jackaby shows us is that there is nothing inherently wrong with you for being different, we are all just who we are.

Another character who helps us see that it is okay to be who you are is Miss Lydia Lee. While Ritter never goes into explicit detail regarding labels, we are let known that Lydia Lee is a man who likes to dress as a woman. When we first meet her, she is being attacked physically and verbally by men who do not understand her; who are uncomfortable with her decision to live her life the way she has decided. What I thought was particularly amazing about this is that these stories take place in the early 1890s and I don’t feel like, when you go that far back in a setting, you see anyone represented who isn’t white and straight or black and a slave. The fact that Ritter takes the time to make it clear that Lydia is who she wants to be whether anyone else likes or understands it is really wonderful.

Lastly, as mentioned above, Jenny is another example of a larger metaphor. Jenny was murdered and her death plays largely in to the grand scheme of things once it becomes clear that so many “huh that was weird” occurrences start becoming connected. While Jackaby has tried many times over the years to help Jenny solve her murder and move on to the afterlife, a big issue in preventing this closure is that Jenny seems unable to leave the house. She is able to exist within the walls and is able to touch things/items that belonged to her in life but that is the extent of her physical capabilities. Once Abigail comes along, she and Jenny really get to work trying to help Jenny get out of this cycle of disappearing any time she tries to leave the house or dropping objects that aren’t or weren’t hers. This behavior seemed to me to be a metaphor for depression and a bit of agoraphobia. With the help and patience of Abigail she is able to overcome this. However, it is not an easy task and is by no means minimized or dismissed. Her peers are encouraging and inclusive even when Jenny is down on herself. This is super important and really compelling.

While these themes and metaphors are very important, something that is even more central is the building that Ritter does throughout both in terms of the world and it’s characters. We start with knowing as little about the world as Abigail does and through her eyes and Jackaby’s tutelage we gain perspective and become woke to the intricacies and magic surrounding us in every day life. We start off naive and unaware and become entranced and enlightened. There are histories alluded to and stories that exist in this world however it never feels like we are being preached to or talked at. Due to his insight Jackaby provides us with information on the world that Abigail might not have come by on her own. We are, at times, taken out of new Fiddleham and the into other communities (both of this world and the next) that are connected to the story, we are taken back in time in memories of characters. These flashbacks (and I hesitate to call them that as they are not cheesy exposition but well done exposition) provide an expansion not only of the world but of how each of these people fit in to it. Motivation is shown, not just action. By mid way through book one I was already longing to be  Abigail and Jenny’s best friend and to be part of Jackaby’s team. These are fully realized people with hopes and dreams and I that is not an easy thing to do nor is it always achieved by writers (especially so quickly).

I think the last time I got this sucked in to a series and devoured it as quickly was two Christmases ago when my partner introduced me to Susan Collin’s The Underland Chronicles. These four books (Jackaby, Beastly Bones, Ghostly Echoes, and The Dire King) are impeccably written and really smart. As Jackaby says, “I have never found a book that did not have at least a little magic in it…They can’t help it.” If you are on the prowl for your next obsession, look no further!

 

The strong female lead

 

I tend to read several books at a time. I tend to start books, pick up others, leave some unfinished. There might be an Audible I’m in the middle of at the same time I have two paperbacks going. The exception to this is when I get transfixed by a series. Three weeks ago I was listening to The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) whilst also going back and forth between The Sun is Also A Star (Nicola Yoon) and Fierce Kingdom  (Gin Phillips). Currently I am enthralled by the words of William Ritter in the Jackaby series. Pausing for a moment today I reflected on the thing that all of these titles have in common: strong and independent women at their core. Now more than ever lovelies, it is important that we do not forget that we have vastly important stories to tell no matter what the genre. Whether a it is a new bestseller or a title that has resurfaced in a timely fashion there are an abundance of damsels who keep their heads while in distress. I’d like to take a moment to speak about these ladies who have been in my life of late and how they are having an impact on me.

