Showing posts with label Philip Pullman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philip Pullman. Show all posts

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Rating: WORTHY!

This volume concludes the trilogy and begins with Mrs Coulter holding Lyra hostage having apparently had a change of heart toward her and now is not intent upon killing her but saving her. The two hide-out in a remote cave. Balthamos and Baruch, the angels, are intent upon conveying Will to Lord Asriel, but he's going nowhere until he's found Lyra.

The Magisterium is after physicist Mary Malone, sending an assassin to track and eventually kill her after she's led him to Lyra. Mary finds her way through a window between worlds and ends up in a weird place where the dominant species are in many ways rather elephantine creatures which use disk-like seed pods for traveling on natural roads, using the tree oil to lubricate these pod wheels. Mary makes her home in this world for a while and studies the people and the trees, discovering that the dust, leaking between worlds, is causing issues. It is she who invents the amber spyglass.

Will meanwhile has persuaded Iorek Byrnison to help him rescue Lyra. After this occurs they have one of the strangest adventures, wherein Will and Lyra and a couple of others have to visit the world of the dead, and this means leaving their dæmons behind, which is exceedingly painful to them, but they succeed in this heroic quest and survive. This changes Lyra's relationship with Pan, and the two of them can now be further apart than ever they were able before, without enduring the intense pain a separation normally causes. They then have to battle the ghost-like Gallivespians, and they do this by luring them into the world where Mary was hanging out, wand where the Gallivespians cannot survive.

Will and Lyra are now in love as evidenced by the cavorting of their dæmons, but it's a love that's destined to be denied, because they neither of them can survive indefinitely outside of their own world, and so are forced to separate for the rest of their lives, unable even to open a window, because of the leaking Dust problem. Despite this sad ending, I still commend this as a worthy read!

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

Rating: WORTHY!

Will Parry is being sought by bad men, is taking care of his mother, and is obsessed over the disappearance of his father. He thinks that if only he can find his lost explorer father, then all his problems will be solved. He's wrong.

He deposits his mom with a family friend where he feels she will be safe while he goes to Oxford to try and find clues on his father's whereabouts, but the bad guys find him, and suddenly, having accidentally killed one of them, he's on the run, and he stumbles upon a window into a parallel world. In this world he runs into Lyra Silver-tongue, aka Lyra Belaqua, aka Lizzie, who has arrived in this world by following her father over the bridge he created by killing her best friend.

Serafina Pekkala, Lyra's witch friend who is always (very nearly always anyway) known and referred to by her full name for reasons unexplained is searching for her and eventually finds her in Cittàgazze, the city where 'spirits' suck the soul from children as soon as they become adults - however that's defined. When one of the local children is killed in such a way, the other children blame Lyra and Will, and it's only through the intervention of the witches that the two of them escape.

By this time, Will has come into possession of The Subtle Knife. This is a dagger-like implement which can cut through pretty much anything, including the thin veneer between worlds. Will was evidently destined to become the knife bearer, according to the old man, the previous knife-bearer who, now that Will has taken charge of the knife, quickly dies.

Before she is forced to flee C'gazze, Lyra has been with Will to our Oxford, and has met Mary Malone, a physicist who has been investigating dark matter, which turns out to be the very Dust of Lyra's world, and it also turns out to have a certain amount of intelligence.

During their sojourn in Oxford/Cittàgazze, Lyra and will were also forced to recover her alethiometer from Sir Charles Latrom, a man she encounters in Oxford, who knew of her device and stole it from her. He's really Lord Boreal, and in cahoots with Mrs Coulter, until, having extracted the secret of the knife from him, she murders him and sets off in search of this knife. If Lyra is destined to be the second Eve, then Mrs Coulter vows she will also kill her own daughter rather than risk a second fall.

Will finally encounters his father, known as Jopari or Grumman, and disappointing and unsatisfactory it is, too, but he does finally stanch the bleeding finger stubs where Will lost fingers when the took ownership of the knife.

This volume ends with Will returning to Lyra only to discover that she's been kidnapped. Her guardian witches have been killed by spirits, and her alethiometer is all that remains of her. That and two angels, Balthamos and Baruch who are insistent upon Will going with them to join Lord Asriel.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Rating: WORTHY!

In my continuing effort to catch up with reviews of older novels I've read but never got around to reviewing, here goes! This is book one of the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy, and it's one which I've read at least thrice, twice for myself and once for my kids as bedtime stories. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's brilliant!

