Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Booklog: Zazoo, The Black Tattoo, Fairest
Zazoo, by Richard Mosher
Thirteen-year-old Zazoo is an orphaned Vietnamese girl who lives on the quiet banks of a French canal with her elderly adoptive Grand-Pierre. Her life is peaceful, marked only by worries about her increasingly aged and beloved grandfather. One day, her life is disturbed by a seemingly chance encounter with a boy on a bicycle who asks questions that lead Zazoo to start to question her grandfather's past. What happened to him during World War II, which he calls the Awful Time? And why do the villagers call him a hero, but seem to be afraid of him?
This is a quiet story about past life and present, filled with missed romance and romance that spans generations. Zazoo's narrative is lively and sweet and innocent, peppered with poetry and occasional true insight. And the mystery of Grand-Pierre's past, as well as the motives of Zazoo's bicycling friend, are compelling enough to move the story to its very beautiful and touching end. It's not an exciting story, but it is a lovely one.
The Black Tattoo, by Sam Enthoven
Jack's best friend, Charlie, has always been cooler than him. So when Charlie is chosen out of the blue to be the leader of a mysterious demon-fighting Brotherhood, Jack can't help but follow his friend. But when Charlie sports a moving black tattoo on his back overnight, and starts exhibiting superpowers, Jack begins to worry - and rightly so. Because Charlie hasn't just joined a secret Brotherhood - he's actually been possessed by the very demon they are sworn to fight, and the demon is using Charlie as a pawn in his quest to destroy all of existance. And so, Jack and Esme, a girl who has trained all her life to fight the demon, will follow Charlie into the very depths of Hell to stop the demon and save Charlie - if they can.
The cover copy was intriguing. The book, however, was nothing like I anticipated. Charlie gets possessed very suddenly, before we have a chance to care about him, or Jack. Esme is introduced, but only barely - we hardly know her enough to care about her. And before we know it, our characters have been catapulted into Hell, which is another dimension, accessable through a pub, where everything changes. The story segways into a demonic gladiator scenario, and then jumps and jumps again, from plot point to derivative plot point. The story as a whole, I suppose, is original, but it's so choppy that it's hard to follow or even care. The characters are undeveloped, to the point that I found that I really didn't care if they lived or died. This book is totally and completely forgettable.
Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine
Aza is not just not pretty: she is downright ugly. Tall and broad with an unpleasant complexion and dull black hair, she is so unattractive that she was abandoned by her (probably noble) parents in a room in the Featherbed Inn when she was a baby. Luck was on her side, however, and her adoptive parents raised her with love. Now, as an adult, Aza posesses one of her country's most prized talents - a powerful and beautiful singing voice. Through a twist of fate, Aza finds herself journeying to the royal court for the royal wedding - and winds up in the favor of the beautiful new queen. What seems like royal good luck soon becomes royal danger as the queen forces Aza to use her talents in her service. Aza must figure her way out of a royal mess before she ends up dead or worse.
With Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine hit the nail on the head. Ella was the perfect rewritten fairy tale - a compelling plot independant of the familiar fairy tale, an engaging heroine, a genuinely likeable prince, and truly despicable villains, not to mention a structure for the story that made perfect sense. In Fairest, GCL tries to capture the same magic again, and fails miserably. It's the same formula, but it doesn't work as well. Aza isn't half as likeable as Ella, with her desperate longing to be pretty, and the prince feels like we're supposed to like him because GCL thinks he should be likeable - but he isn't, at all. The whole structure, with the Ayorthan emphasis on singing, feels forced and kind of stupid. The twists feel unnatural. It reads like the poorer, less interesting cousin of Ella Enchanted. Completely underwhelming.