Wicked is Gregory Maguire’s marvelous interpretation of the Wizard of Oz story.   A few years ago,  I was entranced by his  rather cynical and realistic  “behind-the-scenes”  notion of this tale.   Who could have thought of the politics, the pathos, and the twisted perception of events that, in Maguire’s mind,  shaped the famous children’s story as we know it today?  After reading his ingeniously told Side B of the story, I can never look at the Wicked Witch of the West the same way again.

In case you’re curious about what I deem to be this author’s best,  see a review from Room Full Of Words.    Indeed you may be hard put to find a rendition of  the Wizard of Oz that is charming but also scathing, compelling and so multi-layered in scope as Wicked.

Naturally, I gravitated towards this sequel, Son Of A Witch, which tells the story after the Wicked Witch of the West’s, Elphaba Thropp’s demise.

Author :  Gregory Maguire

Date of First Publication :  September 27, 2005

Publisher: Regan Books; 1st ed edition (Hardcover)

Date of Publication for this Edition :   September 30, 2008

Publisher of this Edition :  Harper

ISBN-10: 0061714739

ISBN-13: 978-0061714733

No. of Pages :  464

The Story :

After the revolution that unseated the Wizard of Oz  and had Dorothy inadvertently melting the Wicked Witch of the West, the tale in Oz continues. The countryside of Oz is menaced  by inexplicable murders in which victims’ faces are scraped off, the crimes many believe to have been perpetrated by the Yunamata.   Liir, the little boy in Elphaba’s castle, is found broken and at death’s door.  He is delivered to a mauntery either for care or burial.  No one knows who he is or what had almost cost him his life, except for Old Mother Yackle, a silent, batty crone who believes he is Elphaba’s son.

The Superior Maunt assigns a young girl, Candle, who plays a domingon beautifully , to give whatever comfort her music may bring, either to aid in Liir’s death or help in his mending.    Liir responds to the healing music and wakes to slowly remember what brought him here.  His life is a journey of questions :  Who is he? Is he really the witch’s son? What of his missions:  to find his childhood friend, Nor and to grant the Yunamata leader’s dying wish?

With Elphaba’s broom and cape in hand, he faces his questions as best he can.  Meantime, he learns of the political machinations behind all the murders  by the powers-that-be in Oz.  So he takes up the cudgels of his questioned heritage and decidedly albeit resignedly takes up the fight for the people’s rights just as his eccentric mother of a witch had done before him.

The Review :

I have read Wicked and have been flying around on its broomstick, until I  crashed with a resounding” THUD” with Son Of A Witch.

As a sequel, Son Of A Witch is darker and much more serious than its predecessor.  The overall feel is like going through a wasteland of negative emotions.   Although Maguire incorporates love, forgiveness, perseverance, and honor,  they come at the expense of an overbearing sense of depression all throughout the book.  It is a dreary fantasy that comes across as too odd, too black,  too serious, too everything.  Maybe because it doesn’t have that light other side to it like Wicked had.   I mean Wicked, although cynical, came out fantastically done because it was more like the “inside scoop” on what really happened in the fairy tale, the Wizard of Oz.  That made it totally interesting, without mentioning Maguire’s superb writing and conceptualization yet.  Son Of A Witch, though, isn’t based on anything so perhaps immersing in this rather eccentric world becomes too tedious to bother.    A non sci-fi reader trying to read science fiction would perhaps know what I mean.

Actually, I am hard put on how to rate this particular book as I did like some aspects and but mostly hated a lot of others.   The pros going for this book  are Maguire’s prose and main character development.  He handles shifting from serious philosophical meanderings to crude down-to-earth remarks rather well. There is humor in this book;  Maguire is never without it.   His brand is not the subtle kind but straight-to-the point jocularity that is oftentimes laced with sarcasm or vulgarity or even childishness.   Character development is to be lauded as well.   Liir’s personality progression  is realistically paced and drawn.