I have to add, too, that the audio book which I review here is a treat. I think it's without doubt the best audio presentation to which I've ever listened. The whole thing is performed like a radio play, with a cast of some two dozen, including the author, Philip Pullman himself, narrating. All of them, including Pullman, do an exquisite job. Here's the cast list:

Sean Barrett............Lord Asriel/Iorek Byrnison
Andrew Branch...........Kaisa/Able Seaman Jerry
Douglas Blackwell.......John Faa/Iofur Raknison
Harriet Butler..........Bella
Anna Coghlan............Bridget McGinn
Rupert Degas............Pantalaimon
Alison Dowling..........Mrs. Coulter
David Graham............Jotham Santelia
Stephen Greif...........Martin Lanselius/Sysselman
Garrick Hagon...........Lee Scoresby
Andrew Lamont...........1st Gyptian Boy
Fiona Lamont............Martha
Alexander Mitchell......Hugh Lovat
Arthur Mitchell.........Charlie
Hayward Morse...........The Butler/The Chaplain
John O'Connor...........The Dean
Philip Pullman..........Narrator
Anne Rosenfeld..........Mrs. Lonsdale
Liza Ross...............Stelmaria/Billy
Suzan Sheridan..........Serafina Pekkala/Roger
Jill Shilling...........Ma Costa
Stephen Thorne..........The Master/Farder Coram
Rachel Wolf.............Annie
Joanna Wyatt............Lyra
Other parts were played by members of the cast

Because it's a book, this original novel can go into far more detail than the movie ever did, and every bit of the extra detail is well-worth the reading. It gives a much richer experience, and offers several important differences.

Lyra Belacqua is a girl on the cusp of her teens in an alternate reality where the world is very similar to ours in many regards, but very, very different in others. The most immediately evident of these is in the fact that each of the humans in Lyra's world has a dæmon - an animal companion which represents their soul, and which is inseparable from their human. Lyra's dæmon is named Pantalaimon, but she exclusively refers to him as 'Pan'. The daemon is nearly always of the opposite gender to their human and Pan is amazing, funny, and engaging.

Lyra's parents, we're told, are dead, and she was placed at Jordan college at the University of Oxford, by her uncle, Lord Asrael. She loves the college and is fiercely loyal to it, but is hardly the best student in the world, despite the fact that she is quite obviously precocious and quite smart. Instead she runs wild around the college grounds and in the city, "warring" with her Jordan friends against other colleges, and with other colleges against the townies, and with the townies against the Gyptian travelers who periodically come through the city on their barges.

Lyra loves to explore the college, and when the novel begins, she's in trouble in that she's in a part of the college where women are not allowed, much less children, but she cannot escape, and is reduced to hiding in a wardrobe. From there, she can spy on events through a crack in the door. She watches a meeting between some of the college faculty and Lord Asrael, where she learns about Dust - with a capital D. This isn't your pain to clean and polish kind of dust, but some species of elementary particle which Lord Asrael believes is entering their universe from a parallel world in a separate universe. He asks for and receives funds to go to the north to further investigate this. Why he must go north, I do not know - I guess it's because that's the only place where there's been evidence of this leak between worlds.

This is where we get a significant change from the novel. In the novel, it's the master of Jordan college who tries to poison Asrael by putting something in his favorite drink (Tokay, pronounced Toe-ky - rhymes with sky), whereas in the movie, it's the recognized bad guys, the magisterium - in effect the church authorities, who try to poison him. Lyra is the one who saves his life.

One of Lyra's fears, and the source of some of her games, is 'Gobblers'. These are mysterious shadowy people who are said to abduct children, and she learns that they've arrived in Oxford. In short order, one of her friends among the Gyptians, Billy Costa, and her close friend at Jordan, a servant boy named Roger Parslow both go missing and no one seems to care.

Lyra is indignant, but before she can get too far with her rage, she's rather distracted by the arrival of a woman who rapidly becomes her hero, Mrs Coulter. The latter is exotic, and traveled, and mysterious, and is a "friend" of Jordan college. Lyra is offered the opportunity to go and live with her and become an 'assistant' to her, so she can continue her education, but also learn the ways of women, with which the stodgy and almost exclusively male population of Jordan college cannot help her. Lyra leaps at the opportunity, but soon comes to regret it.

Before she leaves, the Master entrusts Lyra with 'the golden compass' a truth-divining device powered by Dust. It's golden in color, with cryptic symbols around the circumference, and four hands on its dial, three of which Lyra can set to point to the symbols, posing a cryptic question. The fourth then starts rotating and twitching between other symbols, thereby delivering an answer. No one seems to know how to operate this 'alethiometer' but Lyra, to her credit, slowly figures it out. The master tells her that it was a gift to the college from Asrael, and Lyra imagines that the Master wants her to return it to her uncle. He warns her sternly not to ever reveal its existence to Mrs Coulter.

