Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves
EOS, 2007, Hardcover, 239 pp, $16.99
Sweet merciful heavens. A collaborative novel that not only doesn't suck, but is
actually actively good?
Few and far between, my friend.
Then again, Gaiman has a history of productive collaborations. The novel Good
Omens he did with Terry Pratchett somehow managed to be smartass-funny and
secretly tender and genuinely scary all at once, and of course the Sandman comic
book series he did with a stellar lineup of artists has been required reading for any
self-respecting fantasy fan for ages now. So maybe he's learned a thing or two
over the years. (Frankly, I have no idea who this Reaves character is, but it's high
praise to say that he's competing on a level playing field with Gaiman.)
In fact, I can't tell where one author stops and the other starts. I don't know how
they divvied up the writing chores; maybe one did the plotting and the other the
actual sentence-constructing, or maybe they took turns writing chapters, or
whatever. It's not important how they did it; what matters is that the end result
doesn't feel pieced-together in the slightest. It's not quite a Gaiman story, and I
suspect it's not quite a Reaves story either; instead, it's a new voice emerging from
the synthesis of two deeply talented dudes.
Above all, it doesn't bear the usual earmark of a collaboration: the feeling that
neither author cared about the book because "it's not really mine" is nowhere to be
found. What is found quite easily is an utterly endearing coming-of-age story:
Joey is on a school field trip when he gets lost. This isn't, however, particularly
unusual; Joey has the worst sense of direction in the school. No, in the state. In
fact, Joey might just be the most directionally-challenged person in the universe.
The thing is, ours isn't the only one out there.
A visitor from one of those alternate-dimension kind of places shows up. It's, uh,
Joey himself -- an older version from a different timeline, but still the same guy
underneath it all. It seems that while Joey might not be the best guy to ask for
directions in our universe, he's actually deeply talented at navigating between
universes. Which is, of course, how these things tend to go.
Bad guys show up, and there are many chase scenes and explosions, and the
characters in Joey's team of do-gooders (all different versions of himself, male and
female, young and old, from different universes) are fun and well-rounded. The
thrills are solid, there are a few moments of real grief, the pace is whiplash fast
and the dialogue is in some places almost Whedonesque. All in all, you'll have a
blast if you keep in mind that the book is meant as pure entertainment, not
medicine. It's not the next War and Peace; it's a really, really cool Saturday
morning cartoon. It helps that Gaiman is perhaps one of the most amiable, friendly
authors out there; that sort of genial good-naturedness is infused throughout the
Heck, you know what? There's really not much more to note beyond the fact that
this is a breezy, terrifically fun book. I read it in one sitting, and recommend you
do the same.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007, Hardcover, 759 pp, $34.99
Here are some of the reasons why this is obviously destined to be the most
superfluous review I'll ever write:
1. If you're already a drooling fan of the Harry Potter books, you were probably
prancing around in full wizard or witch garb at your local bookstore's midnight
release party with all the rest of us. You don't need this review because you read
the book in one sitting the day you got your greedy little hands on it. Heck -- if
you're at all honest, you'll probably admit that you've read it a couple times by
2. If you're one of those puppy-kicking, curly-black-mustachio-twirling
malcontents who yelled obscenities out the window of your car as you sped past
the aforementioned gatherings of drooling fans, the only use you'll get out of this
(gushingly positive) review will be a few delicious moments of feeling superior as
you mock us poor saps for caring so much about make-believe people. (Everyone
knows you're just jealous of our good time, so be a nice little rebel and go act
jaded somewhere else, aight? Have fun tripping nuns, or whatever it is you find
more entertaining than good books.)
3. If you're among those who are just kinda shoulder-shruggingly "meh" about the
whole thing, yet another thumbs-up review will probably not do much to get you
to pick up the book and take part in one of the biggest bursts of pop-culture
community-forming of our generation. Not that there's anything wrong with that;
I'm smugly certain that you'll see the light eventually and mend your grievous
error of judgement.
So, if anything, this review is just a selfish (and -- you've been warned -- perhaps
slightly spoiler-y) record of my own participation in all the hooplah. Let's
compare war stories, shall we?
To start with, I don't think there is any way this book stands alone, so if you
haven't read the others in the series, for heaven's sake get to it! The first couple of
books were pretty easy to pick up individually and enjoy on their own, but as the
story progressed, it became more and more necessary to know the full history of
these characters and the rules governing the magical societies they lived in. In this
last book, threads from all the previous books are picked up and come together in
one of the most glorious climaxes I've ever read. (Though I won't waste your time
with a plot synopsis, since everyone knows this final book is the bloodbath battle
between Harry and his friends and Voldemort and his minions.)
Seriously, this book lives up to the hype and more, an almost impossible task.
Throughout the entire story, the already-high tension of the previous installments
is ratcheted up in sharp bursts, building to a gigantic battle that rages across a
couple hundred pages and provides more tension than all the other books
combined. This is a freakin' ending, folks, and Rowling does not skimp on the
thrills. Practically every notable character from the series plays a part in the final
war, and we see clues given in the very first book finally pay off.
But the battle scenes would be worthless if we didn't care about the characters in
the midst of all the fighting. And even then, the most important relationship is one
that is largely, in this final book, one-sided:
That's the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore. The core dilemma of the
book is actually a sort of crisis of faith, whether or not all of Dumbledore's
planning and schemes are good. Rowling is practically writing about man and
God, and it's actually a far more complicated and mature question than many
books dealing with theology (in any guise) even try for. The basic moral question
is not "Do I believe that this purposer exists?" but rather "Is this purposer -- who
I know exists -- trying to accomplish something good, something praiseworthy,
something worth striving for?" After all, what is virtuous about having faith solely
in the mere existence of a planner? The real question is whether or not that
planner's purposes are good, and whether or not the methodology you're using to
examine their influence in the world can yield an accurate evaluation of their
. . . oh, there are so many memorable scenes in the book that I'm hard pressed to
even begin listing them. Dobby's sacrifice, Ron and Hermione's absolutely pitch-perfect declaration of love for each other, and on and on. Makes the New York
Times look more than a little silly for shunting the Potter books into a separate
category of best-seller.
Children's Literature? Give me a break. The Harry Potter books have transformed
a generation of non-readers into a voracious army of people hungry for stories that
fulfill their need for honor and noble sacrifice and friendship and love. We're
better people for having experienced the whole saga, for having these people and
their love for each other burned into our memories. The happy ending is
bittersweet, because we want to keep living with these friends.
Thankfully, that's what rereading was invented for.