Now on to the cons…Despite the prose I have always admired of Maguire and the  believable development of the main character,  the author just manages to strip this book of much appeal.   It is its universal dreariness, its oddity perhaps, and its tiresome characters that bring the book down as a crashing bore.  I just stayed with the book so I could make this review;  otherwise, I would have chucked it out as a waste of time.

To Read Or Not To Read :

I can’t help but compare Wicked and Son Of A Witch because I am sorely disappointed.  Invest your time in other reads unless you so love Maguire’s Oz or you just revel in Maguire’s phraseology and his style of festooning his fantasy world with realism.  Then, you may not mind the pervasive moodiness this book offers.

In case you still feel like reading Son Of A Witch, don’t attempt to do so if you haven’t read Wicked.  The author assumes you have read the first so he does not offer explanations about events or characters in this one.  Moreover, the conclusion is a hanging one as the story continues on to A Lion Among Men, the third and last book of The Wicked Years trilogy.

As with Wicked, this sequel is far from a YA novel.  Allusions to and spot mention of violence and sexuality categorize this book as adult fantasy.

In A Nutshell:

I don’t think Maguire should have made a sequel, much less a trilogy.  Wicked is brilliant in itself and doesn’t need to be propped by a rather unsatisfying addendum.

My Mark  :  Fair

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Author :  Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Date of First Publication :  March 2006  (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition:  William Morrow

Date of Publication for this Edition :  December 2006  (Mass Paperback)

Publisher for this Edition :  Harper Torch

ISBN 10: 0-06-085398-0

ISBN 13: 978-0-06-085398-3

No. of pages : 432

The Story:

Heaven and Hell had left their agents on Earth since the dawn of time on Earth — an angel to make sure things go right and a demon with the express mission to wreak havoc on mankind.  Things seem to be going so well for both through the centuries; but now the powers-that-be both above and below decide it is time for the showdown between good and evil.

Crowley, the demon had been charged by Hell to oversee the coming of the Anti-Christ.  But hey, he’s enjoying the twenty-first century and Earth is much more exciting than Hell.  Aziraphale, the angel, also in his comfort zone on Earth, finds himself much more comfortable being with humans than with the “hosts on high”.  Both are loath to see THE END.  So angel and demon strike an unlikely alliance to divert the Prophecies and avert Armageddon.

Only no one knows there was a mix-up in the hospital.  Both Crowley and Aziraphale try to influence the little boy, Warlock, to thwart his nature as an Anti-Christ.  Only too late did both realize that Warlock is just a normal boy;  it is Adam who is the Anti-Christ but he had grown up outside their influences.  So, Crowley and Aziraphale both race against time and the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse (Hell’s Angels) to see if they still stand a chance of saving the world.

The Review :

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett make a rollicking great writing tandem with Good Omens.  I had loads of laughs with this one. The authors must have had a ball collaborating on creating their funny version of  the Biblical Apocalypse.  And got paid for it too!  Lucky guys!

I wish I had read a Neil Gaiman and a Terry Pratchett book to discern which parts were influenced by which author; unfortunately, this is my first time with both and I had to pick up a co-authored book.

Crowley, a dapper demon  and the bookish angel Aziraphale are both lovable characters you wish you could get to know for real.  Despite the overall hilarity in this book, Gaiman and Pratchett throw in some philosophic bones to chew on from time to time, in their characters’ dialogues :  

“Well”, said Crowley….”haven’t you ever wondered about it all?  You know–your people and my people, Heaven and Hell, good and evil, all that sort of thing?  I mean why?”

“As I recall, ” said the Angel stiffly, “there was the rebellion and—“

“Ah yes.  and why did it happen, eh?  I mean, it didn’t have to, did it?”  said Crowley, a manic look in his eye.  “Anyone who could build a universe in six days isn’t going to let a little thing like that happen.  Unless they want it to, of course.  “

“Oh come on.  Be sensible,” said Aziraphale. doubtfully.