Her time with Coulter is longer in the novel than in the movie, but the termination of it is very similar. She realizes, eventually, that the Gobblers is nothing more than a corruption of the acronym GOB (General Oblation Board) and she and Pan, having suffered somewhat at the hands of Coulter's evil golden monkey (Coulter's dæmon) sneak out one night when Coulter is holding a party. It's quite as precipitous and dramatic as the movie makes it look! They wander the strange streets of London, and end up down by the docks where they encounter some hostile locals, from whom they're rescued by the Gyptians, and they become guests on Ma Costa's barge as the Gyptians travel to East Anglia - the very place I spent several vacations when I was a child! Yes, I'm sure that's the reason they went there.

Lyra learns that she is much sought after by the police, so she lays low on the barge until they reach their destination, where she meets the king of the Gyptians, Lord Faa, and his side-kick, Farder Coram. She shows them the alethiometer. It turns out that the Gyptians are big friends of Asrael's because of his kindness to, and support of them, and they have been keeping an eye on Lyra on his behalf. Lyra also learns, much to her surprise and dismay, Lord Asrael and Mrs Coulter are her actual parents. The Gyptian council figures out, with Lyra's assistance, that the children who are being abducted are being taken to a place in the far frozen north called Bolvangar.

On the sailing boat northwards, and unlike in the movie, Lyra does not meet Serafina Pekkala, the witch lover of the younger Farder Coram, but instead meets her dæmon, which is a goose. Lyra is very impressed that the two can be so far apart. She also encounters two 'spyflies' - mechanical creatures which contain a sting with a sleeping potion in it. She and Farder Coram capture one and keep it in a tin for later destruction.

The novel tells a slightly different story to the movie when it comes to Lyra's recruitment of Iorek Byrnison and her meeting with Lee Scoresby. The movie does a better job. Soon the whole crew is heading out onto the ice and traveling the frozen forest.

At one point, Lyra discovers something truly weird in one of her alethiometer readings which precipitates a trip with the bear one night to a village some hours away, where a 'ghost' is supposed to be tormenting the villagers. It turns out that the ghost is actually Tony Makarios (not Billy Costa as the movie has it). He has undergone the 'intercision' process, meaning that he has been severed from his dæmon. The dæmon, "Ratter" is nowhere to be seen, and Tony has a piece of dried fish as a substitute.

He's pathetic and several stops past sad. Despite her fear and her repugnance over his 'condition", Lyra rescues him and returns him to the Gyptian party where he later dies. recalling an experience from her exploratory days at Jordan, and furious that the Gyptians had fed his dried fish "dæmon" to their dogs, Lyra takes one of her gold coins and carves Ratter's name onto it placing it in Tony's mouth before he is cremated.

Lyra smartly asks Iorek to employ his metal-crafting skills create for her a small tin, about the size of her alethiometer, so that she now has two - a real one, and fake one which contains the spyfly which they caught on the ship. Shortly after this, the party is attacked by Samoyeds, and Lyra is captured and delivered to Bolvangar, where she is sold. This part of the story is much more complex than the movie, which completely excludes the entire part covering the storage of severed dæmons, and Lyra's freeing of them with the aid of Serafina Pekkala's goose dæmon.

Knowing that aid is on its way, Lyra evolves an escape plan for the children, but she is caught spying on a meeting (hiding in the false ceiling, not under the table as in the movie), and the staff decides it's high time for her turn at the intercision process. She's rescued at the last minute (not quite as last minute as the movie depicts!) by Mrs Coulter of all people, who takes her back to her own room and comforts her, but Lyra is in no way fooled now by this woman. When Coulter asks for the alethiometer, Lyra lets her take the fake one, and Coulter is knocked-out by a sting from the spyfly. Lyra pulls the fire alarm, and the children flee into the frozen night.

After a melee, these children are finally linked-up with the Gyptians, and Lyra takes off with Lee Scoresby to continue her quest to find her father and deliver to him the alethiometer. Roger goes along with her, and Scoresby's balloon is towed by witches, which is where Lyra first meets Serafina Pekkala in person.

