Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas | Spellbinding

1870s London. Devil Wix has a dream. He wants to bring Wonder to the people. When he comes across the dward Carlo Baldino pickpocketing his way through a bar brawl, he is curious to see what else Carlo can do. As it turns out, Carlo can do a lot of things, and is perhaps the finest illusionist Devil will ever meet.

Together they start a magic act at the Palmyra Theater, working for Jacko Grady, a greedy selfish man with no more vision other than filling his own pockets. Heinrich Bayer, a Swiss maker of automata is another of the acts, and together they stage the card game that wins Wix the Palmyra from Grady. But as Devil says himself, this is only the beginning.

Eliza dreams of being part of the Theater, and now that Devil owns it, she gets her chance. Devil and her have an unspoken mutual attraction, and after Devil fails to seduce her one night, they keep each other at a distance - as much distance as one can when working together and being huddled together in a tiny box onstage ever night, that is. For Eliza's playlet, "Charlotte and the Chaperone" is doing well at the Palmyra, and as the Theater grows, more people come to work there. Devil's childhood friend Jasper, who is also in love with Eliza, is an important part of the workshop that creates parts for the illusions. But also Carlo and Heinrich Bayer seem to have a sweet eye for Eliza.

Heinrich Bayer is growing weirder by the minute. His act of waltzing with his automaton Lucie is becoming more advanced as he insists that Eliza be Lucie's voice. Eliza doesn't like the idea, but cannot find a cause to decline, and Bayer records her voice for Lucie's words. After Devil drops the Lucie act, however, Bayer becomes darker by the day, and Eliza starts to fear the man she used to sympathize with.

Devil has his own demons. An act in his childhood keeps haunting him, and his enemies decide to exploit that. The persistent "friendly" rivalry between Devil and Carlo is growing worse, and Devil comes to see that even a lot of time has passed since the night he won the Palmyra from Jacko Grady.

The Illusionists is a dazzling and riveting story that gripped me from the get-go. All the characters are ambiguous and their motives keep changing throughout the story. Although Devil and Eliza are probably the main characters, we don't always sympathize with them. No one is just good or bad, (except Jacko Grady), they are all to some extent watching out for their own interests and have their own weaknesses. At the end, they all just want to be loved and understood.

We also get a beautiful portrait of 1870s London where new ideas and innovations challenge old beliefs and values. Even Eliza, who is many ways is a groundbreakingly modern woman, an act model for nude portraits, an actress on the Palmyra stage, refusing to be molly-cuddled and treated like a fragile flower just because she's a woman, has fears about her voice being recorder, or stolen, by Heinrich Bayer and his Lucie. It is a time of change, and the people of the novel feels the changes both with anticipation and trepidation.

This novel will wrap you up in its beauty and illusions, bring Wonder to your life and remind you why you believe in magic. Simply stunning.

Please check out the book trailer below for a teazer:

Odinsbarn av Siri Pettersen

Denne boka har jeg venta lenge paa aa faa lese :) Mange av mine fantasy-elskende venner har rava om denne boka siden den kom ut, og min gode venninne Camilla sendte meg en i julegave slike at jeg ogsaa kunne lese (litt vanskelig aa faa tilgang paa norsk litteratur i Johannesburg).

Odinsbarn er foerste bok i Ravneringene. Her moeter vi Hirka, ei jente paa 15 med masse bein i nesa som helt til naa har trodd at halen ble tatt av ulv naar hun var liten. I denne verdenen, Ymslanda, har nemlig folk hale. Ritet naermer seg, en tradisjon hvor alle paa 15 maa reise til Mannfalla og Eisvaldr for aa delta i Ritet foran Raadet og Seeren for aa se hvor godt de kan Favne og om de er skikket for aa faa en plass paa en av de prestisjetunge skolene i Mannfalla. Ritet skal ogsaa beskytte folk mot de Blinde.

