Thursday, July 14, 2005

All the World in a Library Pt.2: Rhiannon Lassiter, Borderland (Oxford: OUP, 2003), Outland ( 2004); Shadowland (2005).

I blogged the middle book in this sequence on April 07 2005. I said then that while I had little time for trilogies I was going to buy the first and third of these.

Let me amend this: I have little time for ongoing, apparently endless sequences. Up until now, K. A. Applegate was the only writer for whom I was prepared to make an exception. I would now like to add Rhiannon Lassiter to this elite category. That only three have been published so far leaves me biting my nails with frustration.

(Andre Norton judges, note that Shadowland was published in 2005.)

Borderland, Outland and Shadowland , could have been a conventional portal fantasy in which children go through into another world and rescue it. Instead, it's a critique of the portal fantasy. Laura and Alex go through into another world and in their attempts to take it over (Alex thinks of himself as another Alexander the Great, Laura is more subtle) manage to bring the entire political edifice down around their ears, killing several thousand people. Jzhera, desert warrior woman in love with Alex comes to realise that he has feet of clay, and that she can't remember what her tribe were going to do with the wealth of the desert city had they won it anyway. Morgan, goth chick who discovers she is a magician, doesn't actually do very much with her magic until she lashes out and blinds Laura. Zoe is the military brat who tags along and gets caught up in it all. Then there are Ciren and Charm, weapons of the Wheel faction of the Great Library. Charm can read minds, Ciren can read magics. They recruit Morgan and her royal lover Kal, but don't actually tell them very much about the Library and even less about the Wheel.

At the end of Borderland, Morgan and Kal go off to the library with Ciren and Charm while Laura, Alex, Zoe and Jzhera escape through the portal (Door) underneath the city. In Outland the two groups move through their different routes. This should be the usual marking time, but there is so much character development going on, and the two groups are so conflicted (Morgan and Kal get more suspicious of Charm and Ciren; Zoe realises she hates Laura while Laura is plotting what to do next). Both groups meet up in the Justice faction where Laura. the one who is best at understanding strange places, manipulates the courts to get Alex and Morgan exiled to earth.

In Shadowland Morgan and Alex are kidnapped by Ciren and Charm and taken to the Wheel which wants Morgan's magic. In the process of freeing themselves, Morgan and Alex both learn a lot about who and what they are capable of being, but interestingly, Alex remains a prideful idiot. Ciren and Charm realise they too are victims and free themselves from the Wheel. More interestingly, Zoe, Jhezra and Laura come to an accomodation. Zoe and Jezra still loathe Laura, and she still thinks they are fools. but the can work together.

And meanwhile there is the library with its factions, and plots; lessons on imperialist interference, and economic imperialism. The doctrine of non-interference comes under some severe scrutiny, but without offering any easy answers. The library continues to spread its borgesian tentacles through the mind of the universe (and also provides some of the funniest lines). The books continue to hold sf and fantasy in tension, and while they address questions of growing up, they are always and ever in the sf context (there is some nice discussion about the way their "relative" ages shift according to which world they are in).

And dammit, it ends on a cliff hanger. I want the next book.

Lassiter has the coolest website. Go to: Lassiter. The frames site is amazing. One link is to children's literature resources.

I also kept thinking that some of the technique and arguments were vaguely reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones. Turns out there is a reason for that.


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