After more incidents, Lyra finally reaches Asrael, who is not interested in her compass, but in her companion. Lyra wakes up the next morning to discover that Asrael has left and taken Roger with him. She realizes that he intends to sever Roger from his dæmon in order to generate sufficient power to make a passageway to the other world which can be seen in the Northern Lights. Contrary to the movie, this is where Lyra crosses the crumbling snow bridge, but she arrives too late to save Roger.

Lyra has a breakdown at Roger's fate and her impotence to stop it, from which she is distracted by her observations of her father and mother reconciling. Asrael tries to talk her into crossing the bridge with him, promising to love her unconditionally if she does, but vowing to forget her completely if she does not. Coulter is sorely tempted, but in the end, she leaves, bound for England, whereas Asrael goes across the bridge he created and into the parallel world which is now opened up. Left alone, Lyra and Pan discuss their options. They decide to pursue Asrael and to try to find the source of the dust before he does so they can thwart any plans he has for it.

This is a brilliant novel, well-deserving of the accolades heaped upon it. I liked the move very much, but this is much more fulfilling and rewarding as are the other two novels in this Dark Materials trilogy. I fully commend then all.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Count Karlstein by Philip Pullman

Rating: WARTY!

I've typically liked stories by Philip Pullman with a few exceptions such as Clockwork, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, and Tiger in the Well. I have to add this audiobook to that small group, I'm sorry to report. It wasn't engaging me at all, wasn't interesting, offered nothing of value, and I DNF'd it.

The story isn't aimed at me, yet while I've enjoyed many middle-grade stories, I found this one tedious and the character names trite. For a parody, they might have been amusing, but for a story like this, they seemed a bit like profiling! Arturo Snivelwurst? Signor Rolipolio? Really? If I'd known that Kirkus Reviews (who apparently never met a novel they didn't like) had boasted of its "whirlwind plotting, manipulated into a pulsing tale of darkened hearts, treachery, and at long last, redemption" I would have avoided it like the plague. If all of your reviews are positive, then what's the point?

The story is of two young girls (Lucy and Charlotte) whom their evil eponymous uncle is going to offer up as sacrifices to appease Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman, who has granted Karlstein his riches. How exactly that worked remains unexplored - at least in the bits I listened to. Set in Switzerland in 1816, the story relates how the count's scheme is derailed by the actions of Hildi Kelmar, a servant at the castle where the count lives.

Hildi helps Lucy and Charlotte escape (at least temporarily), and later becomes attached to an amusing shyster named Doctor Cadaverezzi, an illusionist. The ending (part of which I listened to, the rest of which I read of in Wikipedia) is so irrepressibly happy that it's nauseating. I advise having insulin on standby if you plan to read the ending.

The book featured an ensemble cast featuring three of the four Strallen sisters: Zizi, Saskia, and Scarlett. I assume it was recorded in winter because Summer didn't take part.... There was also someone by the name of Schrapnell! The reading of the various parts which wasn't too bad, it has to be said. I loved the English accents (despite these girls supposedly being Swiss!), but was bemused by the differing accents among other characters, and also by some of the pronunciations.

In German, 'stein' for reasons which escape me, who speaks no German to speak of, is pronounced like 'schtine', but with less spittle than you might expect(orate!), yet the pronunciations of Karlstein's name were all over the place and actually seemed out of place given that most accents were English! It's a pity the content of the book wasn't as entertaining as the accents, so all I can do is paraphrase Much Ado About Noting's Benedick, even if it means being a dick: in faith, I consider it too low for a high praise, too simple for an intricate praise, and too little for a long praise; only this commendation I can afford it: that were it other than it is, it were unappealing, and being no other but as it is, I do not like it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

Rating: WORTHY!

I listened to the audiobook read very ably by Welsh actor Michael Sheen. He doesn't sound very Welsh here it must be said. He often plays a weasely villain in movies. You might remember him from the first three Underworld movies where he played Lucian. He's also played Tony Blair, HG Wells, Kenneth Williams, David Frost, and Brian Clough! He did get a bit overly dramatic, even frantic at times in his reading here, but otherwise I enjoyed his effort as I enjoyed the book. It's a worthy addition to the 'His Dark Materials' canon and I commend it, although it's far from perfect, it has to be said.

This particular story is a prequel to the original trilogy, when Lyra was literally a baby and had to be rescued from the machinations of the Consistorial Court and also from a vengeful scientist by this young boy Malcolm Polstead and a moody girl named Alice Parslow.

