Maddigan’s Fantasia

By Margaret Mahy

Rating: 2 stars

Garland Maddigan is part of the travelling circus known as Maddigan’s Fantasia. Travelling through a post-apocalyptic world that is slowly remaking itself after the Destruction and Chaos, this trip they’re on a mission to find a Macguffin and bring it back to their home city of Solis. When two young boys appear in front of Garland out of nowhere, claiming sanctuary in the Fantasia, the trip suddenly becomes even more fraught with adventure and danger.

This was quite a frustrating book. There’s a good story in there but it’s let down by niggling inconsistencies, duex ex machina and inconsistent characters. Protagonist Garland’s mood swings with the chapters, as does her apparent intelligence, although this can be somewhat excused as grief for her lost father, Ferdy, the Fantasia’s ringmaster (not a spoiler, it happens right at the start of the book and the first chapter is entitled ‘Losing Ferdy’), but I felt that Garland and her mother’s grief were clumsily handled.

The villains following the runaway boys start off as menacing, but their threat is reduced as they are soundly beaten by the Fantasia in every encounter whereas the ‘Big Bad’ pulling the strings in the background, the Nennog, always feels somewhat abstract, even when he appears “on screen”.

The book could have done with one fewer set piece to provide more time for the conclusion which was rushed and confused. In particular, the actions of the Duke of Solis came completely from nowhere and there were no reasons given for him behaving as he did, leaving me feeling confused and cheated.

There were some fun set pieces, and cool bits, and Garland’s final farewell to her father was nicely handled but this is a book that failed to deliver on its possibilities.

Book details

ISBN: 9780571230167
Publisher: Faber Faber
Year of publication: 2005

The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

By Arthur Conan Doyle

Rating: 5 stars

Sherlock Holmes is possibly the greatest of literary detectives. He is certainly the one who has penetrated deepest into the public consciousness, a position in which he has been firmly lodged for over a century now, with no sign of departing any time soon. This volume is a compendium of two collections of short stories and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Holmes fits the short story genre perfectly, with setup, analysis and denouement all coming swiftly, one after the other.

It’s been many years since I read any Holmes, and I was drawn to this volume, sitting on my shelves after an impulse buy some time ago, after the conclusion of an RPG that had Holmes-ian aspects to it. I find Holmes to be a fascinating character, and one whom it’s a pleasure to follow. Despite my best efforts I still often couldn’t follow the clues that he sees to the logical conclusions, so seeing his reveals were always pleasurable.

This volume takes us to Conan Doyle’s intended end for Holmes, grappling with his nemesis at Reichenbach Falls. Of course, it’s well known now that public demand ensured that Holmes survived his fall and Baker Street’s finest didn’t get to retire to the Sussex Downs for some time. I’m certainly glad of that and will be looking up more of adventures.

Book details

Publisher: Wordsworth Editions
Year of publication: 1892

The Children of Hurin

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: 4 stars

This book, condensed from notes and unfinished manuscripts by JRR Tolkien’s son Christopher is set deep in the history of Middle Earth in the First Age in the midst of the Noldor’s war with Morgoth to reclaim the Silmarils. The story is covered in brief form in The Silmarillion but Christopher Tolkien explains in the introduction that, from the start, his father had intended it to be told in greater detail.

Húrin, of one of the three great houses of Men, leads his men, alongside the Elves, in battle against Morgoth in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, which the Elves and Men lose terribly and he is captured. In punishment, Morgoth (who is a god, remember) curses his children and then sets him upon a mock throne and forces him to witness their suffering from afar.

This is pure tragedy from start to finish. Like its Greek counterpart, there is the interference of the gods in the affairs of men, the noble hero who does great things, but with a sting in the tail that turns all his achievements to dust.

The writing feels like Tolkien and once I got over my distrust of any “new” book by a dead author I enjoyed it immensely. It does feel much more like The Silmarillion than The Lord of the Rings and although I’m not hugely familiar with historical epic myths, I suspect that’s what it was closed to in tone, with focuses on particular events in the hero’s life and then a couple of “linking” sentences to indicate that some period of time has passed (in some cases, years).

And that takes me to one little niggle about the book. Well, about the title anyway. Although it’s titled “The Children of Húrin”, the book is mostly about Húrin’s son Túrin, with his daughter Niënor only making an appearance quite late in the book and then to mostly progress Túrin’s plot. That and the huge canvas (with its background being the whole Silmarillion and beyond) meant that I had to make pretty frequent use of the genealogy and glossary of names at the back.

But this is an epic story that feels very much like it was written by JRR Tolkien and only polished a little by other hands. Recommended for Tolkien enthusiasts, but probably not for the casual reader.

Book details

ISBN: 9780618894642
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Year of publication: 2007

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