G. Funk discusses Cooper, Gray, Jones, and Smith novels

From R.R. NUMBER 1, by Grace E. Funk, in Once Upon a Time, a children’s fantasy apa: “Recent reading:”

Fantasy Award nominees:

The Boggart, by Susan Cooper (NY. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1993)
Celtic is “in.” Computers are with us. So combine the two and because this is Susan Cooper it almost works. The situation is plausible (the Boggart comes to present-day Toronto, Canada, in an old desk). The incidents are humorous/scary/disastrous. Boggarts don’t mean to do harm, but they don’t understand traffic lights. The solution is certainly ingenious. The Boggart uses a computer game to put himself on a computer disk to be mailed back to Scotland, where playing the game again releases him. This is an “adults keep out” story of the modern type where adults are not absent, or absent minded, as earlier stories, but all too present and all too uncomprehending. The child characters are developed enough to be interesting, and the book is sure to please. Put it on the short list.

Thanks for the introduction to Falcon’s Egg by Luli Gray (New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1995).
I enjoyed reading it, as a good urban fantasy, inevitably recalling Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. However, I am a bit puzzled. The jacket blurb says “when magic comes into someone’s life, it comes for a reason, and at last Falcon discovers why magic has come into hers.” Well, Falcon may have discovered, but I haven’t. The denouement seems lacking. Jeremy Thatcher knew his job was to hatch a dragon under the circumstances it needed, and release it when the time came. His struggle was to let go of the hatchling he had grown to love. But Falcon has no such clear mission. Girl Falcon has trouble changing from child to adolescent. Girl Falcon discovers egg. Egg hatches. Dragonlet grows. Dragonlet must be released, and is released. During the release Falcon has, properly, to sacrifice part of herself in temporary pain (her burned hands will heal) The helping characters are a mixed lot, but not particularly arresting or even eccentric themselves. Aunt Emily experienced dragons when she was buried in an overwhelming sorrow. Just why does Falcon need help? At the beginning of the book she seemed to be coping with a preoccupied but still loving mother, a demanding baby brother, and a still loving though absent father. So what has changed? “Falcon gazed into the depths of the dragon’s sea-green eyes and saw herself reflected, unique and shining with her own special magic.” Is this supposed to indicate some personal awakening? Falcon already knew she was unique, as each person is, and she has had plenty of affirmation before this moment. Her mother will presumably illustrate more books; her father is unlikely to return; adolescence will continue its disturbing way. What have I missed? And what is the significance of that ring, like the dragon’s tear which comes at the end of Jeremy Thatcher? There are too many meanings to a ring. What did this author intend? Not a first choice.

Crown of Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones (London, Mandarin, 1993 pb)
Fourth in the Dalemark series, preceded by Cart and Cwidder, Drowned Ammet, and The Spellcoats. This is ‘classic” fantasy: the museum objects to focus the time travel, the oddly assorted companions, the pure-hearted but unwilling hero, the “historical” setting (about 17th century, I would guess), the quest, the occasional unpredictable magic, the cold and hunger and, of course, the evil mage (in this book, actually an evil spirit), even the convention of THE GREAT WORD. Besides that, Diana’s own twists. Maewen, girl of the twentieth century, is sent back through time, on an entirely mistaken quest, to take the place of a girl murdered before she can claim the crown and the throne to unite Dalemark. Nothing is as it seems. There are “undying” but all-too human and fallible characters. All the characters in the ‘quest’ are actually serving only their own ends. The apparently benevolent guide deserts when he discovers he has been mistaken. The talisman ring turns out to be a fake. Even the “angelic” voices are those of the evil spirit who must be defeated. As in most murder mysteries, the murderer is the most overlooked character, but his motives are the same as the hero’s. The author even tells us: “Mitt pointed a thumb at Kerils’ back. ‘Never rely on things being reasonable’.” Although Maewen has sometimes a feeling, not a knowledge, that something is wrong; it is her own moral sense that saves her. The unwinding or denouement takes place as the returned Maewen wanders through the museum, putting together the history as it is written with the history she lived through. And with understanding comes, finally, compassion, and a very traditional religious ‘Providence”: ‘The One had turned everyone’s cunning schemes around …. and used them against themselves. Maewen herself had not been able to change history; she had just helped it to happen as it should.” The book is looking to a sequel, as Maewen, restored to her own time, realizes that the hero is an ‘undying” and promises herself to find him again. The book is a pleasure to read. Language and sentences are very simple, making it accessible to younger readers, and there is plenty of action to attract them. And some penetrating satire, which need not be recognized to enjoy the story. Short list this one.

Wren’s War by Sherwood Smith (New York, Jane Yolen Books Harcourt Brace & Co., 1995).
As David said, the third one. Wren and her friends as very young teens playing tricks at school and learning to dodge boring duties while beginning to discover their identities were quite charming. Wren and her friends as almost-adult teens replacing the rapidly-dying-off older generation are not quite so charming, but still very readable. The pace of action is swift; the magic is dizzying; the villain is an evil magician of great power, and the youngsters are trying to fall in love. I’ve been waiting for this one, but can’t say I’d give it an award. There is a sequel coming: the villain escapes; and now that the kingdom is stabilized again, Wren must set out on her “journeying.”