Monday, April 9, 2012

Do you believe in magic?

I read three books recently that presented magic in ways I want to muse over. Each surprised me by how they explored what is real, what is not and what is left somewhere in between.

The books are BREADCRUMBS, a middle-grade by Anne Ursu; WHITE CAT, a YA by Holly Black, and THE WOOD WIFE, an adult mystery by Terri Windling that I recently wrote about.
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In BREADCRUMBS, Hazel, an adopted girl who's darker than her classmates, feels she never fits in, except when she’s imagining fantasy worlds with her next-door friend, Jack. But one day Jack turns as mean as other kids and then he disappears. Even though she is more fragile than ever, Hazel is determined to bring him back from wherever he went.

Because Hazel is well-read, despite her trouble concentrating in school, Ursu drops references to all sorts of fairy tales and fantasy books as Hazel takes in the world. It’s as if Hazel steps in-and-out of stories every day. She accepts an alternate universe as not only possible but, often, preferable. In fact, when she met Jack years earlier at age six, she was disappointed to discover his eye patch was only for show until she realized that it was the imagining that mattered. “This was a secret truth about the world, one they both understood,” Ursu writes.

Alone, Hazel follows Jack into an icy wood where a white witch has taken him. Although Hazel faces all kinds of deceptive and nasty characters, who are real enough to hurt her, she never gives up on saving her friend.

A snippet: Maybe she could do it. In the real world Hazel was an ordinary thing, a misshapen piece with no purpose. Maybe here she could be a swan.

In the end, it isn’t the witch Hazel must defeat but the coldness Jack has let into his heart.
This is a story about real magic. How thoughts, wishes and dreams can alter our world and how believing in yourself not only helps you but others, as well.
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What I like most about WHITE CAT is the way Black makes the price of using magic so immediate and real. She’s always been masterful at urban fantasy, at finding the underbelly in any world she imagines. In this story, she makes magic prohibited and, therefore, a tool of crime families.
The word "blowback" and its descriptions alone made me love this book. Many fantasy stories talk of a price to be paid for using magic, but Black makes blowback instantaneous and appropriate. Kill someone? Lose a piece of yourself. Mess with their memory? Part of your own past slips away. Play with another's emotions? You become a basket case.


Magicians are called workers, and everyone in Cassel's family works magic but him. He attends a private school where he tries to fit in but still uses criminal cons he learned at home to earn cash. As he begins to question mysterious events around him, he discovers he's a pawn in a dangerous con and the only way out is to out-con the conmen.


A few tidbits:
The family legend says that Barron is just like Mom, even though he works luck and she works emotion. Mom can make anyone her friend, can strike up a conversation anywhere because she genuinely believes that the con is a game.
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My memories are full of shadows, and no amount of chasing them around my head seems to make them any more substantial.
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She looks at me so intently that I drop my gaze. Then she clears her throat and starts talking like I wasn’t just incredibly rude. “Memory magic’s permanent. But that doesn’t mean people can’t change their minds. You can make someone remember that you’re the hottest thing out there, but they can take a good look at you and decide otherwise.”


I’m behind in this series and plan to catch up with RED GLOVE and BLACK HEART.

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I already wrote my love letter to the poetic quality of THE WOOD WIFE here, so this time I’ll keep to the magic, which is steeped in the most ancient roots of earth. My favorite kind.


A woman, who lives between London and Los Angeles, learns she’s inherited property outside of Tucson from a poet who she only knows through years of correspondence. Once she arrives in the wilds of the desert, she feels a strange pull to the land, as if it holds some profound secret.
The longer she stays, the more layers of mystery peel away, only to reveal deeper mysteries. Here are little tastes of the writing from various characters’ POVs:


Shape-shifter: The voice of the wind was a rustle in the leaves, speaking in a language she’d once known and had forgotten. She did not have a name. She had not earned one yet. Or perhaps she had, and had forgotten that too.

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Cooper: There are poems in these trees, in the rock underfoot. I resist it, this slow seduction.
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Lines from a poem: Time is not a river; it flows in two directions…Time is a land I wander in, through smoke, through sage.

