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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: In the English port town of Boston, Lincolnshire, near the beginning of the fifteenth century, three plots are getting started at once. One concerns a mysterious man who's been repeatedly sneaking into the town in different disguises; one concerns the master of customs, who has gotten (honestly) rich off export tariffs on English wool and sheepskin, but is now starting to act in favor of home industry and the expansion of England's sea power in defiance of the Hanseatic League with which he treats - all of which makes his colleagues on the town council mistrust him; and one concerns Tod of the Fens, a rogue japester, and his band of merry wastrels, who fish for their livings and befool their fellow man at every opportunity for fun. There's also a romantic subplot involving the customs master's teenage daughter. I won't spoil anything further for you. ^_^

Reaction: I was a bit dubious at first, as the book's front-loaded with a chapter full of research and set-up, and another one introducing Tod with, hm, a certain amount of confusion and obfuscation all round. But after that, things get moving at a good pace, and every one of the characters except the major villain (an evil pirate captain! :D) gets a well-rounded characterization... even the Scolding Housewife and the Noble Popinjay. This book is full of the BEST BANTER EVER - I swear, I wouldn't know Shakespeare hadn't written it if it weren't prose - as well as the BEST RESEARCH EVER. The 15th-century characterization is absolutely spot-on perfect in every particular, even to the casual belief in the supernatural with not one occurrence of "of course we 20th-century humanists know better". The clothing is perfectly accurate period, as are the ships, and the geography and even the wind directions are well researched. I can't swear to the political climate but I will lay odds it's perfect. ;-)

Plus, after their first chapter or so, the antics of Tod et alia are way less embarrassment-squicky than I had feared. The romantic subplot with the customs-master's daughter is wonderfully handled; the author works around the social necessity of arranging a marriage by letting the boy and girl meet first, and having them become fast friends so naturally that I squeed over their relationship every time they took the spotlight through the whole book. :D The town's politics and the way everyone's individual purposes interact are extremely well-drawn. And while the pirate company of Evil Germans are Evil, they're not opposed to a uniformly shining company of Englishmen (or Englishwomen), nor do they cause everything that goes wrong in the course of the book. In fact, they're a bit of a distraction. :-) And the goodness or reliability of the characters is not predicated on their social class, or even on their preoccupation with class status. In short - this has the least simplistic characterization and the least OMG 1920S I have yet seen in a Newbery, iirc. :D

Conclusion: Five stars. All in all, a truly remarkable book, and you should read it here posthaste if you have any interest in Merrie England with politics and banter and subplots and RESEARCH. :D (And if you're okay with a lot of "thou" and "shouldst", because the language is pretty accurate, at least compared to Malory. But I found it very readable. Admittedly I find Shakespeare very readable.)
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Spoilers )

Reaction: There are no awesome ladies whatever in this book, only nasty and/or boring ones. The writing is a bit better than in "The Great Quest", but people are still given to doing things for either plotty reasons or bad excuses a lot more than for anything that makes sense. I did get all the way through it, mainly because the slave trade is not involved, thus racism is barely hinted at. But the protagonist is still a dope, just not quite as much of a one. And it's a lot more gory / violent in places. Plus, there's quite a lot of incredibly weird mental sophistry / gymnastics trying to defend the plotty reasons, and a fair bit of "making fun of less fortunate people is something all good and true men should do!" :P

Overall, I'd say he was becoming a better writer but still wasn't a good one.

Conclusion: Two stars. For having something resembling a coherent plot, and for not addressing questions of race at all.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: OH MY GOSH THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE RUN OF THE MILL SO FAR I CANNOT EVEN. It's got pacing! And good dialogue and overall good writing, and is not creepy! And is really, really environmentally sensitive and awesome - Dolittle has rants against keeping tigers and lions in zoos, and against bullfighting, and a Bird-of-Paradise snarks about being hunted for her feathers, and all the things. It's glorious. Plus, the little boy actually sounds like his right age, and generally... if I had read this book as a kid I would have loved it most entirely to pieces forever. :D

Dolittle is a bit colonialist when he tries to rant about politics (the whole spoilers ) arc has some pretty colonialist overtones), and there are a couple of n-bombs dropped by a parrot who's generally a sympathetic character, plus an African prince serves partly as embarrassingly comic relief - although only partly. Get through his first two or three chapters and he mellows down to a sort of... blend between Thor and Jeeves, I want to say. It's kind of epic, and definitely ahead of the rest of these books that've portrayed people of color! :P Just not far ENOUGH ahead, in this particular category. o_O

Conclusion: Four stars. FOR BEING AWESOME. If it weren't for the N-bombs and the colonialism, I'd flirt with giving it five. Definitely worth a read if you can get through those chapters.

ETA Oct 6, 2012: There is a bowdlerized version, but apparently it's very badly done. That link has a good overview of it. The Gutenberg version is complete and unabridged; so is the most recent Penguin paperback, which I read.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Sorry, that was kind of an epically busy week I didn't plan for. Note: Read All The Newberys will be on a more official hiatus August 6-15 while I'm offline, in case I don't post again before then.

Standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, books are not, Newberys belong to the ALA. No profit is being made from this endeavor. Anonymous commenting is enabled, IP logging and CAPTCHA are on, anon comments are screened for review.

Summary: Dickon, the teenage son of a lord in feudal England, meets Cedric, the teenage son of a yeoman or forester, who is a crack shot. Adventures ensue.

Reaction: Well, the language is fabtabulous. Mr Marshall balances readability with accurate quasi-Shakespearean English better than anyone else I've encountered. All the characters are well-drawn, most of them are likable, and Dickon manages to be a hotheaded teenage boy without making me want to knock him over the head at any point. :D

The plotting is INCREDIBLE. Wikipedia (warning: major spoilers in the book's Wiki summary, that's why I don't link it) mentions that the author was compared favorably to Sir Walter Scott but also quotes a critic disagreeing with this assessment. I have to say - the only way in which Mr Marshall falls short of Sir Walter's standards, imo, is that things HAPPEN in this book, at breathtaking speed. XD Every time I thought I'd figured out what the main story arc might be, it was wrapped up in the chapter and another one introduced. My liveblog post (spoilers at link!) is full of "I'd predict such-and-such, but I'd probably be wrong".

The research isn't the best, though; I'm pretty sure crossbows - a major plot fulcrum - don't work that way, and I'd've sworn the book was set in the 15th century till most of the way through. SPOILER ) For me, the excellent writing made up for that. YMMV. I especially liked the way not everything turns out perfectly but the book isn't a paean to bleakness either; it seemed very realistic to me.

Conclusion: Four stars out of five. I'd have given it five, but I hated the ending, which altered historical events in a way that had some pretty awkward implications. And I refuse to bog myself down in partial stars. ;P

Still highly recommended. To quote my liveblog post, "This is the kind of fast-paced excellent writing I expected from the much-adulated G.A. Henty; why is this book not better known?" Read it here! Talk to me about it! Seriously, fantastic book, I want to read his other four novels now. (Well, not right now. *g*)

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