With the current adaptation of Atwood’s dystopian future, in which religion and fear have allowed for a militant God group to take society’s reins, we are reminded of the tale Offred told us originally 19 years ago. The Handmaid’s Tale gives us exactly what the title states. June is the handmaid ofFred and his wife Serena and it is her duty within the household to provide a baby for the family. This is done through repeated rapes and captivity along with the continual reminder that it is woman’s sole purpose to breed. Gone are any basic human rights and contact with the outside world. Offred recounts her tale having lived this reality for several years. As readers, we slowly learn of Offred’s daily life and are given glimpses into how the world was able to get to this point. I am watching the series as I listen to the audiobook and must admit that I have not yet finished either so I am still learning about her journey. I am struck by how courageous Offred is and in contrast how many times I have thought to myself, could I hold my tongue? Could I be repeatedly defiled and not go crazy? Several times I have thought to myself, well that would have pushed me over the edge. Society within Gilead and sections of the United States are transformed into these stepford-ly fake worlds in which climate change has effected the air and people have become sterile. The handmaids are society’s last hope for continuing the human race. Talk about pressure. The will to not let the bastards get you down is a hopeful outlook that Offred gives us of her situation. I hope, as I keep reading, that that continues and she is able to stay strong. Luckily I have not had the end spoiled for me so I don’t know what happens. However I have heard that the endings of the two mediums differ (as the show has a second season pending). In Offred I have hope. In Offred I recognize how important it is to keep your wits.

The Sun is Also A Star is the word vomit of two teenagers who meet on the streets of New York. One is Natasha and one is Daniel and the chapters alternate their perspectives allowing us to be told the same story from two different takes on what is happening. Something that I love about Yoon’s characters is that they are so fully realized that it does not take you long to recognize that the way of learning what happens in this story is going to be very real to each of them. Natasha is on the verge of being deported with her family and love is literally the last thing on her mind. She is supposed to be applying to colleges and studying for the SATs. Instead she is visiting government buildings and lawyers offices and trying anyway she can think of to be allowed to stay in America. Daniel is supposed to be on his way to an interview with someone from Harvard and is completely distracted after coming across Natasha as she is on her way to speak with the aforementioned lawyer. Over the course of this stressful day, Natasha brightens up in Daniel’s presence. Yes, there are hormones involved and the concept of love at first sight is debated but there is more than that. It is not just that Daniel is a cute boy whom she quickly realizes she is crushing on, it is that she allows herself to open up to him and smile. The driving force of Natasha’s story is this incredibly adult situation that she is having to deal with. The issue of deportation is immediate and scary and she is determined to find a way out of being punished for her father’s mistakes (it is his fault they were found out as being illegal immigrants). Because Daniel is naive to her situation there is no pressure to talk about it or stress over it. Natasha has strong scientific and fact based beliefs and she holds them tightly. It is because of this that in Natasha I recognize conviction and determination and a stick-to-your-guns attitude that is incredibly refreshing.

The cover of Fierce Kingdom is deceptively boring. There are carousel horses on the front along with jarring red block letters spelling out the title and author. It is because of this judgement that the advanced copy sat on my shelf for months before I finally read it. If ever there was a case for the saying “don’t judge a book by the cover” this would be it. The zoo is closing and Joan and her son Lincoln are making their way to the front when they hear some popping sounds. A few pages later we get confirmation that these were gun shots when Joan rounds a corner and sees dead bodies. She quickly steers Lincoln away from the scene and from that moment on we are involved in a fast paced game of hide and seek, cat and mouse. Due to the fact that it was the end of the day, there are not that many people around so the zoo is eerie and quiet. The animals sense the danger and we go many pages without seeing a single other person. We are within Joan’s mind for much of the narration. The fear and anxiety that Joan feels is made to feel very present in Phillip’s writing. The use of short terse sentences, the occasional disoriented thought from Joan about Lincoln’s Avenger toys in her purse, the way that silence and sound play into your reading. Survival instincts are brought to the front of her mind. Joan is levelheaded throughout: she has to keep Lincoln calm and entertained (there is passage in which sleepy Lincoln, who is four-ish, is starting to get hungry and these two things combined do not make for a quiet toddler. High. Anxiety.) while also helping him avoid too much trauma (the sight of dead animals and people), and she has to make decisions that are very hard to make (there is a part that involves a baby that is just heartbreaking). In addition to Joan we gain the points of view of Kailynn, a girl who works in a concession stand at the zoo and get some minor character development in a Margaret Powell a local teacher. These three women come from different backgrounds and they are all trying to survive the night in this terrifying situation. All three are strong and courageous and it is in them that I see the strength to carry on.

