Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Dr. Dan's Elixir
Potent Magic for Young Minds
    by Dan Shade
July 2007

The Mortal Instruments Book One: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), Copyright © 2007
485 pages, $17.99, Hardover
Age Group: 12 up

Werewolves, Vampires and Demons, Oh My! Zombies too and rumors of witches brew! And then there are the Shadowhunters who kill demons and keep the peace. Regardless, there is no peace among the Shadowhunters themselves. Besides the problem of fewer Shadowhunters being born with each generation, there are squabbles amongst the Shadowhunters. Some believe that magic should be used to generate more Shadowhunters while others believe the family lines should be purified by genocide.

This contemporary fantasy does not lack for ambition and zeal. And in most cases the author comes through. My biggest problem was in the name for normal humans, not half-breeds with werewolves for example, being mundanes. Muggles? Mundanes? Do we have a little similarity here? Yes, but to my relief it's the only thing in the book that is associated with Mr. Potter. The book takes off on its own energy and follows it's own flight plan.

Ms. Clare has developed a strong storyline with believable and even loveable characters. The main character, fifteen-year-old Clary Fray, and experiences the most phenomenal change through out the book. She starts as a whiney, spoiled girl and develops into a competent warrior who matures by leaps and bounds. Clare's secondary characters evolve in much the same way. Except, perhaps, for the evil Valentine. He's evil from the beginning to the end. As far as villains go, Captain Hook epitomized unbridled evil the most in my mind. Valentine makes Captain Hook look like a boy scout.

We open the book and there's hardly time to meet the first set of characters. Clary is instantly thrown into a melee. Without preamble, her mother announces they are going far away and going to stay there for a long time. Clary doesn't even have time to say goodbye to her friends. Then unexpected events find Clary at the institute. The institute is where Shadowhunter's live and train. There she meets Jace, Isabelle and Alec -- all accomplished Shadowhunters who begin to train Clary in the way of the demon warriors: strategy, use of weapons, weapon training, and frame of mind. Clary takes to this education in a subconscious way, which serves to make it second nature to her. Also, it is quickly determined that she has some Shadowhunter blood in her family tree. Who that person might be is another question to be answered in the pages of the book.

Clary's adventures to find her missing mother, grapple with the knowledge of her true parentage, to save her friends from certain death and her battle with the evil one himself (Valentine), make for very interesting reading. The plot twists at the end of the novel are very satisfying bringing the reader to the point of resolution except those few things necessary to follow with a sequel. I know there is a sequel planned because the title includes the words "Book One." Nevertheless, this is such a carefully crafted piece of work that it can well stand on it's own. Also, the plot twists at the end of the book were mostly of total surprise to me and I think of myself as a careful reader.

This a fine novel that provides a satisfying read. I recommend it without reservation and would give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Fingers by William Sleator
Tor Books, Copyright © 1983
197 pages, $6.99 Paperback
Age Group: 10 up
3 of 5 stars - I liked it.

William Sleator has been a wonderful discovery for me. In my endless search for books to review, I blundered into a William Sleator book last year. I've been reading and reviewing his work since then. All of the William Sleator I've read, since starting this column, has been clearly science fiction. Here, in Fingers, he crosses over to the supernatural, even perhaps into the horror subgenre. I believe that science fiction, horror, fantasy, etc., are all subgenres under a big umbrella called speculative fiction (For more information on Speculative Fiction go to www.lostbooks.org and read "What is Specutative Fiction." Anyway, for me this is Sleator's first experiment with the supernatural. He seems to handle it with rubber gloves keeping the horror of it all close but preventing it from becoming a gore fest. After all, the ghost of honor in this story was buried without his head or hands.

Humphrey was a musical child prodigy. As a child, his mastery of classical piano music led to sell-out shows and great prosperity for his family. Then something bad happened -- Humphrey grew up. Suddenly what had been cute and appealing about a young child no longer qualified as an adult. As time went on, fewer and fewer people came to Humphrey's performances and the good times for his mother disappeared. Just to make ends meet, Humphrey had to continue pounding out his music (pounding is the correct word as he has no artistic sense) while his mother, Bridget, had to settle for an unpleasant lifestyle of cheap hotels, horrible food, and no notoriety.

Humphrey has a brother, Sam, who truly is musically gifted. He can compose his own scores or better yet, he can imitate the composition style of any composer who has lived. Bridget comes up with a scheme for Sam to fake an undiscovered composition from a long dead and little known composer. Sam writes the music, they drug Humphrey. He passes out on top of the manuscript and in the morning they tell him he composed it in the night. Of course, he can't remember anything because of the drugs and therefore must accept the story that in Humphrey's sleep the ghost of the Hungarian composer Magyer visits him and Humphrey writes what the long dead Magyer has composed.

Something else happens that can't be explained. Humphrey continues to bang out his concert music then, whether or not there has been a call, he comes back for an encore. For the encore, Humphrey plays the faked Magyer piece. The crowd goes wild and over night Humphrey is a star again. For some mysterious reason, Humphrey plays the encore perfectly without his pounding, plodding method exhibited in the concert. This continues through three more concerts and compositions. The family is in the limelight again and cash is flowing and cameras are flashing.

Everyone is happy . . . except Sam, Humprey's older brother. He is receiving no recognition for his hard work in composing the new music every week or so. Some of the music he composes is based on silly songs children sing or the rhythm of the hot water pipes in the building. He doesn't realize his hands are being guided by some unearthly force. And who is the little old man that stops Sam after each concert to whisper a few words into his ear?

Truly a timeless work, Fingers is a book about marital relations, parenting and above all child rearing. It's also the story of strong, young people who when forced to solve complex puzzles without adult guidance can do so in with courage and aplomb.


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