Review: The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke

Available at Amazon.com
Officially my fourth venture into the wonderful world of author Cornelia Funke's mind, The Thief Lord is, on the whole, a bit more grounded in reality than her other works -- a shaker of salt with a bit of fairy dust mixed in. She tells the story of two young brothers who've just lost their parents, and who run away to Venice rather than face separation at the hands of their Grimm-like stepmother, their aunt Esther, and her aloof business-minded husband, neither of whom care very much for children in any case.

Upon their arrival in Venice--alone, cold, and hungry--they're taken in by a band of child-thieves, led by a slightly older child who calls himself The Thief Lord. For some time, everything goes well for the group who are supplied by their daily wallet-snatching, as well as by larger robberies that the Thief Lord takes on by himself in the dark of night. But then the Lord and his crew are offered a break-in job they can't refuse, just as a bumbling detective appears hot on the trail of aunt Esther's runaway nephews.

And just as you think all will be lost -- the Thief Lord has been revealed as being a thief only of his own home, the detective has caught up to them and escaped the childrens' grasp, and they've now been caught breaking into a private home -- that is when the magic comes in. It's not an easily-explained magic which could be why the book feels somewhat lopsided.

On the one hand, you have the children who are perfectly content to remain as they are and grow up in due time, and on the other you have Scipio and the Conte and Barbarossa, whose desires to be what they are not amount to enough to refresh this old magic of either turning the clock backward or forward. For Scipio, it comes across as a kind of Peter Pan in reverse.

I liked the book, and I enjoyed Funke's attention to detail, which made Venice seem magical on its own. However, the late introduction of "real" magic and the general weakness of all of the antagonists made the novel itself kind of weak. I loved the merry band of thieving children à la Robin Hood or Peter Pan, but without a solid Sheriff of Nottingham or Captain Hook to pit them against, there just isn't much of a good story.


Review: The Princetta, by Anne-Laure Bondoux

I am *in love* with this cover
Originally published in French as La Princetta et le Capitaine, Anne-Laure Bondoux’s 2004 novel is a children’s epic of adult proportions. Published in the U.S. by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, it has retained the basic aspects of a children’s novel – the high adventure, made up creatures and far-off places—but has also retained a mature perspective on the concept of the hero and of the epic journey.

Bondoux has managed to make adult emotions and situations playful by creating a whole new world out of the mixed origins of our real world. She’s taken known cultures – American, German, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Japanese and French (for example) and mixed them together, mixed their languages together, to make this new world with its new vocabulary.

Some terms and items retain their meanings (i.e. a harem is still a harem and a sword is still a sword) but others are composites of various languages. For instance, the robes worn inside the harem are called “sarimonos,” an obvious combination of the Indian sari and the Japanese kimono. (Yes, I feel like the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.) . And then there are the slave-guardians of Gai’s harem, the preunuchs, a term which sounds like a mix of “prefect” (at least, by Harry Potter standards of the definition of prefect) and “eunuch.”

Bondoux not only combined languages, but created a tour de force of both cultural and literary pastiche. The structure of the story is basically reminiscent of French and German fairy tales but as the journey continues the palate broadens, dipping into shades of Greek tragedy, biblical parables and even venturing towards LeGuin’s Earthsea in the chapters on the archipelago. Even some of the character names draw on literature and myths—specifically Orpheus (related to the myth of Orpheus and Euridice), Zeph (best associated with Zephyrus who brought Psyche to Cupid’s palace) and—though perhaps the most obscure—Babilas (who is quite large and quite strong, whereas St. Babilas was the patron saint of those with rheumatism and arthritis.)

I imagine the novel was quite a task for translator Anthea Bell to take on. Taking words of mixed origins settled among the regular French text must have been slightly troublesome. However, she managed wonderfully. As beautiful as I’m sure the novel reads in its original French, Ms. Bell has managed to take Bondoux’s work and make English feel like the original. That being said, the real beauty lies in the imaginative world that Bondoux has created—a world where women are sometimes islands, fathers are not always kind, and dreams aren’t always what we’ve wished for.

A side note: this is one of those books that I came across kind of accidentally, and fell in love with. I'm sad that I have to give it back to the library, and I hope to someday own my own hardcover copy...when I can afford it!


Review: Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, stories, by Maile Meloy

I seriously need to get out of short story land. I think part of my problem is that I LOVE covers. I'm constantly judging books by their covers because THAT'S WHAT THE COVERS ARE FOR! Thousands of artists, graphic artists and designers and editors go to school and study to create the most enticing covers. It's only right that I give them their due. I haunt the Book Cover Archive looking for new, interesting-looking books all the time. Does that mean that they ARE interesting? No. But what if they *are*?


Review: American Eve - Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the "It" Girl and the Crime of the Century, by Paula Uruburu

Anyone who knows E. L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime, or the film or musical it spawned, will understand the terms of Uruburu's title. Before the musical, I'd never heard of Evelyn Nesbit or her reputation, or of the "crime of the century." I suppose the subsequent world wars, other wars, and the O. J. Simpson trial kind of usurped Harry Thaw's place in history.


Review: Possession, by A. S. Byatt

It's very difficult for me to be objective about the books I really and truly love. My concise, spoiler-free commentary on Inkdeath realllly pushed me, and now I'm following up with Possession, which I have been in love with for seven years. It would be like me trying to be objective about Austen novels - I just can't do it. Rip-offs on Austen? Done. Casually tossed-in Austen reference? Done. But I can't, with any kind of scholarly respect or pride, present an objective review or account of an Austen novel unless I have something to compare it with say, in discussions with co-workers, etc. This book holds the same reigns to my heart.