The last heroine that I would like to gush about is in the books that I am currently reading. Miss Abigail Rook tells us of her adventures with the detective for whom the series and the first book are named. Jackaby is the opener of the books and it is within these pages that Abigail recounts to us the strange and not always natural cases she investigates as the assistant of the detective. Much like Robin in the Cormoran Strike novels, Abigail is not content being an assistant who sits out of the cases whose notes she will inevitably end up transcribing. She is pulled immediately in to one, in fact, as she is in the process of convincing Jackaby to hire her while he is on his way to a crime scene. The series takes place in the 1890s and people tend to have preconceived notions of what a woman’s behavior looks like (it is full circle from the first title if you think about it…Offred having had her rights taken away, Abigail fighting to gain and maintain them…not a good circle, just something I noticed). Because of these notions people are constantly surprised by the tenacity and confidence exhibited by Miss Rook. After being told her whole life that her place was with the ladies in the parlor and not out in the field working with her paleontologist father, Abigail takes off with her school money and runs away to find her own freedom. As she reaches the shores of America (having gone on a couple of adventures between leaving England and arriving in New England), Abigail is able to find her footing and carves her own path with a clear sense of determination. I mean, imagine how it was back then, arriving on the shores of a foreign country and not knowing anyone and being a woman on top of that. Sure that is still something people do today but with the advancements in technology it isn’t the same. While she is a young lady in man’s world and while she has doubts and uncertainties about her path, she doesn’t let thisdeter her. One thing that I like about Abigail is that even when she is told no, she explores other ways to make it a yes. In Abigail I see a woman who is not afraid to stand up for herself and others in an effort to pursue what is right and just.

I briefly mentioned above the Cormoran Strike series and one of the primary characters, Robin. While this is not a current read (although I hope to the bibliogod that book four is coming out soon) it is also one to keep in mind when looking for a read with a strong female lead. She is a wonderful character and it is refreshing to have these two women (Abigail and Robin) in these detective stories as the genre is usually dominated by men. Additionally, next up on my list of must reads is a new American Gothic by Claire Messud called The Burning Girl in which we experience the ups and downs of a childhood friendship (and of course there is a creepy castle).

All of this is to say that for years growing up I had all of these wonderful boys and men leading me on my journeys; they took charge of situations and performed brave deeds. But where would Harry have been without Hermione? Would Holden have had any grounding if it weren’t for his sister? How far could Eragon have gotten if it weren’t for Saphira? Women are so often the backing these main characters need but these stories also show that we deserve and are capable of having our own adventures.

 

 

 

The 5th Wave – Rick Yancey

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Well wasn’t May just a kick in the pants, lovelies?! Life was hectic in general but to top things off I was bookless for almost the whole month. I think I started like four or five different books. These are books that I will eventually read (…she tells herself) but I needed something with a hook. I needed a tale that captured me from go. You know, that feeling that you get when you open a book and 10 seconds later you’re 60 pages in? That book that calls to you when you’re not reading it…The 5th Wave did that to me. Rick Yancey does an amazing job weaving the overtaking of our planet. This book is horrifically terrifying. For example, are you currently not really a fan of birds? Do you think that angry children are actually super dangerous tiny humans? If you have fears like these, this book might be too much for you. But you should read it anyways because it is. That. Good.

Cassie Sullivan is our primary storyteller through whom we learn about the beginning of the end of the world. There have been four waves so far. First, all of the electricity went out. Second, massive earthquakes and tidal waves cause flooding of every coastline in the world. By this time three billion are dead. Next is a plague transmitted by birds that wipes out 97% percent of the population. As we walk through this world with Cassie, alone and terrified, we learn with her about what comes next in the invasion. It is, at this point still hard to imagine the magnitude of this end of days situation. As Yancey says in the book, a “single death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” The scope of this book narrows in and then zooms out again. So, many times, are you reading and just going through the pages and then you stop and reread a sentence and realize how truly horrible some of the things going on in this book are!

