My Thoughts: Reckless

Author: Cornelia Funke

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Sometimes, I get very inconsequential thoughts like, “Ah, I’m too old to be reading this stuff.” I know how to rationalize it, of course: I read children’s fantasy because I hope to one day become an author of children’s fantasy. This, while true, is only a corollary of the truer reason I read this stuff, or why I even want to write this stuff: because I enjoy it.

Cornelia Funke is one of my favorite writers, and I think I can safely conclude now that magic/fantasy is my favorite genre. (Of both books and movies. And if you can consider Jon Bellion’s music magical, then music too.) I’ve read Inkheart (twice), Inkspell, Inkdeath, Dragon Rider and The Thief Lord, and not a single book of hers has disappointed me yet. Reckless is no exception.

Let me start with what drew me to the book in the first place:

  1. Cornelia Funke’s name was on it.
  2. It was at a used book sale section of my city library, for one dollar. Why wouldn’t I buy a Cornelia Funke book for one dollar? (Lowkey, these small-small literary expenses are the things most likely to make me broke in life. Issa weakness.)
  3. The title: Reckless. It’s inviting, it’s exciting, and it’s a freaking cool word. I bought the book without reading the blurb. Quite a reckless move, wouldn’t you say? (That wasn’t funny? Well, okay then.)

As anyone who knows me should expect, I really liked this book. I absolutely adore the idea of remixing fairytales, and this world that Funke has built (it’s called the Mirrorworld, and Reckless is only the first book in the Mirrorworld series) is a world of remixed, mish-mashed but seldom explicitly referenced classic fairytales. I love this perhaps for many of the same reasons I liked Sarah Ockler’s The Summer of Chasing Mermaids and the ABC series Once Upon A Time. But there is something Funke adds to the idea of remixing fairytales that makes it even sexier: her own heritage.

Cornelia Funke really does a good job of owning the world she has made, particularly because she is German. Many Western fairytales, as you may know, came from a collection of stories compiled by two German writers, the Brothers Grimm, and are usually referred to as Grimm fairy tales. These writers are not exactly authors; as the story goes, they travelled through Europe, collecting old stories and folktales from different areas, and simply wrote them down. We will, perhaps, never know how much of their own creativity they applied in the written compilation of their stories. But my point here is that these are tales from Europe collected by Germans/Europeans, and are now being creatively utilized, remixed by a German, who can probably lay more legitimate claim to them than Adam Horowitz or Edward Kitsis (the creators of ABC’s Once Upon A Time).

Cornelia Funke’s Mirrorworld sees no need to translate culture into “American” before it begins to be creatively remixed. Thus, it feels more organic to me. And this feeds into my next comment on how organically she wrote it.

When I began reading it, the book was actually hard to get into; I really didn’t have a bloody clue what was happening. There was no soft process of leading a reader slowly into the magical, easing them comfortably into an unfamiliar world. (It did with Inkheart, which is probably one of the reasons this caught me off guard.) The Mirrorworld saw no need to explain itself; it merely was, as though it had always been, and it was I that had simply never heard of it. When I as a reader stepped in, it was like walking around entirely new territory without a tour guide. Such experiences are so uncomfortable that, although you may find the new world around you fascinating, you can’t help but feel, for the first few moments, that you want to go home, simply because you do not enjoy being lost. That’s how I felt; I temporarily wanted to stop reading because I felt I couldn’t “get into it” fast enough. Which is silly, really, because that transportational (yo, apparently, this is not a word) factor is one of the reasons I like fantasy so much in the first place.

When I eventually did get into it, after being patiently impatient with myself and the book, I found that I really enjoyed it, particularly the main character, Jacob Reckless, with whom I now like to think I have a very healthy platonic relationship. (One-sided, of course, since he is unfortunately fictional.) I didn’t fall recklessly in love with him (pun intended) like I did with Theodore Finch or Artemis Fowl. Instead, it grew on me gradually that this guy is actually a very cool badass. Like, we could be besties if he existed.

