Six years after the events of Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Darcy is throwing the annual Lady Anne Ball and everything is going smoothly. But, as close friends and family are celebrating the night before, her sister Lydia unexpectedly bursts into Pemberley screaming that her husband Wickham is dead. So begins the latest work of crime fiction by master writer P.D. James.
Turns out, Wickham isn’t dead; but he is found holding the bloody corpse of his friend Captain Denny in the middle of the woods. Darcy himself is quickly involved and stays involved throughout the investigation and trial of Wickham. The novel gives a very interesting look into the British legal system of the time. And James gives some very Dickensian twists to our favorite Austenite characters.
Many secrets abound in this tale, but James juggles them easily while also seamlessly introducing us to some of the other new characters that didn’t exist in Pride & Prejudice. (Austen fans will also enjoy the few moments when characters from other Austen books are fleetingly referred to.)
Although some parts of the book seem to drag, know that everything will be resolved in Elizabethan fashion—in other words, 3-page-long monologues delivered in the final chapters will reveal all. And if, in your course of guessing whodunit, you begin to suspect lycanthropic involvement (Full moons! Mysteriously ill people!), then you have merely read too many supernatural books. Don’t worry; this isn’t Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (although that book is also really good, just in a different way).
Death Comes to Peberley is great way to revisit old friends and see what they’ve done with their lives. James creates believable futures for Austen’s characters while also reexamining their choices made in P&P. Just be warned, Austen fans, that after reading this book you will want to revisit Austen’s classics.
Posted by xoxojk on May 31, 2012
With all the reincarnations of the tale of Snow White coming out this year, I felt the urge to revisit Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same subject. In his version, Snow White is young Bianca who is left in the care of the Lucrezia Borgia after her brother Cesare sends Bianca’s father off on an impossible quest. From there, you can pretty much guess the rest. But what makes Maguire’s story so interesting is that it all feels real.
Throughout the novel, Maguire incorporates real world events (specifically the ones concerning the infamous Borgias) with the fanciful tale of Snow White. Although Maguire does note that he has taken liberties with historical facts, it still feels as though it could have happened (especially if you’re not well versed with 16th century Italian history). Of course, it is hard to be fully realistic when you involve shape-shifting dwarves, apples from the Garden of Eden, and an enchanted mirror.
Bianca is an adequate heroine, although her life of seclusion in Montefiore makes her a very naïve heroine at that. But I think the character that really brings this story to life is Lucrezia. So many rumors abound about her, and Maguire incorporates them into the storytelling (one of the characters is the child of incest conceived with her father the pope). She is a wicked and self-serving woman, but with Maguire’s sarcastic writing she is immensely fun to read about. I’m always fascinated with evil women, and the way Lucrezia manipulates the other characters is a true delight.
A less delightful aspect of the novel, though, is the revolving door of narrators. When Maguire isn’t telling the story through an omniscient narrator, he includes chapters told in first person by the characters. But the way he jumps around between narrators feels arbitrary and unnecessary. The switching of perspectives disrupts the flow of storytelling and, at times, distracted me from fully immersing myself in the story.
Despite such narrative missteps, the story remains fanciful and tantalizing. And Maguire never shies away from including sex in his stories (whether it be incestuous lust or trysts with squids), which makes his works very much adult unlike the children’s stories they are derived from. Mirror Mirror may not be Maguire’s best work, but it still gives you that Maguire fix of sarcastic humor, winking allusions, and melodrama that I’ve come to expect from his other works.
Posted by xoxojk on April 19, 2012
In Seth Grahame-Smith’s latest novel, he takes on the story of the birth of Jesus. This book is less gimmicky than his first two because there are no vampires and (almost) no zombies. He focuses instead on imagining who the three wise men were. Specifically the main wise man Balthazar or The Antioch Ghost.
Balthazar is a career thief who gets stuck with two other thieves when he saves them all from being killed by King Herod’s men. They stumble upon a carpenter, a girl, and her newborn baby. And from then on they are all linked as they run around Judea trying to avoid Herod’s men and later the Roman army as well. Grahame-Smith weaves an imaginative tale that still rings true to many of the events that actually happened in the Bible. His story feels like the re-imagined fairy tales that Gregory Maguire wrote (only without the dry wit).
The action-packed book, though, doesn’t stray away from exploring why Balthazar became the man he is today. We learn a lot about his origin and why he’s so interested in saving this little boy. Towards the end, the story begins to stray away from our hero and focuses instead on Herod playing his own game of thrones as he lives out what could have been season three of the cancelled HBO show Rome. But, just when you think he’s lost the thread of the story, it all comes together in a very nice finale.
Although I wasn’t particularly pleased with all the action scenes in the book (I dislike reading about action scenes as much as I dislike watching them in films), I found myself drawn to the historical fiction aspect of the novel. I could almost believe that these things really happened. It certainly changed my opinion of the three wise men. And while I doubt that anything he’ll write could truly top Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, I am sure that his overactive imagination will come up with more little literary gems.
Posted by xoxojk on April 16, 2012