The other two volumes in the series will cover Lyra at later stages in her life (this is why Pullman has described it as not a prequel, nor a sequel, but an equal). The story is very much told from Malcolm's perspective, but blessedly not in first person. Pullman is a writer who gets just how pathetic and limited first person voice truly is. The story is aimed at a young adult readership, but be warned it has bits of quite brutal violence and swearing throughout the narrative.

Malcolm's parents own the inn where Malcolm helps out and Alice works. Across the Thames from the inn lies a priory wherein nuns are caring for an infant girl named Lyra. Malcolm plies this river in his beloved canoe, La Belle Sauvage and he helps at the priory, too.

The more Malcolm learns, the more involved he becomes and when a flood prophecy from the Gyptians proves to be true and a once-in-a-century deluge hits, and Oxfordshire is swamped, Malcolm is unexpectedly thrown into a chase across three countries trying to deliver Lyra safely to Lord Asrael in London. He finds himself throwing in his lot with the antagonistic Alice to save the child.

Note that there are spoilers here which might make you regret trying to read these books in order. I recommend starting with the original 'His Dark Materials' trilogy (Northern Lights published in the USA as The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) before tackling this one. You may also be disappointed. This book is much more mundane that the initial trilogy, and the chase across the flooded landscape goes on with almost metronomic repetitiveness, so for me it sagged rather during that time.

I understand the print book is some 450 pages long. I listened to the audiobook and it didn't seem that long at all, because I was enjoying it so much, I guess! That said, I think Pullman could have used some self-editing here. The repetitive cyclic nature of the 'slow speed chase' rowing across the endless water, finding an island, rowing the water, finding an island might turn off many people, but for me in was just interesting enough to keep me reading and I'm looking forward to the next volume.

There were problems with this journey: almost no other humans were ever seen during the long aquatic trip, and the few that were, were always the villain, Gerard Bonneville, or the Consistorial Court boats. At one point we learned the Gyptians were out looking for Malcolm but they had only half as many boats as the Court, yet never once do we see one of those Gyptian boats, nor any boats bearing anyone else. How the Court and Bonneville managed to so expertly track Malcolm and Alice when no one else could was a bit too much to swallow and felt more amateurish than I thought this author capable.

I read some negative reviews that complained that Malcolm was boring and Alice never changed, and their roles were genderist, but it really wasn't that way at all. Just because Malcolm was in charge of the boat (his boat that he was an expert at using and Alice wasn't), doesn't mean she was confined to a traditional female role! This is not set in 2018, but at some time in the past when traditional gender roles were the norm, so this isn't a surprise, but Alice came through repeatedly, including decking Bonneville at one point, and Malcolm was repeatedly shown to have what might be termed a more traditional feminine side, so I really don't know what those reviewers were complaining about.

There's nothing weak about being a woman! There's nothing weak about playing to your strengths whatever they are. Some women want to be jet fighter pilots, others want to be homemakers and to chide the one for being traditional is insulting to the woman who choses such a role. Alice was doing what she chose to do and often telling Malcolm what's what. He consulted her frequently and she had no problem expressing her mind at will. How is any of that weak?

I recommend this as a worthy addition to the cannon. Just don't expect too much from it!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman

Rating: WARTY!

Published in 1990, for me this was the weakest book in the quadrilogy so far (I have one more volume still to read). Frederick is dead. Sally has had his child from their one brief dalliance right before he died, and it's this child, Harriet, who is at the heart of this story. Sally's closest friends and associates: Frederick's brother Webster Garland, Jim, and Charles are off in South America on a photo expedition.

What Sally doesn't know, but finds out very quickly, is that her foe from the first novel in the series has very carefully, sadistically, and expertly been putting in place her downfall, as she learns when divorce papers are served on her by a man named Arthur Parrish. This is a surprise to Sally because she has never even heard of Parrish, has never met him and has certainly never been married to him or to anyone else.

As she digs into the claims and accusations, Sally realizes that she has been set up in a way which will be very hard to fight, and especially so for a woman in that era. This situation is exacerbated, sadly, by the fact that the tough and capable Sally Lockhart from the previous two volumes is also dead. She has been replaced by a replica, exact in every detail except resolve and fortitude. This new Sally has the constitution of a wet biscuit, which is inexplicable. Why Pullman chose to do this to her is a mystery and a serious mistake.

The original Sally was not perfect by any means, but she did not let the fact that she was treated as a second class citizen (being a woman in Victorian times) get in the way of turning her life around in the first volume, or of taking down a dangerous and advantaged foe in the second. I know that here we have a child to consider, but to me this should have made Sally even more formidable, not less. That's not what we get.