“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley.  “….If you sit down and think about it sensibly, come up with some very funny ideas.  Like : why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!”?

“I don’t remember any neon.”

Metaphorically, I mean. I mean, why do that if you really don’t want them to eat it, eh?  I mean, maybe you just want to see how it all turns out.  Maybe it’s all part of a great big ineffable plan.  All of it.  You, me, him, everything.  Some great big test to see if what you’ve built all works properly, eh? You start thinking :  it can’t be a great cosmic game of chess, it has to be just very complicated Solitaire……”

Well, why indeed?

To Read Or Not To Read :

Feeling bored?  Good Omens makes a good cure for a lazy weekend.  Its irreverent, wry wit,  goofy characters, wacky plotline, and footnotes about funny minutae just make this jocular bundle worth picking up.  Take this little aside for instance :

The end justifies the means, thought Aziraphale.  And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. *

Footnote: * This is not actually true.  The road to Hell is paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen.  On weekends many of the younger demons go ice skating down it.

Unless you absolutely do not possess a shred of humor where Biblical prophecies are concerned or are a salesman of any kind—door-to-door and telemarketers included,  this book will tickle your funny bone.

Indeed, “the Apocalypse has never been funnier.” —- Clive Barker

My Mark :  Very Good!

I wanted a short, easy no-brainer.  I got everything I wanted in this :

Author : Annette Blair

Date of  Publication : December 2006

Publisher : Berkley Sensation  (Mass Paperback)

ISBN-10: 0786296577

ISBN-13: 978-0786296576

No of pages : 389

The Story :

Vickie, a witch in denial, inherits a wardrobe and opens it to find a beautifully carved carousel unicorn inside.  Desperate to pay her grandmother’s medical and funeral expenses, she advertises its sale on TV.  Rory, a descendant of the  once respectable Mackenzie clan now turned community pariah, sees  the woman of his dreams (I mean, literally) holding the answer to restore the good name of his family.

Long ago, his ancestor, a famous carver,  broke his engagement with a beautiful witch (Vickie’s grandmother) who people said, cast a curse upon the Scottish village.  Regretful all of his life, Rory’s grandfather, before he died,  sent his beloved witch his most splendid creation — a carousel unicorn, part of a merry-go-round that brought prosperity to the village;  but one that would never run again until the curse is lifted.

So, Rory goes to find this unicorn, with a mission to take it, bring it back, rebuild the carousel, and restore the community’s prosperity and his good name.  Only thing, he has to contend with the witch and choose between love and family honor.

The Review :

As I mentioned, I just wanted a short easy read, a no-brainer after “Exile. Well, a real no-brainer is what I got!  I know, I know…the synopsis sounds cheesy and serves me right for picking this out of a sale bin again just because the title was a parody of  “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe“.  I’m not above reading shallow, fun  lit and I thought this was a cute, little romance with some magic thrown into it.  NOT!

The characters were odd and totally without some self-respect, either.  I don’t know what Blair was trying to accomplish. For instance, I think she wanted everything for her main character, Vickie.  She wanted her sexy, yet dressed her in dowdy vintage clothes;  a bold sex siren yet a frightened virgin (technically speaking since she deflowered herself years ago with dildos all named Brock—*shudder, shudder*–but has never been with a man); bohemian, cluttered, and fun but essentially good for nothing — can’t do business, cook, clean, balance books, etc. to save her life!  So here comes the knight in shining armor, the ruggedly handsome Scot who can do everything!  Cook, clean, balance books, organize, repair anything, and make her and others’ blood  boil for want of this stud. Thankfully, he falls short of being perfect by his hermitic attitude.

With amateurish writing, a main character whose personality ridiculously morphs from one thing into another, and annoying minor characters in the mix, you just gotta be drunk to like this trash.