There are other strands of narration as well which add to the awareness of the horror. We get in the mind of an alien sniper, who wades through the aftermath killing any human he comes across; additionally you also have Cassie’s brother, someone she went to high school with, and a person who saves her. One element that creates and holds tension throughout is that They look like us (Obvi.) so even though you might know someone, how do you know you know them? You know what I mean? The whole book is like that!! Yes, if you really think hard you can figure it out as you go. But, if you’re just reading this to get excited about suspense that isn’t your standard Every-Distopian-YA-Novel a la:

YA Comic

then this is for you! I really was invested in each of these perspectives and what’s more, they didn’t spend their whole section/part being worried about “the girl” and not doing their own shit, as it is, ya know, the end of the world and what not. Themes of keeping promises and love being the primary driving force are present, yes. However, I thought they were done in great ways. There were times when I went, “oh come on!” when it was getting a little too formulaic but those issues straightened themselves out fairly quickly.

While we do get to see these other perspectives, I really appreciated getting to know Cassie’s voice. When we are first introduced to her she is on her own after her brother has been taken by uniformed men and her parents die during two different waves. She is trying to survive in a world in which, as far as she knows, she is the only one left alive. She is strong and focused after not having seen another person in weeks…or is it months? This uncertainty of time is something that Yancey plays around with very beautifully. Characters often think of time in relation to their actions and the happenings around them, seconds into eons when a bullet is speeding towards you, hours into years when you’re left alone in the dark. When you’re solo in the world, things can get screwy. The noticings about time are interesting in the end when you realize the grand scale of these aliens coming from who knows where and how far away…how long has this been in the works? And we as humans can only think in the smallest increments of time.

In addition to the time talk, there is often weighty, lofty things that only get said in books and movies that are somehow just on this side of okay. For example,

“Cassie Sullivan didn’t run…He could see the familiar look of fear in her eyes, a look he had seen a hundred times, the look we give back to death when death looks at us. “

Is quickly followed by,

“His heart, the war.

Her face, the battlefield.”

But it is all okay! I’m fine with goofy lines if the story is strong and the people have good solid reasons to be on these “missions” that they are invariably always on.

The gravitas of what these kids go through – because they are all kids – is disturbing. Imagine all of the adults in the world dying and the kids being taken in by some sort of military unit and being trained to hunt. They don’t know if they are being told the truth (and neither do you), nor are they old enough to really question things. Over the course of the fourth wave, you again realize what is going on and have to occasionally re-read paragraphs. Whether they are made to do these things by humans or Others, going through dead bodies and “processing” thousands for cremation is not something that should be on an eight year old’s to do list. Neither, for that matter, should weapons training and emergency medical/tactical care be subjects that should be taught to six year olds. You realize that these children, who are now parentless, are being guided by people who are not at all concerned for their well being or what is best for them. They are being trained brainwashed to kill. These horrors of the day keep tolling up and these kids are so glad to no longer be on their own in the middle of an alien invasion that they believe everything they are told!

Over the course of the entire book, you think for a section that you have something figured out and then the next chapter can go two ways: you could be wrong or you could be right which is sometimes even more scary. I haven’t read any of Yancey’s other works so I don’t know if he is just always good at suspense but man alive I am glad I fell into this book. There two books which round out the trilogy and I am anxious to start the second. I do know that there is a film that was made on the book in 2016 and I have heard nothing but terrible things about it so I haven’t as much as even seen the trailer. I wanted nothing to taint my experience of the book. This is an action that I am grateful for. There is also a lesson in that: don’t just watch dystopian thrillers. Read them. For an adventure that takes you to the end of the world and frequently punches you in the gut, pick up The 5th Wave.

LOLA – Melissa Scrivner Love

LOLA

 

This week I finished LOLA which came out in March of this year and was written by debut author Melissa Scrivner Love. Over the course of a week and a half we go through an experience with Lola that has the potential to solidify her in a world she leads from the shadows. With a deadline and the threat of death from multiple drug lords, Lola is tested as she emerges as the true leader of LA gang, the Crenshaw Six.

When the book opens, we meet Lola, our narrator and the girlfriend of a man named Garcia who is assumed to be the leader of a gang which controls blocks in the neighborhood of Crenshaw. We are at a back yard BBQ when a messenger from the cartel arrives and wants to speak to Garcia, giving him a mission to interrupt a drug deal between a cartel customer and a rival supplier. Throughout this meeting Lola hovers on the fringe, notting everything the man says and also how he acts and her inner dialogue immediately sheds color on the woman whose psyche we are going to be in for the next couple hundred pages. Short sentences, to the point and very observant.  Whether or not someone’s English has an accent, if they are sweating and nervous, the way the air feels and tastes in the LA heat. It is clear that she is a very reliable narrator…and one who knows a vast amount more than what people expect her to. Within the first few pages, it is clear that Lola is the one running things and no one yet realizes this outside of her five soldiers.