The Sally here is weepy, lackluster, hesitant, nervous, distracted, aimless, clueless, and is pushed around by everyone she meets. It's sad to see a completely different person from the one we have loved in two successive volumes. Rather than stand up and fight, this sally effectively runs. Yes, she engages a solicitor, who in turn briefs a barrister to represent Sally in court, but both of these men, and particularly the barrister, are complete jerks. They aren't even willing to consider that the marriage never took place, and they treat her like a whore (the common term for a single mom in those days) and a victim.

Sally never once stands up to them much less fires them. Instead, she simply fails to turn up at her own trial, and of course loses - something she pretty much knew her barrister was going to do beforehand. She goes on the run with Harriet, which is ill-advised at best. In that era women, regardless of what they had or who they were before the marriage, became effectively the property of their husband once married, and he took possession of everything they owned and all of their children. They had no rights. Sally, therefore, as a now 'proven' wayward wife, lost everything. She knew this was coming yet took not a single step to counter it. She's not your Ruby in the Smoke sally, sorry to report.

Just as in the first novel, she's now penniless and on the street, this time with a very young child in tow. She could have transferred her ownership of her home and her business interests, and although that would have been challenged, it would have been something - a delaying tactic at least. What she could certainly have done is remove every penny from her back account, but she failed to even consider this, much less actually do it. Now her "husband' has everything and she has nothing.

Once again a man comes to her aid. He's a Jewish agitator who is also up against Parrish for his exploitation of Jewish immigrants. His associates give her shelter and hide her and Harriet from the police and Parrish. One of these, a man named Dan Goldberg, reveals to Sally that Parrish is a criminal who is running frauds and scams all over London, including houses of prostitution and exploitation of minorities. She learns from him that the man behind Parrish is known as Tzaddik, and it's he who is really doing all this to Sally, but Sally doesn't make the connection to a man named Lee with whom she had a run-in - and shot, but not fatally - back in book one, the events of which took place many years before those occurring in this volume.

Tzaddik is outright evil and to bring him down Sally takes a job in his house as a maid. he doesn't know what she looks like, and it all works out in the end, including Sally magically forgetting about the terrific romance she'd had with Frederick and having no problem shacking up with a different guy that she hardly knows. It's not a great story, and I cannot recommend it. The only thing which made me want to read volume four is that it's really a different story altogether, otherwise I would have quit right here.

The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman

Rating: WORTHY!

This was first published in 1986 as The Shadow in the Plate and is set six years after the previous volume The Ruby in the Smoke, this novel takes place in 1878. I know that they tended to go in for long engagements in the past, but six years seems like an awfully long time for nothing to have changed between Frederick and Sally. Indeed, it's like things have actually gone downhill. They are frequently at odds and outright name-calling arguing in this volume, so perhaps the long-term outcome was all for the best.

The dark stories continue with both Frederick, who is inexplicably a private investigator now, working with Jim, and Sally tackling different ends of what turns out to be the same problem. Sally, now with her own financial advisory business and a large dog, is trying to help a client recover the three thousand pounds which she lost after investing it on Sally's advice. The company went bust and Sally just knows that it wasn't any accident or poor planning. On the contrary: the collapse of the company was planned in detail by Axel Bellmann.

Meanwhile, via Jim, a showman and magician Alistair Mackinnon has had death threats. Mackinnon supposedly has the power of psychometry - being able to divine things from touching objects, and through this he has become aware of a murder. At a séance conducted by Nellie Budd, Jim and Fred learn of the very death which Mackinnon has seen. Evidently Nellie has psychic powers despite the fraudulent medium game she pursues.

Bellman sends a lackey to threaten Sally, who works alone out of her home. He has documented many visitations from men - obviously seeking financial advice, but Bellman plans to spin it as a house of prostitution if Sally doesn't back off. Sally doesn't back off.

To further his interests and influence, Bellmann plans on marrying the daughter of Lord Wytham. I have two observations here. The first is purely regarding my own amusement when I read this sentence: "Lord Wytham was a handsome man" to which I wanted to append, "Lord without 'em he was ugly as sin," but that's simply frivolity. It does, however, offer an insight: you should be careful how you write things, and also how you choose your character names if you don't want to provoke unintended mirth amongst your readership! Moreover, why were his looks important? No answers are to be found here.

