Monday, May 01, 2006
Gathering a Chilly Basket of May
"On May Day on May Day I rose up at daybreak and went out to gather a basket of May" from an old folk tune. We used to sing the above when making May baskets for our neighbors during my youth in Iowa. We'd make a construction-paper basket, add some spring flowers like pansies or tulips and a sweet of some type, such as a pastille candy or a homemade cookie, and put in a tiny card that said Happy May Day or Happy Spring and set these little jewels on the neighbors doorstep, ring the bell and run away before they answered the door, so the gift would seem anonymous. I recall one year we had candied violets, which seemed so exotic that we were loathe to give them away. They tasted like perfume. Today, its been rather chilly and overcast, and the sun is just now making an appearance. I sincerely hope it will warm up this afternoon and become a picture-postcard Maple Valley spring day. Meanwhile, I finished Chaz Brenchley's "Bridge of Dreams," in uncorrected proof form for review. I appreciate Ace Books sending me this copy to review, because I know that genre books are often a hard sell and review copies aren't easily gotten. However, though I tried my best, I just didn't like this book. It was written by a UK author, and, as I've mentioned before in this blog, the British have a way with morbid and melancholy plots and characters. Bridge of Dreams went beyond morbid right to horrific and pessimistic in the extreme, with many ruthless, cruel and evil characters taking center stage in a world that is run by a fascist sultan. There are two worlds, actually, Maras and Sund, the former representing the "haves" and the latter representing the "have-nots" who have been ground under the bootheal of Maras oppression. The poor Sundains still have magic, however, while those of Maras only have a bridge that twists magic by using children as a power source. The reader follows the life of Jendre, a daughter of a Maras general who is sold to the Sultan as one of many wives, and the life of the street child Issel of Sund, who has water magic that can only be used to destroy. Though we are supposed to identify with Issel, I found it difficult to like the abused and neglected street thief because he casually murdered a waterseller to take over his business. We're also supposed to feel for Jendre, though she is terribly niave and spoiled, and not too bright, because she tries to save her husband and is foiled in the attempt by her evil mother in law...and most people saw that moment coming chapters before it happened. She also has an affair with a guard and tries to escape, but is caught and barely manages to avoid the death penalty. She is unable to save her sister or herself in the end. Issel is equally ineffective, as he botches a mission to try and overthrow the military occupation of Sund. What we are left with is everyone being unhappy, unfulfilled and unpunished for crimes commited. The prose was dense, there was plenty of exposition that could have been edited, and the plot was glacial. This is one coal that should have stayed in Newcastle, where the author lives.