The mission set to the Crenshaw Six, the drug deal from which they are to recoup a name plus both the cash and the loot, goes terribly wrong. And from here we have a chain of events that propel Lola into having to navigate between the cartel and this new drug supplier (who turns out to be rich and white) selling heroin to upper class users. First daunting task set to Lola: find out who this new man is, infiltrate his organization, and find out where his stash is held. Her deadline: one week. Next task: after having infiltrated said organization, Lola must prove her loyalty to the white man for him to trust her. He tells her to kill the man who was the cartel client. The one from the deal. She is again given one week. Throughout all of this, Lola is pretty collected. We see the actions of a calculating leader who’s people trust her and the plans that she comes up with to get them through these situations. It is wonderfully eerie to read passages outlined with her practical business like manner and then to flip the page and have her trying to  do good and create a safe space for a little girl.

In addition to the little girl, Lola also cares for her mother who is a recovering junkie. These two responsibilities illustrate the domestic side of Lola’s life. The balance that is consciously kept between gang leader Lola and dutiful daughter and woman Lola. She narrates about how she uses conceptions of her, often misconceptions, to her advantage. And people constantly underestimate her. I really enjoyed how she trolled these waters looking for her in to the game with the men. Lola’s confidence and level headedness is what I enjoyed most about her and this work, I think. There are a couple of other females that aren’t as flushed out as they could’ve been whose deeper perspectives could’ve been interesting.

 

 

The deadline and climax of both missions happens so near the end I thought it was going to be a cliffhanger. That being said, wether she makes it or not, there is room in this world to flush out more stories. I think Love could develop quite a few tales and am interested to see what she does next.

Another 13 Reasons Why Post

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Spoilers abound below. You’ve been warned.

Two years ago I came across Thirteen Reasons Why whilst in a deep dive of the YAL shelves of my neighborhood library. In fact, it was the topic of my fourth blog post ever! Over the past few weeks there have been blog posts and think pieces a plenty about the new Netflix adaptation which coincides nicely with the book’s 10th anniversary. For years, this book has been a controversial work. It is a tale that sticks with you; a heavy realization that everything you do has an impact on those around you. In 2012 the book made the ALA’s list in their annual Top Ten Most Banned Books list for reasons stating: drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group. “These are not topics suitable for young readers” they say. Bullshit, lovelies. Those are topics our young ones are exposed to at earlier and earlier ages. The heart of this tale holds messages which are incredibly important for this generation to learn: compassion, empathy, responsibility, awareness. This is a super important work in both mediums, each of which portray Hannah Baker’s story in different ways.

For fans of the book, I think it is incredibly useful to go into watching the show with a conscious forethought, recognizing that these are separate creations in two different mediums. You have a 288 page book versus a 13 hour TV drama. Those aren’t really equal or comparable so thinking of them as such from the beginning is not going to do you any good. However, this is a good thing!

The book gives you Clay and Hannah and Tony. That’s pretty much it. There is some dialogue between others and you see people around as Clay visits all the spots on the map but that is it. Why no other characters? There’s no time. Clay binge listens to these tapes in one night. Primary difference right off the bat. There is a heightened tension as he speeds through these awful recollections and you learn along with him all of the truly unfortunate events that befell this girl. You realize slowly, along with Clay, what was passing through Hannah’s mind. He becomes consumed with them going from one tape to another just as you assume he would be when presented with this situation. Digesting it all while constantly being ready for the next tape to be yours. We are presented with Hannah’s tapes and Clay’s immediate reaction to them and during them. Alternatively, in the show, our experience is stretched out for at least two weeks. In this time, we are able to see a much much broader picture. What these tapes have sparked from his classmates, how Hannah’s parents are coping, and even providing time for a case to be built which (surprise!) Clay’s mom is lawyering for! There is a whole world that is created in this visual depiction. It creates a 3D image, a broader depiction showing the ripples of Hannah’s death. We are given more time for Clay to take in what he’s hearing and actually show a bit of resistance and perturbedness (that’s not a word) at what all of his fellow classmates have done. Which brings us to the next point: he takes it to his peers. Clay wants to hold them accountable for their actions but they say that some of these tellings are out of proportion or didn’t even happen or are versions of their own truths.  In some cases they are denied out right or maybe not remembered at first. In the book we are feeling directly from Hannah how she experienced these events and how they impacted her whereas in the show we are informed by others as well. I think this is why it is okay for these two to differ so much because it perfectly illustrates how different perspectives are valuable.