With this book, Cornelia Funke did two things that I really appreciate when storytellers, especially those of fantasy, do:

  1. Subtle gender-bending

When it comes to mystic things and fantasy, there are some things that are, unfortunately, classically gendered. I suppose I blame Disney for most, though certainly not all of it. For example, fairies, unicorns, mermaids, are usually thought of as classically feminine things. The usage of them as a marketing tool frequently tends to turn male potential consumers off from whatever is being marketed. Yet, some of my favorite mystic/magic storytellers have handled this problem so well. Eoin Colfer make boys like reading about fairies; in fact, he did it so well that he turned a lot of girls off from the Artemis Fowl series; J. K. Rowling used unicorns in Harry Potter that had nothing cutesy or rainbow-like about them.

It is so interesting to me what Funke did with unicorns and mermaids here. The unicorns were vicious, lethal creatures, not magic wish-granters, but more like deadly security guards. Heck, they aren’t even white. I distinctly remember Jacob Reckless passing an annoyed thought within the narration about how unicorns are so often “whitewashed.” In the Mirrorworld, they are designed to look very much like regular brownish horses, ponies and arses, but just like, with a horn. It’s lit.

The mermaids, referred to as Lorelei, are basically river-based, soulless murderers. Men are their prey. In that way, they remind me very much of the sirens of Greek mythology, whom I met for the first time in the Percy Jackson series. I actually became terrified of the Lorelei too, when after one character killed one, the other Lorelei ate their dead companion. Cannibals too. Ew. I prefer Mami Wata saf.

  1. Very good use of the concept of villains.

In most cases, I am of the opinion that useless villains ruin stories, and that fantastic villains make amazing stories.

If I had, at the times when I was a very young child, understood what the heck was going on in the Batman movies that I watched, I would have considered The Joker a truly phenomenal villain. As it is, the first time I recall becoming conscious of fantastic villains was watching Once Upon A Time several years ago. Aside Rumpelstiltskin being excellently crafted and written (for the most part, or up to a point), I liked how his and Regina’s (the Evil Queen) stories unfolded. It is the first time I remember stories really giving the audience insight into the personhood of villains, so much so that one may generate empathy for them. A fantastic villain, I suspect, is empathized with, or admired, perhaps as much as their villainy is acknowledged.

Reckless’ narration style allows a reader to see into the thoughts of the “bad guys” and I like that there are multiple “bad guys,” although, understandably, we don’t read as much of them as we do of Jacob. Aside that, I like how powerful and unstoppable the villains seem to me. It would, of course, be far less impressive for a hero to triumph over a bunch of trifling idiots. The villains need, in many cases, to seem like they are entirely capable of destroying the heroes – and sometimes, they must succeed.

That being said, I really like how Reckless seemed to end with a near-perfect cross between the tragic tendencies of the actual Grimm fairytale stories, and the hopeful kind of ending that Disney is known for. It makes me excited to seek out the sequel. 😊

-Akotowaa

My Thoughts: The Selection Trilogy

Author: Kiera Cass

I usually have a strategic way of switching around books on my “to read next” list. And I operate mostly on suggestions. But one day, I decided I wasn’t in the mood for any of the books on my very, very long “to read next” list. (As unlikely as this is, it does happen sometimes.) So I went hunting for a book I’d never heard of before. I knew I wanted YA, very modern, and possibly even futuristic. The real reason I was so specific with what kind of book I wanted is that I’d been reading A Storm of Swords (GRRM) for over 2 weeks and I honestly just needed a break.

Thanks to a combination of Goodreads’ algorithms and Tronomie’s judgment, I finally settled on The Selection Trilogy by Kiera Cass. And I loved every second of reading it. No lie. I do this thing where I usually don’t allow myself to read the books in a series back to back, for fear I’ll get bored of the story/the characters too quickly – but I unapologetically devoured the entire Selection trilogy at once. It is hands down my favourite YA trilogy at the moment, for various reasons. And before you ask, yes, I do like it more than the Divergent trilogy and the Hunger Games trilogy. Which is not to say that it is better than all of those other trilogies; it is just to say that I, Akotowaa, like it more.