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Letter from Cooper: We spend whole days in the hills. The nights are dark and growing cold. I am learning to wait, to watch, to listen. I have never been a patient man. I’ve never been so empty of words, and never felt so full.
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Maggie: “He used words like they were an incantation, a spell, a glamour—do you know what that old word used to mean? A glamour was a kind of spell or enchantment. Somehow Cooper learned to speak the ‘language of the earth’ while he was living up here.”
Dora: “But those images in his poems: the Wood Wife, the Spine Witch, the boy with the owl’s face, the drowned girl in the river…Maggie, are you saying you think they’re real, not symbolic?”
Maggie: “Why can’t they be both?”

22 comments:

Talli Roland said...

You've been busy! I love books with magical elements. There's something very escapist about them.

Jemi Fraser said...

Those sound great. I love how different author imagine magic and how it is incorporated into their worlds. I love the concept of the blowback of magic use.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Talli: One of the great loves of my life is escaping into a good fantasy.

Jemi: Blowback blows me away! ;)

Donna said...

Your description and excerpts from those three books are irresistible. I must have them, first for me and then to share. Why do I read mostly fantasy? I think because weathering and winning in the the real world seems more possible when armed with metaphoric magic.

Lisa Gail Green said...

I LOVE White Cat. It's one of my favorite YAs. And Red Glove was just as good! I can't wait to read the last one. Holly Black is amazing.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Donna: I completely agree with that last statement. I think that's one of the reasons fantasy remains popular. When you look at the most popular films of all time, there is a lot of sci-fi/fantasy. We all need it.

Lisa:Oh, I'm glad to hear you liked Red Glove, too. I've got it on the TBR pile. Looking forward to that!

Li said...

I lean toward a good story with magical elements rather than those which are entirely set in other worlds and populated only by magical or mythological beings. I suppose I enjoy the interaction between the real world and those who have "powers" of some sort.

Donna said...

Li,
I agree. I like the idea that magic can be here with us in the real world.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Li (and Donna): Whenever I think of my favorite magical stories they tend to be set in some variation of the real world. I think the familiar world offers a solid foundation before opening the door of possibilities and wonder.

Donna said...

Yes, the real world as grounding the fantasy. That's a good explanation of the cross-over.

Sarah Laurence said...

I tend to prefer realistic fiction to magic but I loved White Cat. I also liked the plot twists and characters. She writes so well. You are reminding me to read the other books in the series.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I've been meaning to read White Cat FOREVER. Your wonderful review has reminded me about this book. And now I'm behind in the series, of course. : )

LynNerdKelley said...

These are excellent reviews, Tricia. And you picked some awesome quotes from each book.

On another note, I remember your post about the beautiful decorated eggs your family would get together to make. How nice that you have someone who can empty the inside of the eggs so you don't have to worry about that horrible rotten stench if one cracks. Such a fascinating craft.

I hope you're doing well. I've been thinking about you since your mother passed away. Hugs! :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Sarah: I've heard good things about the next in Black's series, so I'm hopeful.

Cynthia: I was behind, too! Catch-up works for me. :)

Lynn: Thank you!
We didn't have the egg party this year for a number of reasons. Kind of sad not doing it but maybe next year. and thanks for the hugs, too.

Bish Denham said...

Breadcrumbs sounds a lot like a retelling of The Snow Queen by Andersen, even to the coldness in the boy's heart.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Bish: You are right there are a lot of connections to The Snow Queen. I'd say that is the basic framework from which the story grows into something more contemporary.

Faith Pray said...

Ooh, Breadcrumbs sound like it has strong shadows from Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen! I'll keep a lookout for it! I love these snippets of intriguing fantasy!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Faith: Yes, it is fashioned after The Snow Queen. I think you'll enjoy it. :)

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

They all sound like great books. Magic, in fact!!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Love me some magic. As if that wasn't already obvious. :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

PatN: They are, they are!

Karen: magic sparkles all around you. ;)

Suzanne Casamento said...

You are a serious reader! These books sounds great. Although I'm kinda freaked out about the concept of blowback.