Hirka er fortvilet. Hun kan ikke Favne. Hun kan ikke engang kjenne Evna i seg i det hele tatt. Hva kommer til aa skje naar hun staar foran Raadet uten aa kunne Favne? Hun tyr til barndomsvennen sin Rime An-Elderin for hjelp. Rime er 3 aar eldre enn Hirka, og er kommet tilbake etter aa ha tilbrakt de 3 aarene etter at han tok Ritet paa en av skolene i Mannfalla. Hans bestemor er Illume An-Elderin, en av de mektigste kvinnene i Raadet, som forventer at Rime skal sitte i Stolen etter henne. Men Rime har andre planer.

Rime og Hirkas barndom var tilbrakt i et kapploet om aa faa mest merker. De konkurrerte alltid, og Rime elsket at Hirka kunne holde tritt med han paa tross av at hun er ei jente. Naar Hirka ber om hjelp, kan ikke Rime si nei. Hirka kan fortsatt ikke Favne, men hun kan kjenne at Rime Favner, og hun kan kjenne Evna gjennom han. Sammen legger de en plan for hvordan Hirka skal kunne gaa gjennom Ritet uten av Raadet oppdager at hun ikke kan Favne.

Men saa Hirkas pappa slipper bomben. Han forteller Hirka at hun ikke er folk, men et Odinsbarn, en embling, en mytisk skapning som er foedt uten hale og som bringer Raata om man kommer for naer. Han sier at de maa flykte nordover, til Ravnhov hvor flere og flere nekter aa delta i Ritet. Men Hirkas pappa kan ikke flykte, ettesom han naa er lam i beina. En kveld naar Hirka kommer hjem finner hun pappa doed i sengen. Han var legere, og Hirka ser spor etter urten han har tatt for aa ta sitt eget liv, for aa gi Hirka sjansen til aa komme seg unna. Etter begravelsen setter Hirka fyr paa bostedet demmes, og flykter til Ravnhov uten noen aning om hvilken mottagelse hun vil faa.

Samtidig er det uro i Raadet. Urds far had gaatt bort, og i Illumes fravaer klarer Urd aa manoevrere det slik at han overtar sin fars Stol. Men Urd har egne motiver. Et ravnenebb sitter i et aapent saar i halsen hans, som han hele tiden skjuler. Urd deltok i blindverk for 15 aar siden, og han har naa begynt aa lure paa om steinofferet hans, Odinsbarnet, kanskje kom inn i Ymslanda likevel.

Krig staar paa doerstokken, de Blinde har blitt sett igjen, og i senteret av det hele er Hirka og Rime, to som bare oensker aa leve i fred.

Dette er deilig koselening. Jeg blir paaminnet Ravnejenta og de andre boekene til Toril Thorstad Hauger som jeg elsket naar jeg var yngre. Det er ogsaa litt Ronja Roeverdatter her. Og selvfoelgeli nordiske myter og allusjoner til huldra, en av mine favoritt-myter fra barndommen. Det er morsomt aa lese norsk fantasy med rot i norroen mytologi, saa naa gleder jeg meg skikkelig til oppfoelgeren, og om det blir litt Sigurd Drakedreper der, eller hva slags andre myter Siri Pettersen vil involvere i historien om Hirka.

Dette er god litteratur for liten og stor. Hirka er ei sterk jente med et godt grep om hvem hun er - paa tross av at hun gaar igjennom litt av en identitetskrise. Rime er kanskje den mer klassiske, hoeybaarne, men uvillige helten, som maa "step up to the plate" naar krisen er et faktum. Og Urd, hvilken skurk, altsaa. Skulle likt aa vite mer om bakgrunnen og motivene hans, men kanskje det kommer i neste bok. Jeg storgleder meg iallefall!

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

So I often choose books by their covers. As an avid reader, I know this doesn't always mean quality, but a cover can tell you a lot about the book. In the case of The Goldfinch, this is especially true, as the story evolves around a painting called "the Goldfinch" by Carel Fabritius.

The novel begins with the end. Theo Decker, our protagonist (?) is in a hotel room in Amsterdam, terrified because he has murdered someone and he believes the world is after him. He lets us know that his life so far has been a downward spiral since the passing of his mother. In fact, his mother's untimely death set all the events that lead him to this moment into play.