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Reading this series, I actually took real notes so that later, when I wrote about it, I wouldn’t forget any of the important reasons why I liked it. And I must say it was the concepts and themes that attracted me more than anything…once you get past my superficial attraction to the idea of anything remotely Disney-like: a girl and a prince et cetera.

 

THE SETTING

So here we are in Illéa, a country/kingdom/monarchy named after its supposed hero and founding father, Gregory Illéa, who repaired a broken country that was once called the United States of America, after it had dissolved itself in the brutal World War 4, and been colonized by China. There’s a brilliant metaphor that stems from here, but I’ll get to that later.

Things are very different in Illéa. Now we have monarchs in a kingdom, as opposed to Presidents in a Republic. But what really affects the society is the caste system. Just as Hunger Games had districts, Divergent had factions, the Selection has castes. They number from 1 to 8, and if you’re a 1, you’re at the top – a literal royal; and if you’re an 8, you effectively don’t exist. Fill in the gradient by wealth and status. What interested me more than the wealth/status thing about the castes was how inextricably occupation/profession was tied to the caste system.

The main character, America Singer, was a 5. The 5s were artists. And pretty low down, I must say. And you had other fixed things, like how 4s were mostly teachers, 6s were mostly labourers or servants. Hmm. This ranking gave me plenty food for thought. And it occurred to me that while we have no governmentally defined caste-by-occupation systems in the version of the real world I know, it resembles this fictional one very much. I love this thing about especially dystopian YA: it is like exaggerated reality. And another thing: it is much easier to move down in caste than the nearly impossible task of working your way up.

 

IS THIS HOW YOU FIND A WIFE?!

In every generation, the royal son who is to become the next king, has to find a wife. The problem? He’s lived is whole life sheltered in the palace and has had no time to date. The solution? A competition worthy of the 21st century’s E! channel. 35 girls from all the castes (except from of course 1, and I think 8, though I may be wrong about the latter), fighting to become queen, or a 1, or the prince’s wife. In truth, all of them come as a package, but the girls have different goals. Also, there’s no real scheduled elimination. If and when you’re sacked, you gotta bounce.

The entire process of choosing a wife, the next regent, the idea of one teenage man legally dating so many girls at once, is very questionable. Which is what makes it all so interesting to think about – even though the reasons for the method may be somewhat legit.

 

THEME OF GENDER AND BRAVADO

There is a character named Aspen. He shows up in the series as America’s boyfriend. He made me tired. He was a 6, one caste below America’s 5. And by default, he was poorer and worse off in society. And because I thought he was such a nice, sensible person before, he really made me upset when he started flipping out when America provided for him when he was lacking. Or even the idea of it. Explain it away all you want, but it really came down to one thing for me: male ego. After that, I was more or less done with Aspen, even if America/the story wasn’t. I wasn’t feeling the back and forth romance between Aspen and America at all.

 

ADULT-CHILD RELATIONSHIPS

This is possibly my favourite theme in fiction because I think it’s such an integral part of how and why we become who we are. Parenting is a tricky thing. Growing up is a terrifying one. Then you think about favouritism, disparities, aspiration, and most importantly, misguided parental concern.

The relationship most interesting to me here was the one between Maxon (the Prince,) and his father, the King. It was so absurd, the consistent disregard of someone who really could have so much to contribute, for the sake of his/her youth – even when this person is royal and about to be handed the reins to rule an entire kingdom. But whatever, right?

 

MENTAL ILLNESS/TRAUMATIC STRESS

This was not a major theme at all. But I appreciate it because it was as present and as oddly placed in the books as it is in reality. In particular, there was a maid called Lucy who suffered from panic attacks, and had a backstory of trauma that triggered them.