The second thing relates to this with regard to the complementary sex (not opposite, surely!) in describing female characters as beautiful. It's almost like there's a law forbidding female characters from being ordinary or plain. It seems that male characters - even major ones, in novels can get away with any amount of ordinary and average, yet females are required to be young and beautiful - not pretty, not attractive, not good-looking, although these do occur, but outright beautiful. I think it's a poor choice and worse, a clichéd choice against which I've railed on more than one occasion

I want to give here, thanks to Philip Pullman, an example of how it can be done and made to work well. Frederick, the photographer, has his breath taken away by Lord Wytham's daughter, Lady Mary. The text reads, "...beautiful wasn't quite the word. The girl was astoundingly lovely, with a grace and shyness and delicate coral coloring which made him want to reach for his camera..."

So here is the first part of it - a photographer's view. Note that it's not the author telling us she's beautiful, but a character observing her to be so, and he's doing this because he is a photographer - someone who we would expect to react to beauty whether it's in the face of a woman, or in a sunset, or a flower, or something else.

Later, another character says to the main character, Sally Lockhart, "...Lady Mary's beauty would fade. Yours is not dazzling, but it is a beauty of mind and character, and it will grow stronger...." To me, that is exactly how it should be approached and how it can be done well. Anything else is cheap by comparison and insulting to women in general.

In addition to Sally, there is another strong woman in this novel - she's an ardent admirer of Mackinnon's who has no illusions about her own lack of beauty. Her face is disfigured by a birthmark, but she shows her inner beauty by how strong she is in the face of her poverty and in her lack of a more ordinary-looking face. She is the one who shows them a newspaper clipping which confirms the visions both Mackinnon and Budd have had. It's someone Bellmann killed in a duel. We also have confirmed something which has been a growing suspicion for attentive readers: that Mackinnon is actually the son of Lord Wytham and Nellie Budd.

Sally has by now learned that Bellmann is building an automated steam gun. His belief is that once every nation owns these guns, peace will inevitably reign because no one will dare start a war. He's delusional of course, as the arms race between the US (United States) and the US (Union of Soviets) conclusively proved. The big guys simply pay the little guys, one way or another, to fight proxy wars. As long as there are haves and have-nots, war is inevitable. But this is not the problem with the steam gun as Sally discovers. It's confined to railway tracks. With such limited mobility, Sally determines that it's intended to be used against a nation's own population, not against foreign aggressors. But Sally has a plan.

Pullman evidently likes to kill off main characters with the glee of a Joss Whedon or a Jo Rowling, and he manages to slaughter both Sally's dog and her fiancé, as Frederick is by then. Bellman is also dead, and we're left with the knowledge that Sally's one brief dalliance with Frederick has borne fruit. I recommend this as a worthy read.

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

Rating: WORTHY!

Published in 1985, and set in Victorian times, 1872, this is the first of a quadrilogy, three-quarters of which I enjoyed overall. It's been a long time since I read this though, and I still have to read the last volume in the set!

I have multiple problems with Goodreads (not least of which is that it's owned by the unforgivable Amazon), but one of them is that the blurb for this book begins: "Sally is sixteen and uncommonly pretty." I don't see what that has to do with anything. If she were sixteen and plain would her story be not worth telling? Are her age and her looks her most important qualities? Goodreads makes me sick at times.

Yes, maybe that blurb was posted by some reviewer, but if Goodreads librarians were not among the most useless people on the planet, they would fix things like this. I'm surprised that Pullman himself hasn't complained about it. I know I would if someone characterized one of my main characters so shallowly. But then he's not listed as a 'Goodreads author' whatever the hell that means, so maybe his voice doesn't count since they don't own him? Or maybe he gives less thought to Goodreads machinations than I do? I dunno.

The Wikipedia entry isn't much better! The entry doesn't talk about beauty, but it's so obsessed with TV and stage adaptations of the book that it completely fails to say a word about the plot! Pathetic. An encyclopedia entry that says not a word about its subject! LOL! That's sadly underperforming for Wikipedia I have to say.

Take it from me that Sally Lockhart's looks are unimportant in this story. It's her character that's the critical quality and she has that in abundance. She's an orphan, her mother some time past, and her father having died in a shipwreck. She's under the care (so-called) of a cold bitch of a woman, but this doesn't hold sway for long.

Sally is called to the shipping office to which her father had ties and she learns of some information there that sets her on a course of conflict with the bad guys, which consist of a mysterious Asian and an evil woman who works for him and who isn't entirely lacking in similarity to Marisa Coulter of the 'His Dark Materials' hexalogy. Sally bests them both and makes a friend of Frederick with whom she has only a short-term relationship, it turns out.