My Mark :  Poor — Laughable;  Don’t Bother

To get into the spirit of R.I.P. IV (and as my first read for Fall into Reading 2009),  I settled down under my toasty comforter in a cold room with only my lamp on and this book.  A good way to get spooky-filled thoughts while reading.  The first few pages hit my creepy cravings spot and soon I was on my own towards horrorville.

Author :  Graham Masterton

Date of Publication:  April 29, 2008

Publisher  :  Lesiure Books (mass market paperback)

ISBN-10: 0843957905

ISBN-13: 978-0843957907

No. of pages :  325

The Story :

Three Los Angeles crime lords have allied themselves with black magic through four powerful witches imported from voodoo-practicing countries.  These witches wreak gruesome havoc on the Los Angeles Police Department, undermining its leaders and violently neutralizing law enforcement with regard to their cabal.

Only Detective Dan comes to wholeheartedly believe in witchcraft and seeks to fight fire with fire.  He turns to his neighbour, good Witch Annie, to combat this evil nemesis.  Both have to face hell to save the whole city from this unstoppable evil.

My Review:

At the start, Masterton strongly wields his mighty horror pen, and I think, “Ooooh…yeah!…Finally, something deliciously shivery…”    The first few chapters are riveting, nauseating grippers that dish up scenes like this one:

“Cusack’s stomach churned again, even more violently.  He felt a tickling right at the back of his throat, and he couldn’t stop himself from letting out a cackling retch.  He spat into his hand and spat again, and when he opened it three live cockroaches ran across his fingers and dropped onto the floor…but Cusack was gripped by another hideous spasm, and this time…with his eyes bulging as a huge gush of cockroaches poured out of his mouth and into his lap…”

Just as I’m really into the whole thing, frantically turning page after page, Masterton’s pen starts to gradually peter out of horrific ideas.  It isn’t abrupt but it’s a slow descent toward a lame end so that I am left with just a cold room without the chills. Then I wonder where had that gut-churning terror— the kind that inspired me to keep to the story til 3 a.m.— gone to?

Sigh.  It was kind of a letdown;  I was all so revved up by the voodoo and visceral violence.

Later on it also struck me that if these hideously powerful women had all that magic at their fingertips, why couldn’t they just dispense with the crime lords and be the ruling gang instead?  That’s one angle in the story I felt the author didn’t quite think through.

But hey, it wasn’t all that bad. There are definitely worse out there.  It’s good enough though to get you through a long plane ride, being the fast easy read that it is.

In A Nutshell :

Masterton is a multi-awarded author of the horror genre.  But since even multi-awarded authors have their duds; I guess “The 5th Witch” has to be  one of those efforts that just didn’t work out.  He starts out strong but loses steam along the way so that the novel begins reading like a “B” movie.  Still, some of you may enjoy it especially if you love yucky stuff and gore.  As for me, disgusting and gruesome is ok as long as it’s got a great ending.

My Mark  :   Mediocre

P. S. :

The conclusion also left me in a puzzle.  What was that about the cat?  Didn’t get it….If you do, I would appreciate your two bits on this.

Merrick” is my first choice for the R.I.P. IV Challenge just because it’s been quite some time since I’ve read anything from my all-time favorite gothic author, Anne Rice.  As a side story created from her famous vampire and Mayfair witch series,  it merges  Rice’s vampire world with those of her witches’.

Author :   Anne Rice

Date of First Publication :  October 17, 2000

Publisher of First Edition (Hardcover) :  Alfred A. Knopf

My Edition’s Publication Date :  July 2001

My Edition Published By :  The Ballantine Publishing Group (Mass Paperback)

No. of Pages :  379

What It’s All About :

Readers of Rice’s vampire series will be familiar with David Talbot, the secretive Talamasca society’s former Director-General turned bloodsucker by the indomitable Vampire Lestat.  As a favor to his preternatural friend Louis, he approaches the love of his former life,  Merrick, a powerful mortal descended from a long line of witches of the Mayfair clan.  He asks her to call the spirit of a dead vampire child, Claudia, whom Louis had so loved and protected.  From Louis’ desire to know about the witch who agreed to grant his utmost desire,  the story of Merrick is told by David who recounts her life, from the little girl she was when she first came to the Talamasca’s attention to the beautiful, sensual, powerful witch she has become–dangerous enough even to a vampire.