We then return to the story of Theo's mother's death. Despite being naturally smart, Theo is in trouble at school, and Theo's mother has been called in for a meeting. On their way there, they decide to stop by a New York Museum, and Theo's mother shows him her favourite paintings, "The Goldfinch" numbering amongst them. Before they leave, Theo's mother goes to have a last look at one of the other paintings, leaving Theo behind in a room with an old man and his beautiful granddaughter or niece. Theo has been looking at her, wondering at her story, when the bomb goes off and chaos enters his life.

In the aftermath of the blast, Theo finds himself holding the old man's hand as he breathes his last breaths. The man is rambling, telling him to take the painting, pointing at the little "Goldfinch". The old man gives Theo his ring, rambles on incoherently, and then is no more. Unable to find his mother, or the girl, Theo leaves with the painting in his bag, to return home in the hopes of finding his mother there.

Theo's mother is dead. As Theo's alcoholic father left them without a trace a year back, and Theo's grandparents claim ill health, Theo ends up living with his friend Andy and his family for a while. Andy is an awkward child in an upperclass family. His siblings detest Theo and the attention he attracts from their parents. Andy's mother is constantly preoccupied with fundraisers and luncheons, whereas the Wall Street father is battling with his mental issues. Theo manages to trace the old man who died in front of his eyes to an antique shop across town. He brings the ring and finds a warm welcome from Hobie, the dead man's business partner, and the old man's niece Pippa, who suffered severe trauma in the bombing. Theo starts visiting them on a regular basis, before Pippa, who already is the love of his life, is taken away by an aunt and sent abroad. But before Theo can get too comfortable in this new life, his father makes a reappearance and brings him to live with him and his girlfriend in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas proves to be nothing like New York. Theo's father rarely have the temper tantrums he did back home, and money seems not to be an issue. Theo befriends the Russian kid Boris, and they literally hang out day and night. Helping themselves to Boris' dad's vodka, they soon spend every afternoon in a drunken stupor, talking about life and love. "The Goldfinch" has been with Theo the whole time, but it's wrapped up nicely to prevent anyone finding it and understanding what it is. Not even Boris knows about it.

Despite the father's seeming change of behaviour, Theo realizes that he might be involved with some dodgy stuff. When the dad is killed in a car accident, Theo refuses to wait and see what child services decide to do with him, and he takes his dog and the painting and jumps on the first bus back to New York. With nowhere else to go, he once again turns to Hobie in the antique shop, and starts building his life from there.

A few years later we meet the 26-year old Theo who now is running the antique store while Hobie does his refurbishments in his workshop. We learn that Theo has been doing some dirty deals, selling fakes as real, and so forth, to prevent the shop from going bankrupt. He is now in trouble because one of the people he tricked is onto him and refuses to be appeased. "The Goldfinch" has been locked away in a safety deposit box since Theo came to New York, and hasn't been looked at. Theo is also addicted to prescription painkillers. One day Theo runs in to Andy's brother on the streets, and to his surprise, the brother is overjoyed to see him. Bad times have befallen his family. Andy is dead, and Theo starts spending time with the family again. He is soon dating Kitsey, the daughter of the house, and before Theo knows it, they're engaged. But Theo is still in love with the ever distant Pippa, and it turns out Kitsey also has a love she's been unable to let go of. When Theo runs into Boris on the street one day, Theo's life is about to change yet again.

Ah, this is a book full of surprises. New York is painted vividly and comes to life in your head. The characters are complex and ever shifting. The prose is beautiful, the plot surprising, the pace keeps you wanting to read more. At the beginning of the book I wasn't sure if Theo would turn out to be a real arsehole, or if he would be sympathetic. As I read on I liked him more and more. But it's nice for a change to not have a flawless protagonist. Boris is also a breath of fresh air, and tells us his view on right and wrong, that sometimes wrong things can lead to the right thing.

This novel is big, powerful, gripping, full of life. It must be read.