Oh, and there is a reason Maxon reminds me of Tobias Eaton from Divergent. *winks *

 

MANIPULATION OF HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE

This is a real thing that happens. Think Tiananmen Square. Think Biafran War. Think all of African history, pre- and even post-colonial. Think of all the things the politically altered history books don’t want you to know. Why wouldn’t Illéa (read: the United States) do it to itself? Of course – save your people from knowing the truth about the person you call a national savior.

My lexivist self likes this whole idea because of how the truth is preserved and discovered: through writing. Now that’s wassup.

 

AMERICA IS SO ME!

She’s a hotheaded, impulsive, very intelligent idiot, with a talent for screwing things up while aiming for a very beneficial goal. I have never seen anyone who makes such Akotowaa-worthy bad moves! Reading her was so much fun. Except the love triangle part. I have no problems telling people I love that I love them. The fact that America couldn’t do that was highly irritating.

 

CHARACTERS

Two major things that I liked:

  1. All of the characters’ names were, in my opinion, fantastic. I’m going to recycle many of them in obscure places.
  2. It’s like when Kiera Cass could no longer find use for characters, she casually killed them off, or somewhat unceremoniously drove them out of the story. That was kind of amusing.

 

THE AMERICA METAPHOR

I love that the main character was called America, a symbol of the past, of rebellion. But this is the metaphor concerning the history of Illéa which I said earlier in this post that I’d get to later: The Selection trilogy is lowkey about the fall and eventual rise of…America. That was a fascinating epiphany.

This series is relevant. (And also slightly sappy and frustrating at times. But it’s lit!) Read it, because I said so. =D

-Akotowaa

 

My Thoughts: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Author: Sarah Ockler

According to my research, this is Sarah Ockler’s latest book, and not necessarily her most popular. And even though I’d never heard of her before I randomly downloaded this (simply because I liked the cover and the title after seeing it on someone’s book blog), I am going to be extremely unfounded and biased, and say it should be her most popular. Before I even finished this book, there were reasons which, when put together, meant that I couldn’t possibly have disliked it.

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  1. It’s a fairytale remix! Yep, The Little mermaid. There was even a Sebastian and an Ursula in it. But do you know me and fairytales? Do you know me and fairytale remixes? Wo boa kraa. Once Upon A Time, most books by Alex Flinn, Cinder by Marissa Meyer…If there are fairytales involved, you’ve trapped me already.
  2. It’s YA fiction! Now, I had a lot of heavy, deeply profound fiction at my disposal, but I needed a book to read at a time when I was far too stressed out to decipher language involving racial, classist, political, societal issues, designed for readers 25 and above. That’s not what my brain wants when it needs rest. The fantastic thing about YA fiction is that it manages to be entertaining without being daft, and because of its target audience, you can tell that they’re not trying to fall into criteria that makes them eligible for a Pulitzer or a Caine prize or whatever.
  3. There was mythology involved! Do you know me and mythology? LOL, everything by Rick Riordan, Disney’s Hercules, et cetera. The deity involved here was the Syrian goddess (of whom I didn’t know before reading this), Atargatis, the goddess of fertility who is usually portrayed with a fish tail. The book compromised a bit on the identity of Atargatis that I read about from outside sources, but that’s fine with me. Fiction doesn’t have to be a history book. You can tweak the truth as much as you can tweak the myth.

Here’s the basic background of the story: A Tobagonian girl called Elyse d’Abreau had a near-fatal birth (the irony. Anyway, it was fatal actually – her mother died.) in the sea, and years later, a tragic accident involving a near-drowning experience which stole her voice. There was a surgery afterwards and her voice suffered permanent damage, making her mute. (As mute as Ariel when Ursula stole her voice. Except, in this book Ursula isn’t the bad-guy.) It was particularly devastating because she and her twin sister, Natalie, were planning their futures as world-famous singers.

Unable to deal with the emotional pain, she left Trinidad and Tobago to live with her aunt Ursula and her cousin Kirby. There, she meets Christian Kane, Stanford student, perfect guy, player of the century. The classic YA boy a YA-loving teenage girl will fall in love with. (Stop giving me side-eyes. Yes, I’m guilty.) And a bunch of stuff happens. It’s really fun.