I really liked this story and commend it as a worthy read. I also commend the TV adaptation starring two Doctor Who alumni: a very young Matt Smith and Billie Piper.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Stéphane Melchior, Clément Oubrerie, Philippe Bruno, Annie Eaton

Rating: WARTY!

This graphic novel taken from the original novel by Philip Pullman, adapted by Stéphane Melchior, with art by Clément Oubrerie, and coloring by Clément Oubrerie and Philippe Bruno, and translated from the French by Annie Eaton was a disappointment I have to say. The text was so-so and the artwork was blah. Really blah. It told the story in a very workmanlike manner, with no flashes of anything exciting or remarkable. The colors in the artwork were muddy, and the artwork itself really was unappealing.

I cannot recommend this as a worthy read; instead I recommend either the original novel or the audiobook version of it, which is narrated by Pullman himself along with a cast who play the characters. I like the movie, too. It’s pretty sad when a movie makes well-over a third of a billion dollars and is considered non-viable, but the USA is a very fundamentalist religious society, first amendment be damned, and this is effectively what killed this movie series, I think.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Clockwork by Philip Pullman

Title: Clockwork
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: WARTY!

Clockwork is a very short-novel - about one hundred pages - and it's the first thing by Pullman that has interested me since I got done with his two trilogies: His Dark Materials, and The Ruby in the Smoke, both of which I loved. Unfortunately, his series seem to be the only things of his that I end-up liking, and this volume was no exception.

It's set in a previous time - a time of the of skilled craftsmen and of creation of clockwork time-pieces. One of these is a man who is on the verge of finishing his apprenticeship and becoming a master, but in order to do this, he was supposed to have created a clockwork figure that would be added to the collection of figures in the town clock. The problem is that he's done no work and has nothing to exhibit. Now on the eve of his disgrace, he's in a bar with his friend, who happens to be a story-teller.

His friend tells the weird tale of the time the Prince went hunting in the mountains one snowy night with his young brother and a certain other gentleman. On page 77 we read the confusing description where "...two nights later..." - that is, two nights after the prince left "...three nights before..." he returns! This made zero sense to me. If he left three nights before, how can he return only two nights later?

But that's a minor problem. What returns is the sled with the prince mechanically driving the exhausted horses - mechanically because it turns out he's dead, and the only thing which kept his whip hand moving was a clockwork mechanism which someone had placed in his chest.

Right at the point where the story teller is revealing that the count never returned on the sled, the count himself comes into the bar, which precipitates everyone else leaving in panic. The only ones to remain were the about-to-be-disgraced clock-maker and the count himself.

Thus begins the tale, and it wasn't disastrous, but it was a bit boring with nothing of great import and certainly nothing engrossing happening. It's a very short novel, which is the only reason I bothered to finish it, but that does nothing to improve the overall quality. I can't recommend this one.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

Title: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Canongate
Rating: WARTY!

Having read of the religiously-motivated controversy surrounding Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, when I came across this audio book, I was curious to find out what he had to say. Pullman reads it himself, and it makes for entertaining listening, although I confess I'm not sure what his motivation was in writing it or what he hoped to achieve in doing so.

I'm not religious and I do not believe there ever was a Messianic son of god roaming around what is now Israel some 2,000 years ago. Certainly there never was a "Jesus Christ" - which is all Greek to me! Yes, there were people named Yeshu, or Yeshua or Yehoshua - it was a common name as was Miri (Mary) and Yusef (Joseph). There may even have been one or more rabbis going by the name of Yeshu, one or more of whom may have been crucified. That doesn’t make the contradictory stories in the New Testament true. There's no evidence that any of those poor victims of Roman barbarity ever rose from the dead.

Pullman tells it like it's true, but he puts a spin on it which is unique to my knowledge: that Jesus Christ wasn't one man, but two: Jesus, and Christ, brothers, both of whom could perform miracles, but only one of whom, Jesus, took on the mantle of Messiah. Directed by a creepy anonymous benefactor, Christ remained in the shadows recording and documenting Jesus's words and activities.

Pullman tells the story very much like it’s told in the NT, including some little known tales from New Testament era apocrypha, but on some occasions he puts a slightly different spin on the stories, heightening the interest and drama, while all the time, Jesus is becoming more well-known and popular, and the authorities increasingly taking an interest in his activities.

And so it goes, but in the end I can't recommend this as a worthy read because it really didn't offer anything new or startling - apart from the aforementioned and rather schizophrenic aspect of it. Kudos to Pullman for reading his own stories in the audio versions, but this isn't something I really enjoyed or would want to read again, unlike the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, which I adore.