It would be a Rice vampire fan’s  interest to know that the famous Lestat makes a minor comeback here.

The tale revolves mostly on the new character, Merrick,  although there are some jolting surprises by our beloved vampires toward the end.

My Review :

Anne Rice is in her usual passionately sublime style with “Merrick“.  The feel is deliciously dark although there is always a lofty atmosphere, which is a classic Anne Rice stamp on her gothic novels. Her characters always seem to yearn toward something much more and if anything, her novels always have a sense of hope and salvation.

She imbues her unholy characters with strong human passions, and in these are her characters’ saving graces which grip the reader’s affinity and empathy.    When Louis or  David feel, they feel deep pathos, exultation at beauty, stunned awe, infinite hatred, and all-consuming love.  There seems to be no in-between for Rice’s characters.

This is particularly true with her vampire personalities which thrive on beauty.  She has been consistent of their traits from the first book in the vampire series, “Interview With A Vampire” ’til this book.  To illustrate, David’s thoughts on looking at Louis:

“He looked rather splendid in his sorrow.  Again he made me think of the paintings of Andrea del Sarto.  There was something lush in his beauty, for all the sharp and clear well-drawn lines of his eyes and mouth.”  — p. 81

Moreover, her characters are always strongly sensual and oftentimes have no sexual boundaries.  This leaves the author a lot of leeway in exploring sexual issues.  In this particular novel, age factors and homosexuality.

As in most of her other novels,  expect some philosophical meanderings in this one.  As Rice’s vampires are deep feelers and thinkers, she keeps a consistency in their traits all throughout her chronicles.  This novel is no exception:

Louis : “You speak of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as magical, and I understand you, because if the Bread and Wine are transformed into the Holy Sacrifice of the Crucifixion, it is magical, but why does it involve blood?…

What I’m saying is, we might compare rituals the worlds over in all religions and all religions and all systems of magic, forever, but they always involve blood.  Why?  Of course I know human beings cannot live without blood; I know that ‘the blood is the life’, saith Dracula;   I know that humankind speaks in cries and whispers of blood-drenched altars, of bloodshed and blood kin, and blood will have blood, and those of the finest blood.  But why?  What is the quintessential connection that binds all such wisdom or superstition?  And above all, why does God want blood?”– p. 83

You never leave a book from her vampire series without some food for thought.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Although Anne Rice does go back to give a bit of background on her characters,  it would be better for new readers to read the first two or three novels in her “Interview With the Vampire” series so that they would know the characters in context.  Not having a background on the Mayfair witches is alright because Merrick is a new character;  but the Louis, Lestat, Claudia, and David Talbot are vital characters upon whose histories the reader’s appreciation depends.

If you had read the first six novels in the Rice’s  vampire collection,  “Merrick” is a must-read.  It may not stand out as the others but in this, Louis goes through a major turning point which should not be missed.

In A Nutshell:

Those who have not read Anne Rice should know that she has written a wonderful series on vampire and another independent series on witches.  Those worlds had not touched each other until this book; so that Rice’s fans of both series had been thrilled to know that the author breathed new life especially to her vampire chronicles by merging them in “Merrick“.

The resulting novel is quite good; however, it is not that close to Rice’s best ones.  Nevertheless, it is a good addition to her vampire chronicles for her famous pair, Lestat and Louis, are back and are setting the stage for more adventures with a looming war with the Talamasca.  And Rice is still in top form with her lush detailing and profound prose.

My Mark :  Very Good