I love how relaxed the book was. Even the most urgent scenes were quietly tense, not like action-movie-ish. Quietly tense? LOL, that must be why: the main character can’t be anything but quiet.  Haha. Bad joke? Okay. Sorry.

Sarah Ockler’s writing greatly impressed me. It was in no way dumbed-down or daft. In fact, words and expressions were very deliberately chosen. Throughout the whole book, there was all this beach and sea imagery. It was all so glaringly obvious; yet I feel that some readers may miss 50% of the wordplay. Heck, I might even have missed way more than I realized. But I thought it was fantastic that she had a punny, metaphorical theme going through the ENTIRE book. That’s actually really hard work.

Of course, if you’re interested, there was all that exciting, hot romance stuff that’s characteristic of a lot of YA fiction.

Some gender stuff was brought up, which I felt was noteworthy. The main character signed up to be the first mate to Christian Kane in a regatta, and the misogyny in certain characters was really brought out. A girl can’t be a sailor? A girl can’t be a “pirate”? Also, Christian’s little brother, Sebastian, is shunned for doing supposedly effeminate things like liking mermaids and wanting to dress as one (complete with the seashell bra) in a mermaid parade. It was all interesting, thought-provoking stuff, that was just deep enough to get a teenager thinking.

A note to prospective readers: there are a lot of questions you may ask, which will remain unanswered by the time the book ends. You may be dissatisfied like I was at first. But later on, after a period of reflection, I’ve decided I’m cool with the unanswered questions, because of how the omission certain details of the past shines a brighter spotlight on the events of the fictional present.

A few (a lot of) favourite quotes:

  • I’d seen bodies defy words, how a person’s eyes and hands revealed truths their mouths were trying so desperately to deny.

  • Crying never brought anything back from the dead. It only felt like the ocean trying to drown you from the inside out.

  • That’s what happens when you see yourself through someone else’s mirror, Elyse. You build your dreams for them, ignoring your own heart. One day you wake up and wonder how the fire went out.

  • Treacherous as the sea, yet fragile as a bubble.

  • …I realised just how many people would rather leave without their due than try to make conversation with a mute.

  • …she’d spent so much time cultivating an image, the real her was pushed down, locked away deep inside.

  • Voice and speech aren’t the same thing. You’ve lost your ability to speak, to sing. But the only thing that can take your voice away – your true voice – is you.

  • Anger was easier to hold, to focus on, than grief. Anger was sharp-edged and clear. Grief was messy, blurry. But in the end both left you hollowed out inside.

  • Sorry for all the little ways that the people who were supposed to love us most could hurt us so deeply, despite their shared heritage and blood, as though their knowledge of our pasts gave them unlimited access to all the most tender places, the old wounds that could be so easily reopened with no more than a glance, a comment, a passing reminder of all the ways in which we’d failed to live up to their expectations.

  • Sometimes love was a tonic. Sometimes it was a weapon. And so often it was nearly impossible to tell the difference.

  • Putting a thing to words gave it power; it pulled the maybe from the mist and gave it form, solid and black.

  • The sign of a deep connection wasn’t necessarily outward affection, but silence. The ability to sit still with another, wholly aware of him, neither needing nor desiring anything but his presence, the shape of him, his breath in the air between you.

And finally, a poem by the narrator:

“For all the strength of men,

And the divine power of their gods

But for a spell in a pale blue dream

Not even the wisest among them

Can harness the silver moon

Nor cease with thoughts or words

The beating of their own fragile hearts.”

 

In summary: This book was beautiful! Read it!

-Akotowaa

Update: I don’t know how I missed this thing that I had meant to add but somehow forgot: the aspect of diversity. The author is white, yes, but the fact that the narrator is Tobagonian and speaks of home a lot makes a reader at least a little curious about what life and culture is in Trinidad and Tobago, and so I think that’s a fun way of fuelling diversity and curiousity of other people’s cultures. For example, I’d like to find out more about all those festivals, and what soca music is, et cetera.