Friday, October 18, 2013

REVIEW: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger Lily
by Jodi Lynn Anderson
“I'm not myself," she offered, guiltily. She softened around Tik Tok, and when she did she was, for those rare moments, girlish.
He smiled. "You can never say that. You're just a piece of yourself right now that you don't like.” 
Tiger Lily lives in Neverland, an island in the Atlantic where ships of Englanders occasionally wash up with pirates or children or folks who don't last very long. Englanders have a disease that makes them continue to grow older until they die, something the natives are not subject to. Tiger Lily is an orphan, adopted by the shaman of the tribe, a man named Tik Tok, who is "of two genders": he is a man who wears women's clothing. Tiger Lily lives up to her name: fierce, stoic, and unreadable except by those who know her well. She is a misfit in the tribe, so when she meets Peter Pan, the ominous and deadly boy in the woods, she is caught up in a world where she is needed, special, admired. Her relationship with Peter ignites with heart-thrumming intimacy.  But when Tiger Lily neglects her tribe to tragic results, and when a Wendy bird arrives, will they be able to maintain their connection, or will Tiger Lily lose everything?

This was such a fascinating book. It is narrated by Tinkerbell (not her real name, simply a name Peter condescendingly bestowed). She cannot speak, but she can sense the thoughts and feelings of those around her, making her a unique, slightly omnipotent storyteller. Neverland itself is a strange entity. It is set in our world. Their are fairies and mermaids, but no flying, no "second star to the right." And yet, Anderson manages to maintain what I loved most about the original story: the very real psychology of the characters.

This story also maintains the ache of the original. As an adult reader, you know what things mean. The larger implications of certain feelings become clear. You pity, envy, and are frightened of Peter. He becomes that boy. The one who cannot understand the feelings he is having. The one who shuts himself to any other reality but his own. The one who desperately means to keep promises, but then does not. The one who sends you to the highest highs but also deeply frightens you with what he is capable of. I understood Peter more in this book than in any other interpretation. Hook's desperation for Peter is not the comical Disney or musical version: it is dark and dangerous and self-destructive. Smee is still "lovable" but you remember why he is a pirate and not an affable accountant. He is still a murderer. Wendy is much stronger and also much weaker than in the original. She is so sure of herself because the world cannot be other than how she sees it. The lost boys are not romanticized as off on a camping trip. These boys act the way any children would if they were left to their own devices, forced to survive on their own. They hero-worship Peter, desperate to have some sort of direction, a compass to focus their days. But this, of course, takes a toll on a leader who is still very much a boy himself.

Tiger Lily is wonderfully complex and refreshing. She is not a preteen seductress, nor a silent generic "indian." She is guarded and pained and untrusting but also worthy and strong, and has the capacity for deep love. And she does not, as this book seemed to imply at the beginning, loose her mind, heart and need for life when she loses Peter (as all girls lose Peter).

The cast of new characters are more of a mystery to us, but they are no less compelling: Pine Sap, Tiger Lily's mishapen and introspective friend, and Tik Tok the shaman whose slow tragedy breaks our hearts.

This is a quality Peter Pan adaptation. Well-written and faithful to the spirit of the original.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

REVIEW: Timeline by Michael Crichton

by Michael Crichton

A team of archaeologists are digging up a medieval castle when their funders, the mysterious ITC, accidentally drop a hint that they know more about the site than they let on. The lead archaeologist, Professor Johnson, flies to New Mexico to find out what is going on and he doesn't return. Meanwhile, his team unearths an ancient parchment in the ruins, a document dating 600 years old, with the words "Help me!" in the Professor's handwriting. With the questionable aid of ITC, they must travel back in time and save the Professor. Will their expertise help them survive the dangerous middle ages, or will they be crushed underfoot by the march of history?

This is my first Michael Crichton book and I can't say I am a fan. I loved the movie of Timeline (warning, this review is tainted by that), and I hoped the book would be even better. I was surprised at how different the two were, and how the movie streamlined and improved upon the story Crichton told.

For example, time travel is not even mentioned until page 109. The first quarter of the book is taken up with wandering through ITC and the dig site. I honestly would have stopped if I hadn't known that time travel would happen, and the knowing made it even more excruciating.

Crichton loves to bathe in science. The book is saturated with it and it verges on fetishism. And yet the science is questionable. I know little about scientific theory, and even I could see that the logic was flawed. The theory of time travel is based on the idea of the multiverse. That (in an uber simplified version) because you shoot light particles through holes and some hit their target and some disappear, that something blocks them. Obviously, it is another universe getting in the way. It seems like that is the most complicated answer possible for such a phenomenon. The science behind the time travel that ITC uses is really moving a person from one universe to another. But also back in time in that universe. It is an unnecessarily complex method of time travel.

Crichton treats history almost the same way as science, reveling in explaining to the reader why everything we think about the middle ages is untrue. I quite enjoyed his fact dropping as history is more my scene, but at times it did verge historical masturbation. It is full of long anecdotes and facts that have little to do with the plot and more to do with how knowledgeable Crichton was about the subject matter.

The movie simplified a lot of convoluted plot points (ex. the Professor makes greek fire, rather than almost greek fire). Some of the adventures the heroes encounter feel like filler and provide a momentary inconvenience before setting them back on their path again.

The book did maintain an element of the movie I loved: the reality of the middle ages and how the modern archaeologists are completely out of their element. Kate, Andre and Chris each have their own baggage and their own area of expertise that ends up being indispensable to the mission.  Kate is an expert climber and architect. Andre is an expert on medieval life, culture, language and martial arts. Chris is an expert in the history of technology, and the workings of a particular mill that plays a pivotal role. Chris' journey was the most meaty as he goes through the crucible of medieval peril, transforming from a whiny serial dater to a solid, stouthearted friend.

There were some elements to the book that seemed entirely out of place. One adventure leads them to a green chapel where a knight waits with an ax to chop of their head.  Did you just read Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, Michael? And the Lady Claire, a sweet, smart, and determined character with a clear goal and a clear purpose in the movie becomes an absolute baffling mystery in the book: a randomly sexualized scheming deus ex machina and reward for sacrifice.

In the end, this book had an interesting premise which crawled, stumbled, danced a jig, and then awkwardly sat down again. All in all, the story and the history ended up being entertaining, but I thought, with Crichton's reputation, we would get a better book.

Books like this (but better!)
The Domesday Book by Connie Willis