However, and this is a big however, not all of this fleshed out world is great. What follows are thoughts purely on the TV show. So many great things about this show from the astounding amount of diversity (in race and relationships) to a realness brought with the very human reaction you see from Hannah’s parents to the more full narrative we see from all the other characters. But there isn’t really a base for them from the source material outside of what we hear on the tapes. So these characters were developed largely by show creator Brian Yorkey and it’s not that he does a bad job, its just that many of them felt too extreme. From Justin’s wanting to literally put together a plan to kill Clay to Courtney’s blind eye to rape there are things that some of these characters say that have you going, “umm what?!” Not all of the time but definitely a notable amount. To go into a side rant about these “umm what” moments, let’s take Tony for example. ROCK CLIMBING?!?! Ummmm Whaaat?! There were so many prolonged encounters that involved Tony just popping up places and being Jiminy Cricket (or as Clay puts it, Unhelpful Yoda). Clay could’ve easily listened to these tapes two per episode and we could’ve cut things wayyyy down.

In addition to the extension of the characters there is an extension (as already mentioned) to the story. In reading, our experience stops when the tapes do. In viewing, we see Hannah’s end. We were told 10 years ago that she “swallowed a bunch of pills” however today’s method is different and much more detailed. Today we see Hannah slit her wrists; we see her parents find her after she has bled out in the tub. It is a heart wrenching scene. It is a striking step beyond the tapes. Even further still we hear Hannah narrate these tapes with so much emotion in her voice. Katherine Langford does an amazing job at making all the feelings feel. She’s telling the story as she knows it, how she has felt it. This adds so much to the story.

With all of the differences of the show and even the non differences, Jay Asher is fully on board with how the show depicts his story. At the top of this piece I listed all of the reasons the ALA cited as to why the book was placed on the Banned List, one of which was that it was inappropriate for it’s intended demographic. This show and this book depict a reality that parents and others might not want to deal with. But bullying and suicide rates are a very real thing.  As Asher said in an interview recently, “that raw and honest approach was my first big decision I had to make when writing the book, and the writers of the series felt the same way. These things happen, and to give respect to the people they do happen to, it felt wrong to hold back. It needs to be uncomfortable to read or watch. If it’s not, and we pull away, it felt like the story would only contribute to that problem of not truthfully tackling these things. We’re already good at avoiding uncomfortable subjects, and that needs to change.”

Read this book. Watch this show. Be conscious of how you treat others.

The Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs

 

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The first, second, and third novels of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children are very darkly whimsical. Not in a Tim Burton way (I promise lovelies, this is the only time I will mention him) but in a sepia toned, phonograph, crackling edges kind of way; a way that progresses at juuust the right pace. Ransom Riggs brings us into a tale that you have to read to believe.

We begin with the self titled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Jacob Portman’s adventure from being a normal to realizing his a peculiar. As Jacob is our narrator we learn things about this new world, its history and its secrets, at the same pace he does. Which is why we are equal parts unsure of his grandfather’s sanity and the possible truth to the far out stories of his past when he dies a tragic death by a creature only Jacob sees. It is this traumatic event that slowly begins the chain of events that will open Jacob’s (and our) mind to untold possibilities and bring us to the time loop(s).  We learn that Jacob’s gramps was a peculiar and so is Jake…they specifically can see these beasts that are ultimately Grandpa Portman’s downfall. Hollowgasts. They haunt peculiardom, eating the souls of any peculiar they can reach and are under the control of wights – the organized baddies. Anyway, peculiars. What are they, you ask? Who are they? Well, they are magnificent humans with the ability to do things like float, or have mouths on the back of their head, or create fire with their hands. I know your next thought: hmmm that sounds a lot like mutants. The thing is, these are all children…on the outside. The aforementioned timeloops are spaces on top of, or maybe behind, reality. They are little pockets that freeze a day and loop it forever; their inhabitants’s souls age however their bodies do not. This is where peculiars have taken to; unable to comfortably live in the open as wights and hollowgasts have hunted them for a century through the centuries. Not only are we introduced to this world in Riggs’s first title, we are also given brief glimpses of a much deeper narrative than just a boy grieving over his grandfather (that sounded dismissive but it is not meant to be) and finding his way back to the grandfather’s childhood home. There is the understanding that something serious is going on in these people’s worlds and we have arrived just in time!!!! (#savior) While the tone of this book is serious it has some moments of light. They are all still children: naive and living in a sunlit snapshot of time and when Jacob joins them he too has a lighter sense of self. As the book comes to a close we are promised that the understanding of and our perception of this time and place are about to be expanded even more. With a cliffhanger that leaves you thinking “Oh no!” there is no choice but to immediately pick up book number two.

