Thursday, August 29, 2013

Author Riches, The Mortal Instruments Trilogy and the Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

So apparently, as long as your book has enough titillating sex in it, it doesn't matter if the prose is well written, or the plot has a million holes in it, or even if it is just re-hashed Twilight fan fiction.  EL James is laughing all the way to the bank after earning millions for her bizarre Twilight fan fiction that involves a naive young woman and a horribly abusive man who shows her bondage and S&M games that a lot of women seemed to find exciting. Personally, I find that kind of thing creepy, not at all sexually exciting and I can't stand books that are poorly written fan fiction. But, like I said, EL James doesn't care, she's made a pile of money on her Fifty Shades books.
From Shelf Awareness:
"The $95 million E.L. James earned between June 2012 and June 2013 from
her Fifty Shades trilogy not only earned her top billing on Forbes's
World's Top-Earning Authors list, but has
also tied her for third place, with Simon Cowell and Howard Stern, on
the magazine's Highest Earning Celebrities list,
which was released this week. The list is topped by Madonna ($125
million) and Steven Spielberg ($100 million), with James Patterson in
sixth place at $91 million. For the record, everybody mentioned in this
note has either written books or had books written about them... or

The Mortal Instruments trilogy, by Cassandra Clare, contains City of Bones, City of Ashes and City of Glass. Like a lot of young adult fantasy/SF, the protagonists are misfit teenagers who either don't have parents or have just one, ineffective parent who just 'doesn't understand them' because they are so unusual, different, etc. In this case we have Clary, (short for Clarissa) who has great artistic abilities but is something of an outcast living with her mother Jocelyn and her best friend Simon in NYC. Her mother has had a "friend" throughout her childhood, a guy named Luke who has stood in for Clary's father, whom she was told died in the war.
Unfortunately, one day when Clary is at a bar (though she's only 16) with her friends, she happens to see some strange-looking teenagers kill something that looks like a creature from a fairy tale. She meets one of these teens, a handsome blond guy named Jace, and is instantly attracted to him and very curious about what she saw. Later, when she's home, she gets attacked by another creature and soon after she's rescued, she is told by Jace that she's a Shadowhunter, a race of beings who have angel blood and are able to see demons, vampires, werewolves and other 'downworlders' so that they can kill them and keep them from preying on "mundanes"/humans. Clary learns that her mother was a famous Shadowhunter who escaped from the alternate universe where the Shadowhunters live because her husband, Valentine, was a monster who had given her first child demon blood while still in utero, turning him into a crazed psychopath, and once Jocelyn became pregnant with Clary, she rennounced her Shadowhunter heritage and moved to the mundane world and had all of Clary's nascent powers suppressed by a warlock named Magnus Bane. Once Jocelyn figures out that Valentine isn't dead and is seeking her to gain her help in the war he wants to wage against Shadowhunters who are members of the "Clave", their organization and ruling body, she gives herself a potion that puts her into a coma from which she cannot wake, and leaves a message with a person she trusts to tell her daughter how to find the antidote to wake her.
Meanwhile, Clary's BFF Simon grows more jealous and frustrated as Clary seems to grow more attached and enamored of Jace every time she sees him, while Simon believes that he's been in love with Clary for a long time, and he doesn't want her to risk her life as a Shadowhunter or spend more time with Jace and his adopted siblings, the Lightwood clan, Isabelle, Alec and Max. the Lightwoods took Jace in when it was believed that his parents died during an "uprising" staged by Valentine and a Circle of Shadowhunters he'd gotten under his sway.
We soon discover, of course, that Valentine is actually Jace and Clary's father, and that throws a huge monkey wrench in their love for one another, though they can't seem to stop the feelings that they have, though they're taboo. Yet any reader who has even a passing familiarity with fantasy tropes will know that somehow, it is going to be discovered that one or the other of them is NOT really Valentine's progeny. That was one of my only problems with this trilogy; Clare telegraphed her punches. So much so, that I knew what was going to happen with Valentine, his war on the Clave and with Jocelyn, Luke and Simon, as well as the Lightwoods by the end of the first novel.  While I didn't know the exact particulars of Valentine's use of the Mortal Cup, the Sword and the Mirror, which he used to call an archangel, it was a pretty strong bet that no angel was going to kill all the Shadowhunters he'd created to keep downworlders in line, and once it was discovered that Clary's power was to create new runes that did amazing things, it was also inevitable that she and Jace would have an HEA, and that Sebastian was really the evil demon-spawn, not Jace. I was surprised that Simon became a vampire so quickly, and I was surprised that Valentine was able to capture, torture and use an angel for years in his dungeon without anyone being the wiser, especially the other angels. Still, I loved the idea of there being a downworlder "underworld" not visible to regular humans, and of there being Shadowhunters and a parallel world for them to live in that used magic instead of technology. Clary got a bit whiny and weak at times, but eventually she managed to prove herself and save the day. I would give this series a B+, and recommend it to teenagers and adults who loved Harry Potter or Twilight or anyone who liked the "Need" series by Carrie Jones, as I did.

  This is a great a humanities grad, I totally agree!

"Even if we read books and talk about them for four years, and then do
something else more obviously remunerative, it won't be time wasted. We
need the humanities not because they will produce shrewder entrepreneurs
or kinder CEOs but because, as that first professor said, they help us
enjoy life more and endure it better. The reason we need the humanities
is because we're human. That's enough."

--Adam Gopnik in his New Yorker essay, "Why Teach English?

Emily Croy Barker's "The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic" is a hefty tome containing the story of Nora, a grad student who gets swept away to a world where fairies are nasty creatures who use and abuse humans, and where an old magician named Aruendiel rescues Nora from their clutches and tries to teach her magic, or at least enough magic to survive before she finds a way home.
Nora does a lot of cooking, cleaning and seriously hard labor as a matter of course in the magical world, and while I understand that she feels she should earn her keep, I don't understand why gender roles are so set in stone in the magic world, especially once she starts training in magic and learns the language the people of that world speak. Nora literally becomes the scullery maid all the while having to spend her off hours, what few there are, reading spell books and trying to learn the language and increase her magical abilities. Little wonder that when she does get back home she is bone-thin, dirty and unhealthy. She's treated reprehensibly by nearly everyone she meets, and yet we are to believe that she falls in love with Aruendiel and wishes to return to this harsh and unforgiving world and abandon her family in the real world and her studies, just because she experiences a kind of boredom or ennui.  The ending didn't make a lot of sense to me, because I couldn't really understand her reasons for wanting to return to the magic world, though I could understand her love of Aruendiel as being one that was fostered by his rescuing her from the Faitoren, or fairies, who had impregnated her and then left her to die when her baby, which was half-monster-fairy spontaneously aborted and nearly killed her.  Aruendiel was the lesser of evils, and he was noble when he wasn't being an arrogant, rude jerk to her. Still, any woman with half a brain would want to bring the guy to her world where there is indoor plumbing, plentiful food and women aren't enslaved as cooks, maids and apprentices. I found the prose to be serviceable, if bogged down in parts by descriptions that lasted too long and kept the plot from moving forward. I'd give this book a C+, and recommend that the author get a good editor to carve out some of the fleshier bits of her stories in the future.

No comments: