Sunday, May 10, 2009

There'll always be a London: Philip Reeve, Fever Crumb (London: Scholastic, 2009).

Very good indeed. A prequel to Mortal Engines, it only slides into prequel mode very occasionally. Most of the time it is firmly its own book.

Fever Crumb has grown up in the Engineers' house shortly after the collapse of the Scriven rule of London. The Scriven were not quite human, and their inability either to breed true or to breed well with humans eventually led to their downfall and to the Patschkin riots.

On leaving the Engineers for the first time, Fever discovers she herself is at least part Scriven, but this becomes a minor issue as the nomads advance on London, and the archeologists and engineers look for the secret which the Scriven left behind.

Although there are some big themes, this is a slight novel, and most of its pleasures are in the discovery of the run down future London. It's nice to see an sf writer for kids keeping firmly to sf as well, the moment at which the book could have gone all mystic, science and scientific exploration comes firmly to the fore.

Untreasured: Michelle Harrison, 13 Treasures (Simon & Schuster, 2009).

Harrison, M. (2009). 13 Treasures. London, Simon & Schuster.
A very weak book: Tanya goes to stay with her grandmother because her mother can't cope with her apparently psychotic behaviour. There Tanya meets Fabian and together they unravel the mystery of the girl who went missing 50 years before. Tanya, it turns out, can see fairies, and Morwenna was kidnapped by the fairies many years ago.

The problem is that the book is very badly written, the sentences clunk, and the structure is all wrong. We spend too much time in the build up to figuring out what's going on, and only in the last fifth of the book does Fabian discover the secret Tanya is hiding. Only in the last tenth do we find out that Morwenna went willingly and that everyone is conspiring to protect Tanya. I wish I could say that Tanya figures out how to protect herself, but she is actually saved by Red, a girl who is herself trying to rescue her brother from the fairies--a twist which could have been fascinating but which is handled as a mere side-story. The 13 treasures barely figure.

The two most grating aspects of the book are the newspaper stories which are written as if by someone who has never actually read a newspaper crime report, and the Enid Blyton style wise gypsy woman.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Elliot, Zetta. (2008). A Wish After Midnight. ?, Self-published?

The easy way to describe A Wish After Midnight is that it's a YA version of Octavia Butler's _Kindred_. I mean that as a compliment by the way.

Genna lives in Brooklyn. In the first half of the novel we see through her eyes all the threats that Black ghetto families face. Under the pressure of poverty and low expectations her family is disintegrating, and Genna's chances of getting up and out are diminished with every attempt she makes to help her mother. Her own confidence however is increased when she meets a Rastafarian boy called Judah.

In the second half, Genna finds herself flung back into 1863 Brookly, badly injured although she can't remember how. She is taken in by free black folk and settles down to the indignities of being Black in America in 1863. Later, Judah arrives, but he has been sold into slavery and is far willing to accept the hard scrabble comfort of freedom. The book ends with the draft riots, and a place for a sequel.

This really is rather a good book: the pre time travel section is too long for my tastes, but it's exploration of Genna's life is complex and demonstrates the degree to which racism is held together by many institutional structures. Once in the past the book really takes off: the racism and prejudice of white northerners is given short shrift, the ways in which white immigrants and blacks are played off against each other is dealt with very well, the compromised expectations of many people are depicted well, and the casual prejudice of the well meaning is displayed.