Unfortunately it took me a whole year between buying the book and beginning to read it so there was a little remembering that I had to do which is okay because it picks up exactly where book one ended. Hollow City is the tale of Jacob and all of his new friends, Emma, Bronwyn, Enoch (et. al), on a rescue mission which has so many close calls you can’t help but speed through the book at the same breakneck pace. There is so much action and quick paced scenes that your eyes might not be able to keep up with your mind! We go from the sunny island of Cairnholm on which they have all lived for 60 years deeper into the loop to the same day but in London. The adventure of getting there and the people they meet gives us more insight into history and more is steadily revealed about this big bad. The fact that this is taking place during WWII is significant as the wights are able to pose as Nazis and no one thinks differently or realizes it. This allows them to be organized and systematically hunt down the entrances to these loops. They can’t go in, you see, so they employ traitors and trickery to get the peculiars and their guardians the ymbrynes to come out of the loop and get snatched right up. For what, you might ask? Well…that’s a mystery too. A dark and terrifying mystery as no one is ever seen from again and capturing an ymbryne is no easy feat. Over the course of Hollow City we are guided deeper and deeper into this loop and even into a couple of other ones too. The layers of the world that Riggs has created is dizzying at times. However, the addition of layers adds to the tone which has lost its sunshine and has gained an air of anxiety and fear; uncertainty about everything.

Just when you think we are about to have a happily ever after moment to end this rescue mission that has been chalk full of foiled plans and dastardly encounters the plot curves and leaves you gasping, “Well, fuck!”

This sentence is appropriate as it allows me to continue talking about this tone shift. I noticed a difference in Jacob’s words as the journey darkened and he had to grow up a bit and make some really tough decisions. It is in book three, Library of Souls, in which I first notice Jacob swearing. His shift is actually so perceptible in this one that he begins to think of himself as new Jacob and old Jacob. By this point, Jacob and Emma (who is our strong leading lady), have been through so much that they are exhausted and unable to trust anyone. A very old loop and a very shady ferryman usher J and E to Devil’s Acre where all of the outlaws of peculiardom have floated over the centuries. It is here that a steadily increasing amount of our friends are being held captive, abducted over the course of book two. Here we learn the twisted plan of the wights; this is the evil dungeon, the lair. Here we have the culmination of Jacob’s journey with Emma to save his friends. We also have, the final show down of the good vs. evil that has been plaguing these people. A carefully sleuthed plan, a final battle, and a resolution that covers all loose ends and loops. The dirge of Devil’s Acre is so disgusting and makes you squirm and grimace. It is in this horrible place that Jacob truly grasps his gifts and harnesses his ability. However, there are still a couple of chapters after the titanic tussle because life goes on after a battle and lives must be rebuilt. Can they be?

I tried to make these descriptions as vague as possible while staying interesting. I hope I did that. These books have really good twists and are very thoughtful in the telling of history (paradoxically) and an unravelling of what is behind a story. My favorite, I think, is book three as it has a character named Sharon whom I really enjoyed, shows what a community looks like in this horrid place, and reveals that there are so so many sides to a story. The evolution of Jacob Portman is really great to witness. I highly recommend this whole series and also the companion book. Tales of the Peculiar is a tome mentioned several times throughout the series and the printing of the books is comparable to that of Beetle the Bard’s tales. Something that I didn’t touch on at all yet is the fact that these books all include old early photographs of really odd and striking scenes with people who could very well be peculiar. They are all real and have been collected from various estates. This adds to that whimsicalness I mentioned at the top in which everything is just a bit spooky.

In closing, read these tales. Believe in the peculiar and in yourself.